- L.L. Stephens
The Kheld King: Epilogue
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Do NOT read this post if you want to read The Kheld King without foreknowledge of events. This blog post includes so many spoilers it should be printed in red. In bold letters. DO. NOT. READ.
On the other hand, if you have finished reading The Kheld King or even if you are one of those readers for whom spoilers don’t affect your reading experience one way or the other, have at it.
This post includes the original last chapter of the book. It doesn’t directly include the ending. The ending is the same. What’s different is the denouement. [Denouement is a great word. It means the very end of the story, the part after the climax has already happened and where loose ends get tied up.]
I debated whether to share this last couple of scenes, but I figured readers of the books might enjoy a look at a part of the story that DIDN’T end up in print.
When I wrote The Kheld King, I wrote it the way I write all my books: I put a few characters into conflict and then I followed those characters. I am what’s called a “pantser.” I have a general outline of things that need to happen in the story and a good idea of how and when those events have to happen; everything else is a little bit of magic and a lot of hard work. So I knew precisely where The Kheld King was going to end, story-wise, and what would have happened. I had an end point.
What I didn’t have was how. How to exit the story. How to nail the landing.
Ending a novel means hitting the right note—the right beat—on the way out.
And this scene missed the beat. Much as I love this bit of the story, it has a fatal flaw: it is about the wrong characters. See if you agree.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dorilian had mounted Caillessar and was about to proceed from the High Citadel to the Rill, intent on leaving Essera behind him, when he saw the woman. She raced across the Plaza of the Three like a creature out of nightmare, silent and sharply drawn against Permephedon’s death-white pavement. Her staccato movements and the snap of her black garments conveyed desperation. Because he recognized her, he gestured for his escort to let her approach.
Asphalladra dropped to her knees on the hard stone, skirt in a pool of inky silk around her knees and so near to him that Caillessar pranced to the side. “I beg you, Thrice Royal. Help us. We have nowhere else to turn.”
She extended her right arm upward, toward him, something gold in her hand. “You gave this to my husband, a sign of your grace.”
Intrigued, he leaned down to take the object. A chain and medallion; the latter held a tooth set in gold, made into an amulet. No… a relic. Dorilian closed his hand over the necklace and his enshrined first molar as he looked to her for an explanation.
Asphalladra averted her gaze and blinked to clear tears from her lashes. “Stefan hated it, but Cullen wore it anyway. He could be stubborn like that.”
Yes, he could be. Stubborn and loyal to the end, but never false. “I regret his loss. Cullen was worth more than his king. But if you wish me to influence some matter in Essera, Archessa, you are mistaken. Your Halia has voted its choice of interim ruler. You would do better to petition Erenor Tholeros.”
Her face paled to the color of the pavement on which she knelt. “No! Not him. It’s him from whom I flee. The Citadel is watched. I brought my little ones here, for sanctuary, but the ways are guarded and” —tears thickened her words— “they will be taken from me. I will be taken too. The Halia has handed wardship over me and my children to Erenor.”
Dorilian had not heard this, though the move did not surprise him. Heirs were a direct path to property, as were widows. Cullen’s execution for treason had removed what few protections his family enjoyed. Dorilian looked at Tiflan, who rode beside him, but the man only stayed silent, waiting to see what he would do.
More than anything, Dorilian desired to do nothing.
“I am not in the mood today to take up causes.”
Her fine jawline tensed with pride and something more. “Two months ago, I found out about a plot to kill you.”
“So I have you to thank.” The last piece to a puzzle fell into place.
“Not me alone.” Asphalladra cast a look behind her. Worry haunted her pale features. She did not want to tarry with explanations. “Stefan talked with people in front of Nilla so often, so many times, and it never occurred to him that she would say anything, but she did and… I—I told someone who I hoped might stop it.”
He did not think Asphalladra and Palimia had ever met. Emyli, on the other hand… Asphalladra had recently become one of the Stauberg-Randolph princess’s ladies. Dorilian had suspected Emyli ever since learning from Palimia’s secretary about a rather secretive visit.
Esseran nobles had begun to spill from the building. Upon seeing Dorilian speaking with Asphalladra, Haliasts and dignitaries stopped and stared. Such attention only diminished Dorilian’s options, as well as hers. While he had not been Cullen Brodheson’s friend, he had… respected the Kheld. Found him interesting. Restored him to his family to honor some unexplored understanding Marc Frederick had planted between them. And maybe because of that gesture he owed Asphalladra far more than he had ever owed her husband.
