Batting second: Hadie Morrigan.
If you’ll recall, Hadie is from the Southern Realm. She was traveling north, having decided to flee the growing environmental destabilization of the south, when she met Javen in Lonely Oak. When the Regency apprehended Javen after Yolken healed Issa, they nabbed Hadie as well. Once the dust settled, Hadie probably could have left and no one would have cared, but she chose to stay with Javen. Not only did she choose to stay with Javen, but she chose to stay in my story. As I said in the previous post, I originally didn’t have much planned for her. But Javen needed a distraction when he saw Yolken with Kaylan, so there you go. But she wasn’t satisfied with being a distraction. And she wasn’t satisfied being a side character. She wriggled her way into being one of my main point-of-view (POV) characters. And whereas I had a plan for Yolken and Javen’s story arcs, I didn’t have one for Hadie.
I don’t talk with my characters, but if I did, I imagine my conversation with Hadie about her decision to not leave my story like I had planned would have gone something like this:
“Well… if you don’t want to leave, what is it you want to do?” I asked her.
Hadie stared at me icily.
“What?” I said. “Are you mad that I said you were just supposed to be a distraction?”
“I’m mad that you let Drenan brutally kill an innocent woman and you’re not doing anything about it.”
“Wait… how do you… you’re not supposed to know that yet. And what makes you think I’m not planning on holding him accountable?”
“Well, it certainly doesn’t look like you’re doing anything to me. Javen is off to Onta to do Draego knows what–and don’t think I don’t have an idea…” She held up one of her volumes of Lovers of Onta she’d bought in Matis. “And Drenan is headed back to the comforts of his palace in Hantlo.”
“Again, how do you know that? No one has told you what Drenan or Javen are doing yet.”
“How I know isn’t what we’re discussing.”
“Right… Well, if it makes you feel better, the book isn’t over yet.” (At the time of this conversation, there was only supposed to be one book.)
Hadie folded her arms across her chest and said, “It doesn’t.”
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you. You’ll just have to wait and see like everyone else.”
“No? No what?”
“No, I’m not going to wait and see.”
“Okay… What are you going to do?”
Hadie smiled slyly.
Draego’s Fire, I thought, growing a little nervous. I fidgeted in my seat and said, “What?”
“I’ll tell you exactly what I want to do.”
She then proceeded to lay out her plan. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how the rest of that conversation might have gone if it had happened because then it’d spoil it for you.
What actually happened was when Hadie refused to leave I went through my normal fitful creative process, with her help, of course, to see what I could come up for her.
What ensues in The Island of Kvorga is just the beginning of what we came up with. And although her story forward isn’t the most savory, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
To set the scene a little, Dorlan’s caravan has just arrived in Portstown, the northernmost city in the Southern Realm. Drenan tore the unconscious Javen, whom Hadie had been tending to for the past few days, from her grasp and humiliated her, leaving her with an ominous threat.
Now, without further ado, please enjoy her opening scene in The Island of Kvorga:
Hadie curled up in a ball on the bed she had shared with Javen and wept uncontrollably. Her crying dampened the sounds of the fishing town outside the carriage. She loved him. And the moment she had realized it, he’d been taken away. Worse, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
Drenan’s forceful ogling of her made her feel dirty and sick to her stomach. His words echoed in her head: “If I ever see you again, I promise that I will do more than simply look at you.” She pulled her thin silk robe tightly around herself and tried not to think about how she had hung suspended in the air, unable to move. She readjusted it for fear that part of her might still be visible.
“Ma’am,” a tender voice said, “it’s time to go.”
Hadie opened her eyes and looked over her shoulder. Rennie stood at the foot of the bed, her body visible through her servant’s garb.
“I’ve brought your clothes,” Rennie said. She placed Hadie’s folded clothes on the bed. “The teamsters need to move the carriages and stable the horses for the night.”
