VLOGANOVEL: Nightblade Episode Three

How Do I Outline A Book?

I’m beginning Nightblade: Episode Three! In this episode I start the outlining process for the third episode in the Nightblade series! You voted on how the book would begin, and now I’m going to take that and run with it. I’ve also had some really exciting ideas about the rest of the season, so those will be discussed in the course of this video.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

How Do I Outline A Book?

I’m beginning Nightblade: Episode Three! In this episode I start the outlining process for the third episode in the Nightblade series! You voted on how the book would begin, and now I’m going to take that and run with it. I’ve also had some really exciting ideas about the rest of the season, so those will be discussed in the course of this video.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

How Do I Outline A Book?

In this episode I SHOULD wrap up the outlining process for Nightblade: Episode Three! You voted on how the book would begin, and now I’m going to take that and run with it. I’ve also had some really exciting ideas about the rest of the season, so those will be discussed in the course of this video.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1


 

COMPLETED EPISODE THREE OUTLINE:

Loren expects to be found at any moment. She throws up the wooden panel and slips out, preparing to run away. Before she can, she hears a cry of alarm from a couple of wagons over. Damaris screams how Loren’s escaped and tells Gregor and his men to go find her. This gives Loren just enough pause to climb back into the hiding space. The constables’ riders split up to find her, and when they’re spread out Gregor and his men strike, killing all of them in seconds.

Loren is shocked and appalled. The constable was only doing his job, and anyway wouldn’t have killed Loren. Damaris turns cold, revealing this isn’t the first time she’s done this. Loren knows it has something to do with the brown cloth packages in the caravan but doesn’t know what they are. Gregor and his men dispose of the bodies in the woods, and Damaris makes Loren help so she’ll know how to do this in the future. Loren vows never to be involved in murder again.

Two days of travel. Loren looks for an opportunity to escape, but Gregor watches her all the time. Loren tries to figure out what the end game is. She distrusts Annis completely; the girl seems too happy-go-lucky about the whole thing. She asks for more stories about Mennet and Loren grudgingly tells them, including one about a wet cloth Mennet used once to bend iron, but has a funny ending (like it turned out Mennet shouldn’t have bent the iron). But one time when she goes to take a piss, Annis goes with her and has a whispered conversation. She thinks Damaris is keeping Loren around as a distraction—at the gates of Cabrus, she’ll turn Loren over for real so no one will search the caravan. Annis wants to help Loren escape, if Loren will take Annis with her. This time Loren agrees.

Damaris gives Loren riding lessons again. Gregor is always nearby so she can’t run. A great opportunity for conversation with Damaris. She reveals her worldview: that in order to provide a good life for Annis, she must be ruthless. Even royalty falls—merchants are forever, but only if they will spill blood for what is theirs, and keep it out of everyone’s face. Everyone can know, but no one talks about it.. This gives Loren an idea.

Loren pees with Annis again (Giggity!). In a moment they go over what they have to do. Back at the caravan, Loren provides a distraction with Gregor. She asks to learn how to sword fight. Takes a guard’s sword right out of his scabbard. Guard isn’t happy. Gregor isn’t happy. Annis slips into the wagon. Guard and Gregor chase Loren. She dances around, acting all big and jestery. Other guards laugh because the one chasing her looks like an idiot. Gregor is not amused. Even Damaris watches and smiles. As soon as Loren sees Annis slip out of the caravan again, she bows for the guards and returns the sword. Damaris says some smug superior shit like, “See? Can’t we all just have fun together?” Loren appreciates the irony that a murdering psychopathic bitch thinks of this as “fun,” while Loren is deadly serious.

They reach Cabrus. Damaris acts like she’ll be fine, telling her to hide beneath her hood. Loren spots Corin and Bern at the city gate. Gregor appears at her side. Not good; he’s going to turn her over. That’s when Annis strikes, under Loren’s instruction. She throws one of the brown cloth packages at the constables’ feet, and out falls a bunch of dark purple crystals. The constables freak, and a skirmish erupts with Gregor and Damaris’ men. Loren seizes the opportunity to cut a horse free from a wagon. She leaps up and pulls Annis up in front of her. Though the girl is smaller, she knows how to ride. Loren wraps arms around her and they flee. Damaris screams in anger behind them. They get to an alternate gate in Cabrus’ walls. But as soon as they enter the city, Corin and Bern appear from nowhere. Thinking quickly, Loren slaps the horse’s rear and Annis rides off, and the constables take Loren into custody.

QUICK EPISODE FOUR-EIGHT OUTLINES

EPISODE FOUR

Loren is being led through Cabrus, which she visited once as a child. She barely remembers it and is overwhelmed by how big it is. As they go, the shorter constable sees her dagger and then inexplicably lets her go when his partner isn’t looking. As she’s trying to figure out what to do, Gem tries to steal the dagger, but Loren catches him. Because she doesn’t immediately start beating him, he likes her. She makes fun of him for being a crappy thief, and he boasts about being in Auntie’s pickpocket ring. Loren makes Gem take her to it. It’s run by a twenty-year-old girl who the kids call Auntie. Loren wants to join—have to start somewhere! Auntie will let Loren prove herself. She’s got to steal a specific person’s purse—if she gets it, she’s in. But when Loren finds the person, it turns out to be Auntie—she’s a weremage! And Bern is there, no sign of Corin. Loren escapes Bern with Gem’s help. In the flight, her bowstring finally breaks. Then she sees Xain entering an inn’s back door. She pulls Gem in after her.

EPISODE FIVE

Xain is pissed that she showed up. Loren is pissed that he left her. He points out she’s in danger with him, and she points out she’s in danger anyway. He feels a little bit bad. She finds out he’s leaving the city in a carriage and makes him promise to take her, or she’ll expose him. He grudgingly agrees, but only if SHE agrees she’ll leave him at the next city. She does. Now, she has to find Annis. But how can she do that? Gem is wanted by Auntie, Xain is wanted by constables, and Loren is wanted by both. Xain tells her he planned to escape by pretending to have plague, and Loren gets an idea. She goes out into the city as a plague victim. She even sees some of Auntie’s crew, but they avoid her because she’s plagued. Clock is ticking. They’re leaving that night. But while she’s out, a Mystic stops to talk to her and try to tend her sickness. She’s bewildered (no idea what a Mystic is) and it’s discovered she’s not really sick. But the Mystic sees her bruises and injuries and decides not to tattle (not really his business, anyway. More important things to do). Loren, grateful, asks him if he has any ideas on finding Annis. The Mystic says if he were Annis, he’d hide in the slums pretending to be a beggar. Loren goes and sure enough, finds her there, draped in rags because her dress stood out. Surprise at Annis’ resourcefulness. Loren takes her back to the inn, only to find it surrounded by constables and Auntie’s peeps (who spotted Gem). Quick confrontation, which is avoided by Xain escaping through an underground passage (the whole reason he stays in that inn).

EPISODE SIX

It’s a false escape. In the city’s sewers Auntie strikes. Xain throws fire and lightning and shit, but there are far too many foes to beat and they have to run. And Xain doesn’t want to be murderin’ no children anyhow. Auntie gets her fingers in Loren (who Auntie doesn’t like) and Loren escapes, but Auntie takes her dagger in the process. They make it to the portion of the city where Xain’s friend lives. The carriage is there and ready to go. Loren must choose to leave the city and her dagger, or stay and face almost certain capture. She wiffle waffles a lot, but she’s still starry-eyed and naive, so she stays. Xain, despite himself, wants her to come. He calls her an idiot, etc. etc. But she won’t listen. He harrumphs and says that they’ll ride south for a day, then pull off to the side of the road and wait. She has two days to find them. Past that, Xain will roll straight the fuck on. Gem stays with Loren and Annis wants to, but Loren makes Annis go. If they’re caught, Annis is the one with the most to lose. Her mom’s a psycho. Xain and Annis roll out. Xain’s friend lets them stay in his cellar until it’s time for them to go. The next day they try to stake out Auntie. Loren does the plague victim thing again, and it’s just as successful. Gem shows her Auntie’s secret place where she keeps her special trophies—it’s in the sewers, with only one way in, and guarded by two of Auntie’s bigger boys (who she’s probably hate-banging on a regular basis). Loren tries some bullshit distraction technique to get the guards away. Surprisingly it works, but then the door has some kind of key on it. She’s almost caught. She barely escapes with her life. She leads Gem away and to the nicer part of town. He’s nervous. Loren asks around a bit, then finds an expensive inn. When she goes into the common room, she finds Damaris sitting there at a table, walks up, and plops down across from her.

