WIPs


Bengaria's War
In the far distant future, star systems have been colonized and ruled by aristocratic nobles and their military. For generations, these systems have fought to keep what is theirs from greedy poachers and other systems bent on dominating the galaxy.
Ryn Bengaria, a young woman from Halantia in the Strium System, marries King Greycer through a chance meeting.  The marriage is arranged so the king can re-inherit nine outpost stations from the greedy former Regent, Xin Sibur.  Circumstances lead Ryn to reluctantly assume leadership as Queen and War Commander.  She soon discovers that everything in her life is not what it appears to have been, and her path had been dictated to lead her exactly where she is now.
With the help of her former weapons master, Til Bur'et, and an unlikely source, Commander Thrater of the infamous Nezu Warrior clans, Ryn embarks on a path of war and vengeance to destroy Xin Sibur and to soothe the betrayal she has endured.
CHAPTER 1
“Please, I beg you.” The russet-haired man blinked rapidly, his knees bent as if about to sprint away. “I’m just a humbled commander with a floundered ship in need of repairs.” Warily, he eyed the tadra blade pointed at him. As his arms rose in surrender, a stuffed teddy bear dropped from his grasp.
“Then what are you doing in my room?” Ryn Bengaria glanced at the fallen toy. She narrowed her eyes and darted them back to the man. His large frame filled her small bedroom. He looked slightly disheveled, his hair a mess as if the wind had passed through it from behind. He appeared the same age as her father, with light creases around blue eyes and a sprinkling of grey in his beard. He wore some sort of uniform, but she decided it must be a disguise.
The man opened his mouth to speak but paused. His face twisted into a sheepish grimace. “Well…”
“What’s the matter, thief? The truth stinging your tongue?”
“As I said,” he lowered his arms a fraction. “I’m a fleet commander in need of repairs—”
“I don’t care what you are. You’re a common thief. Now get out of my room before I lop your head off.” For effect, Ryn flicked her wrist, bringing the tip of her tadra blade closer to the man’s ruddy face. He instinctively jerked causing Ryn to smile with satisfaction.
“Listen. If you don’t believe me, look out your front window—you’ll see my shuttle. Just ask your—”
“Ryn Bengaria!” A tall lanky man barked from the doorway to Ryn’s bedroom. “Put that blade down!”
“—father.” The red-haired man slumped his shoulders.
In two quick strides, Ryn’s father yanked down her wrist and took a firm grip of her shoulder with his other hand. “Ryn.” Sul Bengaria expelled a breath. “Do you know who this man is?”
“A thief.” Ryn jerked herself free and sent what she hoped was her darkest glower at the thief. Her favorite toy, Teddy, lay facedown on the floor looking defiled. How dare this man touch her Teddy! How dare he even think to rob from them? Common thieves trolled the area more often these days, spreading further into the farming counties than ever before. But a stray thought brushed against her. The man did look mildly familiar.
“Recoil that blade, Ryn,” her father continued to scold her.
Reluctantly she did as she was told and looked from her father to the thief. A small rustle noise caught her attention, yet another man, immaculately dressed, appeared in her doorway.
“What is going on here, Da?” Ryn demanded, her weapon arm about to unfurl the blade. “Who are these people?”
“This is the king you speak to,” Sul hissed in his daughter’s ear.
“What? Impossible. He’s a…” Ryn’s voice trailed away as she studied the suspected thief. Auburn hair, beard, hale and hearty complexion, wide mouth with a full set of brilliantly white teeth, tall, broad-shouldered, wearing the Halantian royal colors—
Horrors!
Seeing her recognition, King Greycer looked slightly embarrassed and raised a large hand to prevent Ryn from lowering her head in immediate respect. He offered a toothy grin and shrugged. “My shuttle, it hit a bird, you see. It got lodged in the thruster. Amis did say the scenic route would get us into trouble.”
The man at the door, Amis, made a noise that sounded a lot like a stammer.
With eyes averted downwards, Ryn muttered an apology, which earned her a chuckle. Shame shot through and heated her face. She felt like a fool, accusing the king of being a thief. Why had she not recognized the man? Was she so stupid it had rendered her blind?
She frowned, aware of the king’s amusement.
“You’re a sprightly thing, aren’t you?” King Greycer appeared to study her with keen interest. Pale blue eyes glittered with something that resembled calculation. “Sul Bengaria, you have raised a fine young lady. You mentioned she attends the Academy?”
Ryn risked a quick sideways glance at her father, uncertain. Sul gently raised one hand to quiet her.
“Thank you, Sir. And yes, she is in her fourth year.”
“Well done,” the king nodded, impressed. “Not many make it that far and the last three years are the hardest—as you will know. It must be in her blood.” He chuckled again and acted like he’d just cracked a private joke.
