I hope everyone is staying cool! It’s that glorious time of year when the towels never dry unless you run the AC and a dehumidifier, and the bugs are out full force. Try to enjoy it, because you know a few months from now we’ll all be whining about the cold.
Today seemed like an auspicious day to give everyone a little peek at the third Giaco & Luca story, which is currently languishing on my computer in draft form as I work on other things, including–we hope!–audiobooks. More no doubt will be forthcoming about my adventures with audiobook narration in the near future. In the meantime, we can enjoy the first chapter of City of Shadows, the third installment in Giaco & Luca’s adventures. It takes place several years after the previous stories, when Luca is already a young man.
If you have not yet read “The Shadowy Man,” the first novella in the series, you can get it and a ton more dark fantasy stories that are currently free on Kindle Unlimited in the Dark Fantasy Books Giveaway on StoryOrigin. And if you’re not a KU subscriber, “The Shadowy Man” is currently just 99c to buy.
Advance Review Copies of “Half a Dream,” the second novella in the series, are available along with many more free fantasy books in the July Fantasy Fest on BookFunnel.
A special sneak peek of “City of Shadows”:
Amanda’s voice shook him from his reverie. Being on holiday at home was making him spend too much time every day staring at nothing. He turned away from the slow rain filling the window, and looked at her.
“We’ll be leaving soon,” she said.
“Leaving?” he repeated, sounding stupid to his own ears. “Leaving? When? Where? Why? I’m supposed to be resting. A month off from my service, a gift from Adorata and a chance for the garrison to learn to live without me. Let Marcello learn to command on his own, now that he’s been promoted to the the position of head bodyguard.”
“I know,” said Amanda. “But we will be leaving Prado,” she told him. “Maybe in seven days, maybe in seven hours, but soon.” Her face darkened, filled with shadow. “And I will be leaving you.”
“You want…” His heart squeezed his throat so hard he couldn’t get the rest of the words out. “You want a…a divorce?”
“Oh. No.” She got up from the table and came over to his side. “That’s not what I meant at all.” She bent over and kissed the back of his neck where it joined his shoulders, right on the tattoo that marked him as a Reborn man. Even after seven years, his skin shuddered at that kiss. Not because it was unpleasant. Because there was something so transgressive about a seer kissing that mark of reason that it gave him an illicit thrill of forbidden pleasure every time. Amanda knew that, and did it often.
“Are you…” Dying couldn’t make it out of his throat. “Ill?” he asked instead.
Even from her position behind him he could sense her gaze turn inwards, as it did so often these days. “Not at the moment,” she said. Her voice lightened, he thought by force. “Perhaps I’ll be called out of town,” she said. “Some rich patroness, wishing to look into the future. Sevens keep coming up in my readings, so perhaps it is Settima Buonaventura. Or, since threes and ones keep coming up too, Terzina Campanile or Primavera Colombina.”
“Of course,” he said. Amanda had many rich patronesses, these days. No woman of Prado would dare to get married, or take any other grave step, without consulting with Amanda l’Interpretrice and her cards first. Only recently Amanda had had no need of cards. Half the time the future spoke to her on its own, without any medium. Giaco wished it would speak to her more plainly, but always it preferred whispers and riddles. “Lucrezia is set to marry at last,” he said out loud. “Maybe Adorata has decided to summon you prior to the wedding.”
“Very likely,” said Amanda. “So why don’t we call on her now? It will save her the trouble of sending for us.”
Which was why half an hour later Giaco found himself, accompanied by Amanda, at the gates of the Prado Castello, where an astonished messenger told them that he had just been about to set out in search of them. Amanda smiled at him inscrutably in response, and Giaco knew that the reputation of Amanda l’Interpretrice had just gained a little more depth to its luster.
The guards outside the throne room opened its doors as soon as Giaco and Amanda came into sight. “You go right on in,” they said. “She’s waiting for you. Though she didn’t think you’d be here so quick. She wasn’t expecting you till the seventh hour.”
A dash of girlish mischief, still so bewitching even in a woman in her fifth decade, crossed Amanda’s face. “The future spoke to me,” she told them.
The guards bowed in respect and squirmed in discomfort simultaneously. “We won’t get in its way, then. Please, Signora Amanda, come through.”
“Giacomo! Amanda!” Adorata rose from her throne to greet them. “Is anything the matter with Luca?” she asked, her voice turning anxious.
“Not that I am aware of, Your Highness,” Amanda told her. “We came in response to your summons.”
“But I just dispatched the messenger not a quarter of an hour ago!”
“But you had the thought earlier than that, did you not?”
“Well…yes.” Adorata smiled and sat back down. “Just in time for you to arrive here at this moment, in fact.” She looked around at the small crowd of petitioners and advocates waiting on her in the hall. “I must finish my business here so that I can speak to you in private,” she said. “Go call on Luca, and then await me in my chambers upstairs. I will be with you shortly.”
