Author Assistants

Hiring publishing assistants is a massive trend in the indie world right now. No one wants to do the grunt work of being an author. The ideal author life is to just be able to write and hope the rest falls into place. But that isn’t the reality.

There are newsletters to send out, ads to book, swaps and giveaways to organize, and so much more. Oh, and don’t get me started on the formatting. Formatting is the single biggest headache of many authors.

So, why am I jumping head first into these aspects of authoring? Because I can. Because I need to. I’m an author, a rather prolific one. I’ve written twelve books in the past four years – but my first three took two years to write. So, once I got the hang of it, that was nine books in the past two years. I write in three genres, knowing the ins and outs of each. And all of this while doing everything else surrounding the writing for myself.

Part of this is because I have an illness that keeps me from the full-time work many authors still struggle with. I have time. Beyond that, I actually enjoy much of what others don’t. Formatting makes more sense to me than many things in my life. Networking is my favorite thing to do. I love talking with authors to organize collaborative marketing efforts such as swaps. The grunt work gives me a sense of accomplishment that is hard to come by when you’re disabled. There are many many things I can no longer do, but this, I’m good at.

So, why should you want to work with me? Because I want to work WITH you. I want to help you succeed. What will you get from me? Great communication and willingness. A self-publishing insider who has done it and is continuing to write and publish books. Someone who has collaborated with many editors, artists, and publishers. Understanding. Drive. Quickness and efficiency.

Let’s get your contract started today. Email michelle@michellelynnauthor.com to get started.

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It’s Here!!!

Eeeee – feels like we’ve been waiting for this moment all summer long. The Fire and Fantasy box set if FINALLY out!

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Click on the image above to buy this limited time set! Prophecy of Darkness, a collaboration between myself and Michelle Bryan, is available exclusively in this set.

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Find out more about the Legends of the Tri-Gard series HERE.

Michelle Lynn is on Facebook HERE.

This book is a collaboration with author Michelle Bryan. Find her HERE.

Prefer romance? Look HERE.

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Sneak Peek​!

Get your first peek into Prophecy of Darkness. The first two chapters are below. We’re so excited to share the rest of the book with you!

Chapter 1

Feet pounded across the marble as the young messenger ran as fast as his legs would take him. The home of the King of Dreach-Sciene stretched out in front of him, a symbol of forgotten prosperity in a dying world. His damp boots slid to a halt with a loud screech as a young boy cut in front of him.

“Excuse me, Your Highness,” the Messenger said, bowing as the boy nodded his head solemnly and continued on his way.

Once the little prince was out of sight, the Messenger took off faster than before. He had an urgent need to see the King. It’d been five years since anyone had news of this magnitude and he didn’t know what it meant.

Silk tapestries adorned the stone walls, giving the palace halls an air of importance. They were important, he supposed, for only someone with immense power could regain what the kingdom had lost. Their only hope was the King.

The Messenger stopped outside of an ornate mahogany door. The carvings were elaborate, beautiful representations of the kingdom’s three realms – majestic trees for Aldorwood, lavish iron armor for Isenore, and a ship for the Isle of Sona – a replica of what had once been the most powerful kingdom in the southern hemisphere. He studied the images as he calmed his frantic breathing, knowing he had to control himself in the presence of the King.

For the first time, he realized there should have been guards standing watch at the door. Turning his head left then right, he couldn’t see them. Unable to wait any longer, he grasped the metal knocker and pounded it against the door once, then twice. Nothing happened, so he did it again.

Thinking the King was out, his shoulders sagged. What was he to do? The matter was urgent, important.

Just as he was about to give up, the door swung open and the Messenger stood face to face with two guards in full armor. The silence stretched for what felt like an eternity.

Finally, the Messenger cleared his throat. “I need to speak with the King.”

The soldier on the left eyed him up and down. “The King meets with his people every day at noon.”

He was about to slide the door shut when the Messenger stuck his foot out. “I come from the village on a matter of importance.”

“Let the young man in,” a voice called from inside.

Quick to obey, the soldiers grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him in before shutting the door behind them.

The King sat at a long, rectangular table covered with unrolled scrolls of parchment. A handful of other men surrounded him.

King Marcus Renauld was a large man, both in stature and in personality. His gaze, though not harsh, had a way of making people squirm. He was intense, but there was not a more respected man in all the kingdom.

“Speak your business.” The King inclined his head to the Messenger who promptly bowed.

“Your Majesty,” he began. “I’ve come on an important matter of utmost secrecy.” He looked around at the gathered men and the King followed his gaze.

“Leave us.” The King’s tone was not to be argued with. Chairs scraped against the floor as they were abruptly slid back and abandoned. The door shut with a definitive slam that echoed off the vaulted ceilings. Only the two guards remained. “They can be trusted.”

The Messenger swallowed hard, giving a single nod of his head.

“There’s a rumor among the people of something, or more like someone, I think you’d be very interested in.”

