Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Hand of Father - Chapter 4

Just a reminder that these a unedited chapters from A Hand of Father, which comes out August 12th because I'm a little superstitious that away


A week later, all arrangements had been completed. Yanaba and Elizabeth had already requested a second contingent of Balance wardens while I was being treated by Child. Little Bear would be kept occupied kicking them into shape while I was gone. Elizabeth would take eleven of them with her once the construction of the Temple of Balance on the isle of Tuqan was completed. One of the new trainees would replace Gina here in Orrin.

Little Bear and I sat in my office, reviewing assignments for the trip.

“I’m assigning Dezba and Mylon to accompany you in addition to Gina and Long Feather.” He gave me a look like he expected a battle from me.

I merely asked, “Why?”

“Dezba knows the language, and Mylon won’t have to work as hard to stay awake all night,” Little Bear quipped.

I stared at my chief warden.

“You also need an escort befitting your station as both a chief justice and the queen’s ambassador.”

When I raised my right eyebrow, he added, “Also, they can watch each other’s backs as well as yours. And before you start complaining, Chief Warden Nicholas is taking the same number to guard the high brother.”

I folded my arms over my chest. “I know you, Little Bear. What’s really running through your mind?”

A deadly mien slid over his face. “We have no idea how many demons or skinwalkers are lurking in the desert between here and Diné,” he said softly. “The Temple survivors from Tandor were picked off one by one when they sought help last spring.”

I shouldn’t have needed the reminder. My nightmares about Gerd killing Claudia and Luc’s babe were divided by nightmares from when Luc and I were sent to Tandor and the demon siege of the city.

“Is that the real reason Han and Jax are sending their seconds?” I muttered.

“Talbert is volunteering two of his people as well,” Little Bear said.

I leaned my elbows on my desk surface. “That isn’t going to look good to the Diné Matriarch and her council. It signals we don’t trust them.”

“I really doubt that’s how she will take it.” Little Bear made a slashing motion with his hand. “Not after the reports of the siege from their own Temple personnel—”

Someone pounded on my closed office door. My staff wouldn’t interrupt Little Bear and me unless it was urgent.


Nathan opened the door and bowed. “Sisters Claudia and Zihna of Love are here to speak with you, Lady Justice, along with two of their wardens.” The boy seemed determined to be the perfect squire since I returned to my Temple. I needed to send a message to High Sister Mya about his extreme behavior. Balance knew what emotional damage I’d inflicted in my arrogance, and She knew I didn’t have a moment to make a formal visit with the seat of Child.

I glanced at Little Bear. He shook his head. So, he didn’t know what was going on either. However, I didn’t get a sense of alarm from anyone standing outside my office.

“Very well, but their wardens are going to have to listen in through the door same as my wardens.” My teasing had its effect. Little Bear’s skin heated after my discussion of Long Feather’s eavesdropping. However, Warden Ailyn tittered in corridor.

The bells on the sisters’ robes jingled as they entered my office. Both women wore their public veils, but Claudia was a handspan taller than Zihna. It was tight in my office with just one visitor. Four adults and a child made the space claustrophobic. I hadn’t been joking about the wardens listening in to our conversation.

Claudia inclined her head. “Thank you for hearing us on such short notice.”

“Let me guess. You wish to accompany my little expedition?”

Humor flowed from both women. Claudia handed me a scroll. “High Sister Dragonfly gives her permission for us to accompany you.”

I accepted the scroll, but I didn’t bother cracking the seal. Whatever my personal feelings about the woman, she wasn’t the type for subterfuge.

“Sisters, this is not a clamming trip to Sandy Spit,” I said.

“We’re aware,” Claudia said dryly. “However, we also have heard the stories from our sisters who took part in the Siege of Tandor. Our purpose in accompanying you is twofold. You’ll need every talent you can manage if you encounter demons or skinwalkers.” She sucked in a harsh breath. “And we need to replace the child I lost.”

I frowned, but I didn’t have to ask why Dragonfly didn’t trust sending one of her priestesses to another Temple of Light. Nor did I have to ask why the high sister didn’t press our remaining brothers of Light.

“Sister Zihna, are you sure this is the course of action you wish to take?” I asked. “The trip across the desert will not be an easy one, and I cannot guarantee your safety.”

“She even questioned the sanity of her own wardens who volunteered to accompany her,” Little Bear added.

The sisters laughed while I scowled at my chief warden.

