Chapter 9 – The Handfasting

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In the Final Chapter, All Our Tomorrows, Book 3 – a warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction.

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Chapter 9 – The Handfasting

A CRYSTAL GONG sounded a single clear note and everyone quieted, directing their eyes towards the tiny woman who would be officiating at the Handfasting ceremony. She stood under a canopy of green, sunlight filtering down through the leaves. The woman was dressed in shades of blue, purple and orange, making her eyes seem an even more vivid green than the arbor. Her white hair was braided in a coronet around her face. A large multi-colored crystal pendant rested on her breast, and large drops of the same crystal hung from her ears and were braided into her hair; she was attended by two slim teenagers similarly dressed, but with the colors in their garments a much paler hue.

“Good Afternoon,” her voice had a deep bell-like quality. “For those who do not know me, I am High Priestess Arella. I will be performing the Handfasting ceremony. Since we have quite a few couples to unite this afternoon, each ceremony will be brief. I will ask each couple to come forward and join me under the Greenleaf, we will perform the ceremony, and then you will be free to enjoy the festivities until it is time for the brides to leave for the wedding bower. If there are any here who wish for the Forever and A Day handfasting, please let me know when you come forward.” Arella consulted the infopad next to her.

“Genevieve and Gideon, please join me.”

When the Laird and her new husband to be had joined her, Arella said, “Please turn and face one another. Each of you cross your arms and take the others hands.”

She picked up a thin, braided red and silver cord and laid it over their wrists, allowing the ends to dangle.

“Genevieve, Gideon, your crossed arms and joined hands create the symbol for Infinity. Today, we ask that the Light Of The Divine shine upon this union for a year and a day. In that spirit, I offer a blessing to this handfasting.

Blessed be this Handfasting with the offerings from the East — new beginnings that come each day with the dawn, junction of the heart, soul, body and mind.

Blessed be this handfasting with the offerings of the South — the untroubled heart, the heat of passion, and the tenderness of a loving home.

Blessed be this handfasting with the offerings of the West — the hastening eagerness of a raging river, the softness and pure cleansing of a rainstorm, and faithfulness as deep as the ocean.

Blessed be this handfasting with the offerings of the North — a solid footing on which to build your lives, richness and growth of your home, and the strength to be found by embracing one another at the end of the day.”

She wrapped the dangling ends of the cord around the wrists of the bride and groom, binding them together loosely and tying a knot.

“The bonds of this Handfasting are not formed by these ribbons, or even by the knots connecting them. They are formed instead by your vows, by your pledge, to love and honor each other for a year and a day, at which time these vows may be renewed or dissolved each according to their lights. Genevieve, Gideon do you each agree with the terms of this Handfasting?”

“We do,” they said in unison and then Genevieve and Gideon stepped forward, hands still clasped, and kissed. Arella touched the cord and it slid off their hands, still tied. The acolyte a slim teenager in a pale robe stepped forward with a tray holding one of the glass boxes. Arella placed the cord inside the box and gestured for Gideon and Genevieve to each hold opposite sides of the box. The acolyte stepped back returning the tray to the table.

“By blood this oath is taken, on this day and this hour,” Arella intoned, touching the box with a small gold wand. Everyone felt the small surge of power. Even Forewarned ahead of time, Gideon winced when a sharp prick on his thumb caused a drop of blood to form on either ends of the box, but he didn’t drop his end of it. The edges of the box disappeared as it sealed, and their names and the date scrolled across the top of the box in red.

“This Knot is a symbol of your union. Hold it fast and give it an honored place in your home.”

Genevieve slipped the box into a ready pocket of her wedding dress and Arella gestured the acolyte to step forward again, this time holding a tray with one of the decanters and two glasses. “For love and fertility,” Arella said, pouring a small amount of golden syrup into the glasses. The two spouts of the decanter enabled both glasses to be filled at once with the same amount of liquid. Genevieve and Gideon each held the glass to the others lips as they drank, then set the glasses back on the tray for the acolyte to take back to the table.

“Thank you Arella.” Genevieve motioned for Lucas and Jayla to come forward. Holding Gideon’s hand, she stepped up beside them.

“The O’Teague presents her new family, my husband Lord Gideon ni’Warlord of the Clan, his son Lucas and niece Jayla.” She made the announcement and led the way from the arbor to make room for the next couple.

To the surprise of everyone except Katherine, Corrine and Vernal also chose to become handfasted, choosing the more involved Forever and A Day ceremony. Several couples of the same sex chose to announce their handfastings at that time as well. As expected, the individual handfasting ceremonies took most of the afternoon and some of the evening, and then new single clan members were presented to the Clan.

When Zack and Katherine had returned to their table to watch the rest of the ceremonies, Gideon took the opportunity to ask Zack what had been in the syrup they drank during the ceremony.

Zack shrugged. “Something called Payome; apparently, it’s just a mild aphrodisiac with a touch of soother. Katherine tells me it’s traditional when the bride and groom aren’t well acquainted. She says the effects usually last a couple of hours so it won’t wear off before the wedding night.” He grinned, “Since Katherine and I are pretty well acquainted, I don’t think we’re going to need it—Vernal and Corrine either, but you might,” he teased Gideon, who snorted and cuffed him affectionately on the shoulder.

The wedding feast turned into quite a party. Katherine had been a little concerned lest some of the newly married pairs got a little too enthusiastic where the children could see them, but she soon found she had underestimated Drusilla’s organizing skills. Her baby sister had set up dancing for the adults and the kind of games for the older children that involved a lot of running and jumping; virtually guaranteed to tire them out early.  For the younger ones, like Jaynes boys, she had arranged milder forms of the same inside the dormitory recreation rooms and assembled a few older men and women who weren’t being matched to watch them.

Katherine and Zack bade their children good night as they headed up to the children’s dormitories.

About an hour after the ceremonies had been concluded and the children sent to their rooms, a soft chime sounded. As one, all the brides rose, each handing their groom a small crystal which projected a map to their quarters (more of Drusilla’s efficiency, Katherine thought). “Give me about twenty minutes,” she murmured to Zack.

She and Zack had been allotted one of the larger rooms with a small sitting room and attached bath.

“Drusilla missed her calling,” Katherine remarked aloud to herself when she saw the candles and iced wine bucket as well as a few delicacies set out on a table on the terrace. Drusilla had also laid out a filmy negligee on the bed, which Katherine nervously fingered. She spent some time undressing and brushing out her hair before she donned the gown. She gasped when she first saw herself in the mirror. The negligee was of the finest spun dragon nest silk and had obviously been designed to arouse desire, being cut almost to her navel in both the front and back, and even with the matching robe, it was almost transparent. Whatever had possessed her innocent baby sister to design something like this, she wondered. Zack had been frustrated enough at their lack of privacy on the journey; she could only imagine the effect this was going to have. Fortunately, Zack opened the door before she had time to panic herself into changing out of it. The pocket door slid back into the wall and he stood stock still in the doorway at his first sight of her. “Wow,” was all he said.

“Whoops,” echoed Vernal, hastily turning his head away. Since their rooms had all been on the same floor, Gideon, Zack and Vernal had left the party in a group and come upstairs together. Katherine hastily turned her back, not wanting to give her new brother-in-law and uncle-by-marriage any more of an eyeful than she already had. Vernal thoughtfully pushed the close button on the pocket door.  Zack never even noticed the door closing. “You look beautiful,” he said.

“If I’d known you were bringing company, I wouldn’t have been in front of the door—“Katherine began.

“Mmmn,” Zack slipped his arms around her from behind. He lifted her hair out of the way, sliding his lips down her neck and Katherine shivered.

“I guess I should have told you before, but I’ve never—I mean I don’t know how—“

He partially turned her so he had a better purchase for his mouth and ran his tongue across her lips. At the same time, his hand slid up to cup her breast through the thin fabric. She could feel the hardness of his swollen shaft against her buttocks. Heat began to build between her legs and she turned to press her body against him.

“Mmmn,” he murmured between kisses, “You worry too much. We’ll just do what comes naturally.”

He had been right, she thought afterwards, resting her head against the hard muscles of his chest. True, it had been a little painful the first time, but she had been taught that it would get easier as her body got used to accommodating him. She hadn’t managed to wear the pretty nightgown Drusilla had provided very long either she thought ruefully. Along with Zack’s wedding clothes, it was in a crumpled heap on the floor.

After a few minutes, she felt him stir beside her. “I bet the ice in the wine bucket isn’t cold anymore,” he said. “Want to try some anyway?”

“It should still be cold,” she replied, admiring his muscled wiry back as he walked toward the terrace. He didn’t seem at all embarrassed by the fact that he was naked.. “I think I saw a stasis cube next to it.”

