From the comment section:
I bought the “Audio That Shall Not Be Named” and did get my credit back; I just placed a call as well as the return did not give me the option as to why I returned it.
In my phone call I started with, “I want to tell you why I returned by audiobook – it’s a pirated copy”…
Customer Service Agent: Would that be Small Magics?
CSA: We’ve been numerous calls about that audio and we are working very hard to get this resolved and off our website.
Me: When you say “numerous”, how many?
CSA: Hundreds so far.
Me: Well the Authors have a very strong fan base *snickers*
CSA: So we have discovered over the past few days.
We, The Horde, The BDH loves House Andrews – Not Pirates!
Methinks Audible is scrambling and will be very happy to get this off the proverbial shelf and get their call center back to normal.-D
Thank you, guys! You are awesome.
I have a snippet for you. This won’t stay up long and most of the snippets from this project will be removed soon, because it’s a work in progress.
Heart of a Knight
Will was walking towards us with a determined expression on his face.
“A noble is here to see you. He won’t give his name. He brought one bodyguard with him.”
Strange. Did Solentine send someone my way? “Did he say what he wants or who sent him?”
“He wants to ask you a question. He didn’t drop any names.”
If this was coming from the Shears, it was in our best interest to let him in. I would have preferred to cut ties with Solentine. He was way too dangerous, and if he ever figured out what we were doing, he would want to use us to his advantage. Unfortunately, he made it clear that he would be dropping by again, so a clean break wasn’t an option. Since we couldn’t avoid him, we had to maintain a reasonable relationship.
However, it was highly unlikely that our visitor was sent by the Shears. To Solentine, I was still an unknown. He wouldn’t recommend me to any clients. If he wanted information, he would come himself. He would want in on the conversation or he would ask me directly and then decide how much to pass on.
No, this visit was a bad idea.
“Please inform him that I’m not receiving visitors.”
Will nodded and walked back to the gate.
I grabbed a rag and poured my soap pudding into the molds.
“I can do that,” Clover protested.
“You have to be careful. It has lye in it. You can do the next batch.”
Will came back. “He says his name is Earl Berengur.”
I set the empty pot down.
I knew exactly who he was and why he was here. This concerned one of my favorite people in Delros. He wasn’t an extraordinary kind of person. I didn’t like him because he had great looks or was really funny. I liked him because he felt human. The inhabitants of Kair Toren did incredibly fucked up things to each other and waved them off without any guilt or regret. This man had done something horrible, and it tore him up. It was one of the rare moments of accountability when actions had real, personal consequences.
“Let him in.”
Will let out a shrill whistle. Kaiden popped out of a second-floor window.
Kaiden ducked back inside.
I walked over to the picnic area we’d set up by the wine tree and sat in a chair at our simple table. Raynald came striding out of the house, his sword on his hip.
“We have visitors,” I told him.
“The Earl of Berengur with his bodyguard.”
Raynald nodded and parked himself behind me.
Will opened the door, and two men emerged from the tunnel into the courtyard.
The first was about six feet tall, with straw colored hair, and broad shoulders. He wore a brigandine, a kind of knee length tunic reinforced with studded leather, and a plain metal pauldron on his left shoulder. Solentine’s pauldron had been a fashion statement. This one was functional, with a rerebrace, almost a full metal sleeve. The man didn’t carry a shield, and he would use the arm to block in a fight. A simple sword hung from his belt. His features were sharply cut, and his eyes were alert and watchful.
His bodyguard was a couple of inches taller and wore a similar outfit, except for a full-face helmet, which hid his features. He also carried a simple sword.
They could have been private guards, mercenaries, men-at-arms, or sergeants of some knight order. If you met this pair on the streets, you wouldn’t give them a second glance.
The blond man approached the table and put a crest on it. Regular crests were embroidered, then stretched tightly over wood, and framed with braided cord. This thing was solid metal. A miniature shield, a green background with a white tower, wrapped in rising rose vines bearing blue flowers. The crest of Berengur.
