I’m excited to announce that as of this morning, In the Enemy’s Service is available from Amazon.com! Click here to order the Kindle version of this young adult action/adventure fantasy novel for just $2.99. You can buy the paperback here for $9.99. It is also available in other formats such as Nook, Sony Reader, and Kobo here.
Below is the prologue to whet your appetite. Enjoy! Please tell your friends!
Anya stared glumly at her plate. The little half-eaten mound of cabbage seemed to stare back at her, mocking her hunger. She took her time finishing her final bite of bread with its thin scraping of butter, trying to make it last.
“Can’t we have something else, Father?” she begged, poking at the cabbage with her fork. “How about dessert? I could make us a pie.”
From across the table, her older brother Arvalon chuckled scornfully. “With what? There’s no fruit in the house, and we’re out of sugar anyway.”
“And we need the last of the flour for tomorrow’s bread,” their father reminded them. “I’m sorry. I know you’re hungry, but just finish up your vegetables for now. I’ll get paid tomorrow when that customer comes to pick up the lanterns he ordered. Then next week we’re taking another load of tea to Malorn, and if it sells well we’ll be fine for a while. In the meantime, we just have to tighten our belts a little. These things happen.”
Anya nibbled at her cabbage, resisting the urge to make a face. In spite of what her father had said, she couldn’t remember money ever having been this tight before. Father was a merchant, and although their family wasn’t rich, they had always had what they needed. But for some reason, everything seemed to have been going wrong with his business this summer. Customers had inexplicably cancelled orders, suppliers had been out of the items he wanted, goods he had bought in other towns to sell had spoiled or been damaged or stolen along the way. For weeks now, Father had worn a worried expression nearly all the time, and lately he had been spending every evening poring over the account books in his study. He hadn’t bought meat for the table in over a fortnight, and supper portions had been growing smaller and smaller. Now Anya and Arvalon were starting to grow worried too. What would happen if their family’s bad luck continued? Father refused to beg from the neighbors, and none of their relatives lived close by. Surely the three of them wouldn’t actually starve. Such things didn’t happen to people in real life. Did they?
When a knock sounded on the front door, Anya jumped up to answer it. Customers and business associates often stopped by in the evenings, so perhaps it was good news. Maybe someone wanted to place an order.
A young boy was waiting on the step. “Sorry to interrupt your supper,” he apologized when Anya let him into the dining room. “My father sent me to say he won’t be needing those lanterns after all.”
The three of them stared at him dismay. “Why not?” Arvalon demanded. “We brought them all the way from Wistra.” Anya knew that her brother had loaded the cart himself, padding the boxes carefully with straw so none of the valuable glass lanterns would break on the way. Father was training him to be a merchant too, and he took the job seriously.
The boy shrugged. “Father got some from someone else at a better price. Thanks anyway.”
When the door had shut behind him, a discouraged silence settled over the family. Arvalon was the first to break it. “What are we going to do now?”
Their father sighed. “Take the lanterns to the market, I suppose. Maybe Porlim can help me sell at least some of them.” He pushed back his chair and began pacing back and forth distractedly. “Why does this keep happening? I was counting on that sale. I haven’t even paid for them yet, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to now.”
“Which means we’ll owe interest,” Arvalon grumbled. “And those Wistran glassmakers never allow returns.”
And what about buying food? Anya wondered. She knew exactly how much money was left in the savings box Father kept under his bed, because she had borrowed the little key from his desk drawer and checked that morning when he thought she was getting ready for school. One silver coin and three coppers. That was all. She nibbled worriedly on her thumbnail, wondering what they would do when the coins were gone.
Catching sight of her expression, Father stopped pacing. “Don’t worry, Anya. And don’t bite your nails. Look at us, acting as though there’s no hope. Things will turn out all right.” He smiled, but it was what Anya had learned to recognize as his just for the children smile. He wasn’t really feeling cheerful. “Times are hard right now, but we’ll get through this.” Father looked around the room. “Why, we have lots of things in here that we barely use. If we have to, we’ll just do a little housecleaning and get rid of a few of them. Someone would probably pay good money for the silver candlestick, for example.”
“But that was Mother’s,” Anya protested. She had never actually known her mother, who had died ten years ago, when Anya was a baby. Mother’s special possessions were all they had left of her, and it felt disloyal to think of selling them. Surely things weren’t that bad yet.
Four coins in the money box. Yes, perhaps things were that bad.
Father retreated to his study to look over the accounts again, leaving his children to do their evening chores. Arvalon headed out to the stable to feed their two horses while Anya cleared the table, filled a bucket from the pump out back, and started washing dishes.
“That was the last of the hay,” Arvalon reported grimly, stomping back in and scraping the mud off his shoes.
Anya stared at her brother in alarm. How did horses tighten their belts? Maybe they could tighten their saddle girths.
At that moment there was another knock on the door. She and Arvalon looked at each other, neither eager to answer it this time. Could someone be bringing them more bad news?
“I’ll get it,” Anya finally volunteered when it didn’t appear that anyone else was going to. Drying her hands on the dish towel, she crossed the dining room and opened the front door.
