Thanks for taking a look at my little hodgepodge of a blog. Take a ganger at the bottom of the page to see the Categories. That will help to make sense of my short journal entries. The format and subjects of my blog has changed through the years as it's my log of S.N.McKibben's writing journey. You've now been sufficiently forewarned, happy reading!
So, this isn't Cynthia's, but my own inspiration for Bowden. All artists need to rest, so the next illustration shall be the last for The King's Thief. The story will also be completed in the next installment. It takes stamina and determination to keep going as artists, writers, creators and though one may have enthusiasm for a project at first, the new wears off and you need sheer will to continue through the exhaustion. Creating (writing/illustration) is like running. You have sprints, marathons, half-marathons and mile goals. Training is in between those races. Rest is in between training. Motivation is the only thing that keeps you running. When lost, your body screams "no more", just like a hand cramp and writer's block sets in.
So, my dear, sweet reader. This is the second to last installment of "The King's Thief". I'll be biting my nails on what to give you next, but I will have something! I have a few ideas in my head and one story started that is a paranormal-shifter romance. It's *not* the usual alpha wolf type story with a twist. But that's all I'm going to say.
For now, here is the next installment of "The King's Thief"...
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The King's Thief
The ropes at my wrists were released but I couldn’t move. Bishop Aldo twisted his staff back to one piece and stood surveying the handiwork he produced on my back. “Rest, my dear, tomorrow is another day.”
He was going to keep me here beyond our planned stay. I wanted to warn Detrien, or the rogues, but I couldn’t move. Two minutes after the bishop left, I hissed at a coolness covering my back. Large hands rubbed a balm over my wounds. The whiff of Chartan de perfume invaded my nose. He guided himself underneath me, my head in his lap, while I stayed on my stomach. He cradled me, continuing to stroke my back, spreading the balm.
“Don’t speak to me,” his voice rough and gravelly as if from a long day of yelling. “At this moment, I would say you deserved every strike for disobeying me.” But his soothing hands claimed the opposite.
His hands were the only thing steady on me, the rest of his body shook.
“Bowden…” I said.
“I know.” His voice shook. “I have restrained myself to go with your plan.”
“You spoke with Gustave?”
“Yes.” He continued to spread the balm over my back.
We spoke no more. He was angry. I’d felt the same when all I could do was watch them torture Bowden. But now I had a plan.
My first instinct was to smile broadly, walk tall, and hide my hurts and ailments. But that’s not what to bishop wanted. He wanted to see me cowed, feeble, meek and grateful for his beatings.
The thought made me want to rebel harder. In my youth, I would have stuck to my instincts, but if Bowden, the rogues, Detrien, Chartan and me were to make it out alive, I had to play along. Instead of flaunting my confidence, I hid my face—looking at the floor and stepped out my room to morning mass. The two guards snapped to attention and followed me down the pillar hallways.
The chapel was the only room with natural light filtering in through the high windows. Two balconies ran over the row of a hundred pews. White glazed walls reflected the diffused sunlight causing a celestial haze. The affect awed everyone seated. As much as I wanted to impute a certain bishop to god right now, I had to find Gustave and tell him where to find the keys and Bowden.
Gustave spotted me but instead of smiling and waving he backed into a shadow. I stopped, frowning at the contrast to his usual personality. Gustave’s manner had changed from last night. Before, everything for the boy was easy, a game, his confidence high. He’d aged overnight, the innocence a bit diminished, a hint of fear behind that boyish glint in his eyes. My heart sunk wondering if the bishop hadn’t pulled him aside last night and—I stopped my thought, I couldn’t bear to continue its course.
My guard urged me forward. “Bishop Aldo has a place of honor for you at the front.”
I blinked at the man. This was my only chance to communicate to Gustave. I grabbed the pendent around my neck and pointedly looked to Gustave and then down at the pendant.
Gustave watched me with those innocent eyes, huge and observant. I didn’t get an acknowledgment, but I didn’t see confusion either. I just had to hope he understood and walked with the guards to my reserved seat. There would be no sleep during the service.
Continuing down the aisle I scanned for any of Chartan’s men. None of them were there. The matter was curious, but not overly so. Detrien probably got them out of morning mass or I’d missed them in the crowded pews. They were rogues trained to disappear. Besides, I couldn’t sit with them, denying a bishop’s wish boded no favor. Not when the church was over filled with worshipers. I couldn’t see Detrien, and I had a feeling he was in back with the bishop.
Throughout the service I kept my attentions towards the front, no matter how great the temptation was to look over my shoulder and scan the crowd. The deacon and the bishop had much to say and as the droning went on. I entertained myself with rebuttals to their gospel. Not aloud of course.
