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And So It Begins

And So It Begins, July 2013
Prince And Trader 1
by R G Green

Dreamspinner Press
Featuring: Derek; Prince Kherin
218 pages
ISBN: 162380602X
EAN: 9781623806026
Kindle: B00DKMOEVQ
e-Book
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"A city is under attack in this medieval fantasy romance"

Fresh Fiction Review

And So It Begins
R G Green

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted September 13, 2013

Gay / Lesbian Paranormal | Gay / Lesbian Romance

Kherin is a prince of the land of Llarien, and northern raiders called Mountain Roamers are crossing the border and attacking farms. His controlling father King Kellian briefs him about the latest raid, in which six defenders died at a city called Gravlorn. Kherin wants to go and help defend the people, but his father doesn't seem to feel that he's needed.

AND SO IT BEGINS is the first in a series called Prince And Trader. Due to the country's reliance on trade, the traders are exempt from military duty, and one such, Derek, picks Kherin off the floor when he drowns his sorrows in a tavern. Unknown to the prince, his older brother Adrien was injured in that last attack, and now experiences seizures and a wound that won't heal. Is this poison, illness or something more sinister? The messengers don't dare to include the matter in reports. Out of favour, the younger prince is now sent off with Derek on a trading mission in the opposite direction. Kherin knows he's being got out of the way. Is it because he was getting attached to one of the stable boys? Derek's saying nothing, but he secretly finds the prince attractive. And he's more than willing to take a detour through Gravlorn....

The fantasy is a little slow to get under way but once we see some action and movement it picks up and the detailed atmosphere adds to the richly realised land. Magic was used in Llarien many years ago but has been forgotten, and only a few ancient tomes remain. The northerners speak a foreign tongue and wield axes, but Kherin realises that if they shave their long hair, and dress like his folks, they could have been crossing and mingling unseen. He becomes determined to capture one and talk with him.

I would have liked some female characters beyond tavern wenches, amid the plentiful cast of men. This adult story features two gay men who gradually fall into a deep relationship, held apart by the prince's status but brought together by shared danger. There is next to no magic, but hints arise that the series will feature stronger use of spells. Similarly we have not seen strange beasts or ensorcelled swords, just a cold and wet medieval world, in which character building is the author's aim. RG Green has left a clear lead in to the next instalment - fantasy readers will do well to start with AND SO IT BEGINS before the tale gets more complex.

Learn more about And So It Begins

SUMMARY

For hundreds of years, the kingdom of Llarien has maintained a defense against the barbarians. Now, activity at the border draws attention from Kherin Rhylle, the less-favored younger son of the king. Kherin suspects a deeper purpose behind the attacks, but his father refuses to grant permission to travel to the border, despite Kherin's obligated tenure as a Defender. Not even unprecedented deaths or the serious injury of Kherin's brother, the crown prince, can change the king's mind.

Then Derek Resh, kingdom trader and Kherin's closest friend, convinces the king to allow Kherin to travel with him, and an unexpected journey to the border proves the threat real-while an unexpected intimacy with Derek makes Kherin realize that his feelings go deeper than the friendship they have shared for most of his life. But even that turns devastating, as Derek won't pursue anything more intimate when the king's disapproval is certain.

Grasping at straws, Kherin is caught between a danger he doesn't understand and the desire for a deeper relationship he can't have. And then there's the magic that threatens to return after being banished hundreds of years ago....

Excerpt

Chapter One     “DID you hear?”

The shrill excitement in the girl’s voice snatched Kherin’s attention from the book in his lap, and he glanced up sharply in the direction of the sound. This area of his father’s gardens was secluded for the most part, with the surrounding hedges high enough to protect him from a casual glance despite being just outside the kitchen door. The door the servants used to empty mop buckets and dispose of trash.

“Another message arrived from the border! It’s Prince Adrien! He’s hurt!”