“Well, you did,” he said in an accusing voice.

“Are you two coming with us as well?” I asked of the Love wardens standing just outside my door.

“Yes, m’lady,” they both replied.

“I know you, Warden Jocasta,” I hinted.

Jocasta gestured at her companion. “This is Warden Ekta.”

“Ekta? Isn’t that an Apache name?” I asked.

“Yes, m’lady.” The warden bobbed her head. “According to my family’s stories, she was a survivor of the massacre. A babe hidden by her mother’s corpse from the demons. The name has been passed down.”

I didn’t have to ask what massacre. Every child in Issura knew the story of how the entire Apache Empire stalled a demon army long enough for reinforcements from the surrounding nations to arrive. The names of the survivors were included in a Conflict prayer through out the Long Continents.

“Well met, Warden.” I smiled. “Please do your best to stay away from the Balance wardens. I don’t want your high sister to complain you’ve picked up their bad habits.”

Ekta’s mouth dropped open at my rude statement. However, Jocasta leaned closer to Ekta and said, “They only reflect the manners of their seat.”

“Really, Warden Jocasta?” At Ekta’s appalled expression, Little Bear sniffed. “We are quite mad in our own right without any of our resident justices’s help.”

We all roared with laughter. Even young Nathan giggled.

“All right,” I said when I could catch my breath. “Ladies of Love, we’re leaving right after morning services at the Temple of Light.”

“We will be ready, Lady Justice,” Claudia said. Both priestesses bowed.

“Wardens, make sure you and your charges bring extra water skins,” Little Bear called out.

“We will,” Jocasta assured him before she followed the sisters.

Ekta’s expression said she believed we all should be treated by Child.

I nodded to Nathan, and he closed my office door behind him.

“Are you going to be all right with Claudia accompanying you?” Little Bear said softly.

“I need to be, my friend,” I said. “For all of our sakes.”

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Hand of Father - Chapter 3

Four days later, the smell of Jing tea mixed with the dusty odor of old tomes in my office in the Temple of Balance. I stared at White Eagle, the Duke of Standora and Lord General of the Queen’s Army, who sat in a visitor chair on the other side of my desk.

Luc did the same from his seat next to White Eagle.

“Are you jesting with us, Your Grace?” I blurted.

“Do I look like I am joking, Chief Justice?” he said before scowling at me.

“B-but neither I nor High Brother Luc are in any shape to travel to Diné, much less lead a diplomatic delegation.” I squeezed my cup, wishing the warmth of the ceramic would heat the bones of my hands. Ever since Ming Wei pulled me from the brink of succumbing to the demon grimoire, I felt constantly chilled. Not even sitting in the Temple kitchen while our cook Deborah baked could heat my body, much less my spirit.

“The Matriarch of the Diné requested you two specifically.” A twitch of White Eagle’s lips wouldn’t qualify as a smile on anyone else, but it was the closest the duke had come to expressing any emotion in my presence. “Apparently, you two made an impression on their Reverend Father of Conflict, and the Diné refuse to speak with anyone else from Issura.”

I cleared my throat. It would be best to get things out in the open now, no matter how annoyed the duke may become with me.

“Are you aware the Reverend Father happens to be my biological sire, Your Grace?”

“Better him than me.” The duke waggled his eyebrows. A full-fledged grin filled his face.

I stared at him. “This isn’t funny.”

“Your Grace, with all due respect,” Luc said firmly. “There’s been quite a bit of trauma between the two of us.”

“High Sister Mya has assured the other seats the chief justice is mentally stable enough to resume her duties.” White Feather’s eyes narrowed. “And I’ve heard your fighting abilities with your crutches exceed your skill with a sword when you are not indulging in Vintner’s gifts. Is there something else you’re hiding besides your personal intimate relations that would inhibit either of your diplomatic skills?”

“It sounds like Your Grace is aware of our multitude of sins,” Luc said dryly.

Balance help me, there was one last sin. But if I admitted to the possession of the damn grimoire, every seat of Orrin and every member of my staff faced losing their heads in their conspiracy to free me from the demons’ influence. Or maybe that’s what our enemies were hoping for.

“We’re both concerned about the priestesses with child under our roofs, Your Grace,” I murmured. “Especially after Gerd killed the babe Sister Claudia of Love carried.”

The duke’s nostrils flared. “You killed Gerd in defense of your fellow clergy, did you not?”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Balance, I wanted to shake some sense into him.

