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Flight of the Godkin Griffin
Being the Adventures of Angharad Godkin of the Sunblood Cliffs
godkin



Smashwords (ebook) | Amazon (ebook) | Sofawolf (print)



At long last Angharad has arrived in print and e-book forms! This is book 1 of 2, with the next available in Spring 2013 from Sofawolf.

Also, Fred Patten reviewed the first volume and called it an example of anthropomorphic literature at its best. Very nice! Thank you, Fred!
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godkin
I should have news soon about the physical version of the Godkin story! In the mean-time, I'm trying to decide on interior illustrations. I'd love to know what you would like to see illustrated: characters, scenes, places... whatever you thought, "Ooh, I would have loved a picture of that!" while reading.

This is going to be an awesome-looking volume, folks. I'll have release dates and details soon. :)

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godkin
Not a short climb, Lucien observes.

No, I agree as I ascend on foot, one arm around the sling where my baby is sleeping against my ribs. I find the weight comforting but very different from the rocks I've been practicing with. No matter how carefully you weigh a baby, no stone will ever give you the same impression... the vulnerability, the preciousness. And the wiggle: babies wiggle a lot more than you imagine.

We've left my guards behind... but we are well past the point where it's safe to go without wings. Besides, I am never without protection, and by now everyone knows it. It's been an interesting, very grueling few months. I have occasionally tried to imagine undertaking this... adventure... without the Godson's help; it would have been disaster. Even with his help it's been a struggle. I've fought easier uphill battles than the one I'm embroiled in now.

So I have been busy. It's only now, at summer's end, that I've been able to get away from the seat of the Closest Kin to come here, as I have been longing to since I returned from Shraeven.

We're almost there, I tell him, and feel his attention grow more focused. I hike up the last crumbled feet of the trail and then we are standing on top of the world.

The Lip of the Sun, I say to him.

Ah...!

I am on a summit of tawny rock so far above the sea that the sky looks closer than the earth, almost touchable. The drop is sheer, straight down to amber rocks slicing through the foam-edged waves, an eye-watering turquoise. Their boom is distant, as is the scent of salt and summer. Up here you mostly smell the sky... feel a wind too high to gather earthbound smells.

This is where I grew up... this is where I had to come. Not just for myself, but to bring these two newest important people in my life. So I don't spoil the moment with explication. Together the Godson and I overlook the shimmering waters while I hold the sleeper to my chest, knowing that the taste of the air and the smell of it and the heat will reach the baby just as powerfully—perhaps more so—than the sight.

I remember not long ago I was contemplating my retirement in a room at Fort Endgame... wondering about godhead and grace. I wanted to wander the earth, to unravel the mysteries. When the Godson called me back to duty, I thought Shraeven was a distraction from that goal. But instead, Shraeven gave me the answer, sheathed in blood and suffering so that I would be sure to feel it piercing me, bright as a sword:

We are each of us vibrating between the eternal and the moment. To be mortal is to never be comfortable, never be able to settle on one or the other... and so we need reminders to pull us in each direction. Like gods and children.

I cup the baby's body against my breast and feel the brush of Lucien's ghostly hand. I spread my wings, feeling the heat in every feather, and the sun sparkles on the waves and in my eyes.

And then I step off the edge of the world and soar into the summer sky.



The End


What She Brought Back From Shraeven

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godkin
Monday the story will conclude with the epilogue. Hang on just a little longer!


—MCAH

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godkin
"Nadeir," Colblain says. "Where we started this whole gods-forsaken exercise."

"More like gods-becluttered," Gavan says. "Blood and life, it's good to see an honest fort!"

I laugh. "We'll be able to find you proper civilian clothes in the warehouse, if Supply will deign to honor my request."

"Better have the Godson set something on fire," Gavan says darkly. "That's the only thing that'll loosen that tightfist's fingers."

