4/9/14

Read “Prisoners” Free Before It's Published

Let's try something new.  Instead of giving you links to find “Prisoners” on Amazon and download your sample, I'm putting a sample right here in this post. No links, no clicking.  Just the first section of the story for you to read right now if you want to.  Feel free to share this post but not to violate copyright laws, obviously.  If you like this new feature, let me know, and I'll do it again.  In the meantime, enjoy.



Prisoners


Brigita stood brushing my hair when Lorelei slipped into the room. I couldn’t see her and didn’t want to, but I knew the slight padding of her slippers on the stone floor anywhere in the castle.
Lorelei’s deep, dry voice came equally unwelcome. “The prisoner is asking to see you, my lady.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Lorelei’s voice lacked inflection or warmth, making my skin crawl beneath my loose robe. “Which one?” I asked, baiting her. We rarely took prisoners these days, and the news of a new one had been buzzing through the halls for days.
“The new one,” Lorelei informed me. Her tone fell flat, giving me no indication whether I had annoyed her or not.
Before I could plan my next question, Brigita piped up behind me. “What does he want with Janessa?”
I cut Lorelei off as she inhaled to answer. “Perhaps he’s in love with me.”
Brigita giggled in repetitive spurts, but as a credit to her training, continued grooming my hair in long, even strokes.
I glanced at Lorelei, a grimace of disapproval tensing her face, making me smirk. “What does he want?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Lorelei answered a little more quickly. It was the only form of curtness her voice ever showed me. “He’s been asking for you all night.”
I turned toward her in the heavy chair, forcing Brigita to move to stay directly behind me. “All night?” I challenged Lorelei. “Why is this the first I’ve heard of it? If someone is in love with me, I have the right to know.”
Brigita tittered over my shoulder.
Lorelei took brisk steps toward me but stopped herself. She relaxed her shoulders and eased the aggravation from her face.
“I forgive you,” I prompted her, watching closely for any signs of squirming.
“Forgive me, my lady,” Lorelei responded evenly, still far from gracious or patient. She offered me a deeper curtsy than I expected. “I didn’t want to wake you with the half-mad ramblings of a wretched creature.”
I nodded thoughtfully, as if considering her good judgment. “Well timed, Lorelei.”
Brigita’s curiosity bubbled over. “Are you going to see him?”
I gazed unerringly into Lorelei’s guarded grey eyes. She waited for me to speak, and I waited until I saw impatient twitches in her fingers. “No, there’s no hurry.”
Lorelei closed her eyes, probably to keep from glaring at me. “As you wish.”
Brigita stopped brushing and smoothed my hair with her hand to test its quality. “Is he handsome, Lorelei? The prisoner.”
I laughed at Lorelei’s expense. “How do you like that? He’s in love with me, and Brigita’s in love with him.”
Lorelei twisted her lips. I kept looking at her until she answered. “It humors me, my lady.”
I reached back and patted Brigita’s hand. “I’m so sorry, Brigita,” I said with thick compassion as if my statement were true. “Perhaps you should go down to the dungeon and keep him company.”
By the time I finished speaking, Lorelei had slithered out of the room. I straightened myself in the chair and accepted the mirror Brigita held out to me. I only looked at myself to judge her handiwork. There was no one for me to meet with that day except workers repairing the castle’s southern walls, hardly anyone for me to primp for.
“What did he do?” Brigita asked.
I handed the mirror back to her. “Who?”
“The prisoner.”
I folded my empty hands in my lap, enjoying my last free moments of the day. “I don’t know. Avoided taxes or something.”
“It must’ve been terrible to land him so far on your husband’s bad side.”
An old gloom hardened my heart, as dark and cold as the stones of the floor. “It’s easy to land there, Brigita,” I warned her, lowering my voice in case Lorelei was listening at the door. “Remember that.”
Brigita laughed, stepping around to where I could see her. Her bright eyes and open smile made her seem even younger than she probably was, a number I’d never thought to ask her. “You’re so serious, my lady.”
A sliver of memory slipped loose across my mind, hysterical and ugly. I snatched Brigita’s hand before either of us knew I was going to do it. I tugged her toward me, trying to control my voice. “My husband wants you to like him. It’s to his advantage that you think he’s sweet and generous. But he has a firm side. A very firm side. I want you to be careful.” I let go of her hand. Her smile was gone, and her eyes strained with fear instead of joy.
Brigita turned to the vanity, picking up one of the jars and rubbing its powdery, scented contents into my skin just under the edges of the robe. I was used to the feel of her silky fingers against my collar bone and shoulders but not her awkward swallowing as she bent near my ear. “Have you been on his bad side often, my lady?”
Her concern for me touched me and freed my lungs to breathe again. “Not in a long time.” I tilted my head back to find Brigita’s worried eyes. I wasn’t used to her anxiety, and it didn’t suit her. Her fresh face looked all the more youthful for the strands of blonde hair falling loose from her braided bun. Round cheeks rose into high, narrow cheek bones. “Don’t let my careless talk scare you so much. I’m sure you’re quite safe here.”
Brigita moved on to my left shoulder and collar bone. “My mother hoped I’d be safe here. My father hoped for gossip and adventure.”
I chuckled. “Really?”
“My mother said I might find a husband here. My father was more caught up in the chance for action. He always hoped for a son. All he got were five daughters.”
I relaxed, letting Brigita’s talk carry me away. “And you were the most boyish one?”
“Never. My oldest sister could outrun any man and arm wrestle the strongest of them.”
“She sounds like me.”
Brigita gave a breathy laugh. “No, my lady, it isn’t true.”
