Deadly Intentions Sample

After completing Draconis’ Bane, I leaped right into Deadly Intentions. I am a huge fan of dragons of all kinds and while my first novel had quite a bit of intelligent dragon in it, this one takes the race of dragons to the next level. They have a history and are keen to avoid the mistakes of their past as much as any other race is.

The story continues to follow Tristan Vallious as he takes on his new position as Duke of Terrum, a country embroiled in war. He has killed the leader of the cult of fanatics known as Draconis’ Bane, but their followers see this only as a setback on their quest to end all dragon life on Amesdia.

Tristan and his new dragon allies must first focus their energies on defeating a massive army of orcs, trolls and murderers intent on taking the country of Terrum by force. Should they fail, this new host of nightmares given flesh will invade the Seven Kingdoms and destroy everything in their path.

My novels are my babies and I would never love one more than the other, but if you read the first novel…you owe it to yourself to see how all of the threads of the first story tie together by the end of this novel.

 

Deadly Intentions

Chapter 1

Occupation


Tristan Vallious swore under his breath. In the distance he could make out the silhouettes of five abnormally large humanoids. Even with the sun setting behind the mountainous monsters, Tristan could easily tell they were giants. They towered above the war machines at their feet, and they cut a wide berth around them as they lumbered toward his forces.

“Hold damn you!” He shouted.

Many of his most battle hardened men and women exchanged startled glances and whispered hoarsely to one another. Tristan could hardly blame them; one giant was a force to be reckoned with. After three days and nights of endless fighting, five of them would break the back of his army. If his reserves weren’t here in the next hour he was going to have to call for an orderly withdrawal along the entire centerline.

“Archers!” He shouted. “Pick your targets!”

All along the earthen breastworks, the Bandit King’s forces began to push their way through. The first enemy cleared the wood and mortar wall and ducked down, waiting for his comrades to catch up. Tristan watched in detached fascination as the enemy waited, gathering more soldiers together in preparation for an organized attack. Until three days ago, he would have called the occupation of Terum a rabble of unorganized mercenary companies, many of whom didn’t get along with each other. Three days ago that changed alarmingly. Large organized groups of foot soldiers preceded their more valuable archers while cavalry kept their flanks in place.

The enemy outnumbered his forces three to one and until their re-organization, the fight to regain his new kingdom was proceeding steadily. With the Bandit King’s forces now organized and attacking in concert, rather than blindly engaging him, all of his effort was bent towards holding the ground he’d already won rather than any attempt to push forward.

It was clear that someone, somewhere, had finally gained control over the invading army and was bending it to their will. Tristan doubted very much it was this so-called Bandit King. It was far more likely that someone had ingratiated himself or herself into his inner circle and was counseling him well in the art of war.

As the enemy gathered on the other side of the first breastwork, he smiled.

“Loose!” Tristan shouted.

As one, over a hundred archers fired their arrows at the attackers. Their missiles took a score of enemy soldiers down, but his momentary joy was quickly extinguished as he watched more bandits pour over the breastwork. He would have found the flood of soldiers mildly amusing if they hadn’t been beaten into an organized mob. Whoever was in command of the invaders knew how best to use the rabble of mercenaries, conscripts and murderers to good effect. Everywhere along his forward positions they punished his army, punching holes in their defenses and rolling up his lines at a whim.

“Hold!” Tristan shouted.

He waited for the opportune time to take as many of the enemy as possible. More soldiers poured over the battlements, running headlong across the killing gap. Tristan had erected two sets of breastworks, creating a large, reasonably level field between the two armies. Many of the Bandit King’s soldiers fell into spike pits dug by Tristan’s engineers, while others spotted the traps and avoided them. In avoiding the killing holes, they were forced to take their time and became perfect targets for the Prince’s archers.

“Fire!” He shouted as the first of the enemy soldiers come within twenty yards of his forward position.

Bowstrings snapped all around the Prince as he continued to monitor the assault. Another wave of enemy soldiers was almost on top of them and getting closer by the moment. Tristan forced himself to wait until the last moment before shouting his orders at the cadre of archers surrounding him.

“Fire at will!” He shouted.

Another volley of arrows took another score of enemy soldiers. Still more of the enemy forces crossed the twenty yards between the makeshift breastworks and the Vallius army made them pay for every inch. An increasing number of enemy soldiers made the mad dash through the killing field, but his archers did an admirable job of keeping them from reaching his lines.

Foot soldiers waited, their swords drawn and shields held up in case any of the Terum soldiers cleared their defensive line. The archers were lined up behind the two columns of infantry to keep them as safe as possible. Even so, enemy soldiers eventually beat holes in Tristan’s defensive line, getting in behind the protective columns and hacking his archers to bits.

Flying companies of veteran soldiers waited, under the command of their captains, to plug the holes as they appeared. Those companies were being sorely tested as more and more Terum soldiers closed in on their forward positions. Tristan had been fighting this delaying action for far too long. He was anxious for his reinforcements. He’d received word were on their way, but if he couldn’t keep his lines intact until their arrival, it was all for naught.

 

For close to a year, Tristan had been leading his army into Terum. His forces traveled largely unmolested until they had met with the first signs of resistance in the form of a large fort. The crude structure had been hastily constructed right on the road from Kenting to the capital of Terum, Kumia.

The Prince had decided to proceed politically, as his commanders suggested. He ordered a camp to be set up just outside of bowshot and sent an emissary to the fort. The emissary carried an official pronouncement of the transfer of lordship to Tristan as ruler of Terum. He wasn’t quite sure what he expected at the time, though when his emissary returned with two irritating messages, he had to fight to keep his temper in check.

The messages themselves were more or less benign, or at least that was Tristan’s perception of them with a large army under his command. Of course, in retrospect, he should have known better.

The first message had been quite simple and to the point: ‘Turn around and go home.’ Tristan would have laughed if it hadn’t been delivered to his emissary at sword point.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what had happened, and Tristan was in no mood for threats or games.

The second message was not quite as laughable as the first, and it created a whole other series of problems. It quite simply outlined the new regime of King Boris of Terum.

It appeared as though a mercenary captain had reassembled what had been left of the force that attacked Sutten almost a year ago. Mercenary companies, tribes of trolls, goblin engineers, and orc warriors, bolstered those forces. Now, it seemed, they added giants to their numbers. Trolls and goblins were blood enemies, so how Boris had forged them into a united fighting force was beyond his understanding and even his spies couldn’t discover how he had accomplished the impossible task.

