New Stormstruck Snippet…

The fantasy proposal I’m working on for my awesome-sauce agent, Ginger, is going so well — I’m sharing a snippet.

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Bootsteps pounded as a number of guardsmen managed to flank them and get ahead; half of them footmen jogging behind outstretched shields and the other half archers with longbows at the ready.  They were too smart to try and turn their Queen when she obviously had her mind made up, but they were equally determined to keep her as safe as it was in their power to manage.  Out of mutual respect, she didn’t order them to fall back so she could be the first person to the end of the dock.  Instead, she calmly slowed her steps and stopped a dozen paces behind where they had taken up position.  She assumed one of the regal poses her Queenly mother had once taught her, took a bracing breath, and then glanced out toward the waiting ships.

“Oh Goddesses!”  Kaitiana couldn’t hold back the soft exhalation as she realized it was a hundred times worse than she could have ever dreamed.

Domilee Syristan himself stood at the helm of his fearsome flagship, muscular body held as erect as a statue carved from marble and expression just as impassive as that coldest of stone.  Dozens of men and women spread out behind him, most of them wearing the slate gray uniforms of Imperial Metallurgists.  The only thing that brought her the slightest shred of hope that something could be salvaged from this face-to-face confrontation was the fact Domilee was elegantly garbed in cobalt blue rather than the traditional blood-red of a ruler waging war.

But then her gaze moved to the vessels to the left and right of that Imperial flagship, and all hope vanished.  She barely managed to keep her own expression neutral when she saw who stood in the midst of armed guards on those two vessels.  Each little boy wore miniature versions of his father’s cobalt trousers, silken undershirt and matching overcoat; each had his mother’s dark skin and hair paired with his father’s piercing green eyes.  While both boys seemed ecstatic to be where they were, especially when they caught sight of their beloved Aunt Kaitiana, that was only because neither knew the extreme danger they were currently in.  Domilee would not have brought his only two children who had royal blood on both parental lines–and could thus someday inherit the Imperial Throne–unless he intended to send her a clear message.

Her heart pounded and her palms grew sweaty but she shoved her fear beneath the surface and strode forward several more steps to meet Domilee Syristan’s gaze.

It took every ounce of bravado she possessed to smile coolly and bow her head the slight fraction she would have to another ruler of the same rank.  Perhaps not the wisest choice, since she should have dipped into a small curtsey because the Emperor, both technically and realistically, out-ranked her.  However, she had refused to ever bend knee to this man and she had no intention of starting now.

“Greetings, Imperial Majesty.”  She had always found it far easier to grant him his official title rather than bowing; a good thing considering her nephews’ current precarious position.  “To what do we owe this unexpected visit?”

Domilee’s lips curved in the suggestion of a smile.  “Greetings to you, my darling betrothed.”  The impact of his words almost made her flinch, but she mastered her emotions just in time.  “As you can see, I came to escort you to our wedding in high style.”  Any hint of a smile disappeared as he gestured to one boy and then the other.  “And your loving nephews came to ensure their future stepmother’s…”  He deliberately let his words pause momentarily.  “…comfort.”

What he really means is my “cooperation.”  Kaitiana exchanged a sidelong glance with Virrem, whose lips were clenched tightly.  They had known Domilee might someday use his sons as bait to encourage her to wed him willingly, but never had they anticipated he would place them directly in harm’s way between two opposing Navies.  After all, they were currently the only two of his children eligible to inherit his Throne.

She pretended to smooth her billowy trousers while in reality using them to dry her palms.  “I am grateful for your…care and attention, Imperial Majesty.  Unfortunately, I regret that official business makes it difficult for me to leave my nation as of yet.”

Domilee leaned forward, his striking emerald eyes seeming to pierce straight into her soul.  “Don’t fret, my heart.”  His too-sly gaze shifted to the man at her side.  “Your uncle is certainly capable of handling any official business during your absence.  I know just how loyal and dependable he has proven in the past, and just how loyal and dependable he will prove in the future.”

With those last words, the circle of Metallurgists around him shifted, and four frightened young women were herded into view.  Uncle Virrem let out an inadvertent curse at the same time Kaitiana recognized the women as her cousins–the ones who had been sent to the south of Valdaren as security in the event she was forced to take her own life, ending the direct royal line and freeing one of them to inherit.  The eldest of the four, Virrem’s daughter Virella, glared at the Metallurgists in her immediate vicinity before turning her attention to comforting her fellow captives.

Kaitiana wanted to stomp her foot on the wooden deck and throw something–or someone–into the ocean.  Not only was the Emperor signalling his willingness to use his own sons as hostages for her cooperation, he also possessed all four of the women who the magic would most likely pass to once one of them became pregnant.  The intention was clear:  if she didn’t fall in line, she put her nephews’ lives at risk; and, if she chose to take her own life, he would simply impregnate each of her cousins until one of them birthed the royal heirs.

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