But still. These 396 pages aren’t doing any good if I keep them to myself.
So, without any further footling about, here’s chapter one of The Realms Beyond, entitled “Orlando.”
(Contains mild spoilers for The Fiery Arrow.)
Chapter One: Orlando
Orlando’s boots pounded the hard stone of the cliffs as he neared the descent to the seashore. Though the cooing of gulls and crash of breakers filled the air, not a single human noise met his ears. All the better if the seaside outpost was deserted: there would be no one to spread any stories of a young burgundy-cloaked spy and his horse. Nonetheless, he still fingered the hilt of one of the twin knives sheathed at his sides.
The lone tower on the cliffs—standing abandoned and only half-built—loomed like a tenuous sentry, trying to discern his intentions. Orlando cast another glance at the tower. Nothing stirred.
He pulled the cloak from around his face. If this place truly held no Reinholdian guards, there would be no use in the disguise any longer. He let the hood of the reddish cloak fall back off his flaxen hair.
No sooner had he done so than the door of the tower creaked open and a gray-bearded man in a navy tunic emerged, puffing quickly towards him.
Orlando jerked the hood back over his head and drew the cloak across the lower half of his face. His horse whinnied slightly at the stranger.
“Ho there, sir!” the man called, still hurrying along. He finally came within five paces of Orlando and his horse. “What’s your business?”
“My business? By that I presume you mean my trade?”
“What I mean is, who are you and what’re you doing here? I’ve not seen your face ‘round the city before. But yes, tell me your trade, if it suits your fancy.”
“My trade is unusual. You could say I make a living out of danger.” Orlando fingered the right-hand knife beneath his cloak, feeling its polished mother-of-pearl handle.
“That’s not a trade,” the gray-bearded man said. “P’raps you’d like to know that I am a lord of this country and have the authority to have you imprisoned. I am Lord Brédan of Reinhold.”
Orlando had heard enough of the lord’s chitchat. Sweeping his cloak aside, he drew the knife out and held it to Brédan’s throat, pressing the blade almost hard enough to draw blood. With his free hand, he gripped Brédan’s sword arm with a practiced strength and skill.
The lord sputtered, taking his breaths in tiny intervals.
Orlando leaned close, tilting the blade so that the flat pressed against Brédan’s neck. “You may keep your life if you answer one question for me.”
“I suppose I’ll have to hear the question first,” Brédan managed.
“What do you know of the treasures of Reinhold?”
“The…treasures?” The lord’s gray eyes glimmered with confusion. “I don’t rightly know what you mean.”
Orlando gritted his teeth. Why was this blabbering coot so difficult? “If you are truly a lord of Reinhold, you must know something of the treasures.”
“We are not a rich people. What treasure do you think we have?”
“Enough lies,” Orlando demanded. Still Brédan looked unsure. “Speak!”
“If the king knows of any especial treasures, he hasn’t told me.” Brédan gasped as Orlando once again pressed the blade of the knife to his throat.
“You are tedious,” Orlando said, “but I see in your eyes that you are speaking the truth. In return for that, I will not kill you. In fact, I would have you carry a message to your princess. We passed each other not long ago, but it was not an, ah, appropriate time for talking.”
“You have seen Arliss?” Brédan’s incredulity was rising.
“Yes, she was shooting a flaming arrow as I left the city. I’m sure she will be disappointed to find you let me slip through your nets. But you will carry my message.” Orlando lowered his voice to a whisper. “The war in Reinhold has only just begun. Thane has begun his assault, but whether he is successful or not, the battles will not end here. This fight will rage on until we find all the treasures of Reinhold.”
“Who, may I ask, is the ‘we’ in that message?”
“That’s none of your business.” Orlando drew the dagger away and slammed the hilt into Brédan’s temple.
The lord crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Orlando gave his horse’s reins a tug. He had other, more important messages to deliver elsewhere.
He stepped over the motionless body and continued towards the place where the vast cliffs descended into the sand and, finally, into the water. Stuffing the entirety of his cape into his saddlebags, he crunched across the beach and waded into the undulating waters.
Almost as soon as he entered the waves, the ship emerged from the fog, and he pulled his horse forward until the water came nearly to his waist. As he stood there, waiting for the crew to hoist him and his horse up, he cast a long look back at the land of Reinhold.
“Well, princess, it’s farewell to you and your land for now. But we shall meet again. The war in Reinhold has only just begun.”