There is a lot in the works, but one of my biggest projects is my wanna-be novel, Where Loyalties Lie. I've been working on it for a long time (not kidding...it's been over five years).
I'm not planning on posting a lot of it up here, but I want to post the prologue and first two chapters to, hopefully, whet your appetite.
I think it will help motivate me.
I've also been trying to get five manageable pages together for OCW Conference critic class.
I know its a chunk, but I hope its worth it. It would make me immeasurably happy if you would read through it.
If you find it hard to read off the blog I would be delighted to send you a copy.
I welcome feedback and comments.
Thanks so much for reading,
Where Loyalties Lie
In a little house in a big country, ruled by Duke EMorrias, there was a little boy in a little room.
It was a dark room and it was a dark boy.
He didn’t mind. Dark was his favorite color.
In his town he had no name.
He was just another fatherless child of a disreputable woman. He didn’t even have the decency of a beggar.
No one knew him.
In twenty years every man would know him.
In thirty, only one man would remember him.
Danadar was as sprawling and erratic as the heir to the throne. It tended to evoke the same feelings. It was impossible to be moderate. It was either hated vehemently or loved devotedly.
As for Ramirez, he desliked both the heir and his castle.
This was his first encounter with Danadar’s ancient hallways, and anything that could make him feel so incompetent was certainly to be despised. He had yet to meet the heir, but by nature of the heir’s place of birth, Ramirez knew he would be a very ugly, wretched, young man.
Being on Vawnbrecht land made him feel dirty. He wanted to go home to a plain and simple existence -- to barracks of black and gray, to a life of calm, rational war for war’s sake. No one had come to Vawnbrecht for over a 100 years. Why now? Why him?
His decided gloom recoiled at a ring of laughter echoing off some centuries-old wall. The sporadic clomp of shoes on old stones promised the arrival of someone. At least that might mean directions out of this hole. Happy or sober, Vawnbrecht or not, it would be a someone to be interminably grateful for.
He was unforgivably shocked to suddenly find himself around a corner and in the presence of two very bright-faced merry makers. A laughing girl leaned against the wall, and at her feet lay a boy. Or was it a man? Perhaps he was still stuck somewhere in-between.
Ramirez straightened his collar. He was obviously unnoticed, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be. A girl and a boy dancing and laughing smacked of romance-- something Ramirez would avoid at all costs.
He turned, but as he did, the boy snapped up from the ground. Ramirez could immediately see that the boy was not a boy. He was a man whether his years decreed it or not. It wasn’t the impressive array of weaponry. It was the soul that could be seen in his face. For a moment Ramirez thought the expression of dislike must be a mirror of his own, but it faded.
The girl was still dawdling around the door of womanhood. Still innocently unaware of how beautiful she was. “Can we help you?” She stood away from the wall.
“No.” Ramirez turned again to disappear behind the corner. He didn’t think such a likable young lady could be safe if she was born in Vawnbrecht.
Ramirez didn’t like the sound in the man’s voice at all. To deny would be no use. Why else would he be turning back to the way he came? And, he had the disturbing feeling that this boy-man could see into himself as Ramirez had seen, just for a moment, in the boy’s solemn face.
Ramirez tried what he thought could pass as a smile. “Yes, can you point me towards the hall?”
The girl smiled much more genuinely. “We’ll take you there.”
Ramirez was surprised to be pleased. “Thank you.”
The couple began to walk back the way Ramirez had come. How embarrassing.
Ramirez didn’t like it how the man asked questions like statements.
Yes, he was one of the embassy. He’d come because the Duke, Eldine, Edion, and Lord Bithron had all thought it the thing to do. But why? The heir could surely travel to their country with his own retinue. It would certainly be safer.
He stifled his questions and nodded. “Yes, Ramirez Kenzel.” He flinched and offered his hand.
The frowning wrinkles on the soldier’s forehead smoothed. “Judvor Lewq.”
Lewq. Edion would know all about the name, but it created no more than a slight ripple in Ramirez head. He knew he’d heard it, but that was all.
“And this is Lady Lilly Ephramean.”
That created a wave. Lilly Ephramean belonged to the heir. She possessed the richest fortune in both countries. She had as much right to the Vawnbrecht throne as anyone. Ramirez couldn’t believe that he’d almost let himself admire her. But even more than his surprise in himself, he was surprised by this man, Judvor Lewq. What was anyone doing laughing and dancing in a prehistoric hallway with another’s intended?
Ramirez had always known Edion was right. Romance and love were nothing anyone should trifle with. Complications should always be avoided. Maybe the Vawnbrecht royalty wouldn’t be so hard to topple after all.
