Your Own Worst Adversary

I wrote a story that I can relate to personally. So many of us try to make our pain or illness more palatable to others (and ourselves) by resorting to humor. It’s a joke now that millennials suffer from near constant existential crises. Low wages, high costs of living, the crippling weight of student loan debt that so many of us were promised we’d easily pay off. These things are true in many countries around the world, but not all. But for those that do suffer under the weight of the odds stacked against us, I hope this story is cathartic in how you can relate to it. I hope you know you’re not alone.

 

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“I’m both my biggest fan and my biggest enemy,” she said laughing. Her friends all laughed too, agreeing vehemently, comrades in their self-loathing.

Later that night, she sat alone in her bedroom, dirty dishes piled high on her desk, bed linens unwashed these past four months.

“I’m not going to apologize for being me,” she posted on social media as she painted her nails red.

Her worth was exponentially higher than she would ever acknowledge, although her heart yearned to believe it.

Serotonin and dopamine, too low most of the time, spiking only when she gave voice to her pain.

©2019 Heather Stephens

Short Story – A Mother’s Love

For this blog challenge post (thanks Amanda McCormick!) we were asked to pick a few elements from a dream we had and then incorporate them into a short story. All writing prompts I’ve received lately, I’ve turned into short stories that take place in the same universe as my upcoming fantasy romance novel.

My dream was about my mother. I won’t go into it, but I have a painful relationship with my mother.

It was the perfect inspiration for this story.

Please enjoy.pexels-photo-458766

 

“Ardia takes after you because she has no gift for music,” Olivia sil Varstra complains to her husband, Prego. He peers up at her from the book he’s reading, a grimace on his face.

“What does she need music for? She’s my heir. She will inherit the preeminent estate in the kingdom. She doesn’t need to focus on music. If she wants frivolity, she can hire someone. There’s a reason we support artists in this kingdom.” He’s said his piece, engrossing himself back into his letter. After a moment he puts it aside and picks up a different document.

“She needs to be well-rounded, or she will not interest Tahm sil Aldrich.” Olivia sits down on a chaise in the center of the room. “We have a chance to merge the economic empires of the two most important estates in the kingdom. Together we’d cover two-hundred square miles of the kingdom.” She shakes her head. “No. I must insist that you write to the University and enroll her in music classes.”

Prego tosses the document he’s trying to read on the desk. “That’s enough. Her lessons in economics, statecraft, and history are well enough. The contract has been signed less than a week, and you’re already getting skittish.”

Olivia’s face sours. “You supported marrying her to sil Aldrich as much as I did. Do. I still think it is for the best. Tahm is a strapping young man. He can protect her from whatever comes.” She looks at her hands; she is not yet old enough for them to show her age, although she knows the day is coming. Still, at not yet forty, she is young enough to still appear pleasing. She decides to try a different tactic. “He won’t want to protect her if she’s boring,” she says, pouting her lips and batting her eyelashes.

Prego sighs deeply and looks at the ceiling, pleading with the Lord and Lady for the strength to persevere. “Olivia, don’t do that. As much as I value your input, I said no. She has only a year left at University, and if she wants to receive the marks that will earn the respect of her peers, she must focus.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose. “And do not tell me that I supported it. My decision to join with sil Aldrich was born of two desires: to keep her safe and to keep Tavaria safe from whatever darkness rises across the border in Amerilis. If there had been any other way, any at all, I would have preferred it. She is too young.”

Olivia scoffs, abandoning with frustration her pretense of coy persuasion. “I was fifteen when you married me. You did not think I was too young.” Her voice quivers, as if she is hurt by his double standard, but is too proud to address it outright.

Prego groans, tossing his hands in the air, reaching for some sort of divine aid that will not come. “You were not, are not an heir. Heirs typically marry at age twenty-three, as I was when I married you. You know this. You know this. And yet you harry me with your incessant nagging!”

He rises to his feet and leaves his office, ignoring Olivia’s demand that he stay and discuss their daughter’s future. She stands too but does not leave. Instead, she paces for a time, stopping every once in a while to stare out the window into the front garden, watching the grand reflecting pool ripple with the falling rain. The roses will bloom beautifully this year, she thinks to herself.

Decision made, she makes her way to the desk from which her husband departed. She finds a blank parchment and dips a quill into a bottle of ink.

