Discover more from Dispatches From Kyell
Excerpt: The Price of Thorns
In just over a month (November 14!), this book will be officially live! If you participated in the ARC program, thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed the book, and look forward to your reviews (on Goodreads and/or Amazon, ideally the week of November 5 so they show up right before launch).
In the meantime, this month and next, I’m going to toss out excerpts for those who haven’t read a pre-release copy in the hopes that you’ll get excited for it. Buying the book around launch helps boost its ranking on Amazon and all that ugh marketing stuff you have to do to get noticed if you’re not working with a big
fivefour publisher (and often even if you are).
EDIT: If you want to keep up with news about the new book, there’s a Telegram channel! We’d love to have you join. :)
I’ve posted excerpts from this one a bunch and so I can’t always remember what I have posted, so sorry if I’ve shared this one already, but this is the introduction of one of my favorite characters in the book. I hope you’ll enjoy meeting them.
The sun beat down until mid-afternoon, when clouds muscled in on its sky and shaded the travelers. Good relief, Nivvy thought, hoping they could make it to Spire before the rain set in. He glanced back at Bella and saw that despite two full days of riding uncovered in the sun, her face was no more sun-touched than the day he’d met her. All right, then, that was odd, though he supposed someone claiming to be hundreds of years old might have all manner of magic about them.
Houses became thicker along the road as the wall drew closer, and the road similarly grew more crowded. Scattered raindrops struck Nivvy’s face as he had to slow Rahila to a walk to get in the line of people waiting to be passed through the wall. “Looks like we’ll be a little wet when we get in,” he said cheerfully, the prospect of warm food and a warm bed already raising his spirits.
Bella rested a hand on his arm. “Is it necessary for us to enter the city?”
He turned. “We need to get you a proper contract to secure my services.”
“A contract? I thought we had an agreement.”
“If I’m to work by the rules of the Guild, I need a contract.”
Bella’s eyes narrowed. “I thought we had established the priority of rules in this relationship.”
“It don’t harm you none, an’ it protects you if I don’t do as you ask.”
“I don’t need a Guild to protect me in that case.”
The iron tone in her voice unwound something in his gut. He hurried on before he could reconsider this whole contract deal. “An’ it protects me, in case I get caught doin’ yer job, which I don’t expect to, but it don’t hurt to have it. There’s also the matter of a nice bath an’ a good meal.”
“Your smell is…less objectionable now. If the mountain is another day or two, we could circle the wall and find the road on the other side that leads to it.”
“Why don’t you want to go into the city?” Here he was, so close to getting the paper that would put him back on the right path, and she wanted to dodge around it. He was good at not letting his alarm show, but it would kill him if she ordered him around the walls and he had to stare at the city the whole time without going in.
She straightened, attempting a haughty look whose power was somewhat diminished by the few inches between them (still, it was a good try). “I am anxious to reach Scarlet as soon as possible,” she said, waving a hand toward Spire. “If we enter that city, who knows how long we will be delayed.”
“By what? Eating a good meal and sleeping in a bed?”
“This contract you want to have seems to me to be a waste of our time.”
“Who’s the thief here, you or me?” he demanded. “The contract tells people that if I steal something—“
“You’ve made its purpose clear,” she replied. “But if Scarlet catches you, a contract won’t be worth a thing, and in any other case I can protect you.”
He nodded toward Spire, keeping his voice low. “What about when I need to steal something to pay for that bed and meal?”
“If we don’t go into the city, you don’t need to steal anything there.”
“I’ll need to steal it somewhere.”
The rain spattered them as a gust of wind blew her hair and his robes. “We’ll find an inn along the way. There are inns along roads, yes?”
“As I told you,” he said, “nobody goes to the fire mountain, so not too many inns along that road. Even if there was, you don’t piss in your bed.” Her confused, annoyed look led him to explain: “You don’t steal from the house where you’re going to sleep and eat. Too risky. That merchant didn’t come after us but he very well might’ve.”
She scoffed. “I’m paying you.”
“And I’m tryin’ my best to do the job you’re paying me for, and part of that is puttin’ myself in the best position to do it, and I’m at my best with a full stomach and rested body, and that means finding a place to sleep and that means going in there.”