“She’s dead. Your priestesses are safe. And you are both going to Diné, Chief Justice, and High Brother Luc will accompany you. That is a command from your orders’ leaders and your queen.” The duke saluted me with his cup. “End of discussion.”

“My Reverend Mother agreed to this?” I said.

White Feather looked at Luc. “She truly does not understand what ‘end of discussion’ means, does she?”

“Only when she says it, Your Grace.”

I could handle the jibes, but I clenched my fists on my lap. A terrible fear had hit me, and again, if I said the wrong thing, more people than me would lose their heads.

“Forgive my bad manners, Your Grace,” I murmured.

A hint of sympathy crossed his features. “Anthea, if I was forced to kill my mother, I would need the care of Child, too. There’s no shame in admitting you need their help, anymore than if you needed to see a healer for a physical injury. I know you’re afraid, but you need to move on. And you know Thief will let us know if you two fail to go.”

For the briefest of moments, I almost told him of our suspicions concerning my own Reverend Mother. The duke had been a Conflict priest himself before he’d received a special dispensation to marry Crown Princess Chiara. But what if the Reverend Mother had twisted his perceptions? Or those of the queen or the crown princess?

Instead, I swallowed the accusations and said, “Yes, Your Grace.”

“However, you two handled the siege admirably and managed to evacuate most of the populace…” While he spoke, the duke reached for a scrap piece of parchment. Using the ink and quill my clerks left on my desk, he scribbled something, sanded it dry, and handed the note to Luc.

Luc’s eyes widened as he read. He looked at me. The queen doesn’t trust the heads of our Temples. She fears it’s more complicated than a few spies within.

The duke didn’t aske me to ward my office because doing so would alert his escort that secrets were being shared. I turned to him and nodded once.

“…both the queen and your superiors trust you to accomplish these negotiations.” The duke pushed to his feet, and Luc and I automatically rose.

“We will not fail the queen,” I said. “Thank you for your trust.”

White Feather held up his right hand. “No need to escort me out, Chief Justice, High Brother. I must pay a visit to Duke Marco. Good morningtide to you both.”

Once he left my office, Luc and I stared at each other. It was the first time we’d been alone together since my mother had killed his son. The weight of this new task sat on the silence.

Luc lowered himself back to his chair and took a sip of tea.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I expected him to leave on the duke’s heels. So I resumed my seat as well. We definitely couldn’t discuss the duke’s note. At my pointed look at Luc’s hand, he stuff the scrap in the duke’s empty cup and concentrated. Wisps of smoke floated from the ceramic as the parchment smoldered.

Unfortunately, that meant we were back to staring at each other.

“I don’t know—” I started to say at the same moment he said, “I know you hate me—”

We both stopped and stared at each other again.

“I never hated you,” I murmured. “And you have every right to be angry with me—”

“I knew exactly what Gerd was capable of.” He exhaled and ran his fingers through his hair. His curls fell past his chin, far longer than he normally kept it, but his face was clean shaven, and he smelled like he’d bathed recently. “So did Claudia for that matter. You’re right. They are using our own idiocy against us.”

He looked at me. “If anything, I owe you an apology.”


“I bedded you because I knew you couldn’t conceive. It was…safe.” His skin turn crimson.

“You know you were assigned to me in the hope you would seduce me, don’t you?” I said.

“Wait. What?” He cocked his head.

“It was part of manipulating me.” I shook my head. “Give me someone to care about.” I waved my right hand. “And then, the edict—”

“Its purpose was to drive a wedge between us.” Disgust dripped from his voice.

“We do need children with Light and Balance talents.” I drummed my fingertips against the grain of my desktop. “It’s like I said the other day, and you did just now. Demons don’t feel emotions the same way we do. It had taken them nearly ten centuries to learn how we interact and function together.”

“So what do we do now?” he asked.

“Start preparing for the journey to Diné—” I said.

Luc chuckled. “No, I meant between you and me. Our personal relationship.”

Balance, help me, I didn’t want to lose him. But I had so much in my mind and spirit I needed to sort out. My feelings thundered over my training in logic. “Can we start over?” I asked. “Maybe not share a bed until we return from this diplomatic trip?”

He nodded slowly. “If that’s what you wish.” But from his tone, it wasn’t what he wanted.

