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Chapter One

Curled into a ball with a swollen backside, Renny watched as her once-beloved books blackened and curled in the flame before her. She didn’t know if she was sad or angry, but she was still sobbing anyway.

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Although her father burning her books was no small tragedy, and her merciless spanking had only added injury to insult, she couldn’t help thinking that her father’s behavior was the worst thing of all. He confused her and, above all, disappointed her. Her father was now nearly 115 years old—but what good was his immortality if he couldn’t even stand up to the king with it?

Her father was a king’s man—that was no surprise. As High General, he had worked closely with his majesty for three generations, now. But the King was no longer someone to bow to; and to see her father bow his dark, wise head in shame to a young greasy ruler that had been staring at her cleavage all evening was enough to churn her stomach. What was even worse was that her father thought she was the one in the wrong!

“Now, Renny—I expect nothing less than your best behavior,” he had told her that morning as she was fixing his collar. “Don’t speak unless spoken to. Even if you’re permitted into the meeting, I expect nothing short of complete silence.”

She had flushed angrily even then. “But, Poppa, I—” she started to defend; although it was already a week-old argument that she knew her father was never going to waver on. Her father was not a man who doted over his children (any of the thirteen of them), so he would never say anything that wasn’t true. But he had said several times that his daughter was one of the best cartologists he had ever seen in his many years and, under his guidance, her skills could put most any strategist to shame. Attending a war conference and not being able to say a word seemed nothing less than torture to Renny.

“Rathnait Marion, I mean it,” her father silenced sharply. When his daughter flinched away from him at his stubborn bark, he softened and put a hand on her cheek. “I need you to be charming this afternoon,” he reminded. “Your nineteenth birthday is just around the corner.” He patted her face lightly with his calloused hand and walked into the next room to grab his sword sheath.

“In another year,” she grumbled lowly.

“Yes. Only another year,” he told her from the next room; she was surprised he could hear her. “And by then, I don’t want your only suitors to be poor, sorry souls. Your husband won’t live forever, and I want to make sure that you can live for a while—and comfortably—after his death.” He came back into the hallway. “So, promise your poor, old father to keep a civil tongue in your mouth?” He looked at her with a nearly desperate plea behind his eyes.

She sighed and rolled her eyes at him, and then she grinned. “Alright, Poppa,” she promised. “I’ll behave. I promise.”

Although she had just finished celebrating her eighteenth birthday, her father had unfortunately kept in mind that it was still customary for girls to be married on their nineteenth birthday. The impending deadline, as well as her already slightly notorious reputation, worried her father into ending her pleas that he let her come with him to a war council session, simply because only the highest-paid and most honorable men of the kingdom would be there. Sirius even bought Renny a dress to mark the occasion, though she discovered it was quite revealing of her bosom. “You shouldn’t let any of your assets go unnoticed,” he told her when he presented her the thing, shrugging innocently.

“Are you excited about meeting the king?” he asked on the carriage ride over, looking over to see a very thoughtful expression on his daughter’s slightly freckled face.

“Of course,” she lied. Truth was that she was only curious to see if her favorite author had hit the nail on the head; but she already assumed that the outlawed author Quentin Quartermaine had to be right. After all, Kingstown had never seen more poverty than under this king, and even her own father had complained constantly of being frustrated with the King’s antics. Quartermaine had written that the king, with his various personal faults aside, was set to rule Courtney as a military dictatorship, and as a result, the country was ripening towards revolution. She wondered if she would be able to judge the king unfavorably in just a single day.

Unfortunately, Quartermaine was more than right. From the moment she walked in to meet with the king, she felt like he was singling her out as prey, and doing just what her dress was designed to encourage—staring at her cleavage.

“General Weather,” the king said with a debonair grin after Sirius had escorted his daughter into the throne room. “You may run ahead to the council hall—I’d like to escort your daughter there myself.” The king smiled wickedly as he looped her arm around his and immediately began to play with her long fingers.

Sirius shifted his eyes nervously before he bowed his head. “Yes, Sire, as you’d like.” He gave an apologetic look to Renny before he shuffled out of the room.

“Are you sure you want to sit there for all that… tactical dribble?” the king said, nearly sneering as he very slowly escorted Renny out of the hall, going another way from her father, which Renny presumed was a longer route. “You know, I could escort you to the drawing room myself, if you’d like?” He grinned slyly at her as he stroked her hand.

She shivered and felt her cheeks flush nervously. “No, my lord, my… my interests lay in tactics. I’ve been listening at my father’s table since I was a babe.”

