Mid Week Tease: Lady of Thorns #MidWeekTease #MWTease
Hello, lovelies! This week I’m teasing you with the opening to the third book in my Two Thrones series, Lady of Thorns. Please note that this story will NOT be about Danaë and Matthias (their parallel adventure will be in Book 4), but it does feature Lady Amelie le Clerq, the young, prickly Terra magistra and heiress to the Lady of Lierdhe, and the eminently sneaky Counselor Alain LaPorte from Palace of Scoundrels. The best way I can describe it is, imagine Lady Mary Crawley from Season 1 Downton Abbey and Alan Shore from Boston Legal going head to head.
So to speak. Ahem.
And voila, hijinks ensue! Next week I’ll post a snippet of their first love scene together, so stay tuned, and make sure to hit the list after the teaser to see other great Mid Week Teases!
A crisp autumn wind blew through the village of Greatham, fluttering the leaves of the great apple tree in the square and making it look as if the tree was waving at the gathered villagers. As today was the official beginning of the Harvest Festival, everyone had been fortified with mugs of ale and hot pasties courtesy of the Duchess of Lierdhe while they waited for the day’s main event. A ragged but happy cheer rose when the duchess’s carriage finally rolled into view, the grand vehicle coming to a creaking stop next to a wooden platform where the mayor and other village officials waited for their esteemed visitor.
Lady Amelie le Clerq swallowed hard as she peered out the window of the carriage. She had tried to argue that the village was close enough to walk to from their castle, but Countess Henriette le Clerq, the Lady of Lierdhe and ruler of the province, had decreed that her heir would arrive in a dignified fashion for her first Ripening Ceremony and that was simply that.
Hence the carriage, not to mention the dress. Amelie scowled down at the diaphanous copper silk gown with its golden girdle that was the Lady’s ceremonial garb for this day. On her mother the gown looked both beautiful and dignified. On her…
I look like I’m playing dress-up. She had a woman’s curves, barely, but they weren’t balanced the way her mother’s were. Too much flesh across the hips, not enough across the breasts, and then there was the good hand’s span of exposed ankle between ground and hem. Worse, there was muscle underneath the softness, a result of her daily walks and the occasional stop to help a milkmaid or farm hand with a task. Amelie believed that a better understanding of her people’s daily lives could only aid her when it came time to govern Lierdhe, but her mother had been horrified the day she came home with one arm slimed to the pit from helping out with a difficult foaling.
Despite all that activity, she still had an exasperatingly round face with an upturned crabapple for a nose, as well as the dark eyes and hair that were a legacy from her father’s family. She couldn’t help feeling like a plump, drab wren next to her glorious cardinal of a mother. And now, wearing the Lady’s garb and about to perform her first Ripening Ceremony, she felt like an impostor as well.
Stop being ridiculous. You’re a fully qualified Terra mage and can perform this ceremony in your sleep. She studied the crowd again and tried to will her nervous stomach to calm as she stepped down from the carriage. The surprised faces in the crowd made it clear that not everyone had been informed about the change in the ceremony.
Squaring her shoulders, she headed for the mayor, a stocky man whose bushy eyebrows and red nose gave him a fatherly attitude. He bowed at her approach. “Lady Amelie, welcome,” he boomed. “It’s an honor for our village to host your first Ripening Ceremony.”
Her answering smile felt stiff, but she had no time to come up with something better. “And it is my pleasure to perform this ceremony for Greatham, mayor,” she announced, hoping no one could hear the tremor in her voice. “Shall we begin?”
“Of course.” He snapped his fingers and an official handed him a carved wooden cup full of spring water. “So that our lands may always be nourished and fruitful,” he announced, handing the cup to her.
Amelie had watched her mother perform this ceremony since she was a toddler. At the center of the square, a doubled circle of children ringed the gnarled apple tree. The children would part and pass the Lady through into the center, then begin dancing in a circle while singing a hymn praising Lierdhe’s autumn bounty. The Lady would pour the water onto the roots of the apple tree, symbolically nurturing it, and release the binding spell placed on it after it had bloomed in the spring. Using her Terra magic, she would then coax the tree into bearing fruit within minutes, a visual representation of the province’s fruitfulness.
This year, however, her mother had decreed that Amelie should take on the Ripening Ceremony in Greatham, the village closest to their home of Ardenhaal and the traditional site for opening the Harvest Festival. “You’ll have to do it eventually, and it’s best that you get some experience,” Henriette had said blithely. “Besides, it will be good to let the people see you performing magic, don’t you agree?”
Amelie felt the barb hidden inside her mother’s offer. The Terra magic involved in releasing the binding spell wasn’t difficult. Getting the tree to produce ripe apples at an unnatural speed was more challenging, but not beyond her capabilities. It was doing all of that while wearing a ridiculous scrap of copper silk and being watched by a crowd that made her stomach cramp.
She tried to dredge up some saliva, wondering how horrified the onlookers would be if she took a sip from the cup. You can have all the water you want later. Just get through this now. The older villagers gathered closer, many of the adults holding mugs of ale in one hand and pies or pasties in the other in celebration of the holiday. Under normal circumstances she enjoyed the smell coming from the food and drink, but today it set her already cramping stomach on edge. She swallowed hard, willing herself not to throw up in front of her mother’s subjects. I can do this. I can.
Taking a deep breath, she called, “Children of Greatham, let the Lady pass.”
Two sets of girls, most likely chosen for their good behavior, dropped their linked hands on cue. Amelie stepped past them into the cool shade of the apple tree’s spreading boughs, ignoring the giggles behind her. The tree’s life force reached up to her, a rich golden stream steadying her nerves.
