I’m almost finished editing my gay Epic Fantasy Mate, the seventh book in the Dark Tales of Randamor the Recluse series, and the fourth and last part of The Invisible Hands.
I still need a few days, though. My earlier estimates are off by about a week. Release will be begin November, but not later than the first week.
I will announce the release of Mate first by mail to the subscribers of my New Releases Newsletter, when the book will still be offered at a lower, temporary introduction price. A few days later I will announce the release by a regular blog post, like this one.
If you’re not already subscribed to my New Releases Newsletter, you can do so here if you want.
Meanwhile, to tide you over, you can read a longer excerpt featuring Ehandar, which should please his fan club. It is taken from the penultimate Chapter 15: Serpents in the Grass.
Ehandar unexpectedly meets Queen Emelasuntha. As you can imagine, the confrontation between Anaxantis’s mother and the prince is a bumpy one, and Sobrathi is caught between the two of them.
I had to prune the excerpt a little to avoid spoilers, but even so it may give you some answers to lingering questions you may have had since the first book, Bonds of Hate.
At Marna-Dryff, Ehandar receives news some lords of the Mahpodah and their soldiers have ridden out to intercept Anaxantis, who is returning home with only a small escort. Panicking, he decides to ride out on his own, leaving it to Echron of Syrdunn to follow him with a cavalry unit.
Riding day and night, with only a few rests, he is stopped at the border between Ximerion and the independent city state of Mezyrna by Queen Emelasuntha, Sobrathi, and their men…
Emelasuntha looked inquisitively at Ehandar. Without raising her hand, she made a downward waving gesture. One by one the arrows were pointed at the ground, and the swordsmen relaxed.
“Ehandar,” the queen said. “It has been too long since we had ourselves a good, little chat.”
“I have no time for idle chitchat,” Ehandar replied from high upon his horse. “Let me through. Anaxantis is somewhere on the highway to Rhonoma. He is in grave danger. Or he soon will be. “
“I know. I’m trying to decide whether you are part of the danger he is in.”
Ehandar paled, then anger overtook him. He wanted to lash out at the queen and tell that horrible vulture of a woman he loved Anaxantis and that he would gladly give his own life for him. He wanted to shout at her he would never hurt Anaxantis. Then he remembered the time he had.
“No, I’m not part of the Mahpodah. Why would I be? How could I be? They want us both dead. Let me through. We’re losing valuable time.”
“Sweetie, you’re too tired to be of any help to anyone,” Sobrathi chimed in. “You’d need protection yourself. You’re almost falling from your horse.”
Ehandar wanted to shout he didn’t care, but slowly it got through to him the baroness was right. In his present condition he wasn’t going to be of any use to Anaxantis.
“One of my squires is bringing five hundred cavalry men,” he replied.
“We’ll wait for them together,” Emelasuntha said. “Come down from your horse, and rest for a while.”
“It’s a trap. She doesn’t trust me,” he thought. “She’s going to betray me again.”
“Why aren’t you riding out to help him?” He lashed out, angry and frustrated. “You have men, arms… Why are you still here instead of riding out to protect your son.” He was breathing heavily. “You are no mother,” he spat.
“Sweetie, we are doing the best we can,” Sobrathi said, before the queen could reply. “We had only a vague idea of what the danger could entail. Nothing specific. There are several ways to reach the highway to Rhonoma. We posted guards on as many as we could, and we have only about a hundred men. Once we were told a significant force had crossed the border here, we came as fast as we could. Most of our men are still breaking up camp, some fifteen, twenty miles from here. We must wait for them… and you must rest. Please come down from your horse. I promise you’re free to go whenever you want.” She turned to the queen. “Isn’t he, dear?”
“Yes, of course he is,” Emelasuntha said with a sigh.
“At least wait for your cavalry to arrive,” Sobrathi added. “We have to wait for our men too. We’ll ride together. You can rest meanwhile.” Her eyes pleaded for Ehandar to give in. “You need a rest, sweetie.”
Ehandar hesitated for almost a full minute more. Against his better judgment he dismounted, almost falling down in the process.
“Now,” he thought. “She’s going to take me prisoner now.”
Sobrathi had to help him disentangle one foot from the stirrups.
“Come,” the baroness goaded him on, “we’ll go sit over there, in the grass. Our men will stay here. They’ll tell us the moment they see your soldiers.” She looked at the queen. “Coming, dear?”
“Oh, am I included in your invitation? I thought you might want him all to yourself.”
“Don’t be a sourpuss, dear. It’s most unbecoming.”
They sat down on a grassy elevation in the terrain, using their mantles to sit on.
Ehandar rested his head in his hands, his elbows on his knees. He felt more tired than he had ever been, and he was still worried sick.
“May all the Gods and Goddesses give we come in time,” he said, depressed.
Emelasuntha looked at the prince with a curious expression on her face.
“What happened to the uncouth brute that left Ormidon, over three years ago?” she asked in a soft voice.
Ehandar looked up.
“Huh? Oh, he didn’t exist. I only wore him. Like an armor.”
“An armor? What happened to it?”
Ehandar was still thinking how several hundreds of horsemen were riding toward his brother. His brother who suspected nothing.