Ryn lifted her head and continued to frown, wary of what to do next. “Thank you. But I’m afraid I won’t be going back.”
Her father clicked his tongue. “Ryn—not now.”
“I’m needed here, with you. We can’t afford the Academy—especially now.”
“You must excuse my daughter.” Her father twitched with discomfort at the foot of her bed. For the first time, she noticed his hands were covered in engine grease and they fiddled and twined together as if they wanted to scratch his head. “Social etiquette is a subject she continues to fail at.”
“Da!”
What was wrong with her father, and why was he determined to embarrass her in front the king. Had he been rendered stupid? And why was he acting like a subservient fool? Granted, it was the king, standing in her bedroom. She groaned. They were in her bedroom—a king—in her private space with her dirty laundry piled up on a chair in the corner.
“Can we just…go into the living room? Please?” Without waiting for the others to follow, she barreled past her father and sidestepped the other man without so much as looking at him.
The king’s robust laugh followed her. “Sprightly, indeed. Sul, you have a fine daughter to be proud of.” He cleared his throat, his tone changing. “But tell me, she is dropping out because of the auction?”
“We cannot afford it, Sir. As I explained, the farmstead and everything here will be sold come the end of the week. City-living will be expensive.”
Ryn ground to a halt in the living room, and to confirm, she peered out the window. A black shuttle, bearing the crest of the Royal Family, sat in the walkway. She swallowed hard.
The king continued to speak. “I see.” He flicked his attention to Ryn, scratching his chin and appraising her like he would a new Nezu-class warship. “That is a shame. Training at the Academy is an opportunity much coveted.”
“I was failing at most things anyway,” Ryn spoke up; annoyed they conversed as if she weren’t even in the room. “It’s no big deal. I probably wouldn’t have made the next grade.”
“But surely you must have excelled at something. Logistics? Weapons? Tactics? Anything?”
Ryn shook her head. She loathed all the courses. “The only thing I’m good at is the tadra blade.” She tapped the weapon, now clipped to her broad belt and let a small smile tug one corner of her mouth, watching the king as he inclined his head in abashment.
“Which I have witnessed firsthand.” King Greycer smiled. “And might I add your speed is…incredible.” A large hand lightly rubbed his throat. She saw him swallow.
“Thank you.” Ryn matched his smile. “I would do anything to save my Teddy. Especially from a thief.”
“Ryn! You cannot speak to the king like—”
“It’s fine, it’s fine.” King Greycer patted Sul’s shoulder. “Spirited. You cannot put a cork in it. Tell me, Sul. Has she caught the eye of a young man, then?”
Sul Bengaria jerked. “No. No, she has not.” He blinked as if collecting his thoughts. “The last one, well, he supposedly insulted her.”
“Da!” Ryn was horrified. “That’s none of his business. How can you—”
The king laughed and shared a look with the other man standing beside him, a captain judging from his uniform. The captain appeared as uncomfortable as Ryn felt.
Turning to Ryn, the king said, “Don’t take things so personally. Considering your uncertain future, perhaps a suitor might help.”
Ryn straightened her posture. “I do not need aid from any suitors. My father and I can manage well enough on our own. As if you hadn’t noticed, this is not the dark ages where a woman must—”
“Ryn.” Her father’s voice was nothing but a whisper. Sul cleared his throat and turned to the king. “As I stated before, hard times find us in need to sell this property. We will move to the city and find work. We will manage. With some paring down, Ryn may be able to finish the last three years at the Academy, though she has chosen not to…against my better judgment.”
You wanted me to go there,” Ryn retorted.
“And I would prefer you stayed and completed it.” Sul’s eyes leveled with his daughter’s. “But we will discuss this later.”
“Yes. Yes.” King Greycer scratched his chin. “These are hard times. I have an idea, Sul Bengaria, and a solution to your financial troubles.”
Ryn narrowed her eyes but kept respectfully silent. How long had the king been in her home? She had come back not ten minutes ago to find the king in her bedroom, groping at her teddy bear. The king and her father spoke as if they had spent hours chatting. They seemed to share an odd familiarity among them.
Sul made his way to the dining table where a mess of engine parts lay scattered on top a dirty sheet. “What solution would that be, Sir?” He hesitated over an engine part and looked a little fearful, taking a deep, measured breath.
Her father was a willowy man with keen gray eyes. He’d spent most of his life in the military, decommissioning himself when he married to grow cabbages and tinker with farm machines. Sul liked to spend his days outdoors, as was clearly evident by the deep tan which somehow suited him, where he could talk to his cabbages and poke and prod at the dirt in which they grew. At times Ryn caught him looking wistfully up to the skies, those grey eyes clouding over as if missing his soldiering days.
