Suspense R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author SCI FI
Newly named regent, Justen has already killed for his realm, and faced death. The seventeen-year-old braces for a broader war and a revolt by those who expected the throne. He must build support within the ruling caste before the king’s death or civil war will be unavoidable. He faces an affliction that exhausts him every time he applies his arcane talents. He must learn to deal with his comrades’ voices in his head, put to use the visions, and end the taboo of occult healing, an art he can’t survive without. He bares the stigma of being single- born in a society of twins, which affects his every interaction, complicates every relationship.
Urban Fantasy
Chapter 1 ~ His healers glared as Justen worked the battle sword, testing his ability to wield it left handed. Sweat beaded his forehead and dampened his silks. “My Lord,” Oryik snapped. “You should be a-bed. Let your body fight its infection.” He ignored her. Only weeks ago he called the bulky weapon his practice sword, used solely to develop muscles. It had taken too many lives since. The strain as he manipulated the massive blade made his arm and shoulder burn. He raised his mental shields to block the pain. It did little to mask it, but aided his acceptance of it. He slashed the air deflecting an invisible enemy’s attack. He drew the sword over his head and dropped it low behind him from the left, to the right, and back. He counted ten repetitions and moved on to challenge different muscles. Before, he always used both hands with this blade. That was impractical until the stubborn wound in his right hand healed. For the time being the blade could only be effective to deflect, not inflict. For the latter he would be forced to rely upon his foil. The Steppe smiths would never guess how successful the new weapon had become. Its completion was timely. By necessity it would be his primary weapon now, shifting to his left hip. When he could grip it at all. The foil struck lightning-fast. His greater reach and ability to anticipate his opponent’s attack were his only edge. Not true. He had one other. Any foe would be trained to battle as pairs—twins against twins. Traditional training didn’t prepare them for a single foe. Damn, this hand. The work that day at Agape Manor was innocuous, as they waited for Lords Clw to catch up with them. The infection from the ripped-open palm now threatened his life. Not just an aggravation. I had to prove I wasn’t above working beside my men. I was arrogant. It remained unimaginable that he could still lose his hand, even his arm, simply for plying a shovel. He couldn’t allow himself to consider it a possibility. But invariably, the fears entered his dreams. Months from his majority. The king’s regent. He couldn’t allow anything to stop him. His thoughts were interrupted, the statement rudely pressed into his mind. I’m going to change your bandage now.” Not a reminder or a request. Adel was a simple communicator. In her warrior mind there was black. There was white. Little lay between. Stubbornly, Justen resisted her. For some reason, Maria sprung to mind. Where might she and her family be? He missed her. She was gorgeous, dark eyes to river-long legs. Her support right now would mean— Justen jerked as Adel’s mind thrust forcefully into his own. There were no words in the communication. Her mind was simply there. She stepped in front of him, grasped his hand holding the blade, her larger hand wrapping around his. Her greater strength stopped the movement of arm and sword. With his height advantage, she practically looked straight up to meet his eyes. Electricity snapped between their overlapping auras. The others chuckled. My aegis wasn’t up when I was thinking about Maria, was it?” he asked Claren. No, it was not, my Lord. Adel did him a favor, stopping his mental wanderings before they went farther. He gave her a private thank you and received back the sense of a bow. Without releasing his hand as though he might run away, Adel led him to the chair next to the table set up with the dressings. Waves of energy washed over him from her prolonged touch. Even between siblings, physical contact is intimate. He strengthened his shields to dull the intensity of her presence. His greater power had to affect her tenfold, yet she displayed no discomfort. Her sense of confidence as a new squire doubled by the hour. He raised his aegis more as he anticipated his next thoughts, which needed to be private. His sword brought down Adel’s brother. Could there truly be no sense of blame for his death? Could the encounter be such a haze she wasn’t aware? If realization comes to her one day, what will she do? Justen worked to swallow down the burn that rose in his throat. Should he allow someone so close to him, not knowing if one