As my September deadline approaches, and The Royal Rogue comes to a wrap, I’ve been putting pencil to paper in attempt to stir my drawing muse from a hibernation that should’ve been shaken a long time ago. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated everyone on the book’s progress, and so I thought I’d make up for it by sharing a recent illustration along with a part of the first chapter of the novel. This is probably the last excerpt I’ll be sharing until the book’s release (and it still has yet to undergo the final edit), but I hope you enjoy it and perhaps it’ll be enough encouragement to have you stick around for it’s release next year.
…Prince Jaycent Connor slumped at a long table which sat on a platform set at the front of the Great Hall. Below him couples danced in synch with one another while others sat content at their tables, their glasses held close to their lips as they partook in small talk with newfound acquaintances. Rolling his eyes, he took another long sip of wine; his fourth chalice of the evening and he had yet to leave his seat.
“Slow down, cousin. One more glass of that and you won’t be able to tell the beauties from the beasts.” General Mendeley took a seat beside the Prince and motioned for a servant to pour him a drink.
Jaycent downed the rest of his share before raising his glass to the general. “Even the ugliest of ladies deserve flattery every once and awhile.”
“Perhaps,” his cousin chuckled. Eldest of the two, Rayhan Mendeley was broad shouldered and in his early thirties. He had been sworn in as a soldier at fifteen by former general and father, Siren Mendeley, and was bred with a zealous commitment to service. Tonight he wore that title proudly. A dark silk tunic hugged his solid figure, its ornate silver buttons trailing from belt to collar. Upon his neck a brooch shaped like the bust of a unicorn held together the decorative cloak that fell over his right arm. As always, his belt flaunted the battle weary sword that never left his side, but tonight it sat nestled in a blue, diamond-crested sheath. An honor the blade had more than earned in its years of service.
“You’re dressed particularly well tonight,” Jaycent tugged the sleeve of Rayhan’s uniform, causing the five well-earned medals on his breast to jingle against one another. “Who’s the lucky lady?”
Rayhan smiled, tossing him a humored glance. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
The General nodded toward a petite young woman in the middle of a heated discussion with one of Jaycent’s leading advisers. Her long black curls bobbed up and down as she filled the elder’s ears with her own theories on royal politics.
The Prince choked mid-swallow. “Arelee Denicarli… You’re here with the horse breeder’s daughter?”
Rayhan smiled and nodded, though he didn’t seem entirely delighted. Arelee was a childhood friend of both cousins. Notorious for her outspoken disposition, she never failed to wreak havoc within nobility’s propriety.
“I’m surprised you managed to get her here in a dress,” Jaycent mused.
“Yes, well, it was a challenge,” said the general, eyeing her with amusement as he leaned back into his seat. “But I figured the royal blood needs its feathers ruffled every once and awhile. Otherwise palace life tends to become rather monotonous.”
“Monotonous is putting it ever so lightly,” the Prince muttered. “Does this mean you are courting her?”
Rayhan cocked one eyebrow, reminding the prince how ridiculous his question truly was. There had only been one woman in Rayhan’s life, and he fell for her like a struck bird. She was an elven maiden, but other than that the prince knew very little. The general spoke of her rarely, usually in passing. Yet the tone of his voice when he said her name suggested to Jaycent what words did not.
“You know, Rayhan…it’s been a long time, and you aren’t getting any younger. Maybe giving Arelee a chance isn’t as daft as it seems.”
The elder cousin ran a finger around the rim of his glass, staring at the deep red liquid as if it held an answer. “Or maybe it is.”
The prince shrugged apathetically and the two fell silent for several moments before Rayhan took the initiative.
“What about you? How come you aren’t out there sweeping a lady or two off their feet?”
Jaycent snickered as he let his silver-blue eyes trail toward a couple of young women in the corner. Catching sight of his attention, the damsels giggled nervously. “I know you’re not talking about love, cousin. You and I both know I have little heart to speak of.”
“Pity,” the general remarked.
“You speak of love as if it’s something worth chasing after.”
Rayhan took a sip of his drink, offering Arelee a smile as he caught her glance in his direction. “Who ever said it wasn’t?”
“What? And end up like you? Wasting life wistfully recalling a lover from long ago? Please. Love is a fool’s dream. Nothing more, nothing less.” The look on the general’s face caused the prince to regret his loose tongue. Damn wine, he thought to himself as he quickly tried to smooth things over. “I spoke too boldly…”
“You speak in ignorance,” his cousin said. The general slid his chair out and rose from the table. “Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a friend here I’ve neglected long enough. And for mercy’s sake, Sire! Get out of your chair and mingle a bit. Try to have some fun.”
Jaycent sighed as he watched the general approach Arelee and with a sweeping bow offer her a dance. To the elderly adviser’s relief, she graciously accepted and they took to the floor. He pondered whether his cousin was truly as happy as he seemed or if it was all just a façade. Could someone really experience such tragedy in life, and still find reason to smile? Either way, you couldn’t tell with General Mendeley. He hardly ever spoke of private things.