“Oh, well, if you insist… You know, your father did not exaggerate. You are quite beautiful,” he stated with a drawl. “And your dress is quite charming as well.”

“Thank you, Sire, but I hate to distract you in these dire times.”

“I quite like the distraction,” he assured, slowly sliding a hand down to her bottom as they walked. “In fact—you should come for tea later—we might have fun… distracting each other.” Even though his smile was white, and he was handsome, Renny wondered if she had ever met a more frightening man. She turned her head, afraid to look at him.

Renny squirmed away from the king’s grasp a bit when she felt his strong fingers grab her bottom and was instantly desperate to turn the conversation away from herself. “You’re too kind, Sire,” she told him softly before she raised her head high and said, “because, indeed, I’ve been meaning to ask you—what’s bringing on these rumored hostilities from Butany?”

“King Bruce plans to take our northern shores, it seems,” the king sighed, rolling his eyes dramatically. “They feel we’re weakened because of our rumored revolution,” he snorted. “Well, they’ll be sorry to dare try to take our lands as his own!”

“But—the revolution—” Renny started.

“There is no revolution. Once we find Guy Crusoe and Quentin Quartermaine our worries are over. Kill the leaders, and you kill the uprising. Their followers are only peasants!” With that, the doors ahead of him were opened by two guards, exposing a room filled with about twenty-five men, including her father.

“My friends, may I introduce to you the lovely Rathnait Marion Weather—the High General’s daughter. She is here to observe.”

“Are we allowing guests in our council now, your highness?” said a voice near the head of the table. Renny saw that she recognized the long, tied-back, sun-bleached hair of the grumpy man who was looking at her as if she was as inappropriate in the room as a pirate flag. The deep blue eyes and broad shoulders Renny would never forget, but she had not seen him in eleven years; not since her mother’s funeral.

“If you have no argument with the flowers in the corner of the room, Admiral Liam, then you shouldn’t have any argument with Miss Weather, for that’s all she’ll be,” responded the king, as he gave her hand to one of his guards, who escorted her to the far end of the room. At this, Renny’s eyes narrowed and she looked at her father, who only lifted his eyebrows, which seemed to say in a smooth gesture, “Behave.”

After the council began, amidst the lustful glances the king would constantly give her, she felt the stern look of Admiral Logan Liam for a long moment, which she responded to by lifting her chin saucily and glaring straight back at him. She was insulted by Liam’s hostility, and surprised by it. At her mother’s funeral, Admiral Liam had gone through lengths to entertain her. It wasn’t hard—there was only one story, when faced with death, that she wanted to hear—the story of why her father wouldn’t die.

To her surprise, the story didn’t include a god coming down and inviting Logan and Sirius to dinner, like Sirius was telling his young daughter at that age. Logan’s story wasn’t particularly realistic, either; but it seemed believable, nonetheless. He could have told her anything; he was the only man she had met so far that was taller than her father, which meant, at that age, that he must have been even greater.

“So, we were officially shipwrecked on a desert island; it was cliché, but there you have it,” Logan had told her then after talking about an escape from an attack on their transport ship. “And your father was just a miserable bastard, but he had just gotten married before all this, and so he was just pitifully upset—he went completely mad. Completely mad—started walking around the island drinking from tide pools. I told him he’d kill himself if he continued on; but he was mad, as I said, and didn’t care. So; one day, he comes to me claiming that he found a tide pool that tasted like champagne. I just thought it was part of his madness and ignored him, but he kept on it until I drank from it just to appease him.”

“And did it taste like champagne?” she had asked, wide-eyed.

“Not really, but close enough. Better than anything else on the island, and so we ended up drinking a lot of it. Figured it was safe enough—wasn’t sea water, I’ll give it that. But that night, we became horribly ill and we both blacked out there on the beach. We woke up god knows how long after. But we felt different—we never felt healthier. But we certainly hadn’t realized that it caused agelessness and so we didn’t bring any with us when a ship rescued us a month later. Years later, when we hadn’t aged a day still, we told the king about it—he demanded we tell him about it—and the king spent a fortune looking for that island, but we never found it again. Even later than that, we found out that the trait passes down.”

“But—it doesn’t make sense. Poppa said that I had twelve brothers, but nine of them’s died!”

“But not of old age, Renny, you see,” explained Logan, putting his hand on her knee. “We can’t die of old age—it’s a blessing. But we will die of something, like your brothers, or your mother, the poor thing. Something will get us, Renny, I won’t lie to you—but we get to choose what that may be, in a way.”

