I finish arranging the chairs around one of the large, oak tables in Nalgar Castle’s Great Hall and straighten all the name tags by the seats. Jaye did such a great job hosting all the characters in Ilyon. I want to do just as good a job here in Acktar. Never mind the fact that I’m trying to contain my inner fangirl. Jace is going to be here. In Acktar.
The door to the Great Hall opens, and the Acktar characters file in first. Brandi skips inside, grinning as she locates her name tag by her seat. Leith and Renna enter the room next, holding hands. Leith glances at me, a wary look in his eyes. He’s probably remembering past character chats.
Martyn and Kayleigh come in next, and they are also holding hands. I shake my head. That’s what I get for having so many happy couples. Shad follows them, looking a bit lost without Jolene at his side.
Keevan strolls in last, followed by his brothers-in-law and bodyguards Frank and Patrick.
I point at the bodyguards. “They aren’t necessary for this chat, and I don’t recall inviting them.”
Keevan shrugs. “They wouldn’t listen to me.”
Frank crosses his arms. “We don’t know these other characters you are bringing here, and we aren’t going to leave Keevan unguarded.”
I open my mouth to argue but shake my head. I could remind them that they had to listen to me. I am the author. But…that hasn’t stopped them before. I doubt they’ll listen to me this time either. “Fine. They can stay. Besides, I like Frank and Patrick.”
Patrick grins. “We know. Oh, and Mama said to tell you she has apple pie ready in the kitchen for after this chat. She’s also working on a wheat-free apple dessert for Jaye.”
“I’ll have to thank her for the extra effort.” It’s a good thing King Keevan’s mother-in-law is an excellent cook in her own right with several good cooks working for her. I may need to use the pie as a bribe to get the characters to cooperate.
The doors to the Great Hall open and Jaye L. Knight steps inside, followed by Jace, Kyrin Kaden, Prince Daniel, and Trask. All of the characters are looking around, though Trask and Prince Daniel especially have a glint in their eyes as if accessing the castle’s strengths and weaknesses. Habit, probably.
I run to give Jaye a hug, then I hug Jace. It’s a little awkward, considering he’s fairly tall and I’m so short I don’t even reach his shoulder. He’s probably over a foot taller than me. And the fact that he’s got a longsuffering look on his face that says he’s doing his best to tolerate this hug.
“Kaden!” Brandi runs to give him a hug. I groan. Uh, oh. Brandi really bonded with Talas and Kaden last time. I think she’s claimed two more brothers. And I was worried about Leith’s habit of adopting brothers.
While Jaye catches up with the Acktar characters, I hug Kyrin, Kaden, and Prince Daniel. Prince Daniel eyes me like he’s not sure why he’s getting fangirled over.
By the time I finish, I notice Kyrin, Renna, Leith, and Jace are all chatting in a group. That makes me grin. By the time these chats were over, they’d be good friends.
After I give them all a few more minutes to chat, I call everyone to their seats. The Ilyon characters sit on one side of the table, the Acktar characters the other.
As the host, it’s my job to make introductions and ask the questions. “I believe most of you met at the last character chat over in Ilyon. Shad, Kayleigh, Keevan, this is Jace, Kyrin, Kaden, Trask, and Prince Daniel. Ilyon characters, this is Kayleigh, Martyn’s girlfriend, Shad Alistair, and King Keevan of Acktar.”
Kayleigh smiles at the Ilyon characters while Keevan gives them each a nod. Across the table from Keevan, Prince Daniel of Ilyon eyes Keevan’s bodyguards.
Keevan gestures over his shoulder at Frank and Patrick. “Never hire your brothers-in-law as your bodyguards. They tend to be rather overprotective.”
Daniel darts a glance at Jace.
“Hey, what was that?” Jaye demands.
Daniel looks at her innocently. “What?”
Kaden and Trask smirk and look toward the ceiling.
“That’s exactly the sort of thing that gets the fangirls talking.” Jaye shakes her head. “Sorry, Tricia, go on.”
“All right then. Let’s get started with the questions.” I pull out a paper with a long list of questions. “Let’s start with a question that several readers have been eager to know: Jace and Leith, do you think the two of you would be friends if you lived in the same world?”
Leith glances across the table at Jace, shrugs, then turns to me. “Probably.”
I glare at him. “That’s not much of an answer.”
Leith sighs. “We already kind of answered this on the last chat, but fine. Our pasts are similar, and we could teach each other a few fighting techniques. Yes, we’d probably be friends.”
“Better.” I smile at Jace. “Jace, do you have anything to add?”
“I agree. I think we’d understand each other the way Holden and I do.”
“Good answers. How about another easy one. Janice wants to know how much taller Jace is than Leith.”
Leith glances across the table at Jace. “A lot.”
“Well, you’re five foot nine or so.” I turn to Jaye. “How tall is Jace?”
“Jace is six foot three.”
“There you have it. Jace is six inches taller than Leith.” I grin as I reach the next question. “Leith, Addyson wants to know: how does it feel to know you’ll only ever be second best to the sweetest cinnamon roll ever aka Jace?”