“Fine,” Bella said. “Fine. If you’re so determined—“
She pushed back from him and slid off Rahila’s back. The mare, knowing this wasn’t the place to dismount, turned her head as Nivvy did. “Come on,” he said, reaching down.
“You go in and do what you have to do, and I’ll walk around and meet you on the other side.”
If she didn’t go into the city, Nivvy wouldn’t get his blank contract. “You’ll never find me. And where are you going to sleep? What are you going to eat?”
“Ho, fellow,” a robed rider said as he went around them. “Need a hand with your woman?”
“I am not his woman,” Bella hissed. “Mind your business.”
She used that same iron tone she had with Nivvy. The rider laughed, though it was an uneasy laugh, and he urged his horse forward. “Buy her a nice dress, that’ll change her mood,” he said over his shoulder. “Shame on you for letting her walk around like that.”
“We’re getting new clothes in Spire,” Nivvy shouted after him as the rider walked by, remaining in earshot for far longer than Nivvy would have liked.
“We are not getting me new clothes,” Bella said, but they were interrupted at that moment by a hawk that swooped down out of the sky and hovered just over Rahila’s head, startling even the usually well-tempered mare into shying backwards.
Nivvy got control of her as the hawk spoke. “Easy, friends,” they said. “I’m a guide to Spire and I spotted you from the wall. Looked like you were having an argument and I thought maybe it was about which one of our lovely taverns to visit first, or maybe about where to procure a change of clothes in our tailors’ district, or maybe whether anyone’s ever attempted to scale our famous spire. I can answer all those questions and more besides, and I’m happy to do it for the price of meals while you’re in our city, and since I’m a hawk, why, those meals come cheaper than any other guide’s. Now, might I rest on one of your shoulders so my wings don’t have to do quite so much work?”
“We don’t need a guide,” Bella said.
“Let’s not be hasty.” Nivvy reached into his pack for a blanket and wrapped it around his forearm, then rested that arm on his knee. Transformed animals, unlucky folks that they were, often had a bad go of it, whether it was because folks found them creepy or just assumed they’d done something bad to be cursed. As a result, they were often more helpful for less coin than other resources. Unless they were toads, who had limited usefulness all around.
“Many thanks,” the hawk said as they alit on Nivvy’s arm, fluffing their wings. A leather cord wrapped around one of their legs was threaded through a hole in a silver coin, Nivvy noticed. “I’m called Zein. How may I address you fine people?”
“I’m called Nivvy, and this is Bella. Bella’s not too keen on Spire, I’m just finding out.”
“Why’s that?” Zein tilted their head and stared down at the former queen.
Nivvy, too, looked down, interested in the answer. Bella stared back at him, not the hawk, and said, “It’s none of your concern. I simply don’t wish to…” She waved toward the crowd queuing up to enter the city. “I don’t wish to.”
“But why not?” Zein cried. “Did you know, Spire has more tailors than any other city within a hundred miles? We are renowned for our lovely azure dye, made from a plant that only grows here. Even if I knew which one, I couldn’t tell you. The tailors don’t tell anyone, and that’s why you won’t find that color anywhere else in the known world! And I can show you a tavern that makes spiced griddle cakes better than anything you’ve sampled in the world. Trust me, I’ve flown over every inch of the city a hundred times and I know which places to go and which places to avoid and where the best food and the cleanest beds are.”
“You can see the beds from flying over?” Nivvy asked.
Before Zein could reply, Bella asked, “Can you keep us out of large crowds?”
“Course I can,” the hawk said promptly. “I wouldn’t send you to the market at midday anyway. You want places out of the way, I can guide you there, too. You members of any guild? There’s housing for those.”
Bella stared at Nivvy. “Nay,” he said. “No guild.”
“All good.” Zein shifted their weight on Nivvy’s arm. “So do you want to hire me? If not, perfectly fine, I understand, I’ll be on my way.”
“We’ll hire you,” Bella said.
Nivvy stared. “We will?”
“I’ll feel better with someone who knows the city. Since you insist you absolutely must visit it,” she said.
“Fantastic!” Zein brightened and fluffed their wings. “You won’t regret it. I don’t eat much and I know all the places to go.”
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