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Excerpt from “Blood Borne” (Current WIP)

For the past month, I’ve been hiding in my writing cave with the Blood Borne manuscript, book #3 in The Republic series. Here’s a bit of what’s ended up on the page! A touch of family drama, I won’t lie.

[Note: This is the raw stuff, so it’s bound to change in the future.}

___

Not to be told again, Ress sat at the table and waited. After retrieving the roasted meat from the hearth and placing it on the table, Ineste joined him, sitting adjacent to him in the chair to his right. They were silent as they filled their plates and began to eat. If not for Ineste’s unusual fidgeting and the drumming of her fingers on her chair, he would have thought the morning was the same as any other.

“What’s got you this morning?” Ress cast a questioning glance at her shaking leg.

Ineste stilled, rigid and awkward. “Nothing.” She breathed out. “Much.”

He reached for her, his palm up. “Go on, tell me.” When she slipped her hand in his, he squeezed her fingers, hoping it was enough reassurance.

She said nothing. Instead, she stared at her plate and toyed with a piece of bread.

What did I do now? Ress held back a sigh. He had grown accustomed to silence at meals and meals that were so loud, he wished they were silent. The tenseness in between the two extremes worried him more. “Ines, what is it?”

The reply was a frustrated breath. “I received a letter yesterday from Eloras, one of my friends when I was growing up. You remember her, don’t you? She married and moved out to the Alosaa tract.”

“The blonde one, tall and skinny and shal–” Ress caught himself before finishing the insult. Ineste was already nervous enough without calling one of her closest friends shallow and pretentious. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I vaguely recollect. Living in one of the big cities now, I think you said. Her husband works for the Commerce Assembly or something.”

Ineste nodded. “Assistant to one of the Chief Assemblymen, yes, and they live in Grace-upon-Alatayle, close to the port.”

Grace, the largest city in Alosaa, the regional tract of Kattal attached to Gailarin, the region in which they lived for most of their lives. From what Ress had heard, Grace-upon-Alatayle and the surrounding towns were posh and refined, supported by wealth from half a dozen Grand Families and a dozen more members of the aristocracy, most of them members of the Commerce Assembly and frequent users of the seaside port. Estimates by the Shar-denn equated the value of Grace and its neighbouring districts to that of Alosaa as a whole. If the Shar-denn factions could completely infiltrate Grace, they would control one of the primary waterways into Kattal and could scare the rest of the Alosaa tract into compliance. That was assuming they could find a way to bring down their Tract Steward, Kayte Oaren, a man as formidable as his family’s history of success in battle. The politician in Kayte safeguarded Alosaa with strong words and well-trained guards, but the soldier in him was ready to pierce the heart of the Shar-denn. He only needed to be set in the right direction.

Temptation to give him that direction had plagued Ress more than once. One message, four names–that was all it would take. Had Ress wanted to start a war, he would have sent Kayte on the chase. If a civil bloodbath was what Kattal needed, Ress would have sent an identical message to Aeley Dahe, Tract Steward of Gailarin. Together, Kayte and Aeley would do more damage to the Shar-denn than the discrete, cleanly planned and executed methods of the High Council.

Unfortunately for Kattal, Ress was not that stupid.

While the Shar-denn took their share of citizens, selling them or harming them in a multitude of ways, the consequences of a full outing would be disastrous for the Republic. Retribution from the Shar-denn would be messy, more than it was currently. He had seen what rage could do. He had seen what fear could do. He did not want to see what happened when the deepest fears of the Shar-denn factions blazed and their inhibited rage went on a rampage. Much less would he be responsible for it. A slow boil over the controlled fire set by the High Council was a safer choice.

Blinking back everything he could not tell Ineste, Ress forced a smile. “What about Eloras?”

Ineste dug a spoon into a piece of fruit but did not eat it. “She’s invited us to Grace.”

“So she wants to show you around.”

“No, not to visit.” Sighing, Ineste laid down her spoon. “To live.”

“Oh.” Ress withdrew his hand from hers slowly.

She grabbed it, pinning his wrist to the table. “Wait, dearest, please. Please don’t brush this off. Eloras says it’s beautiful there, so peaceful, so breathtaking. She says she’s never been happier. It’s so much better than living here in Araveena, she said. There’s more of everything. And it could do us just as good.” Ineste’s voice softened, her eyes begging more loudly than the rest of her, twisting Ress’s heart tighter than the sickening effect it had on his gut. “She says she’s found the perfect place for us to live, you and me. And there’s a small building just around the corner that’s perfect for a shop like ours. It’s fate, she said, and it’s all hers. Eloras can do whatever she wants with these places, and she’s offering them to us. Just us.”

