When writing a sequel, a useful trope is a main character who retreats from the growth that came in the first adventure. In Before the New Moon Rises, Thalassai leaves the hard work to return to the luxuries of palace life with just a twinge of regret. Tyrant that I am, I do not let her enjoy the benefits of that life for long. This excerpt from the novel does let us see what enticed her to make that choice:
Thalassai lounged on a bench cushioned with sheepskins as servants brought jar after jar of heated water to fill the terracotta tub in the bathing room of the palace. When they were done, Mara tested the full tub with her hand. “The water is adequately warm. Will you bathe now, Princess?”
“I will.” She planned to enjoy this luxury of palace life.
“I am prepared to anoint you with scented oil when you are done,” said Mara.
Thalassai cringed at the thought of Mara’s heavy-handed massage. “Dorlas can do what is needed. She has the tool to clean around my nails.” Thalassai was determined to get rid of the grime that weeding had pushed into the skin of her hands. “I am sure there are important tasks that need your attention, Mara.”
Frown lines creased the senior servant’s forehead. “If you are certain, Princess, I will leave you in the girl’s adequate care.”
“Dorlas is quite skilled enough,” said Thalassai. “Her work on my hair drew compliments last night.” Thalassai thought Mara might argue further, but the older woman schooled her face to a smile, and even gave a slight bow as she left the room. Dorlas looked worried, but Thalassai smiled at her. “Now help me into the tub. I plan to enjoy this.”
Thalassai relaxed into the warm water. Dorlas massaged her right hand and carefully cleaned all the grit from under and around her fingernails. Dorlas was gentle but tentative. Thalassai considered how to get the girl to relax. “Tell me about your home, your brothers and sisters.”
Dorlas started to talk. She gained confidence as she described each of the brothers and her one sister, the oldest in the family. Thalassai quickly lost track of the names and who was married or had children, but she let Dorlas talk as she worked. Thalassai leaned back in the water. This was wonderful. Soon, she would wash her hair, and then, when she was thoroughly clean, she would have Dorlas, with her gentle touch, rub scented oil into her skin. After half a moon of adventures, it felt good to be pampered.
Wearing a short linen robe and breathing in the rich scent of the oil that Dorlas had rubbed into her skin, Thalassai closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of the girl’s hands combing out the tangles in her hair. The door to her room swung open, and Mara charged in.
“The steward needs to speak to you. Now.”
“I am hardly presentable,” said Thalassai, though she was grateful the man had sent Mara to prepare for his entry. The previous steward, conscious of his great power, had barged straight in. “I will attend upon him as soon as Dorlas is done.”
“No.” Mara stepped forward, and this time bowed. “Princess, there is a problem. He would not discuss it with me, but he is extremely agitated.”
Thalassai bit her lip. Whatever was going on, she could not ignore it. “Bring that shawl, please Dorlas.” Thalassai stood, arranged her hair on her shoulders. “Show him in.”
The steward had been waiting just outside the door. “You must come and act in place of the king to finalize an arrangement with the emissary. He waits in the throne room.”
“You want me to give ceremonial approval for the agreement he and the king made?” Thalassai almost laughed. Then, she saw in the steward’s face that he was completely serious.
“The emissary is upset. He planned to leave before the sun reached the zenith and has paced the throne room for a handspan already. He represents an important ally and must not be further angered.”
“This is the king’s agreement, not mine.”
“But we cannot wake him. The doctor has been summoned. You must come.”
Thalassai’s knees buckled, and she sat. The king was ill!
The steward reached out his hands, pleading. “The king’s servants allowed him to sleep late, but finally called me. I could not rouse him. Someone needs to deal with the representative from Paxos.”
Now, she understood the steward’s distress. The emissary would be anxious to depart. Even in well-known waters, the timing of a sea voyage was chosen carefully. She trembled with frustration. She had been relaxing for the first time in half a moon, and now she had to deal with this.
Mara returned with a light woolen robe dyed a bright yellow. For once, the unruffled competence of the senior servant was a relief. “Dorlas, a simple braid, please.” She felt the girl hesitate. “You can begin now.” The girl stepped forward and smoothed her hair. Her fingers worked quickly.
Thalassai thought of her father and how many of these meetings she had attended with him. She could do this. “If you would wait outside the room, Steward, I will dress in a way that honors the emissary.”
“But be quick, Princess,” he said.
Thalassai frowned. Irritation at the command sparked a thought. “And send for Asira.”
“Pardon?” The steward frowned.
“Asira, the priestess of the goddess.” Thalassai turned her head slowly, so that she did not disturb Dorlas’ work. She met the steward’s eyes. “Send for her at my command. If the king is ill, she will be of service to him.” She waited but the steward did not move. “By the time you have found a servant to send for the priestess, I will be ready.” She made a motion with her hand that she had seen her father give many times, and finally the steward bowed and left the room.
“You may suffice after all,” Mara said. “Give me the day robe, and we’ll arrange this one. You do remember our relationship with Paxos is complex. We trade…”
“Mara, please. Give me space to think.” While Mara arranged the fold of the robe and used silver spirals to pin the shoulders, Thalassai’s thoughts raced. She wanted to think about the king’s illness, but she pushed that question aside. She ran through what she remembered of the negotiations the night before. She had not paid attention to the final arrangements, but who could have imagined she would be formalizing the agreement?
Thalassai stopped her wishing. The steward could handle the details. Her part was to acknowledge the honor Ephyra gained through this cooperation. She played over the language of brothers, the way her father liked to refer to their neighbors. If that reference was unusual here, she could smile and speak of the gifts she brought from the distant south.
“You are ready.” Mara said.
I don’t feel ready. But it is time.
You can get the ebook from the publisher Prizm Books http://www.prizmbooks.com/zencart/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1&products_id=111
It is also available at the usual places like Smash Words, Google books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble…. Paperbacks are available locally at Forsters Book Garden in Bolton, Great Books in Williamsford, and The Ginger Press in Owen Sound. Or from me and Barnes and Noble.