On paperback Hidden Fire
From the 9th to 12th September I’m lowering the price of the paperback of Hidden Fire to pretty much the lowest possible price I can to coincide on the 11th with my http://lovebooksgroup.blog Guest Post about accidentally publishing Hidden Fire in May.
For four days you’ll be able to get my first novel for £6.50/€6.50/$9.50
And to whet your appetite have an extract from the novel (three chapters from the middle of novel):
“Really, I don’t know why you’re going, after the last attempt to kill you?” They rode in the carriage through the streets of the busy city, waving politely to onlookers. The boys insisted on riding their horses down to the Hythe, leaving father and daughter to some relative privacy.
“Do stop fussing father.” Lizzy patted his hand, “You’re turning into a worry-wart in your old age.”
“Cheeky child, I’m not that old.”
“Father, you’re practically ancient.” She laughed, they’d celebrated his fifty-second birthday only weeks before.
“Well, you’re not getting any younger either. I wouldn’t mind if you met a nice man while you were in Belenos. We could do with the allies.”
“Thanks Father, and here I was thinking you wanted me to be happy?”
“I do, but also married. I’m getting on a bit; I want to know I have at least one grandson to take the crown.”
“That’s Michael’s job, not mine. I’m only your daughter.”
“Only my daughter? What rubbish is this?”
“I have no responsibility for filling the throne, you have sons for that, after all. And you know, sons are always favoured over daughters.” Lizzy laughed. Women still lost all their property on marriage; she could deal with primogeniture when that particular travesty was dealt with.
But first to Belenos, and to rescue Gos.
King John, his sons and brother, watched as Lizzy and her cousins sailed away from Royal Hythe. The elder pair of brothers gave each other a look; Duke Michael shook his head then nodded. The king seemed satisfied by the answer, though saddened. The younger brothers, the princes, merely watched their sister until her ship was out of sight, lamenting their father’s refusal to allow one of them, at least, to go.
“Home?” The king said, to his younger, twin brother.
“Come to the Residency, we need to talk.”
John nodded and watched as his brother wheeled his horse around to lead his wife and daughter’s carriage back up the Hythe and into the city again.
“Boys, come along, we have to go.”
“But I want to stay and watch Lizzy’s ship.”
“We have business at the Residency. Mount your horses and come along.”
The boys grumbled but returned to the carriage where their horses were being held by an empty faced groom. They mounted and the party finally left. They were quite dull now that the excitement of the morning was over and young John sighed in his saddle.
“What’s up, m’boy?”
“Nothing father, I’d have liked to see the Empire.”
“You will get the chance one day.”
“Why’s Lizzy going on holiday when we’re expecting a war?”
“She’s got a job to do in Belenos.”
John looked about him, assessing their privacy; he decided the least was best at the moment.
“Diplomacy of women.”
“He means the marriage offer from Prince Cthinnerthy, idiot.” Michael rolled his eyes at his little brother.
“Oh that. Lizzy will turn him down.”
King John looked askance at this statement from this suddenly certain Prince John.
“What makes you say that?” His brow crinkled.
“Elenor told me; she heard auntie and Lizzy talking about the Campaign for Women’s Marriage Rights.”
“The property campaign?”
“That’s the one. Anyway, Lizzy said that while she was away could auntie look into the laws for the Islands and she’d get information in the Empire. I think Auntie is going to ask her friends in Umar to talk to their friends in Camar as well.”
“And that’s what Elenor said?”
“Yes, ask her yourself if we’re going to the Residency.”
“I think I’ll talk to Catherine.”
“Might be an idea dad, these children might have got the wrong end of the stick.”
“We haven’t. Anyway, if Lizzy is planning to help the CWMR then she can’t be seriously considering marrying Prince Thinnery.”
“His name’s Cthinnerthy. You’ll have to get it right if he becomes our brother-in-law.”
“I’m telling you, it’s not going to happen. Or the back-up offers from the Queen of Umar.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Elenor saw the letters on her mother’s desk.”
