Daughter of the Righ — Part Three

This is the final part of my short story Daughter of the Righ, set in the fantasy world Righar where my novels Color Mage and Sword of Jashan take place. For more information on the novels, see the links at the bottom of this section or follow the links on the sidebar to the right. Here’s a link to Part One and Part Two.  Enjoy the story!

 

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Daughter of the Righ, Part Three

by Anne Marie Lutz, ©2014

 

After the servant left the parlor, Hira hurried to stand with her back to the papered wall to one side of the great carved doors.

The embers in the fireplace snapped at her as if they were alive. Outside in the entry hall, voices murmured. She heard the hollow sound of boot heels on the wooden floor, coming closer.

The great door swung open. A familiar voice began: “Lady Hira – ”

Hira swung out away from the door, which had concealed her, and leaped at Laikon. Her arm held strong as she aimed the dagger at his neck.

The sharp edge glanced off the gold Collar. Her wrist wobbled upward, the knife scraping Laikon’s chin before his hand grasped her wrist. Then her hand with the weapon was being borne down with iron strength.

Laikon flung her away. A shield like a skin of swirling color sprang into existence around him as magery sparked from his hands.

Hira felt a chair against the backs of her knees. She had been thrown back almost to the other side of the room. A muscle in her neck twanged in pain. She took a step away from the chair to face Laikon and the mage shield that enclosed him.

The knife felt slippery in her hand, as if she had drawn blood after all. She pushed back her shock and examined him. His neck was undamaged – she had missed the narrow span of skin that was unprotected by the Collar – but blood dripped from a cut on his chin. If it scarred, it would merely add to his rakish look. That was all the damage she had done.

Laikon’s breath was coming short. He raised his hand to daub at the cut on his chin. “Rather a disgrace, are you not? All that will change when you are my wife.”

“Why? If I disgust you so much?” Hira held on to the knife. The image of Brecon rose in her mind. She had failed to avenge him, who had lost his life for her. His killer stood before her in silks and jewels, unreachable behind his mage shield.

“Oh, you do not disgust me.” Laikon took a step forward.

Hira could not help herself – she stepped back until the chair hit the backs of her knees again.

The Collared Lord smiled. “You are fierce, and defiant, if misguided. Your spirit will make strong righ sons – color mages all. Also, you will not bore me in our chambers, I think.”

Hira forced down a shiver of fear. “I will not marry you.”

“All your objections simply make me more determined.” Laikon leaned back against the closed doors. There was no way out. The front windows opened upon the drive, but Laikon had guards there watching for Southern incursions. They would be equally happy to apprehend a runaway fiancee, she was certain.

“I won’t marry you. You killed my friend.” She heard her own voice and realized it sounded nothing more than petulant.

“I admire your loyalty. And your fire. But my girl, the weight of the world is arrayed against you in this. And you will breed fine sons, I think.”

Hira did indeed feel the weight of the world against her. The knife hilt still felt hot and slippery in her clenched hand, but she knew she could not reach him with it.

And if she killed him – what then? Laikon was a Collared Lord, a man at the highest peak of the nobility. If she killed him, the King would spare no resources to have her tracked and killed. Then he would strip her father of his lands and maybe even his Collar, dooming Harkold to a painful death.

She had no power. Just as Brecon had no power, slain for a fault he did not even commit. Just as Laikon’s cast-off concubines had no power, or families with influence to protest their deaths.

The wash of colors in Laikon’s mage shield blurred his features. His dark eyes, which had seemed so covetous before, now seemed to weigh her with curiosity.

“You could make me marry you, I suppose.” She admitted it. “Or I know His Majesty can force it, even if I somehow managed to convince my father. But will you keep that shield up at night, when we’re alone? Even in our bed?”

“I’ll tie you to the bed,” he snarled. “I need heirs from you, nothing more.”

“You can’t always be on guard.” She saw her opening and held the knife up before him. “I’m not a silly debutante, afraid to protect myself. Let me go.”

“You think I cannot keep a chit like you safe locked up?” Laikon smiled.

“So you plan to imprison me?” She thought she saw the way out. “Is this the way a daughter of the righ is treated?”

He shrugged. “I would prefer it otherwise, but I will do what I must.”

“My father won’t stand for it.”

He gave a bark of laughter, with no amusement behind it. “Your father, that weak gray man still in thrall to the memory of his dead wife? He is eager to be rid of you, my dear. He will not raise a hand to see you released from me. You must give up this misguided rebellion. It will not be so terrible, to be the wife of a Collared Lord.”

