|The Last Vhalgenn|
Today on Romance Lives Forever, in lieu of a guest, I'm sharing one of my books, The Last Vhalgenn.
Genre: Mainstream Fantasy
Author: Kayelle Allen
Narrator: Paige Holt
Heat rating: Mild
Tagline: It's only a child's ritual blessing. Isn't it?
The Vhalgenn is a warrior, bedmate, soulmate, companion, and friend. Trusted by the king. Hated by the queen. To save the newborn prince, the Vhalgenn will risk her position, her honor, and death itself to appease the faerii, and honor the Old Ways. But if she takes the newborn prince to the queen's homeland for a ritual blessing, who--or what--will she bring back?
The Last Vhalgenn finaled for a Fantasy EPPIE in 2008 in the book A Time To... Volume 1 - The Best of The Lorelei Signal 2006, from Wolfsinger Publications. The anthology is now out of print, but the story is available in audiobook.
The Last Vhalgenn
In the private receiving chamber, I knelt before the king I had not seen in over two years, an ache in my knees and groin and back that four hours ahorse had burned into my muscle; and delivered the news of victorious battle I'd been dispatched to bring. When I finished, the sovereign master of Qarth and Kellindahr leaned back his tawny, lion-maned head to regard me with heavy-lidded eyes.
I couldn't believe the luck of having caught Orix awake so late. He'd always been one to turn in early. Soft, his father used to say. I knew it for his love of play. My throat tightened with pleasure at the thought and I had to swallow, hard, to force it away. That we were alone amazed me even more. But war has a way of loosening rules, even in Qarth.
A wartime's ransom of jewels glittered on his hands as he reached for a bowl of golden Kellindahrii apples beside him. He bit into one and chewed.
I waited until his smiling mouth bit into the apple again and then I rose, moved to kneel between his outstretched legs and closed my callused hand around his be-ringed one to bring the fruit to my own lips. Meeting his gaze, I bit into the same place his teeth had torn and wiped my mouth with the back of a dusty hand.
"Ah, Raik," Orix laughed. "You've not changed a whit." He ran his eyes over me, then frowned and moved the candlestand closer to peer at me. "Your leathers are ripped." He bent forward, fingers tracing the slash a scrim saber had made the night before. The blue eyes bored into mine. "Were you hurt?"
Despite my protest to the contrary, he insisted on making sure of my health with his own hands and untied the bindings of my doublet. Beneath the black leather lay a now sweat-soaked blouse of emerald Qarthian silk, the same color as his standard, which my youngest brother had borne into battle the night before. The silk had been the king's gift the year before on my birthday: green that exactly matched my eyes. His color marked me as Orix's as much as my clan's cheek tattoo. The overlapping petals of the flowering Ddhumach ivy tangled itself around a diadem, the symbol for Hellesbor, clan name of my sovereign.
"The leather's ruined, Lord. So's the silk."
"No matter," he said, voice low, his eyes still holding mine. He jerked loose the ties at my throat as if he meant to strip me naked and I shivered despite the summer's heat.
He was close enough for me to feel the moist heat of his breath, inhale the clean maleness of his scent. He'd bathed, his blond hair still dark with water. It curled at the edges as it dried.
"So," he said, releasing me. "You weren't hurt."
"No, sire." I sat and folded my legs, leaning back against his throne as I re-laced my shirt. "Disappointed?"
"Immensely." He laid a hand in my hair. "I'd thought to decorate you."
"For what? Foolishness?" I looked at him over my shoulder. "I got that slice chasing down what turned out to be one of our own men." I bit into the fruit again and held it up for him.
His eyes twinkled. "I've missed you, you rogue. The palace isn't the same without you. It feels empty, all the time." He took a second bite and spoke around a mouthful. "No matter how much I involve myself in my work. Or my wife."
I turned my head to hide my smile. Not proper to gloat, at least in front of him.
My heart warmed at the childhood title: Vhalgenn--the Chosen One. It was the custom in Qarth to give a child of the opposite sex to the sovereign's firstborn to be playmate, companion and bed warmer. To prevent the sowing of seed in the wrong field, the Vhalgenn was made incapable of bearing or fathering a babe early on. We Vhalgenns weren't meant to fall in love with the ones we served, though our history bursts with tales of…
"I said," he leaned closer, "are you hungry?"
"Cyken sent for food as soon as he spotted your horse. He had bath water heated, too."
"The blessings of God on his house forever." I lifted a hand. "I swear, Orix, I've never been this dirty this long. Remind me to kiss him when I'm clean enough for fit company."
"And I suppose I'm not fit?" He stood and held down a hand. "Come on, you rogue. You can eat after you bathe."
I let him take me where he chose, too tired and too trusting to question or resist. No other man could so easily direct me. Few would try.
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