“Luc, I’m scared.” My limbs trembled, and I hugged myself. “I came so close to being swallowed by the grimoire. Just like Gerd was. A-and I was about to strike Nathan. Possibly even kill him. I would have if Ming Wei hadn’t stopped me. I worry Mya is wrong, and I’m still under demon influence. I fear I’ll hurt or kill you when we’re out in the middle of the desert with no one else to keep me in check.”

He held out his right hand. After a moment, I unwrapped my arms and clasped his fingers with my left.

“You won’t do anything to harm me. Do you know why?”

I shook my head.

“Because you are stronger than they know. And despite anyone’s machinations, I love you, and you love me.” He squeezed my hand. “If that’s not enough, remember all the people who welcomed you home the other day. They all care about you, too.”

I returned the squeeze. “The same goes for you. Or is DiCook still banned from your Temple?”

“If you’re mocking me, then you have definitely recovered.” But Luc lift my hand and kissed the back. A flutter of desire ran through me despite my suggestion to start over with our relationship.

“If you miss my taunting, then thank you very much for bathing,” I responded.

He rose from his chair and grabbed his crutches. “And thank you for not stabbing me or beheading me.”

We both grinned, and he gave a slight bow before leaving my office.

Once Luc left, Warden Long Feather poked his head around the edge of the doorjamb. “Do you wish you door closed, m’lady?”

“Leave it open for now, Warden.”

“As you wish, m’lady.” He hesitated a moment.

“Is there something on your mind?” I asked. Long Feather wasn’t one to poke about the bush, but then he usually followed the chain of command. It left me a little curious about whatever subject he didn’t want to discuss with Little Bear.

“May I have your permission to speak freely and privately, Chief Justice?”

I nodded. He stepped into my office and closed the door behind him.

“I would like permission to accompany you on your diplomatic mission to Diné.”

I gestured for him to take a seat before I folded my hands on top of my desk. “Before you continue, have you considered that a great number of people who accompany me outside the walls of Orrin end up dead?”

“I am aware of the risks, m’lady.”

“Also, considering that the Duke of Standora literally just handed me the orders—” I held up the scroll he had delivered on behalf of the queen. “—I have to assume you were eavesdropping.”

“The High Brother of Thief has had his clergy and wardens training the rest of us in their techniques.” Long Feather’s skin remained its normal yellowish orange. “He pointed out we’ve been trying to catch up to the renegades. We need to get ahead.”

Apparently, Talbert and his people had been working hard for the two months I spent at Child. “What is your logic for joining this expedition?”

“Warden Gina has been teaching us the Diné language,” Long Feather said. “Given her proficiency, you will take her with you on your diplomatic mission in lieu of Chief Warden Little Bear. Also, it’s no secret Chief Justice Elizabeth has requested Gina’s services as her new chief warden. Given the crown’s trust in you as their representative, you will need someone fluent in Diné when she leaves. This mission will allow me to practice my language skills.”

“And eavesdrop some more?” I teased.

He smiled. “Only to protect you and the interests of the queen, m’lady.”

“If you’re sure you want this assignment?”

“I’m sure, m’lady.” The trill of his excitement tickled my psyche. It was so very odd to feel others’ emotions again. But Mya said she needed the shackles to keep everyone’s feelings from intruding on my own in order for me to understand and deal with my own emotions. She didn’t want the demons to get to me again.

“All right. You may accompany me to Diné,” I said.

Long Feather leapt to his feet. “Thank you, m’lady.”

I chuckled. “Before you dance in celebration, please have Nathan fetch me a hot pot of tea.”

“Yes, m’lady.” He bowed and left my office.

I couldn’t fault the young man’s confidence and enthusiasm. But my guilt crawled out of its hole and whispered I’d just condemned Long Feather to a very short life span.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Hand of Father - Chapter 2

The visit with Ming Wei went well enough High Sister Mya moved me to one of the second floor treatment rooms. I was shocked by the changes in Yanaba’s squire. Ming Wei no longer tried to comb her hair over the left side of her head to cover her scars. Nor did she have the painfully shy bearing from before.

No, this new version stood straight and proud. I was happy for her even if I was ashamed of the circumstances that brought about this change. While she still flinched if a man moved too suddenly around her, she wasn’t running away as she had when she first came to Balance.

A fortnight later, Mya released me from Child though she said we would continue our private meetings once a week. Since she was already coming to Balance to treat and train Ming Wei, she planned to talk to me after they were finished.