My entourage feels so thin now: Oweir left us soon after the Neshanti, Donal, Negrat, Ragna, Silfie... all gone. It's just the three of us—four, counting my divine patron. I am feeling distinctly abandoned when a shadow ripples over the ground and the corvid messenger dives, back-winging to land on Honeydipped's crupper. I twist around to look at him, heart lifting.

"Decided to come along? What about your mate?"

The messenger gives an unconcerned croak and leans forward to offer the flower in his beak. I turn it in my fingers: pale as honey, one of the mountain valley's blooms.

"Did he bring that all the way from Shraeven?" Gavan says.

"Maybe that's the message," I say. At his quizzical glance, I smile and say, "Shraeven's not that far."

I put my heels to Honeydipped's sides. All around me, the Kingdom's late spring spreads, bright spears of grass, brighter sky. Barely a season, there and back... and that by foot. How much closer for those who fly? Shraeven and its memories will never be far.

"Let's go," I say. "There's work to be done."

"Aye, mistress!"
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godkin
I'm expecting... something when we cross over. Visions of empire and war. Trumpets sounding a tantara. The Godson bursting into flame above my head like a symbol of my divine right to rule.

But instead there is nothing... nothing external. Just a feeling, a welter striving behind my solar plexus. Relief, release, regret. Joy and fear and joy.

I don't cry, and nothing feels different... except everything has changed.

There is work to be done.

#

We descend out of the mountains then, down to the Sunkin's Way, and once we reach the road the men strike up a marching song. We're home, we are the pride of the Kingdom, the sun shines on our shoulders. The banners snap in a familiar wind: no more the perfume of Shraeven's foreign flowers, but the grassy herbal tang of the shrubby lands flush to the rocky slopes.

At night Donal spars with me, but I score more touches on him than wonted. I have come home... he is about to leave. His heart is already distant. On the eve of his departure he gains his focus again, enough that we put on a good fight for our watchers. He scores the last point, and I put my hand on his sword to hold it in place.

"Eat supper with me," I say.

"Gladly."

So again, I find myself sitting at a meal before parting. It is a genial time spent reminiscing, completely in keeping with his character, just as Ragna's silence had been of her. Over the remnants of a fruit tart I try to imagine Donal suggesting a friendly nap and smile.

"Something funny?" he asks.

I shake my head, looking down at my plate. I don't know how I'd explain. They're so different, and yet the same in the only way that matters.

"You'll see her again," he says, pouring himself another cup. When I glance up at him, he says, "Ragna. You've been subdued since she left."

I nod. "I loved her."

"Love her," he says. "The love remains, even if the people never come back."

I look up at him. He smiles back at me.

"You're a long sight from the days you were a provincial making trouble for my captains," I say.

He smiles, but there is a weight in his eyes that I recognize, one that keeps him from laughing. "I enjoyed serving under you, Angharad. I'm glad I had the opportunity."

Is that it? I'm... disappointed. As I see him out, I wonder at my melancholy... but I have no answers, none I dare look at too closely. Even the Godson is silent on the topic. I lie on my stomach on my bunk and stare at the egg until I fall asleep.

The following day our march brings Nadeir into sight and with it the Rind, the major road circumscribing the Kingdom's original borders. This is the fastest route to Aneshet and we stop when we reach it. There is some minor ceremony as Donal's unit detaches from our company, one Nedwin oversees as the ranking officer on the march. Donal accepts Nedwin's formal thanks for the courage and hard work of his conscripts; all I can see is his hard back and strong neck, spine straight as a plumb line.

Then his men turn to face me and come to attention. He strides to the center of their formation and then walks to Honeydipped's flank. And there before the gods and everybody he takes my hand and kisses it.

"Aneshet bids the Godkindred Kingdom to look for him in the spring." The look in his eyes makes the fur on the back of my neck stand on end... an electric tingle that makes me aware of every eye on us. "We will come to her then."

"She will await your arrival," I answer.

Holding my eyes, he whispers over my knuckles, "I'll be back for you, Angharad."

He lets my hand drop and turns away... leads his men down the Rind without a backward glance. As their boots thump on the stone, I hear them begin a Neshanti song.