While his back was turned, Katherine quickly sat up and reached for the robe that had come with the gown. Donning it, she took a quick look in the mirror and caught her breath. To her eyes, she looked a mess. Her mouth was a little swollen from being kissed and her hair, which she had brushed so carefully, was in wild disorder. She shrugged to herself as she donned the mostly transparent bedrobe and discovered that she was practically falling out of it. Zack had already seen all there was to see, and if he was comfortable enough to run around naked, why should she care about showing some skin?

“Relax, you look beautiful.” Zack said smugly obviously admiring his work. He had come up behind her with two glasses of wine. He handed her one and set the other down on the dresser, running his hands possessively over her.

At that inopportune moment there was a knock on the door. Zack growled, stalked over to the door and yanked it open. “What?” he barked.

After a scandalized glance at his naked state, the older woman who had interrupted them looked past him to Katherine. “I beg your pardon Milady but two of your children—“

“Are having nightmares,” Katherine finished, resigned. She set down her glass and started toward the door. Zack caught her arm.

“Just where do you think you’re going, dressed like that?”

Katherine fisted her hands on her hips. “At least I’m wearing a robe! You open doors bare assed naked—“

“Well you can’t parade around the place half-dressed. I’d just as soon nobody but me gets to see how tempting you look in that,” he stated firmly.

Katherine made a rude noise and grabbed her trousers and shirt off the floor. “If I can’t go out like that you can’t either,” she snapped. “At least put your pants on,” she added, throwing his clothes at him.

By the time they reached the children’s rooms, both Rupert and Violet had progressed to full-blown screaming nightmares. Drusilla had set up separate rooms for the boys and girls. Katherine went to quiet Violet while Zack attended to Rupert.

By the time they returned to their room several hours later, the wine had gotten quite warm. Both of them tumbled into bed and fell immediately asleep, already comforted by the others presence.

 

THE clan stayed three more days at O’Teague Manor while the new immigrants were sorted into their various new professions and everyone worked at becoming better acquainted with their new spouses. Both Katherine and Corrine were a little too pre-occupied with their new wifely duties and Genevieve too busy, to notice that Drusilla was spending a great deal of time with Lucas. Partly it was the fact he took every excuse to seek out her company and she didn’t object; he was young, good looking and the first young man her age to pay her the kind of attention a man pays to an attractive woman.

Trailed by Lucas, Drusilla traveled back and forth to Port Recovery several times to meet with the Captains of the Barges to make sure the materials and supplies brought in by the Dancing Gryphon were loaded. She also met with Captain Heidelberg about the trade goods he was taking with him from Vensoog. At Genevieve’s suggestion, she often took Jayla with her, but Jayla soon became bored with the negotiations and Drusilla saw no harm in letting the girl explore the shops around the spaceport.

Even though the newly married couples didn’t have privacy for more amorous activities, floating along listening to the soft sounds of the water and occasional birdcall was soothing.

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From This Day Forward

Estimated Release Date April 2017

THE SUN WAS just peeking out over the harbor as Jayla ran with her usual long easy strides along the deserted beach. Vensoog’s equator Islands, where most of the first colonists had settled, boasted an abundance of beaches. Jayla liked run along the shore next to the spaceport because in spite of the noise of the shuttles taking off and landing, the beach was seldom frequented by people living in the city. Absently she brushed her short gold hair back out of her face. She had been running half her life it seemed. She smiled to herself as she remembered how hard it had been when she first started running every morning.

She had been fourteen and had only been on Vensoog for a year. Her Uncle Gideon had married Genevieve, the Laird of clan O’Teague and emigrated after their home planet had been burnt off. Jayla had just lost her parents and had resented being uprooted to a new planet with strange customs where she knew no one. A headstrong resentful teenager can find a lot of trouble to get into, especially if there are unscrupulous adults around to take advantage of her. She had made quite a few mistakes that first year. She bitterly regretted having gotten involved with Gregor Ivanov, the much older man who had romanced her and who had planned to sell her to his Thieves Guild cronies for their child sex trade. While it had not been her fault when she and some other girls from all the clans had been kidnapped by the Thieves Guild, she hated remembering how helpless she had felt as a captive.  She had been rescued both times, but she had been determined to learn to defend herself so nothing like that could happen again, she had asked for help to learn how to prevent it. Within two weeks after she had been freed from the Jack ship, Wolf Larsen from her Uncle Zack’s old Recon unit, had showed up on Glass Isle to begin giving her lessons in self-defense.

“Stamina,” his deep voice echoed in her mind, “is the essence of defense. You can’t fight if you run out of breath.” That first day he had knocked on her door at dawn to drag her out to run a mile. Wheezing, and with her legs feeling like jelly, Jayla had kept at it because she was tired of being pushed around. Seeing her determination, Wolf had shown up every day for the next two years to train her. She later learned Wolf had been specially requested as her teacher by her Cousin Luc’s best friend, Lord Jake Reynolds.

That had been four years ago. Jake had shown up off and on over the years to check up on her. Thanks to her parents foresight in moving all their accounts to Fenris as soon as the war with the Karamines started, Jayla had inherited a sizable nest egg. Enough to buy the gift shop when she turned eighteen. When she had bought the shop with the apartment over it earlier in the year, he had promised to come by and see how she was getting along.

The morning runs were not an indulgence even though they took time away from her shop. She ran, worked out in the Clan gym at Glass Manor, and practiced her marksmanship faithfully because she never again intended to be at the mercy of someone else.

Ghost was now her faithful companion, and like all Quirka, she went everywhere with her chosen human and even seemed to enjoy the morning runs. Sturdy leather straps affixed to the shoulders of Jayla’s running clothes allowed Ghost to cling to Jayla with her tiny hand-like paws and feet as Jayla ran. Ghost had never developed the ability to change color to match her environment the way other Quirka could, but her once dirty coat was now a fluffy pristine white and the row of retractable venom quills along her backbone glistened as the sun hit them. Her bright blue eyes, unusual for Quirka, matched Jayla’s in color. Ghost chirped in her ear now, her small upright ears pricked forward as she recognized the large rock where Jayla usually turned to the return trip.

There appeared to be a bundle of rags and sticks lying on the shore. Jayla slowed as she approached, hoping it wasn’t something nasty a picnicker had left there. If it were, she decided, she would report it instead of hauling it all the way back to the Spaceport buildings the way she usually did.

Ghost hissed as they approached, her sharp pointed nose wrinkled in distaste and her quills lifted. The smell hit Jayla first and she stopped several feet away. She had once come upon a goat on Glass Isle that had been dead for two days. It had smelled like this.

It took her a minute or so to realize what she was looking at. What she had taken for a bundle of sticks was wearing shoes. Swallowing nausea, she made herself walk up close enough to see that it was human or at least humanoid. It was difficult to tell because the body was in such bad shape.

Glad she hadn’t eaten before starting her run, she backed away and sat down, trying not to throw up. Ghost, in the way of all Quirka, was more concerned with Jayla than with an unknown body. She stroked her mistress’s face and crooned soothingly to her. Jayla dropped a kiss in gratitude between the small pricked ears and took a deep breath before she tapped on her wrist com.

Even though she was now living above her gift shop in Port Recovery, when she tapped the help code, instead of Port Recovery Security Patrol the com automatically called Glass Manor.

“Jayla, I haven’t heard from you in ages—what’s wrong, honey?” Mira’s voice had been cheerful until she saw the girls face.

Jayla turned her wrist so Mira could see the body through the com. “I need Port Recovery Security to come out here. It looks like Ghost and I just found a dead body.”

“Are you safe?” Mira demanded, instinct kicking in. Her regular job was in O’Teague Clan Security but she was pulling desk duty because she was pregnant.

“Yes, we’re safe,” Jayla reassured her. I think it’s been here a while.”

In the background, Jayla could hear her calling for Larry to grab a sled and get his ass out to the end of Port Recovery Island. “Jayla’s found a body. I’m calling the Port Recovery Security but she’s alone out there—“

“Jayla,” Mira’s voice was calm. “You stay where you are. I’m sending Larry out to you, and I’ll call the Port Recovery Security. I want you to keep this com open, okay?”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Jayla assured her.

The trip from Glass Manor on O’Teague to Port Recovery Isle usually took thirty minutes by boat, but a fast airsled could make it across the channel in ten.  Larry Jorgensen, the O’Teague Clan Security Chief, was a former member of her Uncle Gideon’s unit who had married into the clan. When the tall, dark skinned man dismounted from the sled, he smiled reassuringly at Jayla whom he still saw as the little girl she had been when he first met her.

“You okay, kid?” his deep voice rumbled.

She nodded, giving him a watery smile. “Yes, I’m fine Larry. It was a nasty surprise, but we’re okay.”

He nodded at her and went to inspect the body, being careful not to touch it. He was examining something on the ground in front of the corpse when they heard the approaching whine of the Port Authority Security sleds. He immediately came over to her side to wait with her.