“The auction is already scheduled,” Sul went on, looking at his grimy hands and carefully pacing his words. “The house and everything of value goes up for sale. If I back out now, I’m penalized. And I’ve already made a deposit to secure an apartment in the city. I’m afraid whatever you have to offer, you’re too late.”
Ryn caught a small tremble in her father’s voice as he spoke the last few words. It pulled her heart that she drew closer to him.
“I’ll sort that out.” King Greycer waved it away as insignificant while Sul regarded him with a raised brow. “I’ll marry your daughter.”
“What!” Ryn nearly choked. She glared from the king to her father. “What did you say?”
“It will be a business arrangement. Nothing more, so don’t get all excited about it.” The king’s face grew serious as though thinking over some complex problem. “Your daughter is perfect for what I have in mind.”
Ryn gawked at the king with insult and confusion. She twisted her already open mouth to form words, then, shut it immediately. If anything the last four, miserable years at the Academy had taught her was to keep her mouth respectfully shut when nothing but anger seasoned her thoughts. At the moment, she had much anger.
Sul stood from the table, his features slack, and hands loose at his sides. Knowing her father, this was his offended look. He spoke precisely, his voice calm and low. “I beg your pardon, Sir. But I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your offer…as generous as it is. Frankly speaking, you can’t just walk into someone’s house and decide you’re going to marry his daughter, king or not. Are you—”
“Insane?” Ryn blurted. “Which part of ‘this is not the dark ages’ did you not understand?”
“Ryn!” Sul barked.
King Greycer turned to his captain with a pleased smile. “Amis, she’s perfect.”
Captain Amis looked equally surprised and shifted like his boots hurt. “Sir, perhaps this isn’t the best time for this. We’re needed back at the Palace. Your nephew, remember?”
The king sighed. “His mother didn’t need my help conceiving him. I think she can manage delivering him just fine.” He turned to Ryn’s father with a meaningful look. “You are aware that I’ve been campaigning to recover the outpost stations in the Strium System?”
Sul nodded, eyeing the king with a measured look for a long moment. Finally, with a slight drop of his shoulders, he indicated to a chair. The king did not sit, he paced the confines of the dining room instead; his heavy footfalls made the crockery in the cabinet rattle softly. Midmorning sunlight streamed through the windows and transformed his auburn hair into fire. Set against the rich green forest behind him, he looked terrifyingly regal.
“For nearly fifteen years, the outposts have been under the care of Regent Xin Sibur, until such time I am able to inherit them back.” King Greycer bit off the last words with something like distaste. “Mother, in her ever-diligence to ensure that I live happily ever after with a clucky family life, dictated in her last will and testament, that only upon my marriage, will I re-inherit these outposts. Her own father dictated this same condition to her, and she saw it fit to carry on the…tradition. What she didn’t count on was leaving it in the care of Sibur.”
Ryn squinted at the king, familiar with the topic. She’d heard rumblings about this very same thing, including Sibur’s increasing attempts and threats to oust the king from his throne. Living far out in Jin County the lives of the Royal Family only raised mild interest, but her father had dealings with the Regent, not directly, but through a company associated with Sibur. Many days, as recent as yesterday, her father would bemoan the day he ever invested with the unscrupulous man. And many days Sul would mutter on about why he didn’t check and double-check who actually owned the company that duped him.
With annoyance, the king flicked off a speck of dust from his burgundy uniform, which despite his messy appearance was immaculately spotless. “For the last fifteen years I’ve had to fend off power-hungry women—even from other Systems—who only sought the position of queen. I simply refuse to be married to such a woman. In fact, the very concept of marriage now leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth. But Regent Sibur must be stopped and I cannot ignore the need to find a suitable bride. You may not be aware, but Sibur has grown greedy and powerful with each year that passes. He’s plotting against all of Strium and may very well succeed—especially with the resources he has.
“The Strium Outposts belong to us—as they have for three generations—not some misguided aristocrat from the pockmarked Und’ir System. We Halantian’s control this System and I intend to keep it that way. And the only way I can gain control is through a marriage. Believe me, I’ve tried to reason with the man for the last five years, but the law is clear on this one thing. And as I govern these laws, I have to conform to them. Bless my dear dead mother.”
King Greycer allowed himself a sneer before facing Sul Bengaria again. “Your daughter is the perfect candidate. She is unaffiliated with any family with political designs. A commoner. It will be a business arrangement, nothing more. At the end of three years, we will arrange a divorce and your daughter will be suitably compensated—she need not worry about her finances ever again. By then, I will have secured the outposts and turned them over to new governors which I will hand pick to manage their affairs. Don’t worry about your financial situation either, former Lieutenant Bengaria—I will attend to those personally. You may keep this,” he glanced around, “country house and grow your cabbages if you wish. Consider this a…covert operation. All I ask is three years of your daughter’s time. Do we have a deal?”