Lord sil Aldrich,

What’s done is done, and I do not regret my decision to join our two great estates for the benefit of both us and all of Tavaria. With your armies and my husband’s resources, we will defend this great land from the threat in the east.

However, I must ask once again for you to alter the contract. While your brother is a fine young man, I worry that he is not the right fit for my daughter. He is a rumored playboy and a sportsman, and I worry that his attention will wander in the time after she is busy running sil Varstra and before he inherits sil Aldrich. If you will not take her hand in marriage, as I would prefer you to do, will you not at least abdicate your position so that Tahm is already made Duke before he weds Ardia? By doing so, you ensure their matrimonial bliss as they will both be far too busy to pay any attention to their significant differences.

You are a man made wise by loss and experience. I am confident you will see the wisdom in my request.

Warmest regards,

Her Grace Duchess Olivia sil Varstra

 

She sends the letter that day, sending her least favorite servant into the storm to find a courier in the nearest village, Losenta.

After that, Olivia is perfectly placid. She smiles at the servants, initiates lovemaking with her husband, and mostly keeps to herself. She possesses the utmost confidence that Perael sil Aldrich will acquiesce. She has never been more confident. Of course, he will agree to my terms, she thinks. I approached him with logic. Men cannot abide illogical arguments, but mine made perfect sense. He really has no choice.

The rest of the spring season passes with no response, but Olivia does not give up hope. But the smile on her face is tighter. Her lovemaking overtures become desperate. The manner in which she communicates with her servants is strained. She loses patience.

The first day of summer, three days before her daughter is to return home from University, she finally receives a response.

Olivia,

While I appreciate your concern for the happiness of my brother and your daughter, I must again tell you that I have no intention of marrying again. I made my decision long ago, and as long as Tahm is alive, I have no reason to reconsider it.

As for your other suggestion, I must firmly remind you, with all due respect, that sil Aldrich is my estate. It is not yours to command at will. I assumed the mantle of Duke sil Aldrich seventeen years ago, and I am most capable of deciding what is best for my estate, and what is not. Your suggestion that I abdicate in favor of my brother is, at this time, not what is best for my estate.

Again, I thank you for your concern, but it is misplaced. The marriage will take place, as planned. The moment your daughter leaves for Cantrop, I will dispatch my men to assist you in the defense of Tavaria, as agreed.

Respectfully,

His Grace Duke Perael sil Aldrich

Without a word, Olivia tears the letter into shreds, letting them fall to the ground of her bedroom. Tears well up in her eyes as white-hot rage courses through her very bones. Blinking back the tears, she bites through the tip of her tongue as she fights the urge to scream. She grits her teeth, feeling as if her bone marrow has been replaced with acid.

When the heat of her anger passes, reduced to a persistent simmer, she sits on her bed.

Olivia is forced to consider that she is not in control. Not of sil Aldrich, whom she thought she had successfully manipulated. Not even of her husband, who more and more refuses her requests.

But she will not cry. She will never cry.

Roof

The prompt for this one was “roof.” If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I try to avoid expressing things explicitly, choosing instead to allude to sensations and emotions. I hope they come afross clearly.

I get overwhelmed when I attend places with too many stimuli, like Disneyland or a carnival. Busy places with large crowds always exhaust me. People with sensory issues are vulnerable in places like that because the stimuli overwhelm them, and they lose cognitive clarity and sometimes are unable to function safely. Look out for one another in this hectic world.

 

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The bright lights overwhelmed her vision, and her eyes were beginning to hurt. She tried to regain control of her breathing—in, then out. Count to three. In, then out.

It wasn’t working.

She tried to smile warmly at the children shrieking with joy at the attractions, but deep down, she resented them. It was one o’clock on a weekday. Why weren’t these kids at school?

She wanted to go on one more ride, or play one more carnival game, but that wouldn’t happen. She hated that she had to leave, that she wasn’t strong enough to stay. Sensory overload.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Freedom

A new story. Bittersweet this time. The prompt was “freedom.

I’ve been swamped with schoolwork, but it didn’t feel right to me to write about being free from school. As inspiring as a story about a graduation after years of struggle would be, it just didn’t fit in my mind. And, of course, look around you. I wasn’t going to write about patriotic freedom either.