Chief Warden Little Bear and Warden Gina accompanied Ming Wei to escort me back to Balance. They both wore wide grins, and Gina carried one of my uniforms and my weapons.

“We can’t let you go out in public looking like a sailor coming off a three-day bender,” she commented.

“Thank you,” I said. “Are you also planning to braid my hair?”

“Of course,” she proclaimed. “What did I just say about a three-day bender?”

Once I was properly dressed and my hair braided and pinned up, I buckled on my sword and stowed my knives in their various sheaths. For the first time in two months, I didn’t feel totally naked.

Gina, Ming Wei and I returned to the first floor where Little Bear was speaking quietly with High Sister Mya. The priestess broke into smiles and hugged me.

“If you need anything, Anthea—” she started.

“I have a feeling you’ll know before I do.” I gave her a wry smile, and she laughed.

When we stepped outside of the Temple of Child, cool air caressed my face. The terrible heat of the summer was gone. I nodded to the warden on main door duty. She nodded back. There was no change in her body temperature. I was simply another person who passed through their doors. As Mya had said, my reservations were mine, not anyone else’s.

While my party and I walked down the main boulevard of the Temple District, the muttering from passersby started. There was no sense taking a back alley to Balance. The citizens were going to gossip regardless. It didn’t mean I had to like it though.

When we strode up the steps of Balance, Warden Ailyn stood guard at the main doors. She broke out into a huge grin. “Welcome home, Chief Justice.”

I noticed both set of doors were open. The statue of Balance Herself stared at me from her dais in the courtroom. I turned to Little Bear. “Why isn’t court being conducted this morning?”

“Justice Yanaba canceled it in lieu of a more important event.” He nodded toward the courtroom. “They were waiting on you to begin.”

Curious and more than a little concerned about Yanaba arbitrarily closing the court, I strode into the main courtroom.

And nearly jumped out of my skin when a throng of people yelled, “Welcome home, Chief Justice.”

It wasn’t just the folks from Balance. I quickly counted the different badges. Members from all twelve Temples were here, along with the people from the Healers Guild, Orrin’s peacekeepers, and Duke Marco and his family. Rounding out the group were people from the Jing embassy, including Ambassador Quan himself.

My own squire Nathan ran up to me. I half-expected a hug. Instead, he executed a perfect bow. “May I escort you to your seat, Lady Justice?”

“Why, thank you, Squire Nathan.”

He moved to my left side and extended his right elbow. With any other justice, he would have wrapped the fingers of my left hand around his elbow. But I could see, so he adjusted appropriately.

I took his arm. Waves of pride crashed into my psyche. So I took a little chance.


He quivered at the touch of my mind to his, but he kept his solemn pace. Yes, m’lady?

I apologize for my behavior in the garden. No assigning blame to others. No excuses to justify my behavior. No waiting to make amends when we were alone. But I still felt the need to keep this between the two of us.

I accept your apology, m’lady. Warmth flooded from him physically and emotionally. Maybe I hadn’t ruined my relationship with him after all.

We reached the chair at the head of the table my staff had set up in the courtroom, but I didn’t take the seat. One-by-one my staff came to me with their good wishes. And I threw protocol out the window and hugged them all.

* * *

The celebration died down shortly after Second Afternoon since everyone had their own duties to attend. However, I noticed Luc, Claudia, and Talbert lingering behind. I leaned over to Elizabeth seated on my right and whispered, “Is there a private conversation we need to have with the remaining seats?”

“You need to have,” she corrected. “Though Yanaba and I would like to be included.” She hesitated a moment before she added, “Can we please have no more secrets between us?”

I sighed. “All right. Squires?”

Nathan and Ming Wei ran up to my chair. “Would you escort the justices to our reception room?” I turned to Luc. “High Brother, would you and Sister Claudia please stay for a short discussion?”

At their nods, I looked at Talbert. “Would you please assist me in take a few bottles of wine into the Balance reception room?”

He grinned, the first time I ever recalled him wearing anything but a slight smile, and grabbed as many bottles as he could safely carry.

“Chief Warden?”

Little Bear snapped to attention. “Would you assist Sivan in bringing us some fresh goblets? And then join us. I need wise counsel from both of you.”

His face shifted from orange to red. “Yes, m’lady.”

I climbed to my feet. Despite it being mid-afternoon, lethargy dragged on my very bones. So I was extremely careful not to try to carry more bottles than I could handle. It would be damn near sacrilege to Vintner to waste good Pana wine.