“I’m listening.” The King leaned forward and folded his hands together on the table.

“There’s talk of a seer in the village.”

The King shot to his feet, his chair clattering to the ground behind him. “Are you certain?”

“I believe it to be so, Sire. My source is one to be trusted.”

“How is this possible?” He stepped back from the table and began to pace. “It’s been five years. The war took every last bit of magic. I was there. I saw it happen.”

The Messenger shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably. He knew what this could mean, but was happy it was now in the King’s able hands. The King stopped moving and fixed him with another of his scrutinizing looks.

“You know where this person is?”

“Yes, Sire.”

“You will take me there.” He turned to his guards. “Have someone fetch me my coat and ready me a horse.”

“Your Majesty,” one of the guards stepped forward. “Surely you’ll take the carriage.”

“A man on a horse can disappear in a way a man in a carriage cannot.” He rubbed at the graying whiskers on his chin absently. “No, I don’t think it would be a good idea to be seen tonight.” He reached up and removed the golden circlet from atop his head, setting it on the table.

The guard who had yet to speak stepped close to the King and whispered, “Are you sure you trust this man?”

“Trust is only necessary when you can afford to do without that which is offered.” He placed a hand on the guard’s shoulder. “You may come if it makes you feel better, but the armor stays here.”

A short time later, the four men sat atop their horses, cantering down the path from the castle. A rain drizzled down, dampening everything in their way. The night was cold, despite the summer month, making the Messenger pull his cloak tighter around his shoulders as his icy fingers went numb on the reins. He glanced behind him where the King seemed unaffected by the weather, only determined.

The path led them through a dense part of the forest surrounding the castle.  Trees loomed over them, a web of shadows in the dark. Insects and frogs inundated the air with their nighttime song, joining the steady drumming of their horse’s hooves.

By the time they’d reached the village, mud had splattered up the flanks of their large beasts and onto the men who rode them. The rhythm of their travels changed as forest paths gave way to cobblestone streets.

They slowed to a walk so as not to attract attention.  The Messenger led them past row upon row of squalid houses, the fruit of poverty evident in their wretchedness. They took a turn at the end of the road, into an alleyway where they found the entrance to a non-descript tavern. A wooden sign above the door proclaimed it as The Hunter’s Inn. The rowdy noises from inside grew louder as they got closer. The Messenger pulled his horse to a stop and motioned for them to do the same.

“The woman you are seeking is being housed by the matron of this establishment,” he said. “Her name is Lorelai. I have fulfilled my mission.” He bowed his head. “With your leave, Sire.”

***

The King didn’t remove his gaze from the door before him as he waved the Messenger away and dismounted. “Stay with the horses,” he told his guards.

“You shouldn’t go in alone,” one of them responded.

“I need to know.” The King, having been desperate for answers for five years now, stepped forward just as the door opened, spilling golden candlelight onto the street.

He left his guards behind and walked forward, at once both apprehensive and excited. He knew what this would mean if it were true. A plump older woman held the door for him but showed no recognition in her eyes.

“Are you daft, man?” She narrowed her tiny eyes. “The cold is gettin’ in.”

The King swallowed the natural urge to chastise her for speaking to him in such a manner. Tonight, he wasn’t the king. He didn’t look at her as he scooted by into a room lined with long tables where men and women alike sat behind large mugs of ale.

He unclasped his soggy cloak, letting the warmth of the nearby fire dry him for a moment. His eyes scanned the groups of people, but not one of them gave him a second glance. Too involved in their own transgressions.

A woman brushed up against his back. “What can I get you, sir?” she purred. He shifted away from her ample bosom and kept his eyes trained on hers. She stood still, seemingly unable to look away.

“I need to speak with your mistress.” He kept his voice low and even, knowing she’d do what he asked.

“Right away.” She flitted away as he stayed rooted to his spot by the fire.

A moment later, a different woman appeared. This one was older, carrying herself as if she was once a thing of beauty. She still had an attractiveness about her, but her hair was streaked with gray and rouge no longer covered up the deficiencies on her face.

King Marcus Renauld was not a cruel man, but his shrewdness allowed him to see a lot about a person the moment they appeared.

“How can I help you?” There was no melodic quality to her voice as he’d come to enjoy in most women. Instead, it was rough, gravelly. This was a woman who’d seen many of the harsher realities of life. To his utter dismay, that could describe most of the people in his kingdom since the war.

“I’ve been told to seek a woman named Lorelai.” The King straightened himself to his full height and towered over the woman in front of him. To her credit, she didn’t flinch. Her hands flew to her hips in defiance.

“There ain’t no one here by that name.”

The King leaned down and looked her directly in the eye. Her pupils dilated as she blinked rapidly. “I don’t believe you,” he growled.

They were still staring at each other as another woman approached. “It’s okay.” She put a hand on the older lady’s shoulder and the woman instantly relaxed. “I’ve been waiting for him.”

