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Lord by Grace - Chapter One

Lord of Grace
By Nix Winter

The Gods give order to the stars, to all things that live, to the hearts of men which they comfort in the Great Hall between the brief flickers of mortal life.

Simone Longswan knelt at the Alter of in this foreign church. Tall white candles lit the stone chapel with a tender flickering yellow warmth, cast long rough shadows as the demons in a knight's worries. The burning light brought out the gold in his pony tailed hair, a warmth to his stubbled face. Wearing only the padded linen jacket that would protect his broad shoulders from his heavier metal plate and familiar, well used leather breeches, he prayed for both wisdom and courage.

"So many prayers," a slightly teasing voice asked. "Feasting does not appeal to you?"

Simone rocked back onto his bare feet, feeling the granite against them as grounding, drawing back to the minor realities of the world, rather than the larger unknown of his first real battle the following day. "Feasting is for the high lords and their heirs," Simone pointed out.

Jaqrine snorted. Darker, with the moon pale hair that the king was said to be graced with, the man smiles could leave an edge in the air. He wore no livery, no mark of any house, though his clothes were nice enough, well stitched and serviceable. He wore his pale hair in dozens of small braids that hung past his shoulders. Eyes as blue as summer twilight held an unguarded friendliness. "It's not as if anyone were really checking, Simone. You could have gone. I'd have spoken for you."

A grin, bright and unfettered by the etiquette of nobility, or the shadow of war, lit up Simone's face. He gave Jaqrine's arm a hearty squeeze. "We are men of the hunt," Simone judged, "Not men of the court. Such finery would be wasted upon men like us. When our masters are satisfied with the state of the world, you should come to my home. Stags are plentiful, the rivers well managed."

"You do that? Manage the rivers? Count the stags?" Jaqrine lay back on the stone steps, one knee bent, his finger twirling in his shirt's laces. "What if you knew the king and he could grant you three wishes?"

That knocked Simone onto his backside. He tucked his feet up under his thighs and templed his fingers. "If I knew the king, I'd ask him to be wise in battle, to surround himself with honest and loyal warriors who cared more for his well being than for glory, even the glory of the Gods. Three things," Simone said, tapping his fingers, green eyes narrowing in thought. "I'd want him to be want him to be mindful of the rivers and forests when he has control of them. And I'd want him to see that his heart was filled with joy, for a happy king is a blessing of the Gods."
"Ha!" Jaqrine slapped Simone's thigh. "Those are things for the king! What would you want him to give to you?"

"Why would the king give me anything? He shall never know me by more than my name. My father is a brilliant lord and poet, elegant and very talented. His oldest son, my brother Larn will be as magnificent. I am lucky they leave the forests to me and that this is all I want of the world."

"So if the king did wish to give you a boon, he'd give you forests and rivers?" Jaqrine sat up, arms around one knee. "Come on! Tomorrow is the final battle of this stupid little war. The Qelth Kings will fall to our great and powerful king, but any man may also fall in such a battle. You may never have another change to tell the secrets of your heart. Do you wish for a wife? Children? Land of your own? Horses?"

Simone's jaw shifted side to side as he thought. "What do you want then?"

"Me? Oh I'm a greedy bastard. I want to own the world. See the mark of the king set on every coin in the world, stamp out injustice and ignorance. I want to build schools and build again the great cities of the ancients." Jaqrine set his chin on his knee, those blue eyes watching Simone.

"You oughta be king then," Simone said, losing what little he had of court dialect. "I think it might be a great world if the king wanted that too."

"What do you think the king wants?"

Simone shrugged. "Won't know. Glory? Something to do with the Gods in ways I don't understand?"

"So if you could have anything you wanted Simone," Jaqrine urged, "What would you want?"

"I'm a younger son, you know," Simone said, voice lowering as he shared his secrets. "I have a sister as well. Both she and my brother already have children. My family doesn't need me to have children."

"You want to be a priest," Jaqrine asked, slightly confused. "I have trouble seeing you in the temples being a scribe."

