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The thirteenth summer, p.1
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       The Thirteenth Summer, p.1

           Artemis Greenleaf
 
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The Thirteenth Summer
The Thirteenth Summer

  By

  Artemis Greenleaf

  PUBLISHED BY:

  Black Mare Books

  Houston, Texas

  www.blackmarebooks.com

  ISBN: 978-1-941502-72-3

  The Thirteenth Summer

  Copyright © 2014 by Artemis Greenleaf

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  The Thirteenth Summer

  By

  Artemis Greenleaf

  A Blackthorne Universe Short

  "I told your father you were too young for this," Kel said as he unbuttoned his leather doublet.

  Fria held her tongue. She huddled in her bridal gown, shivering in the shadows of Kel's large canopied bed.

  "Come here," he said.

  Swallowing hard, Fria complied. She did not see a well-developed, potent man shedding his clothes, but a towering male who outweighed her by at least two fold and was orders of magnitude stronger than her. A threat.

  "You're hardly more than a child." He lifted her chin and studied her face, his meaty hand warm against her throat. "Sit over there," he told her, gesturing to an overstuffed chair by a fireplace large enough for four tall men to easily stand abreast.

  Again, she did as she was bidden. Vicious beatings at her father's hand had trained her to be compliant.

  Kel peeled back the brocaded silk bedspread and pulled the top sheet off the bed. Then he rolled up his sleeve, drew a dagger from his boot, and slid the blade across the back of his wrist. He blotted the blood with the sheet, and held it against the wound until the bleeding stopped. After he rolled his sleeve back down, he took a large red apple from the bowl of fruit on a table by the door. The apple crunched as he bit into it, and he artistically mussed his hair in the mirror as he chewed.

  "Hadlea will be up later with some food for you, and she'll show you to your apartments. Pray, do not think ill of me for rejoining the wedding banquet. It is my duty as its host." His hazel brown eyes were warm, and the left corner of his mouth lifted into a half-smile.

  Fria nodded.

  Kel tossed the apple core into the chamber pot and scooped up the bloodied sheet.

  "In the morning then," he bowed slightly to her as he left.

  The echo of boots on stone faded. A cheer went up from the wedding guests, and Fria shuddered. She could only guess that he had held up the bloody sheet, and they'd applauded what they thought was her blood. She was glad that her mother and her younger sister, Marian, had left immediately after the ceremony.

  Fria sat back in the chair and scowled at the fire. "Well, this complicates things," she said, running her index finger around the edges of the emerald and sapphire ring that glinted in the firelight.

  Fria's father and Kel juggled an uneasy truce between their neighboring fiefdoms, which were separated by a stretch of old forest peasants called the Witches' Wood. Elder daughter Fria had been promised to Kel at birth. Twelve summers had come and gone, and the raw spring was tearing its way out of the belly of the cruel winter. She'd hidden the evidence that she had crossed from childhood to womanhood as long as she could, but the chambermaid had found her bloodstained petticoat and betrayed her to her mother. Her father sent a herald to Kel, and the wedding was announced.

  She had been taught her entire life that Kel was a brutal tyrant, and yet her father eagerly served her up as a blood sacrifice for the sake of a political union. She was disappointed, but not surprised, when she had been summoned to her father's chambers in the dead of night. He and his spymaster waited for her there.

  "Open it," her father had said, handing her an intricately carved wood box that covered the palm of her hand.

  The spymaster shared a look with her father, "It is said to be of dwarvish make."

  Fria had lifted the lid and discovered the sparkling green and blue ring that now graced her right hand. The spymaster had shown her the trick to opening the concealed compartment underneath the emerald. It contained a noxious potion that, once the marriage had been consummated and Fria was with child, she was to pour into her sleeping husband's ear. She was practically a crusader, on a mission to rid the world of a wicked and violent man. The thought of being a crusader had appealed to her, as her cousin had just returned, full of tales of valor and exotic places, from battling the infidels in the Holy Lands.

  However, Kel had not brutalized her, as her mother warned he would. Not only did he not demand her wifely duty in his bed, he was sending her to her own apartments. Could it be that he was not the ogre she had always been told he was, or did he suspect treachery from his young bride? Either way, she would have to be constantly on her guard. If she found herself liking her new husband and not following through with his murder, her father would likely have her assassinated. If Kel was merely suspicious, rather than kind, any whiff of treason would almost certainly mean her death.

  The bedroom door opened, and a dour matron in a grey frock stepped in. "Come with me, Miss," she said.

  "Who are you?" Fria asked, her heart fluttering under her ribs like a terrified bird. The woman couldn't possibly have heard her thoughts, yet Fria felt she'd been caught in the act of murder.

  The woman's stony face was unreadable. "I'm Hadlea, Miss. Here to show you to your apartments."

  "I see," Fria replied. She glanced around the bedchamber, forgetting for a moment she had no belongings there, and followed Hadlea down the corridor.

  A young man, scarcely older than Fria, passed them. She recognized John from the wedding. His mother had died in childbirth, and her new stepson was clearly a stripling version of his father.

  "It is late for you to be about, sir," Hadlea said.

  "Rolf sent for me. Shadow is foaling!" He glanced at Fria. "Would you like to come see?"

  Tsch. "You know that would be unseemly," Hadlea scolded. "Do not shame your father with such rash behavior."

  John forced a smile at Fria. "Goodnight, then." He hurried down the hall.

  Fria would have loved to have seen the birth of the foal, but she knew that going to the stables with her husband's virile son would require more than one chaperone. Besides, she was meant to be recovering in her apartments from her deflowering. How would it look if she were traipsing about the estate as if nothing had happened?

  

  The days passed, not unpleasantly. The daylight lengthened and the darkness shrank. Fria only saw Kel at supper, and not always then. John kept busy with his studies, both of literature and weaponry, but especially with the staff. When she saw him, he was friendly, but their paths rarely crossed, save for meal times. Even as the household teemed with servants, bustling with the estate's upkeep, she was alone in the rambling manor, with only a small dog of uncertain parentage for company. She had a lady-in-waiting named Blodwyn who was always at her side, but she never spoke unless spoken to, and then only answered with a "Yes, milady" or a "No, milady."

  At least Kel had an extensive library and a stable full of excellent horses.

  On Midsummer's D
ay, Kel came to her bedchamber early in the morning, before her servants had arrived to dress her. Pip, her little dog, made a terrible racket when Kel had knocked on the door, and she was hard-pressed to quiet him.

  "Come riding with me, milady. You have not surveyed your domain."

  "So early? It is still dark," Fria replied, trying to put him off.

  "Rolf has already saddled the horses. It is a long ride around my lands."

  She had no recourse but to do as she was asked. "Yes, milord. Shall I meet you downstairs when I am dressed?"

  "I'll wait for you up here," he said.

  Fria's jaw opened and closed. It was his right, as her husband, to see her undressed.

  "…in the corridor," he finished, and closed the door softly behind him.

  She chose a linen gown that was closest to what the common folk wore, although it wasn't especially close. She pulled on her travel-stained cloak, the one she had arrived from her
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