Hadie sat up and wiped her tears with the palms of her hands. She started to slip the silk robe off but stopped, feeling uncharacteristically modest. “Do you mind?” When Rennie turned around, she finished disrobing, then donned the folded shirt. The thicker material was instantly uncomfortable in the hot, wet air. She was sweating before she even had her pants on. “All right,” she said. Rennie turned back around. “I’m afraid the effort you made to clean them for me will be quickly undone.”
Hadie looked down at the coins Drenan had thrown onto the bed. She scooped them up, then took Rennie by the hand and placed them in her palm. “Thank you for all you’ve done for us,” she said.
“I can’t, ma’am,” Rennie said, jerking her hand back and letting the coins fall to the floor. “I have no need of money.” She bowed and hastily moved toward the door. Before exiting she turned back and said, “Hadie?”
Hadie looked up, surprised to hear her name. “Yes?”
“I found out what happened.”
“One of the whores… no. I should go. I’ll get in trouble if I say—”
“Rennie,” Hadie said, hurrying over to the woman. She placed her hand on Rennie’s shoulder and said, “You don’t have to worry about me saying anything to Drenan.”
Rennie nodded. “One of the whores leaving his carriage told me.”
“What did she say?”
“She was terrified.”
“Because he told her what he did to the lass.”
Hadie waited patiently for Rennie to continue. Finally she prompted her, “Please, Rennie, tell me what happened.”
“He was having trouble, so—”
“Javen. Javen was having trouble…”
Hadie nodded in understanding. Javen had been frustrated because he hadn’t been able to use his gift. His lessons had been with Dorlan, but when Dorlan got too busy for Javen’s lesson, he sent Javen to Drenan. The very thought of having lessons with Drenan, the man who only days earlier had killed his aunt, had made Javen sick to the stomach.
“…so he cut her throat. I’m sorry, ma’am, I can’t remember her name.”
“Astora,” Hadie said, then she covered her mouth with a hand. The thought of Javen having to witness, for the second time, Drenan murdering someone he cared about made her feel nauseated. She felt nothing but contempt for the regent.
Rennie nodded again. “He cut Astora’s throat to make Javen heal her, but he couldn’t. And then he attacked him.”
“Drenan attacked Javen?”
“No. Javen attacked Drenan. Drenan wanted Dorlan to hang him, but Dorlan wouldn’t.”
“But what happened to Javen?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t know,” Rennie said. “Hadie?”
“Yes?” Hadie said, looking at Rennie.
Hadie nodded. “Come with me, Rennie. We’ll go somewhere where he can’t hurt either of us.”
“I can’t, ma’am.” Rennie looked down at her feet.
“You can’t stay.” Hadie placed her hand on Rennie’s shoulder again. “He’s dangerous.”
“He’ll kill me.” Rennie locked eyes with Hadie, then opened the door. “I’m sorry,” she said before hastily leaving.
“Rennie!” Hadie called after her, but she was gone. Hadie stared blankly at the door, her mind numb. Then she screamed in anguish—for Astora and for Javen.
She looked at the coins on the ground and reluctantly picked them up. Everything she owned had been left behind in Lonely Oak when an armored soldier burst into her room and snatched her away. As much as she hated to take the coins, she had nothing and would need to replace her belongings. Gripping the coins tightly in her hand, she left the bedroom where she had spent the majority of the last three days tending to Javen, who had lain unconscious after doing the Dragon knows what.
The sun was disappearing below the blue waters of the Kvorgan Sea when she stepped out of the carriage. Its reddish color reflected off the water. Some called the phenomenon ‘the blood river,’ because it resembled a river of blood flowing from the sun to the shore. She’d always thought it was beautiful. Growing up, her mother used to tell her that her own beauty diminished that of the setting sun. But she didn’t feel the joy she’d once felt when she watched the sun set behind the sea. Instead, she felt more like the weatherworn and ramshackle buildings that cluttered the docks below.
