Monday, November 12, 2012

Disciple, Part 1 by L Blankenship : Spotlight and Excerpt: PUYB Tour Stop

 


 

The saints favor her, else-wise a peasant girl like Kate Carpenter would never be apprenticed to the kingdom’s master healer. But her patron saint also marks her ready for the duty of tending to a mission that must cross the ice-bound mountains. Their little kingdom faces invasion by a vast empire and desperately needs allies; across the snow-filled pass, through the deathly thin air, is a country that’s held off the empire and may be willing to lend an army.


Kate knows about frostbite and the everyday injuries of wilderness travel. She can heal those.


She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though.


And she isn’t ready for the monsters that harry them night and day, picking off their archers first, wearing the party to exhaustion, pushing Kate beyond the limits her healing abilities.


She must keep them alive, or her blood will be on the snow too.

 
A column of black smoke marred the blue sky, freshly sprung from somewhere on the road ahead.

A Guard with captain’s brasses on his epaulettes had joined the prince and the second knight of our company at the head of our party. The captain twisted in his saddle and shouted back, “Brauer, escort them!” while pointing at Ther Boristan, Ilya and me. Then they were off at a canter and the mass of Prince’s Guard flowed around me for a moment. Pal perked up and wanted to run too, but I pulled on the reins. Maybe too hard; he fretted a bit, tossed his head.

“Easy on him,” Ilya told me.

The horses kicked up dirt in pulling away from us. Sergeant Brauer and his squad of five stood with us on the road. The men shielded their eyes against the morning sun.

“Is it Gabel?” one of the squad asked.

“I’d bet it,” Brauer answered. “Got some stones on them, to raid this close to the city.”

“M’lord’ll straighten them on that,” another knight said. After a few heartbeats of watching the smoke climb, he said, “Must be worse in the hills if we’re reinforcing Baron Eismann.”

We rode in at a walk and when we reached Gabel there were only a handful of dead Arceal soldiers and a half dozen Prince’s Guard securing the town square after the fight. The smoke came from the fields south of the small town — a handful of houses, an inn, a tavern and an Orderhaus — and it thinned as we watched.

I swung down from Pal’s saddle, slipped and fell on my butt in the dust. But I was up again, with a wince, and digging in my medicine bag as I trotted over to a pair of wounded peasant men. A shallow slash on one man’s arm had already clotted, so I only washed the wound and then held a cleansing charm over it.

The carved bit of wood held a knot of kir; with my mind, I picked the bound charm loose and its kir unfolded. Warm glow poured down onto the wound, calling up the man’s own kir with its light. The injury had torn his kir’s colorful whorls, but not badly. Once the wound was cleansed, I bandaged him. His older companion had a sprained elbow; I felt the joint to be sure it was no worse than that, and told him to drink some willow tea if it hurt so much.

By how he smirked, he’d only wanted an excuse to have my hands on him.

A shadow fell over us and the peasant startled, then dropped to one knee with his fist against his chest. I stepped back, myself, from the grey horse as it pranced close, mouthing its bit and puffing.

“I thought I told you to keep quiet.”

I squinted up at the crown prince. I’d seen him at a distance, riding beside the king, and with my memory Blessing that was all I needed. Wodenberg had only one prince, and it was well known that the queen had sworn she’d die before she let the king touch her again.

A good thing that Prince Kiefan was so easy to look at, then, golden-haired and grey-eyed, Blessed as few were and still unwed at eighteen.

Stern glares were his stock in trade, it seemed. Like his father.

“These men were wounded,” I said, then wanted to take it back as he towered over me. But then I steadied, sure that I was right. “How can I treat patients without speaking?”

M’lord leaned down from the saddle. “A squad of reinforcements doesn’t need a physician at all, let alone a young girl. Keep quiet.”

Fear stiffened my spine, kept my eyes on his black, shiny-new riding boot in the stirrup. “M’lord,” I murmured, to accept the command. My mind whirled, though, flickering through Master Parselev’s every word; he’d said I must go, Saint Qadeem had agreed, surely there could be no mistake…

The prince’s horse still fidgeted, full of energy from the charge. Prince Kiefan tapped him and trotted off toward Sergeant Brauer and the growing cluster of Guard. “Fire’s under control,” the prince announced. “We’re off.”