The king sighed. He needed to talk to Catherine; nothing was secret among the family. Not that it ever had been, not with the propensity for twins in the family. It had come as a universal surprise to everyone when his sons had been born alone. When Michael had been born, there were questions raised about the Queen’s loyalty, but the boy had grown a shock of red-blond hair just like his father, sister and everyone else for two hundred years. They’d been wrong about that instance but it was obvious now that the queen was not a loyal woman, or more correctly she was loyal to herself alone. And soon he would have to welcome her back.
King John sighed. He didn’t want his wife back but the new Lord Tarjan was insistent; his niece returned to Albon or there would be war. They were ready if that were the case, but he’d rather avoid it.
“Father?” Michael’s voice brought him out of his reverie, “There’s a messenger for us.”
“She’s from the army, it must be news about the pirates.”
“Good, they’ve been gone long enough without sending word.” He waved the woman, sweat soaked and covered in road dust, to ride alongside the carriage.
“Your majesty, a message from the Commanders.” She gasped, took a breath and continued, “The Rocks have been cleared. We found disturbing evidence of enemy involvement in their activities. The Officers have taken control of the encampment and are searching for further evidence.”
“Has the Duke been informed?”
“My companion left me on the road to the Residency, sir. His Grace should know by now.”
“Thank you. We’re going there now, ride with us and tell me about the campaign.”
The woman nodded.
Aboard the fleet’s flagship, the commanders of the expedition sat in gloom.
“So, Officer, what have you found?” Lord Admiral Jonsey asked.
“Nothing good my Lord.” Officer Martins sighed.
“Good? I wasn’t expecting any.”
“Nor treason.” Commander Armanno added.
“And yet treason we find.” Jonsey sighed.
Lord Summerton growled. “We must bring them to justice.” He’d arrived to join the meeting from the coast.
“You have arrested the conspirators on the northern coast?”
“Most of them.”
“My colleagues have been searching their houses and businesses for further evidence. If there are any more conspirators, we’ll find them.”
“As always the Office is ahead of the Watch, Fleet and Regiments.” Lord Jonsey laughed. He was proud of his new and untried fleet. They’d done a fine job of encircling the Rocks, pounded away with cannon at the exposed ships until their crews had given in. Then the Marines and soldiers, led by Marshal and Armanno had landed to mop up any resistance. It had been a model campaign. On land Armanno’s countrywoman, Commander Laitano, had led her forces through the northern coastal towns, and with the help of some Officers, had rounded up the pirates’ contacts on land. It wasn’t until Officer Martins, in charge of the Officers on this expedition, had combed through the paperwork in the cave the pirates were using as an office did they realise the scale of their problems.
“Well, has a message been sent the King’s Ford?”
“Yes Sir, I sent one of my officers and one of Commander Laitano’s messengers south as soon as we found the first evidence.”
“Good man. What else have you found?”
Martins looked sideways at Commanders Armanno and Laitano.
“None of that, Martins. We’re equals here.”
“Of course Lord Jonsey. Well, so far my teams have managed to find enough evidence to start a war.”
The rest sat back in their chairs. The collective groan sounded like a zombie herd that had just seen lunch.
“We need to tell the king immediately.”
“No, not yet.” Armanno said, “We don’t know how he’ll react. We should wait until we’re back in King’s Ford with the fleet and troops.”
“You’re right, we have to protect the king.”
“I found a letter signed by the new Lord Tarjan ordering the pirates to join his own fleet at the end of summer, when they invade.”
“What!?” Marshall shouted, “The duplicitous bastard.”
“What did you expect?” Laitano asked, “The Holmgards have been trouble since they united the three tribes. Our queen refused a marriage alliance for the Princessa because we don’t trust them.”
“I wish King John had refused to marry Jocinta Holmgard.” Sommerton muttered.
“Wouldn’t have. We weren’t ready to fight a war against them then.” Jonsey barked a laugh.
“We are now, with the help of our friends.” Sommerton nodded at the Umari commanders.
“My lords, commanders, may I suggest you return to King’s Ford, I shall stay here with a small force to continue the investigation.”
“We’ll need your full report for the Duke, Officer.”
“I shall write it as soon as we’ve finished our present interrogations. The evidence would be safest returning to the city with you. Commander Armanno, may I borrow your second battalion for the duration of our investigation?”
Armanno nodded in agreement, “They’re already helping you so they may as well stay with you and the other Officers.”
