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The Right Side of History
cover art © Brad Fraunfelter

 

 

A brutal uprising in the Kingdom of Alluvia has shaken the Allied Lands - and Emily finds herself accused of starting it. Desperate, all too aware the kingdom is on the verge of becoming a vortex of chaos, Emily travels to Alluvia in the hopes of calming both sides long enough to secure peace...

...Unaware that the uprising is merely the first step in a plan to shatter the Allied Lands beyond repair.

 

 

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The Right Side of History

fantasy

Christopher Nuttall

 

 

 

Prologue I


The throne room stank of fear.

Constance, Lady in Waiting to Queen Francoise of Alluvia, pulled her dress around her as the noise from beyond the walls grew louder. Night had fallen, but the city outside was cast into sharp relief by towering infernos. The riots had become a revolution, crowds of rebels and thugs throwing lighted torches into the homes of the great and the good. She huddled closer to the rest of the royal companions as the queen stared at her husband. He’d once been a great man and a greater king. He’d chucked Constance’s chin and whispered promises of royal favors if she wished to become his. Now, he seemed almost diminished. The kingdom was fading alongside its king.

It had all happened so quickly! Constance could barely keep track of each piece of news - bad news - before the next arrived. There had been fights over bread in the marketplace, of all things, fights that had turned into riots. The Royal Guard had arrived to break up the fighting, the City Guardsmen had turned on them and... Constance wasn’t sure what had happened next, but the king had lost control of his city. The castle gates had been slammed closed, wards snapped into place by royal magicians, but it hadn’t been enough to save everyone outside the walls. She’d heard a messenger screaming a warning about mansions going up in flames. The mob was running rampant, tearing through the aristocratic walls and hunting down the money-lenders and speculators. Constance had heard a tale of horror from the guards on the battlements, before the queen had cut them off. The money-lenders had been marched to the embankments and thrown to the rocks below. Their wives and daughters hadn’t been treated anything like so kindly.

She shivered, helplessly, as the shouting grew louder. The mob was calling for blood... royal blood. Constance herself was a very distant relative of the king - her family lands were on the other side of the country, near the border with Red Rose - but she was sure it wasn’t enough to protect her. The bodyguards and chaperones her father had sent with her, when he’d allowed her to enter the queen’s service, were nowhere to be seen. She hoped they were safe, wherever they were. But she feared the worst.

Get out there.” Queen Francoise’s voice cut through the stifling tension. “Order them to disperse.”

Constance winced and tried to hide it. The queen was a sharp-tongued woman, more of a man – even though Constance would never dare say that aloud - than her husband. Her position was unassailable. She didn’t have to produce a male heir - her predecessor had produced two boys who’d survived to adulthood - and she’d given the king two daughters. The king could hardly refuse to treat her with the respect she’d earned, even though he had no compunctions about taking mistresses and then discarding them. And yet... Constance could tell that the queen was making a mistake. Her husband was trapped between fire and water, unable to confront the crowd or lead his men into battle against the mob. All he could do was wait.

If only Dater was here,” Queen Francoise snapped. Her favorite stepson, according to rumor, had been disbanding his army when the rioting had turned into full-scale rebellion. “He would teach them all a lesson.”

Dater is a long way away,” the king said, mildly. “And I sent Hedrick out as soon as the trouble began.”

You should have sent him to deal with the crowds.” Queen Francoise frowned. “And now they’re at our door!”

The king turned away from his wife, his fists clenching with anger. Constance understood. A king could not be a king if he couldn’t exert authority over his wife and children as much as his kingdom. Everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the Crown Prince, perhaps pushed by his stepmother, started to demand more power and authority than his father could reasonably give. Dater was old enough to rule and young enough to make his mark, if he inherited the throne. He was certainly prominent enough to seem a viable replacement, if the king lost too much face to rule. It wouldn’t be the first time a king had ‘voluntarily’ surrendered his power and gone into exile.

Constance looked at the stone floor, trying not to attract attention. The king’s temper was starting to boil. She didn’t want to face his fury, not when no one would lift a hand in her defense. The assembled nobles feared the king too, feared what he might do if his back was against the wall. Constance felt cold, wondering - deep inside - if it might be better if the king was... convinced to abdicate in favor of his son. Dater was a dashing young man, so handsome and bursting with energy that no one would dare stand against him. Had he not been the hero of the wars? Had he not taken on a necromantic army and smashed it in an hour of furious combat? Had he not turned down the hand of Lady Emily herself, for the good of the kingdom? Constance’s heart fluttered at the thought. She was too low-born, for all the blue blood in her, to attract the prince... but she could dream.

She glanced up as Councilor Triune ran into the room. He was normally jovial and warm to everyone, even the lowliest maidservants, but now his jowled face was streaked with sweat and his hands were shaking. Constance knew she shouldn’t listen, as he hastily knelt before the king, but she couldn’t help herself. Knowledge was power in the court, particularly if one got it before anyone else. She had long since mastered the art of eavesdropping without making it obvious. She didn’t know why she bothered sometimes. As a young woman from the borderlands, she was rarely considered important enough to matter. The only thing that kept her from being sent home was the favor of the queen.

Your Majesty!” Councilor Triune sounded as if he wanted to panic. “The sorcerers are dead!”