“Ines–”

“Ress, please.” Her fingers gripped his. “We could go. Leave this shop to Cove and Bremary and really cause a stir in the city. We’re good enough. You’re good enough. Your work is so flawless, so perfect. We would be incredibly successful there. Eloras has been flaunting our pieces at showings and events and everyone loves them. Everyone. They want those pieces, dearest, all those wonderful things you make. They want them. They’re willing to pay, too. And commission even larger pieces.” Ineste’s grip tightened. “It’s Grace, a big, big city. There’d be more sales, more recognition, and more customers, especially the wealthy kind. Do you know how many benefactors you could get?”

He could guess, but there was more to his decision than money.

As if reading his thoughts, Ineste clamped both hands on his arm, the light touch of her fingertips caressing him a contrast to the heaviness of her palms. “It would be good for us, too. We could start fresh,” she said quietly, tears wetting her eyes. “It’d be a whole new start for you and me. We could leave everything about Araveena behind–the pain, the long nights of waiting, the constant looking over our shoulders. Grace could change everything, and we could use a little grace in our relationship. Something that isn’t this.” With one hand, she motioned to the house. “We could go away. For years. For decades. There’d be so much to see, to do. We could make all new friends. Start everything over. Wipe it all clean and build again.”

One tear slipped from her eye, quickly followed by a second that she wiped away the moment it slid onto her cheek. She was all but falling off of the edge of her chair. “Please, Ress. Please. For me. Do this. Or do this for us. I’ll take either one. And I promise I won’t ever ask you for something like this again. I’m not selfish or spoiled, but I need this. And I think you need it, too. Please. Give this to me. Just this. For us.”

Closing his eyes, Ress wanted to restart the morning and avoid the entire discussion. He should have just crawled into a hole and died the night before. “No.”

He pulled his arm out from Ineste’s hold, sickened with her slackened grasp. His eyes did not have to be open for him to see the disappointment on her face. The hitch of her breath and strangled sob etched a clear enough picture on the darkness in his mind.

“I can’t leave, Ines.” When he opened his eyes, he focused on the table. From the corners of his eyes, he saw Ineste wipe her eyes with both hands. “I understand why you want to leave–I do–and I wish I could. But I can’t. There’s people here I can’t leave. Bremary, Cove, other people in this village–I can’t leave them to fend on their own. They don’t have anyone else standing between them and the Shar. I can’t just run away. I’m not Taldris.”

Ineste’s fingers curled into fists. She promptly drew them into her lap.

“I’m sorry,” Ress apologized quietly. “Really, truly sorry. Maybe one day, just not now. Not…”

Ever. Not ever, that’s what I should be saying. He dropped his gaze to the food still on his plate. And you want to know the real reason why I can’t leave Araveena? The real reason you’re crying? I can’t go anywhere without Council’s permission to leave, and certainly not permanently. I go where they want me to go, and where they want me going is on Shar-denn business only. That’s it. I’m their toy, their ugly little errand boy, and I’m not allowed to go play with anyone else. I’m stuck here because they won’t let me leave. Not until they get everything they want. By then, I’ll be dead.

He stole a glance at Ineste, her head bowed over her folded hands. But I can’t tell you any of this, my shame runs so deep. I can’t tell you the full truth about me being released from High Council’s custody and their rules. I can’t tell you anything about being an informant. I can’t tell you I’m trying to make amends. All you see is the low-life bastard you married because of some other, even lower low-life bastard. I feel so guilty, so bad. I wish I could cry every one of your tears for you, but I can’t.

“There’s a reason why my work is flawless.” Ress took a breath, bracing himself for the partial truth. “And it’s because I’m the protecting people I can’t leave. Including you. That’s never changed. And it won’t. I promised to take care of you. I just can’t pack up our life and leave.”

“I get it.” Ineste raised her hands. “You can stop explaining. I’m not a child. I don’t need to have it spelled out for me.” She faced him, her eyes red and puffy. “And the saddest part is that’s exactly what I expected you to say. Thanks for not disappointing my disappointment.”

Before he could apologize again, Ineste pushed back her chair, collected her dishes, and took them to the washbasin. The plate and utensils clattered in the metal basin. Without another word, she turned and hurried towards the bedroom. The door slammed shut, as hard and loud as he expected she screamed inside.

 

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