So I found some other inspiration.

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She never thought she’d be okay again.

She’d grown accustomed to his warmth, his lingering presence. Sleeping alone was foreign to her, and she got no rest the first and second nights.

But on the third, she found she was already starting to spread out as she slept instead of sticking to the left side, her side.

The whole bed was her side now.

It wasn’t what she expected. It certainly wasn’t what she wanted. But she had always prided herself on her tenacity and drive to work with what she had. She made her own destiny.

Slowly happy again.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Villein

The prompt for this week from Thin Spiral Notebook was villein, which means “a feudal servant entirely subject to a lord.”

This story is open for your interpretation. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the subtext, who these characters are, what they want.

 

 

dude

 

She blinked up at him demurely, batted her eyelashes.

The blond man smiled at her. What a pretty thing, he thought. What a pretty, little, stupid thing.

He pulled her closer, sliding his hand from the small of her back to rest on her behind. She tittered sweetly.

“My lord, we mustn’t. I heard your brother, he said you’re not allowed—”

He captured her mouth with his, silencing her.

She melted into his arms, like he knew she would.

He could always tell when a woman needed his help. A night with the heir grants commoners a little status.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Body Image

For school, I’m reading a lot of literature about body image in both men and women, boys and girls. It got me thinking, so I wrote this.

 

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She prepares her breakfast at ten in the morning. A little late, but she’d foregone the alarm today on purpose.

Self-care is allowing yourself the freedom to exist as is.

Months ago, she skipped breakfast most days. And lunch. She’d have lean protein and vegetables for dinner.

But today she is having a breakfast burrito. She had the same thing yesterday. She will likely have the same thing tomorrow.

She loves the way her hair now gleams in the sunlight. She loves the way her thighs now touch. She loves herself. Genuinely.

Self-care is living life on your own terms.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Mule

The prompt was mule. One of the definitions of the word mule is:

a hybrid plant or animal, especially a sterile one.

 

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My mother was a sex worker. My father was a married man, well-respected in his industry. I’m not sure where that leaves me. My mom did the best she could to support me, but when she died, she didn’t leave me with any knowledge of how to take care of myself.

So I turned to him.

My father didn’t want anything to do with me, but he was wealthy enough to give me a stipend every month, so at least I could eat.

Then he died too, and I was left to go hungry.

I don’t know who I am.

©2018 Heather Stephens

Perael’s Wife

Amanda McCormick with another prompt for her ongoing blog challenge. The prompt was this:

Make a list of five things you’re afraid of happening to you. Then write a story in which one of them happens to your character.

Here is my list:

  1. My husband leaving me.
  2. My children dying or getting sick.
  3. Being forgotten.
  4. Failing in school.
  5. Not having a legacy to leave behind.

Content warning: this story features two male characters from my upcoming fantasy novel and deals with heavy themes, including the death of a child (only the cause of death is mentioned, and the child does not die “on-screen”).

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To His Grace Duke Perael sil Aldrich,

Word has reached our ears of the tragic death of your beloved son Marcus. While I know my husband has already written you, I also know there are no words that could bring you or your wife any comfort. While we have a living heir in my daughter Ardia, who I had thought to marry to your son, we have also experienced loss. We’ve buried two boys, one to crib death and the other to a reaction to goat’s milk. I tell you this because I feel that it is important in this time for you to understand that the cycles of life spare no one, and it is your duty to move on. Murietta’s heart breaks now, I am sure of it, but once you’ve given her sufficient time to grieve, you must get her with child again. Take whatever wisdom the gods have graced you with and secure your bloodline. There will be more children yet.

 

Regards,

Her Grace Duchess Olivia sil Varstra

 

He received the letter yesterday. According to his stewardm word of his son’s drowning had reached sil Varstra twenty-three days ago. A week later, they’d dispatched their sympathies, and told the messenger to ride hard.

Perael didn’t know whether to be comforted or annoyed by the Duchess’s letter. He still hadn’t come to terms with his son’s death, and he was not ready to ask his wife to move on. He couldn’t. Not when every time he went to bed, he saw her tear-stained face. She was always silent now, the tears falling in quiet streams. Sometimes Perael could tell she stopped crying hours ago, but she hadn’t cleaned her face.