My fingers still feel his breath.

If he can make good on that promise... the Godson says, musing. A man who could make a kingdom out of a province in a year would be a magnificent emperor.

No more empire, I say, but sitting astride Honeydipped I feel flushed and alive.

I'll be waiting, Donal.
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godkin
The border is unmarked but we both know it. Ragna reins in her mount and Honeydipped comes to a halt alongside and together we gaze at gray and yellow stone beneath a bright sun.

"Shall we stop for noonmeal?" I say.

Ragna nods and we separate to return to our respective countrymen and give the order: we'll stop for an hour or so. My men pitch my tent and set up the basics in it; a meal is served, slices of that good hard cheese from Black Vines on crisp crackers baked with sesame seeds, spiced meat rolled into cabbage leaves. We drink pale wine together and it is a quiet meal... I expect no less.

Ragna glances at the egg, which is considered one of the "basics" that goes into my tent whenever we stop. I've put the baby's bed blossom in the box with it, and unsurprisingly (to me, anyway) it hasn't wilted yet.

"When do you think?" she asks.

"I don't know," I admit. "But it's gotten hard. Soon, I am hoping."

She smiles. "You will have to send me a portrait."

I nod. And find I have no words for the end of this journey. The enigmatic hillswoman I found on the border, who became my esquire... my translator... my friend and my confidant. And now my peer in an arena I never expected to enter. What do I say? What is there to say?

Ragna squints, lifting her head. "An hour?"

I nod.

Her whiskers lift a little. "A nap?"

"If you wish?" I say, perplexed, for I hadn't thought her tired.

But then we lie together on my bunk and she tucks herself against my chest and I understand. I rest my beak above her head and my arm over her shoulders. She lifts her chin just enough to settle the side of her face against the inside of my other arm... and we relive the many nights we have spent just so. Indulging in the "merely" asexual embrace that she taught me means so much. Because "I love you" comes in more forms than the ways I'd assumed, and if I leave Shraeven with one, quiet, personal revelation... it's that.

At the end of the hour she rises, thick fur shimmering. Stretches and looks down at me.

"I'll have your whisker," I say.

"I'll have your feather," she says. She looks at me a little longer with those sea-green eyes, so uncanny. Then she says, soft, "Thank you, Angharad."

And then she's gone.

By the time my tent is packed the Queen of Shraeven, her heralds, guards and servants are already too far down the road to be seen by normal eyes, and mine are having trouble of their own. I draw in a deep breath and turn away.

Shall we step over the border together?

I smile, my eyes leaking. I'm not sure we could do it any other way.

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godkin
The first Shraevenaese I ever met, the folk of the mountain plateaus, come down to greet us as we ride past. It is here that the last of our taggers-on leave us for home... the fighting folk that Negrat brought to the capital, such a very long way. Ragna holds especial interest for the headmen and their shamans, who whisk her away for curiosity, not to air their concerns (for truly, what do such self-sufficient men and women need?). But I'm the one the children follow... the stranger with wings. I remember how to say hello to them—emfa! emfa!—and they laugh and want to see me fly.

I return to camp festooned with flowers, pale as honey and blue as a summer sea. I'm still wearing them, inhaling their perfume, when Negrat settles down beside me that evening.

"Are you staying, then?" I ask.

"Here?" He smiles. "It would be a fitting end to my adventure... if this was a story. But life does not end anything neatly, you will have perceived."

"Oh yes," I say, chuckling. "I have so perceived."

"I will stay home for a while... long enough to badger my successor," Negrat says. "And then I will make my way back to the capital."

"To badger my successor," I say, nodding. "Life might not have neat endings, but patterns it does very well."

He laughs and pats my knee. "Ah! I have trained you well, Godkin woman! You will make your people crazy with confusion, just as you must. We must all start from confusion, to learn anything at all."

"From honest confusion, anyway," I say, trying for a sage tone. "For if you deny your confusion, you can never repair your ignorance."

Negrat claps his hands, delighted. "I have taught you all that I know! I am content."