What? The words startled Kherin from his relaxed pose, and the book he had been reading dropped to the ground as he bolted up from the bench. He ignored it as he rounded the hedge, grimacing at the irritating pull of muscle that still plagued his leg despite the mended bone. Two weeks had passed since his leg brace had been removed, though Kherin was reminded too often that sudden movements still made the muscles twist painfully, especially now that the air had grown cooler with the promise of an early winter. Two serving girls stood on the stone path outside the open kitchen entrance, one of them gripping the edge of a mop bucket, the ground around them wet with discarded water. Both of them let out audible gasps as Kherin strode into view, followed by hasty curtsies and stuttered addresses in deference to the prince. Kherin approached without acknowledging either, his attention fixed firmly on the younger of the two.

Her name was Clarice, and she was no more than twelve, with pale hair pulled tightly away from a round and freckled face. The daughter of a castle baker, Clarice had been put to work through her mother’s insistence and under her mother’s eye, but right now she clutched the empty mop bucket with fingers that had gone white. Under the prince’s gaze, she blanched pale enough to match them. Kherin didn’t normally condone terrorizing children, but with the words she had said….

“The message,” Kherin demanded, putting the full authority of his royal status in his voice as he towered over her. “What exactly did it say?”

Frightened eyes flitted to the second girl, Jira, darker and a few years older, and wise enough to step away from the anxious prince.

“The message, my lord…,” she stammered hesitantly, bringing her eyes back. “It wasn’t written. Defender Ren brought it from… from Gravlorn….”

Kherin took a slow breath. Messages had begun arriving shortly after Derek’s departure, from Gravlorn and other border cities, relating the sudden, intense fighting the likes of which hadn’t been seen in years. The northerners had begun crossing Trian’s Ford, Llarien’s bordering river, and in numbers high enough to warrant more attention than an occasional skirmish and covering the length of the border from east to west. News of the crossings had sharply echoed Derek’s warning to his father just over a month ago, and brought images to Kherin’s mind of the single northerner burned in Dennor, though it was a sight he hadn’t seen in person.

But none of the messages had been verbal.

Until now.

Written words rarely made it to the king’s hands without the bearers reading them first, and the servants reading them second. It was an unspoken but widely known fact, and one Kherin himself had exploited in the past. A verbal message was designed to keep its contents secret. How this servant—Clarice —had learned the words of a verbal message, Kherin had no idea. He did know it wouldn’t have come from Adrien. None of the messages had; they were sent by the Defender Leader of each camp. But each message from Gravlorn had assured them of the elder prince’s well being.

Until now.

Kherin took another breath and then spoke again, his voice low and steady. “What did the message from Gravlorn say, Clarice?”

“My lord,” the girl began again worriedly. “I—it said only that Prince Adrien was hurt, and the healer was caring for him.”

“Nothing more?” Kherin pressed, hearing the harshness and mildly regretting the way Clarice shrank away from him, but unrelenting nonetheless. “How he was hurt? How badly?”

“No, my lord. But it… Ren said others have died. Defenders, my lord.”

The blood drained from Kherin’s face, and his gut clenched at the words. The serving girl paled further, her fingers twisting on the edge of the mop bucket.

Kherin froze her with his stare. “When did it arrive? When?”

“Within the last hour, my lord.”

Kherin’s mind worked the timing. Gravlorn was four days’ ride at a Defender company pace, perhaps three for a lone messenger, less for a messenger bearing words of urgency. For Ren to have arrived at this hour, when it was nearing the evening bells, and bearing a message such as this, the ride from the border would have been harried. The message was likely no more than two days old at most.

He moved suddenly, brushing past the girls without another word. He ignored the looks of the other servants as he moved through the kitchen to the servants’ stair that led directly to his father’s offices on the second floor. With the arrival of the message so recently, Kherin had no doubt he would find his father still there.