Tristan theorized that it had something to do with magic, the air stank of it. One of the boons that came from his destruction of the Draconis’ Bane cult had been the experience to put names to the strange feelings he often felt when in the presence of a practitioner of magic.

At times it was simply a tingle behind his eye, or the hair rising on the back of his neck. The more powerful the magician or spell, the more severe his reaction to it. However, these warnings were more obvious when he was around unrefined blunt magic users. The more gifted or experienced the magician, the harder it was for him to pinpoint the threat or prepare for the onslaught.

Whatever spells were being employed to keep this invading army in check weren’t subtle at all. The air felt like a weight bearing down on him like a humidity prior to a spring storm. It was certainly powerful, but made no attempt to hide its power, nor its purpose. Even so, his spies still seemed unable to explain the presence of the magic, or discover how Boris managed to assemble such a motley crew of murderers, sociopaths and monsters.

Along with the charge of ruling Terum, his father had given him a small band of spies to use. King Dion had explained that most of the rulers of the Seven Kingdoms employed spies in some form, otherwise one just couldn’t keep track of the changes in other countries. Despite their inability to give him any insight into the formation and control Boris held over his army, Tristan’s spies had ferreted out several important details that could be used to tilt the scales in his favor.

Despite the propaganda running rampant throughout Terum, his sources had discovered that Boris had the aid of a lover whom no one seemed to have ever seen or heard the name of. It could be she who helped him control his army and if true, she was a target of special significance.

Confirmed reports though outlined the Bandit King’s rise to power. He’d enlisted hundreds of bandits and mercenaries, and then seized control of Terum. Tristan’s spies had also learned that every Terum citizen who was not serving in the army had been crucified or impaled and left for dead. Their families were forced to watch as the twitching remains of their loved ones died before their eyes and were then pressed into service.

The women were taught how to tan and smith. Children became cook’s monkeys, servants and messengers. The men were mostly used as wall fodder, though some of them took to their new duties with some zeal and were quickly promoted.

Shortly afterwards, the newly crowned King Boris had arranged for orcs, trolls and goblins to join his army, though none of the spies could confirm the details of how this had been accomplished.

The hybrid army Boris now commanded put pressure on Tristan’s army up and down his lines. Experienced soldiers were scattered among Boris’ ragtag band of conscripts and bloodthirsty mercenaries and then the lot of them were released on already exhausted Vallius soldiers like waves of sword, shield and ax.

Up until three weeks ago, messengers in the form of half-starved children began appearing randomly in his army. They delivered messages to his commanders, offering each of them lands, bribes and titles if they would take their forces and leave, or turn them on their Prince. Some of them might have been tempted if they hadn’t realized that the prizes and lands Boris offered were part of Vallius and Sutten.

The congress of Lords in Metao had been loathe to send Tristan more men, even though he’d sent regular weekly reports with requests for additional troops. So the Prince had one of his own messengers ride back to the capital with the last girl Boris had sent from Kumia Fortress. She bore King Boris’ offer to one of Tristan’s most senior generals to the council.

The offer was for the entire eastern half of Vallius and title if he would turn his army on Tristan and then march on Kenting Keep. In response, the council sent word that an additional fifty thousand men were on the way. If they arrived in the next fifteen minutes they could be used to replace his exhausted soldiers and hold the front line.

“Hold the line!” Tristan shouted over the grunts and screams of both armies.

The first of the enemy approached his position. He and his commanders pulled their swords and prepared for the battle to begin in earnest. Tristan blocked the overhead strike from an enemy and kicked him backwards. His comrades trampled him as they continued to pour through the breach they’d punched in his forward line. A mercenary woman stepped in front of him and lunged forward, attempting to impale Tristan on the tip of her bastard sword. The Prince backed up as he swept her blade aside. In an impressive show of strength and dexterity, she allowed her blade to be carried to the side and altered its momentum into an overhead strike. Tristan blocked the blow, though he felt it all the way down to his heels.

He stepped forward and punched the woman square on the chin, hoping to at least knock her off balance. She merely smiled, her teeth bloodied by his punch and spat out a glob of blood before stepping forward and driving her knee into his stomach. The wind was knocked out of Tristan and he dully realized she’d punched an inch wide hole in his stomach with the spike on the top of her shin guards.

The woman slammed the butt of her sword into Tristan’s forehead and sent him reeling backwards. He brought his sword up defensively and deflected a blow meant to decapitate him. She grabbed a handful of his hair and jerked his head backwards, raising her blade for a killing stroke. Tristan jabbed the woman in the throat, forcing her to back away and allow him to regain his feet.

He shook his head and stood up shakily, preparing for another onslaught. She snarled as she readjusted the grip on her large sword and rushed forward, bringing her sword down on him. Tristan had enough of trying to block her powerful strikes and dodged to the left, allowing her to stumble past him. She looked over her right shoulder just as Tristan brought his scimitar down, severing her head from her shoulders.

The female mercenary fell forward as her head rolled down the incline his command pavilion had been built on. A horn sounded from behind enemy lines and the attacking army quit pouring over the short wall. Those few that remained on this side of the killing field continued to fight to the last man. After the final invader was killed Tristan nodded to a nearby soldier who ran across the killing field and quickly crept up the incline to look over the large breastwork wall.

“The army halts my Lord. They mill about in front of their fort.” He shouted.

Tristan signaled for a few of his men to follow behind him as he made his through the field and up the incline the breastwork was built on. He could see that the enemy was back a hundred yards or so, closer to their large crude fort blocking the road to Kumia. The five giants were stationed to the north of the fort, goblins and orcs kept them fed and calm. The assembled force of human mercenaries and the press gang of former citizens that Boris had assembled milled about at the base of the fort walls, taking their rest.

“What do you make of that?” Tristan muttered to no one in particular.

“Calm before the storm?” A familiar voice grumbled beside him.

Tristan looked over at Sergeant Frose, who had just appeared at his side and chuckled.

“Very likely.” He mused. “Are the reinforcements here yet?”

“Aye, sir. They arrived shortly after the enemy horn blew.” Frose reported.

“Please send for my brother.” He ordered.

“How did you know Kevin led them?” Frose blurted before smiling in annoyance. “Never mind, I don’t want to know. I’ll send word.”

Tristan smiled to himself as the old war dog turned and walked off, shouting the order to the nearest messenger. In truth, Tristan didn’t know how he’d known Kevin was nearby. The Prince chuckled as he continued to watch as Boris’ army began to set up fires and relax. The giants sat and more than one bird to take off in alarm from the fort’s battlements. One of them absent-mindedly played with a large battering ram, spinning it playfully in its large hands as Tristan watched on. His amusement fled quickly.

