(Insert high-pitched, squealing voice <here>.) I got my Editor's comments returned from Austin Macauley this week for that young adult novel they chose to publish for me! And a proof of the cover for the same novel! I don't know which one was more exciting! Lol - you can stop reading this like I'm a hamster now.
I know some authors dread the comments from the Editors, but it really is something I look forward to. I always want to know: 1. What did I do right?? 2. What did I do wrong?? 3. What did they change?? I've become a much better writer in the past two years from the help, suggestions, corrections, and advice from the Editors I've been lucky enough to work with.
As for the cover design on this one, I can only say WOW. I'm so guilty of opening the file randomly over the past couple of days just to look at it. This new book will be called An'ji, and this week I've decided I'm allowed to start being really excited about bringing it out.
4. Too Old and Too Angry
The fight was occurring in the next chamber. This Verus was a skilled fighter, but had obviously only trained with the Legions and hadn’t yet seen enough wars to develop his own skill set for singles combat. Alex left her relation at the entrance and darted forward to balance out the odds in his favor. Two of the enemies were killed before any of the fighters noticed she was there, and the final two joined them on the ground only moments later; one sliding off of the sword Verus was holding, and the other sliding off of Alex’s jian.
“Is that all of them?” Alex asked quietly, keeping her voice well below a volume that would carry throughout the tunnels.
“Yes,” Verus struggled to swallow his pride that an elderly woman had just surpassed his own skill as he looked at the bodies. Alex knelt down and used one of the men’s tunics to clean her blade and then sheathed the jian as she stood. She felt a small smile pull at her lips that he was reluctant to give back the sword and also obviously feeling too inadequate to ask to keep the beautiful blade. Adellexia seemed about to say something encouraging, but instead tucked her bottom lip between her teeth and looked at the ground just in front of her feet.
“Clean the blade before the blood dries and polishing becomes a chore,” Alex nodded to her sword, making the decision for him, and then turned to face Adellexia. Before she could ask the young woman what was going on and who had just been killed, what sounded like a small battle clanged and yelled through the tunnels from the cave entrance. Alex frowned sharply at Verus. “You said this was all of them,” she accused.
“All that were in here, yes,” he replied, quickly coming to his feet and tightening his grip on the sword he’d just been wiping off. Alex scoffed at him and drew her jian again.
“Come along, girl,” she growled.
“But, the torches,” Adellexia hesitantly replied. Alex glanced at the few that were burning, either having been dropped or sitting up in the proper holders. All the things that were visible in this chamber, aside from the three of them, were stone, dirt, or dead.
“And what, exactly, are you expecting they’ll damage?” Alex asked with a glare.
“Mind how you speak to –”
Alex interrupted his reprimand with a backhanded slap across his face with her free hand. His good eye was wide and startled when he straightened and looked at her again.
“Do not take that tone with me, boy,” she threatened.
His anger rose, and then was buried under a dropped glare and shoulders hunching from… subservience? That was something she’d never expected, not from someone who looked so much like her brother. She shook her head, reminding herself that this wasn’t her Verus, not his child or grandchild. This Verus was three hundred years removed from anyone she knew. She frowned at him. The bowed head and shoulders didn’t suit him at all. She was going to have to see about fixing that later.
“Respectful apologies,” he stated, his teeth obviously clamped together, the words smooth only because of practice.
“Come along, both of you,” Alex stated, turning on her heel and stalking out of the chamber. They followed, with Adellexia in the middle so that Verus was protecting her from behind.
The sounds of the fighting had reduced to scuffles when Alex rounded the final turning and could clearly see the overcast daylight outside. She’d left a sunny day behind. The rain of the now was just starting, and would have suited the funeral better. The people outside were just as busy as her own family would be, but the men here were all either fighting, surrendering, or being forced into submission, whereas her family would be setting up for the feast. Alex stopped and glanced back over her shoulder to where Adellexia was trying to walk and figure out something to say to Verus, and he was trying to not stare at her walking in front of him.
Alex let them catch up and took the torch from Adellexia. The flame snuffed out easily in the nearest sand pot, keeping those inside the cave from being visible to anyone outside.
“Why did you –”
“Is anyone outside on your side?” Alex interrupted Adellexia, whispering, while watching to see if anyone outside noticed the loudly spoken start to the young woman’s question.