"Oh Gods save me," Simone said, making a protective sign, "No, but I would like a home of my own and a mate to bond with."

"A mate, without children?"

"With dark hair and soft brown eyes," Simone whispered. "Narrow hips and," he blushed as his hands cupped the round ass of his imaginary lover, "firm, well, a firm body."
"You like men," Jaqrine said, rolling onto his side with a smirk. "Nothing wrong with that, but you don't fancy pale hair, uh?"

Simone's face went long and he was suddenly back on the balls of his feet, squatting down, but ready to dodge. "I fancy you fine, but I want a bondmate. I have sworn never to taste the fruit of love, save with my love."

"You want love. Love is a huge prize," Jaqrine said. "Even the king would have trouble giving that."

"It's a good thing the king isn't worried about the silly dreams of an extra son. Don't tell anyone, okay? My father try to see me bonded if he knew. He loves me, but I've no desire to have all the brown eyed men of his shire lined up like a horse market."

"This land we're taking," Jaqrine said, drawing the map of the island they were about to take on the stone floor with the tip of his finger. "The best way to bring peoples together is through marriage. If the king commanded you to wed, you'd do it?"

"Of course," Simone said, confused, "As would you. The king commands with the pleasure of the Gods."

"Indeed. Simone," Jaqrine said solemnly, "You are the kind of man who would always treat another for who they are, not for what job they may do, yes?"

Simone shifted from foot to foot, lips pursed for a moment before he answered. "Whatever work the Gods have called you too, that is honorable. I know you to be a strong hunter and a man with an honest and respectable mind."

Blue eyes narrowed for a moment. He licked at the corner of his mouth, soft dark lips. "What is it, exactly, you think I do?"

"You are cultured," Simone said, explaining the high born and delicate dialect Jaqrine spoke with, "with an exotic beauty that resembles the king. You dress in fine clothes, but with no markings of house, so you must move between houses. You are not lean enough to be a bard or a messenger. You come and go as you please, holding the trust of all. Being a companion brings no shame, though some may not approve of it."

"Is that why you would not lay with me," Jaqrine asked.

"No," Simone said gently. "I'd lay with you, but I fear I am too plain to hold your heart for long and I could not bear to lose you."

Also on the balls of his feet now, the pale image of the king reached out to brush his fingers over Simone's lips. "Salt is also plain. You might be surprised what can draw a man's heart."

Blush splashed warm over Simone's cheeks.

"Simone," his brother shouted from the entrance of the chapel. "What do you? Did your side riders get our armor laid out?"

Jaqrine turned, hiding his face and Simone stood, instinctively blocking his brother's view, protecting his friend. "Of course. Rhya and Sai would not fail."

"Call an end to your praying. The Gods favor us already, but it won't hurt to have some sleep."

Simone bowed to his brother. "Of course."

Rylash held open both his arms, crossing the small chapel to embrace his brother. They were of a similar height, but where Simone was built for power, Ry was built for elegance and delicate things. There was just a moment where Simone stood, his brother's arms around him, before he returned the embrace in the flickering candle light.

After another moment, Ry pulled back and smiled. "Who was your friend? Have you forsaken your vow on the steps before the alter?"

Blush as deep as the heart of flame washed down Simone's neck. "No!" He glanced over his shoulder, but Jaqrine was already gone. "Not that I won't consider it, but a vow is a vow." He gripped his brother's shoulders and gave him a slight shake. "Tomorrow is not the end of the world. It's just a bigger hunt than we've seen before. Isn't that what father said?"

"It does seem to be completely in our favor," Ry agreed, an arm around Simone's waist as they headed away from the chapel, back to the make shift barracks.

"How was feasting?"

Ry shrugged. "The king only put in an appearance then ran off. He's a squirlly bastard, but a fantastic general. We're all likely have more land after tomorrow. Maybe even some land for those riders of yours."

"I would not part with them."

"Don't be a child. They've served well. We'll get you some new ones."

Simone snorted, but didn't disagree. What he had he had by grace of his father and eventually by grace of his bother.