Ramirez could not believe the inefficiency of Vawnbrecht celebration. It was hours into the feast and nothing had been accomplished besides extensive eating and tireless drinking. He walked over to Edion.
“It will soon be over.” Edion grinned and motioned for his brother to take a seat. “I can see you are enjoying yourself.”
Ramirez sat. The chair was excessively cushioned.
Edion leaned forward from his lounging position and peered at Ramirez. “You look a bit peaked. Have you eaten?”
Ramirez straightened his collar and shook his head.
“What a snob you are. It’s plundering. It’s not like you’re accepting hospitality.” He reached for a nearby platter. “I enjoyed most of these, but I’m afraid I couldn’t manage these foreign things.” He cautiously prodded the small vegetable appetizers. “Green isn’t exactly my color. Perhaps you can manage them?” He took a long puff on his pipe. “Wine then? It’s very good.”
Edion would know. He enjoyed a good drink, or two, or three. Ramirez knew no one who could appreciate so much alcohol and remain sober every day of his life.
Edion placed the platter on Ramirez’ lap and recoiled into the depths of his arm chair. “Eat up.”
Ramirez didn’t feel like grazing on greenery. Instead he asked that question that was on his mind. “What do you know about Judvor Lewq?”
Edion closed his eyes for several moments and enjoyed his pipe. “Hmmm…There is such a great number of Lewqs. Related to the Ephrameans in some way, distantly maybe.” He reached for his glass. “Wilken Lewq is Lady Ephramean’s uncle, and he has numerous sons. I don’t think this Judvor fellow is one of them. If I recall correctly he has no money or title or parents either. Quite touching, really.” He stirred his wine with a smoky finger.
Edion didn’t think it was any more touching than Ramirez. It was nearly the same story as their own, only their parents had created a great deal more trouble then just not being there. But then…all that was more common in their country. Vawnbrecht was just a little too high and mighty to recognize talent in everyday people.
“Meet anyone else interesting?”
Ramirez removed the platter from his lap. “Only Lady Ephramean.”
“Only Lady Ephramean. And how did you like her?” Edion slumped back in his chair.
“I don’t know.”
“A very good and safe answer.” Edion grinned. “She’s too young to be completely spoiled by being female.” He chuckled. “You haven’t met the heir then?”
Ramirez shook his head. He didn’t really want to.
“Well, you will.” Edion pointed a long finger. “Here he comes.”
The man, the very young man, walking towards them was crammed into an ill-fitting brown suit. A suit that encompassed him with such affection that it gave the immediate appearance of a devotion lasting far beyond the natural course of time. He ambled with poise, if ambling can be done so. A grace simply derived from the comfortable, if unusual, fit of his position. Something his suit had yet to learn.
Edion remained in the folds of his chair but motioned Ramirez to stand. “DeElliot, may I introduce my brother and fellow captain? Ramirez Kenzel.”
The young man gave a slight bow and cock-eyed smile. “Very pleased.”
Edion made a sweeping motion. “Ramirez, Lord Dietrich DeElliot, heir to Vawnbrecht.”
Ramirez was surprised to find that the heir’s hand shake was firm and riddled with calluses.
“I’m glad you could come. I look forward to getting to know you all.”
Ramirez wished he could believe that this aristocrat was just being polite, but he couldn’t. However ridiculous his ill chosen attire, wild red hair, and unabashedly over-grown limbs, Lord Dietrich DeElliot was not pretentious. Disliking these Vawnbrechtians was becoming more difficult then Ramirez had imagined.
“You have met my right hand, Judvor Lewq.”
Ramirez turned to notice his earlier acquaintance. Judvor’s blonde head only reached to DeElliot’s shoulder, but that didn’t matter much. He was as thick and forbidding as any seasoned soldier with eyes as bold as Ramirez imagined his hand when challenged.
DeElliot narrowed his eyes. “You ever talk?”
Ramirez caught a grin escaping Judvor’s tight lips. It made him feel immeasurably stupid.
Edion snorted and sat up from his cushions. “He talks, but not half so much has he thinks, which is something he overdoes. He indulges in it for hours at a time.” He thrust his pipe back in his mouth and spoke around it. “Please join us.”
“Thank you. I always welcome hospitality in my own house.” DeElliot chuckled and instead of taking a chair, perched on a heavy stone table edge.
Ramirez wondered if Dietrich DeElliot and Judvor Lewq had half as much decided hatred for his own countryman as he did for theirs.
Judvor Lewq the right hand of the heir? And Judvor had already told DeElliot about their encounter. It all seemed very odd.