 

~

 

Within the hour Kevin leapt off his horse and entered into Tristan’s command tent to find his younger brother brooding over a map of the area. He chuckled to himself, musing that only two years ago the boy wouldn’t have known which side of the map was up, let alone be planning an offensive to reclaim lands. He corrected his thoughts slightly; his brother was now a man.

The last two years had turned the soft boy he had brought with him to Kenting for the first time into a clever leader and a fierce warrior. Kevin spared a moment to brood over the effects of warfare on the young, making them old men long before their time. Shaking his head from his musings he walked forward and filled himself a metal cup of water from the bucket.

“How go things?” He asked with a smirk.

“Oh, wonderful.” Tristan answered sarcastically. “Ever since that bastard started throwing orcs and trolls at me, I’ve been spending more men than I had in the first eight months of this non-sense!” The Prince yelled.

“Maybe you should return the favor?” Kevin suggested with a chuckle.

Tristan could never stay angry with his big brother cracking jokes. Tristan’s anger visibly fled, he smiled, looking up at Kevin.

“What do you mean?” He asked with a smirk.

“Well.” Kevin began. “You seem to forget that you have creatures that answer to you as well.” He observed.

“Father tells me that Draconis has been to visit you a few times, Lesariu has offered to take you to Guis and Socolis would be very upset if you didn’t invite him to the fun.”

Tristan laughed; Kevin assumed he was reminded of the last time Socolis helped him in battle, setting ladders and towers on fire as he sped the young Prince away on his back to meet his grandfather. With dragon magic back in place, the elder Prince wasn’t sure what kind damage a force like Boris’ could inflict. Or even what kind of force dragons could be in battle. Besides, they had a race to repopulate. Even so, Tristan had done dragon kind a great deed and surely that earned some sort of help if the young Prince should need it.

“I wouldn’t need them for long.” Tristan muttered out loud. “Just long enough to get rid of the giants and a maybe burn that fort down around the rest of those bastards.”

Kevin remained for a month, helping Tristan with a plan of attack. They were only attacked another dozen times or so, and the forces were easily repelled. The elder Prince had the sinking sensation that the enemy made plans as well. Tristan called out for Draconis a few days after Kevin had arrived and the three of them discussed what the dragons could offer.

“With our magic restored, anything short of a dozen mages or more will do little damage.” Drake explained in his human form. “With the three of us, we should create quite the uproar.”

“I’d prefer to know what Boris plans are, though.” Kevin commented.

“I’ve sent a dozen of my more talented spies into their camp. Hopefully we’ll have a better appreciation of their tactics when they return.” Tristan explained.

“When did you do that?” Kevin asked in mild shock.

“When you were napping.” Tristan shot back with a wry grin as his older brother laughed in reply.

 

~

 

Four days before their attack was planned Lesa, Drake and Otis, the human forms of Lesariu, Draconis and Socolis respectively, sat around Tristan’s desk discussing the plan as it was. The Prince felt that his old tactic of attacking from many different angles held merit, and Sergeant Frose quickly explained to the three dragons and Kevin the “Four Point Strike” as the 7th Infantry came to call it.

Tristan’s plan was quite straightforward; he would assemble his men on the other side of their breastwork. They would make as much noise and fuss as possible, to draw attention away from the three dragons that would fly in from the north, south and west, setting fire to as much as possible.

Their main concern was the giants. Though simple-minded, no one was certain if they would stand rather than flee before the might of a greater dragon. Kevin had a solution for them though. If the giants rushed their lines he would personally lead out teams on horseback that would use ropes and hooks to lash the giant’s legs together. Then, they could either use their ballistae to kill or at least knock the giants over to a more manageable size. The dragons could of course converge and force the giant off balance. Lancers and archers could then stand ready to lash the giant to the ground if need be.

Tristan had never heard of a plan that had so many things that could potentially go wrong. He was reminded though, that a plan could be perfect and still fail if situations arose that commanders weren’t prepared for. So the Prince set about making as many alternative plans as possible in the hope that he would need none of them.

 

Then an unearthly horn sounded in the distance.

 

Tristan felt the ground tremble beneath his feet and stood in his tent. Drake, Otis and Lesa rose from their seats and followed him out of the tent and away from their planning. Kevin was already outside and waited for them near the small mound Tristan used to see and command his troops. He saw them coming and motioned off into the distance.

“I swear. That vanity must be genetically bred into them.” Tristan said darkly as he approached his brother.

Before him, the five giants lifted an enormous pavilion off the ground. An impressive throne rose up on an elevated dais in the middle of the pavilion, next to it was a slightly lower throne. Even at this distance Tristan could make out a man dressed in a gaudy bright red robe and a towering crown made from what glinted as though it was gold. The woman seated in the lower throne was dressed in a black robe, though her hood was drawn back to reveal her young features. The ground shook while the pavilion was slowly moved forward.

Tristan felt a familiar pressure in his mind. Do we fight, my boy? Draconis asked.

The Prince tried his best to send the reply to the three of them. Not yet. I want to hear what he has to say, and the longer we put the battle off, the closer to winter we’ll be. He sent.

The three of them nodded their understanding and Tristan again was greeted by the feeling that he was becoming something more than he was sure he could handle. Drake put his hand reassuringly on his shoulder and squeezed comfortingly. The Prince was glad for the thought, but he was still deeply troubled.

Of late his dreams had taken on an almost nightmarish quality. He had dark thoughts that his leadership would crumble and thousands of hideous creatures would swarm into his father’s lands and destroy it. Of course, when he woke he would focus his mind and use the pain as a lesson to consider the consequences of his choices. Even so, the nagging fear threatened to rear up and unseats him at times such as these.

The sorceress rose and waved her arms in an arc above her head. A familiar blue hue rose up around the pavilion as her defensive spell took its effect. Tristan smiled as he shot the dragons and his brother a thought.

Oh brilliant. Protect the center, but leave it easy for me to kill a giant and send that monstrosity crashing to the ground. He sent.

The four of them laughed at his side and he mentally sent Sergeant Frose the message to aim one of the ballistae at one of the giants and to wait for his command. Tristan looked out of the corner of his eye to see the Sergeant quickly stalk away, shaking his head, and motioned for the weapon to be loaded.

We might need to move up our plans slightly. He sent to the three dragons. Be ready.