The usually deserted shore was suddenly swarming with the Patrol. First came the uniformed officers to check out her story, then the medicals, and then finally a man and a woman in civilian clothing apparently the detectives in charge.

Since she and Larry and been told to wait for the detectives, she leaned back against one of the boulders on shore, and sipped at the bottled water Larry Jorgensen and provided for her and Ghost. Ghost, no longer perched on her shoulder, was investigating a clump of seaweed a few feet from where Jayla sat. They had both missed breakfast and the Quirka was probably hoping to find a few insects to eat until they could return home. Larry had offered Jayla an energy bar earlier, but her stomach had turned queasy when she thought of eating anything.

When the two detectives finally approached her, Larry moved in protectively.

“Lady Jayla?” the male detective asked. “I’m Jim Gorsling, and this is my partner, June Sipowitz. We have a few questions for you.” Gorsling was short, with a square, bulldog face and dark hair in contrast to his partner, a tall, hazel-eyed woman with bronzed skin.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Ma’am,” Gorsling began. “You found the body?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Why did you contact Clan O’Teague Security before you called us?” Sipowitz asked.

“Like all of the Laird’s immediate family, Lady Jayla’s com is set for Glass Manor on O’Teague,” Jorgensen interjected, obliquely reminding the two detectives they were dealing with a high-ranking clan member whom they should treat carefully.

“Perhaps you could join me over here, sir,” Gorsling suggested. “We have some questions for you as well.”

“I was dispatched here when Lady Jayla notified O’Teague clan she had found a body,” Jorgensen said, not moving. “It’s been requested I stay with her until she can leave. I’m to give her a ride back to her shop.”

“Are you her legal representative?” Gorsling inquired. “Because unless you have some legal standing—“

Ghost, sensing discord, left off hunting for bugs and scrambled back to Jayla where she hopped up to her shoulder. She turned her bright blue eyes to the two detectives and hissed protectively, her quills lifting.

Sipowitz tried a different tactic. “Your Quirka is unusual. I don’t think I’ve seen a white one before.”

Jayla stroked Ghost’s back. “Yes, she is different. She was a gift.”

“From me,” announced a voice from behind them. “Why is it,” Jake remarked as he dismounted his airsled, “that whenever I find you, you’re either causing trouble or in it?”

“Jake!” Jayla cried. “Where did you come from?”

Jake pulled off his helmet and hung it on the handlebars of the sled, revealing a shock of dark hair. Watching them, Jayla noticed the male detective giving Jake a sharp look of recognition. He saw, as she did, a slim man in his early twenties whose easy smile and air of assurance guaranteed he could be a formidable opponent if he chose. Ghost bounced in delight and when he was close enough, leaped to his arms chirping happily. “Yes, I’m glad to see you too,” he told her, petting her before moving her to his shoulder.

Sipowitz frowned. “And who might you be?”

Her partner answered her. “This is Lord Jake Reynolds, the Duc of Oranges nephew, L’Roux Clan. What brings you here Lord Reynolds?”

Jake gave them a little bow. “I’ve been requested by Clan O’Teague to assist Lady Jayla in her present difficulty. Ah—I do have legal standing.”

Jorgensen had relaxed his protective stance. “Good to see you kid. If you’ve got this, I’ll head back to the manor. I was just coming off shift when I caught this.”

“Sure,” Jake said, “take off.” Jorgensen stepped away and spoke with Gorsling for a few minutes before mounting his sled and zipping off.

When Gorsling returned, he said, “Lord Reynolds, you said you had legal standing but—“

Smiling, Jake pulled a small crystal out of his pocket and handed it to the detective. “Here is my authority to act for Lady Jayla.”

Frowning, Gorsling stuck the crystal into his porta-tab and showed it to his partner.

Jake looked over at Jayla. “So you found a body, did you?”

She nodded. “Yes, unfortunately.”

“This is a kind of deserted area.”

“I like to run out here,” she said a little defensively. “Nobody bothers me.”

He grunted. “Where’s your weapon?”

She patted the pocket of her running shirt. “It’s here. Mira made got me another small one to fit in this pocket and I always carry it when I run.”

Sipowitz  looked up and held out her hand. “May I see, it Lady Jayla?”

Jayla slid her hand into her pocked and pulled out a pulsar gun about the size of her palm, which she held out butt first to the detective. Sipowitz took it and examined it carefully. “Hasn’t been fired recently,” she said, handing it back.

“That’s right,” Jayla said.

Sipowitz studied her thoughtfully. “Had you ever seen the deceased before this?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Jayla replied. “I’m afraid the smell kind of got to me so I didn’t go any closer than I needed to make sure it was actually a person.”

“Okay. Just as a matter of form, can you tell us where you’ve been over the last several days?”

“I’ve just moved into my new apartment in Port Recovery. I’ve been out on Glass Isle collecting the rest of my stuff.”

“Alright,” the detective said. “That’s all for now. We may have more questions later, though so don’t leave town.”

“I believe it’s time we let these officers get on with their investigation Jayla. If you have any further questions, Detectives, you can bet in touch with Lady Jayla through Clan O’Teague,” Jake said. He took Jayla by the arm and led her over to his sled.

“There’s no place for Ghost,” she objected.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said, opening up a cache in the side. He took out a spare helmet for her and handed it to her. Then he brought out what looked like an upside down helmet that he snapped into place in the front control panel. “C’mon Ghost,” he said patting it. Ghost hopped into the cavity and settled happily into the made-for-Quirka seat.

“I want one,” Jayla declared. “Where did you get it?”

“It’s a prototype. Friend of mine is marketing them. I’ll tell him he’s got a sale.” He mounted the sled and waited for her to throw a leg over the seat behind him before they took off in a whirl of sand.

 

GOSLING CAME left the Coroner and returned to his partner as Jayla and Jake took off. “Coroner thinks it’s a body dump,” he told her. “She figures the woman has been dead about two days.”

“That means if Lady Jayla was out on Glass Isle she couldn’t have done it.”

“Even though her Clan bracelet is marked to show she’s a member of the Laird’s immediate family, I’m surprised to find the clan sent two people out to back her up, unless—“

“Unless what?”

“I’ll tell you after you run their Match List history,” she said.

“I’ll do it when we get back to headquarters. What do you want it for?”

“Well, it occurred to me that Lord Reynolds showing up might not have anything to do with our murder. Maybe either the Laird or the Duc is just doing a little matchmaking. If that’s the case, then O’Teague’s local Security Head showing up might only mean Lady Jayla has an overprotective family.”

 

JAKE STOPPED the sled in the rear of Jayla’s shop. Her apartment was on the second level. Although she had access from the store, the actual entrance to her apartment was in the back and up the stairs. She dismounted and pried Ghost loose from her perch in the Quirka basket. “Thanks for coming to the rescue again,” she told Jake.

“Drusilla wanted me to invite you to have dinner with the three of us tonight here in the city,” he said.

“I’d love to, but I’ve been invited to attend the Merchant Guild mixer tonight. It’s my first one and I don’t want to miss it.”

Jake shrugged. “So I’ll escort you there and then we’ll meet Luc and Drusilla for dinner afterwards.”

He waited while she and Ghost mounted the back stairs to her Apartment. Once Inside, she stripped, and she and Ghost got in the shower. She lifted Ghost to the specially made Quirka shelf and turned on the water, letting the spray wash away the morning. Ghost enjoyed playing in the water, turning and twisting to rinse her short plush fur of the sand and salt that had accumulated on it during their stay at the beach.

Once they were both clean, Jayla wrapped a towel around herself while she patted Ghost dry. She set the Quirka down on the mat in front of the Quirka sized blower on her dresser and turned it on, laughing as Ghost danced and whirled in the stream of warm air.

“May I assist you in dressing?” Jayla jumped as her house-bot spoke behind her.

She scowled at the house-bot who had been christened Daryl by the previous owner. Daryl was one of the new bots that could fool the unwary into thinking he actually was human. He had come with the apartment, and judging by his programing, his previous owner had apparently put him to some unconventional uses.

“No, you may not,” she snapped. “Remove yourself from this room while I am dressing. Go in the kitchen and make a grocery shopping list.”

“But Mistress,” the Daryl protested. “I am versed in all forms of physical pleasure and I can assure you—“

“Out!” she shouted. Thank Goddess the maintence people were due to come today to adjust his programming, she thought half hysterically. If she had to listen one more time to that bloody list of sexual acts he was programed to perform, she was going to start screaming.

She was furious when she listened to the messages on the house net and discovered that the Robo-Maintence crew was not coming out today. They were sorry to hear that she had cancelled and wanted to reschedule the appointment.

Furious, Jayla immediately got on the com with them and demanded to know who had cancelled the prior arrangement.

“Your house-bot left us a message you were cancelling the appointment,” she was told.

“Well, I didn’t,” she snapped. “I expect to see you out here today at our scheduled time.”