“Do you have any children?” she had asked innocently, cocking her head with curiosity.

“Oh, heavens, no,” he had snorted, sitting back on the sofa, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Never married. She’d die long before me—like your father survived your mother.” He looked back towards Sirius, who was trying to still a quivering lip in front of his guests. “Absolutely tragic. Hardly worth it.”

* * *

Before her now, the scene before her unfolded into one debate after another about strategies, scenarios, and politics. Renny could barely keep still in her seat—she had an opinion about everything; but her father had been her teacher, and so, logically, he had seen everything that she did.

There was no need to interrupt; she only bit her lip as those around her said everything that she wanted to say. She finally began to pace around the table, her hands thoughtfully wringing behind her back as she looked over shoulders to read maps, ignoring a few disdainful glares from the people around her, including her father.

She began to wonder if it would ever come, and it did—a time where her father didn’t see what needed to be seen. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, it was something that Renny felt was dreadfully serious and even more obvious. When the King called for the final vote on the matter, she felt as if she was going to explode if she didn’t say something.

“So is it agreed? The fifth regiment will cut across our lands here—to intercept Bruce’s troops along our north shore,” the king began to declare, pointing at a large map that was strewn across the table.

“Aye!” “Yes, certainly!” the men agreed.

“No,” Renny finally said, breaking her three-hour silence. Her feminine voice was so out of place it seemed to echo in her own ears.

There were cross looks from everybody, but the king, again, was amused and accepted her protest almost as if it was a break from the arguing among the men at the table. He chuckled. “My dear girl,” said the king. “This is the simplest course of action we’ve gone over all morning. Perhaps you’re growing weary? I’ll have a servant escort you out, if you wish.”

“I don’t wish it at all,” Renny stated, raising her chin saucily.

“Renny,” her father growled in a warning tone. She could barely look over at him in fear of losing her nerve.

“No, Poppa,” she said defiantly and, reaching over the High Admiral’s shoulder, she pressed her long, manicured finger on the centermost map. “You’ve overlooked your geography, sirs. The fifth regiment is gigantic—five thousand strong. You can’t possibly go through this region with that load—not with the artillery you will carry. The land is like flan here; swampish yet extremely fertile. A whole stretch of fields as far as the eye can see. See? Straight up this line. You’ll destroy half of it going up this route; the other half will be certainly destroyed later, since Bruce’s forces would no doubt take the northwestern to southeastern route by entering about the bay of Gibane… You shall certainly cause a famine with this plan. These fields are half of this country’s crops. We must protect our resources.”

She raised her eyes, expecting to see a look of troubled hesitation within the king’s eyes, but instead he slapped his knees and laughed. Most of the men laughed with him in support, causing Renny to clench her fists and blush slightly in a mixture of disappointment, anger, and indignity.

Her father had given her the largest glare of anyone when she had first begun speaking, since it was against his wishes, yet he couldn’t let her point elude him. Sirius peered over the map, then pulled out another one under it and looked over it, as well to compare information. At the same time, the High Admiral pulled out another map, and looked over it carefully and quietly. “She’s right, your majesty,” Sirius admitted when the other men’s laughter had subsided slightly. “It would destroy about half with the machinery we’ll carry, and it’s true—there’s a large possibility that much of the rest will be destroyed from forces attacking out of the bay area.”

“We have reserves,” shrugged the young king with a chuckle still in his throat. “We couldn’t get up there another way—it would take weeks to go around the damn kingdom verses days.”

“The reserves are only for the service men, my lord,” reminded Renny, looking aghast. “And there’s not nearly enough—”

“It should be enough to feed the men,” the king assured.

“But the country folk will—”

“I’ll take it on, Sir, with my fleet. I’ll keep them off that shore entirely. If you spare me three ships, I’ll—” Logan began, pressing his own map down on the table firmly, prepared to assess his plan.

“Three ships, Admiral? Heavens, no. We must play offensive, not defensive. Crush them quickly,” the king decided. “We must show an example to our enemies if we want to thwart this little revolution in its beginning steps.”

“But, Sir,” Logan continued to press.

“The answer is no, Master Liam,” the king said simply. “My decision has been made.”

Logan tried not to look too insulted. “Yes, Sir,” he said behind a locked jaw, and rolled up his map.

“Oh, give him three ships!” Renny demanded; her voice filled with exasperation. “The country folk are scraping by as it is—the loss of so much wheat would be devastating to them—and you must think of the city people, Sir!”

