I was tooling around the Internet looking for information about LGBTQ characters in Game of Thrones, and an article on The Advocate suggested the possibility of Danaerys + Yara Greyjoy.

Umm.  YASSSS, QUEEN!  (Like, literally — “Queen.”  …Er, I mean “Queens.”)

Normally I don’t have much interest in blondes, but c’mon: Danaerys is a total badass, and she’d be beautiful regardless of what color hair she had.

But alas.  Dany might not be completely straight, but it looks like she’s going to end up with Jon Snow.  Incest and all.

Anyway, for all you readers out there who love stories like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, a good King Arthur tale, Anne McCaffrey, Brandon Sanderson (<– I haven’t read his stuff yet),  Harry Potter, or even Dune (#amreading), but you wish you didn’t have to rely upon your imagination or fanfiction to pair off Danaerys/Yara or Hermione/Ginny, have I got the new novel for you.

Last week, I posted the description and first chapter of an untitled novel-in-progress that will marry my two main genre interests — lesfic + fantasy.  This week, I bring you Chapter 2.

Read Chapter 1 first!

2

He pulled his wrist loose at last, and the knife arced up, its black blade refusing to reflect the moonlight.  Tasia closed her eyes on instinct, body tightening in anticipation of the final blow.

But then there was a series of shouts, a muffled cry, and the weight pressing her into the cobblestones mercifully disappeared.

Tasia opened her eyes in time to see two men in city guard uniforms pin the Wise Man face-first in the middle of the street.  One guard yelled obscenities, dagger blade pressed to the Wise Man’s throat; the other guard busied himself tying the would-be-assassin’s hands behind his back with a length of twine.

Dazed, Tasia made her way to her to her knees, gathering the scattered contents of her bread basket from the pavement.  Fortunately, the ring with the royal crest of the House of Dorsa was still in its hiding place inside a loaf of bread.  She pulled it out hastily and put it on her finger, rotating it so that the crest faced down instead of up.  She would only reveal her identity if she had to.

One of the guards looked over at her.  “Girl?  Are you alright?”

“Yes.  Thank you.”  She tugged her hood down a little lower, avoided his gaze, went back to gathering her fallen bread.

But she could feel the guard’s eyes on her.

“Awfully late for a bread delivery,” he said, taking a few steps closer .

Tasia decided the best course of action was not to respond.  That was what a humble, lowly baker’s girl would do if approached by the city guard, wasn’t it?  So she nodded and brushed dirt from a loaf.

“Where are you going?” asked the guard.

She glanced at the guard, then her attacker, through the shadows cast by her cloak’s hood.  The Wise Man on the ground appeared to be unconscious now; a starburst of blood painted his temple red and trickled down his cheek.

Like it or not, Tasia had the full attention of both guards.  Both inspected her with curiosity — and perhaps suspicion.  It was indeed the wrong time and the wrong place to find a baker’s girl alone on the street.

“Home,” Tasia replied simply.  She looked away again, keeping her face hidden within the hood.

“We’ll escort you,” said the first guard.

“No.”

Tasia said it too firmly, too quickly, and only realized after the word escaped her lips that a simple baker’s girl wouldn’t speak in such a contrarian tone to a member of the city guard.  Especially not a frightened baker’s girl who’d just been attacked.

She tried to correct herself but instead made a second blunder:  “I’m close to home.  I know the way.”

The second guard stood up, straddling the fallen Wise Man.  Once on his feet, Tasia saw that the man was huge, bear-sized, with a thick black beard that obscured most of his face.

“Close to home?” said the bear-sized guard skeptically.  “You’re in the Ambassador Quarter.”

The first guard took another step closer.  He was of average size but looked small next to his companion.  His face was covered with beard stubble; his long hair slicked back in the way that Tasia knew was popular with soldiers and guards.  He cocked his head, narrowing his eyes at Tasia.

Feign confusion, instinct told Tasia.

She straightened, turned her gaze away from the guards, rubbed the tender spot on the back of her head with imagined absent-mindedness as she rotated in a slow circle.  Behind her, dark water gently lapped at the bank of the Royal Canal.

“Isn’t that the canal?” she asked.

“It is.”

She paused.  “The Merchant Canal?”

“No,” said the big guard.  “The Royal Canal.”

She spun on her heel back towards the guards.  “The Royal Canal?  How… where am I?  Did you say this is the Ambassador Quarter?”

The guards exchanged a glance, and the one with the slicked-back hair chuckled.  “I think you must’ve hit your head harder than you thought, girl.  You’d better let us walk you home.”

Tasia didn’t respond.

“But wait, Mack,” said the big bearded one.  “How do you propose we walk her home, eh?  What’re we going to do with him?”  He toed the still body of the unconscious Wise Man.

The first guard — Mack — considered this for a second.  “Take him to the guard station at the edge of the quarter and wait for the shift change.  You can handle him on your own as long as he’s tied up, can’t you?  I can walk her home.”