The King turned to find a young girl, not yet into adulthood.  Ash-white hair hung all the way to her waist and icy blue eyes regarded him with a maturity beyond her years. She was as tall as the other woman but thin and willowy.

“Your Majesty.” She dipped into a curtsy.

The King grabbed her arm and pulled her up, looking around to make sure no one else took notice of her display. “But you’re only a girl,” he muttered, more to himself than to her.

“I’m sixteen,” she responded, yanking her arm out of his grasp and squaring her shoulders. Her voice was like a song, holding every note the older woman’s lacked. She turned to the other woman who now stood with a bewildered look on her face. “I told you the King would find me.” She turned on her heel and marched towards a door at the other end of the room.

The King didn’t know if this girl thought him being here was a good thing or a disaster, but he followed her anyway. He knew there’d be raised eyebrows as he followed her into the private room, but as long as none of them knew who he was, it was okay.

He soon found himself alone with his could-be seer. She looked young and fragile, not how she should look if touched by magic.

A single bed stood along the back wall with a table and two chairs in the center. Other than those essentials, the room was sparse.

Lorelai waited for the King to sit as was customary and then took the space across from him.

“I’d ask for refreshments,” she began. “But, something tells me you don’t want to be interrupted.”

“Seer’s intuition?” he asked hopefully.

“Common sense.” Her soft laugh echoed throughout the room.

The King couldn’t remember the last time someone laughed at him. He grimaced, impatient to get on with it.

“Ask me your questions,” she said finally.

“You saw I would come?” he asked.

“I did.”

“So, it’s true.”

“I’m sure I’d be able to tell you if I knew what it was.” She held in her laugh this time.

“You see things.”

“I have eyes, yes.”

“That is not what I mean.” He drummed his fingers on the table in agitation. The girl was playing with him.

“You must speak plainly, Sire.”

“You can see the future.” It sounded crazy coming out of his mouth in light of the world they were living in – the one without magic.

“That is not how it works exactly. I can see what certain people are capable of and the paths open before them.  Sometimes I can see an event will occur, but I don’t know who will be involved.”

The King leaned in eagerly. “How is this possible?” he asked. “Magic was taken from these lands when we lost the war.”

“I have no magic, Sire.” Surprise laced her words. “Before the war, people obtained their magic from the earth, it was a gift. The sight is different. It’s who I am. A part of me.  It was not given and therefore can’t be taken away. Seers have remained true, but have been forced into hiding by those who are desperate for their perceived magic.”

With just a few words, the hope he’d placed on her was gone. He was no closer to regaining their magic than he was five years ago when it was stolen.

“Don’t fret, you haven’t come in vain for I’ve seen something that will aid you in the future.”

“Speak,” he commanded.

She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. “There will come a time when a noble man will rise and only he will have the power to defeat the darkness.”

“We will win? We will defeat Dreach-Dhoun?”

“An outcome no one knows.” She opened her eyes. “He may succeed in his mission or he may fail.”

“A noble man will rise,” he whispered. “Trystan, my son. He’s the one, yes? Of course, he is. It couldn’t be anyone but the prince.”

She stood up and moved towards the door. “I can’t say, Sire. All I know is his destiny intertwines greatly with Dreach-Sciene’s survival.”

Her words did nothing to damper the spark of hope growing in his heart as she led him back through the tavern. He’d always known his son was different, special somehow. She opened the door to the cold night. The rain was coming down more heavily now.

“Ah,” she said, stepping outside, seemingly unaware of her quickly dampening hair. “Davion.” Her voice had taken on a sweet, almost motherly fashion.

The boy she was talking to currently had one arm in the tight grip of one of the King’s guards.

“Caught this boy trying to steal from the saddle bags, Sire,” the guard said, thrusting the kid forward.

He couldn’t have been any older than Trystan’s five years, but here he was on a night like this in the streets.

“I was just wanting something to eat, Sir,” the boy cried softly.

“Let him go at once,” Lorelai commanded of the guard, stomping her feet. She hit a puddle, splashing muddy water up onto her dress.

The King nodded to his guard who released the boy. He ran directly into Lorelai’s arms. “I was looking for you, Davion,” she cooed. “I wanted you to meet my new friend.” She eyed the King warily and then spun the boy around to face him. “This is the king, Davi, isn’t that grand?”

To the boy’s credit, he fumbled through a bow.

“He’s going to take you with him,” she said.

“What are you going on about, girl?” the King asked.

Lorelai left Davi by the side of the building and stepped closer so only the King could hear her. “I don’t understand it. I’ve known Davi for over a year. He’s an orphan living on the streets and his future is unknown to me. What I’ve seen is he’s important. Whenever I see images of your son, it’s Davion by his side. He will be his greatest protector and most loyal friend.”

The King didn’t know what to say. He trusted what this girl said to be true. He had no choice.