By the end, I was ready to climb the tallest tower and fling myself out the window. Finally, Detrien stepped out from behind the curtains. His eyes searched until he found me. His smile plastered, his wave to the adoring crowd casual, but my teeth were set on edge by his pale complexion and stiff walk. At first I’d thought his slight limp was a physical pain, but it was his rigid body language that tipped me into his stress. My cousin was wound tighter than a violin.
When he began to sing, everyone came to a hush. The air stilled waiting for my cousin’s command. After the first chord, the cold beauty of the chapel turned pleasant. The blinding light toned to a softer shade of warm yellow, and sharp colors turned a deeper rich. But my cousin’s baritone did not reach his full range. His eyes did not sparkle as they usually did when giving all of his heart to his music. No one would notice except for Detrien’s teacher—and me. He was either holding back unwilling to give the Randish his all, or he was terrified enough for it to effect his performance. At the end, he received his usual standing ovation. He bowed and walked off stage—straight to me.
His fierce embrace was more than devote love to his last remaining family. Detrien’s lips pressed to my ear, “They know. Say nothing.” Then he pulled away holding my hands and with a wide smile said, “Tonight you shall accompany me on stage.”
I could barely hear him over the thunder of applause and my swimming head at the knowledge that we’d been found out. How? I replayed everything in my mind starting from the moment we walked through those front gates. The Randish were not stupid. A week after a ship raid—a prisoner caught—Detrien not expected for another few months—the rogues suspicious behavior covering their faces—Bowden’s reaction to my voice. Of course they’d figure it out.
Bishop Aldo probably brought me down to the dungeons to confirm it. Well, they hadn’t found Chartan and I could imagine the thief’s smug face telling me I should have gone back to Xaxyia.
Getting specific information from Detrien was going to be tricky. I could read a man well, his thoughts, his likes, his mind, but attaining exact words even from a man I knew would be difficult. Determining to get us all out alive, I’d have to hone every skill I practiced to its full potential. But I would no longer play their game. I was Lady Dauphine of the Rouellean families. The rightful queen to Quenarre. My people had faced enough bleak hope among tyrants that couldn’t treat their own people more than pigs in a galley. I was not meek or mild. I was queen of this country.
Detrien’s fake smile turned genuine. “Finally, you know what you are.”
Guards surrounded us, separating the common people from Saint Detrien. While we walked down the aisle, common wild flowers were thrown before us and at us. The people cheered their adoration of my cousin. He was most likely their only refuge from a life under the thumb of the bishop.
Finally, after a thousand feet procession down the aisle we were free of the crowd, but were herded to the dining room. Bishop Aldo sat at the far end of the table still in his garbed white robes. Deacon Philip hovered over a tied-up Gustave sitting in a chair closest to me. The boys ruffled dark hair, scratches over his right eye and a bruised left cheek infuriated me.
“Let him go!”
Staring back at the bishop’s sadist-in-crime with the fire of a determined badger, Gustave struggled with the ropes.
Bishop Aldo’s lips quirked in an amused half grin. “Good. You’re here. It seems we have a dilemma I think you can fix, Dauphine.”
“Lady Dauphine.” Detrien scowled.
The bishop stood and tipped his head. “Yes, of course, Lady Dauphine Rouelle.”
My name—my full name, how did he know?
“Who else could seduce my soldiers to do her bidding?” He said.
“What?” Confused I tried thinking back. When did I ask the soldiers to do anything?
The bishop took his staff in hand and walked to the end of the table. “Randish soldiers are hardened to horrors of war. They fight without mercy against heathens. Yet you ask one of them to look after a sinner.”
The only thing I asked of the soldiers was when we first arrived. “You mean the boy? The child whose only misfortune was trying to get a better glimpse of Detrien as we rode by?”
“That boy broke God’s law.”
“By being curious?”
“Enough! Come here.” Bishop Aldo extended his hand as bishop’s do to worshipers who want to kiss his ring.
Detrien stepped protectively in front of me. “You said she would be safe.”
Those words made my head swim, had Detrien sold us out for my safety? I looked at Gustave—the boy showed no sign of shock only anger. This was planned or Gustave knew about this turn of events.
“Detrien?” I whispered. “What have you done?”
“I said,” the bishop dropped his hand. “You and your cousin would stay here. The others, they need to go.”
The way he said “go” wasn’t of the “let them go” variety. He was going to kill them all.
Deacon Philip produced a knife and pressed the blade under Gustave’s chin. “Talk cretin, don’t make the lady watch me cut out your tongue through your throat, where are my keys?”
Triumph near overwhelmed my schooling. I wanted to laugh. Gustave surely swallowed all three keys. They’d never find them, unless they dissected Gustave as they did Bowden.
“I know where they are.” I stepped forward.
Gustave whipped his head and pleaded with his eyes. Beads of blood dripped from the underside of his chin.