“But he will most certainly not put up with the daughter of that same dead wife, held in prison! Are you ready for war, my lord?”

There was an arrested look in the man’s eyes. The corner of his mouth drew downward. A war between two Collared Lords was not unheard of in Righan history. But such a war threatened the security of the kingdom. The King would do all in his considerable power to defuse such a conflict and make sure his mage lords were doing their bound duty of looking outward to protect against magical attack.

It was well within the King’s power to nullify a marriage.

“My lord,” she said. “I am more trouble for you than I’m worth. Let me go.”

“And show myself so weak that a girl like you can overcome me?”

“Is it weak to show human concern for the daughter of your righ neighbor? Is it contemptible to respect her, and release her when she requests it? I think showing a bit of human sympathy will earn you respect.”

He sighed, and did not speak for a moment. The shield shimmered and faded, energy retreating back into his hands. Hira twitched at the man’s sudden vulnerability, but forced herself not to move. He could destroy her with a thought, she knew.

“I see what you want me to do.”

“Your life will be a misery if you do not.”

“I see that.” A glimmer of humor sparked like color magery in his eyes. “You are indeed a Fury. I must admit I prefer not to do battle with my wife every day and night.”

“If you let me go now, I swear you’ll never see me again.”

“What, not even to avenge the merchant’s son?”

“I see it’s beyond my ability to reach you.” Hira took a breath and closed her eyes for a second, praying forgiveness from Brecon. “There are other ways to honor his memory.”

Laikon’s eyes narrowed. “I am to trust your word, I suppose.”

“It’s up to you.”

He raised his eyebrow. “So it is, then. I will send word to your father I have released you. What will you do? Go back and play loving daughter to a man who doesn’t want you around him?”

“What do you think?”

Laikon smiled. “I think you will not be seen anywhere around here again. I hope your lord father does not demand some kind of recompense for your loss.”

“He won’t.”

“You have won, then.”

“Is that what it is? With my home lost to me and my oldest friend dead?” Hira swallowed the urge to weep. “You have an odd idea of winning, my lord.”

“I suppose. I am a Collared Lord, after all.” Laikon gestured toward the door. “You may go. You may be satisfied in whatever odd place you end up, that you have earned my respect. A rare thing for any woman.”

“It will be no comfort,” she tossed back at him. “Respect is only valued as well as the one who gives it.”

Laikon smirked. “Ah. You had better go, quickly. I could still change my mind.”

Hira cut a wide circle around him as she went to the door.

“Goodbye, my lord. Do not forget the message to my lord father.”

“I will not. I am eager to see his reaction,” Laikon said. The smile that twisted his face then was not a pleasant one. “Now go. Your horse is still out front. You may tell the groom I allowed you to leave.”

Hira slipped out of the room. She ran down the wide front steps to where the groom held her horse.

“My lady,” the groom said. He looked nervously up at the parlor window. “Should you be leaving? Should I – ”

“You should take this,” Hira said, slipping a coin into his hand. “All is well. My lord has allowed me to go.”

“But you should have an escort,” the man said. “Lord Harkold would not permit you to go unattended.”

Hira accepted a leg up into the saddle. The pack she had put together that morning sat on the mare’s rump, loaded with supplies.

“Thank you, but no,” she said. She gathered the reins and nudged the horse forward with her heels. The mare tossed her head as Hira guided her down the lane. The dark woods in the distance beckoned, unknown and dangerous. There were no righ in those woods, and no protection. Hira’s hand felt for the dagger strapped to her belt. Her heart lifted as she rode into the wilderness.

 

The End

 

Color Mage and Sword of Jashan are available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Here’s a link to the Kindle editions: Color Mage and Sword of Jashan. Hira Noh appears in Sword of Jashan, which takes place about twenty years after the events of this story.

The image used throughout this story is ©Elizabeth Lutz, used with permission.

 

Daughter of the Righ — Part Two

This is Part Two of my short story, Daughter of the Righ — set in the same fantasy world as my novels Color Mage and Sword of Jashan. Part One was posted yesterday. For links to the novels, please see the sidebar. Here’s a link to Part One.

 

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Daughter of the Righ, Part Two

by Anne Marie Lutz, ©2014

 

Brecon’s father had long gone. She did not know what Harkold had ordered done with him; she hoped her father had shown some compassion to a man who was grieving over the loss of his only son. Silence hung over the manor house. Hira could not stop thinking about Brecon and about the terrible mistake her father had made.