Turning to his guards, he shouted, “The boy comes with us.”

His gaze reverted back to the girl. “Thank you. You have given me hope. I may be able to restore life back to my kingdom.”

“Be careful, my king. It is a fool that believes everything pertains to one’s self.”  Lorelai fixed the King with her piercing gaze. When she looked at him, it was as if she saw all, knew all. Nothing could be hidden, nothing protected.

***

The King handed Davion up to one of his guards and mounted his own horse with more questions than he’d had before.

It seemed to take them longer to get back, but as soon as they reached the castle, the servants took their horses and ushered them inside to get warm. The King handed off his sopping coat. If he hurried, he could still make it to his children’s rooms before they drifted off.

Putting a hand on a lost looking Davion’s shoulder, he ushered him through the halls. The child didn’t speak and the King suspected it was because he’d never been in surroundings such as these. Torches along the walls lit their way, reflecting in the boy’s wide eyes.

The King looked down at the filthy boy with mud matted in his dark hair and sighed. This was not how the night was supposed to go.

Rissa’s room was first. She was his curious little three-year-old who was forced into the cruelest fate of all – growing up without a mother. Her maid, Ana, was exiting the room when he arrived.

She curtsied upon seeing him.

“Ana.” He nodded. “I need you to take Davion here and get him cleaned up, fed, and tucked in somewhere warm.”

She looked at the boy curiously, but didn’t ask any questions as she ushered him away.

The King glanced down at his muddy boots and wet clothing, realizing there was nothing he could do about it. After the night he’d had, he just wanted to look into his little girl’s innocent face and give his son a long hug.

Rissa and Trystan were both laying on Rissa’s bed. On stormy nights, Trystan slept in there to keep her from being scared. It warmed the King’s heart to see them together.

“Father,” Trystan called when he saw him.

“Da,” Rissa piped up.

The King smiled more cheerily than he felt and moved further into the room to sit on the corner of the bed, careful not to get it muddy.

“Tell us a story,” Rissa said.

“Which one would you like to hear?” he asked.

“Trystan the bold,” Trystan said.

“Again?” The King laughed. “Okay then. Over a hundred years ago Dreach-Sciene and Dreach-Dhoun were one. The kingdom was called Dreach until a powerful sorcerer rose to defy the King. His magic was like nothing anyone had seen before. He pulled enormous amounts of energy from the earth and unleashed it. The King of Dreach and his son Trystan wouldn’t let him seize the throne. They fought battle after battle, combining their magic to fight this other sorcerer. There was to be one final battle to take place in the mountains of Isenore. This would decide their fate. The battle lasted two days until both armies were weary. All seemed lost for Trystan and his father. On the second night, Trystan went out alone to pull magic from the earth. Now, a person can only hold so much before their body starts to break down. He went past that point. By the time he returned to his camp, he was stumbling and babbling. It was plain to everyone what he’d done. Some thought it bravado or ego – until the fight began again. Trystan lurched forward to grab a spear. He then hurled it into the air with every bit of magic he’d absorbed. He pushed it through the protective barrier set up by the other sorcerer and directly into his heart. But he couldn’t recover. Both men died at the exact same moment. The battle ended, allowing Trystan’s father and his people to retreat with their lives and the kingdom was split in two.”

“What about my name?” Rissa asked.

“You, my darling girl.” He reached out to run a hand lovingly over her fire-red hair. “Are named for the greatest hero I’ve ever known. Your mother.”

He watched as his children drifted off, safe in their castle. He thought of the boy he’d brought home, who was alone and scared; who had a destiny, just like his son. Trystan was the man Lorelai had spoken of. He was sure of it. What nobler man was there in the kingdom than a prince? If he was going to rise, the King knew what he had to do.

He went to his rooms and wrote out a note, dripping wax onto the paper and pressing his ring into it. Walking into the hall, he went to find a messenger who was still awake. He came upon a girl who would do just fine.

“Take this to the Duchess of Sona.” He pressed it into her hands along with a pouch of coins. “For your ship’s passage.”

She dropped into a curtsy before hurrying away.

He hoped he was doing the right thing. His brother, Geran, might be volatile and scheming, but he was still a member of this royal family and Trystan was going to need them all behind him – the entire force of the Renauld name. The Duchess of Sona had been hiding him for too long. It was time for him to come home.

Chapter 2

Fifteen Years Later

The sword sliced the air missing Trystan’s ear by a split hair. Lurching to the right, Trystan whirled just in time as the second attack came. Raising his heavy broadsword, it collided against his attacker’s blade with a metallic clang, stunting the blow. The contact reverberated up his arm, into his shoulder. He grimaced in pain as sweat beaded on his brow, threatening to drip into his eyes.  He didn’t dare take the time to wipe it away. His opponent was skilled and eager, already bouncing back from the jarring blow. The Prince’s numerous years of practice took over. Bending his knees, he straightened his back to keep his hips aligned with his shoulders. This fighting stance was ingrained and he did it without thought. His instinct to stay alive.

