Excerpt from Power of the Mages

In honor of the completion of my 2nd Draft of Power of the Mages, I’m posting an excerpt of one of my favorite scenes.  Since the sample is from Chapter 28 and most of the readers of this blog have no more than a passing acquantance with the plot of the book, I’ll set it up first:

Xan is an journeyman apothecary, the medieval equivalent of a lab geek.  All he’s ever wanted is to find a girl who likes him.  In a case of “be careful what you wish for,” he found himself engaged to Ashley, the daughter of the duke and a girl who is out of his league in every way.  Now that he has everything he thinks he wants, he finds out the price.  The duke asked him to sign an oath of allegiance that Xan knows to be a horrendous mistake.

Excerpt from Chapter 28 of Power of the Mages:

Feeling deserted by his friends, Xan cast his gaze at the ground.  “My lord, I can’t.”

“You must, son.  There is no other option.”

Xan met the ruler’s eyes, his tone defiant.  “And still I can’t.”

Ashley stepped forward, her posture resolute and her face harsh.  “You would refuse my father in this?  You would refuse me?”

“Ashley?  Please trust me?”  Xan winced at the pleading in his voice.

“Sign it.  Now,” she said.

“Can we at least talk about it?”

Her father nodded in response to her questioning look.  Without a glance behind to see if Xan followed, she entered the nearest alcove.  He lumbered after her and inched the curtain shut.  Turning to face her, he steeled himself for the onslaught.

Instead, she smiled.  “It’s good you have a backbone but don’t embarrass me in front of my father.”

“I’m not…  I mean, I didn’t…”

She fiddled with the engagement ring, holding it in front of the light from an oil lamp burning in the corner.  “Did I tell you how much I love it?”

He shrugged off her baffling change in demeanor.  “Ashley, I’m not doing this because of some kind of power struggle between you and me.  I won’t sign that statement.”

The cutest bark of a laugh escaped her lips.  “I know what drives men.  I’ve known since I came of age, and they stood in line for a chance at my hand.”  Her finger drifted to the soft velvet of her scarlet dress, idly tracing the corseted curve of her waist.  “Aren’t I what you want?  Sign and you’ll have me.  All of me.”

A wave of heat washed over Xan.  “Of course that’s what I want.”  What he’d implied registered.  “I mean, not what you said.”  He felt the flush rising on his face.  “I mean, not that I don’t want…”

She turned her head to the side and raised a hand to her mouth.

“You’re laughing at me!”

She moved to him, nearly touching his body with hers, and stroked under his eye where the sword had cut.  “Only because you’re so cute.”

“You don’t fight fair,” he said.

“I fight to win.”

“I don’t want to fight at all.”

She smiled.  “Then sign the agreement.”

He threw up his hands in frustration.  “I can’t.  You don’t understand.”

Instantly, her countenance changed.  Her lips tightened.  “You think you understand governance better than me?  What I do, I do for the good of Bermau, for Vierna, and for the people.”

“For the people?”  He tried and failed to keep the incredulousness from his voice.  “Don’t you mean for the sake of power?”

“My father being in power is what’s best for the people.”

“It isn’t if we sign those agreements.”

Her nostrils flared, and she placed her hands on her hips.

He shook his head sadly.  “Won’t you even listen to my reasoning?  Do you care at all?”

“Do you care about mine?”

“I understand more than you seem to think,” he said.  “With a cadre of tame mages under your father’s control, his rivals will have no choice but to develop their own magic users.  By the time any have a force strong enough to counter his, the reason for fighting will have vanished as everyone will be breaking the edict.

“It only works, though, if he truly has control.  Otherwise, it’s too much of a risk.  He sees no other options.”

“If you agree, why are you arguing with me?” she said.  “Sign the damn paper!”

“Even to save your father’s duchy, the price is too high.”

She glared at him.

“Don’t you see?  This is the first step to another Wizard’s War, more cities destroyed, more devastation.”  He tried to take her hand, but she pulled away.

“This is how it starts,” he said.  “We can only use our magic at the nobles’ command.  Then come the other limitations.  We can only travel with special permission.  Our spouses are chosen for us, or maybe we’re forbidden from marrying at all.  Our children are taken away at birth.  Every aspect of our lives is dictated by our overlords.  We become nothing more than slaves, weapons to be pointed at the enemy, stripped of anything that makes us human.”

“Father isn’t like that.”

“Maybe he isn’t.  Maybe he’ll be a benevolent ruler, uphold everything he said.”  Xan’s tone pled for understanding.  “What about the other dukes?  Will they be so kind?  Can’t you see what kind of precedent we set here today?”

“What I see is our only choice.”  She exhaled sharply and ran her finger over Xan’s cheek.  “You’re intelligent, and there’s a fire within you that I admire.  I told you I’d make a good wife for you, but I gave you a condition.  Do you remember it?”

His voice came out strained, barely a whisper.  “Be loyal to you and your father.”

“That condition stands.  Do this one thing, and I’m yours.”

“Please Ashley, trust me.  Give me time to figure out another way.”

The sympathy reflected on her face didn’t dent the hardness in her stare.  “Your decision?”

He felt moisture well in his right eye, and he turned from her.  “I can’t sign it.  I want to do it.  For you.  But I can’t.”

“Face me,” she said.

He wiped his eye and turned toward her, his back to the curtain.  Her left hand covered her right, and it took him a moment to determine what she was doing.

“No!  Ashley, please!”

Her hands parted, the left one holding the engagement ring.  She took his clenched fist and pressed it inside.  He opened his palm and stared at the gold band with the sparkling diamond.  The curtain opened behind him, and her footsteps trailed away.  He gathered himself and followed. 

Ashley caught her father’s eye and shook her head.  The duke signaled a page at the back of the room who disappeared out the door.  Seconds later, twenty soldiers rushed in.

The duke pointed at Xan.  “Guards, arrest him.”