But it was really Lord Laikon who had ordered this done. Hira knew her father, weak and submerged in old patterns of grief for her dead mother, slave to the demands of the Collar the King had placed on him when he was a young man. He lived half out of the world, which was why Hira had been free to live as she chose instead of how society dictated she should be raised.

Harkold would never have gone so far. It was Laikon who would pay.

A board creaked outside her door. There was a guardsman there, and another on the muddy grass below her window. She was a prisoner.

She peered out of the window to see the guardsman Anulf, who had been her companion around the estate. He was devoted to her. Perhaps she could convince him to turn away as she fled. But then, what would Lord Laikon do to the man?

Voices murmured outside her door. It opened to admit a woman in her middle years. Her face was masked with powder, and her hair dressed with the same kind of sparkling jewels that adorned her bodice.

Hira met the visitor’s compassionate blue eyes. All her anger dropped from her. “Aunt Silva!”

The door closed and Lady Silva Mar opened her silk-clad arms and welcomed Hira into her embrace.

“I’ve missed you, Aunt Silva,” Hira said. Her voice shook.

“I do not know why Harkold did not summon me sooner,” Silva replied. She released Hira and handed her a delicate handkerchief. “Wipe your tears, Hira. This is unlike you.”

“It may be,” Hira sniffed. “Did he tell you what he has done?”

“You know your father had nothing to do with it,” Silva Mar said. “Harkold could never bring himself to do anything so violent.”

“Lord Laikon, then,” Hira said.

“Indeed. It is your own fault, my dear, for being a beauty like your mother. I wonder if Laikon knows what a wildcat he will be taking to his bed?”

Hira bared her teeth and watched Silva Mar draw back. “I will never be in his bed, Aunt. I swear – ”

“Ah, do not swear!” Silva said. “Not in this rage. You do not know where the gods may bring you.”

“Never to that man’s bed!” Hira said.

“There are worse fates,” Silva said.

Hira stared at her. Silva sat on the only chair in a cloud of expensive fabric.

“Do not stare as if I have turned into a stranger,” Silva said. “I am here to help you think, my dear. You have always known your destiny is to marry and bear righ children.”

“I knew I must marry a righ,” Hira said. “I was taught the bloodline must remain pure.”

“So we may breed more color mages, yes. How did you suppose that was going to happen? Do you think they will make pilgrimage here, to beg for the hand of a girl they have heard is rebellious and wild?”

“I am not wild. I – ”

“You are. You refused to be paraded around for marriage to the holds of the Collared Lords, or presented at Sugetre. What did you think would happen if you refused all offers to present yourself?”

“I thought I would be left alone!”

Silva waved a smooth hand. “It is impossible for a daughter of the righ to be left alone. If you would not go to them, then they will come to you. Thus Lord Laikon has done.”

“I will not marry, then.”

“Your father will require you to. If you somehow overcome his orders, the King himself will get involved and give you as a chattel to whomever he might wish. Is that what you want?”

“No.” Hira took a shawl from the foot of her bed and wrapped it around her arms. The early spring was cold now, or maybe it was Bree’s death and her aunt’s advice that made it so. The candles flickered in their silver holders as a draft came under the door.

“My girl, I know you have been allowed to do as you will here, but you knew all this.”

“Yes, but I didn’t think it would apply to me!”

Silva took a deep breath. The jewels on her dress moved with her, reflecting the candlelight. “I told Harkold it was wrong to raise you like a son. It is all the more shock now.”

“But why Laikon?”

“The man has taken a fancy to you. He likes your defiance – thinks it will help you bear strong sons.” Silva ignored Hira’s instinctive flinch. “He thinks he will tame you, perhaps. You will bear him strong righ sons, Hira, color mages all – and then you will enjoy the true advantage of marriage to a Collared Lord.”

Hira almost spat. “I will not!”

“You will bear his sons and give them over to him. And then, my dear, you will go to Sugetre – or Five Rivers – or wherever your desire takes you, knowing that he will not follow.”

“I know the Collared Lords can’t leave their lands,” Hira said. “Even father never did so. Wouldn’t he send men – or his representative – to return me to him?”

Silva laughed. “He would have no support. Once your duty is done, little Hira, you may please yourself, as long as you do nothing to publicly diminish him. We are not powerless, my dear. This is what we’re due for our compliance, and the righ men know it well.”

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The caravan master gave her a scornful stare. “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” Hira almost looked over her shoulder, sure that her father’s men or even Lord Laikon’s men would be creeping up on her. “I can pay,” she added. “I have more than enough kels. You should be glad to take me.”