The steel blade glinted in the morning sun as it thrust his way again and again. The prince parried the attempts, slapping the edge away with ease. A tiny grin of victory escaped as he deflected blow after blow. His attacker was tiring, he could tell. Victory was near. Deciding to end this fight, Trystan delivered a powerful low slash to his opponent’s abdomen. The other swordsman evaded it easily enough, but it knocked him off balance and he hit the ground with a loud grunt. Trystan’s blade hovered above the man’s chest, a mere inch from his heart.

“Concede or I will run you through.”

His opponent sneered in response, but instead of uttering the words of defeat, he knocked the blade away and with a nimble backwards roll, leaped to his feet. Feinting hard to the right, Trystan fell for the ploy as his nemesis attacked from the left and the hilt of his blade connected with the Prince’s ribs. His opponent took advantage of the slight stumble. The Prince’s feet were swept out from underneath him and he crashed onto his back, his sword flying out of his grip.

The point of a blade was thrust under Trystan’s chin, against the vulnerable hollow of his neck.

“You concede?” The shadow above him growled as it blocked out the sun. The two men stared at each other, breathing heavy from their exertion.

Finally, Trystan grinned as his head fell back to peer up at Davion in amusement. “Quite impressive, my friend.  Avery would be proud. You are in fine form today.”

Davi held a hand out to the prince and pulled him to his feet, clamping a friendly hand on his shoulder. “Either I’m improving or you’re slipping in your old age, Toha-to-be. I bested you in no time. Hope your prowess in the bedchambers outweighs your fighting skills, else those fine maidens over there will be sorely disappointed.”

Davi nodded to the two pretty young maids who’d been watching their match with wide-eyed admiration. They giggled behind their hands in response to Davi’s flirtatious wink and one even had the gumption to smile back at him and drop a little curtsy. They straightened abruptly when they heard the irritated voice from the other side of the courtyard.

“Millie, Jalis, you’re both needed inside.”

The girls scurried away as a slender redhead in a sky-blue dress gracefully descended the stone steps into the courtyard. Her hair glinted brightly in the sunlight, matching the blaze of censure in her moss-green eyes. With the chastised girls out of her view, Princess Rissa’s disapproving glance settled on the dark-haired Davi.

“Truly, Davion. Can you not go a day without flirting with the maids?”

Davi’s smile grew wider, not the least bit concerned at Rissa’s wrath, and flung his arms out to the sides in jest. “I could, but why deny them the pleasure of all this?”

Rissa’s unladylike snort of exasperation belied her regal bearing as she crossed her arms. “Careful. Your head swells bigger as we speak. Soon you will not be able to lift it.”

“Then I shall enlist the aid of the maids, Princess. I’m sure they would be more than happy to help me carry it around.”

“Sadly, you speak the truth. They do seem to find your appearance undeniably appealing. No doubt once you have charmed them into being alone with you, you break the illusion by opening your mouth and allowing your idiotic words to flow out?”

“Oh, trust me, Princess,” Davi’s grin reeked of mischief as he leaned on his sword and winked her way. “When the maids do find themselves alone with me, we are too otherwise occupied for conversation.”

Trystan laughed out loud at this, but his sister was not as amused. The flippant comment only appeared to increase her exasperation. Her irritated gaze moved to Trystan. “I’m glad you can find time to laugh, brother, since I’m here on behalf of the King. He’s summoned you to his quarters. If I were you, I would not make him wait.”

Swirling her skirts, Rissa pivoted on her heel and stormed away. Trystan watched his sister depart with a knowing smile. “Davi, why do you love tormenting her?”

“Because it’s so much fun.”

***

Trystan felt many eyes on him as he marched down the marble hall with Davion by his side. His heavy steps echoed off the stone walls, but he seemed to be the only one who could hear the pounding keeping time with the rhythm of his heart. All other sounds dissolved into the cacophony of daily palace routines.

Only it wasn’t like any other day at the palace. He hadn’t expected to be summoned so soon.  If he’d known, he wouldn’t have practiced so hard with Davi. He was well aware the dukes and other various nobles had started arriving the day before, keeping the staff busier than usual. There were more people to feed, rooms to sweep, linens to clean. Extra nobles meant more guards walking the halls, their servants cleaning armor and sharpening swords. No, it wasn’t just any day. It was the last day before their beloved prince gained his birthright. The day Trystan moved one step closer to the crown – to be prepared to step in if anything were to happen to his father.

And he smelled like a lathered horse.

He’d been having fun only minutes before, but a weight had settled in the center of his chest ever since Rissa had summoned him and it wouldn’t ease up. He knew what tomorrow meant for him, but something told him today would be important as well.

A maid scurried to a stop in front of them, dropping the basket she’d been carrying.