He wasn’t disappointed. King Kellian Rhylle, Llarien’s most recent ruler in the bloodline of kings, was seated in a cloth-covered chair behind a desk cluttered with sheets of parchment, sharpened quills, and bottles of ink. Even dressed in his less formal robes, even with his raven hair hanging loose about his shoulders, Kellian still projected the very essence of royalty. His strong- featured visage was held in complete control as he scanned the slip of parchment he held in a steady grip, sitting so still even a mediocre painter would have had no trouble capturing the angles. It was only a moderate relief to find the king alone, with neither his aide nor the messenger present. Ren, or so Clarice had said. Kherin vowed he would find him later.

His father didn’t so much as glance up as Kherin stormed into the room, didn’t twitch so much as a muscle as his son came to an abrupt halt less than a foot from the desk. Kherin scowled. He was well used to this from his father, and he knew a single word from him now would be all it would take to delay his purpose in coming here in favor of another royal lecture about protocol, respect, and manners in general, a tirade his father no doubt hoped to deliver. Kherin was determined not to give him the satisfaction this time.

He crossed his arms instead and fought his growing impatience for this game to be played out. He stared at the portrait of the queen mother that hung behind the king, filling the space between two long windows that overlooked a private courtyard caught in the death throes of autumn, and the only section of wall that was not covered in shelves lined with enough books and parchment sheets to rival the royal library. Her eyes, in the shadows, appeared wary.

“You’ve heard the news from the border.”

Kherin’s gaze shifted sharply to his father. The words were spoken without preamble, without the king even looking up from the sheet in his hand. And they were spoken with no more inflection than if he had said that rain was falling on his garden.

Kherin’s mouth tightened, and the blood pounded in his veins as he waited. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to wait long.

“The Mountain Roamers have become more aggressive than usual,” his father continued after only a moment or two of silence, though his eyes remained fixed on the page in his hands. “More of them cross the Ford every week, and they do so in numbers that are growing larger with each crossing.”

Kherin’s scowl deepened, but he held his silence. The Mountain Roamers was the name that had been given to the northerners at some point in the past, most likely because their villages were rumored hidden in the mountain range far north of the kingdom’s border, behind the plains that stretched between the foothills and the river. And while Trian’s Ford may be a broad expanse of water, it could easily be crossed in the shallower places. As the northerners had apparently learned. But he had known that much already.

“At the moment, their concern seems to be centering on Gravlorn.”

“Gravlorn?” Kherin repeated before he could think better of it. Derek had mentioned them appearing around Dennor, well east of the city where Adrien was now assigned. Dennor also made more sense, as crippling the port would be more effective at damaging a country than attacking a Defender post with equal protection on either side. The likelihood of crippling either city was nearly irrelevant, however, as Defenders were fully trained and entirely capable of preventing that from happening. At least they had been, decades ago….

He was rewarded for his outburst by the stiffening of his father’s whole demeanor, and he clamped his mouth shut. Respect for the king meant not speaking out of turn, and they both knew Kellian had scored his point.

Extending the silence was his father’s punishment. At any other time, and under any other circumstances, Kherin would have waited him out, matched him moment for moment while the words were left unsaid between them. But at this time, under these circumstances, Kherin’s impatience finally won out.

“What of Adrien?” he demanded suddenly. “How badly is he hurt?”

The curl of the king’s lip was barely visible under his bowed head. “Your brother was found outside the camp at Gravlorn, wounded, but alive,” he answered bluntly. “He is now under the care of Gravlorn’s healer. He is expected to recover and will remain under the care of the healer until his duty is fulfilled, or until he is well enough to travel.”

Kherin bit back a growl of frustration and resisted the urge to slam his fist onto the desk. That was the answer given to nobles and courtiers should they inquire about the incident, a standard statement to leave the impression all was well, while giving no hint of the true situation. It was not the answer that should be given to the son of the king, and not what Kherin wanted to hear in regards to his brother.

Gods, why does it always have to be this way?

“Who died?” he asked then, sharply and abruptly, the words biting as they left his lips.