The big guard grinned.  “Sure, Mack.  You get the girl to yourself.  I get stuck with the murderous Wise Man.”

“Just take him.  I’ll be back soon enough.”

The second guard grumbled, but he bent down anyway, hefting the Wise Man and slinging him over one huge shoulder, like an over-large sack of potatoes.

“You’re only making me carry him because you don’t have the strength to do it yourself,” the guard told Mack.

Mack huffed in irritation.  “Get going.  We can settle the question of strength later.”

The big guard grunted, but turned and headed across the street with his burden anyway.

Tasia let out a tense breath of relief to see her would-be assassin move away from her on the shoulder of the guard, but she was conflicted as to whether the Wise Man’s receding form was good or bad.

It was good, because she was out of danger for the moment.  But it was bad, because she did not know his identity, and that meant he might return — or worse, he would find his way back to whomever else he was working with or working for and strengthen his position before making a second attempt on her life.  Letting the guard take him away might be a mistake.

It would be better if the guards took the assassin to the palace, where he could be properly interrogated by the Emperor’s men.

She drew in a breath, about to call out to the big guard to bring him back, but instinct stopped her again.

Why would they heed your words unless they know that you’re the Princess? asked instinct.  The moment you reveal your identity, the wheels of your fate will begin to roll.  They will take you to the palace along with the Wise Man, the palace guard will wake your father, and you will have no choice but to explain to him why you were in the Ambassador Quarter, dressed as a baker’s girl, in the final hours before dawn.

She weighed both options.  Nearly losing her life was deeply disconcerting.  But explaining to her father why she was leaving Markas’s apartments at three-of-the-clock… That was even more disconcerting.

She held her tongue — and realized the guard named Mack was watching her.

He smiled unconvincingly when Tasia met his gaze.  “So, girl,” he said.  “Which way towards home?”

Regardless of whether or not she revealed her identity, Tasia still needed to somehow make it to the Sunfall Gate and her allies there.  And the gate was only a few hundred yards up the hill, gently glowing in yellow torchlight visible even from here.  Somehow, she needed to reach it — and lose Mack along the way.  Once she made it to the privacy of her own quarters, she would figure out what to do about what happened tonight.

“Girl?”

“Sorry, sir,” Tasia said.  She let out a chuckle that she hoped sounded jittery and nervous.  “I think I’m still a little shaken up.”

“I don’t have all night.  Which way are we going?”

Tasia pointed up the hill.  “North,” she said.  “Past the palace.”

#

They marched up the hill in silence, the occasional hanging lantern wavering in the breeze and casting eerie yellow patterns against the canal’s black water.  Tasia stared straight ahead of her, mind busy with the task of deciding how she would lose Mack and make it to Sunfall Gate without him.

“I hope the Wise Man at least paid you for your troubles before he attacked you,” Mack said, words breaking into Tasia’s contemplations.

“Beg pardon?”

“I said, I hope he at least paid you.”

“Paid me for what, sir?” Tasia asked, not understanding.

Mack chuckled.  “Come on, girl.  You might’ve fooled my mate Dawkin back there into thinking you’re just an errant baker’s girl out past bedtime, but you didn’t fool me.”

Fool him?

And then understanding struck Tasia all at once:   Mother Moon, he thinks I’m a prostitute!

“I am a baker’s girl,” Tasia said, tone brooking no room for disagreement.  “The baker I work for has several clients in the Ambassador Quarter, one of them with a tendency to entertain guests late into the night, which sometimes requires late night replenishment.”

“Replenishment?”  Mack gave her a smug smirk.  “I can tell just from the way you talk you’re no baker’s girl.”  He eyed her, inspecting her up and down.  “I bet you’re from one of them high-class brothels, eh?  Where they teach you to read and play the lute and all the other pig shite that tickles a rich man’s fancy?”

Tasia turned her gaze away from him, kept her eyes fixed firmly ahead of her.  “I am not what you imply, sir.  I am a baker’s girl far from home, nothing more.”

“Which baker?”

“He’s not… his shop is new,” Tasia sputtered.  “I doubt you’d recognize the name.”

Mack’s hand snaked out, and for the second time in one evening a coarse man grabbed the Princess’s wrist.  He jerked her toward him.

“Don’t lie to me, now, girl.”  He was so close to Tasia that she could smell the fish and ale on his breath.  “Half the brothels in this city are under the protection of the city guard; surely you know that.  And you wouldn’t want your mistress finding out you lied to a kindly guardsman who only tried to walk you home.  After saving your life.”

The palace was so close.  If she could only get away from him, she might be able to outrun him to the gate.  Or at least come close enough that the Sunfall guards would hear her shouting for help.

Composing her face into a mask of cold neutrality, Tasia looked down at the rough hand around her wrist.

