The Southern Arm, Part 6

“Don’t you ever find it strange,” Aria said, passing her empty wine glass off to a waiter, “that we spend all this time dancing in ballrooms and eating feasts in preparation for war?” Liam didn’t look at her, as he was in the midst of making smoldering eye contact with Mischa, a few meters away;…

The Southern Arm, Part 5

“Lady Mischa to see you, my queen,” Aria’s lady’s maid said from the doorway. Aria glanced up from a thick volume on political theory, surprised. Afternoon sunlight poured through the windows and her balcony; Valtteri had taken his paramour for a ride through the city not thirty minutes prior. Mischa stepped into the room with…

The Southern Arm, Part 4

“Good morning, my queen,” Valtteri said when Aria met him outside the second floor dining room for breakfast. His admirer, Mischa, waited one step behind him, wringing her hands. “Good morning,” Aria said. Liam made a beeline through the doors for one of many bottles of spiced rum dotting the huge wooden dining table; he…

The Southern Arm, Part 3

“Mages,” Liam sighed, pouring himself a drink. He and Aria stood on a balcony overlooking the palace’s inner gardens; a cold, crisp breeze rustled snow from a weeping willow. One of Valtteri’s courtships and a few of her friends gathered conspiratorially around a frozen fountain at the center of the courtyard. “I like him,” Aria…

The Southern Arm, Part 2

“He’s courting,” Liam said, sidling up behind Aria with a drink in his hand. They stared in opposite directions, their lips barely moving as they spoke; around them, nobles alternated between watching Aria with curiosity and dancing, drinking, or gathering in groups to talk. Most of Valtteri’s court had so far shied from speaking with…

The Southern Arm, Part 1

Aria and Liam dismounted simultaneously, fur cloaks sweeping the snowy ground. Despite the dry flakes falling from the sky, Prince Valtteri of House Milanovic waited for them on the front steps; he descended to meet them in the center of the courtyard as soon as they began their approach. Most of his court remained on…

Liam, Part 12

Liam and Ilyas met eyes across the ballroom. The former glanced at Aria with an exasperated expression, and yet he heeded his brother’s silent call; abandoning his most recent flirtation, Liam edged around the ballroom to exit through the grand doors on the western side. Ilyas and Aria shadowed him, Ilyas using Aria’s arm for…

Liam, Part 11

“So what’s the plan?” Emery asked, plopping down on Aria’s bed. Brushing her hair at a vanity near her balcony, Aria snorted a laugh. “I wish I could speak of my actions so confidently. I think I’m in over my head with Liam. Planning is basically irrelevant.” “Men like him are all the same,” Emery…

Liam, Part 10

“Aria,” Liam said, poking his head through the doors to her chambers. “Can we talk?” She looked over her shoulder—bare in her dress for dinner that evening. A knot at the back of her neck held the whole flimsy thing up; her robes as a glorified prostitute had been less revealing. Emery closed the doors…

Liam, Part 9

“Good,” the swordmaster said as Aria parried his latest blow. “Now become faster.” She laughed, dancing out of the way of his next strike. “Sound advice.” “You must listen. It’s smarter to slip away than to fight until you make mistakes.” “I can certainly try to wear my opponents down.” “Speed over brute force. That…

Liam, Part 8

Rain poured from the eaves of the castle. Aria wrung out her hair; she’d been caught on the other side of the gardens when the storm blew up suddenly, and the nearest terrace placed her on the north side of the palace. When she’d stared at the sky long enough to admit defeat, she turned…

Liam, Part 7

Liam led Aria within a sparsely decorated room dominated by a massive bed with plush white sheets. Propped against the headboard and surrounded by pillows, Ilyas read a book; he glanced up at them when they entered and immediately beamed. “Liam! I didn’t expect you for ages!” Aria hung back as Liam hugged his brother…