Dedicated to the Wenches and all the ass-kickers who put up with my whining and moping over the course of working on this book -- you know who you are. :)
The epub/mobi versions of The Ghost Tiger's Lament are also available for sale at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, etc. A paperback version will eventually be available as well. For more information on the series as a whole, please visit http://www.tewaters.com/spring-and-autumn
The story will be updating daily over here over the next three weeks or so. If you need to reference names/terms, I've included a handy Appendix (as spoiler-free as possible). Enjoy!
ETA 9/21/2012: The paperback is now out! See http://www.tewaters.com/printoffer for a special offer for Wattpad readers. :)
At dawn a servant darkened Ashne’s doorstep, bearing the Speaker-Consort’s woven reed-and-gold insignia. Ashne had waited. Lingered, feverish and listless in her sun-baked hut, thirsting for the balmy green embrace of the old capitals. Yet now, as she hurried along the streets to the new palace, she barely even noticed when the first drops of rain spattered upon her face and surged into a downpour.
After a moment she glanced up at the sky, startled, and darted for shelter. A perhaps misplaced sense of duty urged her to hasten on. Instead she hesitated, looking out at the emptying marketplace in dismay, stirring at last from the numb haze that had enveloped her in the weeks since her return to the northern capital.
No summons had come until now. Ashne knew the queen of Awat had intended her a kindness, but even now a part of her remained convinced of the Lady Consort’s disappointment.
A curtain of water streamed down from the eaves, obscuring her view. She unclenched her fingers from around the hilt of her sword and reached out into the rain.
She whirled around. Stepped back, sword half drawn.
Joining her beneath the eaves stood a man with a shock of unruly white hair. His robes were a plain, dark blue, indicating little of his status other than that he was no peasant, and he was unarmed, carrying nothing but a muddy, battered basket on his back and a walking stick in his left hand. Like an immortal or an ancient sage descended from his mountain hermitage, Ashne thought. Or like the mad old drunkard she had once seen sprawled out on the road, ranting and raving at the top of his lungs, though this man, with his smooth, untattooed face, stood too tall and too straight to be drunk, or even very old.
That he had been able to approach without her noticing was truly a sign of how her skills must have deteriorated.
Her face must have betrayed her disbelief, for he snorted. Looking at him closely now, she could see that he was indeed young despite his hair, perhaps no more than a few years her senior at most.
“Your posture,” he explained, without prompting. “The way you move. You favor your right, though your pace is otherwise steady and even.”
He spoke in the tongue of the Dragon Court, but that in itself was not so unusual. Many now had adopted Dragon ways over the old traditions, especially so close to the Court’s domain. No, odder was the fact that he spoke with the elegant clipped accent of the north, though he wore his hair short and loose about his face. The Court’s northern territories lay not so far away now as they once had, but the warriors often joked that no man of the Court would be caught dead with his hair unbound.
Yet he was unlikely to be from vanquished Khonua either. Most who resided now in this northern capital were of Ashne’s own people. Those of Khonua had long since been forced out of the fortifications to dwell in their old villages.
“An old injury,” she said at last, wondering uneasily how long this stranger had been watching her.
She had not thought the evidence still so obvious.
“What, one month? Two?” He seemed more amused than insulted by her brusque response.
“It’s none of your business.”
“Oh, but it is. You see, I happen to be a traveling apothecary.”
A strange way to sell his wares! She relaxed, but did not take her hand off her sword — a nameless blade, but sharp enough.