A man she had never seen before stood there, holding a flat leather case like the one Father sometimes used for carrying sheets of parchment. “Good evening,” he greeted her with a smile. “I’m here to see Karro. Is he available?”
Anya turned to call her father, but he was already hurrying out of his study toward them. “Oh. It’s you. Well, come in.” He didn’t sound particularly happy about it, Anya thought, as the stranger wiped his feet on the mat and stepped inside. Actually, he seemed downright uncomfortable. Did he owe this man money, perhaps?
Father ushered the stranger into his study and closed the door behind them. An instant later the lock clicked, and Anya and Arvalon turned to each other in surprise. Their father had never locked them out before. Even important meetings usually took place in the sitting room, with tea or coffee and snacks for all. Arvalon, who was fifteen and would be a full partner in the business later that year when he finished school, was often invited to join in. Anya had seldom been interested in their discussions, preferring to practice her sewing or read a book, but Father normally didn’t mind if she sat with them and munched the snacks while she did it. So why was he locking the door now?
Beside her, Arvalon grinned. “You want to hear what they’re saying?”
“I know a trick. I’ll show you.” Darting into the kitchen, he took two of the wooden cups she had just finished washing from the drain board and handed one to her. With a conspiratorial wink, he tiptoed to the study and set the mouth of his softly against the closed door, pressing his ear to the cup’s flat base.
Anya watched him doubtfully. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”
Arvalon frowned and put a finger to his lips. His expression was already distant as he listened, and Anya’s curiosity got the better of her. She placed her cup against the door beside his and pressed her ear against it. To her surprise, she could hear faint but distinct voices from the room beyond.
“So, have you thought over my offer?” the stranger asked.
“Yes,” their father replied, “but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it. I want to know more.”
“You know all you need to,” the man assured him. “I’m prepared to pay you right now if you’re ready to show me what I’ve asked. And I have eleven potential customers just waiting to be put in touch with you from Mosra, Timenka, Drall, Sazellia, and here in Almar. Oh, and I know an innkeeper who’s looking to buy a number of glass lanterns to replace the torches he’s been using. You wouldn’t happen to have any in stock at the moment, would you?”
Anya and Arvalon exchanged surprised glances. “How do you know about that?” their father demanded, obviously equally surprised.
His guest chuckled. “I make it my business to know such things. And speaking of business, are you interested or not? I have their orders with me now, and I’ll send messages out to each of the eleven first thing in the morning if you’re ready to settle this tonight.”
There was a long silence. Then their father sighed. “Three more of my regular customers cancelled their orders this week. Four, counting the lanterns this evening. I don’t understand why that’s been happening to me so much lately; I mean, I’m not doing anything different. I’ve been working as hard as I always have, but everything keeps going wrong, and now the bills are piling up. I must admit it’s a tempting offer. But what are you going to do with the information?”
The stranger chuckled again. “A friend of mine wants to know, that’s all. What does it matter to you? A few marks with a pen, and your financial worries are over. Oh, and if it would make you feel any better, we never had this conversation.”
There was another long silence, and then Anya heard her father say, “Fine. Let me see it.” There was a crackly noise, like parchment being spread out, and a few moments later her father sighed again. “Well, there you go.”
She heard the jingle of coins; rather a lot of coins, from the sound of it. Were they silver? Gold? Surely no one would be paying for something that sounded this important in mere copper. Anya grinned, imagining steak and mashed potatoes on the menu for next week. Roast chicken with gravy. Peach pie. Apple tarts. Vanilla pudding. Lemonade.
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,” the stranger announced, and Arvalon jumped aside, dragging Anya with him into the kitchen an instant before the study door opened. They heard Father escort his guest out of the house before he returned to the study briefly and then to his bedroom. Putting the money away, Anya guessed.
“What do you suppose Father did to get all that?” Arvalon wondered in a low voice.
Anya couldn’t imagine. “I don’t know, but who cares? We’re not poor anymore!”
They both turned around as Father joined them in the kitchen, wearing his just for the children smile once again. “Who wants to go out to supper?”
“But we just finished supper,” Arvalon pointed out, puzzled. “Father, who was that man?”
“A new customer who paid in advance,” Father replied dismissively. “You call what we had supper? I’m still starving. Come on, get your coats and we’ll go find ourselves a real meal. How about that place by the beach that serves grilled shrimp? On the way over we’ll see if the bakery is still open and pick up something for dessert.”
“Hooray!” Anya ran for her room, delighted at the prospect of a proper meal and the end of belt-tightening season. But as she yanked her light summer coat out of the closet, she couldn’t help but wonder why Father didn’t want them to know the details of this arrangement. He had never been secretive about his work before.
When she returned to the dining room, her father was already waiting, his own coat over his arm. He didn’t see her coming as he leaned against the doorjamb, staring down at the floor. There was no question about it, his expression was troubled. But he looked up quickly as his son and daughter entered the room, and Anya knew the smile he put on was artificial once again as he beamed at them from the doorway. “Everything is going to be all right now. Our troubles are over. Let’s go celebrate!”
Click here for information about Prince of Alasia, the first book in the series.