“I’m sorry, but that won’t be possible,” the receptionist said. “We’ve already filled your time. We do have an open slot two weeks from now if you want that.”

Jayla made a growling noise. “Fine! In the future, please have it noted in the records that until the re-programing has been done, you are not to accept messages from my house-bot! Is that clear?”

“As crystal,” she was told snippily.

Jayla turned her glare on the house-bot. “You are no longer authorized to contact anyone without my express order.”

“That is a waste of my talents,” Daryl informed her. “I am well versed in communication protocols needed to efficiently run this house for you as well as—“

“Shut up!” she yelled.

Daryl hadn’t stocked the robo-chef either so Jayla took Ghost down the street to a local eatery that served breakfast where she ordered Ghost the Quirka Special and a large spicy omelet made from Ostamu eggs for herself.

Since Jayla was a fellow business owner, Carol brought her order to her and sat down for a friendly chat.

“What’s the matter, hon?” Carol asked, pouring them both a large Cafka. Carol was in her late forties with the comfortable shape of those who work in the food industry.

“Can they charge you for killing a droid?” Jayla asked. “I just found out that clump of slag I inherited as a house-bot cancelled the appointment I made to get him reprogrammed!”

Carol’s eyes danced over the rim of her cup as she gave a gasp of laughter. “Oh, dear,” she said inadequately. “Is he still offering you sexual favors?”

Jayla nodded over a bite of Ostamu egg omelet. “This morning when we got out of the shower.  I don’t dare invite anyone over—I hate to think what might happen if he does it to a guest. Suppose my friends think I programed him for that stuff?”

Carol sputtered into her Cafka. “You never know—it might lead to some interesting encounters.” She eyed her friend shrewdly. “That’s isn’t all that’s bothering you, though is it?”

Jayla sighed. “No. I found a body on my morning run today. It was nasty.”

“Oh, you poor thing. Who was it?”

“Well, to tell the truth the smell was so bad I didn’t get close enough to find out. Just that it was human or humanoid.”

“ick,” Carol sympathized.

“Yes. I rather talk about something else if you don’t mind, though. Anything else.”

“Sure,” Carol said obligingly. “Are you still doing inventory?”

Jayla nodded. “Yes, I hope to be open by the end of the week.”

The rest of the day was productive enough that she almost forgot about the morning’s proceedings. When she went upstairs from the shop to dress for the evenings events, she had a pleasant feeling of achievement. The original shop owner, Sara Lipski had sold mostly high-end imports, but Jayla intended to widen the sales base by featuring locally made arts and craft products. She already had a number of local artists and craftspeople bringing in the new products and hoped to pick up more at the Planting Festival.

She and Ghost were still dressing when she heard Daryl let Jake in. The apartment’s walls were soundproofed so she couldn’t hear the actual conversation, just the murmur of voices.

She took a look at herself and Ghost in her mirror and nodded in satisfaction. She wanted to look professional, but classy tonight, so she had chosen to wear loose black pants and a dark grey vest over a blue dragonnest silk blouse. The blue in the blouse with its three quarter inch sleeves matched her eyes, and the black vest snugged under her breast and drew attention to her slim waist. Ghost had chosen to wear a bracelet of glittering black and blue stones around her neck, and Jayla had fluffed her white coat until the hollow ends of her fur sparkled.

When she joined him in the sitting room, Jake was standing there with his arms crossed and looking at Daryl with a frown, but he gave her a wide smile.

“You look great. Very classy,” he said.

“Thanks. I want to look like a businesswoman at the mixer.”

“You pulled it off,” he said. “At least as long as no one at the mixer ever meets Daryl here.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the house-bot as they shut the door and started down the stairs.  “Seriously Jayla, you need to get that sucker re-programmed. Do you know what he asked me?”

She signed, “I can guess. The programmers were supposed to be out today, but Daryl called them and cancelled. It seems Sara Lipski had some very irregular enhancements programmed into him. They told me it would be another two weeks before they could reschedule me. I’ve told them not to accept any more orders unless it comes from me in person, but I don’t know if I can stand keeping him around for that long.”

“You could turn him off.”

She snorted. “I already tried that. He’s got some sort of failsafe that resets itself if he’s been off for more than eight hours.”

She was pleased to see that Jake had brought a closed two seater airsled for tonight. She had enjoyed the ride from the beach but tonight she didn’t want to arrive looking windblown. The Merchant Guild Mixer was held at a meeting room in City Hall, one of the large domes used by the first settlers to Vensoog that the City had converted to civic use. Tonight the Merchant Guild had scattered tables around for seating, but a lot of those present were standing around in groups talking. When they entered, they were met by Miles Standish, the current Elector of the Guild.

“So glad you came tonight, Jayla,” Miles said enthusiastically pumping her hand. “And you brought a plus one, too. Nice to meet you. Are you a close friend Lord Reynolds?” he asked Jake, smiling owlishly. Miles and Jake were of similar heights, but Miles snub nose and round face gave him the air of a friendly puppy.

Next to Miles bubbling personality, it seemed to Jayla that Jake appeared dark and dangerous. Overtly, Jake did nothing Jayla could object to; in fact, he had been perfectly pleasant when introduced to the other man, but she could almost sense him going on alert. “That’s right,” he agreed. “Jayla and I go way back. He cousin Lucas introduced us.”

“Ah, Carol,” Miles said snagging Jayla friend from the café, “I need to introduce Jayla to some of the other merchants. Perhaps you can find Lord Jake here a drink and entertain him for a few minutes.”

“Sure,” Carol agreed, smiling. “I’m always up for a drink with a good looking man.”

She signaled a waiter-bot who brought over a tray of drinks. “What’s your poison, Jake?”

“Cafka,” he told the server. “No alcohol for me thanks, Jayla and I are meeting friends for dinner after this, and I don’t like depending on the auto pilot on my two-seater. It’s been a little wonky lately.”

Jayla enjoyed meeting the other storeowners, some of whom she could see becoming friends. Besides Carol, there was a young couple named Lin and Elsie Boyington who owned a food supply store, and a pair of sisters named Jan and Alice who ran a local  boutique clothing shop.

About halfway around the room, Miles stopped. He seemed to hesitate for a minute then he asked, “Do you mind a personal question?”

“I suppose it depends on the question,” Jayla responded, looking at him curiously.

“That guy who came with you—is he boyfriend or guard?”

Jayla stiffened. “Jake is a very good friend of mine and of Clan O’Teague,” she said somewhat haughtily. The ‘it’s none of your business’ remained unspoken.

Miles looked self-conscious. “I’m sorry, it’s just—well I got a copy of my Match List today and you’re on it, and I find you very attractive, so I was wondering—“

Jayla’s anger softened. “I’m sure you didn’t mean to be offensive,” she said. “Look Miles, I like you, and you seem like a nice man, but I’m going to be too busy getting my shop up and running to think about Match Lists.”

On cue, Jake asked, “Everything Okay here, Jayla?” He and Carol were standing a few feet away. Jayla turned to him with relief.

“I’m fine, Jake,” she said. “I guess this morning took a little more out of me than I thought. I’m sorry Miles, Carol, but I think we need to get going to meet our friends for dinner. Thank you for inviting me. I had a lovely time and I do want to meet more of my compatriots at a later time.”

“Of course,” Miles said. “I’ll drop by with the paperwork for joining the Guild sometime this week.”

“Thank you and good night,” Jayla told him

Jake was silent as he put her into the airsled. He gave the order to proceed to the restaurant, a new one overlooking the water and turned to face her.

“Okay, what did I interrupt?” he asked.

Jayla made a frustrated noise. “Did anyone ever tell you what a nosy boots you are?”

“Yes,” he said quite calmly. “You, many times. Give.”

“You’re worse than Ghost at a vermin hole,” she complained. “He wanted to tell me I was on his Match List. There, are you satisfied?”

He studied her face. “You didn’t look overjoyed at the news. Is he on yours?”

She looked at him blankly. “I don’t know. I  didn’t download mine when it came in this morning. I was too busy dealing with the house programmer fiasco and then I went down to work in the shop.”

“So look now,” he said. “I’ve got mine already.”

When she hesitated, he said, “I’ll make you a deal. You download yours, and I’ll call mine up and we’ll swap. That way neither of us will have any surprises.”

She looked at him suspiciously. “Why would you be willing to do that? You always guarded your list like it was pirate gold before.”

He grinned at her. “And you always managed to find out who was on it anyway. What are you afraid of?”

Jayla tapped her com unit and scrolled down through the list until she found the message from the Makers, conscious of Jake doing the same. When she called it up her Match List, she stared at it in shock. Miles Standish was on it all right, but so was Jake. Before she could wipe it clear, Jake had initiated the data swap. She looked at his list. She was on his list this time as well.

“You already knew I was on your list this time,” she accused him. “That’s why you wanted to swap.”