Bishop Aldo turned to his deacon in smug satisfaction. Deacon Philip sneered back. Righteous bastards. They thought they were above their god’s law. My mind worked as to how to get out of this and found only one answer. Crafty word-shadowing was in order. I could only pray Detrien could decipher my code. “He was trained by the black brothers, he’ll keep the key close to the door.”
Deacon Philip spurt out orders to the guards, “Search the holding room.”
I snorted in disgust. “You really think he’s that stupid? You think you’re going to find it above the door frame?”
Bishop Aldo sighed, and stood up. “Bring them.”
“Your Grace, we should look first.”
“No,” the bishop waved a hand in annoyance. “She’s right and I want this over with.”
To get back to his ritual beatings.
The Deacon hauled up Gustave. Though the rogue’s hands were tied in ropes he was free to walk. Soldiers created an oval wall of steel surrounding his grace and the deacon trailing Chartan’s protégé, Detrien and I. My cousin walked beside me while Gustave walked behind us and in front of the Randish Theocracy. Looking at him up close Detrien’s usual silky hair was stringy. His broad shoulders slumped. He wasn’t paying close enough attention to my queues to catch my subtleties. I had to get Detrien out of his despair. I needed his help. “Why did you tell them my name?”
“I didn’t.” His eyes remained on the floor.
Looking back at Gustave, the boy was a professional. He gave nothing away, just stared at me, not acknowledging or denying my glace trying to tell him we would get out of here. Gustave was the quintessential protégé of Chartan.
We were almost to the stairs that led down to the dungeons. Turning back, I did my best to rile-up my cousin, “Whatever you traded for my safety, you’ve been cheated.”
His eyebrows pinched together and placed a hand on my shoulder. I winched and hissed at the pain from the lash. Detrien yanked his arm down. I felt his twitch, more than saw it. His hand curled to a fist. His steps became measured. I grabbed his arm. Not yet.
We turned the corner to the stairs. As I rounded I held my cousin’s hand in mine and bolt forward. I shoved the guard to the left of us. Thank goodness Detrien understood. Together, our combined weight and force pushed the man off-balance.
Metal plate crashed on stone as the soldier tumbled down. I was going to do the same to the one on the right, but he turned grabbed the back of his partner’s helmet and slammed it against his knee. The struck soldier was stunned and I planted the bottom of my shoe to his shoulder while grabbing his sword. With a shove of my foot, that one went down the stairs with his fellow and I had a weapon.
Blue eyes narrowed through a thin visor. “Now I have to go chasing him.”
That voice, those eyes…Chartan! The soldier to my left was Chartan!
I huffed, “You’re spoiling my rescue of Gustave.”
A reverberated snort through the metal helmet told me what he thought of my rescue.
From behind I was ambushed by the very person I was trying to save. Hands tied to his back, Gustave fell forward and into me. His weight was too much and we both tumbled. My shoulders hit an edge and the sword went out of my hand. Gustave’s face went into my cleavage. Then I was a-top the boy and I felt his hips impact with stone. We rolled another two, maybe three times, then we hit bottom. Flat on my back with the boy rolling off my top, the wind taken from me, I watched as Detrien and Chartan fought together against three guards pinning the Bishop and deacon against the stone wall.
Chartan and Detrien fought side to side with a six foot drop behind them. We had our own problems. Two soldiers were getting up and one of them still had a weapon. Grabbing the two daggers under my sleeves I had just enough time to block an overhand blow. “It’s not nice to try and kill a lady.”
The man hesitated for a moment, then blocked my lunge for his gut.
Gustave popped up and, still tied, started stomping on the other guard. “Could use a dagger right now.”
“You’re a rogue. Improvise.” I blocked and lunged again.
A soldier fell off the stairs. He was dead before he hit the lower level. Gustave kicked and I shielded his back. I couldn’t see Chartan or my cousin and I wouldn’t be able to bear watching either one getting hurt.
“Gustave, do you have the key?” I said.
In response, he knelled and started bringing up the keys in his own talented way.
The Deacon broke free from the fighting and went down the stairs, heading for Gustave. I was not going to let that man touch the boy and threw both my daggers into the deacon’s heart. He slammed up against the wall and looked down. Then he laughed. I ran to the downed soldier and grabbed a sword to defend myself.
Deacon Philip pulled the weapons out of his chest. “You have to have a heart to stab one.”
I realized my mistake. I’d thrown my daggers in the wrong place. He was like Bowden, his heart was on his right side, not his left. I blocked against the soldier, but the sword was a heavier weapon and I couldn’t wield it like my two daggers. Deacon Philip seemed to think me the greater threat and watched with mirth as I fought the soldier. While the two guards fighting Chartan and Detrien holding their own protecting the bishop, nobody noticed Gustave throwing up three keys, choosing one by his teeth and using talented lips to unlock the door.
Another guard fell dead to Chartan’s sword, but they wouldn’t reach me in time. A soldier’s heavy steel is not a lady’s choice in weaponry, at least not this lady. Still I swung to ward off my attacker. But my strength was failing and my opponent saw it.