Once we were settled in the reception, and the other seats kicked their wardens out to Gina’s great amusement though she wasn’t included either, I stood and circled the room, casting my wards. This meeting needed to be private on more levels than I could count.

When I reached my chair, I remained standing. “First, I need to make amends. High Brother Luc, Sister Claudia, I sincerely apologize. My jealousy over the two of you doing your duty has no place in our world. I never wanted to see anything happen to your son.”

I swallowed the lump of shame at the back of my throat. “Chief Justice Elizabeth, Justice Yanaba, you tried to warn me of the path I was taking, and I didn’t listen. I apologize for allowing my arrogance to get in the way of all of our duties.

“And to all of you, thank you for believing I could possibly be redeemed. I pray to the Twelve I can live up to your regard.” I grabbed the arms of my chair and shakily sat down.

“You were set up, Anthea.” Talbert poured wine for Elizabeth and himself before he passed the bottle to Claudia. “The renegades manipulated both Gerd and you.”

When Luc started to protest, Talbert held up his hands. “I’m not saying Gerd is totally innocent by any means.” He lowered his hands. “My concern is what is happening Standora.” He looked at me. “I’ve already shared my concerns with Elizabeth and Yanaba.”

“Reverend Mother Alara,” I murmured. Her siding with the renegades was the only way her recent actions made sense.

“I have to agree with him.” Yanaba’s disgust and frustration beat against my mind. “She made a point of having me present at the alleged destruction of that blasted grimoire. And yet, Gerd brought the same damn tome into Orrin?”

“We cannot voice these things outside of this room or a convocation,” Elizabeth said.

“Unfortunately, I’ve had plenty time to think about what happened.” I took a sip of wine. After two months of only water, I truly appreciated the small things at my own Temple. “The demons are using the renegades to study us. Learn how to manipulate us. After nearly a thousand years, they haven’t been able to defeat us in straight battles, though the Twelve know it has been close at times. So the demons are taking the lessons they’ve learned from the Assassins Guild about how humans work mentally and emotionally and applying them to us.”

Talbert nodded. “That is my Reverend Father’s assessment as well. However, I believe we’ve cleaned out any problems within the Orrin Temples.” “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Remember how we were truthspelling each other in Tandor prior to the siege,” Luc said.

I nodded. “I take it you did the same here in Orrin.”

“Everyone from the clergy to the cooks.” Claudia glanced at the others before she added, “Love did the same thing after you arrested Gerd.”

“Balance help me,” I murmured. “Things seemed so simple last winter.”

“We’ve been truthspelling the duke’s employees and everyone at Government House,” Luc said. “But we’re doing it on Marco and DiCook’s authority.”

“Several of the guilds have asked for us to interrogate their members about their allegiance as well,” Yanaba added. “But there’s nothing legally we can do about the general populace or the uncooperative guilds.”

“There’s only one problem with your interrogations.” I leaned my right elbow on the table and rested my chin on my fist. “There may be a sub personality inside a person’s mind they don’t know about.”

“Like High Brother Aduba to infiltrate the renegades in Tandor?” Luc said.

“Yes.” I sighed. “I’m wondering if they didn’t do something similar to Peacekeeper Dante or Barbora the seamstress.” I looked at Talbert. “Any suggestions, High Brother?”

“I think we’ve done everything we can for now.” He tapped the side of his goblet. Something else bothered him, but I had too much to catch up on to worry about his unknown statement yet.

I turned to Sivan. “Where are Cat and Dog? The only thing Mya would tell me is that they were recovering.” More guilt tore at me. The two street children had been my eyes and ears until Gerd took control of their minds.

“Govind and his wife have taken them in,” Sivan said. “One good thing out of all this mess is that the street children are starting to trust the Temple of Mother again. It’s slow progress, and they refuse to talk to the three priestesses remaining from Bianca’s rule—”

“The fact that Leocadia’s making any progress is good news.” I lifted my goblet in the direction of the Temple of Mother and took another sip.

“I also owe much to you and Little Bear,” I continued. “First, you had to deal with the chaos of having a senile chief justice, and then the chaos of a demon mad chief justice.” Little Bear opened his mouth, but I waved my right hand. “No, you two kept this Temple going. Yanaba will have her hands full with her babe soon, and Elizabeth will be transferring to the new Duchy of Anacapa. Unfortunately, that means you’ve dealt with the Reverend Mother more than I have. I want your suggestions on how best we move forward.”

