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Excerpt: Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker Part 2

Over a five day period, thanks to Mercury Retrograde Press, I will be excerpting portions of Secrets of the Sands by Leona Wisoker.

Part One is here.
Part Three is here.
Part Four is here.
Part Five is here.


Finally they stopped in front of a small grey door. Two guards with gold and silver braids looped on their sleeves watched as they approached, offering no challenge but also no welcome. The noble made a polite motion of greeting and stared at the door as if expecting it to be opened for him.

“Lord Cafad Scratha,” he said briefly. “I’m expected.”

“Yes,” one of the guards said. “Go in.”

Idisio’s mouth dropped open. All tales he’d heard claimed Scratha Family had been wiped out almost twenty years ago; nobody knew why or by whom. Apparently one survivor hadn’t been worth mentioning. A complete slaughter must have made for a more dramatic story.

Looking sour, Scratha pushed open the door. It swung noiselessly inward, and they walked into the king’s presence.

Not into the throne room, as Idisio had expected, but a small apartment of sorts, filled with bright sunlight. Idisio glanced up, his jaw sagging once more. Thick panes of fine glass, some sand-cast, others clear, were set in the ceiling, arranged in an eight-pointed star pattern: the traditional king’s symbol. The display of wealth and power made the Crown Gate look cheap.

“Lord Oruen,” Scratha said.

Idisio brought his attention hastily down and sank to his knees in belated courtesy.

“Up,” Scratha said. “This is an informal audience.” His expression hardened as he looked back to the man across the room.

King Oruen stood easily as tall as Scratha and had the same eagle’s nose, dark hair, and narrow build. His skin seemed a lighter shade of bronze, his eyes round where Scratha’s held distinct angles. The royal robe hung neatly on a hook to one side; he wore a simple, if finely cut, outfit of blue and green cotton. If not for the robe and the “Lord Oruen” from Scratha, Idisio would have thought this man simply a high-ranking court official.

“Informal,” the king agreed. His dark eyes studied Idisio for a moment. “Is this boy needed?”

Without thought intervening, before Scratha could answer, Idisio found intuition speaking for him. “I stay with my lord, Sire.”

He couldn’t believe he’d said it, but there it was, and now both men were staring at him. King Oruen’s mouth quirked in what might have been amusement, while Scratha’s expression could have melted sand into glass. Idisio swallowed hard and tried to look sure of himself.

“Very well,” the king said, seeming to dismiss the matter.

With one last, ominous squint, Scratha let it go as well. Idisio realized he’d been holding his breath; he let it out as quietly as possible.

“Do you know what I’ve summoned you for, Cafad?”

“I imagine I’ve upset some petty courtier again.” Scratha sounded indifferent, but his hands curled into fists.

“No,” the king said. He looked at Idisio. “Do you like my solarium, boy?” He pointed to the glass overhead. “I saw you admiring it when you came in. It was Sessin Family’s gift to me, marking their acceptance of me as the new king in Bright Bay. They tore down the existing roof and replaced it with that in less than a tenday.”

Idisio glanced up again, then back to the king, confused.

“It’s wonderful, Sire,” he said. “It’s a marvel.”

“A marvel that could have been commonplace by now, if not for the Purge,” the king said, his gaze on the glass star overhead. “A wonder that should have, would have been, if the madness hadn’t destroyed hundreds of years of learning. Sessin now knows more about glasscraft than anyone north of the Horn. They’re in an excellent position for trade, on that basis alone. Quite a lot of money in glass, as I understand it. Quite a lot of tax revenue potential for the city they choose to set up their main trade shops in. And do I need to note that this gift also marks Sessin Family as my allies? That’s not something for a new king to take lightly, either.” He didn’t lower his gaze from the ceiling as he spoke.

Scratha’s face was tight as his fisted hands. “This is about Nissa.”

Lady Nissa, of Sessin Family.” The king at last turned his gaze back to Scratha. “She has some very livid bruises, Lord Scratha, and this isn’t the time of year for long sleeves.”

Cafad Scratha seemed to draw himself upright and compact, all at once.

The king said, “She claims you threw her into the street half-naked, bellowing that she was a whore.”

“It’s a good name,” Scratha said. “She’s Sessin.”

“She admits she should have told you,” the king said. “She was afraid of your obsession.”

“Obsession?”