“Well, I was curious,” he admitted.  “Now we both know and we don’t have to worry who else is on it. All we have to do is decide what we’re going to do.” He patted her hand. “You think about it.”

The two-seater stopped at the door of the restaurant and the valet came to open the doors. Jayla exited the car with mixed emotions. Truthfully, she didn’t know what to think or feel. Her first girlish hero worship of Jake, began when he had defended her from Gregor at the trial and then when he rescued her from the Jacks, had never quite gone away. However, over the years she had accustomed herself to thinking he regarded her like a little sister, and convinced herself he was just a friend. Now he was hinting at something different and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it.

Chapter 7 – A New Home & Chapter 8 – A New Family

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In the Final Chapter, All Our Tomorrows, Book 3 – a warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction.

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays

Start Reading Chapters 7 & 8 – A New Home & A New Family

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Check in next Friday for the next chapter of A Year And A Day – book 1 of the Handfasting

Chapter 7 – A New Home

ARRIVAL day on Vensoog was chaos. The Dancing Gryphon only boasted three shuttles and two of them had already been re-fitted by the crew as cargo carriers.

“We drew lots,” Katherine explained to her frustrated family. “Captain Heidelberg only made one shuttle available to us for unloading people. The other three shuttles are going to be busy unloading cargo. We won’t have them available until the cargo has been unloaded. The Clans are going to alternate shuttle usage for landing our new members. Yang will go down first, then the DeMedici’s and then us. I arranged for the fifteen of us and three more families with children to be in the first shuttle we’ve been allotted. I wanted families with children to have a chance to settle them into O’Teague Manor before the ceremony this afternoon, so they will be first down.”

“What about our stuff,” Jayla asked gesturing at the pile of luggage they had needed during the trip.

“There is a cargo lift outside. If you boys will put all of that stuff on it, one of the crew is going to take it down to the loading area. From there it will be taken on one of the cargo shuttles down to the port. Once it’s down on the planet, it will be taken over to the barge we’re going to ride out to our Glass Manor.” 

Chapter 8 – A New Family

PORT recovery’s spaceport was a series of plain ulitarian domes. The first building on the site had been a tower that had blown over during the colonists first storm season. Next to it was a larger secondary dome with partitions where colonists could store trade goods while they waited for a ship.

Several of the clans had reception committees waiting for the new arrivals. Clan O’Teagues’ consisted of Genevieve, Drusilla and three women who were in charge of handling the transition of both cargo and new immigrants. After freeing herself from strangling hugs from Genevieve and Drusilla, Katherine turned to Margie, a medium sized, brown haired woman accompanied by two very large shorthaired dogs.

“Are these them?” she inquired.

Margie nodded, stroking their heads. “This is Ulnae and Karton, the best in our kennels, Just and you requested.”

Katherine gestured Jayne forward. “Jayne, I’d like for you and your boys to meet Margie. She will be instructing you on handling your new Nanny Dogs, Ulnae and Karton.”

Jayne looked puzzled. “Nanny Dogs?”

Katherine nodded. “Your boys are both too young to recognize dangerous plants or animals. On Vensoog, we use Nanny Dogs to keep very young children safe from things in their environment that might hurt them. Ulnae and Karton will help keep them from doing things like accidentally falling in the water, tasting poison plants, handling venomous insects, stuff like that.”

“They’re quite safe,” Margie assured her. “Let’s step over here shall we, so we’re out of the way while I introduce you. Hold out your hand so they can get your scent.”

Margie, Jayne and her boys moved over by the open windows while she made the introductions and explained to Jayne and the boys about the dog’s duties.

Katherine turned to the waiting men. “Genevieve, may I present Colonel Gideon Michaels, his son Lucas and his daughter Jayla?”

Genevieve held out her hand and Gideon bowed over it, brushing it with a kiss. “Lady Genevieve, I am honored to meet you,” he said.

She smiled back at him. “Just Genevieve, please. Since we are to be Handfasted, I suggest we start with first names instead of titles.” She turned to Lucas and Jayla. “These are your wards?”

“Yes, this is Lucas and Jayla.” Lucas had been staring dumbstruck at Drusilla ever since he laid eyes on her and had apparently not heard the introduction.

Gideon kicked Lucas sharply in the ankle to get his attention, and the boy jumped. “What? Oh, pleased to meet you ma’am,” Lucas said, bowing also, but his eyes went straight back to Drusilla.

Seeing what had drawn his gaze, Genevieve’s lips twitched, but she turned her attention to Jayla. “Welcome to Vensoog, Lady Jayla,” she said as the girl, having been coached by Katherine on the trip out, dropped a curtsey. “Lord Lucas, I am pleased to meet you. I can see you will be a welcome addition to the Clan.”

She gestured Drusilla forward. “Gideon, this is my youngest sister, Lady Drusilla who has been largely responsible for organizing the ceremony this afternoon and the journey back to Glass City we will take later this week.”

“Please to meet you,” Drusilla said shyly, blushing when she met Lucas’s openly admiring eyes.

“Excuse me,” Genevieve murmured to Gideon. “Protocol,” as she moved back over to Katherine.

“Lady Genevieve, Lady Drusilla,” Katherine said formally. “This is my fiancée Zackery Jackson and his wards, the Ladies Violet and Lucinda, and his nephews Lord Rupert and Lord Roderick. And this,” she added standing behind Juliette and putting her hands on both her shoulders, “is my First Daughter, Lady Juliette O’Teague’ni Jones. Everyone, this is your new Laird, the Lady Genevieve O’Teague, and my sister Lady Drusilla.”

Genevieve’s eyebrows rose, but she held out both hands to Juliette and said, “Welcome to our family, First Daughter. I am so pleased to meet all of you.”

She and Katherine then moved off to the waiting new clansmen so they could be formally presented to their new Laird.

Katherine stood at the rail of the large paddlewheel boat with Zack and the children and looked out over the smoothly flowing channel of water as they threaded the gate of the inlet leading out into the main waterway. The water was a translucent green, clear enough to see the bottom, in spite of the plants coating the shore and drifting across the expanse of water. A warm breeze laden with aromas of drying algae and scented plants warmed her skin as the boat moved slowly along. In the distance, a family of Nessies lifted their heads to watch the boat.

“How far to the Manor?” Zack inquired. “Is it large enough to hold us all?”

“It’s not just the manor,” Katherine said. “When we first landed, the entire clan stayed there until we moved onto Glass Isle. There is a manor house, outbuildings and an outdoor meeting hall. Drusilla told me we would be staying in the main house. Normally we would stay there anyway, but because there are so many of us, it’s going to be crowded. She assigned all the children beds in the dormitory so that as many of the newly married couples as could fit would have a room to themselves. Of course some of the women have brought their own pop up domes with them.”

“How long will it take to get there?” asked Juliette.

“O’Teague Manor is about a half hour from the city,” Katherine answered. “We’re lucky our land extends down to the edge of the water so we reach it by river boat.”

“Do all the Clans have land around the spaceport?” Zack asked curiously.

“Yes. It was agreed that for the first year all the clans would set up a permanent base around the spaceport. We had a limited amount of materials and equipment that had to be shared. O’Teague and most of the others didn’t move onto our assigned territories until the third year after landfall.”

As she spoke, the barge was carefully sliding by with about eight feet clearance from another paddlewheel barge going against the current toward the spaceport. At last they rounded the final curve of the channel and angled in toward a plastacrete dock.

“Look,” Katherine exclaimed. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Several smaller colorful dome roofs had been put together to form a large area for the temporary hall. The domes were held up with poles wrapped in colorful ribbons and left open to take advantage of the breeze coming in off the water. Decorated tables of food with stasis shielding were laid out, and chairs were placed around other tables set up for dining. A leaf-covered bower for the Handfasting ceremonies had been erected under the dome. Behind it and a little to the right were three smaller tables one holding red and silver braided ribbons, the second a stack of small crystal boxes and the third  several decanters each with two pouring spouts and sets of glasses.

Up the hill from the temporary hall were s series of larger domes including the main house and dormitories. Extensive and fragrant gardens marked with stone pathways led up from the temporary hall toward the main house. Twenty or thirty smaller, colorful temporary domes dotted the gardens as well.

It took most of the morning for all the new clan members to arrive. Katherine and Zack spent most of it making sure the children and Jayne were comfortable in the space Drusilla had assigned them. She had also made sure that each couple had an opportunity to meet their handfasting partner before the actual ceremony.

Warriors of St. Antoni

In a raw, untamed land, three sisters make different choices to find happiness and love as well as safety. Bethany marries a mercenary fighter to protect her family, Iris agrees to an arranged wedding with an old friend, and Jeanne runs off with the son of her enemy.