Hadie closed her eyes. Even though it stank of dead fish, she took a deep breath of the wet air. It had only been a couple of months since she’d left the south, vowing to herself that she would never return. The continuously deteriorating conditions, devastating cyclones, droughts, and fires had left much of the south uninhabitable, and the Regency—the Blessed of the Dragon—weren’t doing anything about it. She had been shielded from most of the trouble plaguing the realm for the last several years because she was fortunate enough to live in Hantlo. Her parents were wealthy—her father a Silk—and there were always plenty of Blessed to clean up when a cyclone swept through. But she’d decided that she didn’t want to be around when they lost control—and she was convinced that they would lose control eventually. It was inevitable. So, she had packed only a few changes of clothes and what belongings could fit into her bag and left, joining the steady stream of southerners heading north.
But now, breathing in Portstown’s unpleasant aroma, she was back.
“Greetings, lass,” Lyoll said, appearing from around the front end of the carriage. He walked over to stand beside her and frowned. “What’s the matter?”
Hadie wiped her eyes again and said, “Drenan took Javen away.”
“I wondered as much when I saw the soldier carrying him naked as the day his mother gave birth. Where’d they take him?”
“I don’t know. Doesn’t matter anyhow.”
“What do you mean?”
“Drenan threatened to hurt me if he ever saw me again.”
“And Master Javen had no say in this?”
“How could he? He’s been unconscious since the day he used his gift.”
“‘Tis a real shame,” Lyoll said. “I’ve really enjoyed your company.” After a moment of awkward silence he added, “What now?”
Hadie shrugged her shoulders.
“Care to share one last meal?”
“I’m not hungry,” Hadie said.
“Sometimes a stomach full of food does wonders to help heal a broken heart, lass. Especially if you combine it with drink. And I know just the place. See those steps over there?” Lyoll pointed down the road. “Third ones down?”
“Meet me there in half an hour. I need to tend to the horses and carriages, then we’ll feast on a meal worthy of the Blessed.”
“Fine. So long as there aren’t actually any scales there,” Hadie said, using a term she hadn’t used in a long time. Her father had taught her to respect the Blessed and whipped her until she couldn’t sit when he’d caught her using it as a lass.
“Hah! You needn’t worry about running into any of ’em down there,” Lyoll said. “Don’t go down to the docks ’til I arrive. Looks like a few ships have recently come in, so there’s bound to be salts looking to spread some legs.”
“I won’t,” Hadie said.
Lyoll returned to his work and Hadie walked around the back end of the carriage to survey the buildings lining the street. She needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. A few buildings down was a small inn called the Land Maiden. She’d stayed there when she had come through Portstown before so, without wasting time looking for anything else, she made up her mind.
Hadie stepped through the front door of the tall, skinny building wedged between a pub and a cobbler. The ground floor was small and square and had a spiral, wrought-iron staircase at the back wall. Hadie naturally gravitated toward quaint inns like this one, as opposed to more boisterous ones such as the Oak, in Lonely Oak. She liked this one because each floor had only two rooms—one that faced the street, and one in the back—and they were protected by a thick door with three different locks. It wasn’t the cheapest bed in town, but the extra money was worth it for the added security. The price also scared away most of the drunk sailors who roamed the streets at night looking to spend their hard-earned wages on women and drink rather than on lodging. She walked over to the long counter on the side that ran the length of the room.
The short, bald innkeeper emerged from a door at the end of the counter. “Need a room?”
“Yes, please,” Hadie said.
Hadie retrieved a drake from her pocket and set it on the table.
The innkeeper scooped up the gold coin and said, “Be right back.”
“Keep it,” Hadie said, “in case I decide to stay more than one night.”
The innkeeper handed her a key and said, “Fifth floor, front side.”
Without any belongings, she had no need to climb the spiral stairs to her room before meeting Lyoll, so she left and made her way down the road to the set of stairs Lyoll had indicated. The number eleven was branded into the wood.
