Reputations were not an easy thing to overcome.
He lounged on the velvet chaise, one leg drooping towards the marble floor, one hand tracing lazy circles in the air above the chair arm. He looked bored and unconcerned, and while distant, there was still something charming and approachable about him. It would be a deadly mistake to think so.
He was the King of the Sidhe—Ragnor Sancellian–the most deadly Fae in the entire Valley, and yet he couldn’t kill a simple ghost of a memory.
His father had been Angelus the Cold. Unsympathetic and cruel, as all had known him to be. The man that had broken the Fae forever into two factions and had killed off almost all of the Human monarchy. Stealing the throne, making women and children weep and dream black nightmares for centuries.
Ragnor had that daunting reputation to live up to, and it haunted him. Angelus had rarely spoken to him save two memorable occasions in his life—once to scold him for being weak, and once to congratulate him on becoming a worthy successor to the throne.
Ragnor tried hard, rarely speaking well of anyone and making cutting remarks whenever he could. But even he knew that he could never be his father. He was too much of a coward, and too lazy.
“You’re a hedonist,” his father had warned him. “Don’t let it blind you from the True Faith.”
It had made him sick, hearing those words. He knew what he had to do to rule a kingdom. But religion was the High Priest’s job, not his. It was perfectly in his right to have a little fun.
But there was no fun today, when Duke Avarus of Terranshire had asked for an audience.
Ragnor hated him. Avarus was pompous and heavy-handed in his dealings. If Ragnor had thought about it longer, he would have realized that Avarus was just like himself, which might have explained his hatred of the man. But as it was, he didn’t think, just disliked blindly.
Too bad the man was useful, he thought. Otherwise I’d have already arranged to have him…removed. Twice over.
“I’ve been to visit our good friend Baron Wesley,” Avarus was saying as he ran a gloved finger across the carved fireplace mantle to look for dust. He didn’t find any, and gave a little shrug that made Ragnor’s teeth itch. He was overdressed for the meeting in crimson and black, no doubt trying to make Ragnor think of the Dark Alliance. As if overdone, ruffled sleeves could imitate the regality of Dark priests. Avarus had a lot of learning to do. Ragnor would have liked to tell him so.
“That doddering old fool?” Ragnor replied instead, tilting his icy blonde head and giving an easy laugh. “Whatever for?”
“I always like to see how much closer I am to taking his lands,” Avarus said so boldly, that Ragnor almost felt the need to congratulate him on his brutality. Except that Avarus annoyed him.
“Well?” Ragnor said, expecting more. “Did you discuss prune juice? You know a Fae of his age can’t have long to be around, stop worrying so much. You’ll get his lands, after he passes.”
Avarus smirked, an expression that angered Ragnor, as he walked back towards where the King lounged with a smooth and unconcerned grace. “We discussed something far more important than land…something I thought you might find in your interest as well.”
Ragnor rolled his eyes. He doubted it. Always, these pointless cat-and-mouse games in court. With anyone else–a lady, a better courtier.–he would have loved it. But not with Avarus. Ragnor snapped, “Get on with it.”
Avarus did not look at him, staring instead at a portrait on the wall of Angelus looking fierce, his eyes flashing even from the canvas. Ragnor had always hated that painting and longed for the day he would feel strong enough to tear it down.
“It seems the Guild has been spending a lot of time in Haven, as of late. An unusual amount of time.”
Ragnor perked up at this. “Another Rebellion?” he said.
“Maybe…” Avarus said. “Or maybe, considering which members of the Guild have been entering and exiting a certain small town, it may have something to do with your Grace’s special interest. The one involving…female Bards?” His eyes slid away from the portrait at last to meet Ragnor’s gaze, a hard, wily glint in them.
Ragnor grew excited, and struggled to hold back the thrill in his voice. “Which town, Avarus? Tell me!”
“I would be happy to, my lord!” Avarus said, with a small bow. “For a price.”
Ragnor shot him a look that could have burned skin, and Avarus grew apologetic. “I do have two daughters, your majesty, and daughters cost quite a lot of money to keep happy.”
Ragnor frowned, and, clenched his tongue between his teeth to prevent an ugly shout from leaving his lips. He dug into his pockets for his coinpurse and took out three gold guilders. Holding them out to his manservant, he waved the closed fist impatiently when he took too long. The manservant bowed, and brought them over to Avarus, who accepted them with a gracious nod.
“You’ve got your gold,” Ragnor bit out sharply. “Now give me the name.”
This excerpt contains characters and scenes from the first book in my original series, Ebony, which is currently in submission to publishers. While not appearing in the book (at the moment) it does take place during the action of the novel.
This was inspired by Trifecta’s challenge last week of “cutting”‘s third definition, involving it as a verb. You can see why I didn’t submit–far too long of an excerpt that I didn’t want to chop down, but for my story’s sake it was absolutely worth it!!