“That’s what it’s been named,” the king said, “and I agree. The girl did nothing, by her account, that gave cause to humiliate her like that. Can you give a good reason?”

Scratha looked mutinous. “She’s Sessin. I’ll have nothing to do with that family.”

“You’re a fool.” The king sat down with a heavy sigh. “I have to do something about this, Cafad. I won’t alienate my strongest supporters for your pride.”

“Your strongest supporters?” Scratha said, and while his volume stayed low, his tone was anything but mild. “Sessin’s a family of cowards. Their support means nothing. Less than nothing. I wouldn’t let one of their asp-jacaus near me, much less one of their women.”

If there had been any point to running, Idisio would already have been edging towards the door. He stood very still and hoped they wouldn’t notice his continuing presence.

“I know Sessin was involved in my family’s destruction,” Scratha said, “and gods save them when I find the proof to present to a desert court. And I will. I’ll find it! And then you’ll see—”

“Enough,” the king said, raising a hand. “None of the desert families had anything to do with your family’s slaughter. I won’t believe such a thing, and neither should you. You’re wasting your life on this. Find a good woman, of whatever family or line. Fill your fortress with the laughter of children instead of the wailing of ghosts.”

Scratha stood mute and straight, a hard line to his jaw and a darkness in his eyes.

The king looked at that grim, silent refusal and slowly shook his head. “I had hoped to talk you into apologizing to Nissa. I see that won’t happen.”

“No, Lord Oruen,” Scratha said. “That will never happen.”

“Sessin isn’t the only family you’ve upset lately, Cafad.”

“That’s desert lord business, Lord Oruen, and none of yours.”

“You’ve brought your squabbles into Bright Bay, so it’s now become my business,” the king said just as sharply. He stood, and his tone changed to one of authority, one he might have used in front of a full audience in his throne room. “I have a task for you, Cafad Scratha.”

Idisio could feel roses and silks rapidly fading beyond any chance of his reach. He’d be lucky to live out his life in a dungeon alongside the man he’d foolishly claimed as lord. Twice in one day, intuition had failed him, and each time more disastrously.

“The royal library has been decimated since the time of Initin the Red,” the king went on. “I am of a mind to restock it. An accounting of the kingdom is sorely needed: history, current affairs, culture, religions, beliefs, and so on. Without such a guide, I’ll be hard put to pull order from the chaos I’ve been left. You’re a man of learning and intelligence; I place you in charge of compiling a modern history of this kingdom. I want tales of how the last two hundred years have affected the rest of the kingdom, especially the northern half.”

Scratha opened his mouth to speak, eyes narrowing.

The king stopped him with another imperious gesture. ”Arason is of special interest to me, but be very careful; they’re a bit touchy at the moment.“

The two men locked stares.

“This task of yours will take years, if I agree to do it,” Scratha said. “If.”

“You’ll do this, Cafad Scratha,“ the king said. “Or lose your access to Bright Bay for the rest of your life.”

Scratha stared, seeming more puzzled than angry, for another moment, then shrugged and gave a sharp nod. “I’ll do the job.”

The king smiled without joy and shook a small silver hand bell. At the faint tinkling sound, a servant stepped through a side door half-hidden behind draperies, and stood, attentive and silent, waiting instruction.

“Settle Lord Scratha and his servant in a guest room,” the king directed. “When they’re ready, take them to see the steward regarding supplies and two horses.”

“I only need one horse, Lord Oruen,” Scratha said stiffly.

“What about your servant? Is he to run at your stirrup? Take two, and a pack-mule if you need one.”

Scratha turned a glare on Idisio.

“I don’t know that I’ll need a servant on this journey,” he said after a moment, turning a markedly more polite glance to the king. “I’ll move faster traveling alone, and I’m used to doing for myself. Taking this one on was . . . a whim. I’ll find another place for him, before I leave.”

Intuition prodding him hard, Idisio gave in, hoping for better results this time, and matched the desert lord’s quick recovery with his own before the king could speak.

“My lord, I’m no whim. Just the other day you said you couldn’t do without me! And I really don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Take your servant along,” the king ordered before Scratha could speak. “He’ll come in handy, and he seems devoted to you: not something to toss aside lightly.”

“Indeed,” Scratha said.

Idisio shivered at the ice held in that single word, and wondered whether he’d made a very bad mistake after all.

