Due to circumstances out of my control...like, Cynthia's life being hectic and the fact that she wanted to improve on this sketch and then me pulling her off this project to do another smaller project, nearly didn't allow us time to have a full color illustration! I'd thought I'd only have a sketch of what would become, but Cynthia worked really hard to get this up in time.
These illustrations are in depth and she puts in a lot of effort in each one.
I gave her a few scenes to choose from for this illustration and she chose what you see! In fact here are her words to me:
About the illustration of Chartan and Dauphine, I'm sending you the sketch now! I went for this particular moment:
'He stepped closer to me, leaned down to my ear and whispered. “I know who you are Lady Dauphine of Quenarre, noble princess of the house Rouelle. I escorted you to safety here before the overtaking of our King. Do not chuff me off.”'
I believe it was an interesting moment to show the tension between them, also this seductive but also provocative side of Chartan and a key moment where Dauphine finally realizes how serious Chartan's visit is.
And now the illustration is so. Happy reading!
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This is a FREE internet story for my fans. This chapter is the continuation of a story called "The King's Thief". Click the button above for more details.
No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted without written prior permission from the publisher. This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, events, incidents and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
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The King's Thief
The wild landscape of my home country helped me endure riding a horse that was beautiful but maintained a gait that was something to be desired. His hooves slammed the ground even while walking, which jostled me back and forth, chaffing my rear. He was no Carnival but he kept up with the rest and I didn’t fault him for his poor breeding. He was a testament to the ravaged people of Quenarre. Therefore, I was grateful for the mount on the long journey.
Dean and Torg rode in front, Gustave and Detrien on either side of me. The other fifteen soldiers followed Roy, who was behind me, on the main road to Rouelle. The path rolled over hills flourishing with yellow and purple flowers. Mountains ahead. The sea to our backs. It was the beautiful land I’d grown up seeing. Except for the Randish caravans that tore up the road, it was home.
Torg broke from his usual silence and slid his horse between Gustave and me. “We’ve come this far, what’s the next phase of your plan?”
Detrien answered, “It’s genius, but a fairly simple one.”
I patted my steed who seemed to have a bit of a problem with Torg’s mount. The two pinning their ears at each other, a clear sign to back off, but their fussing didn’t go beyond facial expressions.
“How do we ride through the front gates and live?” The bartender said.
“Tell me, Torg, what special talents do you have other than serving drinks that can wipe a mustache off a woman?”
He laughed and I reveled in the sound. Torg’s hadn’t made merry in some time by the sound of his unused vocals. I loved making men laugh, if they got too serious, they became drab bores.
Dean raised a fist for us to stop, then pointed to the tall grass to the side of the road. Everyone rushed in the direction he pointed an my horse followed.
“Shhhh…” Torg pressed a finger to his lips. “Randish caravan.”
“We can’t keep ducking them.”
“Yes we can. That’s what we do.” Gustave jumped off his horse and started pulling his mount down. All the horses, including mine, were trained to lay in the grass and hide.
“If they see us, our plan will be exposed.”
I looked to Detrien who shrugged.
“Ah, no.” I said. “This is only going to work if we are noticed.”
Again I received a look that I now interpreted as…but Chartan taught us this way. “As much as it goes against your nature, my plan includes not hiding. We want to be noticed, we want to be known.”
Torg gave the “lay down” cue to my horse who obliged. We went down and I stepped off my ride. “This will take forever to get to Bowden.”
“It’s the fastest way.”
“No, it’s the fastest way not to be seen.” I walked toward the main road.
“Lady Dauphine, what are you doing? Get back here!” All the men whispered but only Torg ran after me. At the edge of the horizon I saw a Randish stagecoach peeking over the horizon. “Damn it Lady Dauphine!” Torg said.
“Have you decided what your specialty is?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, we’re halfway there and you can’t think of a fake occupation?”
“Never mind, you’re new specialty is jokes.”
“Jokes, my good man, telling jokes.” I waved at the caravan and Torg stared at me as the carriage approached.
“I’m willing to bet,” I said. “That they won’t even stop.”
“You don’t know the Randish.” Torg gave me a scowl.
Sure enough, the coach stopped and one of the passengers stuck his head out. “My good man, good lady, is there trouble?”
