I do like to tease. So I present to you a brief excerpt from Guarded, a novella that will be available (for free!) sometime this summer. I don’t have the release date yet. This will be part of the Goodreads M/M Romance group’s Love’s Landscapes event.
So for now I present to you the initial interaction between the main characters, Volos Perun and Prince Berhanu.
It doesn’t go well.
“Get up,” the king said. “Formalities aren’t wanted now.”
Volos rose. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
He kept his eyes trained carefully on the floor, but he could still feel the weight of the king’s gaze— not to mention that of the other man, Prince Berhanu. The prince always looked at him with contempt and disdain, but this afternoon he looked furious as well. Volos wondered what he had done to enrage him.
“What is your name?” the king asked. He didn’t sound angry, at least.
“And is it true that you speak Kozari fluently?”
Volos snapped his head up in surprise. “I… My father was…”
“Your father was Kozari, yes. I am aware of that. But do you speak the language?”
It had been Volos’s first tongue, and although he’d had little occasion to use it for some years, he still dreamed in Kozari. “Yes, Your Maj—”
“Good.” The king turned to Prince Berhanu. “He will accompany you.”
“No,” growled the prince. “I told you. I don’t need a nursemaid.” He stood with his hands on his hips, perhaps deliberately displaying his impressive musculature. He was a couple of inches shorter than Volos, but as well built.
“He’s not a nursemaid, he’s a guard. It’s not fitting for a prince to travel alone, not even under these circumstances. And it’s not safe. I won’t allow you to go unaccompanied.”
Any man but the prince would have been tried for treason for glaring at the king like that. “Fine,” Berhanu spat. “Give me a guard. But not him.”
“He can speak the language. His presence may ease your interactions with the Kozari.”
“I won’t spend days with that Kozari trash at my side!”
Volos had beaten men senseless for lesser insults. But now, he stood with his face carefully blank, pretending Berhanu’s words hadn’t pierced him like poisoned arrows.
The king had gray hair and a grizzled beard and was much slighter than his son, but when he stomped close to the prince, Berhanu took a step backward. King Tafari poked him in the chest. “This man is a citizen of Wedeyta. He was born here. His mother was from one of our prominent families. And he proved his loyalty during the war. He was a hero. I’m told he saved several dozen Wedey prisoners.”
A flash of sense memory: the reek of urine, shit, and sweat; the sounds of harsh breathing and terrified screams; the taste of blood. Volos hoped neither of the men saw him flinch.
Berhanu shook his head. “I don’t care if he saved half the damn country. I won’t go with him. Surely someone else speaks Kozari. One of our own people.”
King Tafari opened his mouth, then closed it. His shoulders slumped slightly as he gave his son a long look. He turned to face Volos. “My apologies. It seems your services will not be needed in this matter. You may leave.”
Ignoring the prince’s triumphant smile, Volos bowed. “Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you.” He hoped that his failure to address the prince wasn’t taken as an unforgivable slight— but then, the prince hadn’t said a single word to him. Ever.