“What can I do for you, Lord Berengur?”
“I am told that you sell information. I am looking for a man, and I will pay generously.”
That’s what I thought. To tell him or not to tell him? That was the question.
Berengur waited for my response.
“Do you sell information?” he prompted.
“Under the right circumstances. I’m trying to decide if helping you would do more harm than good.”
“What is the meaning of that?” his voice held a hint of warning.
“Let me ask you a question. A horse that carried you into battle has gone lame. There is no cure. He will never bear a rider again and the injury prevents him from being a stud. What would you do with this horse?”
Berengur frowned. “I would put him out to pasture. He has given me years of faithful service. He deserves a peaceful life. I don’t see how this is relevant.”
Maybe this would work out after all.
I pointed to a chair. “Please sit. Clover, please bring our guests some tea.”
Berengur sat. The man behind him remained standing. I didn’t have to glance back to know Raynald was watching the two of them like a hawk. He and the bodyguard were probably impassively staring each other down.
“Your brother is alive.”
Berengur didn’t seem surprised that I guessed who he was looking for. If I truly was a competent information broker, I would’ve heard about it. He’d been looking for his baby brother for over a year.
“He isn’t a captive. He is within the borders of the kingdom in a place of his choosing. He is remaining there of his own free will.”
Berengur’s face told me he didn’t believe me. I couldn’t blame him. He’d been scammed more than once.
“And how much will his location cost me?”
He studied me.
“I will not be charging you today. I know you love Pelegrin. I know your mother and you are both worried about him. You lost track of him after the Caladimos campaign. That was by his design. He doesn’t wish to be found.”
“And why is that?” His tone told me he was clearly skeptical.
“Pelegrin wanted to be a knight from a very young age. He admired your late father. Part of it is your fault. You used to tell him stories of your father’s bravery, stories you’d embellished. You made him into a heroic figure, a man of flawless character, who embodied all of the knightly virtues.”
“How do you know that?”
“That’s not important.”
Clover brought out a platter with tea and a tea kettle and poured it into two cups. She set the cups in front of us and withdrew a polite distance away.
“Like you and your father, Pelegrin joined the knightly order of the Defender. The knightly orders spend a great deal of time discussing the knightly virtues, while simultaneously training their squires in violence. And yet, they never address what happens when those two halves of knighthood come into conflict.”
He furrowed his eyebrows. “I do not follow.”
“Pelegrin was knighted at seventeen and given his first command at eighteen. He was very young. His view of the world was simple, but I don’t need to tell you that war is complicated and messy. It demands brutality and sacrifices. Pelegrin was put into an impossible situation, and he had to make a decision that conflicted with everything he had been taught to believe. It haunts him. He dreams of it over and over. He thinks he failed the legacy of your father and failed himself as a knight.”
Berengur stared at me, his face shocked.
“He’s deeply damaged by what he endured. He let the war touch his soul, and he felt too much. When he looks at his hands, they’re still covered in blood, and he feels like he can’t wash it off.”
“Where is he?” He didn’t say it like a demand. It was almost a plea.
“He has chosen to recuperate at a monastery. He hasn’t taken his vows and has no plans to do so, but he conducts himself as a monk. He does manual labor. Growing things in a garden soothes him. He is accepted by other monks, and the abbot, who is very experienced in these matters, is helping him to come to terms with his past. It’s a simple life and that is all he can handle right now. He is healing, slowly, gradually, but he is healing. If you go there and force him to return to your castle, if you take that little peace from him, he will obey you, but one day you will walk into the grand hall and find him hanging off a beam.”
Berengur drew back.
“I urge you with everything in my power to let him recover. When he is ready, he will return to you on his own.”
Silence fell. I drank my tea.
“You truly believe he will take his own life?”
I did. But being convinced of it and trying to explain it without the numbers was a different story. Funny how we took statistics for granted until there was none.