A rustle ran round the chamber. Constance swallowed, hard. The walls were strong, but the royal court didn’t have enough men to hold them after the Royal Guard had been slaughtered. Or deserted. Or joined the rebels. The stories just kept getting worse and worse. If the rebels turned their attention to the castle, they could get over the walls. The sorcerers were dead. It was only a matter of time before the wards fell.

The king glanced at his queen, then at the barred window looking over the courtyard and the city beyond. The bars weren’t that strong. If the rebels captured a catapult, or one of the new-fangled cannons, they could put a shot right through the window. Constance took no interest in military affairs, but even she knew that walls couldn’t be held forever. And then... she tried not to think about it. The rebels wanted blood. Her blood.

No, she corrected herself. It was unlikely any of the mob knew who she was. They want the king’s blood.

An idea flashed through her mind. She could leave the chamber, perhaps on the pretense of going to the water closet, and swap clothes with a maid. She could pretend to be a maid. No one would know, if she was dressed as a maid... the rebels would ignore her, allowing her to walk out and then... and then what? She didn’t know the city, beyond the inner walls. She couldn’t hope to walk home. She had only the faintest idea of the way!

We have a plan,” Councilor Triune babbled. “The troops will create a diversion. The rest of us will get into carriages and flee to the army camp. And then...”

Excellent,” the queen said. “Dater will purge the city with fire and blood.”

The plan didn’t seem a very good idea to Constance, but no one bothered to ask her opinion. It was just taken for granted she’d accompany the queen, along with the remainder of her ladies. Councilor Triune’s men urged them down the stairs, into the rear courtyard, as troops ran forward to rally at the forward gates. They’d always struck Constance as fops, when they hadn’t been trying to court her in their clumsy manner, but... they were going to die in defense of their king. She wished she’d been kinder to the last knight who’d tried to court her. He’d been so dreadfully earnest she’d laughed in his face.

She winced at the noise as they scrambled into the royal carriages. It was hardly her first time in a coach, but... she wished she were on horseback. An eager horse and a clear road... it was all she asked. The littlest princess asked for a horse for herself as she was bundled into another carriage with her nanny, her mother ignoring her cries as the door slammed firmly closed. Constance was tempted to suggest the princess was given a horse, that she was given a horse, but she didn’t dare. Councilor Triune fussed around, snapping orders to the guards as the sound of fighting grew louder. His face was too grim for her to risk speaking her mind. If he got the royal family out, his future would be assured. He was hardly going to alter the plan on her say-so.

Get in,” the queen snapped. “Now!”

Constance heard someone - Councilor Triune, perhaps - give the command to open the rear gates as she scrambled into the carriage. The regal vehicle lurched as the door was banged closed, then started to move. Constance found a seat and sat down, trying not to look at the queen. The expression on her face promised death and destruction - and social exclusion, perhaps, for the one who disturbed her. Constance tried not to shiver openly. Law and order had broken down everywhere. She didn’t want to think about what might happen if the Crown Prince couldn’t regain control of the city. How many of the dressmakers and jewelers and others she’d patronized were about to die?

They’ll pay for this,” the queen said, more to herself than the rest of the passengers. It had the air of a blood oath, a promise that could not be broken. “They’ll pay in...”

The shouting grew louder. The carriage lurched again, then crashed to a halt. Constance reached for the window to pull back the blinds, but the queen slapped her hand hard enough to hurt before she could touch the fabric. The carriage was quivering, as if someone was beating their fists against it... Constance started back as the door shook, then came free. A grim-faced man stared at her, his gaze swiftly turning into a leer. Behind him, the city burned.

Look,” he shouted. “We’ve captured the royal whores!”

Before she could pull back, his hand snapped hold of Constance’s wrist and yanked her forward. She tumbled out of the carriage, hitting the paving stone before she could catch herself. Pain shot through her as strong arms jerked her to her feet, holding her so firmly she couldn’t pull free. The queen was dragged out too, to hoots and hollers from the rabble. Her eyes were wide with fear. Constance struggled against her captor, but she couldn’t break free. He was just too strong.

She felt horror, numb horror, sinking into her as she looked past the carriage. The king’s carriage was ahead of her, the king himself being manhandled away by a group of men in red shirts. They were on the embankment, too close to the river to escape... she wondered, suddenly, if that had been deliberate. She couldn’t see Councilor Triune anywhere. The king’s man had vanished...

A commanding voice cut through the crowd. “Take the whores to the Final Prison!”

Constance shuddered as her captor started to push her forward. She’d heard all the stories about the Final Prison, about how it was the last port of call for men sentenced to death. If someone went in a prisoner, they didn’t come out again. Panic gave her strength: she stamped on her captor’s foot as hard as she could, then ran to the embankment. The river had dwindled over the last few months, as summer had started to bite, but if she could get into the water she could swim down to the distant lands beyond the walls. They wouldn’t expect her to be able to swim. Countrywomen learnt as a matter of course, but cityfolk regarded the idea of women swimming as perverse. It was...

Stop,” someone shouted. “Now!”

Constance jumped... and realized, too late, that she’d misjudged. The river had shrunk too far. She was plummeting towards jagged rocks and the remains of sunken ships, not waters that might hide her long enough to let her escape. She thought, suddenly, of her parents. Would they ever know what had happened to her?

