In this scene, Pietas is about to face his father, whom he detests on every level. The man was never more than a brutal drill instructor, and the dread inside Pietas at the thought of seeing him dredges up a painful, lingering memory. Six, who cannot avoid hearing Pietas’s thoughts, finds out why he dislikes the nickname “Pi.”
A Lingering Memory
Pietas put one persistent foot before the other. Rising tension stole the breath from his lungs but he soldiered on. His mother waited at camp.
So did his father.
An Ultra tackled what he most wanted to avoid. He did not seek to escape discomfort. Pain was a warrior’s ally. But knowing that, believing it, living it, did not stop the dread.
The past closed in on him. He sat alone in darkness. Entombed in silence. Surrounded by the acrid smell of musty, urine-soaked cloth and his own sweat. Trapped inside a dirt-covered cage, running out of air, with his father’s voice berating him.
“You made a stupid blunder on a simple number like pi. What is wrong with you? If you want out of there, recite pi to the thousandth place. Correctly. Start again, Pietas. From the beginning.”
He’d uttered the last number, struggling to push the sounds out of his mouth. When the cage opened and air whooshed in, he choked, unable to draw it in fast enough. Gasping, retching, he curled into a ball on the ground.
“Get up!” Mahikos hauled him to his feet. “You’re going to learn to hold your breath! What did I tell you? Ultras hold their breath ten times longer than you. You’re a pathetic excuse for a soldier.” He shook him. “How old are you?”
His neck hurt, but he didn’t dare complain. His father would make it worse. “Sir, ten, sir.”
“Ten. You act like you’re two. Stand up straight when I’m speaking to you.”
He drew himself up. “Sir, yes, sir.”
He smacked Pietas on the back of the head. “Pi. That’s what I’m going to call you when you make stupid mistakes from now on. Pi. You hear that? Your new name is Pi!”
At Joss’s voice, the sounds of the forest intruded, bringing him back to the present.
She peered at him. “Are you all right?”
The past whirled away like tattered ghost ships on the ebbing tide. His heart raced, throat dry. His fists ached from clenching them.
“Of course.” His beautiful telepath had overheard his thoughts, but his story was not new to her. He’d shared much of his past with Joss. He lifted her hand to his lips. “Let’s go. We’re almost there.”
As she turned away, Pietas inhaled, let it all out, drew in another breath. Some king he was. Spooked by a lingering memory he was unable to forget.
Six came up and walked beside him, head down. “Sorry.”
“Calling you Pi.” He looked up. “I had no idea.”
“Heard that, did you?” Pietas coughed into a fist, kept walking. “I don’t want you to stop. It will infuriate my father beyond measure when he hears you call me that”– He smiled at Six –“and I fail to flay you alive for taking such liberties.”
Ever have a lingering memory come to mind in your own life? Some linger because they’re pleasant, others are unforgettable because the horror of the moment is imprinted on our psyches. In the Bringer of Chaos series, Pietas is becoming the king half the galaxy fears. His road is not an easy one. Writing his story and sharing each lingering memory that shaped his life has been heartbreaking at times. Others have made me laugh out loud as I write them. Pietas is the most complex character I have ever written. He’s in nearly every book written within the universe he governs.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt and will come back next week for another snippet.
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