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Secrets can heal — and destroy.
Jarrett failed everyone close to him.
In disgrace, he resigned his position as Captain of the Royal Guard and entered self-imposed exile in the Eastern Forests. As a common soldier, he fought the remainder of Marduk’s monsters.
A surprise summoning, though, brings Jarrett back to Bertrand. He finds Clara nearly bedridden from an assassination attempt. Tension between Lorst and Tier runs high. In need of someone she trusts, Clara appoints Jarrett Captain of the Seer’s Guard over his protests.
He searches for both her enemies and his sense of honor. However, his investigations threaten to expose secrets that could ruin them all and shake Lorst to the core.
Secret Burdens by Suzanna J Linton
Series Stories of Lorst #3
Genre New Adult Fantasy
Publication Date July 20, 2018
Barnes & Noble https://goo.gl/2QKdWY
TOUR WIDE GIVEAWAY
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR. Giveaway ends 7/27/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Pure Textuality PR is responsible for the delivery of the prize(s). Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.
ABOUT SUZANNA J LINTON
Suzanna J. Linton was born in Charleston, SC but grew up in rural Orangeburg County. At age eight, she tried to read The Secret Garden by herself. After following her mother around for a day, asking questions about the Yorkshire accent, she gave up, but that didn’t deter her in developing a deep appreciation for books and the worlds to which they open. A few years later, she wrote her first poem, which eventually led her to try writing fiction.
In 2002, she went to the summer program at the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, where she refined her poetry and wrote her first decent short story (before this, she mostly wrote novels along with her poetry). In 2003, Suzanna began attending Francis Marion University, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s in English.
Today, she continues to live in South Carolina with her husband and their menagerie of animals.
You can read more about Suzanna and her current projects at suzannalinton.com.
SECRET BURDENS EXCERPT 1:
Dark clouds crowding the sky brought the sweet promise of rain. The wind, so common at this season, whipped through the narrow streets, adding a low howl to the rumble of horse-drawn carts and people going about their day. Jarrett pulled his wool cloak close more tightly around his shoulders as he rode Heartsblood into the city with Matthias at his side.
The new Captain of the Royal Guard came straight from the army and he rode his horse like a man used to sleeping in the saddle. From his friends’ letters, Jarrett knew Matthias to be competent, reliable, and with about as much imagination as a lump of coal.
What he didn’t know was how quiet the man was. Jarrett greeted Matthias that morning in the refectory before going to see Lady Clara and the man had been short on speech then. Now, on the way to see the Captain of the City Guard, what few words he possessed dried up completely.
“How do you like being Guard Captain?” Jarrett blurted.
Matthias blinked, as if Jarrett’s question pulled him from a reverie. “King Emmerich is a good man to work for.” He side-eyed Jarrett. “I only wish the King and her ladyship trusted me more. You’ll be taking on the search for her ladyship’s enemy?”
“I am. It’s not a matter of trust. Well. Not entirely.”
“The King granted her a guard for her own use. How else should I take it other than a sign of distrust?”
“There’s an entire Palace to guard. Keeping Clara out of trouble is an all-hands-on-deck position, trust me.”
“She’s an extension of the King’s power and, therefore, comes under my purview.”
Jarrett shook his head. “You have a lot to learn if you believe that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Lady Clara is only the Court Seer because she wants to be. If she considered it a good idea, she could—and would—ride off tonight on an insane quest to find the lost Amulet of the Child. Emmerich would grumble and tell her not to go but ultimately wish her good luck on her way out. She isn’t the extension of anyone’s power other than her own.” He felt a scowl tighten his lips. “And she forgets, sometimes, how her actions or words affect others.”
Matthias glanced over at him, the first bit of actual interest lighting his eyes. “That so?”
The back of Jarrett’s neck prickled and he felt certain Matthias planned to repeat what he said. “It’s nothing important.”
“If you’re having trouble with Lady Clara, perhaps I can help. I do have the King’s ear.”
Keep telling yourself that. “Thank you for the offer, Matthias. I’ll remember it. Anyway, once you start placing Lady Clara into a role that can be understood and predicted, you’ve lost.”
“I heard she made dresses for a time before leaving on her quest last year.”
Jarrett closed his eyes for a brief moment, willing more patience than he felt. I warn the man about Clara doing as she pleases and Matthias thinks of dressmaking? “Why do people still make a big deal about that?”
“It’s a common occupation. Embroidery or tapestry weaving would be more suitable for a woman of her station.”
“She came from a common origin, Matthias, and she cares little for what is or isn’t suitable.” He smirked. “She wore men’s clothing during part of her time in the mountains.”
