Merry Arlan: Finding The Heir – Chapter One – An Excerpt From A Novel I Actually Did Write

BE WARNED: Spoilers for Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse, book one of the Guardian Cadet Series, lie ahead.

This is your only warning!

Merry Arlan: Finding The Heir is part two of the Guardian Cadet Series, an adult fantasy series with action adventure, heapings of magic, and a delightful heart-warming romance.

Merry has never been a good liar. She is, however, adept at keeping secrets: she’s been passing herself off as human for years.
But that ruse and her position as a Guardian Cadet are called into question when the ElvenQueen summons Merry to fulfil a role she ran away from years ago: Elven Lord.
If she wants out, she has to travel to the Elven Cout — a viper’s nest of lies and schemes that press against her unwilling bond with a lie-detecting, curse-breaking amulet — to find a replacement before the upcoming Mid-Spring Ball.
To deal with the Court and the pain of returning to a house that was once her prison, Merry has to turn to the last person she would expect to help her.
And then assassins begin to strike at leaders on the Rubilse.

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Chapter One (please note once again, the formatting on wordpress is not the formatting in any version of the purchaseable book)

“No,” I said to Commander Whitclé.

His shoulders slumped. “What do you mean no?”

“I mean: no, I’m not the next Lord Smeeten. What do you think I mean no?”

This late in the day, stubble had started to present itself along the Commander’s jaw. His white uniform shirt had wrinkled at the elbows and he slouched in his chair behind the paper-strewn that separated us. For once the lamp I usually fixed my eyes on when staring down Whitclé became too much of a challenge was actually alight; blue glow casting awkwardly through the room and fighting the lingering pink and orange sunset shining through the windows.

“I have a letter from the Elven Queen.” He shuffled through the papers on his desk, shifting them into new, unruly piles. One set spilled across the floor. Both Whitclé and I lurched toward it. “What happened to you filling out that form?” Whitclé asked, returning to focus his rifling on his desk as I re-piled the fallen papers.

That form, the one that refused the title regardless of the previous Lord claiming me as his heir. The form that Kalik had offered after breaking me out of an ill-fated attempt to sneak into the Elven Embassy undetected to retrieve the Amulet Of The Dragon Lord for Guardian purposes. The form that had supposed to allow me to remain Merry Arlan: Individual, rather than Meredith Smeeten: Lord In Training.

“I did,” I argued.  “I filled it out with Kalik the first week of Guardian Cadet Training, and then again after I got let out of the Healers.”

“The second one was after the death of Tellyn Smeeten, which nullifies that paperwork.”

The name hit like a punch to the gut. I stood; face burning with anger and shame. “Well,” I plonked the papers I’d gathered on the desk. “I’m sorry that my best friend was kidnapped. I’m sorry I was drowning under the weight of Guardian Cadet Training, and patrols partnership, alongside my extra research on the Amulet Of The Dragon Lord – a task you assigned, if you remember. And I’m sorry I couldn’t do it all by myself.”

“Couldn’t do what by yourself?”

I gulped. Weakness would be exploited, usually. Not always. Sometimes weakness would be supported. By the right people. “The form.”

Whitclé frowned. “Why not?”

“Because it’s in formal Human and I struggle with basic Human.”

“What do you read?”

“Elvish.” Because I was raised by an Elf on the Elven Isles.

My varied heritage usually left people mistaking me for a Human, a factor I had been exploiting since landing on Shima. I could hardly blame Whitclé for buying into my falsifications, the carefully curated image of my life that I had presented for years. Arlan being a human name gifted by my foster father only added to the curated version of myself.

Whitclé scribbled something down on what looked like a napkin for all its stains and crumpled nature.

Hopefully he wasn’t writing a list of reasons I should never Graduate from the Guardian Cadet Programme. Reason one: is a woman. Reason two: problem with authority. Reason three: isn’t fluent in Human script.

He put his pen down and leaned his elbows on the desk, one open folder crinkling under the pressure. Was that an important pile of documents? Did anything that entered Commander Whitclé’s office come out uncrinkled?