I grin and together we look at the stars as they become visible: swiftly to my sharp eyesight... and perhaps even more swiftly to his less-than-normal gaze.

I am not at all surprised that after he has gone, I find a baby's bed blossom where his tail was so lately warming the stone. I wonder where he found it, but only for a moment. He has his ways... so will I.

Even an old griffin can learn new tricks.

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godkin
It is much as I remember it, the green chain of mountain valleys connecting Shraeven to the Kingdom... except that the deepening of spring has brought forth different flowers and the people no longer curse the names of the pards under their breath. Riding here I am assailed by a deep contentment, knowing that I changed their lives for the better. I spent bitter coin to do it, but for now there is peace and safety here because of my decisions.

It is no surprise then, that in the mountains I am as warmly received as Ragna. In fact, a facsimile of the document that declared us allies against the pards has been carved in stone and set on a pedestal in the town halfway between Shraevensgate and the border. The original, the headman says, will travel from town to town on an annual rotation. He glances at his new queen to see if she objects to their veneration of a symbol linking them to their former oppressors, but Ragna only smiles. After all, that Godkindred oppressor rescued her in the same battle that destroyed the pard nation.

We travel toward the beginning of our relationships, Ragna and Donal and Negrat and I. It is like moving through time. From the corners of my eyes I glimpse myself talking to Colblain about duty and service... shouting my outrage at Magwen, riding alongside Silfie, Silfie with the sun in her cinnamon curls...

So many memories. I begin to feel the weight of them. Not just Shraeven, but the campaigns before. Glendallia, where there is a fountain in my likeness: hard conquerer, sword weeping water. Ulnith, where I almost died covering the retreat in the battle of Kendrick Caves. Even the slopes of Firerake, where I fought my first battle as a fourteen-year-old foot-soldier under Captain Trerian... ah, that was ages ago, it feels like.

How many more fights will I see, dismantling the empire?

A lot fewer than you did as a Mistress-commander, the Godson says. You will not have the luxury of killing your own enemies personally. Not again.

We'll see about that.

When we reach the village where I first heard rumor of the pard nation, I excuse myself from my advisors, my guards and my foreign allies in order to make a pilgrimage. I had not overflown the site I'd decided on when we first entered the mountains, but I remembered its location as only a flier can... even though I choose to walk the trail on foot, my boots digging into moist soil and scrabbling on rocks.

Once I reach the quiet mountain top with its commanding overlook of the valleys, I set out a circle of stones, pound a plank into the soil and take out the paint.

When I finish, I sit back, hands on my knees.

I suppose I should have known I would be followed. What surprises me is that Ragna lost all her guards on the way up. She crouches alongside the wood, tracing the words as she reads them. Then she glances at me. "You remember him."

"Of course I do," I say. "He led us to the pards... and he died for it. What was he, nineteen? Twenty?"

"Seventeen, mayhap," Ragna says. "The shepherd boy Murdinal. You spelled his name wrong." At my glance, she smiles, whiskers barely moving, and says, "I will have a stone marker erected. For him and all the others who died during the battle."

"Did I choose a good site?" I ask.

She rises, brushing off her knees. Glances around. "There is enough room here for a proper memorial. And the way is hard enough to focus the mind and easy enough that people will make the trip. Yes, I think it's good. Thank you for thinking of it."

"I'm sure you would have, too," I say.

"Perhaps," Ragna says. "Perhaps not. We pards lack a person's proper sense of history."

I stand up too. And snort. She looks at me and then smiles properly, accepting my opinion of her self-deprecation.

"Come," I say. "Let's go down together, Shraeven and the Godkindred Kingdom."

As we head for the path, she asks, "Will you still call it that when you get back? The Godkindred Kingdom?"

"I'd better," I say, "if I change the name, the Godson will set me on fire."

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godkin
The people of the plains of Shraeven know me as a face in a parade, a religious curiosity or a perturbation in their routine.