“Martins, when do you expect to finish your investigation of the Rocks?”
“Tomorrow we enter the furthest caves; I would say it’ll be two or three days.”
“Excellent. Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest we leave at first light four days from now to return to the capital. Officer Martins, have a coded message sent from the nearest tower. I want the Duke to be kept informed.” Jonsey, as Lord Fleet, was in overall command of the mission.
“Agreed. I’ll gather all the evidence we have and write my report before then. I’ll have someone from the coast bring their evidence and interrogation reports. Can you take the prisoners back with you?”
“I’ll march them back with my battalions.”
“We will leave the day after tomorrow, that way we’ll not be long behind the fleet returning to King’s Ford.” Lord Sommerton decided.
“I’ll get to shore then before it gets dark, we’ll be ready to leave as soon as you are.”
“What shall we do with the pirates’ ships?”
“We’ve finished going over them, I suggest Fleet takes anything useful from them and burns the lot.”
“Can we make use of them?”
“None ‘ull sail again. They’re not much use for anything except firewood.”
“Let’s burn them three nights from now. I have had a good burn in years, not since the Belenosian sixth fleet tried to force the Camari trade.” Jonesey laughed.
“Anyone watching for Sumoast will know we’re on to them.” Summerton mused.
“They’ll know anyway. The pirates had a small tower. I imagine they were supposed to report in every day.”
“Who too? Sumoast is over the horrizon.”
“Possibly, I bow to your expertise Jonsey, of course, but I suggest we send out two or three of our ships to the edge of out territorial waters this evening. Just to have a look.”
“Excellent idea. I’ll have Captain Grey take his men for a trip out to sea, they could do with the experience.”
“And if they find anything?”
“We’ll have to report it.”
“No provoking them though, not yet.”
“I think, Commander Armanno, they’ve done plenty to provoke us, why should we not offer something in return.”
“My queen wishes it to be known that the Sumoasti started the war. She’s sending a fleet, which should arrive in King’s Ford in two days, but the Sumoasti can’t know we have already supported you until the war starts.”
“You’re very certain there will be a war.”
“My queen has Seen it.”
“Argh, nonsense. Seeing doesn’t exist.”
“But the Duke Sees?” Armanno seemed confused; it was obvious to her that both the Duke Alboni and the Princessa Elizabeta were Seers of some sort, it was why the Queen wanted her for a daughter-in-law. But perhaps the Alboni didn’t believe?
Laitano kicked her friend under the table and shook her head.
“I must have been mistaken, it is only that he seems to know so much. His network and Officers are very good at their work; I think?”
“Yes, yes, the Duke’s network of Officers and agents is very well informed and so is he. It must seem like magic to some people.” Lord Summerton, an old friend and distant relative of the royal twins knew the truth, but it was generally kept quiet; Lizzy didn’t know about herself yet. He hadn’t been in the least surprised when she’d appeared after her kidnapping so many years ago, just as they were about to attack. He’d had to fain surprise for his men and the Fitzroy twins. Someone should tell them.
“These cultural confusions make diplomacy so difficult at times.”
“They do indeed, Commander Laitano. Now, are we agreed?”
“Aye.” was repeated around the table.
“Well then, ladies and gentlemen, let us be about our business. We have much to do.”
The ships returned to King’s Ford two weeks later with their reports adding further to the busyness of the King’s Council chamber. The Umari ships had arrived three days before with the Umari Prince at their head. A week after Commander Armanno and Lord Summerton marched into the city. The prisoners were immediately dispatched to the Gaol and Lord Summerton joined his colleagues – now much expanded by the arrival of the Umari – in the Council chamber. It had been a busy six weeks, summer had almost passed and the Sumoasti fleet would be leaving Tarjan soon, unless a peace deal could be arranged. He feared it was unlikely.
The voyage to the Empire had been quiet for Lizzy. She had enjoyed the first few days but then, once out of sight of the Isles and not yet within sight of the Essenmouth, the great river delta that marked the opening of the continent and the road to the Imperial capital, she became anxious. This far out no messages could be relayed to their ship from the towers and she had to go without news of events at the Rocks or in Belenos for five days. She was relieved when the coast around Essen came into view.
