Last call! Today is your last chance to enter the Perilisc Starter Set Giveaway! Tomorrow, I will randomly choose winners from my blog followers. The prize package includes my newest release, Mestlven.
Revenge, Insanity, and the Bloody Diamonds
Meredith Mestlven was abused and betrayed by her nobleman husband. After a desperate fit of retaliation, she fled for her life and lost her sanity. Now nearly 20 years later, she returns to her home at Sorrow Watch to destroy her enemies and reclaim her jewels. How far will she go to satisfy her revenge? Dark, cunning and beautiful, Mestlven will win your heart or devour your mind.
For your enjoyment, here’s Meredith (aka Sob) and her opening chapter.
The Year of The Escape
Sob looked up at the guards patrolling the wall. What would their reaction be tomorrow, when they realized they had been hard at work while all the residents of Sorrow Watch were murdered in their sleep? She let herself think on the emotions that might run through their bodies. They would be distraught, their jobs gone, their pride tarnished. Men losing things always brightened her mood.
Her perfectly timed throw landed with precision. With a quick tug, she knew the padded grappling hook had seated itself well, and she climbed. The torches of the guards on patrol beneath her and the sentries posted on the wall above her made the roving darkness fickle. As she climbed, she pulled up her cord so it would not be detected.
When she reached the top of the wall, she hung just below its lip as the guard passed her again. He continued his march, and she swung over the lip, hitting the battlement silently behind him. She grabbed her small grapple and hooked it on the other side, playing out her cord and swinging herself over.
At night, this corner of the castle courtyard would be dark as pitch. She slid the length of the cord and won Sorrow Watch. The castle was hers by right, the seat of her power, the estate that had been stolen from her, along with everything else.
She left the hook and cord, sprinting across the open courtyard to the Tower of Tears. Old legends said a maiden of Mestlven had once thrown herself off at the news of her betrothed’s death. Sob reached the tower, skirting around to its shadow and grabbing the ancient stones. Her strong fingers found crevasses as she pulled herself up. In her first life, the life she had known when she lived here, climbing in this manner would have been impossible. But desperation had taught her many lessons and given her a multitude of skills. She shimmied up the tower and stood on the ledge, far above the city of Mestlven.
She turned, pausing to stare out at the city beneath her. Her home. The place she had known with Malcolm, the land she had come to love after marriage brought her to it. The wind teased her, threatening to jerk her down the gut-wrenching drop to shatter her on the flagstones below. She smiled and steadied herself.
Her hair reached out for the simmering city, and she was hit with a feeling of home so grand that warm tears trailed her cheek. The world had been cruel to her while she was gone, making the death and crime she had embarked on a necessary evil, worthy of little thought.
Sob walked the ledge casually, letting her soft, black, suede boots kick rock dust and dead vines from it. She reached the window and peered in. No light, no sign of any living being. She pulled free her picks and adroitly tumbled the lock on the window, then laughed, feeling a thrill when the wind ripped the sound away to toss it behind her. She grabbed the inside sill and slid into the Tower of Tears.
Something had died in this room long ago, and the musk of its rot still clung to the place. Bones of some rat or cat would be found up here when she bought the castle in a few days. She decided to leave them. Let the creature haunt this place. Let it remain forever a resident of Sorrow Watch.
She crossed the room and pulled open the door. Moss and mildew covered the cool stairs. This tower had been abandoned when she lived here. In her time away, none had dared venture to this place of despair, a place where a beautiful woman lost her sanity. Sob nearly cried at the perfection of her homecoming and decided she would come here often. She had once lost a betrothed; she could finally mourn him. Here she would say goodbye to Stephen, but not tonight. She pushed herself out the door into the tower stairs and down into the gullet of the castle.
Her hands roved her body, touching her hairpin, her stiletto strapped to the inside of her thigh, her tiny crossbow folded and hanging on her hip, and a belt equipped with poisoned darts. As her fingers took their inventory, she slipped from the door to the rest of the castle, to the lit hall beyond. She moved decisively, but did not run, walking out in the open until she reached the first doorway and slipped within.
Sob closed her eyes and steadied her breathing. She listened to the sound of her heart until it fell silent. Then she let her ears gather every bit of noise they could find.
Four men played some game of chance at the end of the hall, the sound of rolling dice sharp and rollicking. They spoke loudly, their rough voices echoing in the air. Beyond them, the silence was profound, and the house lay asleep.
All day, she had watched its residents at play outside the city. Picnics and falconing had been the call of the day, with archery for the young man of the house. The father had imbibed heavily on wine, the woman of the house chasing the bawling brat. They would all be tired after such a day, and Sob thought she knew exactly where to find the father.
