Daughter of the Disgraced King releases Monday (May 18th).
The world building for part of this world is based largely on the settlement-era desert Southwest. Adobe buildings, stagecoaches, though not the political structure or the magic. Here’s a little sample:
Early the next morning, Ailsa gave each of her parents one last hug and turned to board the stagecoach that would take her to the imperial capital. It was a plain, functional coach that, from the visible wear, had made many trips across the desert. When she put her weight on the small folding step to climb in, the coach swayed alarmingly. Evidently, maintenance hadn’t included replacing the worn springs. Hopefully, the roads wouldn’t be too rough or this was going to be a very bumpy ride. The padding on the seats was thin, too. Ailsa sighed. It would have been faster and more comfortable just to ride Pearl all the way. She wouldn’t have had to share the cramped space with strangers, either.
As soon as she was aboard, the four guards climbed up to the seats on the top of coach. Ailsa placed the smaller valise that held the things she’d need en route under her seat and leaned out of the window to wave goodbye one more time.
Ailsa had never traveled far before—and never alone or in a public conveyance. Papa could have sent her by private coach, but that might have been construed as an impolitic show of wealth and privilege. The public coach wouldn’t be as comfortable, but there were royal guards riding on top, so it should be, if anything, safer than a private carriage.
Ailsa sat back and turned her attention to her fellow passengers. An elderly man had the seat next to Ailsa. He’d already leaned his head against the opposite wall of the coach, closed his eyes, and started to snore—loudly. A young girl sat across from Ailsa, apparently accompanied by the woman about Mama’s age sitting next to her.
On the other side of the woman, sat a slightly younger man—too old to be her son and too young for her husband. From the distance between them on the bench, Ailsa didn’t think they were traveling together. His clothing and appearance would be consistent with a well-off merchant or maybe some distant relative of one of the barons. Nothing about him should be alarming except for his manner. His open, appraising stare made Ailsa want to pull the demure collar of her traveling dress closed in spite of the growing desert heat. Ailsa looked away. He had no business looking at her like that, but perhaps a closed coach wasn’t the best place to confront him about it. They were already as far apart as the coach permitted. It would be best to try to ignore him.
Ailsa smiled uncertainly across at the woman and turned to look out her window. The road was wide enough for two coaches to pass each other going in opposite directions. Ailsa’s seat gave her a view on the outer side of the road, where a double row of sycamore trees shaded the highway from the desert sun. The trees weren’t thick enough to completely obscure the desert beyond.
Ailsa felt heavy and enervated. It must be all the emotional ups and downs of the last few days. She had trouble even keeping her eyes open, but she didn’t want to miss anything on this trip. If only everything along this highway didn’t look so much the same . . .
Ailsa jerked awake as the coach pulled to a stop. She couldn’t have slept all day. No, the sun was high overhead and the heat was oppressive. They’d come to a wider green area, surrounding a small oasis. A rustic building made of crude mud bricks stood across a cobbled yard. The coachmen leaped down and began to unhitch the sweaty horses.
One of the guards climbed down from the roof right in front of her, making Ailsa start. He opened her door and stood back. “We’ll stop here for a meal and to change the horses. If you’d care to disembark . . .”
Ailsa stepped down and stood in the yard, uncertain what to do now. She stretched gratefully, easing out the kinks in her neck and legs. The coach’s springs weren’t nearly as good as those on her father’s coach. It was surprising that she’d been able to doze with all the bouncing, but maybe she’d needed that nap. She certainly felt better. The midday heat didn’t seem to bother her so much, even though there was no air moving at all. The others climbed out of the coach more slowly. Ailsa followed them inside.
Inside, a long table of rough boards was already set with five places, platters of cheese, fruit, bread, and two pitchers of water. Ailsa sat down at one end of the table, across from the older woman and her daughter. She poured herself a cup of water before anything else. She’d forgotten how parched the desert could make her feel, even without moving around much. The rude man sat down beside her—too close beside her for Ailsa’s liking. She shifted over a little away from him.