It’s Release Day for Merry Arlan: Finding The Heir (not signed books link) and whether you’ve started, (finished, eek), or are still awaiting the arrival of your copy (or you’re waiting to get the look inside feature, no shade), I’ll offer up this story with one of the main characters of the Guardian Cadet Series. Just in case any of you were interested in how Nathaniel met Lord Smeeten in the first place.
My parents were of the Lackey class, that’s how it works, biological and magical castes. Bowing and scraping to some Lord’s whims, sworn to their service and wrapped up in the magic that kept them tethered there.
And it broke them. Literally in my mama’s case, when she has returned home from her Lord’s house walking on a broken knee. The Lord could have afforded a Healer for her and yet they just hasn’t bothered, hadn’t even taken the time to find out that someone was hurt or having noticed and decided it wasn’t worth their time. In mother’s case, it had been an emotional break. Seeing her paramour like that and having to go away to serve her own Lord regardless of it.
The theory was that I would follow in one of my mothers’ footsteps, I would swear to one of their Lords and my younger sister would do the same. But when my mama had returned with her broken knee, I had run.
The fields around our house belonged to one of the Lords. Everything belonged to the Lords. They gobbled everything up as if it was their right.
We all learnt about it in school. The Unification of the Isles that had set the Ruby Queen as the ruler of all the free Elven peoples, that had cemented this trio of positions. Lords at the top, taking and taking and taking, stepping on top of everyone below them and breaking them just by happenstance. Lackeys like me who had to swear themselves to a Lord, had to subjugate ourselves or lose out on everything. And Laymen, the common person.
What I would have given to be a Layman. Someone free to be who they wanted and do what they wanted. Someone free to travel if they could afford to do so, someone free to make their own choices. Lords claimed Lackeys gained a protection that wasn’t available to Laymen, the guarantee that their Lord would provide them with food and clothing and a roof over their head. But if it came at the cost of working on broken bones, at the cost of watching such horrors happen to your paramour, it hardly seemed worth it.
But what could I do? I was a Lackey. I was born a Lackey, I would die a Lackey. Sooner or later I would have to swear my fealty and there was nothing I could do about it. Elves could tell on sight. Even if I managed to run, to flee to somewhere far away, like the Island of Shima, every Elf I ran across would know what I was meant to be. Every Elf I ran across would treat me either as if I were working at someone else’s order, or as the runaway I was.
I was out of options. Had been born without them. All I had was anger and hurt and the empty, desperate knowledge that I would never escape this life crafted out for me thousands of years ago.
In the empty, dusk-orange tinted fields, a scream blasted up my throat.
Ice spread out around me in sheets. Freezing the plants, the ground, the water in the air into crystalline droplets.
And there, on the road, a carriage slid in the uncontrolled ice.
My chest heaving, I stood, just as frozen as the ice I had unintentionally created.
A Lord emerged from the carriage, all ice blue robes and platinum hair. His features so sharp they could have cut straight through me.
He approached slowly, no issues traversing the newly icy landscape.
I ducked my head.
I’d bothered a Lord and there was no worse action for a Lackey than that.
Soft, cold fingers brushed against my chin, lifting my face until his ice blue eyes pierced me. “Tell me your name.”
“Nathaniel,” I breathed, captivated by the utter control displayed by this man, this Lord. “Nathaniel Larrings.”
“Have you sworn to a Lord yet, Nathaniel Larrings?”
The way he said my name sent trembles up and down my spine. “No.”
“What would it take to get you for myself?”
“What can you offer?”
His smile was just as sharp as the rest of his features. His pleasure bloomed like warmth in my chest. Pride. “I am a favoured Lord of the Queen, and her heir. I can offer to move you to a Courtier’s house on the Rubilse and out of this backwater town, away from whoever it was that set your magic off quite so spectacularly. I can offer to train you.”
Too good to be true. “Why?”
“I have a niece about your age. I need someone for her to spend time with. She’s a little…” His eyes shot to one side and he pressed his mouth closed.
Disappointing? Problematic? Hard to handle?
Did I really want to be some prissy Elven Lord’s heir’s babysitter?
I glanced at the icy field around us, Lord Smeeten and I standing in the epicentre of a hexagon of icy that had destroyed the entire field, coated the road, and begun to make inroads into the surrounding fields.
Those cold fingers tapped at my chin again, refocusing me on Lord Smeeten.
Could it really be worse than here?
Ah, hindsight… You really are an ass.
*This short story is part of the wider universe of the Guardian Cadet Series, which includes the Terya Tales right here on wordpress, a short story exclusively availalbe on my mailing list, and, if you rally love Nathaniel, you’ll find more of him in Merry Arlan: Breaking The Curse and the just out Merry Arlan: Finding The Heir *
I thought about writing a whole book for Nathaniel, but I wasn’t sure if anyone would go for it, especially if it covered some of the same time period as Merry’s books. This was the scene that inspired the thought process.
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