Armor gives me such indigestion. Lesariu sent back.

Tristan couldn’t help himself, he began to laugh out loud, remembering all too well the bronze dragons’ help the last time a large wooden fort threatened them. The other dragons joined him, laughing heartily as the pavilion came to a stop a hundred yards in front of them.

 

“Welcome to my country.” King Boris spoke with a magically amplified voice.

“This should be interesting.” Kevin muttered at his side. Tristan grinned as he nodded in agreement.

“By what right do you invade my lands?” The King asked.

The Prince turned to his brother and dramatically mouthed the words; ‘my lands’ with a raised eyebrow.

Tristan replied in his own amplified voice, thanks to Draconis; “The last King of these lands, Roger by name, was the father of the Queen of Vallius.” The Prince explained. “As he died without an heir, the lands revert to her husband to control.” Tristan shot. “So the question becomes; by what right to you occupy my lands?” He demanded in anger.

The sorceress leaned over and whispered something to Boris; his shoulders seemed to sag for a brief moment before his gaze locked forward once again. In a disjointed voice he answered. “Leave my lands and return home, lest you incur my wrath.” Boris ordered.

Tristan smiled sarcastically, sending the dragons a message with his mind. Off with you three! We start now. He sent.

“Your wrath?” Tristan yelled. “Very well. Let’s see what your wrath can do then, shall we?”

FIRE! Tristan shouted in his mind to Frose.

Behind Tristan, three humans disappeared in a bright flash of light, followed by a white, silver and bronze dragon taking flight. Their take off ruffled his hair and cloak as Sergeant Frose shouted the order to fire the ballistae missile. The sorceress began launching balls of fire and arcs of lightning at the three dragons as they playfully looped along shooting their own flames at her waning defensive dome.

The ballistae snapped, sending its missile high into the air quickly closing the distance between the two armies. Tristan watched in morbid satisfaction as it arced high and struck the giant on the far right in the chest. It looked down pathetically at the wood left protruding from its chest. The giant’s left hand closed around it weakly as blood began dripping out of the corner of its mouth. It groaned dramatically as it swayed, releasing his hold on the large pavilion. The self-styled King of Terum and his sorceress tumbled from their thrones and lay sprawled on their stomachs. All of the sorceress’s attacks ceased for a moment.

You would think they would learn their lesson the first time. Socolis chuckled in Tristan’s mind.

Tristan laughed as he shouted; “CHARGE!” He leaped up onto his horse Pava’s back, drew his sword and urged her into a gallop. Kevin and Tristan each lead out their squad of hook and rope specialists. The pavilion tittered alarmingly, but the other four giants readjusted their grip and steadied it. On top the sorceress had regained her bearing and began calling down lightning bolts on Tristan as he and broke Pava into a full gallop in a mad dash for the nearest giant.

The Prince pulled his shield off his back and raised it over his head as a lightning bolt connected. The shock of it traveled up his arm, making his muscles twitch and tingle, but he was otherwise unhurt as he signaled for his men to surround the giant they were nearing. Using precision, two of the horsemen stood up in their saddles as they rode past on each side of the giant’s enormous legs.

The first man threw the hook up into the air and the second caught the hook and quickly joined it to his own rope hook. The remaining men tied off their end of the ropes on the horns of their saddles as they continued their wheel around the giants’ feet. After the fifth pass the ropes were released just as they went taught.

Slowly the giant lost its balance and came crashing down. Lancers raced forward and launched their spears as the giant looked up. Four of them found their marks in its eye. It rolled away in intense pain, screaming as blood flowed from its eye.

“Flee!” Tristan shouted as he saw the giant roll into another one bringing it down as well.

The pavilion began to tip backwards as his unit wheeled around as one and rode hard back towards their lines. Kevin joined him as his unit came forward and another round of ballistae missiles rocketed across the gap over their heads. Risking a glance backwards Tristan saw two miss completely, one shatter on the pavilion’s defensive shield and the last one pierced the stomach of a giant, bringing it to its knees. The giant wobbled hopelessly and grunted something in their strange language before falling over, shaking the ground around it.

By the time Tristan, Kevin and their men had returned to their own lines the pavilion had shattered behind them as it hit the ground. A joyous cheer went up from his men. The cheer caught on like wildfire, spreading along the entire centerline of Tristan’s forward position. An odd silence followed, making Tristan wonder if he’d gone deaf. He turned in his saddle to see the author of his forces silence. The dust had cleared from the rubble to reveal the sorceress floating several feet off of the ground, her puppet King supported below her by her arts. She shrieked in anger and vanished in a cloud of black smoke.

As more of the dust cleared, Tristan could see the enemy army in full flight. The drawbridge slammed down onto the road it blocked as Boris’ soldiers ran for their lives. The three circling dragons looped down lazily, picking up random enemies and throwing them into the walls, rocks or simply into other groups of fleeing soldiers. The Prince could see Socolis lift up a trebuchet and throw it into one of the few companies of men who had elected to stand and fight. King Boris’ army was in full rout as they fled back towards Kumia. Tristan’s soldiers slew the last giant as the dragons made sure that whatever squads were brave enough to stick around, ended up on fire or eaten.

 

Slowly Tristan’s forces cleared the area as they moved forward to occupy the fort. The moment Tristan entered the fort he sent for one of his better commanders, Colonel Yeris, as he stripped off his gloves and sat in the main chamber. It had been cleverly built, and Tristan was thankful he hadn’t tried to take it by force. What looked like a simple wood and stone fort was in fact reinforced with long thin poles of iron that appeared to make the walls almost impossible to collapse.

He was thinking of its construction and what could be accomplished if he could figure out how they fired the iron poles and kept their strength when Yeris knocked and entered the chamber. Serving almost a year together had created the kind of simple discussions that the Prince had enjoyed with Captain Robertson. The Colonel motioned to a seat in front of Tristan, and with a nod from the Prince; sat down.

“You sent for me?” Yeris asked.

“Yes.” Tristan began. A servant came in with some water and jerked beef, placed it on the table between them and quickly departed with a bow. “Winter should be here in a few weeks I’m told.” The Prince said. “I’m going to leave you with some messenger pigeons, and the bulk of the army.” He explained.

“Where are you off to my Lord?” He asked formally. Yeris did this when he was uncomfortable with orders; he reverted to guarded respect least his annoyance show.

Tristan sighed dramatically. “I need a vacation. I haven’t left the lines in almost a year and I’m getting sloppy.” He admitted.

