I’m celebrating the holidays and the new year with my own kind of giving – 8 weeks of extra stories and scenes from the world of Sword and Verse and Dagger and Coin. Each week I’ll be unveiling a deleted scene or extra story from a different character’s point of view, culminating on February 11 (my birthday!) with Lilano, a novella from Mati’s point of view that tells the story of what happened to him and Raisa while they were out of town during Dagger and Coin.
Some of these stories were originally parts of the books, some were writing exercises for me when I got stuck, and some I simply wrote for the fun of developing the world of the books more fully.
This week’s extra takes us back into the point of view of Gelti Dimmin. Again, it takes place chronologically during the battle in Sword and Verse as Gelti begins to see how his choices come crashing down on him…laying the foundation for his actions in Dagger and Coin.
No One’s Side
A NURSEMAID IN a captain’s uniform—that’s what I had become. Who escorted the king to every council meeting, made sure the king visited with his fiancée every afternoon in the gardens, cooled his heels in the anteroom of the king’s chambers at all hours? That was me, captain of the palace guard. Once I’d thought that post had some power in it, but now I knew—the only power came from those who had given it to me.
Yes, given it to me. I knew I hadn’t earned it, saw now how utterly arrogant and idiotic I’d been, to buy into Rale’s lies about how my superior quality had allowed me to rise to such heights. Rale, as my cousin liked to remind me, had bought me outright, and I hadn’t even held out to make it much of a sale.
Kirol wasn’t speaking to me these days, which made things damn awkward as I was still his superior officer. He was one of the very few guards who remained stubbornly loyal to King Mati, even now, and no matter how often I had privately begged him to at least pretend to take Rale seriously, he ignored the High Priest entirely.
Rale wouldn’t stand for it, I knew, though in the days leading up to the royal wedding he’d been biding his time. Of course. By all appearances, the king had been broken by the news his fiancée brought back from the tombs, that the former Tutor had betrayed him entirely, given herself over to the Resistance and her heart—or at least her body—to their leader. No wonder the king had meekly agreed to marry Soraya Gamo. What choice did he have? Rale and Gamo controlled most of the council and nearly all of the guards. Technically Rale could have seized the throne already—King Mati, as he liked to joke loudly within the king’s hearing, wasn’t doing anything with it. But marrying the king to Gamo’s daughter gave a whiff of legality to the whole business, one that made the councilors less nervous and decreased the probability of riots among the merchants and peasantry.
Or so I suspected. I wasn’t privy to the great plans of the High Priest of Aqil and the western vizier, and the only time I’d observed council meetings in the last Shining was when I had escorted the king to them. It was common knowledge in the palace that the council met without him now more often than not, so there was plenty being kept from him.
And from me. Ever since the whipping—where I’d done nothing but follow Rale’s orders—I’d been shunted aside as surely as the king had been. Because of Kirol? Or because Rale knew that he had me neatly boxed in, so that I could not do anything he did not approve?
Or perhaps he had made me the royal nursemaid to punish the king, to make him deal daily with the man who had whipped his lover.
The king had taken on an icy, regal manner with all the guards, but especially me. He had not actually looked at me directly since that day in the courtyard. It was a shock, how much I felt the loss of that polite, sometimes joking manner, even though I had scoffed at the unkingliness of it before. King Mati’s regard was not something that I had realized I wanted, until I lost all hope of retaining it.
In the days after the Tutor’s escape, he had retreated into silence and solitude. “Grieving,” the guards said to one another in disgust. “Worse than he did for his father, and all for a tialik.”
But when Soraya Gamo returned, he came out of his room, washed and dressed in royal gold. He listened to her tale at the council meeting with an expression of stone, and when he read the message the Arnath girl had sent, his eyes registered nothing. It was as if he had suspected all along that Raisa ke Margara would betray him.
And when the other councilors gave long speeches about her treachery, the High Priest of Aqil even mocking some small mistake she had made in her writing of the letter, the king lifted his head and smiled. There has never been a man who was not heartened by hearing ill words of those who have wronged him, and kings are no different.
The king rose in his place. “Enough talk of the tialik,” he said, and though many councilors flinched at hearing that base word in their chambers, none doubted the conviction with which he spoke it. Whatever had propelled the king to stand between her and the whip had burned away in the aftermath of her betrayal.
What did you expect? I wanted to say to him. She was Arnath.