The prince grabbed Rayhan’s abandoned glass and stood, assuming part of the request by getting out of his seat. Weaving his way toward the door with some difficulty, the royal finished off the last of the wine as he went, frowning when the last few drops clung stubbornly to the bottom.
“Prince Connor? Prince Connor!” A masculine voice called out from the crowd just as he reached for the handle. He rolled his eyes before turning to face his pursuer, a false smile in place as he reminded himself to be pleasant.
The young rahee bowed hastily, a nervous smile across his lips as he sputtered out a greeting. He was a commoner, and from the looks of it a foreign one. Standing at a hardy 5’10, the stranger bore a tan that rivaled even the most weather worn farmers. He wasn’t much younger than the prince himself and possessed a pair of sharp, amber eyes common in rahee from the southern region. The Prince’s suspicions were confirmed when he looked past the chin length black curls to see a fashionably high collared vest sold in the kingdom’s southern city, Sarrokye.
“Let us walk and talk,” offered the prince as he opened the door and motioned the commoner on forward. Although peasant folk weren’t usually permitted to approach Jaycent without formal invitation, he wasn’t about to revoke that opportunity tonight. Not when this stranger seemed eager, if not desperate.
“Thank ya, M’lord. I won’t waste your time. I promise.” The Prince struggled not to wince at the southerner’s peculiar drawl.
“Well for once in my life I actually have time to waste,” Jaycent stated. “Speak. You seem distressed.”
“Yes M’lord, ya could say that.” Following the Prince toward an outdoor balcony, he proceeded to tell the royal about how he had originally moved to Nevaharday from the south to begin farming, but the blueprint of the new trade route revealed to citizens a week ago would cut through the middle of his harvest. Jaycent tried his best to look attentive in spite of the drunkenness that moved like a fog across his mind. It wasn’t easy.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked.
“I didn’t, M’lord,” the commoner replied. “It’s Milo. Milo Kasateno. I live in a village called New Haven, just outside of the city.”
“Well then, Milo, why don’t we set up a hearing where we can discuss this at length?” Jaycent turned, motioning for a guard to join them. “Escort this rahee to General Rayhan and inform him that I granted Milo Kasateno an audience at noon tomorrow.”
With a sigh of relief the commoner thanked him and bowed profusely as he departed in search of the general among the fray of guests. Jaycent gave a polite nod in return and rested his weight on the balustrade, thankful for some solitude.
Night had fallen, casting the sky under a navy backdrop. Captured in its starry net, the full moon illuminated the rolling hills that stretched beyond the horizon. To his right he could see the pastures lined in silver, their grassy canvas dotted with the shadows of resting horses while to his left dense forests skirted the untamed mountain range that stood like solemn sentries over his growing kingdom.
Pride swelled inside as he gazed with silent admiration at the breathless landscape. Centuries ago this was a land marred by bloodshed and sorrow as rahee and elf warred over unclaimed land and broken promises. Yet you would never know it now. Although rocky, the relationship between rahee and elf was civil and peace was well established as Jaycent’s kingdom prospered. Today it stretched from Nevaharday’s neighboring peaks to Sarrokye’s frothy shores, and every day that expanse seemed to grow a little more. In the past year, his northern city had become a thriving hub for trade which led other races to view Jaycent as a rising leader among the allied kingdoms. From a political standpoint, the prince had every reason to be rejoicing in his realm’s success.
But he wasn’t.
In the distance, the thrum of heavy hoof beats shook away the silence. Jaycent’s ears flicked toward the sound and he scanned the area for a familiar figure. Across the main pasture a silhouette broke the serenity as it charged across the enclosure, muffling the prince’s thoughts beneath the sound of his thunderous gait.
“Diego,” Jaycent whispered. “Just as restless as I am tonight, aren’t you friend?”
The unicorn’s piercing whinny broke the silence as he bucked with wild abandon. The stallion’s display kindled fear in the hearts of the royal servants, but the prince understood Diego’s outbursts for what they were. His spirit spurred him to run, releasing the pent up energy twitching within each honed muscle. Jaycent knew what it felt like to crave release. Lately the dictation of his royal duties left him feeling caged. Amidst the demanding politics and his continuous role as the face of his kingdom, there was no time allotted for anything personal… not even for something as intimate as mourning.
Jaycent clinched his jaw, his eyes pressed shut as he remembered that ill-fated day two years ago. His ears dipped low beneath his mahogany locks and he instinctively gripped the cold metallic bands that hugged his wrists. Last week marked the second year of his parents passing. Both King and Queen had fallen ill shortly after a visit to the eastern region. ‘Frighteningly contagious’ the healers said, and the couple was quickly quarantined. Jaycent never saw his parents during that time. Not even in their final hours due to the healer’s fear for his own health. At first he stood sentry at their chamber door, speaking words of hope to his parents through the thick wood that stood between them. But as things grew worse, the healers shooed him away. It was too dangerous, they explained. Nevaharday couldn’t risk the life of the first and only heir to the throne.