The Colonel began to object. Tristan cut him off before he could get started.

“I’m putting you in charge, keep vigil over the fort and its surroundings.” He ordered. “They’ll regroup for the winter, we bloodied them horribly today.” He explained more calmly. “If you need anything, send a fast rider or a homing pigeon to Duke Kevin.” Tristan said finally.

 

He leaned back in the chair and allowed his chin to drop onto his chest. Almost instantly he passed out of exhaustion, days of fighting with little sleep and several wounds finally took their toll.

 

~

 

Tristan passed in and out of consciousness for the next week. On the second day he awoke freezing cold, his teeth chattered loudly and he wasn’t able to move his body so he could curl up. A warm body pressed reassuringly next to him and he was briefly aware of the smell of lilac before he sighed deeply and passed out again.

 

~

 

The Prince’s eyes opened slowly. He tried to wipe the sand from his eyes only to find that his arms were bound to the bed. He struggled uselessly as he tried to roll over and found that his legs were likewise bound. Outside of the room, he could hear three people talking loudly.

“His fever broke this morning.” A familiar female voice said.

“Has he woken up yet?” His brother asked.

“Not for the last two days.” Alison replied quietly.

Tristan’s throat was dry and he was quickly becoming irritated at being tied down. “He’s up now!” He shouted hoarsely.

The door flew open, admitting Kevin, Alison and the matron of their son, Maggie. The young servant rushed forward and made herself busy checking over his dressing. Finally assured that her handiwork was still in place she began untying his restraints. Kevin looked down at his brother, smiling warmly while his wife looked curiously relieved at his side.

“What happened?” Tristan asked, his voice cracking slightly.

“You took an arrow in the side little brother.” His brother chuckled. “How you couldn’t feel it while you occupied the fort is beyond me.” He observed.

“Kevin rode you like mad back to Kenting.” Alison explained; her face still white with fear. “I was afraid he might have done more harm than good.” She concluded, casting him a mock accusing look.

“Maggie here has been seeing to your healing.” She said finally.

At the mention of her name, Maggie’s cheeks flushed as she untied Tristan’s left wrist. Her face was inches from his as he quietly said. “Thank you.”

She mumbled her reply and quickly shuffled over to the fireplace and stoked the fire, adding logs to it from the cutout in the wall beside it. Tristan watched her closely, remembering moments of consciousness when he could hear her singing quietly to him as she changed his dressings or washed his sweating forehead and chest. Kevin cleared his throat theatrically, wrenching Tristan’s attention back to his brother.

Kevin smiled as he said; “You got an infection, it must have been a filthy arrow at any rate. Took the healers hours to clean the wound and dress it properly.” He explained calmly, though Tristan could tell his brother had been greatly disturbed. “Good thing you’re in shape. The damn thing could have killed you.” He observed.

Tristan sat up in the bed. His side itched like it was on fire, just below his rib cage, though he fought not to scratch it. Alison came around the bed and Tristan rolled his eyes, assuming she would mother over his wound. Instead, she wound up and hit him in the shoulder.

“It’s time to get your armor resized!” She accused with a laugh.

The Prince looked down to see the fresh dressing in his side; it looked as though it had just slipped into the gap where his armor was tied. Over the last year he’d come into his last growth as he broadened out and his chest expanded. This created gaps in his cherished armor, and he simply did not have the time to have attended to. He had begun packing the gaps with thick leather, though clearly that wasn’t enough.

His brother and sister-in-law chucked as he sighed dramatically at his own error. They bade him goodnight as Maggie walked over to him and began checking his dressings again. Her touch was electric and it made him draw in his breath sharply.

“Did I hurt you?” She asked, her face losing color.

“No.” Tristan answered simply, grasping her arm gently and pulling her towards him and kissed her.

 

Chapter 2

Jonathan


Tristan Vallious stood in the main hall, splendid in his black dragon scale armor trimmed in red. Fresh dragon scales, donated by his grandfather, had been stained and added to fill in the gaps. His scimitar and dagger hung at his hip, partially hidden by the long black cloak he wore. A small curve in the black cloth folds on his back were the only hint at his shield strapped to his back.

Kevin and Alison Vallious ran their court with practiced ease and efficiency. Each citizen stepped forward to state his or her case and each was dealt with politely. Kevin’s court was much more organized than their fathers, though they only had a duchy to administer and The King had an entire country. Still, Tristan mused, he could see his brother bringing his attention to efficiency and loathing of politics to the throne when he assumed it in a few years.

Maggie came into the hall through the back door that led to the bed-chamber and the main dining hall. In her arms she carried Nathan, Kevin and Alison’s son. Already he showed the baring of his mother, and the size of his father as Maggie was forced to rebalance the baby Prince on her hip to compensate for his size.

Tristan smiled at her, which she warmly returned as she made a show of readjusting the way she carried the lad. Upon viewing his parents, he had begun to squirm and try to break free so that he could waddle over to them as he enjoyed doing. Tristan smiled as he walked over to her, his cape flapping behind him, and offered to liberate her from his nephews growing insistence.

“Having trouble milady?” He asked playfully as he rescued her from the baby’s squirming. He lifted Nathan into his arms; the little Prince regarded him skeptically before giving in and relaxing with a huff of indignation.

“Just a little, my Lord.” She purred, wrapping her arm around Tristan’s and leaning her head against his shoulder.

Alison had given birth just weeks after they had returned to Kenting. Due to the current state of things in the western half of the continent, Tristan had decided to set up his command post inside Kenting town. Between the brothers, they had made headway over the last twelve months. The two of them controlled a third of Terum province along a stable front that ran from the south of The Great Expanse, and extended south along the Vallius, and Sutten borders. With their Cousin Williams’ aid they used Sutten forces to swell their numbers to a hundred thousand men.

Even with the added men and the small victories, Tristan felt as though they were dangerously over-extended. He longed to have Captain Robertson at his side. Sergeant-Major Frose was a more than acceptable substitute though. The grizzled old man had arrived at the head of what remained of the 7th Infantry mere days after Tristan’s arrival in Kenting. The grouchy old war dog spared no words, simply grasping Tristan’s’ forearm in greeting and offering his services, which was quickly followed by poorly concealed irritation at being promoted.

The Prince enjoyed having the old man around, he put Tristan’s mind back to Robertson, whom he missed more than he could have thought possible. He could hear his ghost yelling orders over his shoulder, giving Tristan ideas to bring victory out of the grasp of defeat.