Still in production. Estimated publication date June 2017

FOLKS AROUND River Crossing described Michael St.Vyr as a big man, solid, with a thatch of greying red hair. He owned a silver mine and gold claims up in the hills above the valley, a cattle and goat ranch with a good ranch house and twenty acres of orchards. His three pretty daughters, well he thought they were pretty, had recently come home from back east in Copper City.  He had just had a meeting with his lawyer and he had made satisfactory arrangements to divide his property equally between his three girls and their husbands in the event of his death.  None of his daughters had actually married or engaged, an irritating fact the lawyer had pointed out, but St.Vyr considered that only an issue to be resolved. He had plans to take care of that problem.

He had an uncomfortable an itch on the back of his neck that got worse the further away from town he rode. He knew better than to ignore the feeling. Because the Gateway to St. Antoni had never been officially opened, the planet wasn’t open for settlement so everyone who got there did so through an illegally ran Portal.

Young Michael’s family had only been in the emigrant camp three days before his father had been gunned down and robbed of the small amount of gems he had been carrying.

His father’s death had taught Michael a lesson; he never again ignored the warning he got from his gut. He frowned now and carefully examined his surroundings. The road leading from his ranch the Golden Tricorn, to town was not heavily traveled this late in the afternoon, but it was traveled enough to usually be safe from bands of roving outlaws. He dismounted and fussed ostensibly with his cinch and loosened the gun in his holster.

Without warning, a savage blow followed by the crack of a high-powered rifle hit him in the lower back. His black and red stripped Tricorn had been trained not to flinch from gunfire and he stood like a rock until a second bullet burned him across the rump and he took off running.

St.Vyr slumped to the ground, still conscious but unable to feel his legs. He could feel himself passing out. He touched his waist and brought his hand away red with his own blood. The light wavered in front of his eyes and he knew he had to find cover before whoever fired the shots came to see if he had succeeded in killing him. Desperately, he used his powerful arms to try to drag himself into the drainage ditch at the side of the road, where he slid sideways. The ditch was dry this time of year and overgrown with prickly bushes. Just before he passed out, he managed to drag some of the dead bushes over himself.

Tricorns, like the horses they had replaced were herd animals. The stallion ran hard for a few miles, and then slowed to a more moderate pace as he made his way back to the ranch. Reaching the barn, Redbird stopped outside the corral where he had the remuda tricorns for company.

Michaels daughter Jeanne found him there when she arrived home several hours later. Her first thought upon seeing the red and black stallion was dismay. She hadn’t counted on her father being home and possibly asking her questions about what she had been doing, so as she rode up she was busy thinking up excuses as to where she had been.

When her father didn’t appear, she dismounted and breathed a sigh of relief. She tied her grey striped tricorn gelding up to the hitching rail in front of the tack room and began unsaddling him. Coming out with a brush and currycomb after she deposited her saddle on one of the racks inside, she was surprised to see that Redbird, her father’s mount had come up to the hitching rail where she had tied grayling and was investigating the feedbag she had dropped over her tricorns nose.

“Now how did you get loose,” she demanded of the tricorn, picking up his trailing reins. As she moved to re-tie him to the rail, she saw the wound, still oozing a trickle of blood, on his rump where the second bullet had grazed him. When she stepped back and looked more carefully at the tricorn, she saw a smear of blood on the stirrup leather.

Her first impulse was to back trail Redbird to see if she could find her father. He might be lying there hurt on the trail back from town. Looking around for help, she realized the stable area was empty. This time of day all the workers who normally would have been present were in the orchards, doing repairs either to the fences or out in the pastures with the stock. Jeanne finished tying Redbird to the hitching rail and ran for the house, shouting for her sisters and her grandmother.

“What is it, child?” Giselle, her grandmother asked in alarm.

“Papa’s horse came back without him,” Jeanne gasped out. There is blood on the stirrups and Redbird has a bullet burn across his rump. Where is everyone?”

“Margo went into town to do the weekly shopping,” Bethany said running up. “Did you say Papa was hurt?”

“I don’t know,” Jeanne said. “Redbird was loose by the corral when I got back. At first, I didn’t notice he was hurt. Where was Papa going today?”

“He went into town to see the lawyer,” Iris told her.

“Jeanne, go saddle us some mounts while we change into riding clothes,” Bethany ordered and Jeannine ran back outside.

Bethany looked at her grandmother. “You need to send someone out to the men working in Ruby Canyon and have them come in and help with the search. If Papa was shot on the way into or coming back from town, he’ll be found somewhere along the road to the Crossing.”

Giselle nodded her understanding and left quickly, calling for Macon, the man who usually tended the gardens around the house.

Coming downstairs a few minutes later, Bethany went to her father’s gun cabinet and began loading rifles and pistols for herself and her sisters.

“Oh, no,” Iris protested when she saw the weapons. “Surely we won’t need those.”

Bethany was buckling on the pistol belt. She checked to load on it and on the rifle, before slinging a similar belt over her shoulder for Jeanne.

“If something happened to Papa,” Bethany told Iris grimly, “It wasn’t an accident. Jeanne said Redbird had a bullet burn across his rump. Do you want to be helpless if we need to rescue Papa?”

Iris bit her lip, but picked up the third belt and holster and buckled it on.

“Where is mine?” Giselle asked, returning from her errand.

“In the gun cabinet,” Jeanne informed her have finished saddling the tricorns. She took her weapons from Bethany. “The Tricorns are ready to go.”

“Thank you, Jeanne,” Bethany said. She turned to Giselle. “You know you need to stay here in case someone brings Papa home wounded, Grandmother.”

The land between the Golden Tricorn and the town of River Crossing looked deceptively flat, but it was pocked with shallow dips and cuts in the earth, making searching for a wounded man who might be hiding slow and difficult work.

It was Iris who spotted the marks Michael had made when he dragged himself into the ditch for cover.

“Here!” Iris called, dismounting and sliding down into the waist deep ditch. Her tricorn smelled blood and pulled back nervously on the reins, nearly dragging her back up the embankment.

“Papa!” Jeanne called urgently. “Where are you?”

She too dismounted, and taking the reins of Iris’s tricorn, she tied the nervous animal to her saddle horn. She had no fear of her own mount running off because he smelled blood; she had spent hours training him not to flinch under more difficult circumstances than a smell he didn’t like. When Bethany dismounted she handed the reins of the tricorns to her and joined Iris in the ditch, carefully lifting the bushes to see if her father had crawled under them.

Iris had just spotted one of Michael’s boots sticking out from under one of the bushes against the far bank, and she rushed forward, yanking the brush out of the way.

“Be careful. There might be a Sander under there. You know how they like the shade when it’s hot,” Bethany warned, referring to the areas large poisonous reptiles.

“So you shoot it with that damn gun you insisted we bring,” Iris retorted, dropping beside her father and picking up his wrist to feel for a pulse.

Jeanne had finished moving the brush out of the way, and she too dropped beside Michael. “He’s bleeding. It looks like someone shot him in the back. We need to get him out of here and back to the ranch.”

“The doctor’s house in town is closer,” Bethany objected.

“Should we move him?” asked Iris doubtfully. “What if it hurts his back?”

“His back’s already hurt,” Jeanne snapped.

“That might not be relevant anyway,” Bethany observed. “I don’t think the three of us can manage to get him back up the bank on our own. Here,” she pulled bandages, rags and a bottle of alcohol out of her saddlebag. “One of you see if you can clean the wound and bandage it. I—“

Her head lifted sharply as she heard the unmistakable clop, clop of a buckboard driven by a team of tricorns coming down the road from town.

“It’s Margo,” she cried, waving frantically at the driver. Margo snapped the reins and the team broke into a gallop, coming to a sliding stop when they reached the girls.

“What happened, nina?” Margo asked.

“It’s Papa. He’s been wounded and he’s down in the ditch. We’re going to need help getting him out of there.”

“Dios mio!” the woman exclaimed, tumbling off the wagon seat and coming to look down into the ditch.

“I think we’ve got that covered,” Jeanne said, pointing to a plume of dust rising on the road from the direction of the ranch. Shortly, about fifteen of the ranch hands thundered up on lathered tricorns, demanding to know what had happened.

With their help, it proved easy to move the wounded man into Margo’s buckboard, which made a slow turn and headed back into town, accompanied by Iris and three of the hands, who were just aching for someone to attempt to stop them.

Bethany turned to Jeanne. “You’d better go back to the ranch and let Gran know what happened. She’ll want to come into town. Take a couple of the men with you.”

Jeanne nodded and remounted.

Bethany remounted her own tricorn and looked over at the hands that had stayed with her. “Durango, who is the best tracker?” she asked a tall slim man with a wide brimmed hat.

“Red and I,” he replied. “You want us to find out who did this?”

“Yes,” she said grimly. “I’m putting you in charge. And Durango, when you find out who did this, we need him to be able to talk to the Sheriff.”

She turned her tricorn and kicked her into a gallop, following the wagon into town.