In truth, she feared they would never know.

 

Prologue II


When she’d become Queen, Alassa had instituted a very simple rule.

She was not to be disturbed, she’d told her courtiers, between dinner and supper. Not unless the matter was urgent. Truly urgent. She’d made it clear, and backed it up, that anyone who disturbed her without very good reason would be spending the next week as a frog in the royal frog pond. It wasn’t something she was proud of, and she was uncomfortably aware she might miss something important because the messenger was reluctant to interrupt her, but it was vitally important for her sanity. A reigning monarch had so little time to herself that she had to do whatever it took to make sure she got it.

It irked her, more than she would willingly admit to anyone, that she hadn’t realized just how much her father had to do until she’d inherited his throne. The king had risen early and worked from dawn till dusk, the men of his bedchamber - his inner councilors - feeling free to interrupt him whenever they pleased. The one advantage of being a Ruling Queen, Alassa had discovered, was that she didn’t have to keep her inner council so close, but it hadn’t taken long for her courtiers to reason out that they could send their wives, sisters and daughters instead. Alassa would have preferred to banish them permanently, but there was no way to send them away without causing massive offense. The last thing she needed was their husbands, brothers, and sons plotting revenge. She had enough troubles already.

She kept her face under tight control until she stepped into her inner bedchamber, then allowed herself to relax as the wards shimmered around her. It was hard, very hard, not to sag as she leaned against the door. Winning the war had been easy. Winning the peace, it seemed, was a great deal harder. She had to find a balancing point between factions that detested each other, factions that would hate and detest her if she showed the slightest hint of favoritism to their enemies. It felt as if she were stirring an unstable cauldron, the brew within permanently on the verge of exploding. There were times when she was tempted to grab her husband and daughter, empty the royal treasury and go into exile. In hindsight, she wondered how different her life would have been if she’d stayed at Whitehall instead of returning to Zangaria.

Gathering herself, she walked past her year-old daughter’s bedchamber - Princess Emily was sleeping, her nursemaid sitting beside the cot - and into her bedroom. Jade was seated at the desk, reading the reports from the royal spies. They’d made sure to pick up the remnants of King Randor’s spy network and build their own, in hopes of preventing another coup or another aristocratic uprising. Alassa thought she understood, now, why her father had gone mad. There was never any shortage of disturbing reports, but how many of them were anything more serious than a slighted aristocrat venting to his friends? She didn’t know.

Jade stood and gave her a hug. “Bad day?”

I had Lord Hardin, again,” Alassa said. It was hard to hide her disgust. “He wants to marry his ward.”

Bastard,” Jade agreed. “Want me to kill him?”

Alassa was tempted. Lord Hardin had played his cards very well, somehow managing to remain on King Randor’s good side without alienating either the Noblest or Alassa herself. He’d certainly not taken any part in the civil war, ensuring that he evaded the sanctions Alassa had handed down to her father’s more open supporters. It helped, she supposed, that Hardin’s territory was right on the edge of the kingdom. It gave him a ready-made excuse for not sending anything more than thoughts and prayers. But it also made it hard for her to squash him like he deserved.

She sat on the bed and rubbed her forehead. Lord Hardin’s ward was too young for a betrothal, let alone a marriage. And yet, Hardin thought he could bind her to him - and ensure permanent control over her lands - before she grew too old to object. Alassa allowed herself a flash of cold anger. She knew how she would have felt, if her father had announced her betrothal before she reached her majority. It might have been years before the marriage was solemnized, but everyone would have treated it as a done deal from day one. If she’d had a brother...

I might need you to go look at her lands, to see how he’s ruling them,” she said. She hated the idea of sending Jade away for a few days, but there were few people she trusted completely. And besides, Hardin wouldn’t be fool enough to give Jade a hard time. If he did... Jade would smash him flat well before word reached Alexis. “Perhaps even to provoke a fight.”

Jade nodded as he sat next to her. “How much do you want me to provoke a fight?”

Only a little,” Alassa said. She wanted an excuse to take a swing at Hardin - or, at the very least, to park a garrison in his lands - but it had to look legitimate. “I don’t want to push him so blatantly everyone takes his side.”

She leaned into Jade’s arms, allowing him to hold her tightly. It was a display of weakness she could never allow herself in front of the court, not when half of them already believed Jade gave her orders in private and the other half thought he should. Bastards. It hadn’t been that long since they’d been slated for execution, if they fell into Randor’s hands. A little gratitude was not too much to expect, was it? It probably was. Courtiers had short memories. And now there was an infant princess, she’d bet her crown that some of them were considering the advantages of having a monarch who couldn’t talk.

And if I die early, she thought, Jade will take Baby Emily and run.

Jade kissed her, lightly. Alassa lifted her lips to his, enjoying the sensation. His hands started to roam her body, fiddling with the clasp behind her back. The dress was designed to be difficult to take off in a hurry, something that Alassa had once found a little amusing. It wasn’t so funny now. The unmarried ladies of the court might have reason to wear a chastity belt, or something that served the same purpose, but she was a married woman. And she was the queen...