 

Tristan scowled slightly as Kevin looked over at the Prince and Maggie and raised his eyebrows dramatically. His brother smiled at Tristan’s dark look, causing his wife to look over with one of her characteristic knowing smiles that she knew irritated Tristan to no end. The Master of Ceremonies tapped his metal clad staff on the floor three times, announcing the end of morning court.

Alison and Kevin rose from their seats as the citizens, patricians and other minor nobles were escorted out of the main chamber. Alison relieved Tristan of Nathan as the five of them retired to the dining hall. They passed a set of windows on their way and Tristan chanced a glance outside, checking the weather. For the last few weeks the temperature had lowered to the point where now frost gathered on the lawns surrounding the keep every morning. A dense fog hovered over the area, blocking everything that wasn’t within the keep walls from view.

They entered the dining hall as Timon came in the servants’ door with a several members of his staff, each carrying a tray of food for breakfast. Tristan pulled out a seat for Maggie to Alison’s left and then made his way around the table and sat down at his brother’s right, pointedly ignoring his brothers’ smile and loaded up his plate with a wry grin.

 

“So, little brother,” Kevin began. “How much of Terum do you plan to conquer today?” He asked with a chuckle.

Tristan looked at his brother out of the corner of his eye as he tore his sweet roll in two. “Oh, I was tossing around the idea of breaking their forward lines and cutting the country in half.” He chuckled.

Maggie’s face drained of color as she looked up from the plate she was feeding Nathan from. “What?” She asked breathlessly.

“They’re playing with you Maggie.” Alison said, looking daggers at her husband and brother-in-law. “You two behave yourselves.” She ordered them with a smirk.

Breakfast passed pleasantly afterwards, the family sharing a laugh as Nathan trounced his sweet roll with his wooden play sword in front of the fireplace.

“Seriously though.” Kevin said, pushing himself away from the table. “What are your plans?” He asked his brother.

“Well, with Winter Solstice behind us for another year.” Tristan began. “And the heavy snows just weeks away, I was actually thinking of leaving the bandit King alone to brood over the cold winter months.”

Usually, around this time of year, the snows began in earnest this far west and drifts gathered at the foot of Keep walls deep enough to lose a dragon in. Tristan had been considering traveling to Guis for a few weeks. Largely due to the letter he’d received from Rajina Peria a few months ago demanding, in a comical way, for the Prince to show up in person and explain his tardiness in meeting his own son.

Tristan had planned to take Maggie and Frose with him. The trouble was that traveling by horseback in the middle of winter just wasn’t something any of them were looking forward to. Already the snows had conspired to mask the roads out of Kenting, and the Western Road was completely covered with drifts as high as Tristan’s waist.

“Thinking of finally taking Lesariu up on her offer to visit your son?” Alison asked.

Tristan smiled, he hadn’t thought of traveling by dragon. He wasn’t really sure why he kept finding excuses to avoid meeting his son. Perhaps it was the way things had been left with Mina, the circumstances of his son’s birth, his relationship with Maggie; unfortunately the list grew by the day it seemed. However, it was likely the boy didn’t know anything about Tristan and that made the young Prince nervous. The lad would be about two-years old, and perhaps enough time had passed that he and Mina could put aside their issues for the child’s sake.

“I was thinking about it.” Tristan admitted. “But I was hoping you’d let me steal Nathan’s matron away from you for a month or so.”

Immediately he wished he hadn’t asked that out loud. As he expected Alison cast him another of her knowing smiles, Kevin whooped and Maggie dropped the peach slice she had been nibbling on. How Tristan loathed attention, though it seemed to track him down like a starving predator.

 

That night after Kevin’s council had met, Tristan dragged Sergeant Frose aside.

“I’m taking you with me to Guis this time.” Tristan announced. Frose simply nodded his understanding as Tristan continued. “I don’t want any heroic non-sense out of you.” Tristan scolded.

Sergeant Frose used his middle finger to scratch an imaginary itch on his nose as he replied; “You do know whose soldier I was, don’t you my Lord?” He said with a mocking evil glare.

 

The three of them gathered on the tallest tower of Kenting Keep two days later. Despite the cold, Tristan chuckled at the memory of the rest of the fight he’d been forced to have with Frose, a half-hearted one at best of course. The only concession he seemed to be able to get was that Frose would sleep in the next room with the door locked, which confused Tristan, as he couldn’t remember asking for such a thing. The Sergeant merely smirked when Tristan admitted his confusion only to receive a friendly slap on the back once with a brisk nod.

 

Lesariu. The Prince called out with his mind.

The past year had revealed a few interesting skills. The first of which was that he could now communicate with his mother and sister through his mind. Although they were both in Metao, he was able to call their names with his mind when he needed to clarify snippets of memory that kept surfacing at the strangest moments. He also seemed to have the ability to use the same communication with the greater dragons as well. At odd times, snippets of conversations would intrude on his own thoughts, though he kept these to himself. It was nice to know the mundane things happening with the dragons, though he couldn’t verbalize why it was so.

 

~

 

Five months ago Terum forces crested one of Tristan’s forward positions and the Prince found himself face to face with a dangerously quick mercenary brandishing two wicked looking jagged short swords. Between parrying one slash and blocking another, an image of a large red dragon flashed into his mind’s eye. Sergeant Frose had stepped forward and pulled Tristan back, sending the young Prince tumbling backwards. As Tristan tumbled down the incline, he could vividly remember a conversation he had never had on a tall tower with a woman with bright red hair, and an even brighter red gown.

“Take care of Bethia, my young friend.” She asked desperately.

He tried to place the emotions and surroundings as best as he could, though the location was completely alien to him. The woman in red struck him as a mother pleading for the safety of her child.

Later that day, after they had established a solid front, Tristan had tried to call on Socolis, Lesariu and Draconis. A few hours later a tall man in a silver robe was escorted into his command tent. Drake, as Draconis preferred to be called in his human form, smiled as he sat down opposite his grandson. He wore a robe that fit tightly to his torso, and flowed out at the hips, small patterns appeared to be sewn into the fabric creating a robe that was more art than apparel.

“You called my boy?” He asked bemused.

Tristan chuckled, amazed that his abilities continued to grow, months ago he wouldn’t have been able to communicate with the dragon unless he was standing right in front of him. Although, considering the dragon was here, and hadn’t answered back through his mind, his skill wasn’t nearly as far along as Euri or his mother was.

“Who’s Bethia?” Tristan asked without preamble.