The man snorted. He lifted the mug and took a swallow. He wiped the foam from his lips with a sunburned hand. Then he looked up and seemed surprised to see her still there. “I know who you are, my lady. Ye’ll find no one here will agree to help a Collared Lord’s property escape from him.”

“I am no one’s property,” Hira snapped.

The man nodded. “Look, you seem a determined young lady. I wish I could help ya – I could use the kels. But nay, my life would be forfeit if anyone found out. And they would, ya know. It’s not like there are a lot of other options to get out of this rural region.”

Hira shoved back her chair and stood up. The serving maid who had shown her into the common room startled. “I thought you would hear me and help me. Brecon said – ”

The caravan master’s jaw tightened. “Don’t say that young man’s name to me. It is you who killed him, my lady. I remember him well – he tagged along with his father on more than one journey with us. He would’a made a fine man and a rich trader someday. Are you pleased with what ya’ve done?”

Hira stared. She knew her face had lost all color. “I didn’t – ”

“Go home. Be glad ya live a smooth life and can afford what ya want. Marry yer Collared Lord and quit whinin’ about how unfair life is. You’re much better off than that serving maid, or yer tenants, or yer slaves. Spoiled, that’s what ya is!”

Heat rushed to Hira’s cheeks. “How dare you!”

“I don’t know, how dare I? Ya came here and asked for it, m’lady. Prove me right now, about how privileged ya is, and report me to yer lord father or yer husband to be.”

“I won’t.” She wouldn’t do that to anyone, just for expressing an opinion. “But I don’t have to like it. All I asked was for a place in your van, and offered to pay for it. You wouldn’t treat anyone else such. Why so bitter toward the righ?”

“Because ya killed my young friend,” the master said again. “Go, now. Out of my sight!”

Hira stared for another moment, uncertain what to do. But she had no choice: she could not make this man accept her money. And there was no chance she could sneak on board a wagon when the caravan left. Bree had given her a tour of the wagons once, and she knew exactly how full they were packed and how well they were guarded from loss. She would be discovered before the day was out, and there would be nothing to keep the master from throwing her out alone into the wilderness.

She walked out of the tavern to her waiting horse, ignoring the eyes that followed her. She refused to ask for a servant to help her, so she was forced to use the block to mount. She rode away, wishing she could go anywhere else but back home.

As she left the straggly outbuildings of the village behind, she saw movement in the woods. She spurred her mount faster, wondering if bandits were hiding there, waiting for travelers with money. She kept a hand on her personal dagger as she rode by, eyeing the tree line, but whoever waited there made no move to intercept her. It was just as well – if she went through with the plan in her mind, she might have to join them.

 

Here’s a link to Part Three.

 

Daughter of the Righ — Part One

This is Part One of a short story about young Hira Noh, a character from my novel Sword of Jashan. It’s set about twenty years before the events of the novels, so there are no spoilers. Links to parts two and three are at the bottom of the story. (Please click the links on the sidebars for info about the novels.)

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Daughter of the Righ

by Anne Marie Lutz, ©2014

Hira Noh stomped hard on the graveled drive near the manor’s front door. Mud was jammed into every crevice of her boot soles. She grimaced at the encrusted stuff and began to walk around to the servant’s entrance.

The footman who had been waiting for her grinned. “I’ll get a boot brush, my lady.”

She had reached the garden on the west side of the manor when she heard a deep voice.

“Lady Hira! I am glad you have returned. May I have a word with you, if you can spare me a moment?”

There was a brazier lit on the terrace. The tall man who lounged on one of the benches before the brazier was dressed as if for court. Jewels sparked from his coat in a manner unsuited for the country. The afternoon sun, brilliant in spite of the early spring chill, deepened the harsh lines on his face and made his eyes seem even harder. Or perhaps that was just the contrast from the gold Collar bound around his neck.

Two household servants stood near the door. One bore a tray holding precious green glasses dark with wine.

She arranged her face into the smile that she knew was expected. “Lord Laikon, I didn’t know there was anyone here.” She watched his eyes travel down her person. “I’m afraid I am not suited to receive anyone just now. I just got back from a visit to one of our farm tenants.”

A muscle twitched in his jaw. “Lady Hira, it is more than a minor inconvenience for me to be away from Southgard. Surely you can join me for a few moments.” Color magery, red as blood, wreathed his hands.

The man was angry at her. What right had he? It was not Hira’s fault her father had ignored her express distaste for this man, who was well known to be a tyrant to his people.