“I suppose, well, that …” her whisper trailed off.
“Yes,” Verus answered firmly, also whispering, after a couple of heartbeats. Alex looked between the two of them and their similar expressions of disappointment.
“My uncle,” Adellexia said as if ashamed of the admission. Verus shifted closer to her, concern masking all of his features before being completely replaced with restraint prior to actually touching her. “Calleous was a friend to him,” she said, oblivious that her rescuer was just as infatuated with her as she was with him.
“That’s unfortunate,” Alex stated under her breath, turning back to watch the fighting end outside.
“That’s him,” Verus whispered as a man with similar family resemblances to Adellexia strode to the cave entrance and stopped. He squinted at the dark, not able to see the trio watching him.
“Calleous! Callsenius!” he yelled into the tomb. “Where is my niece?” the demand was full of authority, and more than a little protectiveness. One of the men who’d been forced to his knees nearby prattled off a smart-mouth reply that Alex couldn’t hear. The uncle punched him hard enough to send the man sprawling, and when he was hauled back to his knees Alex could see his nose was now flattened. “Bring torches,” the uncle ordered and at least a half-dozen men scrambled to comply.
“Come along,” Alex said with a sigh. “Let’s get this over with so someone can tell me what’s going on.”
She sheathed her jian and started toward the entrance, their footsteps starting a second later and following together.
“Adellexia!” the uncle’s call was relieved and reprimanding as soon as he saw a female shape walking toward him out of the tomb.
“No,” Alex corrected him. “But she’s right here,” she added.
He appeared confused that an old woman was there, but nodded politely and made a quickly respectful greeting before turning to his niece. Adellexia was dusty and dirt-smeared, and at some point had gotten splattered with blood, but appeared otherwise unharmed. Her uncle stared at her as though she’d walked out of the tomb carrying her own arm.
“All you all right?” his voice was a rushed as his strides to get to her. “Who are you?” he snarled at Verus. Swords were drawn and pointed at the battered younger man.
Everyone was suddenly speaking or shouting at once, Adellexia’s explanation of Verus lost in the multiple demands for him to identify and disarm himself. Alex set her fingers between her lips and whistled shrilly, startling everyone into silence.
“He’s with her,” Alex stated to the group in general. To emphasize the point that Verus was not a foe, she held out her hand and he passed the borrowed sword to her hilt first. She sheathed the blade, ignoring the stares at her armor, and let her cloak fall closed again.
“That’s Marcus’s shield,” the man with the broken nose stated. Verus looked at and then tossed away the shield he’d been carrying. The man attempted to rise to his feet and was forced back to his knees. “That’s Marcus’s shield!” he yelled this time.
“Apparently the shield didn’t work very well for him,” Alex glared down at the struggling fellow, her statement shocking him into stillness.
“That still doesn’t answer my question,” the uncle glared at Verus and wrapped a protective arm around his niece, standing so that his body was shielding her from the man who’d just tried to rescue her.
“I’m Verus Celsus,” Verus replied, his posture the same subservient pose as when he’d apologized to Alex inside. The uncle stared down at the younger man, almost recognizing the name. One of the fighters with him tapped his shoulder and whispered quickly.
“Oh,” the uncle replied to the whisper. “Yes,” he stated, looking and sounding as though Verus was something unpleasant that he’d stepped in.
“Uncle Magnus, he –”
“Go find Calleous and Callsenius,” the uncle stated to the men just returning with torches, completely ignoring that his niece had been talking to him.
“Uncle Magnus, I –”
“Come on, little lamb, you’re terrified,” Magnus started walking as he interrupted her and pulled Adellexia along with him onto a path that had Alex in the middle of it.
“Please, Uncle Magnus, if –”
“Excuse us,” he interrupted her a third time, this time to address Alex. He jerked to a stop, only a few inches from bumping into her, when he realized that she wasn’t moving. Alex looked up at him, scoffed at his confusion, and held open her cloak while making eye contact with Adellexia. The younger woman folded on herself and ducked from under Magnus’s arm to under Alex’s, shocking her uncle to stammering as Alex led the girl a short distance away to sit on a stone bench under a few trees.
“Now, what’s going on?” Alex asked.
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