Drake considered the question for a moment, clearly trying to remember the name. Finally, his eyes widened slightly as he asked; “How do you know that name?” He blurted.

“I don’t know. It came to me in a waking dream.” Tristan explained.

“Tell me.” Drake instructed.

The Prince outlined the situation that led to the dream, and then the vision he had of the woman in red on a tower. When he was finished, Drake leaned back in his chair considering the information and gathering his thoughts.

“You, more than any other mortal, know dragon history I believe?” He asked.

“Henjis told me how dragons came to live here if that’s what you mean?” Tristan replied questioningly.

“Not exactly, but you’re on the right track.” Drake admitted, the man sighed slightly as he made himself more comfortable. “Dragons can only reproduce with the proper mix.” He explained. “Certain dragons can’t mate; black and white for example.” He said.

“Because of this, dragon spawn are few and far between. However, now that our magic has returned to us, the hatchlings will survive their birthing cycle.” Drake instructed.

“They didn’t before?” Tristan blurted.

Drake shook his head; “No. Without our magic we couldn’t hatch the eggs without damaging the baby inside. Those details are unimportant.” He dismissed. “Though, if you ask, maybe a dragon mother will allow you to witness it one day.” He offered.

Tristan was surprised; he had assumed that dragons simply couldn’t mate without magic. Instead the opposite was true, they could mate, but any eggs resulting from that matting wouldn’t survive. It was no small wonder the dragons dispersed and took to hiding, Tristan mused. The pain of losing her children was something the Prince’s mother always feared more than all else. The pain for dragons must have been incredible.

“It was.” Drake replied evenly, reading Tristan’s thoughts.

The man sighed, gathering his thoughts again. “Bethia was the product of Socolis and Kumanius’ mating.” He explained. “Fifteen eggs were produced, but that was around the same time as Dragon Magic began to fade, shortly after your birth I believe.”

Drake rubbed his face with his left hand, sighing at the memory, but continuing despite the painful past. “Socolis sent out a call to us all, even Henjis answered.” He chuckled. “Combined, we are able to save one of Kumanius’ hatchlings.” He took another deep breath. “To understand the rest, you need to know a little bit more dragon lore Tristan.” Drake admitted.

“A dragon cannot rise to a patron of a country until they reach a certain maturity, typically at least one hundred years of age. Bethia won’t reach that age for another eighty years, so until then Terum is in flux, being neither what it originally was, nor what Kumanius made it.” He revealed. “There are only four of us remaining; you have yet to meet Raithia. She’s less inclined to trust humans these days. Ryanite was her brother.” He explained.

At the height of The Bane’s power, large groups of dragon slayers under the command of dark sorcerers hunted down a slew many dragons, most of which were barely hatchlings in their own right. One of their earliest and more terrible victories had the death of a greater green dragon, Ryanite.

“We each take it in turn to keep Terum from becoming the volcanic wasteland it used to be, however, we each have countries of our own to oversee.” Drake admitted.

Tristan was thunderstruck. He couldn’t dismiss what he was being told, largely because his grandfather had never been false with him, but also because everything he was being told rang with truth within his own memories.

“So where is she?” Tristan asked.

“Kumanius or Bethia?” Drake asked.

“Both.” Tristan answered with a wry grin.

“Kumanius is dead. Hunted down and murdered by The Bane’s slayers.” He admitted sadly. “Bethia, we don’t know. Henjis was her guardian, but after she witnessed what he was doing, she fled.” Drake replied. “She could be anywhere.” He concluded.

“So until I’m on my death-bed, I’ll be fighting.” Tristan asked darkly.

“Most likely,” Drake replied with a wry grin. “But not for the reason you think.”

“You’re speaking in riddles again grandfather.” Tristan said with a chuckle.

“Clearly you don’t remember what having dragon blood in your veins means.” He offered as Tristan shook his head. “You’ll live a little longer than the normal human span of years my boy.” Drake informed him dryly.

“How much longer?” Tristan asked with foreboding interest.

“Assuming you don’t get yourself killed,” He began whimsically. “A few hundred years isn’t unheard of.” He answered lightly.

 

~

 

The Prince was shaken from his reverie as Maggie clutched his gloved hand with her own, pointing off into the distance. A long serpent-like dragon lazily looped along towards them, playing with the snow as it fell from the gray clouds. Tristan chuckled, hearing her glee in his mind.

Quit showing off… He scoffed through his mind.

I’ve earned a little fun time, thank you. She replied laughing.

Try not to flip with these two on your back. He chuckled in return. Unless of course you plan on taking a bath before changing.

Lesariu laughed out loud as she landed lightly on the tower parapet. Maggie and Frose took an involuntary step backwards, clearly intimidated by the large bronze dragon.

“Don’t worry my friends.” She soothed. “I’ve already eaten today.” Lesariu said with a wink as she lowered herself.

Tristan laughed as he motioned for the others to mount up. They both looked around in confusion, clearly unsure of how best to proceed. Finally, Maggie’s hand reached up tentatively, shaking as she grabbed a hold of a plate and pulled herself up onto the bronze dragon’s back. Frose did likewise, with equal trepidation. Tristan leapt nimbly up close to her neck. The dragon chuckled as she effortlessly spread her wings and took flight.

So where are we headed my young friend? She asked.

I thought I might visit my son. Tristan replied whimsically.

Lesariu chuckled in his mind. About time too. She mused.

That’s assuming of course that Mina will allow me to. He thought darkly.

Things have greatly changed in Delhi since your last visit. Lesariu explained. I think you’ll find a warm reception if I’m not greatly mistaken. She soothed.

Maggie’s arms clamped almost painfully around Tristan’s waist as Lesariu picked up speed. The Prince turned his head to see how she fared and laughed loudly. While Maggie was frightened, she still had her eyes open in wonder as she watched the country she knew so well sped by below her. Sergeant Frose on the other hand grasped onto the scales of the dragons back as though his life depended on them. His face was drawn and white, and his eyes were shut tightly as he muttered prayers to his God’s for protection.

Your friend doesn’t seem to like flying much. Lesariu laughed in Tristan’s mind.

 

Slowly, the white snow drifts gave way to green grass and dense farmlands, which in turn gave way to desert oases and enormous cities. Lesariu playfully dipped and coasted between the large spires of Delhi city, laughing as she sensed her passengers growing fear. Tristan had never ridden a dragon quite this far before and if it wasn’t for the shifting plates, cutting into his legs where his greaves didn’t protect him, he would have been content to ride for some time more.