EPISODE SEVEN

Damaris is all what the fuck, obviously. Loren has come to make a deal. She tells Damaris that Annis is with Auntie, and Loren will take Damaris there if if Damaris will first help her get the dagger back. Gregor doesn’t like it. Damaris doesn’t have much choice. She agrees. Loren outlines the plan. GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR DIALOGUE IN THIS SCENE SO YOU BETTER FUCKING NAIL IT. Damaris, Gregor and assorted goons go to Auntie’s above-ground lair. They spring a sudden attack, basically kicking in the front door. Auntie and her pickpockets scatter. Gregor grabs Auntie, but when she turns and is someone else, he gets confused and lets her go. Loren chases after her, frustrated, but soon becomes separated from the group. She barely has time to realize what a mistake that is before Auntie pounces, her own knife drawn. Loren barely stays alive until Gregor shows up and rescues her. But Auntie still escapes after vowing revenge for all these shenanigans. Loren knows she doesn’t have much time. If they can get to the hidey-hole quickly enough, MAYBE they can catch Auntie there or something. They run to the hidey-hole. Auntie’s fucktoys scatter when they see Gregor. Gregor’s men try to knock down the wall, but it’s locked. A mindmage has blocked it with some kind of permanent spell. That’s when one of Damaris’ men shows up with Auntie. They found her making for the hidey hole, like Loren said. Loren takes the key from around her neck, unlocks the door and finds her dagger. There’s also some coin purses. Damaris takes those, but Loren manages to nick one. But Annis isn’t in the room, like Loren maybe kinda sorta said she would be. As Damaris starts to interrogate Auntie, Loren sidles away slightly. Just as Auntie tells them she has no idea who Annis is, Loren bolts.

EPISODE EIGHT

Loren bursts into the city streets with Gregor and goons hot on her heels. She tells Gem to vanish, and he does. She goes up walls and onto rooftops, darting through the streets in the night. Fucking awesome chase scene. She finds Corin assigned to night guard duty. He “saves” her by throwing her in jail with the intention of freeing her, but Gregor/goons follow them every step of the way to make sure she’s actually thrown in lockup. But Corin puts her in the adult cell, because the child cell holds a few of Auntie’s peeps. And he lets her keep her dagger. Damaris comes and threatens Loren with ten kinds of painful death if Loren doesn’t tell her where Annis is. Loren hushes up since that’s the only thing keeping her alive. Damaris pulls a GODDAMN SNAKE out of her sleeve and lets it into the jail cell. Loren relents, lying to Damaris and saying that Annis is posing as a beggar in the poor district waiting for Loren. Damaris turns to go. Loren’s all WHAT THE FUCK and Damaris, of course, is a bitch. (But really, she points out, how the hell did Loren think she was going to call off the snake? Speaking Parseltongue?). Loren draws her dagger and manages to kill the snake BUT NOT BEFORE IT BITES HER DUN DUN DUNNN. She gets a little dizzy. The guards ignore her cries for help and medicine. She realizes her only chance of survival is escape. She remembers Mennet and his shadows. She tries praying to the shadows. It doesn’t work (obviously). She wonders if she’s going crazy. Then she remembers the iron-bending story of Mennet’s. She strips off her cloak, pisses on it, and uses it to bend the window bars. She’s discovered just as she slips out and runs away. She’s completely delirious escaping through the streets. Then she remembers Xain’s inn and goes there, vanishing in the floor hole (FUCKING IRONY BECAUSE DAMARIS MAKES A LIVING ON FLOOR HOLES—GIGGITY?). She slumps through the sewers until finally emerging into the darkness. There she finds the Mystic. He’s all, “Whoah. You look like shit.” Dawn is breaking. She can barely talk. He points her toward an apothecary. Asks if she has money. She’s very insistent that she DOES. She STOLE it. Because she’s a THIEF. YEAH. The Mystic smiles and bows, saying farewell and naming her “Mistre Thief.” That puts a spring in her step. She gets to the apothecary. He gives her some poultices and shit, sucks the poison out. She does the plague thing one more time. Finds Gem in the poor district. Together they ride out of Cabrus. Find Xain and Annis. Ride off into the MOTHERFUCKIN’ SUNSET.

And then, Loren pulls out another brown cloth package and asks Xain why it’s called Magestone. DUN DUN DUNNN.

How Do I Write A Book?

In this episode I start writing the first draft of Nightblade: Episode Three! Guys, I’m super, super, SO stoked about Episode Three and the rest of the season after the last episode where I finished the outline! I think this is going to be KILLER and leave readers really happy. There is NO better feeling in the world than being really excited about the book you’re working on! I can’t wait to see what you think!

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER ONE

“Surround the wagon!” The constable’s thin, wheedling voice rang out in the still air. “Leave no gap for her to escape.”

Loren felt a panicked sickness in her gut and feared she might vomit. Damaris had hidden her away only to reveal her to the constable at the first opportunity. If Loren had held any illusion of walking with Damaris outside the law, that illusion had now gone. She had only once chance to avoid the King’s law now: flee as fast as she could, before the men could yet surround the wagon.

She pushed up as hard as she could, flinging away the wooden panel that covered the wagon’s false bottom, and leapt out. No one stood at the wagon’s rear. That meant she still had a chance.

Just as she tensed to rush forward and make a run for it, a cry of alarm sounded from outside the wagon. It was Damaris. Her voice pierced the wagon’s canvas walls and filled Loren’s ears, making her pause.

“She has fled!” cried Damaris. “Where did she go? Gregor!”

“I know not, my lady,” said the captain. “My men stood vigilant.”

“Vigilant as sleeping bears,” snapped Damaris. “Find her, or it will go ill with all of you!”

Loren stood rooted to the wagon’s floor. What did it mean? No one stood near her wagon, at least not that she could see. And she had not fled, that was certain. What game did Damaris think to play with the constable and his men?

She had tricked them. She had led them to the wrong wagon. For what purpose? Loren could not know, but the fact that Damaris had not betrayed her was enough to stay her flight. Now she could hear the heavy tramp of the constable’s men moving swiftly toward her. Though she did not yet understand the ruse’s full purpose, she must place her faith in the merchant for the time being.

Quick and quiet she dropped back into the hidden space. Her fingers slid across the wood panel, and she winced as a splinter sank into her flesh. Silent as she could, she lowered it into place again.

Not a moment too soon: within seconds, the wagon shook with the impact of feet. A man climbing into the wagon. She heard shouts further down the line: the lawmen had split up, searching the wagons in ones and twos.

It did not matter. In a moment they would find Loren, and then they all would converge upon her. Whatever Damaris had planned, Loren hoped desperately that it would take place soon. Footsteps drew closer. The wood beneath her head shook. Her breath came fast, wheezing out beneath her feet.

The man grunted, and she saw leather fingers wrap around the wood panel’s edge. He heaved, and the thing flew up to crash against the wagon’s wall once again. Not the constable, but one of his riders. He looked old: a grey mustache sat atop old, weathered lips well-chapped by the wind, and deep lines creased his face from cheeks to eyes. Those eyes squinted at her for a moment, then widened as the cracked lips parted to give a shout.

The man’s chest erupted in a spray of blood, twelve inches of steel protruding from his breastbone.

Loren screamed until she thought her lungs would burst.

The man gurgled and sagged, his knees coming down at the edges of the secret compartment. His lifeblood soaked her, dousing the cloak she had thrown over herself in panic. As he fell she saw Gregor behind him. The giant’s eyes glowed cold and baleful, like the cold fire of an ancient king’s pyre. His boot lashed out, kicking the man over Loren’s head to sail toward the front of the wagon.