“It is. I didn’t wear a dress until I was fourteen and my mother wrestled me into it. It was a frilly old thing. I thought I’d drown in the ruffles.”
Brigita stroked the silken sleeve of my robe. “But you wear your finery so well.”
I laughed openly, images coming to mind I hadn’t pictured in years. “You’re from the city, aren’t you? Stoneshire?”
“Yes, my lady. The old town section, and I’m very proud of it.”
My eyes sparkled to imagine how she would react to the truth of my history. “Would you believe I was raised in the country outside of Farmer’s Run?”
“No-o-o,” Brigita drew the word out, her eyes wide with interest as she faced me. She didn’t replace the lid on the jar, her hands idle despite her training. “Were you raised on a farm?”
“My father’s farm,” I said. “And I loved it.”
“What was it like?”
“Wild. Barely tamed. Plenty of room to run around in but also plenty of chores to do. My father would hire the strongest young farmers to help him with the work. If he only knew how many afternoons I watched them from my hiding spots, he would’ve hired old men.”
Brigita cackled, her old town roots showing through her castle-taught propriety. Her hands remembered their duties and returned the lid to the jar. She set it on the vanity. “Did you come straight from Farmer’s Run to Stoneshire?”
I flipped my hand in dismissal. “Oh, no. I did a lot more traveling than that.”
“How far?”
I stood up and let Brigita take the robe from me. My undergarments already hung over me. I only needed Brigita to bring me my dress. She fetched it from the bed where she had laid it out, a blue silk gown the color of the summer sky. “Not as far as some,” I admitted. “But I’ve seen the dancers who entertain the sailors in the port towns, and I’ve ridden horses across fields so large, no farmer will ever own them.”
Brigita lifted the dress over my head and helped me arrange it as she lowered it over my arms. She stooped to make sure the bottom wouldn’t crease. As she stood up, she said, “How did you come to live at the castle? Did you meet Lord Philip first?”
I jerked uncontrollably, startling Brigita into backing away. “Fasten the dress, please,” I murmured.
“I’m sorry, my lady,” Brigita breathed.
Even though she extended her hands to help me, I raised my voice to her. “Fasten the dress!”
She shrank away, then scurried behind me. I felt her hands moving quickly against my chemise, fumbling and trying again.
“Do it faster, or I’ll have Lorelei find a replacement,” I snapped.
Brigita made shaky gasps and exhales like she was crying, but I shut them out. Her hands reached the nape of my neck, fastening the last of the clasps, and she stepped away. “All finished, my lady,” she squeaked.
I shoved my feet into the shoes she’d set out for me. I strode past her without checking my reflection and tore the door open. I charged off down the hall, passing several doors before realizing I had chosen the wrong direction. Barely slowing down, I resolved to take the long way around. I nodded briefly to those I swept past, leaving them far behind me, trapped in mid-curtsy.
Philip’s voice reached me before I saw him, deep and booming even as the tapestries on the walls tried to absorb it. I rounded the corner and turned my lips into a welcoming smile. “Good morning.”
Today’s version of an ever-changing variety of staff surrounded Philip. Two cooks in soiled aprons stood ready to copy down his impromptu menu on slate sheets. Two youths, a boy and a girl, straightened Philip’s clothes. Behind them lingered two guards to protect his safety.
“My darling bride,” Philip greeted me, taking my hands as I approached.
I kissed his cheek, weathered and wrinkled in spite of whatever creams and oils his attendants rubbed into his flesh. Like Brigita, I had never bothered to ask Philip’s exact age.
“The workmen are waiting for you in the south hall,” he reminded me.
“I’m on my way now.” I adjusted his wayward collar, which shifted the seams across his shoulders. I straightened them, too. “You choose your assistants too young, my lord. They can’t see the high details, and even if they could, they’d be too short to reach them without a stool.”
“You have to start them young,” Philip announced grandly to the hallway. “You have to teach them your good habits before they have a chance to learn their own bad habits. They’ll be able to see to my collar in a year or two.”
“In the meantime, I’ll see to it myself.” I brushed his sleeves down, making sure they lay regally along his arms. As if remembering, I said lightly, “If you see my maid Brigita, will you tell her I apologize? I’m afraid we had a bit of a quarrel.”
Philip took my chin in his thick fingers as I knew he would. “Don’t you worry about a thing, my pet. I’ll have this settled by supper. Was she mouthy to you? There’s room in the dungeon yet.”
I patted his deep chest. “No, no. We misunderstood each other. Nothing more.”
“Very well. I’ll expect a report on the southern walls by the end of the day.”
“Then you shall have it, my lord.” I offered my best curtsy and continued on my way, hiding as always my creeping fear of Philip’s guards. Unlike his childish attendants, the guards stood sturdy as turrets and ready for bloodshed.
I reached the southern hall to find numerous workers in shabby clothes lounging against the walls and the floor. At first, they made no move, but as I came to a frowning stop before them, they jumped to more appropriate positions. “I’ll be overseeing your work,” I informed them, polite but unyielding. “I don’t appreciate laziness, and I don’t tolerate sloppy work. If you do well, I’ll assure you a place here tomorrow and another day’s pay. Disappoint me, and you’ll never work within fifty miles of Stoneshire again. Am I clear?”
They gave little bows and uttered, “Yes, my lady.”
“Carry on, then. I’ll tell you when to stop.”
They searched through their tools and began their assessment of the wall’s weaknesses. I remained in the middle of the hallway, blocking anyone who came from behind me and refusing to look lax by leaning against a wall for support. I kept my eyes on the men’s movements even if my mind wandered from them to my husband to Brigita to the nameless prisoner whose face I’d never seen.

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