“Neither would my mistress be pleased to hear that a guardsman bruised one of her chattel,” she said cooly.

He let her go with a small shove.  “Ha!  I knew it!  You should have just said what you are, girl.”

Tasia straightened her cloak, resumed her trek up the hill.  “It would have been unbecoming for a woman like me to state her true occupation to a member of the city guard.”

“So it would, so it would.”

Mack grinned to himself as they walked, clearly pleased that his infinite intelligence had revealed the truth about Tasia.

A few seconds later, the same hand that had grabbed her wrist goosed her bottom.  Tasia jumped, barely managing to repress a startled yelp before it escaped her throat.

Mack laughed.  “And do you think your mistress would allow a guardsman a few minutes on the house as thanks for saving one of her girls?”  He stepped sideways, wrapped an arm around Tasia’s narrow waist and pulled her into him.  Before Tasia had a chance to react, a rough chin pressed against the side of her neck and a tongue slipped into her ear.

“Sir!”

He let her go, but only after he’d buried his nose in her hair and taken a crude, dog-like sniff of her.  “Strawberry-blonde curls, green eyes, and smelling of perfume.  You’re every poor man’s fantasy of a rich girl.”  He fingered the collar of her cloak.  “So what do you say, girl, eh?  Indulge a poor man with a few minutes of fantasy when we get back to your mistress?”

Tasia glanced from Mack to the Sunfall Gate, a series of quick calculations running through her mind.

She swung her basket of bread at the guard’s face, hitched up her cloak and the shift beneath it, and sprinted for the gate as fast as her feet would carry her.

Behind her, Mack cursed loudly and pursued her, the soles of his leather boots slapping the cobblestones, short sword jangling against the metal studs riveted into his leather tunic.

“Help!” Tasia shouted as she approached the gate.  Mack was only steps behind her now.  “Help!  Tedric, Tomkin, Grizzle, hel — ”

But it was too late; he caught her.  A fist wound itself into her hair, yanked her backward roughly, and she collided into his chest with a soft grunt.

“You ungrateful little whore!” Mack spat, wheeling her around to face him.  “I’ll teach you some manners!  No wonder the last man tried to kill — ”

The sound of metal grinding on metal interrupted him, and he dropped his hand as the portcullis behind Tasia groaned open.  Mack stared at the rising portcullis in astonishment, mouth slightly ajar.

Tasia straightened her cloak, shook loose the tangles in her hair.

One of the two towering cedar doors opened towards them, and a man holding a lantern in one hand and a sword in the other stepped out.  His unshaven face was as rough as Mack’s was, but where Mack’s stubble retained its color, the half-grown beard on the palace guard’s face was pure white.

“Grizzle,” Tasia said, the guard’s name mixing with a deep a sigh of relief.

“Princess Natasia,” Grizzle said, dipping his chin respectfully.  Tasia could smell the booze on his breath even from where she stood; she hoped he wasn’t drunk enough to be over-powered.  “We expected you home much earlier.  The lads and I were beginning to worry.”  Grizzle turned in Mack’s direction, holding up his lantern and squinting at the other man.  “But I see you found a member of the city guard to walk you home.  That’s good — when we heard you shouting, we thought something was wrong.”

Mack’s eyes widened.  With what Tasia could only assume was mounting horror, he looked from Grizzle, to Tasia, back to Grizzle again.

“Princess…?” he mumbled to himself.

Tasia adjusted the ring on her finger, rotating it so that the royal crest of her family faced outward, the silver eagle’s head inlaid in ebony glittering in the lamp light.

She sighed heavily, because she knew what she must do, even if was distasteful to her.  Circumstance forced her decision, and now revealing what happened tonight to her father was no longer a choice to be deliberated over but something she had to do.

Servant of the Empire before servant of my desire, she recited to herself.  It was probably for the best.  If there was someone who knew her movements well enough to attempt an assassination tonight, then her father needed to know.

“This man is no ordinary city guardsman,” she said to Grizzle.

Mack began to protest, panic filling his face, but Tasia silenced him with a single raised finger.

“This man — and his patrol mate — are heroes, because tonight…”  She paused for effect.  “They stopped an assassin who tried to take my life.”

Now it was Grizzle’s face that registered shock.  “My Princess!  Are you alright?  Should I wake one of the Wise Men?”

“No,” Tasia said immediately, “don’t.  I’m not hurt.  Mack — that’s what you’re called, isn’t it?” she said, turning to the guard.

He hesitated, then nodded, shrinking back a step.

“Mack and his patrol mate saw to it that no harm came to me.”  Tasia took a breath.  “I do, however, need you to rouse my father.  Send someone ahead to wake him, and let him know that we will meet him in his antechamber.”  She glanced sideways at Mack, whose mouth remained half open.  She resolved never again to be in a position of spending time with him alone.  “And arrange for another one of your men to escort.”

“Yes, Highness.”

Read Chapter 3


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