And she’d always been so devoted to her appearance.

Murietta was a quiet woman who loved to paint. Unlike Perael, a Tavarian patriot, Murietta Dekis had been born in Amerilis. Their customs were similar to Tavaria’s in many ways, but she had always seemed an odd duck to Perael. Warmth in her eyes, but ice in her words.

Perael was only barely twenty-one. He’d never known how to deal with people. His ten-year-old brother, Tahm, was more vivacious and liked than Perael had ever been.

It was too bad Tahm wasn’t the heir, but what would a ten-year-old do with an estate like sil Aldrich? He had no concept of trade and statecraft. The port city in sil Aldrich alone was a nightmare to maintain and protect, to say nothing of the wine exports.

Perael crumbled up the letter and tossed it in a wooden basket near his desk. Olivia sil Varstra could keep her sympathies. He had no use for them. Her husband, Prego, had known just what to say in his own letter, and Perael didn’t need the callous urgings from Olivia to tell him what to do. Besides, he had far too many things to do.

“Carlotta!” he called. After a moment, his elderly housekeeper arrived. She’d been with the family since his grandfather’s time, when he’d saved Perael’s grandmother back when sil Aldrich barely scraped by thanks to its port city.  “Is Her Grace ready for supper?”

Carlotta shook her head, leaning on her cane. “She sent us out of her drawing room an hour ago. She stated she wished to be left alone and she would dress herself for dinner. I’m afraid I don’t know if she was able to do so.”

Able to do so. She’d not dressed for meals in the three months since Marcus’s death, save for when he’d insisted she let her handmaidens do it for her.

“I’ll go see her,” he said. He rose from his chair and crossed the room, leaving Carlotta to waddle after him at her snail’s pace.

He climbed the stairs, but as he did so, he experienced a strange wave of foreboding. He shook his head. Maybe Olivia is right. Three months is more than enough time to grieve, he thought.

He swept into Murietta’s drawing room and found her at her easel. Before her was a canvas with swathes of deep gloomy blue painted on it, but nothing else. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? That she’s painting again. It must be good.

He took a closer look as he approached. Murietta blinked at the easel, ignoring him, a paintbrush in her hand with black paint dripping from the bristles onto her dress. It’s a good thing that dress is black. That would never come out, Perael thought.

“Darling, are you ready for supper?” he asked gently, placing a hand on his wife’s shoulder. She jumped, startled from some melancholy reverie.

“I tried to capture…everything, on the canvas,” she said softly, “but I couldn’t imagine anything beyond the blue. I thought it would help, but all I see is blue.” Tears welled up at the corners of her eyes.

“You can try again tomorrow. You’re off to a great start,” he said. “You’ll see more tomorrow.”

She shook her head almost imperceptibly, but put the paintbrush down on the tray near her chair and allowed Perael to pull her to her feet. She stood apart from him with naught but her hand on his arm as they walked down to the dining room together.

Dinner was a quiet affair with only the sound of the forks clinking against the plates. He tried to engage her in conversation, but she merely pursed her lips together and nodded or shook her head in confirmation or otherwise.

“Would you like to fill in the pond?” he finally asked, ignoring the niggling in his stomach urging him not to broach the subject. Murietta dropped her fork onto her plate, then jumped at the loud clatter it caused. She peered at him from across the table, her blue eyes wide, made all the brighter by the copper halo of unbrushed hair framing her face.

She said nothing, only peered at him.

“If it would make you feel better to fill it in before we have children again, I’ll gladly fill it for you. We can turn the location into a new stable. Tahm seems to like horses and if he keeps asking for new ones, we’ll have nowhere to put them all,” Perael explained. He met her eyes. Surely a practical solution and the promise of more children to love and horses to ride would cheer her up.

Murietta’s copper flesh was pale, the blood completely drained away from her face and collarbone. She looked like a ghost, wild and reckless with all the despair of the undead.

“Again?” she whispered. “Children again?”

Perael put his fork down and splayed his hands in front of him in a placating gesture. “I’m not saying we need to, you know, make another one tonight, or even this week. Not even this month. But in time, I do need an heir and I think you won’t truly be whole until you have another child to love.”

“Another child,” Murietta whispered. She blinked slowly three times, before silently pushing her chair back and walking out of the room.

