By Donald Dale Jackson

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The flattering crap went on and on. Piper Hecht was not one to be turned and shaped by that. But he let it play. And composed an equally florid, disingenuous, and dishonest response. Yes. … Time and place, Katrin’s choice. Katrin’s request was echoed by Princess Helspeth in her brief letter. Which he read over and over, looking for the slightest nuance. * * * In one hour Hecht would present himself to the woman who, at the moment, was the most powerful ruler in the western world. He was trapped in speculations about what might be on her mind.

The water in the moat was in motion. Water was not relevant. An arrow slammed into the artifact’s chest. It drove through till fourteen inches protruded from his back. The shaft was thick, oak, tipped with armor-piercing iron. Krepnight, the Elect, rocked back after the impact, then just sat petrified in his saddle. Brittle cold air swirled round him. He felt every breath. He could do nothing. Two old men came across the drawbridge. One carried an iron shovel, the other a rusty bill. Shovel man took the reins of the divine artifact’s mount and led him away, the horse quaking in terror.

Why did the Empress want to meet away from her palace? The grandeur there would overawe a beetle like Piper Hecht. Madouc opined, “She knows you’ve seen Krois. You’ve seen the Chiaro Palace and the Castella dollas Pontellas. Her palace wouldn’t intimidate you. And she might want to be away from all the eyes and spies that go with a palace. Here she can talk with only a few noses poking in. ” Rumor had King Jaime making himself thoroughly unpopular by acting like he was in charge. Katrin supposedly would not admit his bad behavior but had taken steps to neutralize it.

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