“Give up, Lady Dauphine.” Deacon Philip paused his assault.
I rested the sword, point down, on the floor and panted. The deacon rushed forward and I slammed my elbow in his face. He reeled back. but another soldier bashed my body into the wall. Stunned, my arms were locked in chains above my head. I kicked, flailing.
“Grab her ankle.” The Deacon said and the guard caught my left foot. Deacon Philip grabbed my right foot and slipped in between my legs. His eyes narrowed and his smile widened. I tried biting his nose off but he pulled out of reach.
“Interesting thing my studies have taught me,” Deacon Philip said. “The body has many weaknesses, some you’d never think of.” He then pushed his finger across the spot where my nose and upper lip met and applied pressure. I had no choice but to back off. It didn’t hurt so much as cause a trigger response.
“We tried it the bishop’s way first, beating you to God’s will,” Deacon Philip said. “Now it’s my turn to try.” He started lifting my skirt and pulling down his pants. I tried kicking again but it was no use, I couldn’t strike anything. When he pulled out his cock it was the biggest thing I’d ever seen. Seriously, smaller women would have died from internal bleeding. How did Deacon Philip even think with a cock that huge? I’d seen large. This was not a cock to swoon over, it was terrifying. Even if I were ready, it would hurt.
Lightning crawled around Deacon Philip fast as a viper and ripped him off me. In the doorway, Bowden slung an arm around a badly beaten Torg and with his other hand, the mage shot lightning from his fingers. With a wild fierceness in his eyes Bowden poured lightning bolt after bolt into Deacon Philip until the man stopped twitching. Then with a torn scream from Bowden, he slahed the air with his hand and Philip Deacon’s body ripped in half.
The soldier beside me raised his sword and started after Bowden and Torg. I wrapped my legs around his ankle and the soldier tripped forward landing in front of Bowden.
The mage touched the soldier’s forehead and the man went down. Blood ran from the Randish soldiers ears. It seemed Bowden exploded the man’s brain. But the mage was not done, even dropped over Torg he raised his free arm to the soldiers Chartan and Detrien fought and yanked as if he were pulling something out of the air. The two soldiers fell down the stairs. How Chartan avoided them was no mystery, but my cousin…Detrien whirled around avoiding them in a move he could have only learned from the master thief himself. Chartan jumped down and with momentum his sword went through the metal plate of the soldier. He then slit the throat of the other.
“You know the one thing I like about the Randish, bishop?” Detrien held the sword to Aldo’s throat. “You can kill a high ranking official and they don’t care, they just send another.”
“Saint Detrien, you don’t want to do this.” Bishop Aldo held my cousin’s shoulder. “They will avenge me.”
“No, they won’t,” Detrien said. “Because I killed the last bishop too.”
Bishop Aldo’s eyes went wide, then a thin crimson line dripped blood. Detrien let the bishop fall.
I ran to the old court mage. I knew the expression of defeat on his face. It was an expression that would welcome death. Then my friend and sorcerer slumped. Torg struggled to keep him on his feet.
“No Bowden, you can’t die, you’re not allowed.” I patted his cheek in succession to keep him awake.
He gave a weak smile. “By what decree?”
“By order of your queen.”
He bobbed his head in a strangled laugh. I looked at Torg, “Lay him down, I’ll take him.”
“No, we need to get out of the city, he’s short of eighty-pounds, we need all the fighters we can get.”
“We’re not going to fight,” Chartan crouched beside me. “There’s a tunnel.”
I nodded remembering the same path Chartan took me the last time we had to flee.
“Your uncle would be so proud.” Bowden took my hand and squeezed. “You are more beautiful than I remember.”
“Bowden,” I framed my loose curls around his face. “I promise to make up for this horrible place. You’ll come with me to Xaxyia, you’ll have the best food, wine from all trades of the globe, any woman from my stable—all of them, just stay alive.”
He smiled wide, then his mirth fell. “From your stable?”
“She’s guild master of the courtesans.” Chartan bent a knee and examined the mage.
Bowden slid a venomous gaze to Chartan, raised his arm and took hold of Le Beau’s throat. The mage, too weak to do any damage barely kept his hold. Amazingly, Chartan did not try to stop him.
“You let her become a courtesan?” Bowden’s fury was going to keep him alive so I didn’t argue.
“I let her choose her own destiny.” Chartan took hold of Bowden’s wrist and moved out of the mage’s grip.
“When I’m stronger, we will discuss your failures later.” Bowden folded his arm over his chest.
“Narcissistic, arrogant, gallish mage.” Chartan softened the words with affection.
“Conceited, self-important, vain thief.”
Chartan chuckled and Bowden listed his head to the side. Like most mages, Bowden slept with his eyes half open.
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