Once through the tricky passages of the delta, they had to sail upstream through a narrow gorge, just wide enough to admit a small merchant vessel, for a day, then the river opened out and she had been enchanted by the mountains and their dark forests. They stopped every night to rest, restock and collect messages. The twins disappeared every evening at sunset and usually came back with clouded faces, and refused to talk all evening.
One night, a few days from Belenos itself, they came back laughing. Aboard the ship they gathered their friends in the stateroom. It was stuffy and overcrowded with all seven Alboni aristocrats packed in like sardines. They’d turned south three days before and the river had widened out, it seemed as though they sailed on a small sea during the day, but the expanse of glass sucked heat into the stateroom, and even late in the evening it was still sweltering.
“We’ve finally contacted Gos’s agent. She’s alive.”
“Oh, thank the One.” Charley breathed out.
“What happened?” Sarah asked. She was pleased but the information was more important. She wiped the sweat from her brow.
“Our agent was to meet Gos in the mountains outside the capital. There’s a spa town about twenty miles along the coast.”
“I know it, my mother took me once, it’s call Hercalia, or something like that.”
“Hercalium.” Lizzy idly corrected, fanning herself with a sweat stained piece of paper, a monograph she’d been working on until the twins returned.
“That’s the place. She was due to meet him at dark moon except he didn’t arrive so she started towards the capital. She got caught by the same people who have Gos, at a villa five miles outside the city. Since she knew you were heading towards the city she got herself out and walked up river until she met us.”
“But what about Gos, and how did she get out?” Phil finally spoke. He’d barely said a word in all the days they’d been travelling. Now it seemed Lizzy could see guarded hope in his eyes.
“Gos was alive last time she saw him two weeks ago, but he was being kept in a cave in the hills behind the villa, guarded by a small army of Sumoasti. She was in a cellar in the villa itself. She escaped but couldn’t get through the guards around the cave to rescue Gos.”
“She knows how to get there though? We could send a force to rescue him?”
“We can’t raise a force in Imperial territory, the Empress would take it as a threat. No, Sarah, our agent, Alex and I must go ourselves, with half the guards. If you’ll lend us them, Harry?”.”
“I must come too.” Phil insisted.
Lawrence looked from his friend to his brother and Sarah; they nodded in agreement.
“Alright then, just the five of us.”
“Six, you’re not leaving me out of this.” Harry added, “Gos is my friend as well. And you’re taking my soldiers with you. I have my responsibilities to them.””
The rest nodded, before Lizzy protested, “You can’t leave me out of this if Phil and Harry are going.”
“We are Lizzy.” Alex sighed.
“I can come if I want.” Lizzy said petulantly.
“No you can’t Lizzy; we need you to smile sweetly at the Empress and her Court.” Sarah reminded her.
“We can do that Lizzy; Grandmother is already planning who she’ll introduce us to.”
“We’re a distraction?”
“And we’re on holiday.”
“I’m not, I’m working.” Sarah muttered.
“If you want we’ll handle it?”
“And face the Duke if anything should happen to his beloved boys? Never. I’m coming with you; Lady De Narvel will just have to find Lizzy a waiting woman for a few days.”
“Grandmother has plenty of servants who’ll do for a few days.”
“Where’s our agent now?” It suddenly struck Lizzy that they were talking about the woman but had yet to see her.
“In the hold hiding out until we leave in the morning.”
“Send her to see me when we leave in the morning. I’d like to speak to her myself.”
“It’s a start, a start.” Phil started to laugh. He’d been so strung out since the Duke had told him his brother had disappeared while on a mission for the Office; even the news that their agent was alive and had seen his brother two weeks ago was enough to give him hope, little as it was.
They went to bed more relaxed than they had in weeks and in the morning Lizzy interviewed their agent, although she seemed to be answering to Sarah more than Lizzy. It occurred to Lizzy afterwards that Sarah was more important in the Office than admitted to Lizzy. She would have to ask her about it.
But not until they got home; there was too much to do in the Empire first.
In novel news, I’m starting phase two of editing Fire Betrayed on Thursday. No particular reason it should be Tbursday, except that I’m busy tomorrow and I need to get started soon because I plan to have the book ready for publication by mid-November.