Unlike his father, Michael St.Vyr lived, but he would never walk again.   He was still bedridden when he was forced to overhear Emory Johnson attempt to coerce his eldest daughter Bethany into marrying him by telling her if she didn’t accept is offer, she and her sisters would soon be out in the street. Now he knew he desperately needed to start his plan for taking care of his daughters. Accordingly, wrote a letter addressed to McCaffey & Miller Range & Mine Detection with an interesting proposition.

Chapter 6 – Captains Mast

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet. Book 1 – A Year And A Day, A witch from the right side of the tracks finds herself paired with a hard-bitten soldier handpicked by a computer program. Book 2 – Forever And A Day, a marriage of convenience between two determined, strong-willed people sparks a planetary war and puts at risk everyone they love. In the Final Chapter, All Our Tomorrows, Book 3 – a warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction.

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays

Start Reading Chapter 7 Captains Mast

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Check in next Friday for the next chapter of A Year And A Day – book 1 of the Handfasting

Chapter 6 – Captains Mast

UPON RECEIVING the summons to the Captain’s Mast, Katherine had taken care to dress herself, Juliette and Zack formally. She had explained to an uneasy Juliette that the Captain was going to make an inquiry in the circumstances that had led to her being locked into an unheated, storage closet. The summons had requested only Katherine, Juliette and Zack attend, however Rodrick and Rupert had insisted on coming with them. Suspecting the boys were fully capable of sneaking out and following them anyway, Katherine had reluctantly acquiesced.

When the Dancing Gryphon had been used primarily as a troop transport during the war, the military had made several changes to her inside decks to accommodate both officers and troops. Captain Hidelberg had converted one of the re-conditioned officer’s lounge areas into an outsized office that also served as a meeting room for himself and his crew.

To hold court, the Captain presided behind a sizable table. To the left of the table stood a large flight cage occupied by a beautifully plumed Screecher. Although considerably bigger, the Screechers loosely resembled the parrots of Old Earth, with their colorful, brightly hued, jewel-toned feathers. Screechers were highly prized for their ability to mimic any sounds they heard and could be trained to repeat it back if called upon to do so. Unfortunately, their beauty was offset by their irascible dispositions; when disturbed or irritated which was frequently, they had a tendency to shriek profanities at very high decibels.

Two husky crewmembers directed Katherine’s party to one side of the front row. She was unsurprised to note that Donna Sabina DeMedici had also been invited to attend as well as Lieutenant Lister. Donna DeMedici was accompanied by Colonel Lewiston who had been Lister’s commanding officer.  Since Donna DeMedici had accepted Colonel Lewiston’s application for his unit to become members of Clan DeMedici her presence was required by custom. Perhaps Sabina DeMedici had not objected to his patronizing manner during the interview Katherine speculated, or perhaps he had learned something when she had thanked him and then dismissed him from consideration. He had certainly not been pleased with her rejection.

Captain Hidelberg rapped the table lightly with a large crystal. “Be seated, please,” he said. “This formal hearing will be recorded into the ship’s log. Captain’s Mast, Star Date 3841, Dancing Gryphon, Captain Hidelberg Presiding, concerning the endangerment of the minor Lady Juliette O’Teague’ni Jones. Please step forward Lady Juliette.”

He gestured to the chair set sideways between the audience and his table. “Lady Juliette, do you know who I am?”

“Yes, sir,” Juliette glanced apprehensively at Katherine and received a reassuring smile and nod. She turned back to the Captain.

“Do you know the difference between a truth and a lie?” he asked

“Yes, sir,” she gulped.

“Good. I expect you to truthfully answer all my questions.”

“Yes sir,” she said again.

“What were you doing in that particular corridor, young lady?”

Juliette straightened in her chair. “It’s a game sir, to learn about the ship.”

The captain’s eyebrows rose. “Tell me about this game.”

“Grouter, that’s the administrator at the Placement Center where we were put during the war after our parents died, used to send us kids out in the city to—well to do errands and carry messages, I guess. He wanted us to learn how to get around and not get lost, so he taught us this game. A couple of us would go around the city, spot landmarks, and come back and draw our own map. It’s kind of boring shut in the cabin all day so we started the game up again. We didn’t mean to cause a problem, sir. And we didn’t go anywhere that wasn’t marked okay for passengers. The idea was to find the places we weren’t supposed to go and not go there.”

“You said we, who was with you?”

“My cousin Violet, sir. Violet is pretty young and still learning the game, so I was with her.”

“You said you didn’t go anyplace that wasn’t open, so how did you get into the locked storage closet?”

Juliette jerked her chin at Corporal Lister. “She put me in there. She tried for Violet too, but I kicked and bit her and Violet got away.”

Darla Lister jumped to her feet. “That’s a lie!”

Juliette flinched but glared back at her defiantly.

“Sit down, Miss Lister,” the Captain ordered sternly, and she reluctantly resumed her seat, whispering angrily to the Colonel.

“That action seems a little extreme Milady”, the Captain commented. “Do you know why Miss Lister, wanted to put you in that closet?”

“She said we were following her and spying on her,” Juliette replied. “She said—“

Darla jumped to her feet again and this time she sprang at Juliette, “You lying little Bitch, I’ll teach you to lie about—“

She broke off with a squeak. Katherine had blocked her lunge at Juliette, and spun her away from the child, dealing Darla a backhanded blow with her fist as she did so. Reeling backward, Darla’s extended arm slapped the Screecher’s cage, setting it swinging violently. Darla then tripped over the crewman who was rushing in from behind to restrain her, and the two of them went down in a pile in front of the desk. The Screecher let forth with a stream of vituperative complaint in five languages. Colonel Lewiston and Donna DeMedici were also on their feet. Out of the corner of her eye, Katherine noted Zack had come up beside her, and that the two boys had protectively flanked Juliette.

Grabbing the Screecher’s rocking cage, Captain Hidelberg bellowed for order. The outer door burst open and several more crewmembers rushed in, lining the walls ready to restore order on instructions from their Captain. He gestured for the nearest crewman, a large muscular woman, to restrain Darla Lister and make sure she stayed in her seat.

“Thank you Milady,” he said to Juliette. “You may return to your seat now. The rest of you sit down also, and you shut up!” he added to the Screecher, who ruffled his feathers indignantly but obeyed even though he continued to mutter rebelliously to himself.

“Now, Miss Lister, what were you doing in that corridor?”

“It’s Lieutenant, Lister,” she said sullenly, “and I was taking a walk. Those nosy brats were following me. I just wanted to scare them a little and teach them a lesson. I would have come back and let them out.”

The Captain grunted and frowned. “I see,” he said, obviously not really believing her.

Katherine stood up. “May I speak, Captain?”

He nodded, “Certainly Milady.”

“Captain Healdsburg we are guests on your ship and subject to your laws and regulations so I will accept whatever judgment you make in regards to this matter. I will take no action unacceptable to you.”

She looked first at Donna DeMedici, and then addressed Darla Lister coldly. ”Woman, you have twice endangered my children, and could have caused bodily harm both times. Your patron, Donna Sabina DeMedici knows full well that were we on Vensoog, your actions could have meant a clan war.”

She exchanged a look with Donna Sabina DeMedici and received a nod. “I will trust both her and the Captain to ensure you take no further actions against my family on board this ship. However, I make no promises for the future.” She turned back to Captain Heidelberg. “Captain, I do request that this—person—be sequestered to her quarters or some other secure area for the remainder of our journey.”

Captain Hidelberg scowled at Katherine. “You say this is a second attempt? When was the first one made?”

“On the planet before we left.”

“Un-Huh. Very well, Lady O’Teague, since I am anxious to prevent any further incidents I will honor your request. I will also accept your assurance that you will not further disrupt my ship as I have always found that the word of a Lady of Vensoog to be absolutely trustworthy.”

He stared angrily at Darla Lister. “One of the features left to us by our former military occupiers is a functioning Brig. Michelson, Moore, take Miss Lister down to the Brig and lock her in. Inform the cook to send her meals there.”

“Donna DeMedici, I trust you have no objection?”

Donna DeMedici stood. “None Captain, and I wish to apologize to you for this incident and to Lady O’Teague also. I too am a guest on your vessel and I will abide by your decisions and ensure that the members of my clan do also. I assure both you and the Lady O’Teague that I will investigate this matter within house and take whatever disciplinary action is needed.”

Lewiston had also risen. “That’s it? She’s just condemned? Not even a trial?”

Captain Hidelberg eyed him. “I see you are unfamiliar with proceedings aboard ship, Mister Lewiston. A Captain’s Mast is a form of trial, and I have just passed Judgment.” He added, “If you wish to dispute my Judgement, I assure you there is an adjoining cell down in the Brig where you can be accommodated.”