The people of the mountains of Shraeven know me as the woman who spilled her own blood to make them safe. So it doesn't entirely surprise me that when we ride up the road toward the first of the mountain's dimpled valleys, the people have not just formed a crowd to await our arrival... but arranged a giant festival. Colorful tents are pitched like a patchwork skirt around the town's perimeter and even from a distance we can hear the singing chatter of tambourines.

"Looks like a party," Gavan says, ears straining forward to catch the sound of fiddle reels. Nedwin has released my Godkindred captains from their duties (Donal, of course, is still in personal command of his Neshanti conscripts), so they've taken to riding alongside me.

The mountains must elicit inevitable memories for Oweir, who looks to be brooding... but his expression lightens when dozens of belled dancers stream toward us, parting just before the point of our formation to tumble and caper, their crazily-dyed skirts and scarves flashing in the high white sunlight. Behind them skip scores of children with wicker baskets of the scarlet flowers of the valley, distributing them randomly to soldiers, heralds, anyone they can reach, until the spicy-sweetness of their perfume is interwoven through the ranks like trails of incense.

By the time we reach the tents with their aromas of roasting sausages and fresh beer, it's only the rigid discipline of the army that keeps the whole traveling party from dissolving.

I am waiting for Nedwin when he rides toward me.

"Is this safe?" he asks.

"These people are allies," I say. "We fought with them."

He studies my eyes, then nods and heads back at a quick canter. No doubt the townsfolk will soon be much richer for our coin. I smile up into the sky and stretch my pinions.
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godkin
Not long now, the Godson observes as we soak in the glorious vista.

No, I agree.

Ready for it?

I smile a little, twitching an ear back. I suspect it's one of those things you can't be ready for until you do it.

I certainly wasn't.

Quietly, I say, I'm glad you'll be there to advise me.

Just as quietly he answers, I'm glad you agreed to take me along.

My ear-flick has dislodged an ice-blue flower petal. It tumbles away on the wind, a bright mote of color against the distant green.

#

When I step onto the springy grass at the base of the tower I am surprised to find Gavan and Colblain awaiting me, both hiding their anxiety in their individual ways: Gavan by trying not to fidget and Colblain by scowling. I'm surprised to find it endearing. I suppose familiarity has its charms.

"Thank the gods," Gavan says. "We were almost afraid you wouldn't bother to walk down the stairs... and then we'd be chasing you across the field like boys after a loose kite."

I grin. "Lucky for you I felt like relieving ancient memories, then."

Colblain eyes the stairs. "As I recall, you don't have a memory of walking back down those stairs."

"Closure, then," I say. "Making the trip I should have made then. So, what brings you here, chasing me?"

"Donal's leaving at the border," Gavan says. "And we know Oweir isn't coming with us. We thought... it was time to tell you what we wanted to do."

"Ah?" I lift a brow.

"You can't leave us without a formal Master-Commander long," Colblain says. "If you don't name your replacement soon there will be... discontent. Talk of favoritism. It would make Master-General Nedwin's job harder."

"True," I say, because it's been much on my mind.

"We'd like to follow you," Gavan says. "I mean, if you'll have us. We've been with you so long we're sort of used to you, you know?"

I start laughing. "Oh, is that it? You're used to me? Like an old, cantankerous cow. Or a nagging wife."

"I didn't mean it like that," Gavan mutters.

I can hardly blame them for expressing the very sentiment I was harboring on seeing them. "I'll be glad to have you both as advisors. And yes, I had been concerned about all of you reporting directly to me in the interim... even on a short march like this." I cock my head. "But tell me... how'd you know about Oweir?"

"Oh, gods," Gavan says. "You get enough beer in Oweir and he'll cry you a sea. He's upset about leaving you off-balance." At my expression, he finishes, "Oh, only around friends, Mistress. He wasn't in the habit of babbling secrets to strangers."

I shake my head. "Well. You're both certain, then?"