As it was, when Lesariu landed, Tristan was happy to leap lightly from her back. The great bronze dragon had landed in one of the larger courtyards of the palace. Fountains surrounded their landing spot and little waves splashed over the lips of the pools as the water settled back down into the ponds. She lowered herself as Maggie, still a little shaken from the trip, held out her hand for Tristan to help her down. Sergeant Frose took a deep, steadying breath before opening his eyes and quickly scrambled off the great dragons back. Lesariu chuckled lightly at his discomfort. A flash of white light punctuated her change into an attractive woman in a golden dress.

Maggie gapped at the dragon’s transformation, and Frose took an alarmed step back. Tristan laughed with Lesa as she slowly moved forward and encircled her arm around Sergeant Froses’. The Prince held out his arm as Maggie regained some of her composure and took it, her arm still shaking.

“A dragon’s back is one of the safest ways to travel.” He informed her.

“Gods!” Sergeant Frose exclaimed. “I’d rather sail.” He muttered darkly.

“Welcome back young man.” A woman called from the steps of the palace.

Tristan turned to find Peria standing on the lowest step, looking upon him warmly. He untwined his arm from Maggie’s and stepped forward, affecting a low bow.

“Rajina, it is an honor to visit your country again.” He said formally.

“Bah! Enough of that pompous, non-sense!” She shouted with a laugh. “Come give an old lady a hug!” Peria ordered.

The Prince laughed as he stepped forward and was pulled into a bear hug of surprising strength. The older woman laughed as she patted him on the back. Holding him away at arm’s length, she inspected him briefly.

“You’ve grown into that armor well.” She complimented.

“It got wet and shrunk.” He joked sarcastically.

Peria laughed heartily as she nodded her head behind Tristan. “Who are your guests?” She asked.

Tristan indicated Maggie, “This is my close friend,”

“Your woman you mean.” Peria interrupted, causing Tristan to blush slightly.

The Rajina stepped forward and grasped Maggie’s hands. “It fills my heart with joy to see him happy.” She said with a smile.

The Prince cleared his throat dramatically, nodding his head to Frose. “This vagabond is Sergeant-Major Frose.”

Frose stepped forward, offering as low a bow as he could muster and still keep his bile down. Peria looked at him sympathetically, laughing.

“Mother, you know not everyone likes your flying.” She chastised Lesa.

The golden-gowned woman stepped forward and embraced her older looking daughter. “You are looking well my child.” Lesa said with a smile.

“Lesa!” A familiar voice called from the palace entrance.

Eurydice ran down the steps of the palace and embraced Lesa, smiling mischievously at her older brother.

“What are you doing here?” Tristan asked, still surprised.

Euri released her hold on Lesa and embraced her brother. “Nice to see you Euri. I missed you Euri. Long time no see Euri. You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome brother.” She chastised with a laugh.

“Sorry.” Tristan replied, returning the embrace. He held her at arm’s length, looking at her. In the last year she’d grown considerably. “It’s good to see you, little one.” He said finally. “Now. What are you doing here?” He asked with mock seriousness.

“Just because you’ve been too busy to visit your son doesn’t mean the rest of us are.” She accused, pointing her finger at his chest.

Tristan held his hands up in supplication, laughing at the display. He introduced everyone to each other as he held out his arm to Maggie. Peria led them into the palace and down some all too familiar halls. The Prince’s nerves were on end, he wasn’t precisely sure how he was going to deal with his feelings about Mina and their child. For months he had put off the visit for this very reason, finding every excuse he could invent to remain in Kenting.

If it had not been for the letter, sent partially in annoyance even though the Rajina was above such emotions, he would have found yet another excuse to put off the reunion. Euri was busy chatting with Maggie; the two of them gossiping happily about Gods knew what, so Tristan was free to let his eyes and his mind wander as Peria led them towards the Imperial apartments.

Delhi had changed very little; the only noticeable difference was the guards no longer carried a myriad of weapons. Each of them held a razor tipped spear in their right hand and a simple club on their hip. Their uniforms were different as well, clearly influenced by Peria’s taste for bright colors. Each of them wore a bright orange vest and gaudy purple flowing pants. All of them, likewise adorned with a simple golden chain around their necks, a striped orange and purple sash around their waists and black boots with an elongated toe in the Guisian fashion.

The gardens they walked through were a riot of colors and scents as they were before, though now it seemed as though they organized based on the scent as much as color. Some of the larger ponds had large flowers floating on their calm surfaces, only adding to the smell and beauty of the area.

As they walked around a rather large tree, Tristan caught the smell of a familiar perfume in the air. His heart jumped up into his throat as they cleared the tree to find Mina sitting on a large piece of silk draped over the lush lawn. A small pale boy played with a rather large stuffed tiger. He made roaring sounds as he pranced the animal around to his mother’s amusement.

Memories of the time he and Mina had spent together, came flooding back to the Prince. Instead of the pain he’d felt at learning her feelings for him were the result of a spell her father’s aide had cast on her, he felt oddly buoyant. She looked up as her mother approached with her guests and smiled warmly as she called the young child over to her.

Tristan sat down slowly, almost methodically as he broke eye contact with the mother of his child. Remembering all too well the pain he had caused her, despite it not being of his creation. He looked from the boy to her, and she smiled wider for him, nodding her head briefly in greeting.

“Jonathan.” She called as the little boy looked up. “This is your father.” Mina announced.

Tristan looked at the boy, memorizing every detail of his appearance. He had Tristan’s hazel eyes, the first thing he noticed. His ears were large, as Tristan’s had been. Even at this young age, his intelligence was obvious as he scrutinized his father. The tiger had stopped prancing about as Jonathan regarded his father; his little features squinted as he tilted his head to the side.

“Jonathan?” Tristan asked her.

“It was mothers’ idea.” Mina offered. “She said there was a handsome young scoundrel in a bard’s troupe she’d known by that name.”

Tristan laughed. “Scoundrel?” Attempting to look properly scandalized.

The young boy stood up on shaky legs, regarding Tristan quizzically. He stumbled over to his father, pausing every few steps to re-evaluate the Prince. The Prince watched in fascination as the boy sat down with an audible ‘oof’ in front of him. He turned his head slightly to the side again, a searching look on his young face.

Daddy? Tristan felt in his mind.

The Prince’s head snapped over to Lesa and Eurydice who stood a short way off. He stared at them in wide-eyed shock as Lesa smiled and Euri answered his unspoken question.

“Talented, isn’t he?” She asked with a smirk.