Without the dying man’s gaze to transfix her, Loren realized that all around her she could hear the sounds of ringing steel and men crying out in death. The wagon’s canvas muted the sounds somewhat, but not nearly enough. Loren feared she would never forget them as long as she lived.

Her way no longer obstructed, Loren leapt up and threw off her cloak. The blood had soaked through it in places, and she could feel it pressing upon her skin through the sleeves of her tunic, but she could not bear to wear the cloak a moment longer. She stumbled past Gregor, who did not move a muscle.

She lost her footing on the wagon’s edge and crashed to the ground on her shoulder. Pain lanced through her chest. But she scarcely noticed it as she rolled over onto her stomach and retched. Last night’s salted meat came up, thick and chunky and smelling of bile. She vomited until her stomach could give no more, and then she lay there unmoving except for her heaving chest.

Loren had seen death before, of course. No one lived in wilderness and felled trees without accidents. She had seen people crushed by falling oaks, people wasting away from infection after a wayward axe took a finger. But never had she seen a man killed in cold blood, stabbed through the back.

The sounds of death had subsided. Gregor’s men had won before their foes knew the battle was on, and half a dozen corpses littered the ground around the caravan.

Soft footsteps drew Loren’s gaze upward. Damaris loomed above. Her black eyes found Loren’s.

“The blood is not yours, is it?”

Loren looked down at her tunic and saw the red stains. For a moment her mind raced, and she could not remember how they had got there. But blessed forgetfulness lasted only a heartbeat.

“Why would…they were King’s men!” cried Loren. She tried to stand, but wobbly knees soon made her think better of it.

“Aye, and with noses far too keen,” said Damaris.

“They would not have killed me!” said Loren. “They did only their duty!”

Damaris’ brow crinkled for a moment, and then she shook her head softly. “Oh, child. Simple, simple child. You assign yourself far too great a worth if you think I played this hand for you. You are an amusing companion, but I do not risk the wrath of the law for my own amusement only.”

Loren had finally found the strength to stand, and slowly she gained her feet. In the blink of an eye, Gregor appeared by his lady’s side. His blade lay bare and bloodsoaked, but Loren could not have summoned a wad of spit, much less a threat. She swayed backward to lean against the wagon.

A quiet, persistent voice screamed in the back of her mind, growing ever louder. At last it raised to where she could hear it: Mennet, Mennet, Mennet, Nightblade, you fool.

“For what, then?” said Loren. “For your hidden panels and your packages of brown cloth? What could be worth these lives—lives of men you did not know, who may leave widows or orphans behind?”

Damaris actually rolled her eyes. In that gesture Loren saw a wealth of dismissal, a wide ocean of scorn and embarrassment. “The nine kingdoms make widows and orphans of us all in the end, and in greater numbers than I could dare dream. They are the rule, and joyous folk the exception. Not needless do we spill blood, I said—but never did I say we feared to, or had not before.”

Loren blanched. “And what of me, then? Do you mean to send me to the dark forest with them?”

Damaris shrugged. “Why should I?”

Loren did not know what madness seized her, but she felt that the world tilted dangerously beneath her. She needed to know the manner and meaning of its slant. “I have seen this.” She gestured around at the corpses, unable to bring herself to look. “How could you let me live, fearing that I might reveal today’s deeds?”

“Do you mean to?” said Damaris. Rather than fear or anger, she showed only faint amusement.

Loren said nothing. She did not, though she could not for the life of her think why.

“Your wisdom is, again, a welcome surprise,” said Damaris. “If you think you could report this to the King’s law and escape your own justice, you are sorely mistaken. These men died, in part, to keep safe my cargo. But, too, they died to protect you in your flight from the constables. You would face the block for that, and find your own way to the dark forest apace. Neither of two who walk shaded from the law may withstand its burning light.”

Loren shuddered to hear the shade of her own thoughts on the merchant’s tongue.

“Now, come,” Damaris went on. “I tire of this argument and its lack of purpose. You will help rid the ground of this…mess. Gregor will instruct you.”

Loren’s knees grew weak. “Me? I do not…I could not.”

“Oh, not alone,” said Damaris. “Gregor’s men will do the bulk of it. But you will help. It will be a valuable education for you. Who knows but that you will need to dispose of a mess or two yourself one day? It is not a worthless skill.”

Words leapt to Loren’s mind, words of denial, words of protest. Nightblade did not murder. Nor would she. But those words died under Damaris’ steely glare. Instead, Loren bowed her head. And when Gregor summoned his men and set them upon the corpses, to drag them away by limp arms and legs, Loren walked beside them.

She walked the lifeless heads bouncing against the ground. The constable’s face pinched thin and reedy, reminding Loren of a squirrel. A thin, pathetic mustache clung to his upper lip—and that lip sat drowned in blood, probably summoned by the man’s dying coughs. His chest lay open, and slimy ropes trailed behind him in the dirt. The others wore simple clothes, no uniforms. One of Gregor’s men, too, had been killed. The bodies numbered eight in all.

Gregor’s men dragged them all into the woods. Loren felt grateful she did not have to help with that. But once safely ensconced in the trees, Gregor’s men set about with shovels, and then they made her work. The summer sun soon brought on a stench, and she retched twice more before they were done. The bodies they covered with loose dirt and a blanket of leaves, but only after they had stripped the men of any coin. Other valuables they left in place; it seemed that the men held themselves higher than grave robbers, at least.

Just before she had covered the last corpse, the thin clipping sound of hoofbeats rang out through the tall trunks. Loren looked up to see Damaris atop her brown steed. Gregor went to her side at once and took the reins as his lady dismounted. Damaris did not hesitate for a moment, only made her way to Loren. She had something under her arm.

“Come now, and try this on,” said Damaris. “I think it is of your size. And it will serve you well—it is worth more than what a forester’s daughter might earn in a lifetime.”

She pulled out the thing beneath her arm and unfurled it, and a black cloak fluttered in the afternoon’s breeze. Had Loren not been bone-weary with gravedigging and soul-sick from the rotting bodies, she might have gone breathless at the sight. The cloak was woven of fine cloth, and it shimmered with the sun. Each fold caught a ray of light and absorbed it, never appearing brighter but only growing darker. Its cowl stretched long, able to draw down almost to the wearer’s chin.

Loren stood immobile. Damaris waited for a moment, then seized the initiative and stepped forward. She draped the cloak around Loren’s shoulders while Loren stood, still unable to move. Then Damaris came around her front again and drew the cowl up. The cloak rested on Loren’s shoulders like a cloud, the cowl at once warm atop her hair and yet pleasantly airy. She felt a light breeze kiss the back of her neck.

Now I am cloaked in Shadow, thought Loren. I am Mennet with blood on my hands.

“There,” said Damaris. “It fits as though I had cut it for you myself. And you can hide that needle at your waist again.”

Loren’s cheek filled with red, and her hand leapt to the dagger. She had forgotten it utterly. Damaris’ eyes had fixed on her hand, and Loren saw a tension in the merchant’s neck. Just at the corner of her vision, Loren saw Gregor. The captain looked poise to leap at a moment’s notice.

He would not be fast enough, Loren knew. She could draw the dagger and lay Damaris’ throat open before Gregor could take his first step. But she would not. Nightblade did not murder. That was the only victory she could take from today, and she would not lose her grip on it. 

After a moment of Loren’s stillness, Damaris relaxed. Her hand rose without warning, the backs of her fingers trailing against Loren’s cheek. Loren looked into the merchant’s eyes in wonder. Steel still showed there, it was true, but Loren saw something else: a keen affection, a softening just around the pupils that spoke of concern.

“I am sorry for what happened, truly I am,” said Damaris. “Do you think I enjoy it? You wrong me. But one must do what one must do. You will see, if you spend much longer in this world. You will understand, and you will see me as wise instead of monstrous.”

If you spend much longer in this world, Loren thought. She thought she might lose her gorge again, and a thought flashed in her mind of vomit splashing across Damaris’ pretty leather boots.

Damaris gave her a final, gentle pat on the cheek. “Do not trouble yourself overmuch with this. Let it flow over and through you, occupying your thoughts as it must, and then let it run away.”