Gavan nods. I look at Colblain, who is silent a moment. Then he says, "You knew I had reported you for treason. You had me in custody. Even so, you sought my counsel in a legal matter." He meets my eyes forthrightly; I think that while Gavan will give me support, Colblain will be the one warning me when I'm about to make an ass of myself. "That tells me everything I need to know about you, Your Grace."

I nod. "All right, then. I'm glad to have you both. Get me your best picks for your successors and we'll see if we can solve Nedwin's impending discipline problem for him, eh?"

"Yes, ma'am," they say smartly, and I wonder how long it will take for them to lose the habit of responding like military men. Perhaps never. Perhaps that will become part of their legend: Queen Angharad I's advisors, former army captains whose fortunes soared on the wings of their commander's unexpected promotion.

They have promise, the Godson says. But you're going to need people familiar with the machinations of the court I left behind.

Besides you?

Besides me, he says. At my mental grimace, he says, We can ford that river when we reach it.

"She's talking with him, isn't she," Colblain murmurs.

"Think so," Gavan whispers back. "She always gets that long-suffering look."

I laugh. "All right, enough. Let's get back before they send someone for us."

"Yes, ma'am!"

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godkin
The route that took us two weeks as a company takes almost three traveling with so many more people... but soon enough the rich farmland leading to Shraevensgate surrounds us and we are marching up the slow incline to the town built into the mountain's sloped sides. As we pass beneath the arch holding the mayorial estate over the road, we find the inevitable crowd waiting behind mayor Miltun and his prime and secondary wives. Ragna's heralds sound their trumpets and the banners snap in the breeze, and hundreds of boots thump smartly against the road as we wind our way under countless baskets of upended flower petals, many of these the sweet mountain flowers I first noticed on our initial journey into the province.

As I follow in Ragna's wake I wonder if the town will remain Shraevensgate or if they'll rename it... the Godkindredgate certainly has an awkward sound.

Later, after installing us in our guest apartments, Miltun spares a moment to meet with me.

"So," he says, studying my gods-scribbled-on body with his world-painted eyes, "You have had an adventure, haven't you."

"You could say that," I say.

"And it appears I was right," he says. "About you and the Stars."

"Changing everything? Prophecies of the end-times? World-changing?" I smile without humor. "You wanted no Star-chosen "messiah" in your town, as I recall. Has the messiah delivered the end of all things?"

"Things certainly have changed," he says.

"One thing hasn't," I say. "Your queen still wants a list of your town's needs."

He barks a laugh. "And so life does continue, after the end of all things."

"This isn't Shraeven's end, but a beginning," I say. Disgruntled, I point at my cinnamon-sparkle fur, "I would think, anyway, or what the hells was this all for?"

#

This is the town where things started becoming complicated... where I executed the brother of Silfie's murdered husband, where the Stars flung a rock at me and began the war of gods in my head. Where I learned just how tied the gods were to Shraeven's various "nobles," chosen for their ability to converse with those gods. Where I saw my first of Shraeven's multiple and complex marriage arrangements. If I had to choose a place from which there was no returning, Shraevensgate is high on the list.

It is no surprise then, that I feel compelled to return to the tower. Except this time, I fly instead of climb, and when I perch there beside the sweet-burning incense I do not fear falling from this height. Today the air is not barred to me; my wings are not injured. It's day, not night.

The view is exquisite. I feel as if I can see all the way to the capital... to the distant glimmer of the Sea.

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godkin
The following day we resume our journey, heading down the Royal Tribute to Shraevensgate. I suppose I look distracted, riding, because that evening as we're making camp Donal appears at my side.

"A spar?" he asks, casual.

I am standing outside, waiting for my tent to be erected. "You can't be serious."

"I assure you," he says. "I'm very much serious." At my askance look, he says, "Shall I swear by the yellow eggs of the blue-headed bull?"

"Not if you really mean it," I say. I study his face. "You do really mean it. Why?"

"A duel made you queen of the Godkindred," he says. "One that you would have lost had your opponent not been susceptible to spiritual attack."

"I'm not planning on fighting any more duels," I say.