“Your Highness,” she gasped, dropping low and fanning out her skirt to hide the once clean and folded linens that now lay wrinkled at her feet. She dipped her head, her long blond braid falling over one shoulder.  “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see where I was going.”

Davi glanced at him and chuckled.

“It’s fine,” Trystan said more harshly than he’d intended. His nerves were getting the better of his manners.

“Let me help you,” Davi said in his easy tone. “Don’t mind the prince.  Even royals can have sticks up their asses. Theirs are just made of gold.”

She met his eyes across the basket they were both piling linens into and gave him the tiniest smile before straightening up and hefting the basket into her arms. She gave one more final dip and then hurried off.

Davi turned back, still chuckling to himself and met Trystan’s glare unflinchingly. “Come on.” He clapped his friend on the back. “Your father is waiting.”

“For me.” Trystan started walking again. “I don’t recall him summoning you.”

Davi shrugged. “Everything is open to interpretation.”

“No, it’s really not.”

Davi didn’t turn back and Trystan didn’t make him. If truth be told, having his friend at his side helped ease some of the Prince’s nerves. He knew leading the kingdom was his destiny, not Davi’s, but he felt like a brother, like he too was a prince and heir, making Trystan feel less alone.

The halls grew quieter the closer they came to the King’s quarters. It was a more isolated and protected part of the castle. When they were children, Trystan, Davi, and Rissa hated these parts because they felt official, formal. They’d much preferred the stables, the kitchens, or the training yards where people would talk to them and teach them.

Down this way was the council hall, a room which had always been secretive and off limits to those not on the council, including the realm’s only prince. They passed by its door and stopped in front of the two guards standing outside the King’s office.

The wooden doors were pushed open without hesitation revealing the King standing with his back to them as he looked out the window onto the woods below.

The two young men waited patiently until the King turned. “I don’t remember summoning you, Davion.” He leveled him with an unblinking stare.

“Sire,” Davi began.

“No, it’s not open to interpretation.”

The corner of Trystan’s mouth twitched, but he hid his smile with a cough. Davi bowed with a sigh. If it were anyone else, Trystan knew his father would chastise them, but Davi was a favorite of his and he could get away with just about anything.

The door thudded to a close upon Davi’s exit, and Trystan almost choked on the stifling air as he moved to stand beside his father at the window.

“How are you holding up, son?” The King put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly.

“I’m okay,” Trystan grunted, shrugging off his hand. “I can handle it.”

“You’re about to become Toha. It’s a lot of pressure whether it’s your rightful position or not. That is why you don’t come of age until you’ve passed twenty winters. Do you know what being the Toha means?”

“Of course, I do. I become head of the army, the symbol of strength across the kingdom.”

“Trystan.” He locked his eyes onto his son’s. “You become the symbol of hope.” He paused to scratch his chin and regarded his son thoughtfully. “The Toha is more than a general, more than a soldier. And that is why only a prince can hold the title. Tomorrow, when the sun is high, you will pledge to be the people’s protector, their warrior for justice, their light in the darkness.”

Trystan didn’t know what to say in response and his father sighed. “There’s still much you don’t know. Come, the council is waiting.”

“The council?” Trystan’s eyes grew wide and he glanced down at his sweaty shirt. Even the prince was usually kept from the council meetings and this was how he’d arrive at his first one?

“Tomorrow you become more than a prince. A Toha must know his kingdom and all happenings in it.”

The two guards fell in step behind them as they left the room and walked the short distance to the council chambers.

Trystan’s childhood mind had imagined some grand room with tall tiers of chairs filled with important dignitaries who stood when they wanted to yell, their voices echoing through the room. He imagined chaos amongst nobles who didn’t always see eye to eye.

Instead, he was led into a circular room with no windows and only the single door. Torches hung along the walls to cast light onto a long, round table with high backed chairs.  The room was bare, simple, unlike the men and women inside of it.

The group of people already present jumped to their feet when they saw them enter. The King smiled wide.

“Coille,” he boomed. The rest of the group looked unfazed by the King’s lack of formality. It was no secret Lord Coille, the Duke of Aldorwood, was the King’s oldest friend.

“Marcus.” Lord Coille clasped his hand. “It’s good to see you, even under the circumstances.”

“Yes, even then.”

“Father,” Trystan whispered. “What did he mean?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

A small woman who couldn’t have had more than ten years on Trystan walked towards them. “Sire.” She bowed.

“Lady Destan.” The King gave the Duchess of Sona an affectionate smile. She turned her dazzling blue eyes on Trystan and her smile grew.

“My prince.” Her voice was soft and melodic. “I’m happy you have been invited to join us.”

“As am I, my lady.” He inclined his head towards her.

“Is everyone here?” the King asked.

“We’re missing Lord Eisner.” The King’s brother, Lord Drake, walked up behind them. “But we can start without that old fool.”