“Cadet Arlan, I’m not trying to be difficult, but you have been named the heir to the title of Lord Smeeten and, since the paperwork regarding your refusal has gone missing and the previous title holder is deceased, you are now Lord Smeeten.”

I flinched. “Please don’t call me that.”

“Because of your current status as–” he stopped and rubbed at the stubble on his jaw. The late evening light cast an orange glow across his deep brown skin. “Because of your current status in the eyes of Elven Law, and the Elven Queen herself requesting your presence, we will have to pause your progression in the Guardian Cadet Programme.”

“What?” I gasped. “I’ve only been a Cadet for a season!”

“This is not me kicking you out. I want to be very clear on that. Not only is there no current reason to do so; unless we cannot resolve this issue, I don’t want to give you the impression that your assistance in Rakael’s case is the only reason for your admission to the GCP. This whole situation is entirely fixable. You don’t even have to cease training with the Cadets for now – it is well precedented for people to send their young men to train with us purely for the title of being Guardian Trained.”

He turned his attention back to rifling through the papers until finally pulling out a red paper folder with the square crest of the Elven Queen stamped across the face of it. Smeeten had received post with that stamp all the time, at least once a month, often resulting in his extended absence from home. That stamp had been the thing that allowed me a chance to run. And now that same stamp compelled me to return.

Whitclé grabbed a plain brown paper folder from the cabinets behind him, the Guardian crest decorated the front of that one, black ink feathering at the edges where it had seeped into the paper. He flipped both open and turned them toward me as he started talking me through the Guardian Rules and their relevance compared to Elven Law in my current situation.


I trudged down the stairs from Whitclé’s office. The door to the Guardian Gym stood open, remnants of a stream of Guardians emerging from it – their workout clothes made figuring out their rank impossible, except one particular one who’s sparkling black eyes met mine.

He offered his farewells to the group of Guardians and jogged over to me. “Merry.”

“Kalik.” Hummingbirds fluttered in my stomach as I glanced at the other Guardians. My relationship with Kalik was still very new, and when we talked about what or whether to tell people, his reluctance screamed out of him in the form of a wince and the suggestion that we should, “keep it to ourselves for now.”

“What brings you to the Five Towers at this time on a Sanday?”

“Commander Whitclé asked me to meet with him.”

Kalik’s eyebrows drew together, the hair that would normally have flopped over his forehead partially obscuring them, instead twisted back in a series of elegant rows. “Oh?”

“Yeah. Apparently the paperwork about me refusing the heir thing didn’t go through in time.”

“Which means?”

I sighed. “Which means I have to find the next viable heir and present them to the Elven Queen’s Court.” Maybe I would be lucky enough to find an heir with ease and present them to the Courtiers in residence at the Elven Embassy on Shima, but somehow I doubted it.

“You want me to talk to Jonathan about it?”

“About what? It’s Elven Law.”

“About how his disorganisation screwed you over.”

I laughed. “You don’t know it’s his fault and giving him a stern talking to won’t change where we are now. Just because you’re obsessed with tidiness doesn’t mean everyone has to be.”

“There’s casual messiness,” Kalik said, “And then there’s Jonathan.”

I laughed again. “You really shouldn’t talk about the Commander of the Guardians like that.”

Kalik leaned closer, conspiratorial. “You’re not going to tell on me, are you?”

“No–” I cut myself off as the Amulet Of The Dragon Lord, embedded in my hand as a delightful, lie-detecting, painful reminder of the events of the last few months warmed under my skin. “– not unless somebody asks me directly and even then I’ll try to talk around it.”

Kalik winced, eyes tracking down to the Healing Runes that had recently begun decorating my arm. I didn’t need to look to know they were turning grey and faded, not only could I feel the strength of the amulet returning, but I spent more of my free time than I cared to staring at the swirling spiky marks. He pressed his mouth closed.

“You’re not still feeling guilty.” It wasn’t a question.

Kalik looked away.

“I’ve told you before, this isn’t your fault.”

“And I’ve told you before that without me you wouldn’t have been anywhere near the amulet or Smeeten.”

“On the other hand,” I argued, “Larrings had already found me. He told me as much. At least this way we had half an idea of what was coming.”