“Oh, thank you sir, but no. My band and I…”
“Band?” The man looked startled.
“Yes, my entertainers.” I waved to the others behind me. “We’re taking a rest from a weary walk.”
“Entertainers?” He said shocked. “I haven’t seen rovers here in years.”
“Oh! We will have little competition then!” I said.
“What type of entertainment do you perform?”
I smiled as innocence herself. “I’m just the musician,” I pointed to Torg. “He’s the joke teller.”
The man smiled at Torg, “Go then, tell me one.”
Torg scowled at me then cleared his throat. In his rough serious voice he said, “A man comes home from work to find his wife sliding down the banister. ‘What are you doing?’ he asks. She answers, ‘Warming up your dinner’.”
The man howled, slapped the window and tossed Torg a copper. “I hope you have some the Cardinal won’t be-head you for.”
Torg grimaced. “Unlawful’s all I got.”
The man didn’t seem to hear Torg. “Well, if you’re all right then, I’ll be off.”
“Thank you sir.” I bowed.
The man knocked on the upper panel twice and the driver set the horses in motion. When the carriage was gone Torg scowled at me.
“What? He liked your joke.”
“And now we have people that will know about us.”
“Exactly my point.”
“Because now we’ll be expected.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
I sighed. “Don’t you see? Word will spread there are entertainers on their way.”
“It’s dangerous. The Cardinal is suspicious.”
“Then he’ll be caught off guard. He’s expecting rogues.”
We went back to the horses. “Get up. No more delays. We ride to Rouelle.”
The men coaxed their horses up and remounted. I gave them all until the vestiges of daylight to figure out what they wanted to “be” before I told them what they were. After the rays of sun no longer adorned us, we set a simple camp. Most the men ate, tended their horses and rolled blankets for a night under the stars. Despite their protests, I started a fire. After rounds of jerky, a handful of nuts and enough water to clear our throats from road wear I pointed to Roy and asked, “What’s your entertainment value?”
Roy waggled his eyebrows and said, “Plenty under the sheets.”
I looked at the weathered blond sailor. He was the type that always smiled even when he thought you weren’t looking. Skin stretched across a wide face and intelligent eyes. His beard started red at the roots and bleached from sun at the ends. His hair never had a chance to be anything but blonde and it was obvious he never wore a hat. He looked my age, but wrinkles around his eyes told me he was much older. He was charming and handsome and owned the confidence of an older, wiser man. I flashed a sultry smile and said, “Then you’ll have no problem arousing my interest.”
His smile grew wide. “I would but for Chartan.”
I wanted to say, “Forget Chartan,” but the words wouldn’t come. Even the seductress’ heart inside me leaped at his name. Instead I cleared my throat.
“Careful lad,” Torg said. “She’s about to assign an occupation to ya.”
“He can juggle.” Dean offered, and I turned my eye to the dark haired, blue eyed soldier. His wife was a lucky woman. Not only was Dean the right kind of beautiful it was tempered with enough rugged edge to prevent a dismissal from others as just another pretty face. Though I’m sure men did misjudge his skill in fighting. But, as a lover he was true to his wife.
“What else can Roy do?” I asked Dean.
Roy lifted a hand to my ear then snapped two fingers. He showed me a coin and rolled it between his fingers. He pressed the coin in my palm and it felt of real gold. Roy then closed my hand and released me. When I opened my hand, the coin was gone. I grumbled and the men laughed. “Chartan must’ve taught you that.” I rubbed my chest in remembrance of a coin pouch in my bosom.
“Or maybe I taught Chartan,” Roy grinned as if he knew something I didn’t.
“So magician and juggler, what about you Dean?” I turned my attention to predatory blue eyes.
Gustave clapped his hands together in amusement. “Show her Dean!”
A sideways smirk my way and Dean stood up, grabbed one of the burning sticks from the fire and examined it. A good sized flame held the end of the branch in its grip. Dean took a sip from his flask, raised the branch above his head and blew on the flame. Fire exploded into the night air. He waved his fire wand in an arc, then closed his mouth around the firelit tip and pulled out a crispy but unlit branch. He let us examine it, showing us the fire was completely out. Once satisfied, he then spit out flame onto the branch making it catch fire again. Gustave clapped and Dean bowed to him.