“Very carefully?” Little Bear added a wry smile. The rest of the assembly laughed except for Sivan.

“You do realize we are talking treason here, Chief Justice?” she said.

“I know.” I shrugged. “In for a copper, in for a crown. I just wish I knew how to broach the issue with the queen that didn’t find all our heads at the wrong end of a sword.”

“There’s one additional matter you should be aware of.” Talbert rubbed his chin, which was never a good sign. “The crown princess has requested to be informed of your recovery through my Reverend Father.”

I straightened. “Why?”

“The Duke of Standora wishes to speak with you in person and privately.” Talbert shrugged. “Forgive me, Anthea, but that was all I was told. I sent the message yesterday when Mya informed us she believed you were ready to resume your seat.”

I sat back in my chair. Balance take me. What could Crown Princess Chiara or her husband possibly want with me?

Unless the Reverend Mother had decided to take a more direct approach to get me out of the way.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A Hand of Father - Chapter 1

Here's the start of the unedited sample chapters of Justice #8, A Hand of Father!


The eleven other seats didn’t release me from Child’s chains until after the Autumn Equinox. Part of it was concern for what I might do to others, for the dead demons that comprised the grimoire I’d kept had dug their psychic claws deep into my mind. Part of it was worry of what I might do to myself out of shame.

For believing myself immune to the demons’ influence.

I was under no illusion my fellow seats cared about my well-being. The demons targeted me because I was the only human who could see them regardless of the form they took.

My sight was different to other humans, thanks again to my arrogance. Like all other female children who were born blind, I was taken to the Temple of Balance in my home nation of Issura. The ancients thought those like me were touched by the Balance Herself. In reality, my blindness was a result of my birth mother’s attempt to illegally abort me.

However, I assumed if I could restore my sight, I would no longer be bound to Balance. But how could I give myself something of which I had no real concept? Instead, I gave myself a form of sight based on the heat an object. Fire blinds me as equally as snow and ice. And I was still bound to Balance because there were things I couldn’t see, such as ink on parchment.

But I could always see demons because they were a black far darker than the night sky on a moonless night regardless of any form they took or any illusion they cast. Therefore, I was valuable to my fellow humans in their war against the demons.

Though the demons had tried to take over me, body and spirit, I made it easy for them. I let me pride in my abilities get in the way. A fault High Bother Luc of Light had gently chided me about during the ten years we spent on circuit through the eastern portion of the Duchy of Orrin.

Then there was the guilt of letting the demons use me to abuse my squire Nathan.

While I was imprisoned in Child, there was simply no lying to myself in the presence of High Sister Mya. I would have preferred a truthspell, but as she pointed out, one can only lie if they consciously know the truth they are hiding. There were far more layers to the human mind than most people realized. The odd thing was Mya simply came down to my cell in the Temple of Child and talked. No magic. No silent speech. No touching of my mind. We just talked.

Also, I couldn’t truly call it a cell. Unlike the stone cells beneath Balance for those accused of wrongdoing, the walls and floor where I was kept in Child were covered in oiled leather, padded with horse hair. I had a cotton and linen pallet to sleep upon at night. Even the door was padded.

It was for the protection of those who were mentally ill and had a predilection for self-injury or were a danger to their fellow humans. Otherwise, I would have been kept in one of the treatment rooms on the second floor of the Temple.

“I wish I hadn’t ordered the entrances to the tunnel closed,” I said one day. Or night. I wasn’t quite sure of time anymore with the spell threaded shackles.

Mya looked at me with her sad half-smile. “Why is that?”

“So the Miners Guild could bury me in them,” I said. “It’s what I deserve.”

“Self-pity, again?” The slim, blue brow over her right eye rose.

“No.” I played with a fold of the shift I wore. “Embarrassment.” I shook my head. “After the lecture I delivered to the mob from the South Side this summer, how can anyone take me seriously as a justice again with what I’ve done?”

“Do you want to resume being a justice?”

I snorted. “Are you going to tell me I have a choice?” When she remained quiet, I added, “I thought you said we weren’t supposed to lie to each other.”

“You’re right,” she murmured. “It would be a lie to say you would be relieved of your duties, but the whole point of these sessions is to evaluate when you’re ready to resume your position.”

Then she surprised me. “How do you feel about a visitor this afternoon?”

I leaned against the padded leather on the wall. “Who?”

“You don’t like surprises do you?” Mya teased.

