Book Tour: The Spoils of Allsveil by S.N. McKibben
The Spoils of Allsveil by S.N. McKibben
Murder. Marriage. Forgiveness. The kingdom of Allsveil is the chessboard, and the royals are the pieces.
Two noble families meet in a whirlwind of battle, conquest, hate, and passion.
When a neighboring army conquers her home, Princess Alexia is forced to marry her father’s murderer, Darrin, the new king’s young prince. While Alexia grapples with revenge and flirtation, finding her own strength in the process, the new king, Goththor, seeks forgiveness from his queen and from himself. Two generations learn that the game of chess is nothing compared to the game of love and forgiveness…
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After a gods-be-damned morning it was a gods-be-damned night. In a place called Allsveil, there sure wasn’t any food around. Darrin, heaven bless him, sat at my right and blathered on about his mother enough to make me want to ask him if he harbored unnatural desires for her. But today was his day. He’d saved me from death at the hands of another king. How many fathers could say that about their sons? In his honor, I held my tongue.
Not soon enough, the doors opened and carts rolled in. The smell of savory duck wafted in with the platters. There didn’t look to be enough for me, Darrin, Paul, and my twenty guards.
“Where’s the mare and foal?” I demanded. Etiquette and manners had their place and after the months of travel and war, it was time to reestablish both. Aighta Tyilasuir was nothing like my Bridgette. Not now, and not when we were young. But I wondered what could have been if I’d never met Bridgette. I’d never regret Brie but…
The doors opened again and the erstwhile contender to Bridgette entered calm as a lazy wind on the plains. Aighta came forward carrying herself as a lady of her house should. Any layman would dismiss her quiet spirit as docile subservience. But I am not a layman. A king does not rule for long if he doesn’t understand the way of men and of ladies. Aighta came because the only power she had now was negotiation. Behind her trailed her daughter. Like her mother, she adorned black hair and dark eyes with olive skin. A lovely filly, but with as much fire and condescension as my wife. In my earlier years, I’d have found her challenging. The older I got, the more I enjoyed quiet strength.
“Ever the noble mare I remember.” Pointing to the chair of honor on my left, I said, “Sit.”
Aighta sat and her daughter followed. That filly would have the same manner as her mother eventually, but she was still a spirited one. Lady Tyilasuir sat with the grace of a queen. Nothing unruffled. Everything in its place.
“So nice to have us for our last meal.” The filly spoke.
Yes, quite the spirit. “You feel as if you have nothing to lose, my pubescent mite, but you’re wrong,” I said. Quaint. The little filly was going to argue, but her mother turned and I was sure her daughter received the Aighta stare. Even I was shamed by Aighta’s scolding in times past.
“You’re here by my will and we have terms to discuss,” I said.
Aighta turned to me. Such a cruelty to see soft eyes weighted with the responsibility of a kingdom. The outside world knew only of her grace…but I knew all of Aighta. A crafty one with words, she’d use everything she had to protect her own. A trait to admire and a weakness to exploit.
“Under the terms of surrender, I am your prisoner. What do you propose?” Her eyes touched the glacier that once had been my heart.
She cut my words off with a raised hand and closed eyes. The familiarity of calling her by her first name came so easy, I’d forgotten we were no longer friends. I would not be fooled again by her acquiescence. She held the fire of revenge steady. But I knew her motivation was keeping her heir safe.
“I no longer know you, King Goththor.” Aighta’s words seared me when I’d thought Bridgette had frozen my core.
Because I was unable to convince my queen of Dreshall that I was not a ruthless bastard, and was not leading wars to stay away from her, she’d become frigid. I’d followed my love into the ice water of querulousness. I stabbed the meat before me, my food receiving the brunt of my frustration, and shoved a chunk of duck in my mouth before I could utter, “No, but you’re going to know me better than before.”
“Father,” Darrin cast a worried eye over me. “You need to wait till the food is tested. They have poison.”
I waved a hand and grunted at my men waiting. “Eat. Eat.” I occupied my dead enemy’s home, sat at his table. I wasn’t going to wait the extra time to see if the tasters died. It’d been ten minutes already. The gods-be-damned food was getting cold. Aighta ate only what was necessary not to seem rude.
“Your horn signal stopped the fighting but didn’t bring the builders back.” Despite Aighta’s comment about not knowing me, she would understand my intent.
“I have no command over them to come back,” Aighta said.
I chewed and swallowed. “Your people have shown great loyalty to you and your family. If you asked they would come.”
“In Allsveil, the monarchy doesn’t rule over its people. I have no power to bring them back.”
For Aighta, this was a matter of pride. She would not betray her people—nor would her people betray her. That said, I could use such loyalty. Plenty of people betrayed their own for survival, but I’d yet to meet any mother who could betray one person above all others—their child. I sneered at the filly sitting in front of her untouched plate, blatant in her defiance.
“Lady Alexia Tyilasuir, are you afraid your meal is poisoned?” I stabbed at the carcass of a bird in front of me. Without a word, the filly picked up her fork and pushed her food around. Food going to waste was as bad as a life going to waste. “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.” I reached over Aighta for her daughter’s plate.