“A deal? No,” Ryn stammered out. “I will not marry you.”
“Ryn,” her father hissed. He touched her shoulder to silence her. “Don’t speak so hastily. This is the king you’re addressing—have you forgotten?”
“You mean he could order us?”
King Greycer raised his hands to placate her, his face serious. “It’s a business arrangement, Miss Bengaria. Nothing more. Arrangements like this have been conducted for millennia to ensure alliances, political strength, and power. In this instance, we move to stop a greedy man who has squandered what was left in his care. You gain back your home, and I gain back my inheritance. I intend to keep it that way. We both win.”
“And what do I have to do in return for this…deal?” Ryn stepped forward; her heart thudded with indignity. “Am I expected—do you expect me to…” she cleared her throat, “to produce an heir as well?”
King Greycer blinked, his ruddy face alighting with humor again. “Nothing. Unless you wish it.” He winked at her and flashed a boyish grin.
Taken aback, Ryn’s mouth dropped. “I won’t agree to an arranged marriage. That’s so…archaic! Da, you can’t allow this.”
“Please, Miss Bengaria. You can carry on about your business for the duration—even complete your studies through private tutelage. We need never be together. Publicly, we must be seen together to maintain the ruse.”
“Surely you can roust out some other girl to do the job. Why me?”
“I like your spirit.”
“That’s not an answer.”
King Greycer pressed a hand to his mouth as if collecting his thoughts. “I’ve already said. You are unaffiliated.”
“You mean I’m some dummy you can pay off to—”
“Damn it, Ryn!” Sul grabbed her shoulder and gave her a none too gentle shake. “Hold your tongue, girl.”
Ignoring her father, Ryn stared at the king. He looked genuinely sincere, respectfully keeping his distance, even tucking his hands behind his back. It was common knowledge Greycer was an eligible bachelor, and a reluctant groom. She’d read and watched countless feeds about all the women who fawned at his feet, hoping to catch his eye. But the inheritance of the outpost stations was not a concern to Ryn. What business was it of hers to worry over something she’d never in her wildest dreams be directly connected to? But like all Halantians, she wished Grumpy Greycer would hurry up and marry someone so he could flick Regent Sibur off his high perch.
But now this grumpy king wanted to marry her? Her? What nonsense was this? Surely this was a nightmare. Perhaps the strain of losing her home was affecting her. And why was he called Grumpy Greycer again? He didn’t look in the least bit grumpy. In fact, even in his commander’s uniform, he looked respectable, regal, and very good-natured.
“Sir,” Sul pleaded. “She is too young. Perhaps in a few years, when she is twenty-five…”
“I do not have much time. Sibur grows impatient and his threats increasingly stronger. The time for diplomacy and reason has passed. I must marry. And soon.”
The silence grew awkwardly as Ryn continued to stare. The king stood impassive, allowing her time to digest her new future. From the corner of her eye, Ryn noted Captain Amis letting out a short sigh as he turned his head to the window. Outside, birds trilled and a cool lazy breeze wafted into the house, bringing with it the scent of the woods. Ryn’s mind wandered, thinking she would like nothing better than to take a leisurely stroll outside and forget that a king was in her home. Perhaps it was the stress of the auction, of an uncertain future in the city, of having to drop out of the Academy and disappointing her father—she was hallucinating.
“Ryn,” her father’s voice brought her out of her swirling thoughts. “Put out the tea service. The king and I have some things to discuss.”
The tea service meant a formal discussion. “You can’t be serious, Da? You mean to say, you’re actually considering his offer?” Ryn’s eyes widened at her father, his expression carefully in check as if biting back his temper. “We’ll manage just fine in the city. I don’t want to be married to him.” She darted her attention back to the king and nearly made a face in disgust.

Nearly.

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IN THE WORKS:
The Master Key - The Lancaster Trilogy Vol. 2 (rebranding, re-editing, rebooting)
The Eternal Knot - The Lancaster Trilogy Vol. 3 (rebranding, re-editing, rebooting)
The Grosjean Chronicles (A spin off from The Lancaster Series) 10K words complete
Bengaria's War (SFR/Space Opera) 119+K 4th Draft working
Untitled (SF) - drafting notes. About a generation ship.
Time Fracture (SF) - short story. 2nd draft. (Collaboration project with my brother).


SHORT STORIES:
To Catch A Marlin - The Web Untangles (short story #8)