I was quick to tie my medicine bag shut and climb back onto Pal as the party began to trot out of the little town. Tight muscles in my thighs protested, but with a hard heave and a boost on the rump from Ilya — bless him for not smirking — I was in the saddle.



The sky darkened overhead as I helped clean up dinner. Five of the Flock moons were high in the sky and a sixth was rising. The seventh, the shy one called Love, would not be back until the Shepherd waned. Puffy clouds caught the last light as the sun fell below the western mountains. When I crossed my legs by the stone-ringed campfire again, the shadows were thickening in earnest.

My bedroll tempted me. But something more important had stewed me all day. Prince Kiefan had told me to be quiet and I had. None of this had been my plan, or anyone’s other than my master and Saint Qadeem, but obeying had come easily enough. More than simply being the prince, he carried himself like an alerted tomcat. Both the knights did. Sir Anders could break that illusion with one of his easy grins, but on Prince Kiefan it only made me think of the stories I’d heard after the battle at Ansehen. Of the cavalry charge he’d led, and that on the battlefield his Blessings made him unstoppable.

“Majesty?” I had to know. “May I ask something?”

Across the fire, Prince Kiefan glanced at me. “You may. But ‘Sir Kiefan,’ not ‘majesty.’ Not out here.”

“This can’t be to deliver reinforcements, can it?” Once I started, I couldn’t help saying it all. “Even if the prince went himself, he wouldn’t bring a Ther and a physician’s apprentice. And why leave before dawn, hoods pulled up and silent?”

I’d thought he’d glare or snap but he only watched, eyes measuring me. I’d let my braid down, for the night, and wrapped it around my hand as I waited. Sir Anders, sitting beside him, raised his eyebrows when the prince glanced at him sidelong.

Prince Kiefan — Sir — said, “Baron Eismann sent word that the lamia have been growing bolder of late. Coming down from the kir fount on Himmelbaum and taking sheep. Children, too. We’re to lead a hunt of them before the snows get too deep and the lamia get any hungrier. Do you know about them?”

Monsters. They haunted the Winter Wood, in children’s tales. “Only what stories say. Are they so dangerous as the monsters Arcea sent to invade us?”

“Centaurs are made things,” Sir Kiefan said, “Saint Woden told us. Forged by Arcea’s saints from men and horses. Lamia are animals — raised on the waters of a kir fount, but only animals. The kir makes them powerful. Clever.”

When he paused, I asked, “As kir makes the Blessed powerful?”

“I’ve never hunted lamia. Baron Eismann wrote that a physician is prudent to bring. Lamia are cunning and cruel. He’ll advise us as best he can.” His voice dropped as his thoughts strayed, and it seemed he left much unsaid.

“But why must I hide? Why bring Ther Boristan? Surely they have Thers of their own.”

He fixed me with a steady look and spoke slowly. “We meant to bring the Elect, but lacking him — this is no place for a girl that’s not discipled to Saint Woden. So keep your hood up. We’re hunting lamia. That is what you’ve been told.”

My head cocked, on reflex, weighing that. There was more to come, I didn’t doubt. “Yes, m’lord,” I responded, quietly. “I see.”

I thought I saw the corner of his mouth pick up a little, at that.


 


L. Blankenship is the alternate identity of a mild-mannered graphic designer. She started writing animal stories as a kid and it’s just gotten completely out of hand since then. Now she’s setting out to publish her gritty fantasy and hard science fiction adventures. L grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives near Washington, DC.

Visit L on the web at http://discipleofthefount.blogspot.com

Join L Blakenship, author of the gritty fantasy romance novel,
Disciple, Part 1, as she tours the blogosphere November 5 through November 30, 2012
on her first virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Book!
 
 
Next Few stops
 
Thursday, November 15
Guest blogging at Allvoices
 
Monday, November 19
Interviewed at Review From Here
 
Wednesday, November 21
Book reviewed at Mary’s Cup of Tea
 
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