Tipping the cup, she poured the water over the gnarled roots while saying a silent prayer, watching the dry brown earth turn moist and black. Depositing the now-empty cup on the ground, she straightened and looked up at the knobby branches and their clusters of green leaves. Her mage senses perceived the binding spell like a sticky caul that covered the branches, holding back their bounty. The tree ached with the need to bear its fruit, and she could feel that pain deep in her own belly.
Raising her arms, she murmured the releasing spell under her breath. Slowly, the caul began to peel back from the tip of each branch, gathering speed as it reached the trunk and unraveled towards the ground. She took in a deep lungful of air as she waited, noting all the scents; the moist dirt at the bottom of the apple tree’s roots, the dry spice of healthy wood, the odor of sugarplums, milk, and a hint of urine from the children, clean sweat, pasties, and ale from the adults, the pungency of manure and other odors that came from living together in a village, and above it all the smell of plants that knew it was time to give up their gifts and bow to the farmer’s scythe.
Within a minute the tree was free from its binding, a light breeze ruffling the leaves and making it seem like the branches was stretching in relief. Amelie allowed herself a sympathetic sigh. The first part was done. Now came the fiddly bit.
She let her hands drop to her sides, spreading her fingers wide, and lowered her mental shields to the ground under her feet. For her, every contact with the earth felt like a low, thrumming note that ran over her long bones, singing to the part of her soul that connected with her element. Today the earth welcomed her, cradling her in its slow, unstoppable immensity.
It was time. Sinking her mental reach deep into the earth, she drew upon its power, letting it stream up through the soles of her feet, filling her to overflowing. The spell she held in her mind would flow outward onto the dusty grey-brown bark, spreading over the trunk and branches, finding the tiny fertilized buds and prompting them to swell and ripen into red-gold apples. All she had to do was let it go—
An outraged squeal startled her, breaking her concentration. Annoyed, she turned towards the source of the interruption and spotted a tiny girl who was trying to tug her long russet braids out of the grasp of a boy in the outer ring.
He dropped the braids when he saw Amelie’s glare, giving her his best innocent smile. She remembered her male cousins doing the same thing before her Terra power manifested, thinking it was great sport to try and make her cry.
Locking gazes with the boy, she crooked her finger. After a quick check to make sure she wasn’t summoning one of the other children, he came over, hands clasped in front of his holiday smock.
“Yes, Lady Amelie?” he piped, eyes wide and ingenuous.
She leaned over so that they were nose to nose. “If you ever pull a girl’s braid again,” she said quietly, “I’ll turn you into a tree and have you chopped up for firewood. Do you understand?”
She didn’t mean it, of course. For one thing, she wasn’t even sure if it was possible. But the threat was effective. “Y-yes, my lady,” the boy gulped, ingenuousness vaporizing into fear.
“Good. Now get back into the circle.”
He dashed back to his place, and the scent of urine intensified. Drat. She tried to smile at the now-quiet children, but they stared at her as if she was about to turn into a monster and eat them. Double drat and damn for good measure.
With no other option, she turned back to the waiting apple tree and quickly rebuilt the spell. It wasn’t as easy this time and she had to make an effort to smooth the rough edges of the magic. Taking a deep breath, she gestured towards the tree as she released the spell, waiting to see the buds swell into ripe apples.
A soft murmur built behind her, and a creaky old man’s voice muttered, “Aye, what’d you expect from t’ Lady of Thorns?”
Amelie’s cheeks prickled in embarrassment at the old nickname. Gritting her teeth, she did her best to ignore the waiting crowd and went through the steps of the spell again, finding the word she’d left out.
The murmuring behind her increased as she rebuilt the spell a third time, casting it at the tree harder than she meant to. The gnarled branches swayed under the impact, their nubs exploding under the force of the magic into apples.
In some cases quite literally exploding, showering the ground with sprays of juice and pulped fruit. The children squealed at the arboreal attack, breaking formation and dashing back to the safety of their parents. A startled Amelie wiped a smear of apple from her cheek before she turned around to face her people.
The expressions on their faces were … memorable. “May Greatham have a fruitful harvest,” she called, wishing she could crawl into a hole and pull it shut behind her.
“Well, it could have been worse, milady,” Jeanette said judiciously, holding up the stained copper silk and studying it. “At least you didn’t make the entire tree blow up.”
“That’s not nearly as helpful as you think it is,” Amelie muttered, getting the last bit of sticky juice out of her hair. She slid under the water in the tub to rinse, shaking her head from side to side to sluice out the suds, then resurfaced. “You should have seen their faces.”
Her maid made a noncommittal noise. “But the apples ripened.”
“Yes, the apples ripened, which means the Harvest Festival is officially underway. Hopefully that will keep Mother satisfied.” Amelie stood up, accepting a bath sheet and wrapping it around herself. “And I can get back to my real work.”
Jeanette helped her out of the tub and shooed her over to the vanity table. “Excuse me for being blunt, milady, but these will be your duties someday. You can’t stay in your office forever.”
Amelie wished she was still young enough to stamp a foot, petulant as that would be. Instead she dropped onto the padded stool, allowing the maid to work on her hair with a drying cloth. “Perhaps Mother should have made Sibeal her heir after all. She could have blown up the entire square and everyone would have congratulated her.”
“Mayhap, but Lady Sibeal isn’t a Terra magistra,” Jeanette reminded her, pulling out a comb and running it through Amelie’s damp locks. “You are. And frankly you have the better mind for governing a province.”
“So you say. Mother says I’m too cold and analytical.”
The maid sighed. “Her ladyship has a different view from yours on what makes a good countess. It doesn’t meant that hers is the only correct way.”
“Oh, isn’t it?”
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Posted on July 26, 2017, in Belaurient Publishing, Lady of Thorns, Mid Week Tease and tagged fantasy romance, Lady of Thorns, Mid Week Tease, nicola cameron, two thrones. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.