She turned and went back to her horse, mounting and riding swiftly away. Loren turned to the men behind her. The graves lay filled and blanketed with leaves. Loren stared at the turned earth with dead eyes, and then imagined the dead eyes that lay beneath it.

She dropped her shovel and turned for the caravan. Her cloak of shadows rippled in her wake.

How Do I Write A Book?

The first draft is going strong! I’m really happy with it, and in this second hour I hope to bang out Chapter Two of Nightblade: Episode Three!

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER TWO

From that moment on, Loren kept a constant eye out for an opportunity to escape the caravan. But Gregor hounded her like a shadow, never out of sight or even very far away, and she could not think of what to do to evade him. Despite her kind words and her caress, it did not seem that Damaris trusted Loren.

Her only solitude came when she went to the woods to make water. Then Gregor let her leave his sight. The first time, Loren kept going into the woods, hoping to fade away and leave him behind. But she had only gone a few yards before she saw one of Gregor’s guards between the trunks, eyes fixed upon her. She would find no escape that way.

They traveled south along the road the rest of the day, and Loren’s mind raced to determine what Damaris could want from her. What could Loren offer that Damaris could not attain on her own? Loren could think of nothing.

Once they started moving, Annis appeared as if from nowhere, hounding Loren’s steps. She made no complaint of the walking, despite her words the day before.

Her first words struck Loren as strange. “Unpleasant, that business. Wouldn’t you say?”

Loren ignored the question. She tried to ignore Annis altogether.

“Still, we will make good time the rest of the day. And at least you need not fear my mother turning you in to the constables for a bounty. I think we have well moved beyond that point.”

Loren looked over her shoulder. Gregor stood nearby, well within earshot. He did not react to her look, but kept his stony eyes forward.

“What do you want?” Loren hissed.

“Want?” said Annis. “Why, whatever do you mean? We’re traveling again. I can ride in the carriage if you would be alone.”

Loren would have, but she dared not ask. What if doing so would give Annis insult again? Would the girl ask her mother to have Loren killed, her body dragged off and into the woods to join the constable in feeding the forest floor?

So Loren remained silent, and Annis walked beside her. She chattered nonsensically about this and that and the roads she had traveled since leaving the High King’s seat. Before long, Loren wanted to turn and shake the girl until her silly head came off. But she endured, as much for her vow never to do harm as for the man at her back with a sword recently cleaned of blood.

The afternoon wore on and on, and still Annis showed no signs of slowing in her speech. As the sun neared the horizon and they readied themselves to stop for the night, she turned to Loren and grasped her wrist with a smile.

“Might you tell me another tale of Mennet?” said Annis. “He sounded a wondrous man, and I’d wager you know more of him than just what you told me.”

“I do,” said Loren. She had less than no wish to tell Annis a story, but anything seemed preferable to listening to the girl’s babbling. And beside, mayhap a story of Mennet would calm her mind and help her think a way out of the caravan.

For Loren knew that above all else: she must escape, and as soon as possible. Damaris must have something planned for her to keep her alive, and Loren had no wish to learn of that plan. She would find some way out, she knew. She must bide her time and keep her eyes open.

As the caravan stopped and pulled into a circle, and as they set out tents and built fires for all, Loren thought of a story that she might tell. When Annis offered her some of the caravan’s provisions, Loren accepted eagerly. She no longer feared to impose upon Damaris’ hospitality. She would gladly eat the merchant out of every coin. As she tilted back a water skin and let the tepid water coat her throat, Loren thought at last of a tale.

“Shall I tell you of the time Mennet bent iron with cloth?” said Loren, piling logs and tinder.

Annis looked at her askance. “You did not…but surely you must jest. Cloth cannot best iron in strength.”

The tinder caught. Loren fanned the flames, watching as the orange glow painted Annis’ chubby features. “I would count you correct,” said Loren. “But best it he did. One day Mennet found himself within a king’s dungeon. The King knew of Mennet’s cloak of shadow, and thus he bade his jailer to line every inch of the wall with torches. Without shadows to hide within, Mennet’s escape seemed hopeless.”

Annis sat forward, the perfect listener, and her eyes widened as was their wont. “They trapped Mennet?”

Despite herself, Loren felt herself falling into the familiar rhythm of the story. Annis was certainly a wonderful audience, and Loren found the day’s events receding in her mind as she pictured herself a bard, weaving the story in words through the air and painting the picture in her listener’s mind.

“Trapped, yes, but not for long,” said Loren. “Mennet had many years ahead of him as the greatest thief in the land, and he would not let a Wizard King stay him.”

“A Wizard King?” said Annis, and her voice cracked.

Perhaps Annis imagined it, but she thought a sharp breeze gusted. The tongues of flame danced for the moment. Both girls shuddered.

“Yes, they still ruled in those days, a thousand years and more before Andrian the Fearless outlawed them.” Loren took a bag from Annis’ outstretched hand and pulled out food to eat.

“But how could Mennet hope to stand against a Wizard King?” said Annis. “They held a dark power, or so my tutors have taught me.”

“A dark power they commanded, but powerless next to darkness itself,” said Loren. “And so they kept Mennet bathed in light. He inspected every corner of his cell, but the iron bars held firm. He could find no loose stone or crumbling mortar with which he could find a means of escape.”

Annis remained perfectly quiet, only leaning back to wrap her arms around her knees. Loren paused for a moment to let the dire situation sink in before she went on.

“The Wizard King laughed to see Mennet search so earnestly for a way out. At last Mennet grew thirsty and begged a pitcher of water. The Wizard King—”

“What was his name?”

Loren frowned. “Whose?”

“The Wizard King.”

“He was…” Loren thought hard, but not for the life of her could she remember. “Bracken told me once, but I cannot recall it.”

“Why didn’t the Wizard King just kill Mennet?” said Annis. “Why hold him prisoner, if he did not mean to kill him? And if he meant to kill him, why not do it at once?”

Loren gave an exasperated snort. “If he killed him, how could he go on to become the most famed thief in all the land?”

Annis folded her arms, stubborn. “Why would the Wizard King care about that? He should have killed him. I would have killed him.”

Loren saw Damaris standing there above the corpses by the wagons. Fear formed like a white-hot stone in her gut. Yes, Annis might have killed Mennet. The apple rarely fell away from the roots.

How Do I Write A Book?

The first draft is going strong! I’m really happy with it, and in this second hour I hope to bang out Chapter Two of Nightblade: Episode Three!

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER TWO (CONTINUED)

There was little to do but press on with the story. “The Wizard King granted Mennet’s request, for it seemed so simple. His guards fetched a pitcher of water and a wooden cup to drink with. Mennet drank a deep gulp of the water and then curled up in the corner of his cell, wrapping his arms around himself as though taken by a chill. The Wizard King soon left, bored by his new plaything.

“Once he was alone, Mennet rose silently. He pulled the tunic from his back and tied it around two of the iron bars that held him in the cell. Then he took one of his boots, made from hard leather, and pushed it through the tunic. He seized both sides of the boot and twisted as hard as he could. Round and round he turned the boot, until the tunic strained at the iron bars. The fabric stretched, but did not break. Finally the iron bars bent under the strain, just enough for Mennet to slip through. He untied the tunic and donned it, then slipped out the door.”

Annis sat dumbfounded. “Can cloth truly bend iron this way?”

“Would I lie to you?” said Loren, a small smile playing across her lips. Yes. Yes, I would and I have.

Annis shook her head. “No. I cannot believe it. Else how could any prison hold its prisoners?”

Loren shrugged. “Believe it or not, as you will. It is only an old tale.”

“What good is an old tail that does not hold at least a kernel of the truth? Is that not what stories are for?” Annis folded her arms and began to pout.

Loren had tired of her little performance. “I am sorry to have disappointed you, little princess. But now I must away. I have had much water as I walked, and it begs leave of my company.”

“I shall accompany you,” said Annis, leaping to her feet.

Loren grimaced, but she could do nothing. Together they tramped toward the trees, Gregor shadowing their footsteps. Once they had passed between the first two trunks, Annis turned to look at the captain.

“That is far enough,” she said.