“You women wouldn’t have this war at all. Gods forbid men march through snow or be killed, Heavens!” The King mocked her in response. “I’m tired of these distasteful looks you give. Who do you think you are? My royal advisor?” the king snapped very sternly and coarsely. He had stopped being amused–she was cute only until she began to grow support.

“Maybe I should be,” she snapped, ignoring her father’s sharp snap of “Renny!

“Somebody must show you some sense about running a country. You said you wanted to thwart the revolution when you’re simply throwing fuel into the fire!” She pursed her lips bitterly for a moment. “Not that I blame them. Quentin Quartermaine is right,” she said, completely forgetting about the weight such a name would carry to such an audience. “A king without empathy forces the peasants to propel it upon him. You don’t give a fig towards your peasants. I’m sure you’ll even have the nerve to be surprised when the war is over and you’re overthrown.”

The king spun his head in Sirus’ direction, completely paralyzed with the lack of respect. “General Weather,” snapped the king suddenly. “What sort of house do you run? A rebel camp?”

“No, Sir,” Sirius pleaded nervously as he stood up and grabbed Renny’s upper arm to yank his daughter protectively behind him. “I’ve—I’ve simply let her read too much, Milord. Rathnait—silence,” he ordered in a hiss, but it was too late. The young king was already very upset.

“This meeting is adjourned,” the king decided, standing up from his chair quickly. The military men were all in a huff now, speaking angrily amongst themselves. The king turned to Renny, who was kept straight behind her father. “I should have you hanged for reading Quartermaine, but in respect to your father’s long service, I will grant you pardon.”

Renny wished to say something dreadfully sarcastic, but simply held her tongue and glared, letting her father give out thanks for her. “Thank you for your mercy, milord.”

“She speaks about such things again, I will have her tongue removed,” vowed the king with a face of stone. “The only thing pleasant about her is her face, anyway.” With that, he turned heal and marched rather dramatically out of the room.

The room emptied quickly, leaving only Renny, Sirius (who had the look of terror upon his face), and Logan, who looked very frustrated as he gathered up his precious naval maps.

She could see that her father was upset because his posture was so rigid. “Poppa, I—” Renny began after the long silence.

“Renny—stop speaking,” Sirius commanded shortly, not turning around to look at her. He then went to the table and began rolling up his own maps as well.

Frustrated and stung by her father’s coldness, she walked up to Logan. “Admiral, you must agree—”

“No, I don’t,” snapped Logan, feeling like his pride was quite bruised. He turned around and looked down at her with fierce, narrow eyes, though his posture was immaculately and proudly straight. “I follow orders. I don’t need rebel sympathizers to back up my plans for me.”

She knew it was appropriate to bow her head when being so insulted, but Renny decided to take Logan’s chiding like a man and straightened her own posture. She looked into his blue eyes with a steely and disappointed glare.

It seemed to take a while—at least a few seconds—before Logan cut the stare with Renny. He turned to Sirius and acknowledged him with a nod of his head. “General Weather.”

“Admiral Liam, good luck,” Sirius murmured as he watched the admiral leave the room out of the corner of his eye and continued rolling up his maps.

When his daughter finally came up next to him and delicately began to roll up his maps, he grabbed her in such a way that she dropped the map in her hands and gasped as her father grabbed her arms and turned her around to face him. As he spoke, he began to shake her. “I only asked one thing of you today, Rathnait! One thing. And you acted like I hadn’t said it at all! How dare you disobey me?”

“What was I—” she tried to defend, becoming quite frightened. She didn’t think she had ever seen her father so undone—hell, she’d never seen the vein that now seemed to be rippling from his neck.

“You could have whispered in my ear or talked to me privately. That’s what you should have done and you know that damn well,” he hissed, watching her eyes fall guiltily to the floor. “I’ve been lenient with you, and this is how you repay me? By making a fool of me?”

I’m not the one who didn’t notice a plan’s glaring error that will—” she said dryly, and amazingly bravely. Though, not even she could claim surprise when her father quickly tucked her under his arm and landed a dozen heavy swats to her behind.

“I will make you obey me yet, little girl!” he promised over her pain-ridden gasps, feeling completely unsatisfied by not even being able to strike the flesh underneath her dress layers. “If you can’t curb your tongue, then I’ll do it for you!” He let her go and she shrunk away from him, looking at him with hate in her squinted eyes as she placed her hands over her bottom protectively.

Her father turned back to his maps and started to roll them again. As he replayed the king’s gut-wrenching threat in his mind, he shook his head and added grimly, “Just wait until we get home…”

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