SNEAK PEEKS

Jas of Rosghel (as never seen before)

          The gossipping tongues of Rosghel waited only as long as her mother’s mourning-moons before resuming at full speed, relentless and starved and, if anything, made sharper by waiting. 

          Jas, for one, thought they showed remarkable restraint. 

          At least they had allowed her to die first. 

          It was almost quaint—the way they hung their heads at her approach, leaned out of misty dwellings to hail her and offer condolences, the way they twisted their faces in such convincing masks of grief that she was almost tempted to consult a looking glass and make adjustments to her own. But Rosghel had been feeding upon the misfortunes of its inhabitants far longer than Jas had been alive, so of course, she had less practice. It was only natural. 

          They were not even remotely subtle about it, which she found fascinating as she strode, expressionless, down the Avenue of Merchants, flowing against a stream of whispered gossip. Her dress was black again today—there were appearances to maintain, after all—and she had worked very hard to paint herself mournful . . . a fragile, motherless Silver in cruel, tempestuous Skies. 

          There was Alya, on her way to lessons with the tutor that Jas no longer saw the need to meet. She glanced up from whispering to the winer’s son in time to catch the tail of Jas’ glance, turned a gratifying shade of grey, and scurried on with Jas glaring spears into her back. She had been too far away to hear, but she could only imagine the simpering tone. 

          They say the blue ague is in her blood. Her father will drop of it soon, and where shall she be then?

          In Rosghel, Jas presumed was the answer. Listening to new posthumous drivel. 

          They say the smithy is struggling for business, murmured a tailor behind his hand as she passed. They say she is of marriageable age, but no soul in Rosghel would wed her. They say she had not spoken to her mother in years before the old wench died of the ague. They say, they say, they say . . . 

          “Jas!”

          A dark head bobbing above the crowd caught her eye across the rue, but she was in no disposition for conversation and she did not halt or pause or even slow. 

          “Jas! Skies ablaze, would you wait a moment? Why the terrible haste?”

          “Oh, you know, Melkian. With the smithy upon the brink of collapse and my father battling death with every breath, an unmarriageable maiden cannot afford to be idle.”

          A snort informed her that he had closed the distance between them. “On your brightest mourning behavior, I see.”

          “Have you nowhere else to be?” she deflected. “Father is expecting me.”

          She still had not slowed and yet his long strides had already borne him past her. He spun to walk backward, clad in the stark black and gossamer of the Silver Guard, a grave sword strapped to his waist and a graver expression stamped into his brow. He was going to trample someone if he did not turn around. She told him so pointedly, and his face darkened. 

          “Jas.” He halted suddenly, forcing her to halt with him. “You know I have duty this morning—I would not have come were I not worried for you. You know that.”

          She blinked upward at him, only too aware of the Rosghel's ravenous eyes swallowing every nuance of her face. “Worried for me, Melkian? I told you, I am not even slightly ill.”

          “Not the ague.” His lips pressed in frustration, along with a crinkle of impatience. “I mean . . . I mean that there are folk within this city who think they know you, who think it is their place to know all that you have suffered, and I wish I could choke them all upon their own tongues but I cannot, so . . . so I am worried for you, Jas. I want to know how I can help.”

          He could be charming when he acted this way. But she loathed that sky-cursed uniform.

          Jas gazed at the silver Rosghel emblem stitched over his chest, level with her eyes. “I am fine, Melkian,” she replied—a small, hard coal of a girl. “They can say what they wish. When have I ever cared?”

          His lashes dipped low. “I wish you would not lie to me, Jas.”

          There was a long, thin moment in which all she could hear were the rumours wafting and ebbing and swirling about them, the strained voice of her mother’s last breaths. You will pay a price for refusing what is simple, Jasmiel. For refusing what is before your foolish eyes.

          To Melkian, she said, “I have never lied to you.” 

          Which was true. She knew that, even as she sidestepped him, left him behind, for Jas spared all her lying for herself. 

          They could say what they wished. They could mock her father’s wits, scorn her mother’s selfish ways, lock Jas away in a forbidden chest with a key of cruel disapproval. And she could say she did not care, but she did. She always had. She just did not happen to be overly skilled at choosing what was simple. 

          Melkian’s eyes were burning two concerned, kind, simple pleas into her back.

          Jas tightened her fists in her blacksmith’s gloves and marched for her father's smithy.

An Excerpt from Book 2 in The Ariad Series (coming soon)

          Rosghel was a city of ghosts. Ghosts of the past, ghosts of the present. Its streets were stained forever with the blood of those felled at the hands of a phantom who never slept and was plagued by haunts of his own. 

         In the night, the past resurrected to gleam in the mists that entangled Rosghel—swirling shapes and ringing echoes that he alone could hear. All doors were barred, all windows shaded. It was the hour of terror. He owned the streets, patrolled them, prowled them, and preyed upon the cloying musk of fear that laced the mist. This was his city, and he was its king. 

           Tasnil was his own kind of ghost. 

          There had been a time when the boldest in Rosghel had dared slip through the fist of his rule. They had defied his curfew, loitering in alleyways and awnings by moonlight, believing themselves safe in the shelter of the shadows. Those days, each night had been a hunt, and Tasnil a ravenous predator. His sword had found home in the ribs of the rebellious. The bold had grown fewer. The fear had churned sourer. Whispers had straiked the wind of a murderous shadow whose form was mist and whose blade was death, and slowly, slowly, the Silver city had shrunken into itself. Retreated, surrendered, diminished into whispers and rumours and a horror of its silent, invisible king. 

          Now, it was a shell, inhabited by shells, and caught between the diametric pulls of past and present. Now, there were none who dared to defy him. King. Tyrant. 

          Usurper. 

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