The wards jangled. Alassa jumped, swallowing a curse. Whoever had disturbed her was going to regret it. Whoever... she reminded herself, sharply, that she needed to hear the messenger out before she did something unspeakable. No one would dare enter her chambers unless it was urgent. She stood, straightened her dress and gave Jade a meaningful look. He headed for the secret passage that ran beside the reception room. King Randor had used it to conceal guards, when holding meetings with untrustworthy aristocrats. Alassa preferred to use it to allow her husband to listen to the meetings, without making his presence obvious. It was yet another compromise she’d had to make between what the court expected of her and what she had to do to maintain her sanity.

She raised an eyebrow as she stepped through the door and saw Mouse waiting for her. The young woman - she was practically a commoner, although her father had been knighted long ago - was loyal. She had to be. Alassa had rewarded her for her services by elevating her over the countless noblewomen - and men - who thought they should be Mistress of the Queen’s Bedchamber. It had made her enemies, but... Alassa tried not to grimace. Mouse was loyal to her personally and that was all that mattered. And besides, she wasn’t anything like as hidebound as the rest of the court. She didn’t waste time trying to turn her queen into something she wasn’t.

Your Majesty.” Mouse curtsied. Her face was pale, fearful. “Prince Hedrick has arrived.”

Alassa blinked. “Prince Hedrick of Alluvia?”

Mouse nodded. Alassa’s mind raced. Prince Hedrick had wanted to marry her, years ago. He’d attended her wedding, but then... she didn’t recall hearing much of anything about him. Hedrick was a second son. He wouldn’t be promoted over his brother... hell, there was a very real chance he would be sent into de facto exile. If he had... why had he come to Zangaria? Alassa couldn’t think of a good reason. It wasn’t as if she was obliged to give him more than the time of day.

He just galloped into the courtyard,” Mouse added. “He requests an immediate meeting.”

I see.” Alassa was tempted to tell Hedrick to wait. And yet, he wouldn’t have broken protocol so blatantly unless the situation was dire. What was it? “Please have him shown to the blue room. I’ll speak with him there.”

She glanced at the walls as Mouse turned and hurried out of the room. Jade would make his way down to the next cubbyhole, while Alassa moved through the monarch’s private corridors. She thought fast, trying to determine why Hedrick had galloped all the way to Zangaria... even using the portals, it was a hell of a long way. If he’d come to pledge his love... she snorted at the thought. It would be preferable, she supposed, to a bid for his kingdom’s throne. That would be a major diplomatic headache.

I suppose I could tell him to get lost and swear blind I didn’t see him, she thought, as she stepped into the blue room. But too many people will have noticed his arrival.

She took a seat and waited, folding her hands on her lap as the door opened. Prince Hedrick stepped into the room - he’d lost the swagger, part of her mind noted - and bowed deeply to her. There was no hint of reluctance, no suggestion he thought he should be bowing to a king instead. And yet, as he straightened, he looked nervous. His eyes flickered from side to side, as if he expected assassins to teleport into the chamber and jump him. His magic felt barely leashed. Alassa hadn’t intended to offer refreshments, let alone alcohol, but she was tempted to do just that. Hedrick looked like someone who needed a drink.

He was handsome enough, she supposed. The unfinished cast to his features she recalled from his unsuccessful courtship was gone. His face suggested a strong character, his short blond hair suggesting a martial mindset. Or, perhaps, martial ambitions. Hedrick was old enough to have fought in the last battles of the war, but Emily hadn’t mentioned him in her letters. His father might not have let him go. Losing one prince would be bad. Losing both would be a disaster.

Your Majesty.” Hedrick didn’t stumble over the words. “On behalf of my father and brother, I must plead for your help.”

Alassa’s eyes narrowed. She would have understood the younger generation rebelling against the elder. She would have understood Hedrick waging war on his father and older brother. But... asking for help on behalf of both of them? What had happened? And why was he so fearful?

Your Majesty, I...” Hedrick swallowed and started again. “There has been an uprising in the streets. We have lost control of Jorlem City and many smaller cities. The rebels have my father and stepmother prisoner, along with my half-sisters and many others. I... I barely escaped with my life. The Crown Prince is assembling his troops to retake the cities, but... we need help.”

Alassa kept her face carefully blank. Zangaria was quite some distance from Alluvia. It would be tricky to assemble troops and dispatch them to the other kingdom, even if it wasn’t politically impossible. She knew there were factions within her government that would flatly refuse to send help, and others that would use it as an excuse to demand crackdowns at home... hell, just sending troops would cause problems with other kingdoms. The Necromantic War was over. Alassa was uncomfortably aware that the Allied Lands were starting to fracture, as old grudges came back to life. She didn’t regret the end of the war, but... she had to cope with the problems of victory.

Zangaria is a long way from Alluvia,” she said, carefully. “Why do you require my help?”

Hedrick looked down. “The rebels claim to have been inspired by one of your noblewomen,” he said. “The rebellion is in her name.”

Alassa raised her eyebrows. “Emily.”

Yes, Your Majesty,” Hedrick said. “They claim to have risen in her name.”

Emily would not have set out to trigger a rebellion,” Alassa said, flatly. “She’s been... busy.”

Yes, Your Majesty,” Hedrick repeated. “And yet the rebels claim to have risen in her name.”