The space alloted to his family had once been a stable, but it was within the castle walls and they say that Rhome had once been a barren hillock. What Armand lacked in blood line, he made up for with display of wealth, ruthless strategy, and adept social skills. Silver at his temples, lace of silver thread at his wrists, dark blue waistcoat, thigh high black boots, embossed with the house crest gave him elegant aura, powerful, distinguished. The slight narrowing of his green eyes gave both his sons a sense of nervous energy, of impending storm.

Ry and Simone stopped just inside the family enclosure. The heir and the hunter, neither of them held the power of the father. Neither of them stepped back from the storm.

With flawless slight of hand, Armand produced a small envelope. "The family has have a message from His Majesty."

There were few messages that would arrive on the eve of the last and largest battle of the season. If disgrace had befallen them, the culprit would be executed already, very likely, or ordered on a mission profitable to the king, but disastrous to the family. Ry stepped forward and daringly snatched the missive from his father's fingers. He didn't need to check to see whom it as addressed too. If it had been to his father, it would have been open. If it had been to himself, there would have been a celebration. With a neatly manicured finger nail, he freed the thick wax seal. "Simone, you are to join His Majesty's personal guard, tonight, to fight with him on the morrow."

Armand caught a fistful of Simone's simple padded shirt, jerking him close. Green eyes interrogated confused green eyes. "What have you been up to that you didn't tell your father about? Were you with His Majesty tonight?" By with, it was clearly obvious what the older Longswan meant.

Angry at his father, for the first time in his life, he covered his father's hand with his larger, younger, and stronger one, peeling his father's grip free. "I have not broken my vow."

"Vows," Armand snapped, "The strongest vow is protecting the family, providing for mouths that need feeding. Some of us do not have the freedom to be illiterate huntsmen getting a couple off the wrist thinking about true love or maybe the perfect form of His Majesty."

Simone felt as if he stood taller, for the first time looked at his father from above. "I have not betrayed any of my vows, my lord. Not to you, not to my chastity. Perhaps his majesty drew by lots. Perhaps honoring your idiot son is a gift to you or a joke at my lord's expense."

There were servants. There were side riders in attendance, but the only souls that mattered in that moment were the three men who could be lord.

Armand's mouth tightened, shifted sideways. "The family is honored by your invitation to serve the king."

Just as fast as he'd grabbed his younger son with threat, he had his arms around him, holding him close, a hand in his hair. Gruffly, quietly he growled, "Boy, the king's guard is the most dangerous place in the battle."

Simone pounded his father's back in a show of comradeship, but he whispered back, "Then it's good that's me, not Ry."

Armand pulled back, hands still gripping his son's shoulders. "You'd go to battle a fool if you thought I'd give one for the other."

"Let's have some cheer," Ry demanded, an arm on Simone's shoulder and one on their father's. "Simone is the strongest warrior of us all! If any were going to protect His Majesty, Simone is the one to do it! Hear! Hear!"

Cheers rose around them. Backs were slapped.

The damn of war had been opened, in any case, there would all bet their lives with the sun.


Anonymous said…
Okay I am adding this book to my tbb list seriously. I love love LOVE it!
Moria said…
Nix, this is so good. I can't wait to see this continued. And yes, I want to win...pick me! lol

She said…
Good excerpt! I want to finish the story. Thanks for sharing.
Teresa K. said…
Nix, this is very good. I can't wait to see this in entirety. I'm very interested in this story this will be one for the Kindle and yes I would like to win also. I will have to email you later, I have a lot of questions for you. Happy New year!
ladydi6497 said…
This is great! I cannot wait until I can read the rest of the story.

desitheblonde said…
well i read one book that had 500 page in less than 2day and then 2 book with over 300 in each
in one day and i would love to read the full book
and then go on the site and blog about it and the book sounds great and will go to the top of the books sales
Mindy said…
Great excerpt Nix! :)
I've got it on my TBR pile.
I love the interaction between the knights.

Mindy :)

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