Gregor did not blink. “Your lady mother commands me, Annis. Not you.”

“And what will my mother think, if I tell her that you leered at me like an old lecher?”

Gregor did not reply, or move a muscle. But when Annis turned and walked on, he followed a bit farther back. When they stopped, he fell back and out of sight. But Loren would not be fooled again—she knew Gregor’s men lurked all around them.

“We must speak, and quickly,” hissed Annis.

Some urgent tone in her voice drew Loren’s attention. Her eyes found the younger girl’s face, glowing blue in the soft moonlight. “What?” said Loren. “What of?”

“You are in danger as long as you stay here,” said Annis.

Loren could not help a snort of laughter at that. “But of course. Your mother seems to see little harm in the slitting of throats.”

Annis did not take the joke; her eyes stayed solid, her lips never twitched. “I believe my mother is keeping you here as a distraction.”

“For what?”

“I have heard her speak with Gretchen in her carriage,” said Annis, her voice a harsh sibilance floating on the air. “If constables are upon the wall, my mother will tell them that yesterday’s constable pursued you north along the road. But if that should fail, our wagons will likely be searched. If that is the case, my mother will change her tune. I think she means to trade you in exchange for safe passage into the city.”

Loren swallowed hard. It hurt her throat. “Why tell me?”

“Do you think I am like my mother?” whispered Annis, glaring at her. “She has fed many men to the underworld, ever since I was a babe. I was raised to think it normal. Then one day, one of my many tutors told me the truth. That murder is abhorrent and life is sacred. That my mother only escaped justice thanks to the depth of our coffers. I have sought escape from her ever since.”

Loren could say nothing to that. She knew something of the desperation to escape home and the parents who lived there.

Annis looked into her eyes, and she must have seen something there that encouraged her. A stern, set expression crossed her features, and again she spoke in a whisper. “Will you do it, then? If I help you escape, will you take me with you?”

Loren nodded. “I will. I swear it.”

CHAPTER THREE

The next morning, Damaris called Loren to her.

“Loren Nelda.”

As soon as she heard the merchant’s high voice, Loren’s heart leapt into her throat. She thought she might vomit as she pictured Annis’ face glowing blue in the moonlight. Had it all been a ruse, a test of her loyalty? Surely Annis had told her mother everything, and now Damaris summoned Loren to be judged.

But no. They could have done that last night. Annis could have called out to Gregor, and the captain could have ended her in an instant. Loren still lived; therefore she must keep hope. So she quickened her pace to join Damaris near the caravan’s lead wagon.

Damaris stood by her horse. Today she wore a gown of light green. It hung slimmer than her average garb, though that by no means rendered it plain. Elegant designs like spiderwebs wound up and down its length, some in gold thread and some in light pink, interlocking with each other to create a varied palette of color. Damaris’ hair clung to the top of her head in tight braids, worked into a wide bun that sat like a hat.

But the merchant’s beauty no longer impressed Loren, for she had seen what lay beneath it. Only a fool saw a bear trap wrapped in velvet and still desired to run their hand along it.

Loren came to a stop and fidgeted, uncomfortable. Damaris had put her off-balance before, and now a healthy dose of fear did nothing to calm her nerves.

But Damaris only stepped forward and took the edge of Loren’s cloak in her fingers. She ran her fingers along its edge, the same eerie smile playing on her lips as she had revealed the day the guards died.

“It suits you very well,” said Damaris. “Do you enjoy it?”

Loren thought for a moment, searching for words that would not antagonize. “I have often dreamed of a cloak just like it,” she said. That was true enough. In Loren’s dreams, Nightblade always wore a cloak of fine black cloth.

“And it will serve well for riding, as well as foot travel,” said Damaris. “Come.”

That took Loren aback. What did Damaris think she was playing at? She mocked Loren for objecting to the constable’s death, then caressed her and gave her a fine cloak. She put Loren under guard like a common criminal, then invited her to continue her riding lessons. A quick glance over Loren’s shoulder confirmed it: Gregor still waited to catch her if she should attempt escape. It would appear she had no choice, then.

“My lady is too kind,” said Loren, hoping the sarcasm came through in her voice. But Damaris only nodded and stepped aside.

Loren placed a foot in the stirrup, then swung her other leg over the saddle. This time she found the opposite stirrup easily and sat up straight, hands firm on the saddle horn. Gregor mounted his own steed, then came forward to take the reins from his lady.

Thus we walk down the road together, as pretty a picture as you could imagine, thought Loren. The captain, the merchant, and the foolish girl from the Birchwood. It sounded like the name of a song, but Loren could not smile at the thought. Even being on horseback again could not improve her mood. Now Damaris had poisoned even that dream.

“That dagger at your belt,” said Damaris. “It is of fine make, is it not? Gregor, you know of such things.”

Gregor did not bother glancing at it. “Fine make indeed, my lady.”

“I confess I am curious how you came by it,” said Damaris. “An heirloom, perhaps, passed down from the nobler days of your family?”

Loren shrugged. “It is only a knife, my lady.”

“Oh, no,” said Damaris. “No, it is not only that. To the wise and trained eye, the look and feel of that dagger hold more words than a tome. It speaks of breeding, of artistry, of a master craftsman. No simple forest blacksmith made such a thing. If I did not know better, I would say you had taken it from a corpse—” she gave Loren a sharp glance at that “—but of course we have seen how abhorrent you find such things.”

Loren thought her cheeks might burn, but they did not. After all, why should she feel guilt at stealing from her parents? They had done her no favors, other than the simple act of keeping her alive.

“It came from my parents,” she said, her voice cool, nonchalant. “Where they came by it, I never knew. But when I sought to leave home, it passed into my hands. I made a promise only to use it honorably.”

She put a small bite in the last word, hoping to anger Damaris with the dig. But if the merchant noticed, she gave no sign.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Damaris. “And how came simple foresters by such a fine thing? Perhaps my guess of grave robbery is not so far wrong.”

Now it was Loren’s turn to feel the the bite of words well chosen. Her cheeks flushed, and she found herself surprised at her anger. What did she care for insults delivered to her parents? She had thought much worse than that in fifteen years.

“Oh, do not take such offense,” said Damaris, with a quick glance at Loren atop the horse. “I jest. And even if your parents acquired the dagger through…less than savory means, what of it? I do not know the tale of how my forebears came by their wealth, but I doubt the tale bears no dark chapters.”

“Is that why life seems so meaningless to you, my lady?” said Loren. “Are you only following in the footsteps of your ancestors?”

How Do I Write A Book?

We’re more than halfway through the first draft, and I’m dashing off a quick half-hour before going to a family dinner.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER THREE (CONTINUED)

“Do any of us do any different?”

“I will never be like my parents.”

“So have all children said throughout history. But if they only considered things clearly, they might not see their parents as such villains after all. Take Annis, for example. She does not approve of many things I do to ensure her safety. Did she tell you?”

Loren was suddenly glad for years of experience lying to her parents. Not a muscle in her face twitched as she lied. “No. She seemed quite cheerful, in fact, after…after what happened.”

“A farce she puts on, to hide her disgust, I am afraid,” said Damaris. “Yet I would go to any length for her, to depths twice as dark to preserve her future.”

“And would the constable have killed a little girl, if he found your cargo?” Loren could not quite keep the bitterness from her voice.

Damaris shrugged at her side. Loren had the urge to kick her. “Oh, they would have spared her, I am certain. But safety means more than survival; true safety lies only in plenty, and sometimes not even then. Do you know how long the nine kingdoms have had a High King?”

Loren frowned at the unexpected question. She thought hard. Had she not heard something of this once, as a young girl? “Two thousands of years,” said Loren.

“Fourteen hundreds,” said Damaris. “And they have changed mightily in that time. The men who laid the rules of election and first drew our borders would not recognize the lands you and I walk today. Nine royal families we have today. None of those families ruled when a High King first took his seat. But do you know how long my family has dealt in our…unique brand of goods?”

Loren did not wish to seem foolish by answering wrong, so she remained silent.