Dodging servants and guards called upon all her skills, but this castle was known to her—well known. Within its walls, none could escape her. She slipped into the master study to find the man of the house nodding over some papers. Sob slipped behind him, stopping at his shoulder to gaze at the notes he shuffled.
Quickly, she realized she was looking at plans for an addition to Sorrow Watch. The outside wall would be knocked down to accommodate a new tower. A twinge of rage raced up her spine, and she stared down at the man.
He wishes to change my castle. He wishes to desecrate the very walls with some granary tower.
Her outrage flared. She shook her head vehemently as she wrapped her hand across his mouth and freed her stiletto. His hands lifted comically from the table, upsetting the papers.
“You will not defile my perfect home, you worthless cur,” she hissed in his ear. Punching the tip of her stiletto into the back of his neck, up into the skull, the slight crunch of bone was the only sound that issued from him as he died. She laid his forehead on the table, snatched up the plans for his distasteful building project, and left him. As she stormed out of the room, she tossed the offending papers into the fire.
More stealth, more dancing just out of sight of the guards. Her subtle strut through her castle required a mingling of grace and guile, art in motion colored with malice. They had taken up residence in a place that did not belong to them. Their death should be expected.
The young man, nearly sixteen and near the point of marriage, was still awake when Sob eased into his room. Immaculate, gorgeous in youth and power yet unproven, he stood naked, his perfect form bathed in the light of five moons. He drank from a flask and ran his fingers through his shaggy hair. She stared long at the hard muscles of his back and the tight curves of his buttocks. He was dashing, a mortal growing to godhood as he shed his youth and took on the mantle of man.
Sob slid silently behind him, her hands a breath away from his hard body, so young, so pure, possibly a virgin. So clean. He had yet to cause a death, she was sure. In this most intimate moment, he was a breathing work of art.
She pulled her hairpin, letting black locks sweep past her eye. She longed to speak to him, to touch his body and stroke him before his death. But he was not for her. He was for no one.
She lifted both hands above her head and stabbed, strong and hard, into his back. He opened his mouth as she turned him around. The paralytic poison gripped him and, though he was surely dying, he fought to speak. Sob laid him on the ground and hovered over him as his mouth worked at words forever silenced. She could not help but steal a kiss. His life slid out of him as his lips locked with hers. She nearly wept at the perfection of it all, and let herself linger a bit to watch him stare at the ceiling.
Up the hall, crossing, plunging into the spiral staircase, she climbed quickly and silently until she reached the seventh level, where she darted across a darkened hall to the far wing of the castle, then stopped. She pulled her hairpin and spun, ripping free her stiletto. She waited behind a wall of shadows near a tapestry and stared in the direction she had come.
Someone followed her. She let moments tick by, searching the darkness of the staircase. Long, terrible breaths passed as she listened and fought to control her rampaging heart. Sob didn’t know what to do. She did not doubt her instincts. Someone definitely skulked behind her.
She ran through her options, finding few. She could engage her unknown pursuer; a thief or assassin, of that there was no question. The stalker would fight her silently, she was sure, but she had business this night, dire business already set into motion. The guards would notice the man of the house the next morning. The beautiful hope for the family line would also be found. And when that happened, the house would lock down tight, the guards doubled or tripled. The woman of the house would nail herself up and guards would search for the killer.
Sob could elude them, but that was not the matter. She had to finish her work tonight, had to shear the house of all its members. Only then would there be hope of her return. This interloper would get in the way, or at the least, witness her actions. She had to get free.
She slipped close to the wall, until she reached the door at the end of the hall, then freed her lock picks. The tumbler rolled, and she closed the door behind her, locking it tight. Beautiful beyond reckoning, the great room had changed in subtle ways. The curtains, the rugs, the furniture, all different than what she had known. But this room had been hers, and her emotion upon reentering her private chambers reduced her to tears.
Sob stared, enraptured, at the beauty she used to call her own, until a brutish sound issued from the bed; a grunt and a whimper. She stole across the room, past gauzy curtains blowing wild from the balcony doors, past clothes tossed carelessly on the floor by the bed, where a large man filled the woman of the house with brutal thrusts. The tramp crouched on hands and knees, whimpering in pleasure as his cock slammed into her again and again.
Sob’s wandering eye caught the glimmer of steel on the bed beside them, and she spied the steel cap of the house guard gleaming within the silk sheets. In my bed? She ruts with a brute in my chambers! This soulless harlot spreads her legs for the house guard, and she has the audacity to do it in my room!