Heeding Lyoll’s warning, she waited at the top of the long weatherworn steps until he arrived. The road was busy with people going about their business. She received an occasional lewd comment from rough-looking, sun-darkened men as she waited, but that was the extent of it. With so many witnesses, most wouldn’t risk being thrown into a cell and spoiling their first night back on land. So long as they weren’t coming from Drenan, she could handle comments and leering eyes. The docks, however, were another story. There the watchful eyes were much less caring, and there were plenty of places to have one’s way with an unwilling partner.
While she waited for Lyoll, she did her best to distract herself from thinking about Javen by looking down at the docks that stretched up and down the length of the road. There were at least two dozen, most of which were lined with various types of ships and boathouses with rusted roofs. The majority of the boats were grimy fishing vessels with small masts and trawling nets affixed to rods sticking up haphazardly, but there were a few larger ships—with tall masts, the kind she knew were meant to sail across the sea—moored at the ends of some of the docks. The largest of them flew a green flag with a large clump of purple grapes in the middle—the official emblem of the Onta Province.
“Greetings, lass,” Lyoll said over her shoulder. “You find your appetite yet? Cause I’m famished.”
Hadie shrugged but followed Lyoll down the worn stairs to the sloped walkway.
“Where’s Ganip?” she said.
“Ah, well…” Lyoll said over his shoulder.
Lyoll didn’t have to say it, but Hadie knew. Ganip was young and they had been on the road for a while…
The walkway led down to the floating dock. They passed several fishing boats that reeked of their day’s catch. The end of the long floating walkway came to a T, and Lyoll turned left. They passed several boathouses and ended up at a larger building at the end of the dock. There were large glassless windows on both sides of the door, each with a heavy canvas cover tightly rolled up at the top. Hadie looked through the windows and saw people sitting at tables, eating. A floating pub, she thought.
Lyoll stepped over the gap between the dock and pub, and onto a small landing. He opened the door and held it for Hadie. As she hopped onto the landing, Lyoll said, “The best fish in town.”
The building lacked interior walls. A thick man wearing a greasy apron worked at a stove at the center of the building. The stove had a large metal vent over it which trapped the smoke. A square bar surrounded the stove and tables filled the rest of the room. A barkeep greeted them when they walked up to the bar.
“What’ll it be?”
“Ale and fish,” Lyoll said.
The barkeep retrieved two steins that hung from pegs in the ceiling. When he set the full steins before them, Hadie pulled a gold drake from her pocket. Lyoll covered her hand with his and quickly placed a few copper coins on the bar instead.
Hadie took a stein and, when it arrived, a plate of food. They searched the pub for an empty table but, not finding one inside, eventually went to the back of the building, which was entirely open to the sea. Like the windows at the front and along the sides, there was heavy canvases rolled up tightly by the ceiling to cover the opening when need be. An uncovered deck continued out past the end of the building, also jammed with tables. Lyoll found an open one in the back corner.
When Hadie sat across from Lyoll, he leaned over the table and whispered, “This isn’t the sort of place to go around flashing gold. Things like that rarely go unnoticed. Unless you want to find a knife in your ribs, you’d do well to exchange it for smaller coin.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Hadie said. She knew better than that. She looked down at her basket, filled with battered fish and sliced potatoes fried in grease. As good as it looked, she didn’t feel especially hungry. Instead, she lifted the stein and drank deeply of whatever it contained. While Lyoll devoured his own food, she downed what turned out to be decent-tasting ale—nothing compared to what Javen’s brother made, but still quite good.
“You need to eat if you don’t want that drink going straight to your head, lass.”
“I’m not hungry.”
With a concerned look on his face, Lyoll placed a copper coin on the table and said, “Here.”
“Thanks,” Hadie said as she scooped up the coin. She walked back into the pub and got two more steins. She began to feel the drink’s effect; having drank herself sick several times, she begrudgingly heeded Lyoll’s advice and forced herself to eat.
Lyoll licked his fingers when his basket was empty and nodded approvingly when Hadie started into hers. “You’d be hard pressed to find better fish than right here, lass. Freshest in Portstown, it is; straight from the boat.”
“If it’s so good,” Hadie said, staring blankly over at the water still visible in the fading light, “then why are you so sure there wouldn’t be Blessed here?”