The door burst open and a portly, swarthy-faced man ran in. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to dab at the sweat on his brow. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. My daughter has been causing problems again. I swear, show me a compliant woman, and I’ll show you dice that can roll themselves.”

A few men chuckled uncomfortably. Lady Destan took her seat quietly, her face showing no reaction. Trystan, on the other hand, couldn’t hide the scowl as he looked at the Duke. The kingdom was made up of three realms – Aldorwood, the Isle of Sona, and Isenore. Trystan had always thought they were better off without the last of those and its Duke Eisner.

“Gentlemen,” the King said, breaking the tension. “We have much to discuss. Let’s get started, shall we?” He looked sideways at his scribe as the dukes took to their chairs and nodded. “We’ve begun receiving reports on this year’s crops and can expect the yields to be down from last year.”

“This is the third year in a row,” Lord Coille interjected. “As most of the kingdom’s farms are in my realm, we’ve been monitoring the situation closely. This year we had record freezes followed by extreme heat; flooding followed by drought.”

“Our orchards on Sona have suffered as well,” Lady Destan spoke up.

“What are you all saying?” Lord Eisner asked. “Are you trying to tell me we won’t be getting our shipments in Isenore?”

“Food will have to be rationed,” the King said.

“It was already rationed.” Lord Eisner stood and leaned over the table. “In Isenore, we’ve been getting our jobs done. Our mines are booming and your iron shipments have been increased. If you think for one minute you can shorten our food supply –“

“Sit down, Eisner,” the King boomed. “We all know your mines aren’t as mighty as you say.”

“If food is scarce,” Trystan said, gathering his courage to speak. “Then why are we feasting tomorrow?”

“It’s an important day,” the king answered.

“What will the people think of us when they see dancing and gorging? It isn’t right.”

“The people,” the King started, narrowing his eyes at his son. “Will see their prince taking his rightful position as Toha. We must give them pride in their kingdom, in their royal family.”

“But -”

“Trystan,” the King snapped. “Enough. It’s too late to cancel it.” He looked to Lord Drake who gave him a tiny nod and sighed. “We must keep up appearances. Everything must seem okay here at the palace.”

“Who cares about appearances?”

The King slammed his fist down on the table, making Trystan jump. “The King of Dreach-Dhoun cares.” He unclenched his fist and massaged it with his other hand. “We have reason to believe the King across the border has managed to put spies within these walls.”

“What reasons?” The Duke of Isenore asked accusingly. “Why was I not told of this?”

“Our troop movements near the border have been compromised as if King Calis himself got a look at our maps. There have been small attacks. He’s testing us. More than a few shipments have gone awry.”

“None of this is anything new.” Lord Coille scratched his thick beard. “Calis has been one step ahead of us for more than a decade, it seems.”

“He grows bolder as we grow weak,” Lady Destan said quietly.

“Speak for yourself, woman,” Lord Eisner snarled.

She didn’t rise to his bait. Her voice was calm, logical. “Of course, we’re growing weaker. Every year we cut food rations. What happens when there are no more rations to cut? We can’t let our people starve. Our world is falling apart. It snows when there should be heat. It’s dry when it should rain. And it’s not only the weather. Rivers have dried up while others have been created right where houses stand. I was only twelve when we lost our connection to the earth – our magic – but I remember what life was like with that bond. The earth took care of us, now it’s dying and threatening to take us with it.”

“Tomorrow marks the twenty-year anniversary of that dark day,” Lord Coille said, forgetting talk of spies for just a moment.

Trystan leaned forward, wanting to hear more. He knew the day of his birth had been tumultuous for his people. He still found it hard to believe in magic. Everyone who was old enough to remember told stories of the time when anything was possible, but stories were all it was to him, imaginary.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Lord Coille continued.

“We don’t need to discuss this,” Lord Eisner snapped.

“Of course, we do,” he replied. “We must remember always.” He looked to Trystan. “Now, son, there’s something you need to understand, something young people need to be told, lest it be lost. It’s spelled out in the Realm’s name. Dreach is an ancient word for magic. It was the magic keeping the balance in the world. It came from the earth, but it was only there because of the Tri-Gard.”

“I know all of this,” Trystan said. “My tutors instructed me well. The three members of the Tri-Gard used their crystals to infuse the land with power.”

Lord Coille nodded. “The three were a force for good until they were coerced into stripping the land of its power. Without being able to draw from the trees, the rocks, the very ground we walked on, our abilities disappeared. We were superior to Dreach-Dhoun in every way. We would have won the war. But, to this day, parts of their lands still hold immense power while ours are barren.”

“This is a council meeting, not a history lesson,” Lord Eisner interjected.

“Oh, do shut up.” Lady Destan winked at Trystan before turning a scowl on Lord Eisner. “The difference between the two realms is in our intentions for the magic. Dreach-Sciene translates into light magic, but Dreach-Dhoun only means dark magic.”