“Enough!” Donna DeMedici snapped. “Did you not hear me accept the Captain’s judgment? Come, Lewiston, before I change my mind and ask Captain Hidelberg to put you there also.” She swept out the door, her back stiff with anger and embarrassment.

Once Katherine had collected her new family back in their suite and they had all been fortified with a restorative drink, she looked around at them. “Well, we survived it,” she remarked. “And I think we can relax about Lister. Clan DeMedici at least for the time being will make sure she behaves. So, Juliette,” she continued, “now would be a good time to let me in on just exactly why you kids have been following Darla Lister around.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. The children all exchanged guilty looks and most of the adults surprised ones. Katherine sipped her drink and fixed her gaze on Juliette, waiting for an answer.

Juliette finally put down her chocolate and rubbed her hands together. At last, she said, “I knew something was funny after she played that trick on us at the toy shop. Then we overheard her and Lewiston talking about a weapons drop at the ball. I wanted to find out why, so we planted one of these,” she held up a small flat object that changed color to match her skin, “on their boots so we could listen in on who they talked to and what they said.”

“You have to be pretty close to be able to hear it though,” Roderick put in. “That’s why we were following them around,” Rupert finished his twin’s sentence.

Katherine held out her hand. “May I see it?”

Juliette handed it to her. Katherine held it up against her sleeve and it changed to blend in with the sleeve. “Ingenious. Where did you get them?”

Juliette blew out her breath. “I stole a bunch of them from Grouter when we left. I thought—I wanted—well I was pretty sure we could trust you, but we didn’t really know you and everyone was depending on me to decide so I—well I used them to listen to you without you knowing so I could be sure you were okay,” she finished defiantly.

“Ah, and what did you decide?” Katherine inquired mildly.

The five younger children exchanged looks. “If you want us then we’d like to stay with you, if that’s alright,” Juliette said.

Katherine laughed delightedly. “Oh, I want you, all of you.” She turned to Corrine, “What did I tell you? A daughter after my own heart! Welcome, daughters and sons, Forever And A Day!”

“Forever And A Day,” Corrine agreed, echoing the promise. Unexpectedly, Katherine found herself with an armful of children. She hugged them all fiercely, and then wiped her eyes.

“Glad as I am that is settled,” Gideon remarked, “I would like to know what the children actually found out about Lewiston’s plans.”

Zack frowned at him. “Why do you think he has plans? Other than finding a new home that is.”

“I heard some rumors. At the end of the action on Janus, there was chitchat going around that some of the displaced soldiers had tried a coup. I know he was investigated along with some other officers.”

“I didn’t like him,” Katherine admitted. “Did you kids hear anything we should know Juliette?”

Again, the children exchanged glances. Finally Rupert said, “Before we left we heard them talking about a weapons drop, and we’ve heard them talking about ‘the plan’, but we didn’t hear any details.”

“He’s giving that woman Submit,” Lucinda reminded him.

Katherine’s eyebrows rose. “Submit?”

“It’s a drug. Grouter kept some around to give to the kids van Doyle took. It’s supposed to make you not fight it when they—uh—“

“Okay, we get the picture,” Zack intervened grimly. “He’s probably using it to control her. I bet he’s going to need it after this morning. She was pretty steamed.”

“Rupert let me have one of your receivers. I think we can modify it so we can hear what goes on if Lewiston visits Lister in the brig,” Gideon said.

“You can do that?” Roderick asked eagerly. “Can I watch you do it?”

“Sure, I’ll even show you how to do it,” Gideon promised.

Katherine brought them back to what she considered was the more important subject.

“Well, I certainly think a forewarning about the Submit is worth passing on to my sister; she can pass it on to the DeMedici’s. However, I definitely don’t want any of you children doing any more unauthorized surveillance, okay?”

“Okay,” Juliette agreed. After a hesitation, the boys did also.

A few days before their arrival at their new home, Zack and Roderick took a walk down to the Brig after Lewiston went to visit Darla Lister. While Zack engaged the crewman on duty ostensibly about the time of her release, claiming he wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be on the same shuttle, Roderick retrieved the button and recorder they had placed there.

Katherine frowned when they brought it to the family planning meeting after dinner that evening. “I thought you promised not to engage in any more spying?” she said.

“Actually,” Zack replied, “I believe the word was ‘unauthorized’ surveillance. Gideon and I asked the boys to furnish us with a button and a receiver. We added a recorder as well so we know who visited her and what was said. Want to hear it?”

“Don’t be silly, Katherine,” Corrine said. “Of course we want to hear it.”

Zack set up the playback on the vid screen. They could see that Lister and Lewiston were alone in the brig, the duty crewman having gone to fetch Lister’s meal.

“I kind of figured you might be joining me here,” Darla remarked. “She looked pretty mad to me after the hearing. What did you do, dose her up with Submit again?”

He glared at her. “This is the second time you’ve gone off half-cocked about those kids. Even if they were following you, what harm could it do?”

“And, yes, I did have to slip a little into our after dinner drinks. I only got a limited supply from Grouter you know, and as I may need to use it on her mother too, I would appreciate it if you would quit making me waste it to cover up your mistakes!”

“I don’t like kids,” Darla said sullenly, “You think they’re no danger to us just because they’re kids but you’re wrong. And that Juliette—she gives me the willies.”

He snorted. “Never mind that. Once we get to the ground, I want you and Georgios to steal some transport and get out to the coordinates where the ammo is going to come down. I was going to send someone else with him, but I’ve decided to get you away from the O’Teague until we’re ready to move. I need time to win over Mama DeMedici to our plan,” he reminded her, “and I can’t do that if you keep stirring the pot.”

When the vid finished, everyone sat and looked at each other in speculative silence.

“It almost sounds as if he’s still planning some type of coup,” Vernal remarked.

“Maybe he’s just planning on running the DeMedici Clan,” suggested Corrine.

“Would he need weapons to do that?” asked Juliette.

“I don’t know, hon, but then I don’t know what their clan set up is like,” Zack responded. “In any case, I’m against allowing him access to additional weapons on general principals.”

“Well, I think our best bet will be to send Genevieve a copy of that vid and ask her to pass along the warning about Lewiston’s ammo drop to Clan DeMedici,” stated Katherine.

All Our Tomorrows

The Handfasting is an epic tale of a family’s struggle to survive on an alien planet

An Alien Worlds Romance— a warrior/priestess teams up with a Bard from another world and genetically created children to defeat a deadly enemy and save their planet from destruction

 Lady Drusilla O’Teague, born of a powerful line of psychically gifted women; she has been trained from birth as warrior and Dragon Talker. As child before she learned to shield herself from the seesaw emotions of others, she learned to distrust her own feelings.

Lucas Lewellyn an off-world survivor of the Karamine Wars was bred from a tribe of Shamans and Bards with the inherent ability to compel with his voice. Rescued as a child by Lord Gideon just as his world was destroyed, he is untrained in the use of his powers. He knows when he meets Drusilla the first time that their destinies are linked, but will she admit it?

But Vensoog is in danger. The Thieves Guild wants the deposits of Azorite—the mighty crystals used to power spaceships and found on Vensoog. To save their world, Drusilla and Lucas are going to need the help of their adopted family. Together they must drive off the Guild and defeat their enemies.

The Children

Juliette Jones—crafted in the Guild’s genetic Labs to be super smart, ruthless, wily and conniving–the perfect spy. But the Guild never realized they had also given her a loving heart.

Lucinda Karns—the daughter of a Thieves Guild Lieutenant, she was given enhanced creativity genes to make her the perfect icy thinker and planner; but those genes sparked a need for balance giving her a moral compass.

Violet Ishimara— She was designed with a high degree of empathy to be a tool for the Guild, but her alliance with the Vensoog Sand Dragon Jelli gave her the courage to stand up to her masters.

Rupert, the intuitive chemist and Roderick, the electronic genius — Orphaned twins who were seen by the Guild as tools to turn into weapons, turned out to be a lot tougher than the Guild expected.

Still in Production. Estimated Release Date, Christmas 2016

Warriors of St. Antoni

On a raw, untamed world, three sisters make different choices to find happiness and love as well as safety. Bethany marries a mercenary fighter to protect her family, Iris agrees to an arranged wedding with an old friend, and Jeanne runs off with the son of her enemy.

When the technology to locate and open gates to other worlds was discovered in the late 21st century on earth, access to this knowledge was strictly regulated by the governments and industry hoping to exploit the vast resources on the unmapped worlds. Once the knowledge of how to locate and open gates to other worlds was discovered however, it wasn’t long before the new technology was leaked and illegally created Portals began cropping up. Prohibited Settlers slipped through the Forbidden portals in search of freedom, adventure and escape. When they entered a portal, these adventurers had only the technology they could carry with them to defend themselves against strange a strange new world. Adventure was a one-way ticket to a hardscrabble existence. Freedom meant no law to run to for protection from each other.warriors-of-st-antoni-front-cover