day she might snap and take a sword to his turned back? Should I read her? Every time Justen dealt with the dilemma, he had decided trust was the wiser course—as he would now. She had proven her loyalty. Pulling his arm from its sling felt good at first. He stretched against the stiffness in the elbow and shoulder. The arm balked, as though he held a massive weight. Everything hurt from shoulder to wrist. The numbness in his fingers concerned him most. It was unsettling, frightening. Adel remained passive even though she had to share his fear and pain through their contact as she removed the bandage. The gauze matted with fresh blood, perhaps prompted by his exercise. Congealed, yellowish muck mixed with the blood. Would the wound ever form a protective scab? Quiet tears streamed down his face. Adel met his eyes with empathy he had only ever felt from one soul before, his king. The sincerity of her emotions tightened his chest. Guilt, for his earlier doubts, intensified the ache. His lungs emptied and every muscle tensed as Adel poured water laced with alcohol slowly over the wound, and scoured it with the horse-hair brush. If only he had someone else to blame. By the time Adel was satisfied with her scrubbing he was near losing his stomach. Sweat that had nothing to do with his exercise poured from his face. He and Adel examined the raw flesh. The healers hovered over her shoulder. No blackish tissue remained. She patted the hand dry with a towel, applied a new coating of the greenish-yellow glop, and redressed it. He wished he was donning one of the new gloves with the cloth padded palms. Soon. By the time they reached Ardentia. In the coming days his life might depend upon being able to grasp his foil with that hand. He accepted the herb-seeped tea Oryik offered him. The evil healer probably ensured he would sleep with whatever laced it. Before the concoction dulled his mind he needed to hear from the others. He shot the four, Clar and Kyl, a hard look, and waved them to join him. “We need to discuss an appropriate response for the Ardentian encroachment.” Clarisa hacked. “Why not wait until we disembark on their shore.” Claren winced at his sister’s ridicule. He couldn’t have been surprised by her mood, but he was clearly startled still by her honesty. She continued. “Indeed, my Lord, define appropriate?” Kylen spoke quickly as though to shut Clarisa down. “Do you assume war is inevitable, my Lord?” Justen ignored Kylen, concentrating on the silent communication between Clar. Justen stared at the brother, a challenge to share with them all. Claren looked down. “I’m sorry, m’Lord. There’s no reason to saddle a dead horse.” Justen glared at Clarisa. “I agree. Are you done?” He nearly clenched his bad hand. She crossed her arms, tilted her head back, but held her tongue. Why was she struggling to accept their response had to be immediate, and forceful? It seemed obvious enough to him. Justen turned to Kylen. “I don’t want war. But weakness invites it. Gach believed we were weak. Otherwise, they never would have dared to take this duchy.” “The threat of war alone,” Clarisa snarled, “is enough to provoke it.” Justen slammed the armrest. The lurch shot pain through his body. “Bloody hell! You anger me, woman. I don’t want war any more than you. But I will use its threat as a means to permanently resolve old conflict between the two realms, besides this latest—” Justen concentrated on his breathing for a five-count. Anger will shut down their willingness to be open. “It isn’t you that angers me,” he said. Clarisa laughed. Justen exhaled. “Well. A little. But I’ll always value your judgment.” “My Lord.” Kylen’s eyes twitched between his sister and Clarisa. Kyl still weren’t comfortable in their new position, as council to a regent. “We appreciate your more direct approach.” “Daring, you mean.” Justen had to give Clarisa a smile for that. “Of course the daring approach,” Clarisa continued, “can end so quickly we’ll avoid the hardship of a traditional campaign.” The herbs were taking affect, but Justen doubted that’s what made her remark seem so funny. “True. If we hang in their bailey, it’ll all be over.” Kylen shook his head. “Pray to the gods. Raised in caste only to be splayed open for the vultures.” “What kind of war are you willing to engage?” What kind? By the change in tone, the question came from Claren, even if his sister voiced it. Justen mulled for a moment. “The kind that resolves this.” That drew a bombardment of quick questions. Most, issues he hadn’t considered. It may have been the herbs, but he considered he created ingenious retorts on the fly. His four friends at least appeared to be satisfied with his answers, anyway. Finally, Clarisa laughed. “Your capacity to simplify logistics is amazing, m’Lord. Remains to be seen if your solutions are practical in