“Fine by me. Fangirls are scary. He can have them.” Leith shakes his head, and Renna squeezes his hand as if he needs reassurance.
Jace looks embarrassed. “I still don’t understand fangirls.”
I laugh. “Well, Jace, Addyson did say to tell you sorry, but you’re well loved.”
He shrugs. “According to Jaye, that’s a good thing.”
“Time for a question for someone else for a change.” I look down the table toward where Brandi sits at the end of the Acktar side. “Brandi, what do you think of Jace? You haven’t had much of a chance to get to know him, and you spent most of the last chat talking with Talas and Kaden, but I know you. You form opinions of people pretty quickly.”
Brandi grins. “Well, he has a gorgeous black horse and a black wolf for a pet. Of course I like him. Now the real question is whether he can tolerate me or if he thinks I’m annoying and talk too much.”
Jace sends her a quick smile. “I think we’d be all right now. I might not have tolerated you well a couple of years ago, but I’ve grown a lot since then.”
“I would’ve won you over eventually. I always do.” Brandi glares at Martyn. “Even if some people are too grumpy to appreciate it.”
Martyn huffs and mutters something under his breath. Kayleigh lightly smacks his arm.
“Well, we’d always be glad to have you at the Altair table.” Kaden grins at Brandi. “I’ll make a dragon rider out of you yet.”
Letting Brandi meet Talas and Kaden at the last chat might not have been such a good thing. I can only imagine how much trouble she would get into with a dragon. “Brandi, I have a couple more questions for you. What do you think are your weaknesses? And who is your best friend?”
“Weakness?” Brandi grins. “I’m reckless.”
Renna shakes her head. Leith huffs. Kaden grins at her like she’s a kindred spirit.
“As for my best friend, that would be Jamie, though he is more of a brother than a friend.” Brandi shrugs. “I am also close to Shad’s sister Abigail, though I don’t get to see her as much as I would like.”
Considering Brandi is friends with everyone, at least she kept her list short.
“Keevan, I have quite a few questions for you.” I shuffle my papers. I almost don’t want to ask him the next questions. “The first two are kind of…tough. I’m sorry. Leah. S. wants to know why were you such a coward hiding at Eagle Heights? You let your cousins take your burden. And Addyson calls you nasty stinking Keevan and says that she gets that Leith tried to murder you and all, and that’s hard to get over, but Leith is amazing so why can’t you just get over it and be friends with him?”
The room gets an awkward, tense silence to it. Keevan’s arms are crossed, his knuckles white as he clenches his fists. But his face is almost too carefully blank. Leith is staring at the table, looking like he wants to bolt from the room. Renna’s gaze is also focused on the table as she grips Leith’s hand. Martyn and Kayleigh are taking the opposite approach and studying the ceiling as if they really don’t want to be asked to respond.
Brandi snorts. “The fangirls tell it like it is, don’t they?”
Keevan shakes his head and waves from Prince Daniel to Jace. When he speaks, his rasp scratches through his voice. “Let this be a lesson to you, Prince Daniel. Don’t ever throw the fan favorite–Jace–in prison or in any other way hurt him. The readers will never forgive you.”
Daniel raises his hands. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
I sigh. “Keevan, I hate to force you to answer this one, but you’re avoiding it.”
Keevan runs his thumb along the scar tracing down his cheek and neck. “I lost my entire family in a single night. I was nearly killed myself and spent months unable to speak. I was driven from my home and spent over five months essentially imprisoned in a single room in Walden Manor to stay hidden. Those older and wiser than me were telling me going into hiding and leaving Renna and Brandi at Stetterly was the best plan, and at that point, who was I to question their wisdom? If that makes me a coward, then so be it. I’m human. Maybe that isn’t a good excuse, and maybe there was something I could have done. But I wasn’t able to see another option at the time.”
“You didn’t have much of a choice.” Renna raises her head, her back straightening. “We may have been in just as much danger if you’d brought us to Eagle Heights and by that action caused Respen to realize there was a secret hideaway he needed to find. Besides I might never have met Leith if I’d been hiding away in Eagle Heights with you.”
Renna and Leith share one of their looks and smiles.
Kaden shakes his head. “You two are as lovey-dovey during these chats as Jace and Kyrin.”
Keevan turns away from them, still rubbing at his scar. “As for the other question. I’m trying. That’s the best I can do at the moment.”
“Fair enough, I guess.” I flip notecards to the next question. “How about an easier one, then? Keevan, what do you think of Jace?”
“I don’t have an issue with him, if that’s what they’re asking. My problem with Leith is personal. It doesn’t affect how I feel about all former killers and assassins.” Keevan glances at Jace across the table. “He’s a good warrior, and someone I’d be honored to have in my army if he lived in Acktar.”
Jace nods in thanks.
Good answer. At least Keevan wouldn’t dig himself into a deeper hole with the fangirls.
Time to pick on someone else for a little while. “Renna, Leah wants to know how you will deal with Leith being gone all the time?”