#

The wall crashed up behind Idisio, and his breath thumped from his lungs at the impact. Idisio rolled away from Scratha’s reaching hand and scrambled to his feet. Settling into a crouch, weight on his toes, he kept his eyes fixed on Scratha.

“Wait,” he said, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. “Wait, my lord, please. . . .”

The man fairly steamed with fury. Idisio didn’t think Scratha would dare to kill him, since they both had the king’s notice now, but he suspected a hefty helping of bruises for his insolence loomed in the near future.

Idisio let the plea hang in the air and watched with intense relief as the madness slowly faded from Scratha’s eyes, leaving behind a simpler and safer version of that anger.

“I’ll ask you again,” Scratha said. “Who sent you?

What the king had said helped Idisio understand the desert lord’s obsession, but made a convincing reply no easier to craft.

“Nobody, my lord,” Idisio said. “I’m just a simple street thief. I made a mistake, trying for your pocket.”

“And as a simple street thief you nailed yourself to my side in front of the king?” Scratha demanded.

Idisio lifted his hands in a helpless gesture. “It’s a better life than scrounging half-bits for a living, my lord; can you blame me for trying?”

“I don’t believe you.”

Idisio shrugged and straightened. “Will you take my service, my lord, or am I out on the streets again? If I go back on the street now, after walking into the palace by your side, I’ll be dead by nightfall.” An outright lie, which was dangerous with a desert lord; but it would resonate with the man’s paranoid fears.

Scratha stared at him, anger easing further, and finally said, “Very well.”

Idisio let out a very quiet sigh of relief through barely parted lips.

“Get your belongings, then, and meet me back here,” Scratha said, turning away.

Idisio thought back over his small, carefully hidden cache of possessions; nothing there worth the trip to gather. A small dagger, a ragged shirt, a worn pair of sandals, a handful of coin that looked pitiful next to what he hoped to make now—if Scratha intended to pay him as a servant rather than use him as a slave. It seemed worth the risk.

“I have nothing to get, my lord.”

“Sit quietly, then.”

The noble knelt at a low wooden desk, pulled a quill, ink, and three pieces of parchment from the shallow drawers as though he’d known they were there, and began to write. Not being able to read, Idisio could only guess; one looked like a list, the other like a letter to someone. Judging by the frequent pauses, a good deal of thought was going into the writing of both. The third took less time.

Idisio sank to the floor while Scratha wrote, grateful for the chance to rest. His bare feet were scuffed and aching from walking over so much unaccustomed stone. He normally kept to the sand and dirt paths of the city, but almost all of the trip to and through the Palace had been on paved roads and along hard stone corridors.

“Here’s your first task, then, servant,” Scratha said at last, rolling up two of the papers, note inside the list, and fastening a silk ribbon tightly around them. The longer letter he folded and pushed to one side. “Go with that man waiting outside and take these to the steward. They’re just supply lists and directions on what we’ll need,” he added, sounding impatient, as if Idisio had questioned him.

Idisio stood, feeling the weight on his feet as if he were made of lead more than flesh. “You’re not going, my lord?”

“No. I have other . . . tasks to do.”


ABOUT THE BOOK
A THIEF CHOOSES THE WRONG VICTIM.

A DESERT LORD ABANDONS HIS LANDS

A YOUNG WOMAN ACCEPTS A STEWARDSHIP.

THEY ALL FIND THEIR DESTINY ON THE SANDS.

Idisio cuts the wrong purse and finds himself bound to serve a desert lord who just gave up his wealth, his lands, and his name to wander. His new master is the lone survivor of a massacred family and might be insane, but serving him is better than life on the streets.

Lady Alyea accepts the king’s mission to assume stewardship of the desert lord’s abandoned fortress. But the southern desert is a harsh world of violence, suspicion, and politically tangled family clans who worship the old gods. All her courtly manners are useless as she struggles to gain status in a deadly race for a prize she doesn’t fully understand.

Out on the sands, the harsh glare of the sun reveals more about the world—and themselves—than they ever wanted to know.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
eona Wisoker is the author of the fantasy novel Secrets of the Sands, Book One of Children of the Desert. Her work is fueled equally by coffee and conviction; she has been known to take over the entire dining room to deconstruct a difficult novel-in-progress. Addicted to eclectic research and reading since childhood, she often chooses reading material alphabetically rather than by subject or author. This has led her to read about aardvarks, birds, child-warriors, dragons, eggs, faeries, ghosts, horses, and many other random subjects.

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