“He’s thought about it. He hasn’t done it because it would be selfish, and he doesn’t want to hurt you or your mother. We place such a crushing burden on the knights. We tell them they’re supposed to be heroes, defenders of the realm, people of superior character and breeding. Then we send them into a slaughter and force them to butcher. They experience fear. They exist in constant vigilance, always ready to fight for their lives. They watch their friends bleed out and die, and they have no time to grieve. Nobody warns them about this. Nobody sings songs about a young man trying to push his guts back into his stomach, or being so scared that the world turns dark, or being knocked off your horse and drowning in the muddy field in your heavy armor while riders stomp on your back.”
The two men in front of me were very still.
“We do this to them and then we expect them to return to a peaceful life as if nothing happened. Some of them get a taste for the killing and can’t let it go. Some of them can. Others like Pelegrin need help and time.”
“What did he do?” Berengur asked.
“He was put in charge of a border village that was a vital point in the supply chain for the front line of the Caladimos conflict. The village sympathized with the Empire. The emperor’s agents promised them ten years free of taxation if the region raised the Crimson Banner.”
Come to our side, everything will be great, we have cookies. Of course, we won’t tax you. What are you even talking about?
“The village didn’t resist openly, but the first night Pelegrin lost two of his soldiers. He found them in the morning with their throats slit. The next night he lost another to poison, then two more to hunting arrows. The empire’s forces were leagues away. This was home grown resistance. He gathered everyone in the town square and told them that the next time one of his people was killed or harmed, he would take the life of a villager. A life for a life. He hoped it would stop.”
“It didn’t,” Berengur guessed.
“They didn’t believe him,” I said. “They thought he was young and soft. Another soldier died in his sleep, and Pelegrin picked an old man, the village head, marched him to the center of the village square, and ran him through. The man’s daughter, a young woman about my maid’s age, drew a knife, and stabbed the battle chaplain, who was the only unarmored member of Pelegrin’s command, in the back. He died on the spot. Pelegrin dragged her to the body of her father and cut her throat as well. The killings stopped.”
“The villagers thought their status as noncombatants protected them,” Berengur said. “Once he killed an old man and a young woman, he communicated his willingness to retaliate. They realized they were not immune. His actions prevented further deaths, both soldier and civilian. He has nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing he has done would damage his standing as a knight. Those are the realities of war.”
“And that is precisely the problem. In his eyes, he is a monster, and yet he was hailed as a hero when the conflict ended. To Pelergin, either nobody understood that he was a monster and when they found out, the whole world would turn on him, or everyone knew what he has done and they cheered him on for his evil deeds, which would be even worse. How could he ever measure up to his father’s legacy, the man who in his place would have brought the villagers to his side by his authority and the sheer force of his will alone?”
Berengur choked on air. “Our father had done things far, far worse…”
“You didn’t tell him any of that.”
“Of course not. Pelegrin was seven years old when Father died. He was a child!”
I drank my tea.
“You were trying to protect him then and I’m trying to protect him now.”
“Why?” Berengur asked.
“Because I understand his burden, and his story moves me. My father also had seen war, and his soul took years to heal. I can tell you the name of the monastery.”
I’d given him enough to find it anyway.
“In return, I want two things.”
“First, swear to me that you will go alone, that you will not speak to your brother or let him see you, but speak to the abbot instead and you will do your best to heed his council.”
“I swear,” Berengur declared.
“Second, I need to know who referred you to me.”
“His name is Shodel. He works in the Three Moons and sells information on the side.”
No hesitation. Dropped his contact’s name just like that.
“You will find Pelegrin in the monastery of Pious Planters north of Praul Britin.”
“You have done me a great favor.” Berengur jumped up and took his crest off the table. “I will not forget this, my lady.”
He turned to leave. His bodyguard bowed to me. It was a deep slow bow. He straightened and followed his liege to the tunnel.