She snarled as she stabbed the man in the throat, ripping the tender flesh to a wide gash and spraying hot blood all over the bed and the linens. The sweating guard dropped to flop and thrash, pinning the whore to the bed and dousing her in blood. She flailed beneath him as she smothered in the bedding. She fought to scream but the bed muffled her voice.
Sob kicked him aside. She straddled the hussy, grabbed the back of her head, and forced the bitch’s face down into the pillows to smother. The woman thrashed. She kicked. She beat the bed with her fists, and her muted screams filled the room, but none beyond it heard.
“You tramp! You whore! You worthless gash! You defile my bed, my chambers, my home, with this low behemoth? You are trash! You are common!” Sob spit as she smothered the woman.
Her harsh whispers whipped the woman as she lay dying. When the thrashing and the screaming failed, Sob rolled from the bed to her feet and crossed to the water basin. She washed her hands, staining the water red, then dried them on a soft cloth. Finally, she pulled her hair back into a seeping bun and walked to the balcony, pressing her way through the wild, gauzy curtains like a ghost emerging from the shadows.
She stood in the moonlight looking out at her city and the guards that patrolled her home. This view dominated her past. She could easily see the Castle of Chains on the far side of town, and the counting house leaning on the other.
A calming sensation radiated through her in waves, and she longed to stand there all night, staring out at the city. Promising herself she would do just that when she won this place again, she stepped out into the night to jump the railing.
The ledge was thick but old, the rock powdered, as she stepped around the bend of the wall to the last window of the night. The last lock rolled with a little difficulty. It needed oil badly, this side of the structure subjected to strong winds and rain. The window and the lock were nearly rusted closed. She managed to open it and slip inside.
Her follower would come in through that window or the door. To use the door, he would need to pass the three guards she heard in the hallway beyond. If the interloper chose the window, he would be subject to her blade and a long fall.
A fall would serve no one. A fall would alert everyone to her and her pursuer. No one wanted that.
Sob had no time, so she crept across the room to the last member of the family still left alive. She peered down at him as he suckled his thumb and murmured low to himself. She swept a hand across his brow, pushing away fine hairs to betray his perfect chubby face, this beautiful child, this Timothy. Sob shook her head as she realized the cold place within her was not yet so chilled as to kill a boy yet in his second year.
She scowled and cursed, then sliced free a bit of cloth and tied it tight around his mouth, gagging him. He wailed instantly.
She grabbed a long cloth, wrapped it around the boy until he was secure, and lashed the wrap to her back. He kicked and thrashed, but quietly. She slipped out onto the ledge, then looked back in the direction of her room. A form pulled back to hide behind the curve of the wall. Sob cursed again, looking at the ground to patrolling guards and a well-lit courtyard. She could not go back. The interloper waited.
Perhaps she could manage the guards outside the boy’s room, but if she slipped up, even a little, the alarm might be raised. She could not chance that. The ledge played itself out around the next corner. There was naught to do but climb down.
She glanced at the drop, suddenly very aware of the tyke on her back. Shaking her head, she lowered herself to grip the lip of the ledge. Here, she was vulnerable. She gripped the first of the stones and began her descent.
She could not go straight down. Guards stomped below, covering the well-lit courtyard. She could only skirt the side of the building and pray for a dark corner to show itself. A figure swung out above her, a shadow climbing in pursuit. Sob kept climbing.
She reached the bridge and climbed over the parapets to look down on the back courtyard and the men patrolling beneath, then threw a glance to the wall she just left and saw a figure clinging there. She felt a clashing of emotions, both dread and excitement at the thought of killing the spy. He seemed slight, but there was no doubting his strength. She toyed briefly with the idea of a crossbow dart taking his life, but that would alert the guards. She would have to dispatch him silently.
She ran the distance of the bridge to the door of the Tower of Scribes. A whirling of the lock and she slipped into the inky darkness. She felt it close in around her; the black so present, so vital, that it hugged tight to her, cradling her in its bosom.
Sob knew the place in the dark and she turned, running the stairs to the level above, where she could lose her pursuer. She reached the first trap and found it yawning open, then entered the room beyond and listened. The door beneath her opened with a slight creak. When she had opened that door, it had been silent, and she smiled at the notion of it betraying her enemies.
“You know your mistress, don’t you, Sorrow Watch?” She stroked the walls of the room gently. Sob crossed the room, her hands waving before her, a warning for furniture moved in her absence. The brat on her back kicked and moaned, and she fought back the urge to give it a smack. She reached the far wall and felt the hard standing desk of the head scribe.