Alassa wasn’t sure how seriously to take that. Hedrick was describing literally world-shaking events. Alassa should have heard something, beyond vague rumors, well before the younger prince arrived at her door. Alluvia was a long way away, but still... she sighed, inwardly. The tale had probably grown in the telling. Emily wouldn’t have set out to overthrow a kingdom, but...

I will discuss the matter with my trusted advisors and then get back to you,” Alassa said, slowly. “I do not believe, however, that she is behind your rebellion.”

They claim she inspired them,” Hedrick said. “Our councilors advised us to request that you bring her to heel.”

Alassa hid her amusement. Emily was, technically, a liegewoman. She was supposed to support her queen in all things. But Emily didn’t really accept the responsibilities - or half of the rights - of a liegewoman. She didn’t even understand them. Alassa knew Emily couldn’t be pressured into doing anything. King Randor had tried and the result had been an utter disaster. She could see how Hedrick, and his advisors, might think Alassa could control her...

Which means I might get the blame, if Emily is credited with starting the uprising, Alassa thought. Shit.

She stood, signaling that the interview was over. She’d have to discuss the matter with Jade - and then Emily herself. Emily’s last letter had said she was going to Laughter Academy... quite some distance from Alluvia. That was meaningless, of course. Emily could teleport. And she’d figured out how to craft an enchanted device that allowed anyone to teleport, too...

Your Majesty!” Hedrick looked stunned. “I appeal to you...”

Alassa bit off a sharp response. Hedrick didn’t appeal to her, not really. Instead, she summoned Mouse and directed her to show Hedrick to the guestroom. The servants would take care of him - and, also, keep an eye on him. It would be useful to know just what sort of person he was, although... Alassa shook her head as he followed Mouse out the door. He’d just dropped a massive hot potato in her lap...

... And, for the first time in far too long, she was unsure how to handle it.

 

Chapter One


Lady Emily,” Master Lucknow said. His voice was very cold. He never took his eyes off Emily. “In the name of the White Council, and the Allied Lands, I am placing you under arrest.”

Emily stared at him, caught completely off-guard. She could sense powerful wards shimmering into existence, surrounding the inn. Wards designed to stop her from teleporting, wards designed to confuse her and conceal the enemy positions... her mind raced as she looked at Master Lucknow. There were four combat sorcerers facing her... four potential enemies and Jan. Her boyfriend hadn’t moved. He was caught between her and his master, unable to take sides without alienating one or both of them.

She held herself at the ready, unsure of what to do. There had to be more sorcerers outside, casting the wards. She hoped they’d had the sense to evacuate the surrounding area, although she feared they hadn’t bothered. And yet, they’d managed to taint the food. Had they hoped she’d sedate herself? Or poison herself? It was a common trick, when faced with newborn necromancers and dark wizards. If she’d eaten the food, would she have woken up in a cell? Would she have woken at all?

Master?” Jan’s voice broke through the silence. “What are you doing?”

Master Lucknow directed a sharp look at him. “Shut up.”

Jan audibly swallowed. “Master...”

I said, shut up,” Master Lucknow snapped. “Lady Emily, you are under arrest.”

Emily found her voice. “On what charge?”

The charges will be discussed at your hearing,” Master Lucknow informed her. He removed a vial from his belt and held it out. “Drink this, then prepare for teleport.”

I need to send a message to my master,” Emily said. She tried to remember what little she’d been taught about prisoner rights. There weren’t many. The Mediators had powers of arrest, if a warrant was issued by the White Council... her mind raced. They couldn’t demand a warrant without word reaching Alassa, or Melissa, or Void himself. Emily couldn’t believe her friends wouldn’t warn her. And that boded ill. “I also want to see the warrant.”

You can do both, once you drink the potion,” Master Lucknow said, flatly. “Once you are in custody, you can send messages to whoever you like.”

Emily gritted her teeth. The Mediators were obligated to carry the warrant and show it upon demand. She didn’t recall much from Master Tor’s classes on law, but she recalled that. There were just too many kingdoms, estates and city-states that disliked the idea of international police forces throwing their weight around. In fact... she wondered, suddenly, if Duchene had been so quick to get rid of her because she knew the Mediators were on their way. The Headmistress of Laughter was Pendle’s ruler, to all intents and purposes. The Mediators should have informed her before the arrest began.

Her heart sank. If the Mediators were unwilling to produce the warrant, it suggested they didn’t have one. They couldn’t have one, not without summoning the whole council. And that meant... she looked at the vial, wondering what it really contained. Did they intend to arrest her first and invent the charges later? Or did they intend to kill her before the rest of the council, and her friends, could object?

She took a step back. “I need to send a message first,” she said. She disliked the thought of running to Void, or anyone, to beg for help, but she doubted she had a choice. “And then I will...”

Drink the potion,” Master Lucknow ordered. He produced a pair of shackles from his belt and held them at the ready. “Now.”

A memory burst into her mind... Emily is kneeling on a stone floor, her hands and feet chained with cold iron. The spectators are booing loudly as her judges close in, joining hands in a fearsome ritual that will destroy her magic...