Matthias stiffened in shock and Jarrett hid his grin. The more he imagined it, the more it seemed to him that trousers on women should be fashionable. Not only practical but it made it easier to appreciate their figures.
Realizing his thoughts were going places other than the task at hand, he pushed them aside. “Lady Clara told me you have a sketch of the brand found on the girls.”
“I gave it to Tarsus.”
“I see. Where do you think the slaves are coming from, Matthias?”
“I don’t know. Probably from the North. Slavery is still legal there, despite the King’s efforts.”
“He has an uphill climb. At the kingdom’s founding, in order to unite the Northern lords with the Southern, they signed an agreement clearly stating, among other qualifications, the Lord of Candor has the final say over slavery. And the Lord of Candor isn’t about to do something to anger the Northern lords. He depends on their trade and support.”
The City Guard headquarters and barracks came into view. Several guards, in their trademark black and yellow livery, loitered outside it, leaning against their pikes.
“What did you and Tarsus discuss, exactly?” Jarrett asked.
“We talked about how better to stop the flow of slaves into the city and possible sources. I felt it best to let him handle the investigation.”
“But slaves came to work in the Palace. That’s how it was discovered slaves were in the city in the first place.”
“Yes but hardly my fault. Or, I dare say, my problem.”
Jarrett rolled his eyes, wondering what Emmerich could possibly see in this man.
They found Captain Tarsus at his desk, going through papers. When Jarrett entered, the older man smiled and stood to clasp hands. Captain Tarsus, despite being mostly chained to a desk, was fighting trim. He came up to Jarrett’s chin and surveyed the world with cool, black eyes. Once, he and Jarrett had gotten into a wrestling match that left Jarrett limping for a day.
“How was the Eastern Forest?” Tarsus asked.
“Full of trees, dirt, and creatures that wanted to eat me,” replied Jarrett. “Matthias tells me he’s discussed the slavery problem with you.”
“Yes. My men asked their contacts but they haven’t learned anything. Since the girls were discovered, it’s possible the slave masters have moved on.”
“Do you know where the girls came from? Do they have Northern accents?”
“No, they were local.”
“Strange.” Jarrett crossed his arms.
“Maybe the slavers thought they would attract less attention.”
“But why send them to work in the Palace?”
SECRET BURDENS EXCERPT 2:
Jarrett scrubbed himself with the long-handled brush. Satisfied that every part of him was sudsy, he stepped down into the cold pool. His breath caught at the icy water. It was almost too late in the season for outdoor bathing. The poplars ringing the spring wore the bright gold plumage of autumn. But being able to put his whole body in water, no matter its temperature, was really the last luxury allowed to him.
Besides, the cold water helped rid of him of a worry that had been crouching in the back of his mind.
Once rinsed, he climbed out and dried with a scratchy towel. He shivered as cold wind swept over his bare skin, raising goosebumps in its wake. The trousers he fumbled with nearly slipped out of his half-numb fingers.
A soldier from the outpost stood at the rise over the spring.
“What is it, Walter?” Jarrett asked, pulling on his wool tunic. The warmth felt glorious against him. He ran his fingers through his short-cropped hair.
“The captain summons you, sergeant.”
“Tell him I’ll be right there.”
Walter saluted and walked away. Jarrett jammed on his gloves, pausing long enough to examine the mottled, scarred flesh of his left hand. Once again, the memory of the salamander’s scream echoed through his mind. He shoved on the glove and buckled on his sword.
During the walk to the outpost, the worry he’d been carrying since summer rose in his mind. And there was nothing to kill or a task to complete to help him ignore it.
Clara had not answered his letters. He wondered if she was angry with him for leaving, despite his best efforts to explain it to her. Stubborn woman.
The thick wooden walls of the outpost rose before him as he came up the path. It sat on the edge of Vernon’s Luck, a small town deep in the Eastern Forest. Not far away, Lord Stanley lived in his estate. From there, he ruled his small fiefdom. Jarrett had never met the man. Rumor had it that he was fair and honest.
As Jarrett passed through the gate, he nodded at the soldiers on guard duty. No one there recognized him as the former Captain of the Royal Guard. To everyone, from armorer to scullery maid, he was only Sergeant Jarrett and he thanked the Mother for small mercies.
It was bad enough that his own memory didn’t let him forget about his failures. He didn’t need other people reminding him.
After swinging by the barracks to drop off his toiletries, he walked into the big main building to the captain’s office. Jarrett knew men who loved to decorate their offices and sleeping quarters with every comfort. Captain Andrew worked out of a room stark in its simplicity.
