As promised, your Saturday Special of When Destiny Comes Calling. And—also as promised—it’s going to be a good one. (Excuse me a devious chuckle.) I can’t wait to see your votes! Many thanks for your understanding when I switched the post last minute yesterday. I was simply too excited to share the gorgeous new cover for my novella, Out of Darkness Rising. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you really must check it out!)
Alexander plucked the sword from Miss Destiny’s hand, scrubbed it with a slimy swamp leaf, and sheathed it again. With a world weary sigh, he sank down onto an obliging rock near the ogre’s corpse. “What in the name of all things fierce and ferocious was that?”
Miss Destiny sighed. “It’s called an ogre. Gracious me, but I would have supposed you would know that by now. Come along, dear. You can come out now! It’s quite safe.”
Startled by the abrupt switch in tone and conversation, Alexander spun around. Miss Destiny stood on the far side of the hummock assisting a young woman out of the bushes. She was clad in a gray cloak over a starched black and white servant’s dress, and carried a bundle in her arms.
Alexander started to his feet. “Is that what I think it is?”
Miss Destiny shrugged. “Please note that I have made no claims about being able to decipher the workings of your mind.”
The bundle wriggled and a tiny fist shot out of the wrappings. From within the blanket, came a high-pitched squalling.
“It is . . . it’s a baby.”
The young woman clutched the screaming bundle to her chest. “It is not!”
Alexander rolled his eyes. “I don’t mean to sound thick, ma’am, but if that’s not a baby, then what exactly is it?”
The young woman turned her nose up at that—and the resemblance she bore to Destiny in that moment made Alexander want to dash headlong into the swamp. “I’m afraid, it’s none of your business.” The young woman bounced the child on her hip until his wails subsided—something Alexander was supremely grateful for.
He sheathed his sword and dropped back to the ground, resting his back against a tree, and stretching his feet before him. “I suppose the servant’s get-up is none of my business, either?”
The young woman twisted to face Destiny. “Why he’s nowhere near as thick as you make him out to be!”
Normally such sarcasm would have earned its own sarcastic retort, but Alexander was far too weary, frustrated, and desperate to find out more to be bothered with thinking up a witty reply. “Might one perhaps inquire as to your name, ma’am? Or is that none of my business too?”
Miss Destiny laughed at that. The shrill sound only served to raise Alexander’s hackles. “None of your business assuredly, but we shall tell you all the same. Her name is Fate.”
Alexander’s jaw dropped, and he stared from one woman to the other. “Fate . . . Destiny . . . must have been a shortage of decent names in the year you were born.” He pushed up to his feet, then dusted his hands off on his muddy trousers. “Now, considering that I just rushed an ogre to save the both of you—”
“Not to be a stickler for the facts, but I do seem to recall being the one who defeated the monster.”
Alexander ignored Miss Destiny’s interruption and forged ahead, pacing with his hands clasped behind his back as he spoke in the no-nonsense voice he’d learned from his father, the Baron of Midsig. “Considering that I just rushed an ogre to save the both of you, I think it is perfectly reasonable to expect to be told just what is going on, and to find out why you, Miss Fate, and the child were here in the swamp in the first place, and what in the realm of exploding things this has to do with my family’s curse.”
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Help decide the course of the story by voting on your favorite option in the comments!
Option 1: Miss Destiny pursed her lips and then nodded. “Fair enough. Fate, do you care to do the honors?”
With a heavy sigh, the young woman sat down on a fallen log, baby snuggled against her shoulder. “Very well, sister, but I rescind my former assessment. I’m afraid he is even thicker than you said.”
“Now see her—” Alexander broke off. “Wait, did you just call her sister?” With a groan, he dropped to the ground and cupped his chin in his hand. Just when he’d thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, now there were two of them. “So who’s the baby? Your brother? Is his name Doom?”
“Indeed not.” Destiny sniffed. “If you must know, he’s a common shepherd’s son named Peterkin, and vitally important to our mission. Now do sit down, boy, and try to stop complaining for half a second at a time. We are about to explain everything.”
Option 2: Miss Destiny pursed her lips and then nodded. “Fair enough. Fate, do you care to do the honors?”
With a heavy sigh, the young woman sat on a fallen log with the baby snuggled against her shoulder and her ankles crossed before her. She dipped her head toward Alexander. “I’m afraid it’s rather a long story, but I shall attempt to keep it brief so you can follow along with unduly taxing your mental abilities.”
Alexander started to stammer a reply, but thought better of it when Destiny’s glare set the skin crawling on his arms.
Fate cleared her throat. “As I was saying, we’ll keep to the short version. What do you people say, ‘short and sweet?’ Here goes: I am Fate, formerly a countess in the Emperor’s court in Aamardell. And this,” she glanced down at the baby in her arms, “is Emperor Caldwell VI.”
Option 3: Miss Destiny pursed her lips and then nodded. “Fair enough. Fate, do you care to do the honors?”
Fate smiled, and a sickly sweet smile Alexander thought it, the sort a cat delivers just before it pounces. “You know of course about the family curse—”
“Hold on right there.” Alexander cast about for a seat and finally settled on a boulder beside the ogre’s carcass. He got a whiff as he sat down and vowed to never breathe again. Resting his elbows on his knees to keep his dueling pistols accessible, he turned his attention back to Fate. “Let’s start at the beginning.”
Fate waved a dismissive hand. “Well, as you know, it all began when your great great great grandsire tried to assassinate Emperor Caldwell II …” She broke off and peered at his face. “Wait … you don’t know, do you?”
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