The flash of memory, of the demonic vision, was so strong Emily almost fainted. The world around her seemed to fade, just for a moment. She shivered, suddenly very aware she was on the cusp of disaster. If they took her... would they seek to destroy her power, to strip the magic from her, or simply kill her? She looked from face to face, reading grim determination in their eyes. They were ready to fight, ready to take her by force. And if they didn’t have a warrant... she swallowed, hard. She couldn’t let herself go with them.

No.” Emily faced them, readying herself. “I want to see the warrant.”

One of the combat sorcerers made a gesture. Emily sensed a shimmer of magic, a webbing that - if it took shape and form - would trap her until she drained herself dry. Master Lucknow took a step forward, raising his hand. The netting centered on him, growing stronger and stronger with every passing second. She couldn’t let herself be trapped. It would be the end of everything. She was grossly outnumbered, but she didn’t have to beat them all to win. She just had to get clear of the wards and teleport out.

She summoned a wave of raw magic and directed it into the netting. The spellwork shattered, bits of magic splintering in all directions. She didn’t hesitate, generating a blinding flash of light that should have been enough to disorient them. Master Lucknow had enough presence of mind to counter the spell, but it bought her a few seconds. She cast a bigger spell of her own, yanking up every chair and table in the inn and hurling them at the sorcerers. It wouldn’t kill them, if they reacted quickly, but it would buy her a little more time. She saw Jan throwing himself towards the rear door as she darted backwards, without looking back. She didn’t blame him. He’d wind up in real trouble if he turned against his master.

One of the sorcerers grunted, tumbling to the ground as a chair struck him in the chest. He’d be fine, Emily was sure, but the impact should put him out of the fight. The others had raised their wards, smashing the tables and spraying sawdust in all directions. Emily summoned a wind, blowing the sawdust towards them. It might just get in their eyes. She turned and blasted the wall behind her, feeling a twinge of guilt. The innkeeper and his family were long gone, but they were going to come home to a pile of rubble. She made a promise to herself that she’d pay for repairs, if she survived. The surge of magic behind her suggested the combat sorcerers were angry.

She ran through the gash in the walls, into an alleyway. It was disturbingly empty. The wards buzzed against her mind as she glanced up and down, then drew on her magic and flew down the alleyway. Going too high would be a good way to get killed, but as long as she stayed low she should be able to put enough distance between herself and the wardcrafters to teleport out. She glanced up at Laughter as she flew past a taller building, wondering if she should try to get to the school. It might provide refuge... she shook her head. Duchene had plenty of reason to want Emily out of the way for a while. Going there might just get her arrested.

A force snapped around her legs, cancelling the spell. Emily fell, drawing on more of her magic to cushion the landing. The ground seemed to explode around her, turning rapidly to animated mud... she rolled over and over, catching sight of a magician roaring and chanting as he directed his spell. Ingenious, part of her mind noted. He’d turned the ground into a bog, charming the water to wear down her magic. It would have worked, too, if Void hadn’t taught her how to drain the magic from liquid. The sensation was thoroughly unpleasant, but... she sucked the magic out and directed it back at the caster, channeled into an overpowered stunning spell. His eyes went wide, an instant before he tumbled to the ground. He was still twitching, still trying to throw off the spell, as she ran past.

That might have been a mistake, she thought, numbly. She didn’t have time to kick him in the head. Hopefully, he’d be distracted long enough to keep him out of the fight even if the spell didn’t put him to sleep. Overpowering spells is a necromancer trick.

She reached out with her senses as she picked up speed, trying to determine the nearest edge of the wards. It wasn’t easy. The wards were constantly shifting, as if they were centered on her. She looked around, then - kicking herself for the oversight - up. A pair of magicians were clearly visible, staring down at her. She could see the threads of their magic, blurring together into the wards. As long as they could see her, they could trap her. And direct their fellows to her. She reached for her magic, then stopped herself. If she cancelled the spells holding them in the air, they’d plunge to their deaths. She didn’t want to kill them.

A force picked her up and hurled her right across the street. She had a brief impression of eyes watching from behind the curtains, which vanished as she hit the ground. The townspeople had to be panicking as they watched living gods tear their town apart, caught in the middle of a violent conflict... she shuddered, wondering what would happen to anyone who was injured in the crossfire. Nothing good, probably. Pendle had been overshadowed by fear for the last month and even though the source of the fear was gone, it would be a long time before everything returned to normal. None of the townspeople were going to help her. They’d turn and run to avoid being caught in the storm.

Just like Jan, she thought. Where did he go?

She pulled herself to her feet and sprinted into an alleyway. A robed magician stood in her path and she rammed her fist into his gut without thinking. He bent over, coughing and spluttering. He’d thought to wear leathers, but not charmed armor. Another stepped out, holding a wand in one hand and a battery in the other. Emily cursed under her breath as she sensed the magic in the wand. A simple cancellation spell, linked to the battery... every spell for hundreds of meters around would be cancelled. She had to admire the trick. They would cancel her magic, then overpower her by main force and pour the potion down her throat. It would work. She was tough, but Master Lucknow was probably tougher. He didn’t need all of his comrades to beat her into submission.

