My short story Assassin is free on Amazon today and tomorrow (3/24 – 3/24). Please avail yourself of the offer and grab it at http://www.amazon.com/Assassin-ebook/dp/B007JJSMTQ/.
For almost twenty years, war has raged between the mountain kingdom of Thrace and the sea-faring land of Andal, exhausting both nations. Prince Lowan, the educated and debonair second son of the King of Thrace, has arrived to make peace with his father’s enemies. But the price Andal requires for peace is high–too high–and Lowan knows there are many ways to influence a nation at war.
If you are kind enough to download it, please consider telling your friends by clicking on the “Share this item” button on Amazon (example on right). It would be a huge help!
AND WHY WOULD the King of Thrace send one of his own flesh as emissary?”
Kaross, the Andal king, looked down at me, his face blank but belligerent, like a hunting dog unsure whether he should bite or snarl. A simple iron band served him for a crown, matching the tendency of his folk to favor war over art. He was dressed in a plain but finely-made toga of purple and crimson, with a white-gold border that complemented his trim beard and close-cropped hair, both the color of dirty snow. Despite nearing seventy winters, he was still fit-looking, with a swordsman’s poise, though rumors had it that the tyrant of the Andals had seen blood in his piss and woke many nights in pain, stalking the halls before dawn in stiff-legged agony.
I bowed low, conscious of the eyes of the Andalian court on me. “I am but a second son, Your Grace, which as we all know is as valuable as a first daughter or a second wife and about as useful as teats on a bull. My lord father has three other sons and he sees little risk in sending me to deal with your gracious people. I, myself, value my hide as well as my teats, and throw myself on your mercy and honor in dealing with a messenger.”
A titter raced among some of the courtiers and out of the corner of my eye I saw hands heavy with rough jewels cover smiling mouths. Generally speaking, the good folk of Andal have not the skill to engage in wordplay, though they admire it when they hear it. Their king, however, did not find my repartee amusing.
“Our nations have been at war for seventeen years,” he said, scowling. His voice was low and rough, like a boar’s grunt. “Why now? Why are you here with sweet words and a gypsy’s smile to talk of peace?”
I let my smile fade and took on a look of studied grief. “Your Grace, I apologize for my jest. The strife between our nations is no cause for amusement. If my lord father sends a son to treat with you, it is because he hopes to show the seriousness of his intent.”
“Thrace wearies of war so soon?” he said, his lips curling into a bare smile.
I refused to take the bait. “In a sense, it does, King. But my country is a proud land, of warriors and poets. Our history is long and our memory longer. Never have we been bested in war. We have repulsed invaders, crushed revolts, executed usurpers. But now Thrace cries for peace. The people of my nation are tired of war, Lord Kaross, and they believe yours are, too. We ask that you consider terms for an honorable end to our conflict, a contest that has gone on for so long that I was but an infant when it began. All I have known in life is war.”
“As have I,” a tenor voice rang out. All turned to look as a young man a few steps to Kaross’s right stepped forward confidently. His riot of curly brown hair was held back by an iron circlet set with a crudely carved ruby. An unblemished white tunic came to his knees and was belted in the middle with a simple leather strap.
“Gracoss,” the king said. The one word betrayed his charge. I knew the name. It was the king’s only son, late-born and heir to the Andal throne. A scholar and musician, a person of reflection and even temperament, it was said, as unlike his battle-hardened father as could be imagined.
The man-boy turned to the dais. “Father, we should treat with him. Andal slays itself on the mountains of Thrace, while their blood stains the water of our bays and harbors. Our fishermen catch corpses in their nets and they find the bodies of our sons frozen in their snowy peaks. What will it take to end this war?”
Without waiting for a reply, the son of the king turned back to face me. The look on his father’s face turned from chilly disapproval to red fury as Gracoss crossed the marble floor separating me from the court, his hand outstretched. Like a ship coming to an island.
“Andal greets thee in peace, Prince Lowan,” young Prince Gracoss said in High Andal. “Be welcome.”
I grasped the hand firmly, answering him in his own tongue, speaking over the whispers and swelling murmurs of the crowd. “My thanks, Prince Gracoss. My thanks, folk of Andal.”
. . .
Assassin – available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Assassin-ebook/dp/B007JJSMTQ/.