Aighta smacked my arm. A woman’s idea of a physical reprimand was not strong enough to halt my reach and I secured the food to my side of the table.
“Rude brute!” Aighta said. “Brie has taught you nothing of manners.”
Time-old habits condensed the years between us. I was seventeen again, vying for the attention of two women. Memory made me smile. “I’m hungry,” I said. “And she’s not going to eat it.”
My smile disappeared as soon as it appeared. Our shared past would not mend our current arguments. The mood soured as the moment cantered by and my heart longed for removal of its burdens. One of those burdens was the pair next to me. How would I politically position myself so that Aighta and her daughter could live? My men and my people saw me as a ruthless bastard. The time had come to change that. Fear prevented wars, but tyranny caused rebellion. The balance of peace required a king to walk between severity and mercy in perfect amounts.
For the rest of the dinner I ate and thought. The people of Allsveil would not trust me, but if an alliance were struck the people might listen. I wanted to go home with the victory of new wealth and resources for Dreshall. This entire war had begun because Allsveil created a dam, restricting Dreshall’s only water source. We tore the dam down, they rebuilt it, until finally they built the dam inside their walls and no amount of negotiation satisfied either party. But gaining this city had cost its own fortitude. The walls and buildings needed repairs. Allsveil was prosperous and it needed to remain that way. So many goods and advancements originated here that it was clear the people had an advantage. Allsveil’s failure to repel me lay in the people’s neglect of the arts of war and their overreliance on their nearly impenetrable city wall. Yet they forged the strongest metal I’d seen. They mined the largest jewels in the land. Their ingenuity in new applications of old ideas far surpassed any other city.
Allsveil possessed something, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly. Only the blind would overlook the people and their drive for profitability. I wanted an alliance, not war. I could not pass up the opportunity to make that alliance permanent. Washing down the remnants of duck in my throat with lager, I intended to find out what that “something” was and turned to Aighta. “Your people are steadfast, down to the lowest peasant.”
“We have no peasants here.” The filly spoke. “Everyone has a detail even if they don’t choose one.”
My eyes met the daughter’s and I held the gaze. “These are my terms. I want a guaranteed alliance between Allsveil and Dreshall.” I glanced back at Aighta. “I want access to your goods—your trade, water, lumber, cloth, new advancements. Your engineers will teach mine how to build a gods-be-damned wall like the one that held my forces at bay for over three months. Your people will repair the city. You will give free access to anyone from Dreshall.”
Silence. I waited. My patience was met with more silence. I leaned back in my chair.
“What guarantee do you propose?” Aighta held her stomach.
Those deep-set eyes looked past me and on to Darrin. My son was a fine specimen of a man.
Strong. Proven in battle. Intelligent. Perhaps not as ambitious as I’d like, but I never felt he was aching for my crown. I could think of no more amiable a companion to weather the storm from a filly such as Aighta’s daughter. “A pact between my son and your daughter,” I said.
Darrin choked on his lager. Aighta closed her eyes as if the blow could be thwarted by the refusal of reality. The filly sat bolt upright. “In no way will I bond with that…”
“Hush!” Aighta stood and faced her daughter. The filly’s young face, but mature expression, twisted in malice and pain. Her calculating eyes warned me this might not be the best course to take. I glanced over at my son and wondered if he anticipated my actions. He caught my eye and with a solemn determined nod, he’d said he agreed with me but wasn’t happy about it.
“I will make the pact with your son.” Aighta turned to me.
“Mother!” The filly turned harpy. “Don’t marry that murderous trash—”
Aighta turned and slapped her daughter. The filly fell into her chair. Aighta was a wise woman to reprimand her daughter swiftly and effectively. If she hadn’t, the task would be left to me and my punishments were not as…polite. Aighta turned back and the chill of the winter’s night crept down my spine.
“I will marry your son,” Aighta said.
“No.” My denial couldn’t come out fast enough.
“Alexia is too young.”
“No.” I found her excuse invalid and my own response disturbing but final. The filly was young, but coming of age. Darrin could control the filly but Aighta was a different type of manipulator. The filly sat with her arms crossed and stared at the wall.
“And if we refuse?” Aighta said.
“Then I’ll burn this city to ash. Maps will show a hole of desolation. History books won’t even mention the city’s name.”
The queen of Allsveil was no fool. She expected as much, or looked like she had, but her daughter hadn’t quite thought it through. The filly’s eyes grew wide. I’d hit a sore wound with that statement.
“We’ll discuss the terms.” I raised my voice louder, “Everyone else out.” Metal clanged and leather squeaked as my soldiers rose to obey my command. Paul, Darrin, Aighta, and the filly remained.
“Paul, Darrin, please escort Lady Alexia Tyilasuir to her room.”
My man-at-arms rose from his seat but my son and the filly remained seated.
“Father, I’d like to help with the discussions.”
I leaned to my right. “You should take this time to talk to your betrothed and organize your own trivia.”