their simplicity.” Adel stepped forward. “My Lord. You should sleep.” He looked up at Adel and vertigo twisted his chair, so she must have been right. He gave her a nod. “Two more days to recover from that bloody breakneck trek getting here.” Clarisa opened her mouth, but Justen cut her off. “Don’t treat me like a weakling. “I would never do that.” “The two days,” he continued, “plus the time we’ll be a-sea, will give the king time to muster troops from the far duchies, in case they’re required.” Clarisa nodded. “If the worst comes to pass.” Her expression lightened. “Your sea master isn’t happy you insist striking out directly across the Northwestern Sea. The currents will be against us, and—” “Storms be damned. I accept the risk for the time it can save us circumnavigating the continent. And I have no love for The Straight. I’m more concerned about how much more prepared the Ardentians can get in that week. See to it—” “The rumor we’ll be taking the longer route is established in the ale houses. Assuming the Ardentians have spies—” Justen snorted. Clarisa rocked her head. “With luck, sight of our sails will surprise them.” “The cases—” “Not all crafted yet. Thirty-two. But they’ll be ready. Calm yourself.” “Thirty-two?” “Twelve in the assault. Twenty for those sent to the axe or noose.” Justen shook his head. Such a waste. How many warriors had been killed in the assault? He chose not to ask. It was a miracle not a single member from his or Clw’s troop were killed. Would he continue to be as lucky? “Adel, go encourage the master to complete the remaining cases.” She glared. “I’ll lie down in five minutes, I promise.” She strode away, Gryphon at her side. That made Justen smile. Shaika sat up, deciding whether to tag along. The door clomped shut, and she circled three times in a new spot to sleep. Lost in discussion, the five were still planning when Adel returned. Justen lurched from the anger he felt from her at fifteen meters. “He must sleep!” she shouted. Clar and Kyl leapt up and hurried for the door without another word. Justen grinned at their backs, high castes fleeing from an angry warrior-turned-squire. But, she was the regent’s squire. Adel pointed at his bed. He nodded, and rose slowly. The room spun. Those damned healers and their herbs. Adel collected a dry towel, poured a bowl of steaming water at the hearth, and followed him to his bed. “Strip.” He stared. After a three-count, he realized his jaw hung slack. Every hour she transitioned into a different individual, more dynamic, driven, motivated by nothing but his wellbeing. “I’ve never been bathed as long as I can—” “Strip.” “There’s no way you’re going to bathe me. The day I woke from the ague, I made my own way to the baths. I can do it again now.” She glared. He squished his face into what he hoped appeared a more-authoritative glare. “It’s to be, my Lord.” For some reason, this was important to her. He sensed her need to provide, to care for him. She had been his squire for such a short time. Yet, he realized how much he had grown to care about her, too. I’m more than your master. You’re more than my squire. Justen sat at the edge of his bed, drew the sling off, and struggled one-handed to unbutton his night shirt. She stepped forward and pulled it over his head. His flesh crawled. Not from cold. Babes were bathed. Wasn’t right to be administered by a woman. And while he had exercised in the pit shirtless before, sitting there, his spindly form seemed weaker than ever. “Not like I’ve never seen you bare-assed before, my Lord.” A raging heat replaced the chill of the night air. With gentleness Justen never would have guessed a warrior could possess, Adel drew the hot cloth over his arms, shoulders, back, chest, and stomach. He closed his eyes, not to meet hers. His skin prickled at the unexpected intimacy, but the sound of the water as she rinsed the cloth in the bowl somehow triggered him to relax, a release he didn’t believe the healers’ potions could exact. He felt his chin dip toward his chest, and recognized that miniscule whit of vertigo as the body loses its sense of surrounding. Adel laid a fresh bed shirt over his shoulders. Without opening his eyes Justen knew she turned around to give him the privacy he needed to shed his silk pants and don the fresh shirt. Almost asleep already, he lay back and let her cover his upper torso with the blankets. She carefully pulled away his blanket to wash his legs and feet. He sensed his body sinking deeper into his bed fur. She finished and covered him. He listened to the rustle of her laying out her own fur beside his bed. The room darkened, and he sensed her lay down. I know you didn’t intend to kill Aden m’Lord. Had he fallen asleep? He felt so heavy. “If you didn’t stop him, there would have been more shepherds buried on the plain that day. You shouted your warning, your command to stop. We all were deafened by our blood lust. “I don’t deserve the honor to care for you. I don’t deserve the care that you, a high lord, show to the likes of me. I am blessed to have a second chance, to help you in your struggle to be a good leader, to share the love of Shaika and Gryphon.”    © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Lord Regent Chapter 1 ~ His healers glared as Justen worked the battle sword, testing his ability to wield it left handed. Sweat beaded his forehead and dampened his silks. “My Lord,” Oryik snapped. “You should be a-bed. Let your body fight its infection.” He ignored her. Only weeks ago he called the bulky weapon his practice sword, used solely to develop muscles. It had taken too many lives since. The strain as he manipulated the massive blade made his arm and shoulder burn. He raised his mental shields to block the pain. It did little to mask it, but aided his acceptance of it. He slashed the air deflecting an invisible enemy’s attack. He drew the sword over his head and dropped it low behind him from the left, to the right, and back. He counted ten repetitions and moved on to challenge different muscles. Before, he always used both hands with this blade. That was impractical until the stubborn wound in his right hand healed. For the time being the blade could only be effective to deflect, not inflict. For the latter he would be forced to rely upon his foil. The Steppe smiths would never guess how successful the new weapon had become. Its completion was timely. By necessity it would be his primary weapon now, shifting to his left hip. When he could grip it at all. The foil struck lightning-fast. His greater reach and ability to anticipate his opponent’s attack were his only edge. Not true. He had one other. Any foe would be trained to battle as pairs—twins against twins. Traditional training didn’t prepare them for a single foe. Damn, this hand. The work that day at Agape Manor was innocuous, as they waited for Lords Clw to catch up with them. The infection from the ripped-open palm now threatened his life. Not just an aggravation. I had to prove I wasn’t above working beside my men. I was arrogant. It remained unimaginable that he could still lose his hand, even his arm, simply for plying a shovel. He couldn’t allow himself to consider it a possibility. But invariably, the fears entered his dreams. Months from his majority. The king’s regent. He couldn’t allow anything to stop him. His thoughts were interrupted, the statement rudely pressed into his mind. I’m going to change your bandage now.” Not a reminder or a request. Adel was a simple communicator. In her warrior mind there was black. There was white. Little lay between. Stubbornly, Justen resisted her. For some reason, Maria sprung to mind. Where might she and her family be? He missed her. She was gorgeous, dark eyes to river-long legs. Her support right now would mean— Justen jerked as Adel’s mind thrust forcefully into his own. There were no words in the communication. Her mind was simply there. She stepped in front of him, grasped his hand holding the blade, her larger hand wrapping around his. Her greater strength stopped the movement of arm and sword. With his height advantage, she practically looked straight up to meet his eyes. Electricity snapped between their overlapping auras. The others chuckled. My aegis wasn’t up when I was thinking about Maria, was it?” he asked Claren. No, it was not, my Lord. Adel did him a favor, stopping his mental wanderings before they went farther. He gave her a private thank you and received back the sense of a bow. Without releasing his hand as though he might run away, Adel led him to the chair next to the table set up with the dressings. Waves of energy washed over him from her prolonged touch. Even between siblings, physical contact is intimate. He strengthened his shields to dull the intensity of her presence. His greater power had to affect her tenfold, yet she displayed no discomfort. Her sense of confidence as a new squire doubled by the hour. He raised his aegis more as he anticipated his next thoughts, which needed to be private. His sword brought down Adel’s brother. Could there truly be no sense of blame for his death? Could the encounter be such a haze she wasn’t aware? If realization comes to her one day, what will she do? Justen worked to swallow down the burn that rose in his throat. Should he allow someone so close to him, not knowing if one day she might snap and take a sword to his turned back? Should I read her? Every time Justen dealt with the dilemma, he had decided trust was the wiser course—as he would now. She had proven her loyalty. Pulling his arm from its sling felt good at first. He stretched against the stiffness in the elbow and shoulder. The arm balked, as though he