Her hand dropped to the pistol at her belt. She drew it, pointing the barrel at the magician. His eyes went wide... he was probably a veteran of the war, someone who knew what a pistol actually was. There were sorcerers who didn’t know what a gun did and wouldn’t recognize the threat if one was shoved into their mouths. He hesitated, visibly. If he activated the battery and triggered the spell, he’d render himself defenseless as well. The bullet might not be fatal, but he’d be seriously injured. Pistols weren’t very accurate, yet... they were at point-blank range. She doubted he would want to gamble his life on her missing...

She heard shouts behind her and altered her pose, pointing the gun at the battery and pulling the trigger. The blast was deafeningly loud in the confined space, the bullet striking the battery and sending it crashing to the ground. Weird sparks of light darted out of the containment ring, magic surging like water spewing from a balloon. Emily wasn’t sure what would happen, when a battery lost containment completely, but she didn’t want to stick around and find out. She shoved a force punch at the stunned magician, denting his wards enough to drive him back, then threw herself past and started to run again. Behind her, there was another surge of magic. She hoped - prayed - it hadn’t killed anyone.

Her legs started to ache as she burst onto the street and raced down to the edge of town. There was no one in view, but she heard the men behind her. She glanced at a hastily-abandoned fruit stall, then cast a levitation spell and hurled tons of fruit at the hovering magicians. The impacts wouldn’t cause them to fall - probably - but they would make it harder for them to keep the wards in place. They were still centered on her, damn it. She wondered, suddenly, if she should try to knock them out of the sky anyway. Their comrades might catch them before they hit the ground.

A sorcerer crashed into her, his magic tearing and blurring into hers. Emily winced at the onslaught, so crude and yet so effective, then turned into the attack. Magic crackled around her as she pushed forward, shoving her way through the storm. She could feel the sorcerer’s confusion as she yanked the magic aside, then punched him in the face. Whatever he’d been expecting, he hadn’t been expecting that. Emily felt her head start to pound as the magic began to fade, her vision blurring for a second. Void was going to scold her for trying that in a real fight. It could easily have gone the other way.

The wards started to shimmer and weaken. Emily pushed herself forward, leaving the dazed magician behind as she hurried to the edge of the wards. She felt drained, but... she thought she could teleport back to the tower. Void could sort out the mess... at the very least, she could recuperate while the Mediators insisted on her surrender. The pain grew stronger, to the point she honestly wasn’t sure she could teleport. Perhaps if she got into the woods, she could hide long enough...

Emily!” Master Lucknow appeared, right at the edge of her wards. For a moment, Emily honestly thought he’d managed to teleport despite the interference. He’d used a concealment spell to hide from her, hidden in the corner of her eye. She’d been too distracted to notice. “You...”

Emily had no time to react before he caught hold of her hair and yanked, hard. She stumbled back, nearly losing her footing. Void had argued she should cut her hair short, perhaps even wear a wig if having long hair was so important to her. In hindsight, she suspected he’d been right. Master Lucknow had his hands wrapped around her hair, hurting her so badly she could barely think... she allowed him to drag her as she gathered herself, then cracked the back of her head into his nose. She heard it break with a very satisfying crack - she felt warm liquid drip into her hair - but he didn’t let go. A moment later, a force punch sent her spinning through the air. Her scalp hurt so badly she was sure he’d scalped her.

She hit the ground, the impact knocking the wind out of her. Master Lucknow landed on top of her, his weight holding her down. She sensed his magic brewing, readying itself for another blast. This close to her, he’d have no difficulty tearing apart what remained of her defenses or simply knocking her out. She ruthlessly bit down on her panic as his blood pressed against her bare skin. Channeling power through the blood was difficult and dangerous, yet...

GET OFF, she thought.

Master Lucknow rolled off, his arms and legs flailing madly. The compulsion had been almost irresistible. He’d certainly not realized she could use his blood to control him... when it wasn’t touching her fingers. Emily smirked - there was nothing in the books on blood magic that suggested she had to use her fingers - then forced herself to stand on bruised and battered legs. Master Lucknow glared at her, his gaze suggesting he was setting up barriers in his mind. Her control was already weakening... she knew it would only be a few seconds before he broke free and came for her. She didn’t know why he’d wanted to arrest her - she’d thought they were allies, during the war - but he wanted her dead now. She’d pushed the limits as far as they would go.

She heard the sound of running footsteps and forced herself to stagger down the street. Her legs were sore... too sore. Too much had happened... her vision was so blurred she could barely see. Anything could be in front of her. She sensed a flicker of magic, too late. The tangle spell struck her legs and she tripped over herself, landing back on the ground. The sorcerers advanced, their power building as they wove a net of magic. Emily would have laughed, if she hadn’t been so badly hurt. She was too drained to continue the fight. They could grab her by the neck, force the potion down her throat and then march her off to...

A surge of magic pulsed through the air. It wasn’t directed at Emily, but it was strong enough to batter against what remained of her defenses. The sorcerers were knocked backwards, like trees caught in a gale; Emily took advantage of their sudden confusion to draw on what little remained of her power, trying to clear her eyes. Her eyes felt dry as dust, but - slowly - they started to clear. A nexus of power had formed in front of her. Void stood there. And Jan was right behind him.

Void’s voice was quiet, but it echoed on the air. “I do trust that you have an explanation for this?”