Kalik sighed heavily, rubbing the back of his neck. “Are the Runes doing any good?”

I glared at the most faded Rune, the one on my wrist practically over the amulet itself. They did make a noticeable difference to the impact of the amulet, but somehow that almost made it seem worse whenever it reacted; more so when the Runes were in need of a top up like they were now. Instead of answering, I glanced at the still open door to the Guardian Gym. “You too tired to take on a Cadet, Colonel?”

“I’ll have you know my stamina is unmatched.”

Kalik and I headed through the door.

It was always a little disconcerting when the Guardian Gym was silent and still, the lack of weights clanging and flesh hitting flesh or punching bags, the lack of lingering movement at the edges of the room or the central sparring mats that took up the vast majority of the space.

The last time we had been alone here was when we’d snuck in on a midwinter evening, using Kalik’s key to get past the locked door. The day had been long and stressful, including PT calling me out for failing at teamwork with the other Cadets that resulted in me lashing out at a relatively new friend – further proving his point. Kalik hadn’t tried to reassure me; he’d joked me out of my bad mood and started opening up about his own secrets until I felt comfortable enough to lie with him on the sparring mats.

I leaned against the wall by the door to pull off my boots and shoving them in one of the cubbies before I joined Kalik on the sparring floor. “You just wander around the Five Towers barefoot?”

“I do when I have training and it’s warm enough.”

“You actually had training? You weren’t being an immobilising holds expert?”

“I’ve been training with the weekly Lieutenants’ sessions.”

The light streaming through the glass ceiling revealed the lines of salt on Kalik’s face. PT, the Guardian Personal Trainer, wouldn’t have held back just because he was training the higher ranks – in fact, knowing PT, he probably expected more from them than he did from Cadets like me, after all, they were already trained.

“How come?” I asked.

“Getting back into things after…” he trailed off.

After having been kidnapped, used as bait for me, and been locked in a block of magic ice that had left him on crutches for several weeks.

“You’re not still feeling guilty about that,” Kalik teased.

I stuck my tongue out at him and he launched toward me, starting our sparring match in a rush.

We traded blows but not our usual barbs, each more focused on our own thoughts and movements than either the fight itself or the idea of chatting through it.

Short bursts of fighting, yielding, stretching, and returning to another round.

The Guardian Gym began to fill up, opened to the public once again now that Guardian Training was over for the day. The clang of weights and thunks of punches landing on the bags lining the back of the room filled the space in a reassuring, familiar way.

Kalik yanked me into his favourite immobilising hold: my back flush against his chest. Heat rose in my ears, turning them an awkward pink hidden by my dual plaits.

Kalik’s warm breath brushed over my skin.

A shudder rippled through me. “I yield.” My voice came out breathy. I should have been able to break out of this hold, but my brain had gone completely blank. “Safety word.”

Kalik released me and I stumbled away, breathing hard.

Tingles, almost like pins and needles, fluttered around my body. The heat in my ears spread to my cheeks.

“Merry?” Kalik’s voice came out soft and intimate. “Merry? Are you okay?” His bare feet appeared in my line of sight. His soft fingers brushed against my cheek, encouraging but not forcing my face up to his.

I licked my lips but no words formed.

“Need to know if you’re okay.”

“Of course.” The lie came out all too easy, thoughtless, and setting the amulet alight. Two lies so close together had me grabbing at my hand. “You didn’t hurt me,” I corrected.

Kalik’s eyebrows drew together.

“This is our first sparring session since…” I trailed off, unwilling to discuss our new relationship in such a public setting as the Guardian Gym. Especially since it had already been a… discussion point for some of the less accepting Guardian Cadets I trained with. Manth’s exact words had been, “Colonel’s Bitch” and I hadn’t even been dating Kalik then.

Not that the caution had occurred to me until after Kalik had started being cagey about our being together. Now every moment of closeness had me glancing around to see who might spot us together, regardless of whether it was something we would have done before ever sharing our first kiss.


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Some time in March I’ll be sharing a short story set in the Guardian Cadet Universe – aka one of my Terya Tales – but we’re back to normal short story posting (True Love Theme for February) next week.

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