“Twenty-six hundreds of years,” said Damaris. “We claim to be the oldest family in the nine kingdoms. Vast is our wealth and extensive our power. Kings claim the right to rule, but their right has only ever come from coin. Coin that my family, and others like ours, control. I am a lesser scion of my house, and yet I may have the ear of any man in the nine kingdoms, save the High King himself, if I so desire.”

Loren’s entire body had grown tense, as she realized when she felt the startling jolts in her backside. She forced herself to relax and move with the horse again. What manner of people had she fallen in with?

“Do you know that there has never been a Merchant’s War?” said Damaris, shifting subjects as swiftly as the wind. “Neither in name, nor in practice. Wars are brutal, messy things, far below our station. And yet men insist upon fighting them. We are only too happy to lend them the coin to do so. But because we do not go to war, does not mean we have forgotten the benefit of a dead enemy. What killing we must do occurs in darkness and silence, the bodies quickly buried and even more quickly forgotten. Many know of it. None acknowledge it. As long as it remains well out of sight, most would sooner ignore it. Thus it has always been, and thus it will always be. Do you understand?”

Loren could not begin to understand. But she nodded quickly atop the horse. “I do, my lady.”

“I doubt it. But one day, you may live long enough to do so.”

Loren thought it might be better if she kept her mouth stilled, but she could not shake one question. “My lady, why do you tell me all this?”

“Oh, come now,” said Damaris. “Is it not clear? I see great things in your eyes, child. So much fear and anger, and yet so much wonder. You have suffered so much, and yet you still believe the world can be other than suffering. Who has not hoped for the same, at one time or another? Girls such as yourself are pure white eagles found in the woods; rarer than elves and twice as sacred, treasures to be preserved at all costs.”

The flowery words floated in Loren’s mind like a dream. She remembered Annis the night before and tried to come to her senses; Damaris sought to flatter her. If Loren felt secure, they could deceive her more easily. She would not fall prey to such a simple scheme.

Damaris clucked her tongue. “Come, try trotting again.”

Gregor spurred his horse and tugged on the reins of Loren’s, and both beasts erupted into sudden motion. They trotted off together, Loren clinging to the horse’s neck and glancing every so often at Gregor’s sword hanging at his belt.

How Do I Write A Book?

We’re more than halfway through the first draft, and I’m dashing off a quick half-hour before going to a family dinner.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-3

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

This one went a little long because I just wanted to bang it out. Here’s what I wrote in an hour and a half:


CHAPTER FOUR

The last day dawned, the day upon which they would reach the walls of Cabrus. Loren woke earlier than normal, when the sky was only a faint grey with no trace of pink.

She looked up and, for once, she did not see Gregor standing nearby. So the giant did sleep. She rose and took a hesitant step away from the caravan. But a guard melted from the darkness and mirrored her gait. She was not alone, then.

She could not shake a persistent feeling, somewhere between excitement and apprehension. Today, she knew, her journey with the caravan would end in one of several ways. She might enter the city to find that Damaris intended her no harm after all, and proceed freely on her way. To believe that, of course, would be folly. She might escape, as was Annis’ plan. And failing escape, the constables would either take her prisoner or kill her.

Kill me. The thought that she might die today did not cause her nearly as much consternation as she had thought it might. After witnessing the deaths of so many men, it suddenly seemed commonplace, a trite thing, something almost too often done. Only when she pictured it for true, seeing herself lying cold and sightless in the dirt in a pool of her own blood, did her body give a little shudder.

It was not long before Gregor appeared, and the other guard vanished into the diminishing darkness. And soon after that, Annis came out from her carriage. She stretched and yawned noisily in the early morning light, her eyes lighting up as they fell upon Loren.

“Good morn!” said Annis. “We reach Cabrus today.”

“So I have been told,” said Loren. She had decided the day before that she must maintain an air of sullen silence and resentment around Annis. The others must not suspect that the two of them plotted together. Annis, for her part, seemed to understand, for she wore the same chipper, vacant smile that she had worn the day the constable’s men had died.

“I do not wish a thing to distract me upon the road today,” said Annis, giving another stretch, her jaw stretching wide. “Come. Let us visit the woods before we set off. It may be long before you see them again, I fear, and you have spent your whole life among trees.”

“I suppose,” said Loren. She laid her water skin in her travel sack and slung it over her shoulder. The sack now bulged with fresh provisions, requested piecemeal from Damaris’ supply wagon. The water skin sloshed full and noisy.

Annis kept up her customary chatter as they came under the boughs of the trees, pink light bathing her upturned face and somewhat squashed nose. After they had gone on for a time, she turned to Gregor. “I need my privacy.”

Gregor nodded slowly and gestured at Loren. “Very well. Come with me, girl.”

“Not from her, nitwit,” said Annis. “We are maidens both. Besides, it is early—she must need relief herself.”

Loren shrugged, giving Gregor a dead-eyed stare. “I suppose.”

Gregor backed off, looking none too pleased. As soon as he had gone, Annis pretended to squat. Loren joined her.

“Our time runs short,” said Annis, her voice a low whisper. “Today we must escape.”

“And I have an idea,” said Loren.

Annis blinked at her in surprise. “Truly? What is it?”

“If I can distract Gregor and his men, do you think you can acquire one of your mother’s hidden packages?”

Annis blanched. Loren could not deny some small pleasure at seeing it, after the girl had been so forceful in their conversation yesterday. “Perhaps, but why? What do you propose to do with them?”

“Damaris told me that the world runs smoothly as long as no one must face the deeds of her and her kind. I plan to turn things rough.”

Annis shook her head. “If I am caught.”

“I can provide ample distraction,” said Loren. “The question that remains is, can you do it?”

“I can.” Annis did not sound pleased.

“Good. Come, then. Let us return, for we must act before the others decide to move on.”

They rose and headed back to the caravan. In only a moment, they spotted Gregor through the trees. He watched them with an expression that Loren could not read. But he said nothing, only following silently as they made their way to the wagons.

Once they neared the road again, Annis bid Loren farewell and headed off on some pretense of preparing her carriage. That left Loren and Gregor alone. Loren increased her pace, making for the third caravan from the end, the only one that she knew for certain contained the packages of brown cloth.

“Where are you going?” said Gregor.

“Oh, nowhere of consequence,” said Loren. “Tell me, when did you learn swordsmanship?”

Gregor did not answer.

“Come, now. Surely there is no harm in knowing that. Were you as old as me? Younger? Older?”

Gregor sniffed. “Younger. I began my training as a boy of ten summers.”

“Ten!” said Loren, allowing a look of shock to spread across her face. “Then I am at a disadvantage. I greatly desire to learn how to protect myself. Could you teach me?”

Gregor fell silent again.

Loren spotted a guard near the wagon, standing near its head. She made for him quickly, her pace just below a run. “If I am to catch up, I must begin immediately. Do you think you can teach me what you know today, before we reach the walls of the city?”

“I trained for years,” said Gregor, and now Loren could hear an undercurrent of exasperation.

“I am afraid I have no years to waste on such an endeavor,” said Loren. “The process must be accelerated.”

The guard stood only a few yards away, and he looked up at the two of them in confusion. Without warning, Loren sprang forward and seized the hilt of his sword, dragging it from his scabbard. The man shouted in alarm, but Loren just danced away on the balls of her feet. The sword felt much, much heavier in her hand than she had expected.

“How do you manage such a thing?” she said, letting her surprise show. “I can scarcely lift the thing!”

“Drop the blade,” said Gregor. His hand shot to his own blade, and his face drew together in a scowl. The guard came after her, arms outstretched, but Loren turned and ran away a few steps more.

“I mean no harm! I only wish to learn!” said Loren. She could not present herself as a threat. She had no desire to end this day on the end of Gregor’s sword. She danced down the line of wagons, waving the sword around in the air in what she hoped was a passing imitation of a real sword fighter. “Come! Teach me the intricacies of parry and thrust, the elegant dance of death!”

She let her feet tangle beneath her, and she crashed to the ground, careful not to land on the blade. The guard leapt forward, but Loren shot to her feet and just out of his reach. It was a dance, she realized, though her partner seemed unwilling. She took a fencer’s pose like she had seen Bracken assume when he told his stories.

