Here’s a free preview of Karthanas the Lesser, the swordpunk novel I’m working on right now. Comments and criticisms more than welcome!
The morning they took ship across the channel to Mesende Yor, Louvhena came to him in his rooms at the capital. House Kinnd kept a residence in Lansium, a small palace on the mouth of the Renna, where it led out into Lansium Bay. He had slept surprisingly well the night before and was enjoying his breakfast with a savor that he should have known was too good to last.
He hadn’t spoken to her since that night in her chambers: not the following morning, not over the next three days, not during the ensuing two weeks of travel between Vinerran and Lansium. Louvhena had ridden closed up in a carriage. Karth had been happy to ride with the house guard. He ignored her during the welcome feast at the forum, and she cut him dead when Kantel made his address to the Provost and the gathered Senat. It was an impressive game, on both their parts, he thought, though Louvhena would never have admitted she was involved in anything so petty.
The look on her face was mild, almost contrite—or so one less familiar with her might have believed. Karth suddenly lost interest in his eggs and sausage and poured himself a glass of wine. He did not add water.
“Karthanas,” she said. He swallowed some wine and wondered, for what felt like the thousandth time, just what the hell he was doing here.
“Still here,” he said, the wine around in his glass. He didn’t invite her to sit down.
“You leave today,” she said.
“I’d remembered, thanks.”
She made a harsh, cutting sound with her mouth and the mask fell away. Louvhena was known for many things. Patience was not one of them.
“That was short-lived,” said Karth.
“What was?” asked Louvhena.
“For a moment, I thought you might have come here to wish me well.”
“I did,” she said. “Your insolence brings out the worst in me, Karth.” She so rarely used his nickname that the statement took him by surprise. Was it unintentionally honest? Insolence was a trait he cultivated like grapes: he thought making wine with them was enough, but he never thought of the hangover.
“I’ve come to expect no better of you. The worst in me seems to be your favorite side, though I’ve offered you the best. Many times.”
Her words shattered his line of thought. Whatever inclination he’d had to reconsider his own part in their relationship, such as it was, withered on the vine. He looked at her, stern and cold, and clenched his teeth. She’d worn a gown that managed to be both imperious and alluring, a soft creamy material draped over her breasts and hips and strapped with ribbon to cling in all the right places.
Anger, Karth found, was a destroyer of obstacles. Under the cool influence of reason he felt only disgust for his mother and the response she expected from him. The fact that she sometimes successfully inspired that response, the heavy-breathing lust that drove his mind into his cock and made him want to own her perfect body, normally kindled a shame so deep that he wanted to scourge himself with thorns.
But Louvhena inspired rage, also. And under its spell, at times like these, that stifled, shameful desire broke free of its enclosure and flared to life. Fueled, maybe, by the heat behind his eyes, he saw an image of himself tearing her dress to shreds and bending her over the balustrade on the balcony outside his window. He felt could feel the soft white flesh of her breasts in his rough hands, felt himself twisting them cruelly, looking down as he parted her buttocks with—
Karthanas stood up quickly, shading his eyes with a shaking hand. His boot caught the edge of his chair and almost toppled it, but the back of it hit the wall and sent its gilt wooden legs slamming back down onto the tiled floor.
“I hate what you do to me,” he said, swallowing. His eyes never left the remains of his breakfast. “I hate it.”
“I love you, Karth. I’ve only ever wanted love in return.”
“No. You want worship.” Louvhena shook her head and turned slightly to look out the window.
“Love is worship, Karthanas,” she said at last. “Hate is worship, too. If I cannot have your love, I will accept your hate. It will bring us closer, whether you want it or not.” Karth gritted his teeth, but stopped himself from responding.
She looked at him for a long moment, then clapped her hands slightly. The door to his chamber opened, and Karth narrowed his eyes in sudden concern, but only Sevensin entered, carrying a long parcel wrapped in black cloth. Closing the door behind him, he nodded once to Karth and then presented the parcel to Louvhena, bowing over it.
She unfolded the black fabric delicately, as if some long, fragile infant lay inside. Karth couldn’t see what it was, at first, but then she lifted it free and Sevensin stepped away.
Kindavyr gleamed in the soft morning light, its blade the polished silver of a mountain lake beneath a winter sunrise.
The sword was unsheathed, and Karth was tempted to make a crack about his mother bringing a naked blade into his room, but kept his mouth shut. The blade had that effect. Not for nothing was it the sword of their house, of House Kinnd, the peerage his mother held. There were a lot of things caught up in that weapon that Karth would have preferred to let alone. When Kullarno died he was happy to see it returned to its box in the family vault; a tangible relief almost overwhelmed him when he realized Louvhena wasn’t going to immediately offer it to him.
But there was disappointment, as well, which had undoubtedly been her intention all along. Desire. Just as the desire for her body was supposed to overwhelm his sense, his desire for the glory of a sword and the power of title that came with it was supposed to make him kneel before her and accept her blessing, accepting with it the burden of loving Louvhena el’Kinnd and being party to continuing her line into the wider world.
He wanted it. He’d always wanted it. Since he’d first seen it as a child, since Kullarno and he had first snuck into the vault to gaze at it as teens, and especially since their mother presented it to his brother, the gift of her trust, her belief, the gift she had never even deigned to give their father. He wanted it and hated himself for wanting it. And now she was offering it to him.
You are a demon witch, mother. The lord of the underworld himself could learn a thing or two from Louvhena, daughter of Kinnd.
She walked toward him, across the open space of his chamber to where he stood by the window, and presented it to him hilt first. She held the blade in her hands in such a way that if he wanted to he could take it and slash through her fingers and breast in one mighty swipe, slashing all of the confusing tangle of emotions she inspired in one stroke. The message was clear, but she spoke anyway, to remove any shadow of doubt.
“Accept it, or kill me,” said Louvhena. “The choice is yours. But it is a choice that you will have to make, my son. I grow tired of this game of ours. I suspect you are tired as well. Take it. There is nothing easier than to take it.” She tilted it slightly, and the pommel caught the light.
His hand found it and he took it from her, careful not to cut the delicate skin of her palms. He held it up before him, the impressive length of it gleaming and perfect. The grip felt like it was made to fill his hand, the curling quillons elegant in their utility. Then he saw his face in its mirrored blade, the fuller marking a shadowed line that split the vision in two. His breath caught, and time seemed to stop.
Then reality returned to him and he threw the sword to the floor with a loud clatter. Sevensin gasped dramatically, and Karth had the passing satisfaction of seeing genuine surprise on his mother’s beautiful, deadly face before he stepped over Kindavyr and walked out.