“I don’t understand what this has to do with anything we’re discussing,” Trystan said, honestly curious.

“Oh, my boy, it has everything to do with it.” Lord Coille leaned back in his chair and glanced at the king who gave him a nod to go on. “Our light magic kept our world in working order. It put clear distinctions between the seasons, allowing crops to thrive. It imbued nourishment into the soil. We’ve survived without it for twenty years, but each year has been worse than the one before it. We’re at the end of our luck, I’m afraid.”

“Has anyone been sent into Dreach-Dhoun to try to recover what was stolen?” Trystan looked to his father.

“If it were only so simple.” The King sighed. “In order for power to be restored, the three guardians must be reunited. We know where one of them is.” The King glanced towards his friend, Lord Coille. “He’s in the dungeons of Dreach-Dhoun. The other two are in hiding and we have no way of finding them.”

Trystan still wasn’t sure if he believed, but looking around the table, he saw that they did and it was enough for him. A swell of duty inflated his chest as he thought of his people and his need to save them. “Send me, Father. I will find them.”

“No.” The response was quick and finite. “Absolutely not.”

“I can do it,” Trystan stated.

“We don’t doubt you, Your Highness,” Lord Coille said after a moment of stubborn silence from the king. “But we’re not even sure it can be done. Dreach-Dhoun is not the place for a prince.”

“There’s no negotiating, Trystan.” The King’s tone was not to be trifled with. “I have other plans for you. We’re sending a contingent of our best soldiers to survey border defenses. Dreach-Dhoun is preparing for something. We need to root out their spies. You will remain here where you can prepare the troops who are about to be under your command. We must be ready.”

It wasn’t what Trystan wanted to hear, but he was a prince and he must follow the orders of the king. He lowered his gaze to the table, the weight of the title of Toha ever growing. “Yes, Sire.”

When he looked back up, he met the Duchess of Sona’s sympathetic gaze before looking beside her to where Lord Drake, his uncle, sat smirking. He sunk lower into his chair and listened attentively to the rest of the meeting, feeling deflated and angry.

“Nothing said here today is to get out.” The King surveyed his council. “Not until we find the traitors. Understood?”

The dukes nodded as they trickled out, leaving Trystan with only his father and his uncle.

“Why was I not told before of the extent of the problems our people are facing? I still think it’s wrong to feast when the people are set to starve.” Trystan clenched his fists down by his sides and tried to keep his tone even. The King may have been his father, but he was still the king.

It was his uncle who answered. “Dreach-Dhoun must not see us in such dire straits, Your Highness.”

Trystan blew out a long breath. “And what about what our people see?”

“Son.” The King tried to put a reassuring arm around him, but he moved out of reach. “The matter is done.”

“Unbelievable.” Trystan yanked the door open and marched out into the hall, almost colliding with Davion.

Davion stumbled back as if hit and then dropped into a low bow. “I’m sorry, my prince. Next time you’re charging around the castle like a headless horse, I’ll be sure to stay out of your way.” There was a twinkle in his eye as he raised his head.

“Idiot.” Trystan crossed his arms over his chest and glanced behind him to make sure his father or uncle hadn’t followed him out.

“Why are you in such a foul humor?” Davi asked. “I thought it was your lifelong dream to sit in with the dull and duller.”

“I should have you whipped for insolence.”

“Could work, if your father allowed whipping.”

“We could always start.” Trystan shrugged.

“You wound me, Your Highness.” He held his hands over his heart and threw his head back.

“Can you be serious for a moment?”

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” he sighed. “Just a prince following his orders.”

“Well, soon you’ll be a Toha following his orders.” Davi smirked.

“Don’t remind me.” Trystan ran a hand over the top of his head. “I need a drink.”

A slow smile spread across Davi’s lips. “You’re a mind reader. I’ll bet you some of the guests are in the main hall. I was trying to find Alixa earlier.”

“Who?” Trystan asked.

“She’s the Duke of Isenore’s daughter. We have yet to meet. The rumor is she’s a true beauty, but a wild thing.”

“Sounds like your kind of woman.”

Davi shrugged. “Female is my kind of woman.”

“I’ll be sure to pass that on to my sister.” Trystan laughed, letting it release some of the tension he’d been carrying.

Davi sighed. “Rissa only likes the familiar. She’s young, she doesn’t know any better.”

“She’s only two years younger than us.”

“Ri is special, Trystan. You know it as well as I. But she’s a princess. I’d never let myself go down such a route.”

They entered the hall where many of their guests were playing dice, drinking, and listening to the fiddler.

“That’s a good thing.” Trystan nudged him. “Because it looks like she’s hitting it off with one of the young noblemen who arrived today.”

Davi followed Trystan’s gaze and when he stiffened beside him, Trystan patted him on the back before going to grab a drink.

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Available exclusively in the Fire and Fantasy box set.

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This book is a collaboration with author Michelle Bryan. Find her HERE.

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