“Look around ya; no Blessed would set foot in this area. Not out of fear for their safety, but out of pride. Imagine the Blessed mingling with the likes of smelly salts!”
“Didn’t I see Devin’s ship moored here, though?”
“Yes, but did you notice the dock it was moored to was separate from all the rest of ’em?”
“Separate from the riffraff.”
They sat in silence while Hadie ate and Lyoll downed the contents of his second stein.
“Another?” Lyoll said when Hadie finished.
Hadie nodded, so Lyoll went to the bar and retrieved another round.
“Why do you do it?” Hadie said when he returned.
“Work for them.”
“The money’s good.”
“They pay you?” she said, thinking about Rennie refusing the drakes.
“Aye. We teamsters aren’t the same as the servant caste. I do what I do not because that’s what I born into, or even out of any loyalty to them—I do it for the money.”
“Do you like it? Traveling all the time?”
“Aye. I get to see the world!” Lyoll said, raising his stein. His smile turned to a frown when Hadie didn’t respond to his enthusiasm. Instead, he awkwardly took a drink. “What now, then?”
Hadie didn’t offer an immediate reply. She didn’t know the answer herself. Instead, she looked silently across the water at the darkening horizon. “When I made the decision to leave Hantlo, I swore I would never return to the south. Yet, less than three months after leaving, I find myself in the south again. Do I return home, disgraced, to my parents? Or do I turn around and head north again? My reasons for leaving certainly haven’t changed.”
“Why did you leave?” Lyoll said.
“I don’t want to be around when the Regency loses control.”
“Then why would you return? Turn north. Start fresh again. If the money wasn’t so good driving horses for the Regency, I’d head north as well.”
“Aren’t you afraid to be around when the south inevitably collapses?” Hadie said.
“I can look after myself.”
Hadie thought about the wisdom in what Lyoll said. With the way things were in the south, going north again really would be the wisest decision. However, what she really wanted to know was where they were taking Javen. They’re most likely taking him to Hantlo, she thought. Drenan’s threat was real, but so was her love for Javen. She knew she couldn’t abandon him so easily. As much as she hated the thought, she realized the only path for her was to return home. “I can’t give up on Javen,” she said.
“There are other lads, you know. As pretty as you are, I’m sure you won’t be having trouble finding another,” Lyoll said. “So long as Javen remains in the hands of the Regency, attempting to reunite with him will be foolish.”
“I love him.”
“Ah.” Lyoll drank from his stein and said, “It’s still unwise, lass.”
“Haven’t you ever loved anyone, Lyoll?”
“Aye, I have.”
“Then you know that I can’t simply walk away from Javen. If I can find him, maybe I can convince him to break with the scales.”
Lyoll frowned across the table at her. “‘Tis foolish, you know.”
“I know,” she said. Maybe it was. But she couldn’t give up on Javen. She’d never loved anyone before.
“Then when you get to Hantlo, go see Sonja.”
“They aren’t, actually. The madam—”
“I know the difference, Lyoll,” Hadie said. “Why should I go see her?”
“Everyone knows that the way into a man’s mind is through his trousers. Whores frequent the palace every day, so if you want to get information on what’s happening to Javen, Sonja will know.”
“Thanks,” Hadie said.
“If you have more than just that one drake, hang onto as much of it as you can. Information is never cheap—especially in the capital of the realm.”
Hadie appreciated Lyoll’s help: for the advice, for paying for their meal, and for enough drink that she would not have long to grieve her loss once she climbed into bed. He offered her his arm to steady herself as they made their way back up the dock, then escorted her back to the Land Maiden, and waited gallantly outside her room until she slid the bolts into place.
As Hadie lay on the prickly mattress and awaited the escape of sleep, she tried not to think about the road ahead of her—there would be plenty of time for that. Instead, she turned her mind to the fact that she would not wake up next to Javen. The thought brought tears to her eyes. She curled up into a ball on her bed and cried herself to sleep.