If he had a woman, which he was sure he never would, at least not with Edion hissing warnings in his ears, he would never let any man get as close to his as this Judvor seemed to be. But his woman would never dance and laugh down ridiculous hallways. Or, he sighed, be half as beautiful, or half as rich, as Lilly Ephramean.
He looked back up at DeElliot, who was swinging his lanky appendages underneath the table. “Your brother tells me you have no appreciation for poetry or art or writing or thrilling stories, but that you do have a gigantic appreciation for weaponry and riding and all that.”
Ramirez nodded. “Reduced appreciation for all the former compared to my brother, but enthusiasm for the latter.”
“But appreciation for vocabulary, I see.” He smiled. “Well, you should have a lot to discuss with Judvor. Except of course, he doesn’t need so much weaponry, pistols, riffles and all that.” He raised his eyebrows. “He is deadly with his bare hands.” He made a ripping sound.
Ramirez didn’t doubt it. The young man in question remained deadpan.
DeElliot reached for a glass. Ramirez had the uneasy feeling that it was not unused, but DeElliot tried it enthusiastically. “I am looking forward to learning all your fighting ways.”
Ramirez was sure that the greater part of his own country would be happy to show him their way of fighting. Why was DeElliot coming into the enemy’s land so willingly? Didn’t he know there was an underlying war? The DeElliots might own land in both countries, but that was only going to add to his unpopularity. Dietrich DeElliot should stay right here in his absurd medieval castle and prepare for the chaos that would come during his reign.
DeElliot set his adopted glass down and spoke with concern. “Is he a mute?”
Edion chuckled, but Ramirez was saved from further discussion by a hoard of riotous children. They swarmed around DeElliot, and like ants, began crawling up assorted limbs. Ramirez stepped back as DeElliot began to sway. He was laughing. “Easy, all of you!”
Ramirez half-heartedly wondered if he should assist, but Judvor seemed unmoved and unsurprised.
DeElliot tottered into the crowd followed by shrieking boys who had not found an appendage from which to swing.
“Captain Judvor Lewq?”
Ramirez turned back around to see Lord Bithron smiling his forged smile at the Vawnbrechtian soldier.
“No title.” Judvor didn’t offer his hand. “Just Judvor Lewq.”
“ I beg your pardon. I assumed someone so close to the future king…” Lord Bithron tightened his lips. “Well, anyways. It doesn’t matter.”
“He has never owed me anything.” If Judvor was a dog-- and he would make a very good bulldog-- his response would only have been a growl.
“I beg your pardon.” Lord Bithron smoothed a hand through his dark hair. “I was merely making conversation.”
“Don’t.” Judvor turned.
Edion raised his eyebrows at Ramirez. It was refreshing to hear anyone being rude to Lord Bithron. But Lord Bithron was not one to start a conversation without a purpose.
“I hate to trouble you, but I really would like a word in private.”
Judvor gave a searing frown.
Bithron motioned towards the nearest hall door. “You will be interested in what I have to say.”
Ramirez sat back down and watched the door slowly swing closed. “What would he want?”
Edion had closed his eyes. “Hmm…You know. Discord, unhappiness, power, hate, wickedness. I don’t think you have much to worry about. I don’t imagine Judvor Lewq to be the sort of young man to listen to most of his venom.”
Ramirez wished Lord Bithron hadn’t come. Or that he hadn’t come. He didn’t like to be associated with such a man. Besides, he wore the most peculiar clothing and never looked neat. Why couldn’t he wear a tailored black suit?
But if Ramirez really asked himself if he wished he’d stayed behind, he would answer that he didn’t. He and Edion were captains of the army and were loyal to their duke, but even more loyal to Eldine. And Eldine had wished them to come.
Judvor was more punctual for Dietrich’s departure than Dietrich himself. He stood, arms clasped behind his back, staring ahead at a cold stone wall. Ramirez didn’t need to wonder if they would startle him. For all he knew, Judvor might be hiding another set of eyes underneath the shoulder length hair on his head.
Edion removed his pipe from his coat. It was never too early to spend quality time with it. “Good morning.”
Judvor grunted and turned. His face was expressionless, but the purple encircling his eyes betrayed a sleepless night.
Ramriez wondered if he’d even left the dining floor.
“You’re not coming?”
Judvor shook his head, but motioned to the trunk on the floor. “Just things I don’t want to see him leave the country without.”
Edion shrugged. “More heavy weaponry?”
Judvor was serious. “Yes.”
Edion nodded congenially and peeped down the hallway to see if Dietrich was in sight.
Ramirez leaned against the wall. His tired eyelids told him that Vawnbrechtians had no idea what a decent hour was. A long and early journey was infinitely more important then partying until the early hours of the morning.
