I’m still raising money for Extra Life and still taking votes for which character I should play as. To help you decide, I’m posting short excerpts showing each character in action. They’ll post every Monday.
Today’s excerpt is the only new character in the bunch, Lady Varauna Goldfeather, who appears in Fire in the Blood. (Which means this doubles as a bonus Fire in the Blood excerpt, lucky duckies!) Varauna is awful, but she’s also awfully fun to write about. To vote for Varauna, just donate $15 and mention your vote in the comments!
Raedra eyed the edge of storm clouds just visible over the farther wall of the Royal Gardens. They didn’t have long before it started raining again. Perfect, she thought. Everyone would have shot at that point, her cousins would be through showing off, and Raedra would have spent a fair few bells with her retinue—long enough to make certain no one felt slighted and no one thought she was sulking. Four young, hopeful nobles surrounded her, as well as four Purple Dragons and a war wizard—not counting the guards she couldn’t see. And every one of them, to a soul, was waiting for her to crack under the strain of Aubrin’s sudden madness.
“Put your elbow down,” her cousin, Lord Maranth Goldfeather, called to his sister. “Honestly, you look like a chicken trying to shoot like that.”
Lovely Lady Varauna Goldfeather turned and glowered at her brother. “Which of us has thirteen bull’s eyes to her credit?”
Maranth smirked. “It will stay thirteen if you keep your elbow so high.”
The dark-haired noblewoman very deliberately did not lower her elbow. She let the arrow fly, striking just at the edge of the target’s crimson center.
“A miss,” Maranth declared.
“That is within the bounds and you know it, Lord Prissypants.”
“Calm,” Raedra said with a smile. “Varauna, count the shot and sit down.” Maranth gave Raedra a look that clearly said she oughtn’t be encouraging proud Varauna, but Raedra waved him off. “The turn is yours, Sulue.” Meanwhile the storm clouds eased nearer, slow as ladies in heavy ball gowns.
“Thank you, Highness.” Lady Sulue Thundersword gave Raedra a shy smile and took the longbow from Varauna—who rolled her eyes at Raedra. Lady Thundersword, Varauna was fond of saying—often in front of poor Sulue—was so sweet she’d make your teeth fall out. And so Raedra made a point of keeping her close, to make up for Varauna’s barbs.
“Perhaps it’s not your form,” Maranth drawled. “Perhaps your arms just resemble a chicken’s by their nature.”
“That’s not what your fancyman says,” Varauna retorted, taking up a glass of cordial.
“Children,” Raedra said in mock warning. Maranth snorted and Varauna made a sarcastic little curtsy. Raedra smiled and sipped her own cordial. “Tell us then about your latest fancyman, Maranth.”
“If you’ve found one,” Varauna said, “you’re more skilled a hunter than I. This war has created an absolute drought of eligible fellows.”
“Not if you don’t mind commoners,” Lady Florelle Ambershield said. “Isn’t that right, Varauna?”
Raedra pursed her lips to stop the smile that crept unbidden to her mouth. Florelle was no match for Varauna, and had yet to learn it. Varauna turned very deliberately and offered Florelle a winning smile. “My dear, that is hardly the same sport. You’d know if you’d ever managed to take a trophy of your own.” Sulue’s bow twanged as she shot her arrow wide and into a bush of snowspikes.
“All I get lately are desperate fellows who want to make a little trade to clear up the Goldfeather coin they’d rather keep,” Maranth announced. “It seems half of them are far too old, half are far too young. And anyway, I detest desperation. There is nothing so unarousing as desperation.”
“It’s something,” Varauna said. “I’m half ready to insist they let me take up arms, if only for the chance to ride behind some good-looking fellows with decent breeding and better backsides.”
Raedra sipped her cordial. Better to enlist Varauna for her skills with the bow. And keep all the fellows from playing into her “how do I draw this?” act. She wondered what a commander in charge of Varauna could do to keep the noblewoman on task, and decided it was probably a task beyond most of them. Even if Varauna could shoot nearly as well as Baerovus. She watched the clouds creep nearer.
“It seems Raedra is the only one with decent prospects,” Florelle said. “Not that anyone expected windfall from the Northern front, but having your betrothed home is . . .” She trailed off.
Raedra’s heart skipped. She saw the shocked look Maranth and Varauna traded, the way the Purple Dragons stiffened slightly. Only Sulue seemed unaffected, releasing her arrow with a painful twang.
“I would rather Shade weren’t ravaging the countryside,” Raedra said coolly, “than have Lord Crownsilver home.” Florelle paled and gave her a timid smile.
“Of course, Your Highness,” she said. “I didn’t mean—”
“It’s a wonderful blessing,” Maranth said. “That doesn’t mean Shade’s encroachment isn’t terrible.”
“Or that—” Florelle broke off as soon as she’d started.
“Or what?” Raedra said. Florelle shrugged and shook her head, her ash blond curls bouncing.
“It’s gone from my mind.”
Raedra stared at the stubborn clouds. “Could we not playact as if I never hear any gossip?” she said. “That is, I suspect, far worse than discussing it outright.”
For a long moment, no one spoke. Even Sulue’s third arrow waited, nocked in the bow. “We could have her killed,” Maranth said, in conspiratorial tones that might have meant he was joking, and might not.
“Killing her would mean she was a threat,” Raedra said calmly. And I will not admit she’s a threat, she thought to herself.
“Not at all,” Varauna protested. “Just a nuisance.”
“Send her off to the Tunlands,” Maranth suggested. “Or your betrothed’s wretched little citadel in the hinterlands. That’s what you do with a nuisance.”
“You could do better than him, Highness,” Sulue offered. The others glared at the petite noblewoman and she blushed. “You all think it,” she protested.
“Of course we do,” Maranth said. “She could always do better. This time, last time. There is not a man walking Faerûn’s face who deserves you,” he said to Raedra. “Including Lord Saddlesores. But we all know marriage is about more than whether your friends would bed your husband. Aubrin brings many benefits to the marriage.”
Such as the end of all that gossip, Raedra thought bitterly. At least that had been how it was supposed to work. But now the whispered attacks were worse—fiercer and just as numerous as they’d been in the shadow of her first marriage.
“Aubrin’s decent,” Varauna said. “And he doesn’t care what you do on your own—that’s something. Most men would have a fit at the idea of possible rivals.”
Maranth shot her a dark look at the word rivals.
Raedra glanced up at the clouds just cresting the palace roof’s edge, and drew a deep breath. If she fled now, every one of them would talk, dear as they were. They couldn’t help it.
“Your Highness?” The war wizard, a tall young man named Ilstan Nyaril caught her eye as she turned. “I don’t wish to interrupt, but you have an appointment with the minister of protocol and Princess Ospra very soon. Would you like me to send someone to tell them you’ll be late?”