She lifted her chin at him and saw his teeth clench. A fine foundation for a life together, this veiled confrontation during the supposed courtship. Hira bit off a quick refusal and strode toward the back door. She felt Laikon’s eyes following her until she rounded the corner.

Inside the mudroom, the footman awaited with the boot brush. Hira thanked him and made a token effort to wipe the mud from her boots, but she was too angry to do a thorough job. After just a few moments she dropped the brush and stormed through the kitchen, heading for her father’s study.

“My lady!” squawked one of the scullery maids. The girl clattered to her feet as Hira rushed by.

Her lord father’s study was sunlit and warm. Books leaned against each other on the polished shelves. A mirror, tool of the color mage’s art, stood draped with a silk covering in the corner of the room.

Her father was not there, but the door stood ajar and she heard his voice from downstairs. She sat in the stuffed chair she usually occupied when she visited her father here, and hoped he was giving the arrogant Lord Laikon a piece of his mind.

By the time her father walked through the door into his study, Hira’s resentment had only grown.

Her father stood in the beam of light thrown from the late sun falling through the window. She noticed for the first time how old he was looking. The gray at his temples had spread, and his eyes looked weary. His gait was stiff as he went to his chair behind the ledger-cluttered desk and sat down.

She refused to soften at his apparent weariness. “Is he gone?” she demanded.

“For now,” he said. “I have blamed your recalcitrance on the foibles of women. He doesn’t know you don’t have such weaknesses.”

“Father.” Her voice hardened. “My lord. I will have nothing to do with him, as I’ve told you. You know what is said about him.”

“So he takes concubines.” Lord Harkold shook his head. “This is not unusual. A Collared Lord must have some relief from being practically imprisoned in his fief.”

“You never did so.”

He sighed. “No. I have held true to your mother, as if she were still alive. I will never be with another woman.” His fingers touched the gleaming Collar at his neck. Hira noticed the skin wrinkled on either side of the metal, as if the Collar were too tight.

“Well, it’s not the concubines that offend me anyway. It’s what he does when he is tired of them. It’s what he has done to his slaves and his tenants. He is a cruel man, Father. I won’t marry him.”

“I would not see you given to a cruel man. He is nothing more than stern, and hard with his slaves. He will treat you as a righ lady should be treated, Hira. Have no doubt.”

“I won’t do it.”

Lord Harkold glared at her. “I have clearly made a mistake in letting you think you have a choice. You will do as you are told, girl. You are done with the stables and the tenants – you’ve been a blessing to me, but I shouldn’t have let you become so willful. Look at you!” He gestured at her and she looked down at the sheepskin coat, the mud on her boots that now smeared the carpeted floor. She knew her hair was windblown and her cheeks flushed.

“I’m not a giggling debutante, father. Do you want me to behave like one?”

He shook his head. “No. I treasure you as you are, Hira. But I am a man of weak resolve when it comes to my daughter. Because of that, I have failed you. Your place is not in the study, or the office or the tenants’ fields, no matter your intelligence. Instead, your duty is to bear righ sons and color mages. This you will do, with the lord I have chosen for you.”

 

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Hira stood in the little stable. She ran a hand over Star’s shoulder, and the old mare whickered in pleasure. The stable doors opened onto the back of Hon Mithon’s house, with the merchant’s insignia hanging above the door.

The door creaked open. Brecon slid out, closed the door behind him and strode toward the stable. The sun lit his hair and his faded leather coat. He walked until his wide shoulders filled the gap in the stable doors.

“They said there was a message for me,” Brecon said. “I didn’t know it was you, Lady Hira.”

“I had to speak with you,” she said.

Star rumbled under Hira’s hand. Brecon’s face relaxed. He had always loved Star, who had been a gift when he was just a boy. Brecon and Hira had ridden the mare barebacked and barefooted, letting her pick her surefooted way down to the creek where they could wade in the shallows and find little water creatures under the benevolent eye of Hira’s tutor.

Those days were long gone.

“My father doesn’t want you here. He says it’s unfitting.”

“And do you do every little thing he orders?” Hira said. She took a deep breath, and when she spoke her voice was firmer. “I feel as if I have nowhere to go, Brecon. Can’t you just listen for a little while?”

He came further into the stable. “You know I will. But Hira, I hear you’ve been promised now, and I don’t want to cause you any difficulty.”

“I am not promised!” Hira spun to face him. She knew her eyes were wet.

Whatever he saw in her face softened him. “Hira, what’s wrong?”