A spacious desk, a table with chair by the window, a bookcase with battered volumes, and a series of cubby-holes bristling with rolled papers were the only items there other than the man himself. It looked almost incongruous against the deep red paint applied by its last occupant. Andrew, a large man with the shoulders of a bull, sat in the chair by the window, taking advantage of the brilliant sunlight. He held sheaves of paper: reports from patrols, no doubt. Jarrett saluted him.
Dropping them onto the table, Andrew saluted back. “You’re a lucky man, sergeant.”
“I received an order to relieve you of duty immediately and send you to Bertrand as quickly as your horse can carry you. With it came this letter.” He held out a thick, folded letter.
The moment Jarrett touched it, he recognized the weight of the paper. It was the kind especially made for the Palace. The handwriting addressing it to him appeared familiar. He flipped it over and surprise lit through him. Clara’s seal, a star surmounting an eye, stared back at him.
“As of this moment, Sergeant Jarrett, you are relieved of all duty and are ordered to leave tomorrow morning. A caravan is going in that direction, so you’ll go with them.”
“The roads are quiet,” Jarrett replied. “More or less. I should be able to make the journey on my own.”
“Maybe so, but it’s never a good idea to tempt destruction. You’ve been a good soldier. I hate to see you go.”
“Did the orders say where I’m to report?”
“To the Lady Clara, with full rank of captain restored. That’s all the orders said. I assume details are in the letter. This is your copy of your orders.” He held out another folded piece of paper.
Jarrett took it. “I’ll miss risking my life in this damn forest, sir.”
Andrew snorted. “I’m sure you will. You may go. I’m sure you have plenty of packing to do.”
“Thank you, sir.” Jarrett saluted and departed, barely waiting for the captain to return it.
In the two months spent toiling and bleeding in the Eastern Forest, he had written Clara three letters. He knew it was odd. Normally, only very close friends, relatives, and lovers exchanged informal correspondence. However, after everything they’d been through together, Jarrett felt he’d earned the privilege. Besides, he’d left her still suffering from the after effects of her spirit journey. Surely letters full of the funny antics of soldiers would be welcome to a sick person.
However, none of his letters were answered. After the third one, he stopped trying.
Friends from among the Royal Guard, who occasionally wrote, said Clara was rarely seen outside her quarters. Her father died mere weeks after arriving at the Palace. Whether old age, a consequence of his long journey, or the sudden change in diet, no one knew for sure. And the betrothal between Clara and Emmerich still remained unofficial: the Council sat in deadlock over approving it. According to Jarrett’s contacts, King Precene of Tier wanted Emmerich to marry one of his daughters. Such a marriage made for a military and political alliance that could bring an end to centuries of war and uneasy truces. Half of the Council wanted to grasp at it while the other half supported Emmerich, mostly out of a desire to spite Tier.
Now with a letter in hand, Jarrett wasn’t sure what to think. He certainly didn’t expect concern and anticipation to turn his stomach inside out.
Privacy not being in abundance in the barracks, he found a measure of it in the outpost’s chapel. Only a few of the more devout of the servants and soldiers ever went there. He entered the narrow room, to find it occupied only by the statue of the Mother at her spinning wheel, with the Child standing by her knee.
Jarrett sat in a pew in a far corner, by a stained glass window. Red and blue light streamed over the worn, dark wood. He broke the letter’s seal and unfolded it.
Bertrand is as alive and bustling as the day you left. The Palace prepares for winter. Bruin says it’s still weeks away. The harvest festival will be soon and it’s all my maidservants can talk about. Mistress Catriona has begun making her amazing apple and pumpkin turnovers. She asks me about you but I can’t tell her anything.
I’ve written letters but have received no reply. If you suffered misfortune, I’m sure I would have been informed, so I can only conclude that you’re too busy killing monsters and stealing pastries from the outpost kitchens.
Emmerich granted me the temporary ability to issue military orders. Please don’t be angry that my first one was to bring you back. Don’t dawdle. I have a task that requires your immediate attention.
As Jarrett folded the letter, he wasn’t sure what to think or feel.
First, the letter was little better than a note and it left him feeling underwhelmed. After two months, he thought there would be more to say. Secondly, it didn’t explain why no one saw her outside her rooms or if she’d recovered from her illness. It certainly didn’t explain why she wanted him back, given what she knew about his leaving. Thirdly, it only strengthened his concern.
She really had written him. How could Lady Clara’s letters become waylaid? Despite the monsters, letters and packages flowed freely. He certainly hadn’t missed any from his friends. Missives from a noble of Clara’s prominence would have higher priority. In fact, they would come through with the Royal Messenger, who visited the outpost once a week, while Jarrett’s regular correspondence ran through the merchants. Suspicion arose but he wasn’t sure who to direct it toward.
Instead of making him feel better, the note only brought a new chill to his spine.