Darrin sat to this dinner as a carefree boy and now stood as a man of duty. My heart wept to witness the death of his spontaneity. What Brie had done to me over a course of years, I’d done to my own son in an evening. I sat alone with my thoughts and Aighta when the three left. I needed all my wits to fight against her will. She knew how to affect me and would try to sway my decisions in her favor.
“Do you think they will forgive us?” I said.
Aighta turned to me and smiled, a sign she was aware of my disarming technique. Her smile worked on me. I wasn’t sure if my tactic worked on her.
“The glassmakers here have perfected their craft to the point that they will create cracks in the glass but the shape remains whole,” she said. “I think you’ve perfected such a craft within people.”
My heart chilled. “I learned from the best, Aighta.” I smiled and reached for the cameo around her neck, gently touching her skin. As I palmed the necklace, she didn’t move nor did her body react to my soft seduction. Feigning examination of the broach, I watched her. Her submissiveness soothed my beast. Fieron had been a lucky man. Even if he was a hard-headed non-negotiator. I hoped Aighta would see reason. She pulled back and I let the jewelry slip from my fingers. Ah, not so subservient.
“I am in mourning for my husband. Our custom is solemn contemplation and chastity.”
Her protest amused me. I was a king and she was a spoil of war. “I’ll take what I like.” And right then, I wanted her on hands and knees.
“How is Bridgette?”
My wife’s name was cold water in my face. I knew why she’d asked. The question made my jaw clench.
Aighta turned to the fire. “She was always so beautiful.”
“Strength has its beauty as well.”
“Yes, she always had a strong will.”
“Strong will is not the same as quiet strength.” I took a hold of her chin and made her look into my eyes. To my surprise, she did not shy away.
Aighta bore a dark glance and said, “Yes. And it takes a quiet mind to recognize it.”
I frowned. The statement burned. She’d said, in fewer words, that I noticed too late and having chosen Brie, I’d made my bed. I grabbed her waist and threw her on the table. Pinning her wrists to the wood I slid in between her legs.
Aighta did not scream, did not fight. Instead her eyes drew in all the heat of the room. She said, “You should wait for your wife.”
“It’s not about sex,” I said, reaching for my blade. “It’s about control.”
“You don’t have that either.” A wall of apathy filled her eyes. “For such a smart man, you haven’t a clue. You want to know why my people still fight you?”
Her comment had me pulling back.
“We taught them how to fly without ever leaving the ground.”
Aighta had always been strange but had she lost her mind?
“Bridgette never taught you to fly.” Her statement seemed to make her realize something I didn’t.
She unnerved me. I narrowed my eyes. “What are you talking about?”
“She never taught you to fly,” she repeated—like women had the power to do such an incredible feat.
“Tell me what the hell you’re talking about, woman, or you’re not going to live through tonight.” I stepped away from her, fearing her madness was a disease.
Aighta straightened. “Is Bridgette happy?”
“What?” Enraged, I wanted to hit something, hurt someone. This woman was a witch. She stirred my focus in a soup of distress.
She compressed her lips and spoke slowly, “Is your wife, Bridgette, the one you promised health and prosperity to, happy?”
I glared at Aighta. She was not sick or mad. She was a master at word games. I had to tread carefully. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Her face dropped in disappointment. “The answer is no, I take it. Why?”
If I could have physically thrown my words at her they would have been fists. “Why what?”
“Why is she unhappy?” Aighta asked me again.
“I don’t…” But flashes of memory stopped me. I knew why. Aighta’s dark eyes remained indifferent, while I recalled my indiscretions. A lesser man might see the former queen of Allsveil accepting of her fate, but I knew better. This was the Aighta that could take hold of your mind and twist. If I cried mercy she would win. If you waited for her pity, you’d wait your entire life.
Aighta turned and walked towards the king’s chair. She stopped and bowed her head. “The last time Fieron told me he loved me was this morning. I never tired of hearing it.”
She threw a very pointed look my way. I glowered back. Bringing her hands to her temples she said, “And when was the last time you told Bridgette you loved her?”
I scoffed. “What does that have to do with flying?”
I sunk in the chair behind me. “Go.” I waved a hand. “You exhaust me.”
“No.” Aighta faced me. “You wanted to know how to fly, but…” She tilted her chin. “Resistance will make it harder to learn how.”
“Paul!” I scrubbed my face with a war-roughened hand. My man entered and bowed. “Take Lady Aighta to her room.”
Paul bowed and waited for Aighta, but my childhood-friend-turned-enemy didn’t move. “It should be me who bonds with your son.”
“No. It will be her and that is my final offer.”
“Paul!” I rose from my chair. “Escort Lady Tyilasuir out now!”
My man-at-arms understood that if he didn’t take care of this situation, there would be blood. Before he could grab her, Aighta whirled around. “Don’t touch me,” she said. The train of her skirts floated behind her. She could run, but I would see her again. Sooner than she might think.
Stephanie reads for the love of words, and writes fiction about Dark Hearts and Heroes revolving around social taboos. When ever asked, she’ll reply her whole life can be seen through a comic strip ~ sometimes twisted, sometimes funny but always beautiful and its title is adventure. Come play!