Malcolm told her his great grandfather had thought scholars lazy and built the desks to be too tall for chairs. Sob ran a hand along the hard wood surface, dust collecting on the pads of her fingers. They kept her library and her scribe’s hall poorly. Had she known this, she would have let their deaths linger.
Feet echoed on the stairs. She smiled, reached the back of the desk, and thumbed the carving of the eagle. Its beak depressed easily, and a panel slid open silently. She batted away dead spider webs and held back a sneeze the thick dust teased up. Crouching low, she slipped herself and the brat into the alcove and slowly slid the panel back.
The inside of the desk held her tight in a loving embrace. Malcolm had brought her here when they were first engaged. He had shown her the secrets of what would be her home, and this place had been one of her favorites. He insisted his great uncle paid an artisan to hollow the desk out, to give him a place to stash contraband, but Sob knew better. She had studied the craft of the scribe, and knew this a vault for spare papers and inks.
She listened carefully as she freed her crossbow from her hip and unfolded it. A dart from her belt fit the groove, and she held the tip toward the opening. Then she waited.
The intruder’s stealth did not betray him in this place, but she heard the scrape of steel on flint. A thin blade of light cut the gut of the desk and slashed Sob as it seeped through the well-crafted panels. She tried to peer through the thin slits, but could see nothing of note.
Her breath came fast and her heart beat so violently that her hands shook. She fought for control over her emotions as she watched the pursuer walk the room. He slid behind the desk, a breath away from the latch that would reveal her, and she gripped her crossbow tight. She dared not breathe, dared not shift.
The child behind her stirred. Sob eased a dart from her belt. The foot outside the desk tapped slowly. With painstaking caution, she pricked the infant on her back with the very tip of the dart. The effect was immediate. As the paralytic poison bit into him, he went slack, still as a corpse.
The light wavered away as the interloper studied other parts of the room. When he reached the stairs and climbed to the next level, she smiled. She let him get ahead of her before she knocked gently on the panel and the door slid again. She gave chase, now the hunter, no longer the quarry.
Sob watched as his light sliced the rooms above her to bits. He would soon reach the covered bridge that would take him into the library. She smiled and slowly followed. Under the cover of the squeaking doors, she slipped past the trap and into the room with him, and watched him as he stared forward into the dark library, searching for her. When he looked back, his eye slid right over her as the shadows devoured her.
Black clothing tied down tight against his body, one simple blade sheathed and hanging upside down on his chest. Where had she seen that before? His face obscured almost completely by a cowl, she could see only a firm-set jawline with a slight wisp of a white scar curled on his chin. His hands were large, his body small. His lips whispered a curse.
She tapped her soft boot tip once, and his eye landed on the spot. He peered into the shadows, a look of fear stamped on his face. The darkness carried her across the room, to the back of the door, as he stared at the spot where she had betrayed herself. He reached up and thumbed his dagger. She sighed.
He spun, his eyes now wide as he stared behind the door, but she was moving again. He ripped free his dagger, the serrated black blade, thin and keen. With a low growl, he threw the door wide, stabbing the darkness beyond with the small lantern he carried.
Sob watched him slowly conclude she had cornered him. Body rigid, he threw himself through the doors, letting the dimness within swallow him. He doused his flame, slipping the tiny lantern in his belt as he fled to the safety of the encroaching night.
But this was her darkness; he was a visitor here. She poured into the room like a liquid shadow, her heart slamming in her chest with the excitement of the chase. He reached the door on the other side of the room and pulled hard at the handle.
Her grin emerged. There was a trick to opening that door. The latch stuck if he didn’t shake the handle a bit. As she slid up behind him, she smelled his sweat, clean and strong. His breath caught as the tip of her stiletto rapped gently at the back of his neck. He froze. She reached around, grabbing his wrist ever so tenderly and freeing him of his blade.
“Knees,” she purred, “now.”
He slowly lowered to his knees. “Are you going to kill a fellow member?” he said, his voice rich with accent.
Member? Member of what? “How do you know I am a member?” Her voice housed her excitement, pure and sexual. “How do you know I am not just a mindless killer?” She felt a warm sensation in her crotch, building into an ache in her body.
“I was told, as you were, to exact her vengeance tonight. Bertaal doubled our assignment, put two of us on it, as he sometimes does.”
Bertaal? My Bertaal? The name alone made her hands shake, and she struggled for breath.
“I am a brother of the Jewel. I will show you my token if I must. I was sent here after her offering was stolen. We wish to make her presence felt. Rumors will abound after this night. They will think she has come back.”
“Token, now!” she hissed.
