You asked for it! So without further ado, a small excerpt from Wolfsguard.
“Colton, you ready?” Brand knocked onColton’s door with the back of his fist. He glanced down the hall at the courtiers and servants providing a steady flow of people up and down. Everyone was aflurry with the last preparations before the feasting and entertainment began. He could hear the first strains of the players as they tuned their instruments in the great hall.
The door opened andColtoncame out, wearing a dark blue tunic and gold sash. “I’m ready,” he announced. He grinned when he saw Brand. “So that’s what you look like!” He bumped his friend with a shoulder. “Nice to finally see under that demi-beard you’ve been keeping.”
Brand rolled his eyes. “Come on, let’s go.” They strode down the hall and almost knocked over Thalion as he opened his door and stepped out with the air of a nobleman.
“Hey, watch where you’re going!” Brand exclaimed, coming to a full stop inches away from the other knight.
“Excuse me, gentleman,” said Thalion, brushing them aside as he strode between them. He tossed his shoulder-length hair and met their stairs with a confident grin. “I have a banquet to attend.”
“Unbelievable,” remarked Brand as he stood, arms crossed, and watched Thalion swagger down the hall. “Absolutely unbelievable.”
“In another life, I believe he’d have made an excellent nobleman,” added Coltonwith an ill-repressed chuckle.
“Yes, either that or a tavern-keeper.” Brand grinned his open, friendly grin and the two marched down the hall.
“I wonder where Kay is,”Coltonasked as they left the corridor and came into the great hall. The savory smells of smoked and roasted meat mingled with the sour odor of the rushes spread across the floor.
A large, gray-haired wolfhound trotted up and nuzzled Brand’s hand affably, tail wagging. “Hey, boy,” Brand said in a low voice, giving the dog a firm pat on the back and a scratch on the head. He rose and pointed as subtly as it was possible to point. “There he is.”
Kay stood on the far side of the room, in deep conversation with Reinhart. The Wolfsguard captain cut a proud figure in a forest-green doublet with his sword at his side. Brand had never seen him take that sword off, not even when he slept.
“Ah, I see Thalion. There’s a surprise,” said Colton, commenting on their comrade who was striding about the room with an attractive young woman hanging on each arm. “He’s managed to procure himself half a harem.”
“Colton,” scolded Brand. “That is no way to speak of a lady.”
“I was referring to our good friend’s tendencies, not of the ladies’ reputations,” was the knight’s quick answer.
“Everyone!” a herald called from the open doors. His voice carried through the noisy hall, quieting everyone like a sudden calm at sea. “His royal Highness, King Aquila of Dagonet, her royal Highness Queen Circe, and Princess Artemia!”
Everyone in the hall stood tall and respectful while two trumpeters played the fanfare, announcing the entrance of the royal family. The king seated himself in the elegant carved chair at the head of the table, with his queen on his right-hand side and his daughter on his left.
Then the king spoke. “Please, everyone, be seated,” and the room was once more abuzz with laughter and music.Coltonleft Brand’s side to go speak to a friend who worked in the stables, but Brand hardly noticed. His eyes were focused on a figure that stood by the princess’s side, her posture erect and her hands clasped loosely in front of her.
Tameena’s expression, though serious, was softened by her long, dark hair that pulled away from her face. Her dress was a deep, lush green that Brand couldn’t help but notice flattered her womanly figure.
He kept his eyes on her the entire meal. The meat was tender and perfectly cooked, the wine excellent and spicy. But he hardly noticed, so struck was he by his childhood friend now standing not thirty feet away from him.
A page appeared near his elbow to relieve him of his trencher and goblet. Brand nodded his thanks and rose, stepping over the long stool that seated him and several dozen others.
He wormed his way through the brightly-colored crowd and walked up behind Tameena. “Hello,” he said cheerfully.
She whirled to face him, her movement something between a startled jump and a predatory attack. “Brand,” she said, sounding startled. “I didn’t… how are you?”
“A little more over-dressed than I usually am,” was his ready response.
She made a sound something between a humph and a laugh. “I know the feeling.” She reached down awkwardly and smoothed out the front of her lavish gown.
“No, you look… beautiful.” The last word was spoken softly, with genuine feeling that seemed to surprise Tameena.
“Well, you clean up nicely, too,” she answered, a smile softening her features. “You look younger without that sad attempt of a beard that you had last night.”
“In my defense, that was the result of five days without shaving,” he answered with an attempt at aloofness. He heard the minstrels begin to strike up a livelier tune; a dancing tune. “Would you like to dance?”
Taken aback, she opened and shut her mouth before opening it again to say “No, thank you.”
“Why not? You used to love dancing,” he said, his eyebrows knit in confusion.
“I know, I did,” she confessed. “But I was not the princess’s high protector then.”
“So if you danced, the princess would die?” he asked, a teasing light in his nearly-black eyes.
“No, but my guard would be lowered,” she answered, tilting her head and returning his smile indulgently.
“Ah-ha. I see.” Brand stood thoughtfully for a moment, the mischief in his eyes deepening. He leaned past Tameena and tapped the princess’s shoulder. “Your highness?”
“Brand!” Tameena hissed in shock. “You can’t”-
He waved her off as the princess turned to look at him. A smile touched her face. “What would you ask of me?”
Brand knew that the princess’s insight should not surprise him. Everyone in Dagonet – and the realms beyond – knew of her insight, her visions; gifts from the Divine Ora to be used for His purposes. But it still surprised him. “I ask a favor of you, your highness.”
“Ask it.” As she said the words, Brand had the distinct feeling that she already knew his question before the words left his mouth.
“I would like to take this next dance with the high protector.”