“Anaxantis took it away, I suppose. Like he took everything away. He took it all,” Ehandar answered in a monotonous, mechanical way. He smiled weakly. “Later, I found this old, rusty armor. A real one. I wanted something to remind me, I guess… I thought it might restore… I don’t know.”
“And in the end he took that away as well?” the queen asked.
“No. He wasn’t happy with it, but he said nothing. After a while I decided I didn’t need it any longer. I think he wanted it to be my decision.”
“My son can be… harsh. Never without a reason, but still. Some would call it something else.”
“Are you surprised?” Ehandar bit. “He had you for a mother. A cold, unforgiving, cruel mother.” He gave her a pained look, tears welling up in his eyes. “You can be proud. Whatever he did, I had it coming for what—”
Emelasuntha laid one finger on Ehandar’s lips.
“Sweetheart, don’t tell me things I needn’t know. He would kill me.”
The prince stared at her, not understanding. Then he saw she was serious.
“No… No. No, he would never—”
“Yes, he would. I don’t know what happened those first months when you came to the Highlands. I don’t need to know, and I don’t want to know. It’s enough you resolved whatever it was. If it turned out to be something… that caused him pain, I would have to take action. And then he would kill me.”
“Yes. He told me himself he would kill me if I ever hurt you.” Emelasuntha smiled at the memory. “He must love you very much.”
“I know… I never was entirely sure, but I always hoped he did.” Again Ehandar looked at the queen, this time with defiance. “I love him too. That much I know for sure. He would never kill you, though.”
“For you, he would. ‘Whoever touches Ehandar dies,’ he told me, and he added, ‘You have the word of Anaxantis.’ He always honors his word. So, you see, you can be sure he loves you.” She laughed. “And you can also be sure I won’t hurt you.”
Ehandar looked at her with his dark eyes wide open.
“He never told me.”
“Are you surprised?” the queen asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No, I guess not,” Ehandar conceded. He bit his lip. “Why did you hate me so much?”
Emelasuntha was taken aback by the unexpected question.
“Sweetheart, I never hated you. I’ll admit there was a time I thought you were a danger to my son—”
“Oh, sweetie, how could we ever hate you?” Sobrathi cooed. “You were such a sweet, adorable little thing. With those sturdy, fat little legs. Not that you were ever fat. Well, fat in a cute baby-fat kind of way perhaps. But not fat-fat. Oh, and those dark eyes looking out from that pretty little face with that striking black hair. It was shorter then, of course. You were shorter then, come to think of it. How could—”
“Babbling, dear,” the queen interrupted her. “You’re babbling again.”
The baroness pouted but went silent.
“You sent me away. Why did you send me away? I was barely three when you got rid of me. Couldn’t you stand the sight of me anymore?”
Emelasuntha let out a deep sigh.
“Ehandar, when your mother—”
“For the longest time I thought you were my mother,” Ehandar shouted in pain as an old wound ruptured and hurt anew. “You sent me away to some stupid, cruel nannies. I kept asking where my mother was and why I couldn’t be with her. Why she didn’t want me anymore. They told me you died, and when I said I had seen you walking in the garden, they said you were not my mother. I kept insisting you were, and they beat me for it.”
“Ehandar, listen… let me explain. I kept an eye on you, from a distance. When Sobrathi told me your little arms were bruised, we investigated. Perhaps you remember, or not, but we got you different nannies. Handpicked by us. The others…” Emelasuntha made an indistinct gesture with her right hand. “Believe me, they knew all about bruises when we were done with them. In any case, they never got near you again.”
“You were the only mother I had ever known. Do you know how it feels when your own mother disowns you because she’s had a new baby son she likes better? You can’t imagine how it made me feel. For years I resented Anaxantis for taking you away from me.”
“Ehandar, how old are you?” the queen asked.
“Twenty. I will be twenty-one by the end of the year.”
“I was twenty-one when your mother died. Assandra was my friend. It was for her we came to the court in Ormidon. Because she too felt lonely. Then she fell ill and died. She made me swear I would take care of you. The others… they were old enough, but you, you were her darling. It… It wasn’t easy. Your mother was only a few months in her tomb, when your father began courting me. He as well had asked me to stay for your sake. Perhaps that was just what he wanted me to believe. Whatever the case, one thing led to another. The Tanahkos dynasty needed a prestigious alliance, and the Royal House of Mekthona had nothing but prestige. And a weak king, not to mention an empty treasury. At the time it seemed a convenient arrangement for all parties concerned. Besides, I liked your father.”
“Why couldn’t I stay with you? You could have told me later. Gently.”
“Ehandar, what do you want from me? I told you, I was twenty-one, a young girl—”
“You were the Maiden on the Walls.”
“Oh, that… That was easy compared to becoming a member of the Royal House of Tanahkos. I was inexperienced in the intricacies of Ximerionian politics. I loved your father, and I felt guilty about it. It seemed as if I was betraying Assandra. I was alone, except for Sobrathi. We were alone, I should say. We hadn’t even begun to gather the Tribe of Mekthona. We—”
“You were alone?” Ehandar erupted. “It was I who was alone. They told me my mother wasn’t my mother. My real mother was someone else whom I couldn’t remember. You can’t get more alone than that.”