“My apologies for the delay.” DeElliot was smiling around the bag, pistol, and crate he was hauling.
“I’m sure the duke will be forgiving.” Edion tapped out his pipe.
“Excellent.” Dietrich came to a halt and let his shoulder bag slide. “We don’t want any bad beginnings. I have such an assortment of relatives to bid farewell, I really hadn’t been able to talk to my parents until this morning.” He turned distractedly. “Judvor, you look horrible. Where is Lilly?”
“Coming.” Judvor motioned DeElliot to the trunk. “Take this with you.”
“Thank you.” Deitrich didn’t look in it, but he didn’t seem to be curious.
They all stood silent for a moment, and then Judvor reached inside his jacket. Gently in his rough hands he pulled forth a sheathed ivory-handled knife.
“Oh no, Judvor.” Dietrich grew serious and waved a hand. “Keep it.”
Judvor held it forward. “I know you won’t need something like this, but take it with you.” He almost smiled. “I know you’ll come back with it, or I’ll have to hunt you down.”
“No.” Dietrich shook his head. “You don’t need to worry.”
Judvor opened his mouth in protest, but their attention was turned to a hallway and the clatter of hurrying feet.
“I’m sorry I’m late.” Lady Lilly Ephramean was breathless.
Dietrich took her arm. “You aren’t late.”
Edion raised his eyebrows and puffed his pipe back into life.
Lilly was free of her finery of the night before and instead wore a plain black skirt and white blouse. Her hair was simply, and probably hurriedly, pulled back to fall in waves just below her shoulders. There was nothing of the heiress of Vawnbrecht anywhere on her, except of course, the Ephramean crest on her finger that marked her as the richest individual in her country.
Ramirez glanced at Judvor, but Judvor was crouching down and tucking the knife into DeElliot’s overstuffed bag. If Judvor had any admiration for the girl and her fortune he had time to brew over it after DeElliot’s departure.
“All of you gather around.” Dietrich motioned for them all to come closer.
Ramirez hoped there wouldn’t be any bursts of affection. He was already uncomfortable.
“I want the three of you to witness.” He turned to Judvor. “You are my most loyal and oldest friend. I wish you were coming with me for my own comfort’s sake, but I’m glad you’ve agreed to stay.” He smiled down at Lilly. Ramirez was afraid she was about to cry and looked away. “I have something very precious that needs to be guarded here.”
Ramirez loosened his collar. Yes, she was very precious indeed. She could put money back into Vawnbrecht royalty, but this girl was well deceived if that was all DeElliot cared about.
Dietrich put his hand on Judvor’s thick shoulder. “You are the only man in the world I would trust with such a charge. I know you will guard her even better than I could.” He thwacked he friend’s back and straightened.
Ramirez was afraid that the heir was suppressing a sniff.
“And,” DeElliot turned back to Edion and Ramirez. “You, I hope, will be my new friends. And I trust, as gentlemen, you will keep your word and help me return safely.” He smiled at Lilly’s worried look. “Not that I shall need much help.”
He took Lilly’s hands and enveloped them in his long, rough fingers. “Now, I want you to know, my dear, that no matter what happens, I am coming right back here.” He pulled his crest of his finger and slid it on hers. It swung loosely. “I know I’m a young good-for-nothing and that I don’t know much and haven’t seen or done much. But one thing I’m going to do before I die is marry you. We’ll live right here and have plenty of room for a herd of children. And you’ll be the prettiest , most beautiful and patient wife in the world, even when you’re so old neither of us can walk up stairs.”
Lilly wiped her eyes with her white sleeve. She bent and slipped her own ring off and pushed it onto his finger, it lodged just above his knuckle. Her laugh came through a sob.
He tilted her chin up and smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m coming back.”
She took his hand and gently kissed it. “I know .”
DeElliot and Judvor shouldered his bags and hauled his trunks towards the door. Ramirez lingered. He wanted to say something reassuring to Dietrich’s lady. She stood confident, but her stance was shaken by quiet sobs. There was nothing reassuring to say. Ramirez and Edion knew that if there was anything that they or Eldine could do, Dietrich would not be coming back. At least not be coming back to claim his crown and his intended and her fortune.
He turned to leave, feeling remarkably stupid. Why had he ever let himself sympathize with the lives of his enemies? And why had he allowed himself to admire Lilly Ephramean?
Before he could escape through the door he was stopped by a cool hand on his arm. Lilly looked up with shinning eyes. “You’ll make sure he comes back.”
He knew he couldn’t, but he nodded.