THE MAN CRAMMED IN THE COFFIN with Lusielle wasn’t much for words. Talking to a toad would have bettered her chances to learn something pertinent, let alone helpful. A toad would have been more forthcoming and less irritating as well.
She didn’t give a hoot about highborn and their bloody quarrels. After all, the highborn had been plotting against each other for centuries. But if she was going to escape with her life, if she was going to survive her plight, she needed to understand what the Lord of Laonia wanted and why. Her life depended on her wits.
“Word in the kingdom is that Laonians are warmongers,” she said.
A snort. “That’s what Riva would like for you to believe.”
“He’s sent away a lot of able men and women to repel Laonian raids.”
“Have you considered it could be the other way around?”
“Why would we want to attack you?”
“I’m not having this discussion with you.”
How wrong he was. “We’ve heard rumors of a few little skirmishes at the river borders over the years,” Lusielle said.
The man’s body tensed in the darkness. “Skirmishes?”
“King Riva always wins.”
“Do you always believe everything that Riva says?”
“Nobody challenges King Riva and lives.”
“Riva rules over a bunch of fools.”
“The kingdom’s cemeteries are seeded with his opponents’ tombstones.”
“He’s a man, not a god,” the lord said.
“And yet he can’t be defeated.”
“Of course he can be defeated. My father defeated him in battle twice, thirty years ago and then again twenty years ago. And less than two years ago, I repelled a full scale invasion at the Narrows.”
“The tyrant can be defeated. Laonia has seen to that.”
Lusielle was hard pressed to believe what the lord was saying, and yet she had to admit that some of what he said made sense. There had been rumors. Thousands of troops had never returned from the river borders. Sons and daughters forsook their mothers for good. Husbands and wives went missing en masse. Food had grown scarce. Even horses had been difficult to find.
Had the king managed to conceal a major defeat from his subjects? Was the Lord of Laonia telling the truth?
She had never heard anyone else speak ill of King Riva, let alone challenge him openly. Everyone she knew was afraid of Riva. Not even the kingdom’s highborn dared to call the king a tyrant aloud.
The Lord of Laonia might be short of words and quick to anger, but these days, a man had to be very brave to speak as he did.
Award-Winning Finalist in the fantasy category of The 2013 USA Best Book Awards, sponsored by USA Book News
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Genre – Fantasy/Dark Fantasy
Rating – PG-18