Thank you, Victoria, for being willing to share your work with The Book Doctor.
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Summary of first chapter:
This is a fantasy novel set around the struggle for succession to the throne of the Ron Empire, which is based on the Han Dynasty of China (circa 220 A.D.) Liu Jie, his wife and son have arrived at the Peach Orchard Inn, which is in the middle of the Ron Empire and they've discovered that the Emperor has summoned all loyal men to his aid against rebels outside of the capital city. Jie is far away from the province he governs and so he has very few men and nowhere near enough money to raise an army and feed them. While he frets over this, his son comes in and tells him there's a dead boy in the garden outside the inn. Jie finds that the boy is still alive and he rushes the child inside and sees to his care while consumed with guilt that he couldn't save his own children twelve years before. That was the first chapter.
Jie paced, towel in hand. His thoughts churned between concern for his country and the boy.
He dipped the rag in the last of the water and mopped the Orchard Boy’s forehead with it. Droplets rolled away and wet the blankets, but Jie didn’t notice. He paced again, then faced his wife.
“Mei, I can’t stay here. I must send a message home for reinforcements, then leave for the capital in the morning. I will leave the guards with you and Shan. You have enough cash to care for the boy until he’s well enough for all of you to join me.”
Mei rose and took the rag from him. She nodded and tried to conceal her trembling lip. “Will you ask the innkeeper for more hot water and perhaps some tea?”
He kissed her on the brow as she knelt beside the Orchard Boy.
Jie closed the door behind him and entered the room he’d rented for his family. Shan didn’t stir while Jie rummaged in his trunk until his fingers touched the worn fabric his scholar’s box with inkstone, brushes, and folded writing silk. As he left the room, he stopped a passing servant and made Mei’s request.
The din from the first floor was twice as loud as when they'd arrived. He looked over the railing. The inn’s main room was overcrowded. A few of his men laughed over cups of wine, but he did not see the guard he sought. Fragile paper lanterns swayed in his wake as he stepped off the landing and breathed in the smells of heated wine and steamed vegetables.
Memories drifted across his thoughts. On the eve of war, what he desperately wanted was to talk and laugh with his oldest brother, Mihei. But Mihei was dead. Killed by raiders when Jie was no older than the Orchard Boy upstairs. Jie shook his head. He’d promised Mei he’d leave the past where it lay. It was not an easily-kept vow.
The dice gamers had gathered a small string of cash in the center of their table. He smiled and shook his head at one of his men’s invitation to join the game.
“Do you know where Ge Hei is?” Jie asked.
“He drew watch duty later tonight and decided to bed down in the stable, my Lord,” the guard said.
Jie decided he needed another drink before he wrote his message and ventured outside to find Hei.
Farmers in hemp robes gathered at the bar. He pushed between two of them and caught the innkeeper’s eye. While he waited for his drink, Jie looked at the scroll’s message.
He'd known for months that war brewed beneath the surface of his quiet country. It was why he and his family had journeyed to visit his nephew, the Emperor.
If only the Emperor had not issued this order! Jie might have saved countless people if he had reached his nephew a month ago. But now, the Son of Heaven demanded that Jie attack his countrymen. To do otherwise was treason.
If I could reach the rebels, I could talk to them! He didn’t want to attack his brothers, but the Emperor did not need a mediator.
Regardless of how they came to be traitors, they must be stopped.
His stomach churned. I’ll send Ge Hei for reinforcements. I will be a soldier in the Emperor’s legions until my men arrive.
He smoothed his beard in a gesture Mei claimed heralded large decisions, then sighed and shook his head. He longed to do more.