Amanda curtseyed and, taking Giaco’s arm, led him out of the hall and up the stairs, to where the Royal family had their private chambers.
“Comandante da Prado!” Every guard they passed stopped to salute Giacomo, or shake his hand, or call out his name. The Prado Castello took great pride in having such a distinguished warrior as their commander, and the younger guards tended to fawn around him, hoping to glean a little of the glory that they seemed to think hung around him.
Giaco, for his part, tried to instill them with at least a little of his hard-won wisdom, including the wisdom that secondhand glory was little better than none, but this generation of young men, like every previous generation ever born, had little taste for wisdom. Glory was ever so much more interesting, especially when it was won by a homegrown hero.
And so Giaco was known as “da Prado,” even though every single one of the guards there was also a da Prado, a person from Prado. The garrison wanted to underscore his connection to his and their natal city, and to remind themselves and others that Giaco was famous enough that the name “da Prado” was known all over the dei Fiori kingdom. Of all the thousands of “da Prados” that existed, their Giacomo was the most important.
He had even outstripped his father, the famous artist and leader of the Rebirth, Giovanni da Prado. Now it was the son—the younger son!—who was known as “Il da Prado,” the da Prado, if clarifications were required. The da Prado who had so distinguished himself at the Battle of Cinquevie, and many others. The da Prado who had been Prince Luca’s beloved bodyguard before becoming commander of the Prado garrison. The da Prado who had saved the Prince’s life, not once but several times. The da Prado who had, in some way that most people didn’t quite understand, been instrumental in bringing an end to the persecution of fortune tellers and other dabblers in magic, even as he remained a Reborn man, a believer in reason and harmony. The da Prado who, for all his family’s dedication to the Rebirth, had married the beautiful Amanda l’Interpretrice, the most skilled reader of cards in all the dei Fiori kingdom.
That da Prado was the one that the common folk, who still clung to superstition and magic, could love, and the artisans and nobles who had dedicated themselves to the Rebirth could respect. If only all the love and respect from commoners and nobles alike left a little more of Giaco for his family. But you couldn’t have everything.
Now, when Giaco and Amanda approached the suite that belonged to Prince Luca, the single guard at the door snapped to attention and said, quivering with zeal, “Comandante! It is an honor!”
“Marco! Is the Prince out?” asked Giaco.
Marco looked back and forth in astonishment between Giaco and Amanda.
“She didn’t read it in the cards,” Giaco told him, more patiently than he felt. “There’s only one of you on guard right now. Which means either the Prince’s guard detail is being slack, or he’s out. Which is it?”
“Ah…he’s out, Comandante,” said Marco.
“Where is he? What’s he doing?”
Marco’s eyes darted back and forth some more. “I couldn’t say, Comandante.”
Giaco bit back a sigh. Of late Prince Luca had been doing a lot of things that his guards felt unable to talk about, at least in front of Giaco, who had raised Luca like a son. “Off debauching again?”
“The Prince is a young man of strong, ah, passions, Comandante.”
“I’m sure. When you do expect him to return?”
Marco smiled weakly. “It’s not for me to say how the Prince spends his time, Comandante.”
“Well, let us into his suite, then. We’ll wait there till he returns, or Princess Adorata summons us.”
Marco shuffled his feet and stared at the floor. “Ah, I don’t know if the Prince’s rooms are, ah, in a fit state for visitors, Comandante.”
“How so, man? The Prince may be out sowing his wild oats from morning till night, and night till morning, but I have a hard time believing that the castle maids are letting things slide when it comes to tidying rooms and washing linen.”
“I believe what your poor man is trying to say, my dear Giacomo, is that there may be someone in the rooms,” Amanda put in.
Marco’s sheepish look confirmed Amanda’s words. “You mean to say,” said Giaco, feeling heat creep up around his collar, “that the Prince has left one lover alone in his rooms while he goes off chasing after another?”
Marco shuffled his feet some more. “Like I said, Comandante, it’s not for me to say what the Prince should or shouldn’t be doing. I just stand in the corridor and guard this door, Comandante, begging your pardon.”
This time Giaco was unable to repress his sigh. “That’s right. You do. And you do it well, Marco. And you’re right not to let anyone in. Who knows what kind of high-born young lady might be there, with nothing but your dedication to duty to protect her virtue. Well, my dear, shall we return to the throne room? Perhaps the Princess will be ready to speak with us.”
“Not quite yet, my love,” said Amanda.
There was a commotion at the end of the corridor. “Giaco!” a young, brash, slightly drunken voice shouted. “What in all the hells are you doing here?”
Enjoy that? There will be more coming soon! Meanwhile, here’s this week’s selection of book giveaways and promotions:
Love the F-word? Then check out the Fierce Feminist Fiction Giveaway on StoryOrigin!
Calling all medieval high fantasy fans! The Swords, Sorcery, and Dragons Giveaway is happening all month on StoryOrigin!