He held up his gloved hands and slowly worked the fingers of his right hand free. She saw a flash of blue, but she could make out no details. A ring, a jeweled ring. Her head hurt. The stiletto dug into his flesh, and he winced. But that happened miles away as she stared at the thin ring on his finger.
“The light,” she croaked, “I must see it in the light.”
She fought for breath as he reached for his tiny lantern and grabbed his flint. She raked the stiletto across the stone and the oil ignited. He held his hand up to the light, and she stumbled back. A scream clawed at her throat and she shook her head.
“That is not possible,” she whispered, unable to make a louder sound.
“Do you like it?” he asked.
She looked to his face, a strain there she did not understand. “I love it, Malcolm, but it is too much. There are five rings here.” Meredith ran her finger along the pile of jewelry in his palm and she giggled up at him. “I can’t let you spend this money on me, dear. You just brought me a necklace last night.”
The rings were so beautiful, the thin sapphire ring most lovely of all. “Let me take this one here.” She picked up the sapphire ring and held it up to the light. The glow of the fireplace gleamed in the setting, a flare of blue flame, cold and beautiful.
“You will take them all. You will accept my gifts.” His voice had a hard quality, a solid, cruel resonance. “You took his gift.”
Gift? Who had given her a gift? She thought on whom he might mean before Stephen came to her mind. “You mean Stephen’s ring?” she asked.
“Don’t play dumb, Meredith! You know exactly whose gift I mean. My brother. Your first intended, yes, Stephen. Stephen, your first love!” His eyes burst into a sudden, frightening rage and she stepped back.
Bertaal entered the room, his voice urgent. “May I be of some service?” he asked, alarm in his face.
Meredith took a step closer to him. “My darling husband has brought a gift to me, Bertaal. What do you think?” She reached for the rings and put them on. Many of them didn’t fit, but the blue sapphire slipped perfectly onto her index finger. She looked at her hand, once plain and humble, now garish in a riot of colors and metal.
“What do you think, Bertaal?” She looked back at Malcolm, but his mood was not lifting. His steaming eyes smoldered with a dark emotion feeding on itself, cannibalizing his affections, devouring raw his clear head and pure heart.
“They are beautiful, Milady, a fitting gift for a living jewel.” Bertaal turned and disappeared to his duties.
She turned her attention back to Malcolm, and he peeled his lips back in a rictus smile that made him seem hungry and terrified all at once. “You do love me, don’t you, Meredith?”
She crossed the room, standing before him, and draped her arms around his neck. “You are my world, Malcolm. You make me happier than you know. I am honored to be your wife.”
He lowered his head to her bosom and released a ragged breath.
Something hot splashed in her face. Her hand steamed in it, her face slick with some liquid. She realized she was growling to herself, and the sound alarmed her. Sob stepped back, her eyes wrestling with some image.
Her hands hurt, they ached, and she looked down at them. The muscles spasmed and groaned, and some sort of tissue or meat had caked itself between her fingers. She gasped at the beauty of her hands. They had turned into rubies, warm, moist rubies.
She looked at the pulp and mash at her feet and something glimmered there. A blue eye looked up from a world of sinew and blood-smeared bone. She reached low and took the ring from the mess, yanking hard until it broke free. She smiled.
This was her ring. She had been looking for it for a long time and she sighed at the sight, a crushing burden rolling from her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Malcolm. I lost it. I lost your wonderful gift. But look, darling, I have it back now.”
She trembled as she turned to face an empty room. Her whole being deflated. “I have lost you, too, haven’t I, my love?” The darkness echoed back her words, cold and shattered. Frail, they broke apart and fell around her. “I must find you, too.”
She lowered her head, leaving the library by the light of a fluttering lantern knocked to the ground. It sputtered and hissed and blew out fitfully, dropping her into shadows again. But Sob relaxed since, long ago, she had drawn darkness up around her, a comforting shield to keep back the pain.
Her senses came back to her, revealing hands sheathed in blood. “Did I kill that sweet child?” She reached over her shoulder to the unconscious boy on her back, then sighed when he swelled with gentle breaths.
She ran a hand across her cheek, slick with blood. “Time I left you, my dear Sorrow Watch. Tonight was but a taste of the future once we are reunited.”
Trailing a delicate hand along the wall as she descended the tower, a swath of blood played out from her palm and fingers. The light of the moons streaming through the narrow tower windows painted the blood black. Sob looked at her other hand. Slowly, she ran her finger in a line across the wall. She stopped, doodling gently, drawing a diamond, crude but haunting. Its lines dripped, and she giggled.
“Beautiful,” she sighed. With Sorrow Watch filled with corpses, she felt as if the castle was now more alive. She grinned at the thought of her home’s new awakening. It was a good start.