Hours later, his parents passed and Jaycent was forced to take his father’s place at the age of twenty-two. In an instant he became the youngest leader of the allied kingdoms. Tears still glistened in his eyes when the king’s advisers placed his father’s silver cuffs on his wrists; trinkets that felt more like a shackle with each passing day. While the public had plenty of time to grieve the passing of the King and his Lady, Jaycent only received a few sympathetic pats on the back while his advisors muttered about how the show must go on.
And it went on. And on, and on…and on.
Although the prince would never admit it out loud, he didn’t think he had what it took to fill his father’s shoes. Leading a kingdom consumed his time, his energy and much of his soul. Soon after Jaycent’s rise to the throne, he discovered that leading a kingdom meant walking a lonely path which trusted few and served many. This path had no room for weakness or emotion. To prevent vulnerability the prince learned to hide his true feelings behind placid mask and even tone. At the end of the day all he wanted to do was run, scream and scare the living daylights out of anyone who crossed his path. Much like Diego was doing now.
“At least you don’t have to pretend,” he mumbled as the mighty beast made another round across the pasture.
“Who are you talking to?” a curious voice jolted Jaycent from his solitude. The prince peeked over his shoulder to see an auburn haired woman in a striking green dress standing just outside the door frame. It didn’t take wine to make this woman look like a gem. He turned his attention back to the stallion in the distance to keep his eyes from trailing.
“Him,” he responded, motioning toward the black unicorn tearing across the pasture. The lady approached the balustrade and the prince was thankful for his long, brown hair that shielded his misty eyes; a result of him recently pulling the cork on bottled up memories. Damn wine.
“Is that who I think it is?” the stranger asked as she leaned over the railing. The woman craned her neck to get a better look at the black unicorn that moved like a furious shadow in the darkness. As she did, Jaycent caught the scent of lavender on her. It was enticing. He bit his lip as he tried to remain focused on the conversation.
“His name is Diego. He is my Companion, and one of two unicorns that reside on palace grounds.”
Though he managed to keep his tone nonchalant, Jaycent couldn’t fight the nagging urge to know this woman rising from within. While he may not believe in love, the prince was no novice to romance. Life was lonely enough in his line of work. To stave such feelings, the twenty-four year old bachelor would often cater to the desires of a pretty mistress.
“You know I’ve worked here in the palace stables for two months and this is the first time I’ve ever caught a glimpse of him.” The composure this lady held while standing in his presence amazed Jaycent. It was as if she spoke to a neighbor, not the ruler of a kingdom. He had to admit it was a refreshing change from the typical swooning maiden. “I’ve heard he was a sight to say the least…”
She fell silent for a few moments and the prince managed to steal a glimpse of this bold beauty. She had a young face with almond-shaped emerald eyes. The light from the dance hall gave her pale skin a golden tinge that accented her slender neck. His eyes trailed down to her low cut bodice that displayed a set of modest, yet pleasant, curves as the lady looked on. “For some reason I never envisioned him to be so…fierce.”
“Fierce?” the Prince snapped out of his trance just as she turned to meet his gaze. “What makes you say that?”
“Well look at him,” she nodded toward Diego who reared up and pawed at some invisible enemy.
Jaycent shook his head slowly. “That is his nature, my lady. He is a strong and proud creature. If anything, what you see should be described as spirit, not anger.”
A look of contemplation swept her features. “I never considered that.”
“Indeed you did not.”
Blushing, the lady lowered her gaze.
“Consider this: You cannot truly judge a dance…” taking her hand, the prince led her through the first few steps of a commoner’s barrada, “until you’ve tried it for yourself.” Her eyebrows arched in surprise at his audacious, but impressive, sweep. “In the same way, you should never judge a book before you’ve read it cover to cover.”
Spinning into his arms with seasoned grace, she smiled. “Just as I shouldn’t judge a beast – or prince – before I know his character?”
“Precisely,” Jaycent flashed a handsome smile, but before he could work his charm any further, a voice broke the mood.
Two pairs of eyes shot toward the entryway where the Sarrokian gentleman Jaycent had met earlier stood, his voice commanding authority. The prince didn’t miss the way he clenched his fists at the sight of them together. Gently spinning her out of his arms, he bowed courteously and let the woman go. So much for that rendezvous.
“It seems your prince awaits, my lady.”
“So it appears,” was her reply, though the girl made no effort to conceal her frustration as she huffed. “I’m sorry.” Jaycent watched as the woman curtsied before walking away. “Good night, Your Highness.”
“Good night, Miss Levee,” he replied before turning to the Sarrokian. “And to you as well, Miles.”
“It’s Milo, M’lord,” the Sarrokian responded. Jaycent could tell he was biting his tongue to keep himself from saying more.
“My most genuine apology.” The royal said, then he turned his attention back to the quiet view of his kingdom. Jaycent knew full well how his actions must have looked to Milo when he saw Levee locked in the prince’s arms, his hands lingering lower than propriety allowed. Places the commoner probably intended to put his own later that night while he – the Prince of Nevaharday – would crawl into bed alone.
That last word struck a chord inside the royal, and suddenly solitude didn’t seem so inviting. Longing for some company, he made his way to the staircase and eventually the pastures where he would seek solace in the presence of his four legged friend. So much for a festive evening, he thought.