held a massive weight. Everything hurt from shoulder to wrist. The numbness in his fingers concerned him most. It was unsettling, frightening. Adel remained passive even though she had to share his fear and pain through their contact as she removed the bandage. The gauze matted with fresh blood, perhaps prompted by his exercise. Congealed, yellowish muck mixed with the blood. Would the wound ever form a protective scab? Quiet tears streamed down his face. Adel met his eyes with empathy he had only ever felt from one soul before, his king. The sincerity of her emotions tightened his chest. Guilt, for his earlier doubts, intensified the ache. His lungs emptied and every muscle tensed as Adel poured water laced with alcohol slowly over the wound, and scoured it with the horse-hair brush. If only he had someone else to blame. By the time Adel was satisfied with her scrubbing he was near losing his stomach. Sweat that had nothing to do with his exercise poured from his face. He and Adel examined the raw flesh. The healers hovered over her shoulder. No blackish tissue remained. She patted the hand dry with a towel, applied a new coating of the greenish-yellow glop, and redressed it. He wished he was donning one of the new gloves with the cloth padded palms. Soon. By the time they reached Ardentia. In the coming days his life might depend upon being able to grasp his foil with that hand. He accepted the herb- seeped tea Oryik offered him. The evil healer probably ensured he would sleep with whatever laced it. Before the concoction dulled his mind he needed to hear from the others. He shot the four, Clar and Kyl, a hard look, and waved them to join him. “We need to discuss an appropriate response for the Ardentian encroachment.” Clarisa hacked. “Why not wait until we disembark on their shore.” Claren winced at his sister’s ridicule. He couldn’t have been surprised by her mood, but he was clearly startled still by her honesty. She continued. “Indeed, my Lord, define appropriate?” Kylen spoke quickly as though to shut Clarisa down. “Do you assume war is inevitable, my Lord?” Justen ignored Kylen, concentrating on the silent communication between Clar. Justen stared at the brother, a challenge to share with them all. Claren looked down. “I’m sorry, m’Lord. There’s no reason to saddle a dead horse.” Justen glared at Clarisa. “I agree. Are you done?” He nearly clenched his bad hand. She crossed her arms, tilted her head back, but held her tongue. Why was she struggling to accept their response had to be immediate, and forceful? It seemed obvious enough to him. Justen turned to Kylen. “I don’t want war. But weakness invites it. Gach believed we were weak. Otherwise, they never would have dared to take this duchy.” “The threat of war alone,” Clarisa snarled, “is enough to provoke it.” Justen slammed the armrest. The lurch shot pain through his body. “Bloody hell! You anger me, woman. I don’t want war any more than you. But I will use its threat as a means to permanently resolve old conflict between the two realms, besides this latest—” Justen concentrated on his breathing for a five-count. Anger will shut down their willingness to be open. “It isn’t you that angers me,” he said. Clarisa laughed. Justen exhaled. “Well. A little. But I’ll always value your judgment.” “My Lord.” Kylen’s eyes twitched between his sister and Clarisa. Kyl still weren’t comfortable in their new position, as council to a regent. “We appreciate your more direct approach.” “Daring, you mean.” Justen had to give Clarisa a smile for that. “Of course the daring approach,” Clarisa continued, “can end so quickly we’ll avoid the hardship of a traditional campaign.” The herbs were taking affect, but Justen doubted that’s what made her remark seem so funny. “True. If we hang in their bailey, it’ll all be over.” Kylen shook his head. “Pray to the gods. Raised in caste only to be splayed open for the vultures.” “What kind of war are you willing to engage?” What kind? By the change in tone, the question came from Claren, even if his sister voiced it. Justen mulled for a moment. “The kind that resolves this.” That drew a bombardment of quick questions. Most, issues he hadn’t considered. It may have been the herbs, but he considered he created ingenious retorts on the fly. His four friends at least appeared to be satisfied with his answers, anyway. Finally, Clarisa laughed. “Your capacity to simplify logistics is amazing, m’Lord. Remains to be seen if your solutions are practical in their simplicity.” Adel stepped forward. “My Lord. You should sleep.” He looked up at Adel and vertigo twisted his chair, so she must have been right. He gave her a nod. “Two more days to recover from that bloody breakneck trek getting here.” Clarisa opened her mouth, but Justen cut her off. “Don’t treat me like a weakling. “I would never do