From the author: Character sketch/outtake from JUDGMENT OF HONOR (out December 2019/January 2020). Betsona ea Ralsem deals with a distressing loss while trying to fix lunch. Set shortly after the end of CHOICES OF HONOR (out August 31, 2019).
Why had she sent staff away for the week? Good reasons, but she clearly hadn’t thought things through in her rush to get her people safely gone before her brother Chatain’s men took a notion to harass them. Betsona struggled to force her wheelchair down the stone pathway from the main house to the outdoor kitchen required in these damnable islands, sweat already forming under her light sleeveless silk tunic. Larien used to do that for her. But now he—she flinched away from that thought.
Gods, why did the mechanical wheelchair have to break down now, with every person capable of repairing magitech unavailable? And Larien—
No. She would not think about her cousin. Not think about how Chatain had burst into the house this morning to brag about Larien’s death—while searching for his escaped prisoner. Think instead about food.
Even with gloves, the iron wheels were already almost too hot to handle as she tightened her hands to stop the wheelchair just before reaching the kitchen. Betsona drew a deep breath, then snapped open the magical shield she had installed around the thatched, open cooking area to keep bugs, snakes, birds, and rodents out of their food. It was the least she could do for herself and her staff in this bug and critter-cursed exile imposed on them. Larien had—
Larien is dead, she reminded herself harshly as she wiped the sweat off of her brow, wrestled the wheelchair over the threshold of the cooking area, and closed the shield behind her. Maybe if she thought more about her cousin’s laughter, his pranks, his earnest support of her goals, she could shove the fact of his death away. And yet she couldn’t. Betsona buried her head in her hands. Oh cousin… I thought you were stronger. That you could keep evading Chatain.
Larien’s death was why Chatain had invaded the house midmorning to rant at her. Why she sent her people away for their protection. Spells couldn’t completely protect memories, and she didn’t want any of them seeing the hoped-for arrival of the foreign princess late this afternoon or early evening and suffer Larien’s fate. Bad enough that Seijina and Petronin were with—Witmara, was it? Her memory was fuzzy after countering Chatain’s psychic battering this morning.
I hope she’s worth the price we’ve paid to bring her here. Oh Larien….
But at least Seijina and Petronin had sufficient magic of their own to keep Chatain from ripping their minds apart should he decide to question them all. Not so for the rest of her staff.
Her stomach rumbled. Betsona wearily raised her head, the slightest throb of a hunger-induced headache pressing behind her left eye. She’d been in such a hurry to dismiss her people for their own safety that she hadn’t thought about feeding herself, for her the most complicated part of being alone in this abominably hot place. Especially if Seijina and Petronin were delayed beyond this evening—entirely possible given Chatain’s anger. It would take them longer to evade both his magic and his men.
Get on with it, she goaded herself. You put yourself in this position. Now find yourself some food.
She parked the chair by the post where a set of crutches hung for just this sort of circumstance and for once got them down without dropping them on the ground so that she would have to crawl. Struggling to her feet, she hobbled over to the tin-lined cabinet for prepared food. Maybe Mayte had left rice balls stuffed with yam paste to tide her over. The thought made her stomach rumble louder. Stasis spells didn’t work to keep food good in this heat and her usual staples of cheese, jerky, and biscuits for when she needed to feed herself at home went bad quickly here on Lanivar Island. She hadn’t lived in the tropics long enough to figure out survival food.
Betsona leaned her right crutch against her left arm and fumbled with the hook and eye clasp on the cabinet. I thought heat was supposed to be good for stiff joints! The fingers on her withered right arm didn’t want to flex enough to lift the hook out of the eye. She fumbled with her free crutch and thumped it against the bottom of the stubborn hook. One. Two. Three. The hook flew free and Betsona lost her balance, falling hard on the cobblestone floor.
“Gods damn it.” She scrabbled for the offending crutch. Using both crutches, she pushed herself to her knees, struggling to keep her culottes from interfering with legs and crutches. Then she got her good left leg in position and, leaning against the cabinet, started to work her way to her feet.
She banged her head on the door with the offending hook as it swung toward her, and collapsed back to the stones. Drew several deep breaths. This time she scooted over to the central work table. Bracing herself against one of the posts, keeping her head away from the lip, she managed to scramble back onto her feet. Gasping for breath in the heat, she leaned her head against the cabinet. Larien had been so proud to find it in one of the secondhand stores on the main island. Had replaced the tin, outlining her initials BR in delicate perforations to let air into the cabinet, enhanced by depictions of the raucous, brightly colored local birds that thankfully were silent today. Her pounding head couldn’t stand their screeches.
Larien is dead.
That thought pushed her into action, any action to keep from thinking about Larien. Opening the door wide, she spotted the rice balls and picked one up, checking it for mold first. Nothing. She gobbled them down right there, sending wordless thanks to Mayte for thinking about her in the midst of flight.
Larien is dead. The thought was no more palatable on a full stomach than an empty one. Betsona leaned against the cabinet. She sank to her knees and buried her face against one of the bottom drawers. Larien is dead, and it would not have happened except for my ambitions. She pounded her good left hand against the wood.
Gods, when would something go right?