"Of course you're not," he says.

This time I scowl at him. "I mean that. Queens don't duel. They engage champions to duel for them."

"Perhaps," he says. "But queens can be the target of assassination attempts. Angharad—you're an army officer. No matter what you become afterwards, that history will remain part of your legend. You understand?"

And that simply, I do.

"All right," I say. "But don't make me look too bad."

"Not at first," he agrees with a glint in his eye.

So, we spar that night, and we are observed by some and those some carry the story to the many who didn't see it, so that the following night there are more or different faces. My joints protest the abuse, but my spirit refuses their complaints. Donal is right: I may be getting old and I may no longer be as quick as I used to be, but this is part of who I am... and as long as I am queen, this is part of who I'll be.

Queen Angharad Godkin I, former army officer and winner of the pivotal duel of our religion's history, should always know her way around a sword... and be able to prove it.

#

The bridge we built outside Black Vines is still standing: that's no surprise. It's the ferryman's shack that inspires my peal of laughter.

"Gods!" Gavan exclaims. "You'd think they would have put that much effort into the bridge!"

"Oh no," I say, amused. "The new tollman must be housed in comfort."

Ragna huffs, ears flipping back. There's no question of which project she would have prioritized.

"They'll fortify the bridge, I hope," Oweir says.

"We'll fortify the bridge," Ragna says, and rides after her heralds with their snapping banners and triumphal fanfares.

Fortunately, we don't have to pay the toll.
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godkin
The farmer serves me the promised fresh milk along with crusty, dense slabs of bread spread with thick dollops of butter. There's jam made from pale wine grapes and a hard orange cheese so delicious I wonder if I could import it, and both pair so well I alternate bites. Over this ambrosial repast, the farmer and I talk... the easy casual talk of weather and crops that I belatedly recognize as kin to the conversations I overheard my parents having with the crofters of the Sunblood Cliffs. It's rewarding and relaxing and I enjoy myself immensely... so much so that I forget to don my official persona when Tam Vinter arrives to visit his father with Oweir an unexpected sight at his back.

"Hello, Captain."

"Mistress," he says, eyes wide. "I didn't think to find you here."

I smile, though the expression on his face disquiets me. "Just visiting Tam's father. Seeing how my feather blessing served."

"Served very well, it did," the farmer says, patting his muzzle dry with a napkin.

"I'm... just visiting too," Oweir says, looking uncomfortable.

Tam's father looks from me to Oweir and rises to clap a hand on the back of Tam's shoulder. "Come on, son. We can do our catching up outside."

I am left with Oweir and the feeling that there's something unspoken thickening the air between us. "Sit," I say.

He does, eyes on the loaf of bread. Studying his face, I try to guess at the source of his discomfort. I go with my first hunch. "Spending a lot of time with Tam, then?"

"He is my second," Oweir says, low. He toys with the farmer's discarded knife, then says, "I'd like to stay here."

"In Shraeven," I say.

"Yes."

He's still not looking at me. "What about the Salt Caves?" I say.

"I'm only a threeblood, Mistress," Oweir says. "And I'm not the heir to the Caves. They won't need me." He sucks in a breath. "The Godkin... I'm only a threeblood. And I lived with that all my life, the burden of being less-than-good-enough, and... and the need to marry properly and..." He trails off, gathering himself. "And then we come here and find out that it was all a lie? Every abuse my family suffered in silence, every prejudice...."

"I know," I say, my voice gentle.

"I like Tam. And... working with the mongrels, I guess I saw... I don't know. It's like the wreckage we left behind. But here they don't do that. They don't... don't make that kind of mess."

And it healed something in his heart, I see, to find a place where the cruelties that shaped his childhood are as nothing. So it is a concession and not an argument when I say, "They make different kinds of messes."

"Yes," he says, grateful that I've understood.

"And this has nothing to do with you having dead here?" I ask, keeping my voice gentle.

"Of course it does," Oweir answers, meeting my eyes finally. "But it's not the only reason."