The king looked up, a measure of surprise visible for just an instant before it vanished under the coldness Kherin was far more familiar with. It was the face he would one day wear, once he reached his father’s years, though if the Gods were gracious, it would be without the bitter lines that hardened the cut of his features. But seeing that bitterness deepen now caused the heavy weight of dread to settle sickeningly in his stomach, and the ice that filled his blood crushed any feeling of victory at catching his father off guard.

It was true.

“Who?” he whispered harshly. “Who died? What are their names?”

“Jaran Islarn,” Kellian answered evenly, unblinking. “Lian and Loric Hern. Kevran Nells. Bengran Orman. Jessup Dyane. Their bodies are being returned to the castle for burial. You will be expected to attend.” Cool, emotionless eyes falling back on the sheet he held.

Kherin’s head swam. The master blacksmith’s son, the twin sons of a castle Arms Trainer, a city stableman, and two castle guards. Kherin knew their names, and he knew their faces. He had sparred with them all at one time or another during his own years of training, and had engaged in mischief with some of them outside the training yard. Never before, at least in his memory, had they lost Defenders at the border. Never. He tried to reconcile their faces with the words “returned for burial” and found it difficult to do. He had known these men.Gods….

“Let me go to Gravlorn.” It was impulsive, blurted out without thought, but ringing only truth for having said it out loud. He faced his father squarely as the king’s eyes narrowed, and he steeled himself for battle as the notion took hold. “Let me take my responsibility at the border. My leg is well enough for travel, and the duty is mine to fulfill.”

“Your ‘duty’ is nearly finished there. You will remain in Delfore.”

The bluntness of the refusal froze Kherin for only a moment, and then the fires of anger burned away any chill the news of the border had brought. “There is a month left of my duty there,” he grated out heatedly. Six Defenders dead and Adrien hurt, while he remained here, idle in the palace of the king. It was enough to turn his stomach. “Gravlorn is only four days’ travel, less if I travel alone, and I am more than capable of making that journey, with or without your royal escort.”

“An escort you will not have for any reason other than to ensure you remain in the city, and one I will personally select the moment I feel it becomes necessary.” The king’s eyes glittered dangerously as he watched his son over the expanse of the desk. “The answer is no.”

“Adrien has been hurt!” Kherin snapped. “The northerners are attacking, and Defenders—your own Defenders—have died, and whether or not you care about that, you will have to send Defenders to replace them! My leg—”

“That’s enough, Kherin.” Clear warning as the page was lowered to the desk.

“My leg is fine, and it’s my responsibility to be on the border,” Kherin continued, his voice low and angry. “I should already be there—”

“That’s enough.”

“You have no justification for sending others in my place!”

“The answer is no.”

“Tell me why.”

The silence nearly crackled in the stillness that suddenly filled the room. The shadow of a passing cloud darkened the air around them as a seeming precursor to the coming storm, and the eyes of the queen now seemed pleading in the alternating light.

“Because that is the order of your father and your king,” Kellian warned, rising to stand with both hands planted palm down on the desk. “If you can’t respect the former, you had better respect the latter. I will not have my say questioned or countered by anyone save the Gods themselves, and I will not tolerate insolence despite the fact that you bear my blood. You will not go to Gravlorn, and that is the end of the discussion.”

Kherin stared, speechless. That simple? His father said no and that was the end of it? Anger boiled in his stomach, and the urge to throw something was hard to resist. But instead he stepped back, and then turned in disgust to leave the workroom, not bothering to voice any kind of parting address. He stopped as his father spoke again.

“And, Kherin, the stableboys are paid to tend to their duties. I will not pay those who cannot fulfill those duties, even if it is because their prince keeps them from their sleep. I suggest you remember that before you take another to your bed.”

Kherin whirled. Take another…? Six Defenders dead and his father picked now to harp about his bed partners? Yes, Tristan had been to his chambers the previous evening, but no, Tristan had not spent the night there. Tristan had returned to the stables while the night was still early, as he always did.