Why not? He was already accused of everything else under the sun. He took in a deep breath and tucked the amulet into his jacket pocket.
“Where are your children?”
Permephedon’s Rill platforms stood empty but for the viridescent Sordaneon Imperial charys that, massive and horned, filled a single run. Dorilian waited only for the last of his soldiers to finish boarding. Though the shielding of this charys prevented the Entity’s efforts to incorporate him, Dorilian felt its insidious reach. He had felt it every moment of his time in Permephedon, where the Rill’s attachment to him was nearly as strong as it was in Sordan.
Mixed emotions assailed him as he gazed upon his latest transgression. Helping the woman had been a rash, emotion-founded thing to do. Essera would accuse him of having abducted Cullen’s pretty widow out of spite. Amallar would no doubt accuse him of preventing a Kheld man’s son from inheriting Heddros. Yet—as he looked upon the little family seated on the passenger cradle, Dorilian felt no need to begrudge the deed. Little Allysa Cullensda nodded, lashes feathered on her rosy cheek, head heavy upon her mother’s shoulder. In contrast, the boy, Ranwulf Cullenson—Wulf, his mother called him—bounced with excitement, all wide eyes and anticipation as he gaped at the structures and activity outside.
“Thrice Royal, thank you.” Asphalladra tucked a tress of her daughter’s tawny hair away from her face. “I… I knew no other person who might protect them.”
“You realize you have forfeited their inheritance.”
She did not contest his assertion. “Yes. Emyli warned me that forfeiture would be the price if I chose to flee. I saw no other way.”
“Did she send you to me?”
Her cheeks colored. “No. I did mention to her that I had met you once, and”— Asphalladra lifted a faintly defiant gaze that did not flinch from his—“I thought maybe I could seek your help. Emyli discouraged me. She said you would be uninterested.”
Truth. But not all the truth. His… or hers. This woman would remain in touch with the beleaguered princess. A spy in his court—if he allowed her to be. Dorilian acknowledged a well-played move. He did not regret helping the children… and a spy might go both ways.
He turned his attention to the boy. Save for eyes of clear green hazel, Wulf resembled his father right down to the freckles across his nose. Dorilian’s scrutiny encouraged the lad to speak.
“Is it true? Are you a Real Born Prince?”
Dorilian’s kind had become so rare and little-known children did not know what to call him.
“Yes. I am real… and I was born a prince.” Dorilian knelt before the boy and opened his hand to show the amulet he had retrieved from his pocket. Wulf looked at it and then at him. “I knew your father. He was a noble man who deserved better. I gave this to him.” He passed the chain over the boy’s head of brown curls and helped settle it around the lad’s neck.
Wulf lifted the ornament into the filtered Rill light. “Da wore this. He never said what it was.”
“Something that refuses to die.”
Doubt creased the boy’s brow. “It looks like a tooth.”
“It is a piece of the Rill.” Dorilian smiled at Wulf’s look of open amazement and rose again to his feet. Asphalladra gave him a wistful cock of her head.
“Excuse my presumption, Thrice Royal, but… I think you and Cullen could have been friends.”
“There were reasons that could not happen.”
They both knew why. She ducked her head. “Because Stefan stood between you. I wish Cullen and you could have seen past him. Found a way… I guess nobody could.”
And there it was. The reason for all of this. Seeing past Stefan. Getting past him.
No one had because no one could. Dorilian had made certain of that on the day he had stopped the Wall’s damned paradigm on the Rill platform. The day he had set Stefan free to… be Stefan.
Maybe Dorilian had not prevented the trap. It was possible he had sprung it—and just as possible he had prevented something worse.
But one thing was clear: The thrice-cursed Wall was still in motion.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Did this scene happen? Yes. In the story? Yes.
In the book? No.
But it did happen. Simply put, it happened offstage.
Echoes of this scene appear in The Second Stone. Asphalladra and her children end up in Sordan. But readers didn’t need to see it happen—and it didn’t need to happen on page in The Kheld King.
At the time I wrote the above scene I was still coming off a character death that affected me profoundly. Yes. Authors fall in love with their own creations. Cullen didn't have any plot armor and I couldn’t do anything to keep him alive short of rewriting the rest of the series... but I wanted to give him this proof that his family would be okay.
And that is why this part—epilogue or chapter—got cut. It was about Cullen. But the novel, the story, and especially the end of it, was about Dorilian and someone else. I still like the scene, though, so I am sharing it with you.