“Now, how does one manage the thrust?” she said. She pushed the sword forward, and the guard cried out as he fell back. He nearly stumbled over his heels, barely managing to keep his footing.

“If you do not drop that weapon—” said Gregor.

“You will take it from me?” said Loren. “I welcome it! Come, teach me the way you were taught as a boy!”

She had done her job well, keeping her voice at a high, strident pitch. Guards all up and down the line of wagons came closer, drawn by the commotion. Better still, she saw many of them smiling, amused by her ungainly swings. And best of all, Gregor still did not draw his steel. No one could see a danger in her wild flailing.

The guard came forward once again, and Loren fled again. She drew him further away from the wagon near the end of the line. Now no one stood close by. A flash of purple told her that Annis had gained the wagon.

“Come, sir lord captain commander! Teach me! You will not find a more willing student,” cried Loren. She faced off against Gregor from ten yards away, and swung the sword in two interlocking circles. “Meet me with a riposte, if you can.”

She glanced over her shoulder to see if any guards approached from behind and was pleasantly surprised to see Damaris standing there instead. The merchant stood near her carriage at the head of the line, her eyes fixed intently on Loren. As Loren watched, Damaris’ face broke in a small smile.

“Your lady laughs at you,” said Loren. “You would be wise to defend your honor.” The guard lunged at her again, and she spun out of the way at the last second. The movement nearly made her drop the sword, but she rescued it at the last moment.

She had chosen her words unwisely. She heard the sharp hiss of a drawn sword and turned to see it was Gregor’s.

Steeling her nerves, she smiled at him. “At last! Do you mean to teach me at last, master?” She leapt aside to avoid another attempt by the guard to recover his weapon. Her foot lashed out to entangle his, sending him crashing to the dirt. “I warn you, I will not go easy on you.”

Gregor advanced upon her with measured, resolute steps. “I have warned you. Your fool’s tongue will not spare you.”

In his glare she saw hate and fury, the first true emotions she had seen in him since first she arrived at the caravan. But over his shoulder, she saw another flash of purple cloth with gold brocade. She had done her job. She dropped the sword, and it sank point-first into the ground.

“Very well,” she said hastily. “If you do not mean to teach me, I shall press upon you no further.”

Gregor did not answer, nor did he stop. Loren scarcely had time to think, he truly means to kill me before the air whistled with the passage of his sword. She dropped to the ground and rolled away as it passed through the air where her head had been.

“Gregor!”

Damaris’ sharp voice cracked out like a whip. Gregor froze as he stood above her, and his eyes snapped to his lady’s. Three deep breaths he took, while Loren waited on her belly.

“She pokes harmless fun at you,” said Damaris. “Do you act upon the whim of a girl not yet come to womanhood?”

I have, too! thought Loren, knowing it might be suicide to voice the words.

Gregor whirled his sword in the air and returned it to its scabbard in one quick motion. He bowed to Damaris, his face once again an emotionless mask. “Of course not, my lady. I only acted because I thought her a threat.”

“This one? A threat?” Damaris scoffed. “Return to your duties. All of you.”

The other guards drifted away and back to their posts, and Loren heard more than a few chuckle as they went. Her eyes rose to meet Gregor’s. There was no mistaking the fire that burned within him. Loren knew that she could no longer consider herself safe around him. But with any luck, he would no longer be Loren’s concern after today.

“Thank you for the lesson, master,” she said softly.

Gregor turned and stalked away without a word. Loren rose and went to find Annis.

CHAPTER FIVE

They spotted the walls of Cabrus as the son hung low in the sky, bathing Loren’s right side in a soft orange glow. Nerves made her blood roil within her, and she hunched her shoulders a bit lower.

She walked near the carriages, in plain sight of both Damaris and Annis in hope it would keep her safe from Gregor’s baleful glare. As the walls loomed taller, Damaris’ carriage swerved left and drew near. The merchant disembarked and walked beside Loren for a moment.

“You will be safe if you remain unnoticed,” said Damaris. “They will not recognize you in your new cloak. Keep the hood drawn about your face, and we will pass through the gate without incident.”

“Yes, my lady,” said Loren. “And thank you.” She had to force earnestness into her voice.

Damaris nodded and returned to her carriage. Just behind it, Gregor glared at Loren from horseback. She stuck her tongue out at him.

She let her eyes rove to the second carriage, and saw Annis peeking out from the door’s window. The girl looked plain terrified, and Loren’s own fears rose to fever pitch. But she must rely on Annis now—they were committed, with no chance to turn from their course or plan a new one.

Then they drew closer still, and as she scanned the wall, Loren’s heart sank into her boots.

There before the gate stood Corin and Bern. Loren recognized them at once, the one short and broad, the other tall and slender but no less muscular. On instinct she ducked her head, dutifully studying her feet. She let her steps wander right as if by accident, drifting closer to Damaris’ carriage.

“My lady!” she hissed. “They are here!”

Damaris looked out from her window. “Who, child?”

“The constables. The ones who pursued me.”

Damaris leaned out to look ahead. “The two before the gate?”

“With the red leather pauldrons, aye.”

Damaris pursed her lips for a moment. “This complicates things. Still, we should have nothing to fear. Fall behind Annis’ carriage, and let me confer with Gregor.”

Loren did as she was bid, though she could almost feel the hidden intent behind Damaris’ words. She took the opportunity to walk just by Annis’ window, and the girl looked out.

“What is it?” said Annis. “What’s wrong?”

“The constables,” said Loren. “Those who pursued me. They are here.”

“What for?” said Annis. “I thought they wanted the wizard, not you.”

“They must have had little luck finding him, and decided to guard the road against me instead,” said Loren.

“Then mother will place you into their hands for certain,” said Annis.

“Not if we carry out our plan as discussed. Are you ready?”

“How does one ready for this?” said Annis. “But yes.”

The carriage door swung open, and Annis came out to walk beside Loren. Her face seemed pale somehow under its dark color, and her eyes flitted nervously about.

“You look nervous,” said Loren in a low murmur.

“I am nervous!” hissed Annis.

“But you must not show it. Come, tell me of the High King’s seat. Speak as you often do when we walk together.”

Annis thought for a moment, her mouth hanging open, then shook her head. “I cannot. I can scarcely remember what the place looks like. All my thoughts reside here, now, and they do not speak well for our chances.”

Loren’s heart dove again, and she felt a sudden lurching sensation as though the ground shifted beneath her. If Annis quailed and lost her nerve, Loren was lost. The merchant’s daughter would carry on with her life, Damaris all unaware, but Loren would be in the hands of the constables. She must convince the girl to hold firm.

“You must not lose heart,” said Loren. “Without me, how long do you think it will be before you have another chance to escape? What if your mother is discovered in that time? You will be ruined, your family cast down and you yourself cast in chains or the stocks. Do you think your age will save you? And in the meantime you will only witness betrayal and death and be powerless to stop it.”

Loren, herself, had no idea if Annis’ age would save her, or how long it would be before the girl could try again to escape. But Loren could not afford to lose her only ally. The whole plan would fall apart.

Annis did not answer immediately, but Loren thought she saw the girl’s fear diminish. She clutched a bulge at her side, covered by her travel cloak. Loren knew that within lay a package wrapped in brown cloth.

“That’s better,” said Loren, hoping she spoke the truth. “Come now. Courage.”

Just then, Gregor slowed to pull up and walk beside them. The walls stood dangerously close now, and Loren felt far too exposed under the eyes of Corin and Bern. The captain spoke without looking at her.

“My lady commands you to walk by her daughter’s carriage,” said Gregor. “You will pose as her lady in waiting.”

“But I will be in plain sight,” said Loren. “The constables will recognize me for certain.”

Gregor glared at her. “I bring my lady’s orders, not an opportunity for debate. The carriage. Now.”

Loren swallowed hard and let Annis guide her to the carriage. But Annis did not climb aboard again, instead electing to walk. Loren was grateful for the comfort and companionship, but she stood more than a foot taller than the merchant’s daughter. It made her feel twice as conspicuous.