 

 

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Author Bio

Christopher G. Nuttall is thirty-two years old and has been reading science fiction since he was five, when someone introduced him to children's SF. Born in Scotland, Chris attended schools in Edinburgh, Fife and University in Manchester ... before moving to Malaysia to live with his wife Aisha.

Chris has been involved in the online Alternate History community since 1998; in particular, he was the original founder of Changing The Times, an online alternate history website that brought in submissions from all over the community. Later, Chris took up writing and eventually became a full-time writer.

Chris has produced The Empire's Corps series, the Outside Context Problem series and many others. He is also responsible for two fan-made Posleen novels, both set in John Ringo's famous Posleen universe. They can both be downloaded from his site.

Website: http://www.chrishanger.net/
Blog: http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristopherGNuttall
Discussion Forum http://thewritersclub.prophpbb.com/

TTB titles:

Schooled in Magic fantasy series
  Schooled in Magic  book 1
  Lessons in Etiquette  book 2
  Study in Slaughter  book 3
  Work Experience  book 4
  The School of Hard Knocks  book 5
  Love's Labor's Won  book 6
  Trial By Fire  book 7
  Wedding Hells  book 8
  Infinite Regress  book 9
  Past Tense  book 10
  The Sergeant's Apprentice  book 11
  Fists of Justice  book 12
  The Gordian Knot  book 13
  Graduation Day  book 14
  Alassa's Tale  book 14.5
  The Princess in the Tower  book 15
  The Broken Throne  book 16
  Cursed  book 17
  Mirror Image  book 18
  The Artful Apprentice  book 19
  Oathkeeper  book 20
  Little Witches  book 21
  The Right Side of History  book 22

The Decline and Fall of the Galactic Empire military SF series
  Barbarians at the Gates  book 1
  The Shadow of Cincinnatus  book 2
  The Barbarian Bride  book 3

Author web site.

 

###

 

The Right Side of History Copyright 2021. Christopher Nuttall. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

To order this book:
Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; Kindle; Kobo Books
List Price: $6.50 USD

 

  Author News

  Articles

Christopher has a number of interesting articles up at his blog, The Chrishanger.

"The Stronghold Academy of Martial Arts"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/the-stronghold-academy-of-martial-arts/

"Emily's Finances"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/emilys-finances/

"Religion in the Nameless World
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/religion-in-the-nameless-world/

"The Military in the Nameless World - A Very Brief Overview"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-military-in-the-nameless-world-a-very-brief-overview/

"Wedding Hells: Randor and Alicia"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/wedding-hells-randor-and-alicia/

"Past Tense: Freedom and (Women's) Rights"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/08/15/past-tense-freedom-and-womens-rights/

"Wedding Hells Appendix (II) - History Exam"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/wedding-hells-appendix-ii-history-exam/

"Idle Musings (SIM 10)"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/06/08/idle-musings-sim-10/

"Whitehall's Liability Insurance"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/whitehalls-liability-insurance/

"Emily and the Barony of Cockatrice"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2016/04/02/emily-and-the-barony-of-cockatrice/

"Bonus Material: Whitehall History Essay Question"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/10/16/bonus-material-whitehall-history-essay-question/

"Schooled in Magic: Jade, Emily and Alassa" [Warning: spoilers]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/08/11/schooled-in-magic-jade-emily-and-alassa/

"Deconstructing Emily" [...There are a handful of spoilers for Books 1-6, so read carefully.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/deconstructing-emily/

"Love's Labor's Won: Playing the Blame Game [Warning; spoilers!]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/loves-labours-won-playing-the-blame-game/

"Christmas Post: Five Things that Could Have Happened to Emily"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/christmas-post-five-things-that-could-have-happened-to-emily/

"The Tragedy of Marius Drake [Warning: massive spoilers in this post.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/the-tragedy-of-marius-drake/

"Meet My Character Blog Hop" [Master Tor]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/meet-my-character-blog-hop/

"Draft Afterword (I)" [Cincinnatus]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/draft-afterword-i/

"But What Do We Do on Our Hols? An Introduction to Lessons in Etiquette"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/but-what-do-we-do-on-our-hols-an-introduction-to-lessons-in-etiquette/

"The Free City of Beneficence" [A new setting for Schooled in Magic.]
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/the-free-city-of-beneficence/

"An Introduction to Schooled in Magic"
https://chrishanger.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/an-introduction-to-schooled-in-magic/

 

Interviews

"When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?"
Author interview on Blogcritics

"When did you decide you wanted to become an author?"
Author interview on Blogger News

Character interview with Princess Alassa on Beyond the Books

"Deconstructing Emily" blog post

"Schooled in Magic is a fantasy book, but it draws extensively from real history."
Guest post on As the Page Turns

"The Inspiration behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
Guest post on Review From Here

"The Story behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
Guest post on The Story Behind the Book

"I was asked, at Ravencon, just what makes an indie writer successful.
I think they were hoping I'd know some great secret to success that I could tell them."
Guest post on The Writer's Life eMagazine

"No matter how well you write, you will get bad reviews."
Author Christopher G. Nuttall discusses The Decline & Fall
of the Galactic Empire novels in an interview with Edinburgh49

Trial By Fire chapter reveal on Plug Your Book

 

  Reviews
 




 


 

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