And so the wedding was back on, and with the information Soraya Gamo was able to give us—the tialiks had apparently thought that a Scholar’s daughter would be as stupid as they were, and not recognize the place where she was being held—we’d sent a force to clean out the tombs and slay them all. We’d sealed the tomb so that any who might have escaped our swords would die in the airless underground rooms. My men had enjoyed themselves with that—though I, of course, was guarding the king as he watched from a carriage at the entrance to the valley, holding his fiancée’s hand. He’d watched every moment with interest, but his fiancée had spent most of her time eyeing the walls of stone around the carriage, only glancing at the battle below periodically. Awfully skittish, for a Gamo, I thought. But then, she had been held captive by those brutes. Probably made her nervous, being so close to them again.
But of all the waiting around I had done in the last Shinings and Veilings, today was by far the worst. The high collar of my dress uniform itched something awful, and I dared not sit and take the chance of creasing my tunic. I’d been standing at attention outside the king’s chamber for almost an hour, and he was taking his sweet time getting ready for the wedding. Having second thoughts? Or just nervous?
I smirked. Maybe he’d never had a Qilarite woman before, and was worried that they didn’t have the same parts as the slaves. But whatever the problem, he’d have to get over it. I was under orders to escort him to the gardens before midday bells, and that I would do if I had to carry him. Once this confounded wedding was over and done, Rale would control the throne in earnest, and surely I and my men would be able to go back to luxuries like leave and shifts that lasted nine hours instead of fifteen. Things had been quiet enough in the city since the raider ships had set out—rumors of them had spread through the Web and the Reach even ahead of the council’s official announcement. By all reports, any among the Arnathim who might have considered taking up where the dead Resistance had left off were frightened into silence.
The floor shuddered in the wake of the sound, which seemed to have come from somewhere below in the palace. I caught myself on the doorframe as a lamp fell off a side table and shattered on the bare floor.
Rian, who’d been standing at the other door, had lost his balance entirely and was pulling himself to his feet. “What was that? A cart crash?”
I didn’t bother to respond to such an inane suggestion—as if a cart crash could have shaken the floor. It had been some time since the city had experienced an earthquake, but I remembered huddling with my mother when I was three, as her prized painted plates fell from shelves all around us. That had to be what this was.
“Make sure this floor is cleared out,” I barked at Rian. “Send everyone outside.” As he sprinted down the corridor, I banged on the king’s door. “Your Majesty!”
I banged harder and shouted louder, pushing at the locked door. I wasn’t sure if my sudden panic was worry for the king—protecting him was my foremost duty, after all—or fear of what Rale would do to me if anything interfered with the wedding.
But now wasn’t the time to think about that. I pulled the ring of keys from my belt and unlocked the door, then shoved it open. Rian skidded into the room behind me. “This floor is clear, Captain. Everyone’s down in the garden already.”
The king’s chamber was empty. “Your Majesty,” I called again, my puzzlement quickly morphing into dread.
There was a sound behind me, and the king’s valet emerged from the dressing room. He stopped, wide-eyed, at the sight of my sword—I didn’t remember unsheathing it, but I was uneasy enough that I was glad to have it out. I pushed the man aside with the flat of my sword and stared into the room behind him, but all I saw were rows of tunics and boots.
“Where is the king?” I growled, rounding on the valet.
He looked around. “He was out here, enjoying a moment of peace before his wedding,” he said.
As if the gods themselves were pointing out his lie, there came another BOOM from below, and the walls shook. I braced my legs farther apart to remain upright as a table fell over and splintered to my left, and several items of royal attire tumbled to the floor in the dressing room beyond. The valet grabbed the footboard of the bed. Rian managed to press himself up against the wall to avoid another fall.
When the shaking had stopped, I narrowed my eyes at the valet. He was a slight, wiry man, about ten years my senior, and I suspected that he had covered up for the king before. He’d never liked me, and the feeling was mutual.
“The king,” I said, letting the pace of my words, rather than my tone, carry the threat, “is due at his wedding. Where is he?” The valet opened his mouth again, but I held up my hand. “Think carefully before you speak, for my patience is quite thin. Rian, if he lies again, run him through.”
“Yes, sir!” said Rian, a little too enthusiastically. He stepped closer to the valet and pointed his sword at him.
The valet looked nervously from Rian’s sword to me. “I honestly don’t know, sir, he was here just a few minutes ago—” His words ended in a strangled yowl as Rian’s sword entered his gut.
“He’s lying, sir,” said Rian flatly, as he pulled his sword out of the man and watched him crumple to the floor.
Read the rest of the story here: No One’s Side by Kathy MacMillan