"A city is under attack in this medieval fantasy romance"
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
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.
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....
“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.
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.
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,
“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
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
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
“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—”
“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.
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.
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