Detrien clasped his hands together and flicked his nose with his thumb. He struck his, I could make you filthy rich pose.
“Oh, you dare not lure him away from LeBeau,” I said to my cousin.
Detrien preened, “He’s not going to be a soldier forever.”
I shook my head.
“If you think that impressive,” Dean said. “You haven’t seen what Gustave can do.”
Turning to the boy, I expressed my interest through eye contact and sultry positioning. Show some cleavage to a man and it makes them happy every time. Happy enough to make them reveal tidbits. Some tidbits are worth more than others, but Gustave blushed and wouldn’t meet my eye.
“Come Gustave,” Dean waved a hand and Roy offered a coin to the boy. Gustave smiled in coy appreciation, “Only if I can keep it.”
Roy flipped the gold to the boy. Gustave snatched the disc out of the air and bit into it.
I laughed, “No trust between rogues.”
“Just making sure its solid.” Gustave narrowed his eyes at Roy. “I can’t always work with pliable material.”
Roy shrugged, “It was paper.”
“You almost choked me.”
“Let it go,” Torg looked from Roy to Gustave.
Chartan’s first mate sighed and turned to me. He waved the coin in his hand and placed it in my palm. “So you know it’s real.”
Weighing the item, I knew gold when I felt it in my hand. Gustave took the coin, put it in his mouth and swallowed. The boy came closer and opened his mouth, lifting his tongue so I could see he wasn’t hiding the coin.
“Is this a trick I have to wait a few days for?” I teased.
He shook his head. “Nope.”
Gustave then got on all fours and breathed heavily. I could tell he was working muscles inside his body. The boy started an awful retching and I grew concerned. Dean held out a hand and shook his head. “Give him a moment.”
Gustave coughed twice and from his mouth into his hand fell the coin. Dumbfounded, I sat there while he presented his prize with an innocent smile. I couldn’t believe it. “You can swallow things and bring them back up?”
He nodded. “Just about anything,” He glanced to Roy, “the stiffer the material, the easier it is to cough up.”
“Keys?” Detrien gapped at the boy. “Can you swallow and bring up keys?”
Gustave turned his bright smile to Detrien. “My specialty.”
“Blades?” Detrien asked with a pointed determination that I knew some plan was forming in his head.
Gustave’s smile faded, “I have before…but I’d rather not if I can help it.”
My cousin nodded once with solemn propriety.
“Well, Gustave, that’s something we may want to keep to ourselves, what can you show the public?” I smoothed my skirt trying to keep it nice for future presentation.
He shrugged, “I can juggle, throw knives, dance, climb anything, acrobatics, oh, I can bend myself in half.” Gustave brought that bright smile back. The boy was incorrigibly hopeful.
“I fanned myself.” Gustave you are going to make some woman very happy.
Dean scratched his nose and focused his attention on my cousin. “What can you do?”
Both Detrien and I were stunned. How could they not know? But then my entertaining cousin grinned and stood. “Please gentlemen and lady…” He bowed to each of us in turn. “Get comfortable, sit, find a place to relax and lend me your ears.” He then looked to me and asked in that smooth voice, “Any requests?”
I thought and chose, “La mer”.
Detrien flashed his famous devil-may-care smile. “The sea it is…” and he started signing. Detrien could shame the beauty of swans with a voice on par with angels. He could teach anyone how to better their own signing performance but most important of all, he could send men and women alike in a trance with his voice.
Even the hardened warriors—Torg, Dean and Roy were not immune to my cousin’s song. Living with him, I could pull away, but this night I allowed him to lull me into his world. Detrien expressed more meaning with his hands for emphasis, as real entertainers do to make the show riveting.
Tears streamed from Roy’s eyes and the other men from camp drew near. The song was over too soon and the last note faded as Detrien held his stance in reverence for the last note. There was no clapping—no one wanted escape from the dream, no loud noises to break them away from the melancholy. Instead, the fire crackled, my cousin sat and leaned against me while all but the first watch drifted to sleep.
Thank you so much reading!
The next installment will be up August 10th, 2017.
Until next time
Hugs ~ Stephy
P.S. Below is the rough sketch I *almost* had to use in place of the color illustration. Color really puts the mood in the scene, don't you think?
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