“Lord Laikon, Bree,” she said. “That’s who my lord father wishes me to marry and bed with, to make little righ who will be just as bad as Lord Laikon. I told him I wouldn’t do it, but he holds stern.”

“Unknown God! He agreed to wed you to Laikon?” Brecon’s face reddened. “I thought he cared for you!”

“He does. But he gives no credence to the rumors. I see nothing else to do but leave here, Bree.”

“But, you are a gently-bred righ. Where will you go? Who will protect you? Hira, you know I can’t join you or my life will be forfeit. Laikon would pursue me all through the south!”

“I don’t ask you to, friend. I won’t let you. Look at me.” Hira waved a hand across her sheepskin coat, the dagger belted at her waist. “I’m well able to fend for myself, and I – I will take a servant with me, if you insist. But I must go. I refuse to be a sweet for Lord Laikon.”

Brecon cast a frowning look back at his house. “I wish I could invite you here, but my parents warned me. They say the righ should be left alone, that you don’t belong here.”

“I don’t belong anywhere,” Hira said. The truth of it rose up inside her, clear and stark. “I don’t belong with the other righ ladies who are raised to look pretty and serve their lords. I don’t belong among the merchants or the tenants, and even my lord father doesn’t understand me. He says he’s sorry he raised me so.” The tears came again and she forced them back.

Brecon stood looking at her uncertainly. “I’m not sorry,” he said. “You’ve always been a good friend, Hira. I wish there was more I could do.”

“You’re the only one who knows me,” Hira said. “Someday you may have to explain me to my future husband.”

He snorted. “I can imagine the look on his face.”

Hira imagined that conversation and laughed with the tears still in her eyes.

“Look, I know a caravan master. He comes through in a sennight. He owes my father, and I think he’ll agree to take you with him. He’s an honorable man, Hira, and he’ll see you safe along the way.”

“Where does he go?”

“Does it matter?” Brecon watched her. “He’ll be returning from Leyland and stopping at villages north of the disputed lands. He heads to the Five Rivers.”

“From there I can go anywhere.”

“If you have money, and if you hire guards so you’re not waylaid in the streets. Five Rivers is dangerous, Hira. You shouldn’t go there unattended.”

“I swear I’ll hire a guard when I arrive there.” She stepped forward and hugged him. “Bree, you are my savior. I knew you would think of some way out.”

“If you’re troubled in any way in Five Rivers, I won’t forgive myself.”

“I’ve heard stories. I won’t dismiss them lightly.” Hira smiled. “Thank you Bree. When I have a chance, I’ll send you word. And I’ll always remember my truest friend, even if I am welcome nowhere else.”

 

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Hira opened her eyes on the heels of a cluttered dream to realize she had overslept. Her maidservant had not come to awaken her, and the rainswept morning was almost as gray as the night had been.

A wailing sob rose through the air, making her skin prickle.

Hira went to the window and looked outside. It had almost been like an animal’s cry, that keening sound. As she stood, straining to hear, the sound came again, resolving itself into a human voice.

She needed no maidservant to get dressed in the loose clothes she wore for working on the estate. As soon as she was dressed, she went down the hall and descended the main staircase. A few candles were lit on the mantel, brightening the gloom. A manservant vanished through the doors to the servants’ quarters as she peered around the room.

It was now clear to her that the sound was that of weeping – the mourning of a man who had no familiarity with gentle grief, wrenched out of him in response to great agony. It was coming from her lord father’s study.

Hira strode toward the doors. A man in servant’s brown appeared between her and the doors.

“Lady Hira,” said the footman. “Please don’t go in there.”

“But Lord Harkold – is he all right?” She almost turned away from the sympathy in his eyes.

“My lord is well,” the footman said. “But he has a visitor. You’re not wanted in there right now, Lady Hira.”

Hira brushed past the man. There was nothing he could do to stop her. She was privy to all the business of the estate, and she would find out what caused a visitor to sob in her father’s study as if death was on his heels.

A portly man was on his knees on the red-patterned carpet in the center of her father’s study. It was Hon Mithon, his usual rich clothing rumpled and awry. His cheeks were wet with tears, and he held a small, wicked-looking knife in his right hand.

Lord Harkold had been standing behind his desk. Now he stepped hurriedly around it, a look of urgency on his face. “Hira! Go back upstairs!”

She stared back and forth between Brecon’s father and her own. Something inside her did not want to know what was going on. She pushed it aside and asked. “Hon Mithon? Is something wrong?”