Perael watched her go and said nothing. She just needed time.

He went to his office and read a few more letters and drafted several responses, but he couldn’t get Murietta off his mind. He was worried about her, but she was painting again. That seemed more promising than anything else in the past month.

It was late when he went to bed. Murietta was already asleep. Good, he thought to himself. She needs her rest. It’s been a while since she’s received any.

Confident that his beautiful wife would feel better in the morning with his promises of future children and a safer home, he fell asleep quickly.

When he awoke, he realized it was quite late. Usually, he woke no more than an hour after dawn, when Murietta rose to spend time in the nursery, as she always did since she’d fallen pregnant five years ago. Based on the light, it was clearly at least four hours after dawn.

It was at that moment that Perael realized Murietta was still in bed. She lay in the same position she’d fallen asleep with her arm over her eyes, shielding them from any light. He considered that that may be why she was still asleep. The morning light hadn’t woken her yet.

He leaned over her to kiss her cheek. As he did so, his blood chilled.

She was cold. No warmth of blood flowing beneath her skin. Her arm fell rigidly away from her as he moved her, her eyes slightly open and glazed over.

Perael put his head against her chest and heard nothing. He knew, but he kept trying. He shook her, gently at first, then violently. Her rigid body gave no response.

He sat back on his heels on the bed and drank in the sight.

His wife was dead in her own bed at the age of twenty. Only twenty.

He called out for Carlotta, his deep voice steady but hoarse. When the old woman entered the room and saw him still on the bed and the haphazard way Murietta’s body lay, she didn’t speak a word. She made it to Perael’s side as quickly as she could and gently pulled him off the bed. He stumbled but kept his eyes on his wife.

Not his wife. His wife wasn’t there anymore.

He didn’t hear Carlotta call for the steward. He didn’t hear her call for footmen. He stood in his underthings in the corner of the room and watched wordlessly as she dealt with it. As she dealt with his problem, his own problem, because he couldn’t.

It was his fault. He’d pressured her too early. She hadn’t been ready to hear about children. If he’d given her more time…If he’d been a better husband, if he hadn’t buried himself in his work.

His hand covered his mouth as nausea washed over him.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a small figure enter the room. With golden-red hair so like his dead wife’s, Tahm looked like he could have been her son.

Perael decided right then that he would not remarry. His carelessness had cost him too greatly. His heir would be Tahm. Tahm would marry. Tahm would carry the bloodline.

But for now, Tahm was crying. The boy was only ten years old, for pity’s sake.

Perael took his brother into his arms and allowed himself finally to weep.

 

 

Dark

We’re not afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of whatever it is that is lurking, able to see us, but we can’t see it. How can you fight something you don’t see coming? How can you flee if you don’t know what chases you? Or if it’s chasing you?

A fear of the dark is a fear of the unknown.

 

 

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For the most part, she liked living alone.

Top floor, three padlocks on the door. She put wooden dowels in every window. No one would be opening them. Not even her; she kept forgetting about the dowels whenever she tried to air out a room after deep-cleaning.

But she worked swing shift, stepping off the bus at eleven and walking through her door at eleven thirty. She always asked the doorman if everything was fine, and he never reported any problems.

Still.

Every creak, every noisy neighbor, every shattered bottle in the alley made her skin crawl.

Haunted by shadows.

©2018 Heather Stephens

The Duke and the Thief

I’m doing a blog challenge put on by Amanda McCormick. She gave this prompt: a stolen ring, fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger. I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I thought this blog challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to write a short story from the universe in which my upcoming novel takes place. I offer it to you here, for free. Sort of to give a taste of the kind of writer I am when I’m not cramming ideas into a hundred words.

Enjoy!

 

Molly

 

All she could determine about the shrouded figure in the corner was that he was a man. She considered her options. The ring she’d pilfered from her lady’s coffer was in a pouch tied to her garter—the garter she’d taken off so she could sleep comfortably.

Stupid. On the run from the duke’s guards and she thought of comfort? She shouldn’t have dreamed of being comfortable until she was over the border into Amerilis. What kind of thief was she anyway, to have fled only two town over before stopping to rest?

A piss-poor excuse of a thief, even if she’d only even taken the job out of desperation.