Renna smiles at Leith before she faces me. “It will be tough, but God will still be with me. Besides, I survived being left alone at Nalgar Castle with Respen. I think I’ll be able to handle a few weeks when I’m in my own cabin with Brandi, Jamie, Ranson, and Kayleigh for company.”
“In other words, we shouldn’t worry about you.” I look down the table at Martyn, and he glares back. “Martyn. How will you deal with leaving Kayleigh and your brother behind when you go on missions with Leith and Shad?”
“Wait. Let me get this straight. The fangirls want to know how Renna will handle waiting for Leith when he’s gone, yet they think I’m the one who’s going to be helplessly pining after Kayleigh? What about Kayleigh? Shouldn’t she be the one pining away at home?”
Shad hides a chuckle behind his hand.
“You wish.” Kayleigh lightly swats his shoulder. “You know I can’t handle having you underfoot all the time. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
“I know you are, but…” Martyn crosses his arms. “This question is ridiculous. I’m fine. Kayleigh’s fine. Leith and Renna are obviously fine.”
Time to move on to another question before Martyn starts insulting people. “Keevan, Karis wants to know how do you feel that Addie strengthened your faith early on in your relationship?”
A warm smile sneaks across Keevan’s face. “Addie is sensible. She doesn’t waste time on self-pity, and she kept me from completely wallowing in self-pity those first few months. She and her whole family taught me a lot about what it means to give selflessly, and that strengthened my faith in a lot of ways.”
“Thank you, Keevan.” I glance around at all the characters sitting along the table. “This question is for everyone. Sorry, it is another uncomfortable one. Who do you think has killed the most out of all of you here? Apparently leading people into battle counts.”
The characters start whispering to each other and shifting uncomfortably. It’s not a question any of them really wants to answer. Killing the most people isn’t something any of them want to brag about. Maybe if we had Vane, Davira, and Respen sitting at this table, one of them would’ve gladly stepped forward. They probably would’ve fought over who was the most evil.
But these characters sitting before me? They don’t see kills as something to glory in.
Surprisingly, Jace speaks up first. “None of us from Ilyon have led anyone into battle, but of the four of us, the answer would be me. I can’t speak for anyone from Acktar.”
Keevan lets out a long breath. “Probably me. I have led men into battle, into a battle against fellow countrymen. The lives lost on both sides aren’t something I take lightly.”
Of course he didn’t. Keevan was the type of king who knew the casualty figures from both sides of the battles he fought to regain his throne, and he saw those casualties as more than numbers, but as a weight of individual lives and losses.
Leith shakes his head. “It’s not the same. Not like the way I killed. And in that case, then it’s probably me. And I don’t want to know if I’ve killed more than Jace or not. It doesn’t matter. The answer is still too much for both of us, and we both are deeply thankful that there is redemption for someone like us.”
Jace nods, as if Leith said exactly what he was thinking.
Time to change the subject and lighten the mood. “Keevan, I think it’s time we served the apple pie and other desserts?”
Kaden rubs his hands together and shoots a grin at Brandi.
Keevan gestures, and in a few minutes, servants enter the Great Hall with trays of food and place a plate by everyone’s seat.
After giving everyone a few minutes to dig in, I turn to the Acktar characters. “Shad. I haven’t asked any questions of you yet.”
He swallows a bite of his apple pie and sits straighter. “Yes?” He braces himself as if expecting some difficult question.
“Relax. The fangirls went easy on you. Holly wants to know if you would like to visit Ilyon?”
“Of course. It sounds like a fascinating place.” Shad crosses his arms. “And I didn’t get to visit with some of the others last time.”
“No, you didn’t. Sorry about that. Two more questions: Just how good of an archer are you? And, can Jolene out-shoot you?”
Shad rubs at the back of his neck. “I’m a good archer. Jace, here, could probably out-shoot me. I don’t really know. I’ve never shot as part of a competition before. And can Jolene out-shoot me? Yep.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Are you saying that because she actually can out-shoot you or you don’t actually know who is the better shot or you don’t dare say anything else?”
Shad grins. “Yes.”
Trask laughs heartily. “Wise man.”
“Trask, the last question is for you. What were you thinking after you kissed Anne, she pushed you off your horse, and you watched her gallop away?”
“That I couldn’t wait to marry her one day.” He smiles happily. “Now I’m just glad the wait is over.”
“So are all of us fangirls. The wait was excruciating. That’s all for today’s chat. Thanks so much for coming and cooperating.” I smile and nod to all the characters. “As the last part of today’s chat, we have set up a poll for the readers where they can vote whether they think Shad or Trask would win in a fight.”
Shad and Trask glance at each other.
Shad raises his eyebrows, grins, and pats his sword hilt. “That could be interesting, considering we are both noble sons raised to use a sword.”
Trask nods. “Sounds like we should set up a little friendly competition sometime.”
I shake my head. So much friendlier of a reaction than the Leetra and Martyn fight.
I’m giving away a signed copy of Decree along with a full set of Acktar character cards with art by H.S.J. Williams. Giveaway is open only to the US due to cost of shipping.
If you want to vote on the Shad/Trask fight (and enter the giveaway), make sure you vote and enter using the Rafflecopter link below.