“Hira! I warn you.” Harkold sounded desperate. “Go. Here, I will take you myself.” He strode around the desk, reaching for her.

“Yes, something is wrong!” Mithon croaked. “My son, my beautiful son, is dead and I can’t go on without him!”

Hira felt as if the cold gray rain had swept over her. She floundered. “He is – Brecon is dead?”

“Now Hira, go upstairs. Take your woman with you, and I will be up to see to you,” Harkold stuttered. He was as pale as the candle wax.

“No. I won’t. Hon Mithon – what has happened to Brecon?”

“Ask your damned father!” The merchant struggled to his feet. “Ask him who murdered my son!”

Hira turned shocked eyes to her father.

“No I did not murder the boy!” Harkold blustered.

“It was done at your bidding,” Mithon said.

“Look.” Harkold abandoned his attempt to get Hira out of the room and turned to his accuser, keeping a wary distance from the knife. “I will pay you a weregild, because I am a compassionate man, and you and I are longtime associates. But Mithon, your son could not be allowed to aspire above his station.”

“Aspire – ” Hira stood with her mouth half open. “By Jashan’s eyes, father, he did nothing!”

“I told him to stay away from the accursed righ,” Mithon wept.

“Let’s not be foolish,” Hira’s father said. His hands went up to touch the golden Collar. “You cannot be allowed to run away with a mere merchant, Hira.”

She shouted, “He was just a friend!”

“You ran to him after Lord Laikon was gone.”

“You followed me?”

“No, I did not. But your betrothed sent someone to watch where you went.” Harkold flushed. “He sent a message to chastise me for your wildness, Hira. A very unsuitable communication from one Collared Lord to another!”

“Then it was Laikon,” Hira whispered. “By all the gods, if he wished me to reconsider and marry him, this was not the way.”

Mithon’s reddened eyes turned from Harkold to Hira. Through her stunned grief she saw his expression change. The knife came up.

“Stay down,” she said. “Stay where you are, Hon Mithon, or you will not live through this day.”

“None of this would have happened but for you,” the merchant said. “Always wanting to be where you should not be, dragging my boy into your – ”

“Guards!” shouted Harkold. The door slammed open and two armed men burst into the room. Harkold’s hands were red with color magery ready to be loosed.

The merchant crumpled to the floor again.

“People like us have no chance against you,” he moaned. “Oh my Brecon, my only son!” He held out the knife to one of the armed men, who took it and presented it to Harkold hilt first.

“Take lady Hira Noh upstairs,” commanded Harkold. “And station a man outside her door to see she stays there.”

“Father!”

“I will deliver you to your betrothed, willing or unwilling. You are a lady of the righ, Hira. It is time to grow up and do what you were bred for!”

Link to Part Two

New Short Story

I’ll be posting a new story in three segments, beginning tomorrow. Daughter of the Righ is set in the world of Color Mage and Sword of Jashan.

If you’ve read Sword of Jashan, you know the character of Hira Noh during her middle years. Daughter of the Righ explores what happened to Hira when she was a very young woman, and set her on the path to her role in the novel. It’s an old-fashioned tale that isn’t so old-fashioned in the end.

The story is readable with no previous knowledge of the world of Righar. And there are no spoilers for the novels.

Hope you enjoy the story!

The Psychic Mages of Ha’las

The people of Righar are terrified of the people of Ha’las.  In the coastal lands around Seagard — the tower closest to Ha’las — villagers tell their children scary stories of the evil ku’an. It is said the ku’an can force themselves into your mind, making decisions for you, doing things that horrify your family and friends. It is said the ku’an can read thoughts, so there is no hiding from them any plans for rebellion or escape. And the ku’an are brutal in more physical ways: their prisons are crowded, and their city walls adorned with the heads of those who expressed thoughts of rebellion.

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/evil-royalty-free-image/157189111

 

Some of that isn’t true. But what is true is frightening enough.

The Righans don’t know there are less than twenty ku’an, or psychic mages, in the whole island of Ha’las. They can’t read minds, but their real strength lies in their magical ability to influence the emotions of others.

Emotions are powerful. It’s a fierce battle-elation that makes a warrior plow into the spears of the attacking army. It’s a shivering disgust that makes you shake off old bonds and friendships. It is love, most powerful of all emotions, that can bring down marriages, cities, kingdoms.