The ring, rumored to be magic and protective against liches, was the only target of her caper. First, she’d been instructed to take a job working for Duke sil Varstra’s daughter, his heir. The sil Varstra child had the ring, although to Molly’s reckoning she’d had no idea of its power. She’d be off to university soon, and Molly hadn’t had time to grow attached.

She was an odd child anyway. Fourteen and colder than ice, and she always peered at you so strangely, glancing above your head before she’d answer any questions.  It gave Molly chills just thinking about it.

So she’d taken the ring. She made it two villages over, with barely ten miles to the border of Amerilis, and she’d stopped. She’d stopped! What kind of fool was she to think she could steal from sil Varstra and get away with it? An uneducated girl like Molly could have married a farmer boy and lived life in blissful peace, but no.

No, for the sake of her piece of shit brother, she’d taken this gamble. Her once-in-a-lifetime gamble to square all his misbegotten bets. And based on the way the stranger in the corner was watching her as she pretended to be asleep, she’d lost.

The man wanted the ring. Molly was sure of it. If it came down to it, if she could just get to the window across from the ring, she could throw herself out of it. She’d break a bone or two on the way down, but she’d come away with her life. More than she could say if the man had his way.

Dressed in only a pale pink shift, Molly quietly took a deep breath and rolled out of bed, landing on her feet in a crouch on the left side of the poorly stuffed mattress. She lunged headfirst toward the window open to the summer night.

The wind was knocked out of her as someone grabbed her shift from behind, pulling the collar tight against her throat. She reached for the window in desperation, her eyes watering.

Now she’d face her doom.

Instead of a knife to the throat, the hooded stranger tossed her back onto the bed. “Where is it?” a smooth, deep voice asked.

This wasn’t Molly’s fight. She knew not why the yellow priest from Amerilis wanted the ring, and she wasn’t about to die for his chance to have it. She gestured to the foot of the bed. “On the floor there. In a pouch. You can’t miss it.”

The man moved so smoothly he seemed to shimmer as he took two long steps to the foot of the bed and bent down. He held up her garter with one black-gloved finger. She blushed. “Just take it,” she said urgently. “I’d rather not die for it. I won’t say anything, I swear.”

The man deftly untied the pouch from the garter and pulled out the ring. Content that it was the same ring as the one she’d stolen, he looked back at her. He watched her for a long moment, as if he were deciding whether or not to kill her.

“Please,” Molly begged. Her fists tightened, clenching the threadbare quilt covering the mattress.

The man reached one hand up and pulled his hood off his head, exposing a familiar face above a glowing pendant shaped like a tarantula.

Molly’s jaw dropped and she frantically scooted back on the bed against the headboard.

“Why did you take it?” Duke sil Varstra asked. His salt-and-pepper hair gleamed in the moonlight.

“Someone paid me to do it. They said they’d get my brother out of jail and pay his debts. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, and I don’t want to die. I just wanted to give my brother a chance to see his family again, though I curse him for his sins,” Molly said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

The duke would kill her now that she’d seen him. There was no doubt about it.

“Is your brother so good to you, that you would risk your life for his?” the duke asked, having dropped the garter and was tying the pouch to his own belt.

“It doesn’t matter. His family needs to eat and without him, they’ll starve,” Molly weeped. “Please, I can find another way, but they’ll die if I can’t find a way to feed them, either by getting him out or by sending them my wages.”

“You’ll never get any wages from my House,” sil Varstra said plainly. Molly’s face fell. A thousand crowns for two months work—gone.

The duke turned squarely to face her, taking one step toward the bed. Molly flinched.

“Who was it who hired you?” he asked. Molly couldn’t find a reason to lie.

“Some priest in yellow and blue robes. He was Amerilian. He didn’t offer his name,” she spat desperately.

Duke sil Varstra nodded and untied a pouch from the other side of his belt, opposite to where he’d tied the ring. He tossed it onto the bed, where it clinked. It was practically overflowing with crowns. “Feed your brother’s family. Find work. Don’t step foot in my duchy again,” he said, his baritone voice dripping with disdain.

With that, he left.

Molly let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding and began to weep anew. She’d escaped with her life, but at what cost? She didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to find out. She dressed quickly, tying the new pouch to her garter.

She had a second chance. She wouldn’t waste it.

 

©2018 Heather Stephens