We're silent then, a less burdensome silence now that he's relieved himself of his secret.

"What are you planning to do?" I ask.

"I'm not sure. I was talking with Tam, thought I'd take up merchanting... something different from... all this."

"All this being your military duties," I say. "Which you cannot up and leave without finishing your term of service."

His head jerks up. "Mistress, please—"

I sigh and pour the last of the milk into my cup. "Don't worry, I'm not going to keep you if you want to go." Thinking of my words to Mara not far from this spot only a few weeks ago, I say, "I need no heart-lamed captains."

He has the grace to look embarrassed. "Mistress...."

"Enough, Oweir," I say, tired. "We'll go through the motions of cutting you loose before we leave Black Vines. You can stay with Tam."

He hesitates, then says, "Ma'am... I'd prefer to ride to the border with you."

I glance at him, meet his steady gaze. We've almost made it through our entire campaign in Shraeven and he wants to see it through, and even though I'd prefer to deal with replacing him sooner rather than later I respect that desire. I smile. "All right, Captain. To the border. Now do your Mistress Commander a favor and go fetch back that farmer we chased out of his own home."

"Yes, ma'am!"

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godkin
We smell Black Vines before we see it, the wine-sweet perfume of its vineyards permeating the air so that it seems to sparkle on the palate. But soon enough we see the town as well, and there as expected we find the waiting throng... and one lone figure standing in the middle of the Royal Tribute where it runs into the town proper: a short figure in skirts, with the pointed ears and sinuous grace of an arboreal predator. Even from a distance, I can see that she stands erect with health and pride.

"Mayor Mara," I call as we draw within earshot. "Have you done well by your people?"

"Former-Governor Angharad Godkin," she answers. "I have... and so have you." She turns to Ragna and bows deeply. "Your Grace. Be welcome to Black Vines."

Ragna's whiskers arch. "Thank you."

"May I walk alongside you to your lodgings?"

Ragna considers. "Are your people going to pelt me with flowers?"

"No," Mara says.

"Grapes?"

"Certainly not!" Mara says. "That would be expensive."

"Then please do," Ragna says, with just enough relief to be noticed. Mara's eyes sparkle and she puts a hand on the side of her queen's mount. Together we process through Black Vines, which is looking far more prosperous and its people more content then when last we arrived. But then, Mara's had time to undo the oppression and injustices that corrupt former mayor Candahar visited on his own. The work appears to have healed her spirit also: she looks much better. I am glad to see it.

As with Crossroads, Ragna vanishes into a room with the mayor. I am left to my own devices, so I let the sunny streets lure me out of the inn and into the bustle of a town excited to be hosting their queen. I notice my men among them: Nedwin's given them liberty, then. Probably in shifts... I don't see enough of them for the Master-General to have turned the whole army loose. It's gratifying to have competent subordinates.

Still, there is only so much walking I'm willing to do. I delight and surprise some of the townsfolk when I soar up from among them and into the sky; with a wave to their upturned faces I ride the perfumed winds upward until I spot a red roof, a large field and a single milk cow wandering the fence's edge. And then I can't resist. I land just outside the farmstead and knock on the door, once-twice-again. There's no answer. I wait a little longer as the cow watches from the pen.

"I suppose he went to town with everyone else," I tell the cow.

The door creaks open for Tam Vinter's father, who peers at me and then grins broadly. "Great Winged Spirit... have you brought me more manure?"

"No, sir," I say. "Only a queen."

"You bring useful gifts, Great Spirit," the farmer says, amused. "Come in, Godkin Lady. Have some fresh milk, if you're so minded."

"I'd be delighted," I say.

Poll #1403332 Polls!

We're about... oh, 12? Scenes? from the end... and I don't forsee many poll questions relating to the actual plot. Is it okay for me not to poll anymore? At the end of the book I'll be asking your opinions about the hard copy, so we'll return to polling then...

Fine by me!
14(87.5%)
No, more polls!
0(0.0%)
OMG, two weeks until the book is done!
2(12.5%)

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