The ku’an are spoiled. They are used to being able to manipulate people’s loyalty, trust, love, hatred. Ha’las is theirs, and so is everyone in it. Thus they feel free to take women for their own, infusing their targets with love so force is unnecessary. They inspire their soldiers with fanatical zeal. With every use of their power, they grow more corrupt, more certain that anything they want can be theirs. They don’t care about governing, or managing the land that supplies their needs. They know they will always be able to take what they want, no matter how scarce things are for their people.

These are the people that Callo and Kirian sail towards on the ship Fortune, when they escape strife in Righar. They don’t know what they are heading toward.

Color Mage is available on Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.

**Image is “Evil” by Iconogenic, from Getty Images. 

 

The Healer’s College

A little more about the world of Color Mage and Sword of Jashan:

Cover art by Neal Seamus
Cover art by Neal Seamus

Kirian graduated from the Healer’s College. Here’s a little more about the school that saved Kirian’s life.

The Healer’s College is located in Sugetre, the capital city of Righar. It’s a treasured institution, teaching an advanced form of healing that depends upon the use of natural herbs and medicines. College-trained Healers never use amulets or other false magery in their work.

The Healer’s College has a close association with the noble righ — Kirian believes, too close.  Second and third sons of the righ frequently study at the College, and sometimes end up after graduation posted at their own family estates as a sort of private Healer.

Healer Jesel, who is posted to Lord Zelan’s estate,  said, “The College means well, but its healing is often diverted to those who can afford it, it is true.”

The founder of the College was a rich man, a brilliant righ with a hunger for knowledge, but he was far from the best of men. A late-life conversion to the worship of the Unknown God drove him to decree that the Healer’s College take on a charity student every five years. It is not known whether his charity affected the way he was treated in the afterlife.

So it was that when Kirian was ten, a man wearing Healer’s insignia swept into the filthy streets where she ran wild.

Clearly unwilling to wander around the slums of Sugetre, he planted himself at the bar at Mik’s tavern and grabbed Kirian when she ran in to deliver a message. She squirmed, but he kept a tight hold on her shoulder as he told her why he was there.

“This is a rare opportunity,” he told her, looking down at her from the bar stool. He took a sip of his beer and made a face. Kirian could have told him not to drink Mik’s sour beer.

She didn’t like his clammy grip or his disagreeable tone, but everyone in the slums revered the College and was grateful for the free clinic it provided every sennight. And she knew she was on borrowed time running messages for Mik; as soon as she grew a little older, she would be forced into servitude or prostitution. So she agreed. It would get her off the streets.

The Healer told her to get her things and come with him. He shoved the yellow beer away and threw a few coins on the bar. He never asked for her parents’ permission, and indeed Kirian had none any more. She wondered if he knew this, or if he just didn’t care.

Many years later, Kirian had become one of the finest Healers of the College. She was sent to Seagard Castle to work with old Healer Ruthan.

A Look at Sword of Jashan

A glimpse of Sword of Jashan, available later this Fall — 

Callo’s skin felt sunburned, and there was an acrid odor in the air. He looked around in the dusk and saw that he stood at the center of a blackened ring. He held his fingers up in front of his face and saw that they were blistered, the fingertips cracked and reddened.

The wild magery had escaped his control and burned everything around him. He was fortunate he had not set the mountaintop ablaze.

* * *

The walls Callo has maintained all his life to guard against his dangerous power are failing. Uncontrolled, his magic threatens his sanity and the safety of all those around him – even Kirian, who could be forced away by Callo’s misuse of his power.

Fighting with his own abilities, Callo still resolves to protect the young heir from the intrigues of the King. And Ander himself must decide whom to trust, as he becomes the target of an assassin.

The Collared Lords of Righar

A little more about the world of Color Mage:

The Collared Lords are a dangerous force in Righar, and fierce adversaries. Who are they?

Color Mage

The Collared Lords are Righar’s defense against magical attack. They are bound into servitude, but also wielders of great power and privilege.

The Collared Lords are the feudal lords of the land. They have great, hereditary mage power that is honed by intensive training.

The righ (nobility of Righar) believe it is the ultimate honor, and the ultimate privilege to be Collared by the King. It is a great sacrifice — the Collared Lord is bound to his fief, on eternal Watch against magical danger. He gives up his freedom so he can fulfill his duty.

In return, the Collared Lord has incredible power within his land. He is feared and sometimes hated, but never disobeyed. He is above the law, and taught from childhood that it is his right to claim what he wants. Collared Lords are not known for their altruism. They are owed for their service, and they take what they will.

As Healer Ruthan says in Color Mage: “Mikati is a Collared Lord, Kirian. The only ruler in Seagard Province. Even the King won’t thwart him.”