that.” “The two days,” he continued, “plus the time we’ll be a-sea, will give the king time to muster troops from the far duchies, in case they’re required.” Clarisa nodded. “If the worst comes to pass.” Her expression lightened. “Your sea master isn’t happy you insist striking out directly across the Northwestern Sea. The currents will be against us, and—” “Storms be damned. I accept the risk for the time it can save us circumnavigating the continent. And I have no love for The Straight. I’m more concerned about how much more prepared the Ardentians can get in that week. See to it—” “The rumor we’ll be taking the longer route is established in the ale houses. Assuming the Ardentians have spies—” Justen snorted. Clarisa rocked her head. “With luck, sight of our sails will surprise them.” “The cases—” “Not all crafted yet. Thirty-two. But they’ll be ready. Calm yourself.” “Thirty-two?” “Twelve in the assault. Twenty for those sent to the axe or noose.” Justen shook his head. Such a waste.  How many warriors had been killed in the assault? He chose not to ask. It was a miracle not a single member from his or Clw’s troop were killed. Would he continue to be as lucky? “Adel, go encourage the master to complete the remaining cases.” She glared. “I’ll lie down in five minutes, I promise.” She strode away, Gryphon at her side. That made Justen smile. Shaika sat up, deciding whether to tag along. The door clomped shut, and she circled three times in a new spot to sleep. Lost in discussion, the five were still planning when Adel returned. Justen lurched from the anger he felt from her at fifteen meters. “He must sleep!” she shouted. Clar and Kyl leapt up and hurried for the door without another word. Justen grinned at their backs, high castes fleeing from an angry warrior-turned-squire. But, she was the regent’s squire. Adel pointed at his bed. He nodded, and rose slowly. The room spun. Those damned healers and their herbs. Adel collected a dry towel, poured a bowl of steaming water at the hearth, and followed him to his bed. “Strip.” He stared. After a three-count, he realized his jaw hung slack. Every hour she transitioned into a different individual, more dynamic, driven, motivated by nothing but his wellbeing. “I’ve never been bathed as long as I can—” “Strip.” “There’s no way you’re going to bathe me. The day I woke from the ague, I made my own way to the baths. I can do it again now.” She glared. He squished his face into what he hoped appeared a more-authoritative glare. “It’s to be, my Lord.” For some reason, this was important to her. He sensed her need to provide, to care for him. She had been his squire for such a short time. Yet, he realized how much he had grown to care about her, too. I’m more than your master. You’re more than my squire. Justen sat at the edge of his bed, drew the sling off, and struggled one-handed to unbutton his night shirt. She stepped forward and pulled it over his head. His flesh crawled. Not from cold. Babes were bathed. Wasn’t right to be administered by a woman. And while he had exercised in the pit shirtless before, sitting there, his spindly form seemed weaker than ever. “Not like I’ve never seen you bare- assed before, my Lord.” A raging heat replaced the chill of the night air. With gentleness Justen never would have guessed a warrior could possess, Adel drew the hot cloth over his arms, shoulders, back, chest, and stomach. He closed his eyes, not to meet hers. His skin prickled at the unexpected intimacy, but the sound of the water as she rinsed the cloth in the bowl somehow triggered him to relax, a release he didn’t believe the healers’ potions could exact. He felt his chin dip toward his chest, and recognized that miniscule whit of vertigo as the body loses its sense of surrounding. Adel laid a fresh bed shirt over his shoulders. Without opening his eyes Justen knew she turned around to give him the privacy he needed to shed his silk pants and don the fresh shirt. Almost asleep already, he lay back and let her cover his upper torso with the blankets. She carefully pulled away his blanket to wash his legs and feet. He sensed his body sinking deeper into his bed fur. She finished and covered him. He listened to the rustle of her laying out her own fur beside his bed. The room darkened, and he sensed her lay down. I know you didn’t intend to kill Aden m’Lord. Had he fallen asleep? He felt so heavy. “If you didn’t stop him, there would have been more shepherds buried on the plain that day. You shouted your warning, your command to stop. We all were deafened by our blood lust. “I don’t deserve the honor to care for you. I don’t deserve the care that you, a high lord, show to the likes of me. I am blessed to have a second chance, to help you in your struggle to be a good leader, to share the love of Shaika and Gryphon.”  © R. Mac Wheeler 2017