At long last the caravan pulled to a halt before the gate. Loren stood only thirty feet away from the constables who had pursued her south along the King’s road. They stood surrounded by several guards, with many more posted along the wall above the gate. Loren thought suddenly of the arrow Bern had loosed at her, and she could barely suppress a shudder. She peered furtively at the constables from below her cowl, desperate not to show them her face.

“Well met again,” said Corin. “What news from the road?”

“Precious little,” said Damaris, leaning out to speak from her carriage window. “And in the city?”

“Little as well,” said Corin. “Tell me: where is our brother constable? We sent him north to meet you, for he thought that mayhap we had not questioned you as closely as we might.”

“We met him upon the road,” said Damaris. “He put us to the search, and when he found nothing, he rode away north.”

Corin and Bern exchanged glances at that. Bern spoke next. “Why would he ride north, and not south to report in with us again?”

Damaris dismissed him with a laugh. “You ask me? Am I the constable in question? What could I know of his aims and intent?”

“Mayhap he never reached you,” said Bern, his voice a low growl that Loren had heard too often of late. “Or mayhap he did, and took coin to leave.”

Loren felt a presence, and looked up to see Gregor looming up behind her. She now stood within easy reach of the captain’s long arms, and she could not help but picture them leaping out to wrap her in death’s embrace.

“Your men must be most corruptible, if bribery is your first suspicion,” said Damaris.

“Or mayhap he lies in a cold ditch somewhere along the road, a concern to you no longer,” said Bern, acting as if she had not spoken.

Damaris scoffed again. “Do you think I am such a fool as to raise my hand against the King’s law?”

“You would not be the first in your family to do so,” spat Bern. Beside him, Corin raised his hands and tried to calm his partner with quiet words Loren could not hear. But the taller constable would not be sated. “Tell us where our brother has gone, or I swear you shall be put to the question.”

“You would threaten a friend to the crown?” hissed Damaris.

“My partner speaks hastily, my lady,” said Corin. “We have had no luck finding the wizard, and the search wears us both thin.”

Bern ignored him. “Friend to the crown?” he snapped. “What have you ever done to earn that title, you leech?”

“Why, I have brought you both a mighty gift,” said Damaris.

Loren felt a shifting behind her, and knew this was the moment. “Annis, now!” she cried. Then she leapt forward, feeling the tail end of her cloak slip through Corin’s grasping fingers.

Annis drew forth her hand from where it rested beneath her cloak, drew back her arm and let fly. The package of brown cloth flew through the air. For a moment Loren feared it would fall short of its target, but Annis had a good arm. The package landed perfectly between Damaris’ caravan and the constables. It struck the ground and burst open. Loren caught a flash of shining black as a cluster of obsidian crystals spilled across the ground.

There was a moment’s pregnant silence. Then many things happened at once.

The constables cried out as one and drew their blades, as did the men behind them. Atop the wall, a guard blew a horn. The men on the ground rushed Damaris’ carriage, and Gregor’s men surged forward to meet them. The air rang with the clash of steel. Gregor screamed in fury and charged the constables’ men, Loren and Annis forgotten for the moment.

There would never be a better time, Loren knew. She seized Annis’ hand in her own and ran for the girl’s carriage. The dagger leapt into her hand before she could think to draw it, and she slashed at the leather that bound the lead horse to its harness. The driver cried out in alarm, but Loren ignored him. The horse whinnied in fright at the sounds of fighting and nearly bolted. Loren jumped back, but Annis pressed forward. She took the harness in her hands like reins and put a hand on the horse’s neck, whispering soothing words.

As she calmed the beast, the driver began to climb down off his perch. Loren leapt toward him, the dagger held forward. She thrust it at the space between his legs, and the man yelped as he flew back to his seat.

“Stay where you are!” said Loren. “Next time I strike true!” She would not—she had promised herself—but the man believed her. He sat atop the seat with eyes wide and frightened.

The horse had calmed, and Loren flung herself on to its back. Then she leaned down to seize Annis’ hands and drag the shorter girl up to sit in front of her. Annis seized the leather straps again and kicked her heels into the horse’s flanks. Loren nearly pitched off the back, and only stopped herself by clutching Annis’ body with both hands.

The horse swerved at first, heading right for the fighting. Loren screamed incoherently, and Annis fairly dragged the reins to the right. The horse swerved at the last moment, passing the edge of the men who swirled in battle around Damaris’ carriage. Gregor was one, and he turned to stare at them in frank astonishment.

They passed just close enough, and Loren lashed out with her boot. Gregor’s nose crunched under the sole of her boot, and he fell.

They fled as fast as they could. Behind them, Loren heard Damaris’ voice erupt in a cry of rage and anguish as her daughter sped away from her forever.

“We’ll ride around the city,” said Loren, shouting to be heard over the thunder of hooves. She grunted after every other word—without a saddle, riding a horse was even harder. “Then stay on the road south and make for the next one. Or perhaps hide in woods nearby while we think of where to go.”

“We can’t,” said Annis. “It’s too far to the next city on one horse, and we haven’t the provisions for it anyway. And they say bandits roam these woods.”

“We cannot enter the city,” said Loren, aghast.

“We must,” said Annis. “We shall come in by another gate, before word has had time to reach it. It is easier to hide among a thousand people than ten thousand trees, or so I have heard. We will hide until we find secure passage from the city. I have brought coin.”

After a glance backward to ensure they were not followed, she dug into a pocket and pulled out a coin purse. She placed it in Loren’s hand, then dug out another and jingled it between her fingers. She glanced at Loren over her shoulder, and an impish grin spread across her features.

“And here I meant to be the master thief,” said Loren. “You take to it most naturally.”

Annis laughed as they rode on.

Soon the horse had carried them to another gate, this one on the south and west side of the city. The road that led to it was densely packed with people, unlike the King’s road which that had lain empty. Annis skillfully guided the horse into line between two simple wagons, one loaded high with hay, the other filled with cages that held chickens.

“Cabrus has a large district where the people are poor and the constables lax in their patrols,” said Annis, speaking quietly now. “We will find an inn there, the sort where the master does not ask too many questions. Then we will seek out some traveler or trader who means to leave the city and buy our passage with him.”

“Who can we trust?” said Loren. “Anyone who hears of your mother will turn us over for the reward she will surely bring.”

Annis bit her lower lip. “I had not thought of that. But no matter. We will think of something.”

They passed through the gate without incident. The guards took one look at Annis’ fine dress and Loren’s black cloak and nodded, waving them through. One guard gave a curious look at the horse’s lack of saddle, but beyond that they all ignored the girls. Loren realized with a start that the guards thought her nobility, or at the last a wealthy merchant whose business was her own. It was a curious feeling.

Once inside, Loren dismounted and walked beside the horse, relieved not to feel the creature’s spine slapping between her legs any longer. Though at first she glanced over her shoulder and peered doubtfully around every corner, soon her eyes drew up and around to stare at the city all around her.

She knew she had visited Cabrus once as a child, but only because adults had told her. She could remember nothing of the place. Now she could not imagine how people lived in such a place. Buildings pressed up against each other, sharing walls in some cases. Some stood only a single level, while others had second floors that often overhung the street. Loren yelped and dodged as someone emptied a pot out one window, splashing into the street beside her. A wave of stench a moment later told her it had been a chamber pot.

“Is this the poor district?” she said, tugging on Annis’ dress.

“This? No, of course not,” said Annis. She looked down at Loren, nonplussed.

“But then why—”

Loren could not finish her thought, for strong hands seized her from behind. One gripped her left hand that hung close by the dagger, and the other seized her right shoulder.

“Greetings, Loren of the family Nelda,” hissed Bern’s cruel voice in her ear.

Loren had no time to think, and acted upon the first thought to cross her mind. She reached out and slapped the horse’s rump as hard as she possibly could. The beast screamed and tore off, speeding down the cobbled street and out of sight.

“After it!” cried Bern. Several men in leather armor pursued the horse down the street. Bern whirled Loren around, and she saw Corin standing there with several others.

“Welcome to Cabrus,” said Corin. His eyes held no trace of kindness. “You seem to have much to answer for.”

CONTINUED IN EPISODE FOUR

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