“No, not really.” Even I had to smile. “Surprises in my life have a tendency to want to kill me.”

“It’s Ming Wei,” she admitted. “It’s a test for both of you.”

I shuddered. Ming Wei was Justice Yanaba’s squire as Nathan was mine. She had stopped me from striking the boy. Her desperation to save her friend had unlocked her abilities. She not only saved Nathan’s life, but she saved mine as well.

Ming Wei’s psychic self showed the woman she should become if she could let go of her emotional pain. The girl had been sold by her parents to a Jing noble who sorely abused her. When his foul deeds were discovered, he burned his manse with himself and his child slaves inside. Ming Wei had been the sole survivor.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea for her sake?” I murmured.

“Why don’t you want to see her?” Mya asked in return.

“That answering a question with another question got old when I was a novice at the home Temple,” I muttered.

Mya chuckled. “And you avoid my questions because you don’t like it when you feel out of control.”

“The last time I saw her I wasn’t in control,” I said softly. “Ming Wei had so much happen to her in her short life. I added to her pain, and-and—” I took another shuddering breath. “I don’t if I can face her after what I did.”

“The thing is you didn’t strike Nathan.” Mya cocked her head. “And if the demons had full control over you…”

I finished the ugly thought. “I would have killed Ming Wei.” I stared at Mya. “Let’s discuss the subject we’ve been dancing around. Why hasn’t Yanaba or Elizabeth taken my head?”

“No one really knows what happened at Balance other than the Orrin seats and your staff.” Mya shook her head. “I’ve never seen such personal loyalty to any seat, much less a chief justice.”

My short bark of laughter made her jump. “They had to deal with Penelope. Compared to her, I’m a sweetcake at the Winter Solstice.” Still, Mya’s comment touched my heart.

“After we had a convocation concerning what to do about you, all the seats as well as acting Chief Justice Yanaba decided to see to how things went with your treatment here.” Mya shrugged. “Elizabeth agreed.”

“Though she has no standing in Orrin?” I asked.

“She knows what it’s like to be manipulated and tortured, Anthea,” Mya said. “Out of everyone in the duchy, she’s the most sympathetic to your condition. You gave her a chance to recover and deal with what was done to her. She was your staunchest advocate other than Luc and Claudia.”

I asked the question I’d been dreading the most. “And what’s the Reverend Mother of Balance say about all of this?” I gestured to indicate my cell and Mya.

“She doesn’t know.”

Someone could have knocked me over with a dandelion puff. “No one’s told her?”

“The official story is you had a breakdown in your guilt over the death of Claudia’s babe at Gerd’s hands. You voluntarily and temporarily abdicated your seat to seek treatment because you felt you could no longer perform as an objective jurist.”

I blinked a few times as I tried to swallow this information. Yanaba and Elizabeth had threatened to have me removed as Chief Justice over my obsession with my birth mother Gerd’s escape from custody in Standora. Their discovery of the grimoire should have cemented my fate.

I licked my lips before I asked, “Why is everyone covering for me?”

“Talbert informed us of the suspected spy within the Balance home Temple.” Mya sighed. “As much as I dislike politics and lies, someone helped Gerd escape and someone made sure that damn grimoire ended up in your hands. You were set up. You didn’t choose to join the renegades. For now, we simply can’t trust anyone outside of the city.”

“What about Duke Marco and Magistrate DiCook?”

Again, Mya sighed. “They fear that we have done something to you. I think it best if you are the one to tell them what happened.”

For all of my righteous indignation over doing the right thing, I didn’t know how I was going to face my equals, much less my staff. Nor was I sure I trusted myself.

Or that I ever would again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

New Release - Revenge Seved Hot

Um, I accidentally fibbed about posting a new chapter on the blog this week.

Instead, I released a new short story collection.

Revenged Served Hot is an crime anthology. I'll be the first to admit I write revenge fantasies when I'm pissed about an injustice in the world. The lawyer in me can't let go of the anger when some asshat gets away with something.

What would you do if someone does you wrong? How far would you go to seek revenge?

Here are five tales of people willing to murder to get what they want. From double-crossed lovers to family members avenging their dearest, these protagonists find inventive ways to punish those who cross the line.

These stories will thrill and chill you, and maybe even make you question your own relationships.

It's currently live on Amazon.

I swear I'm working on getting all the books up on all the stores and also getting paperbacks formatted and uploaded.