It’s hard to believe it’s already been over two months since ASH PRINCESS came out and you all have been the most amazing readers I could ask for! I said that when it got to over 100 reviews on Amazon, I would release a deleted Erik scene and I’m so excited to get to fulfill my end of that bargain.
This scene was in the very first draft of ASH PRINCESS back in the fall of 2015 and as such it’s very VERY rough and that are likely some bits that won’t make sense. In this original draft, Erik was actually revealed to be working with his own band of rebels and this scene slotted in between Blaise visiting Theo in the dungeon and Søren coming to “save” her.
In the end, it was an easy scene/plotline to cut because it was too much going on and it didn’t actually contribute anything to the story that wasn’t already there. Also, as my agent (or editor? I can’t remember exactly when this hit the cutting room floor.) pointed out, the security in this dungeon was kind of a joke if pretty much everyone could come and go. Still, Erik is one of my favorite characters and this scene still has a soft spot in my heart so I’m thrilled to share it now. You might recognize some bits and pieces that made it into the scene with Blaise.
Without further ado:
There are eleven evenly spaced bars that make up my cell door. The floor has seventy-two square stones as long as my thumb, though they’re mostly covered in dirt. Each of the side walls have thirty-five bricks that I think must have been red once, but between the grime and the dark they look closer to grey. This is all there is to do while I wait and though I’m sure only a few hours have passed, I can already feel myself starting to go mad.
Maybe I should have taken Blaise up on his offer when he was here.
I start to count the bricks on the back wall, because I need something to distract me from my own thoughts. Otherwise, doubt will creep in and if I let that happen I really will go mad. My plan will work, it has to work. Even Blaise begrudgingly agreed.
And if it doesn’t…
I lose count and have to start over. The first row has six bricks, the second five and a half, the third six again…I’m nearing the bottom when one of the bricks moves. It must be a trick, the dark playing tricks on my tired mind, but as I stare at the brick it moves again, jutting out from the rest by an inch.
The Kaiser would be a fool to have me killed by an assassin, without an audience. He knows that, which is why he didn’t kill me in the throne room. Still, my heart thunders louder in my chest as I step forward and grip the brick with the tips of my fingers. I have to wiggle it as I pull, but after a minute or so, it comes free and I see a bright blue eye staring back at me.
“Søren?” I ask.
“Guess again,” the voice says, and I’m sure he’s smiling even if I can’t see it.
“Erik. What are you doing here?” Even though I don’t mean for it to, irritation creeps into my voice.
“I’m rescuing you,” he says, as if that should be obvious.
“The Kaiser really needs to evaluate the security of these cells,” I say.
“Usually, by the time he has people tossed down here, they can barely breathe let alone escape,” Erik says. “Help me with this brick?”
He brings a chisel and hammer to the corner of the brick next to the hole he’s made, but I stop him with a hand on his wrist. “I appreciate the gesture, really, but I’m fine,” I tell him.
I still can only see one of his eyes, but that widens and I’m sure that if I could see the rest of his face he would look as dumbfounded as Blaise did. I’m a bit disappointed that I can’t see it. The Gods know I could use a laugh just now.
“Your execution is scheduled for five hours from now,” he says slowly. “And you want to stay here, locked in a cell?”
I shrug my shoulders. “That’s my plan. What’s yours?” I ask him.
“I nicked a set of slave clothes. I can use my knife to cut your hair, dress you like a boy and have you pretend to be a farmhand on the way out of the city. So long as we move fast before anyone knows you’re gone, we shouldn’t have a difficult time of it. The city’s been in uproar since your execution was announced, we can use that to our advantage. My people will meet us in the mountains and we’ll go from there,” he says.
“Hmmm.” I purse my mouth and think it over. Assuming he’s telling the truth–and I can’t imagine what the Kaiser would have to gain by using him as a spy here and now–I’m curious about who Erik’s people are.
“I’m trying to save your life, you realize. What do you have to think about?” he asks, annoyed.
“It’s a perfectly good plan,” I admit. “I’m struggling to find any holes in it, and I feel confident enough to say I trust you.”
“Good,” he says, exhaling loudly and starting to chisel at the next brick over.
“But,” I say, stopping him again.
“You said it was a good plan, your highness,” he says.
“It is,” I say with a smile. “It’s just that I have a better one.”
Now, he doesn’t even attempt to hide his irritation. His blue eye glowers at me through the hole.
“Does it involve sitting in a dark and dirty dungeon, waiting for your death?” he asks tersely.
“It does!” I say with mock glee. “However did you guess?”
“You’re doing a wonderful job of it so far,” he grumbles.
“Oh, cheer up, Erik,” I say. “This is only the first part. The second will come soon enough, and I would love for you to be around to see it yourself. You said you have people in the mountains, so go to them. Bring them to meet us in Anglamar.”
“There’s nothing in Anglamar but ruins,” Erik protests.
“What better place to rise from?” I ask.
He doesn’t look convinced. “Who is we?” he asks.
I laugh. “I said I trust you, Erik, and I meant it, but my trust has its limits. Would you tell me who you’re working with?”
His eye narrows. “No,” he admits. “But they won’t be happy when I show up without you.”
“They’ll move past it,” I say.
He hesitates. “Did you see my mother at all?” he asks.
In everything that has happened, I’m ashamed to realize I haven’t thought of Hoa at all. “No,” I say. “Not since early last night. As far as she knew, nothing was amiss.”
“My mother knows more than anyone realizes,” he says, shaking his head.
“Then maybe she had the sense to run,” I tell him. “The Kaiser executed two other slaves in front of me, if he had Hoa, I’m sure he would have done the same with her.”
Erik nods his head but he doesn’t look convinced. I don’t blame him. Hoa is the closest thing I have to a mother, and I’m worried for her too.
“I think it would be a mistake for us to underestimate her,” I tell him, hoping the words are true. “She’ll be fine.”
“You’re right,” he says, though I think he’s trying to convince himself more than anything. “Are you sure I can’t convince you to come with me?”
“It’s a tempting offer,” I tell him. “But you’ll just have to trust me on this. It will make sense soon enough.”
“May our paths meet again, Theodosia,” he says.
I can’t help but smile at the fact that he calls me by my real name. It’s happening more and more, but each time feels like a gift.
“Good luck, Erik,” I say before replacing the brick in the wall.
And there it is! Thank you all again for your continued support and I can’t wait for you guys to see more of Erik (and the rest of the crew) in LADY SMOKE, coming out April 2nd, 2019.