“What—?”

Kellian slowly resumed his seat. “Tristan has been dismissed.”

Kherin stood rooted. “You dismissed him?”

“I warned you what would come if you continued to act irresponsibly, but you chose to ignore that warning. Now it is done.” Parchment scratched against skin as he retrieved the sheet he had been reading.

“You had no right to do that!” Kherin hissed, stepping forward once again, hands clenched. “What I do is my own concern! You can’t—!”

“I can, and I will, and I have!” Kellian bellowed, crumpling the sheet as he leaned forward to speak. “The permissions granted by the royalty of your blood will not be used to bring shame on this house, and I will not allow your promiscuity to blacken the honor of our family name.” Their gazes remained locked as the king slowly sat back. “You give no care to who fills your bed, and you see your actions as affecting no one other than yourself. It is far past time you learned differently.”

“Learn differently?” Kherin repeated angrily. “You dismiss Tristan, then deny my going to Gravlorn for nothing more than… what? Punishment? Tristan wasn’t at fault!”

“No, you were at fault! The stableboy merely paid for your error. It is a lesson you would do well to heed.” The king drew a breath, coldly and calmly. “I am your king, as well as your father, and you will obey me. You will choose your partners more wisely, and you will remain in Delfore. Is that clear?”

Kherin stared at the abruptness of the dismissal, but was unable to move. His mother watched him from her portrait on the wall between the windows, her expression now weary, one of patient tolerance, something that had not been passed to her youngest son. Kherin drew one breath before speaking.

“My duty is at Gravlorn, and as a Defender of this kingdom, I am bound to fulfill that duty,” he managed at last, his voice low and steady, his hands clenching and unclenching at his side. “I am requesting your permission to travel to Gravlorn, though I will travel without it if need be.”

Dark eyes locked with his. “You will do no such thing.”

“Dismissing Tristan was unnecessary, and it was wrong,” Kherin continued as if he hadn’t heard, his voice emotionless and even. “Your anger is with me, and it should have been handled with me. You made a mistake, though I know you will do nothing to remedy it.”

“Kherin….” Low and warning, the king stiffening his posture again.

“We have long passed the point where you can send me to my chambers or forbid my leaving the castle walls, Father,” Kherin finished bitterly. “I am a prince of Llarien—”

“A second prince, and one not beyond the rules of your status.”

“A second prince, who by honor and duty is bound to defend this kingdom, which I neither now nor ever will hold claim over. You wish me to act responsibly, yet you deny my going to the border despite it being my duty to do so, and you dismiss a member of your own staff for no other reason than he shared my bed.”

“And I will strip you of every privilege you hold as prince if that is the means to ending the impudence you claim as your birthright—”

Kherin snarled, cutting the words off with a sound loud and feral as he swung from his father’s gaze. His stride was furious as he shoved himself into the hall, the door to the workroom slamming loudly behind him. The stares of the servants, silent, wary, and fearful, followed him as he bore down the stairs— the front stairs—and others bustled out of the way as he burst through the castle’s entrance and into the courtyard. Others watched as he crossed the paved square, and the guards at the courtyard gate had no chance to salute as he strode past. The cobbled street leading to the city proper soon became the victim of his punishing steps.

The land between the castle and the city was given to a wide avenue overlooking gently rolling, treeless hills. The practice of allowing no houses or shops to be built on those hills kept the castle separate from the city itself, and the lack of trees or shrubs prevented any shelter to harbor thieves or assassins who would dare to climb the castle walls. The way to the city was easy, and Kherin had covered nearly half the distance before his steps slowed to something resembling a normal walk. His boiling temper kept him from feeling the chill of the oncoming evening for the moment, though the fact that he had brought no cloak would be something he would probably regret later. The cooling air promised it would be a frigid night, and his return to the castle would undoubtedly be a long and cold one.

But by then he would be too drunk to care.

He hoped.


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