How do you choose between two lovers, when you deserve neither?
Two knights, William and his foster brother Allen, are summoned to fight for their baron. William leaves behind his wife by an arranged marriage and enters a political game where the baron, the king and maybe the devil himself, each have their plans for him.
On the eve of battle, William meets a being called Ahriman and is offered a chance to save Allen's life...but only at a great price. Although it tears him apart, William agrees to save Allen from his fate and begins a chain of events that offers him great treasures--the crown of the nation, a magical device that opens a door to a world of dragons and, rarest of all, the love of two good people--which he knows he does not deserve.
Can the aid of the dragons put right the damage done?
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February 27, 2007
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Excerpt from King of Dragons, King of Men by Emily Veinglory
William sat scowling, awaiting an audience with his lord, the baron. The great hall was bustling with petitioners, servants, and sundry folk milling around in the general vicinity just because they could. William attracted very little notice from anyone, from highest to lowest; the dog that sat at his heel was more remarked upon. He scowled and nudged it away with one foot but it contrived not to notice and leaned back onto his leg. The damn thing had been following him for days. It was white with long shedding hair and an aristocratic look that only served to make William feel even more unkempt than usual. Besides that it had the most uncanny eyes, pale blue with the darkest and most perfectly round pupils that could be imagined, like pin pricks in a closed casket.
William's friend and foster brother, Sir Allen of Argent, dropped down on the bench by his side, beaming with good will. Being both naturally handsome and particular about his appearance--and not having just traveled for two weeks upon the dusty road--he looked dazzling. His garb was white, embroidered with scarlet and his cloak was black. His hair was golden like that of a fairytale prince and his face proportioned like an angel. In moments like these, William could almost bring himself to hate the man. Such moments were frequent enough to be a recurring theme in confession whenever they were together, but never lasted very long. Allen was just too well meaning and too good of a friend.
"Good to see you here, Will," he said, as if the meeting were entirely uncontrived. "Now at least there's one other person here who knows which end of a sword is sharp." He slapped the scabbard of his sword and leaned against William casually, reaching one arm about his shoulders.
William gave him a baleful glare before turning his gaze back to the raised platform where the baron sat, speaking in low murmurs to some of his more favored followers. William was actually quite comfortable with Allen's touch, but he could not help but feel that he should not be. The idylls of their youth were long over and with it went the closeness they once knew.
William had been waiting some hours and fully expected to bide where he was quite a while longer, until the baron had fully made his point. Allen's company would be a rather mixed blessing, as ever. He was a good comrade, but always prodding, inquiring and quietly admiring. William had no notion at all of how Allen, being all that he was, came to have no better object of affection. He had hoped that it was a notion that might have faded. After all, it had been four long and rather eventful years since they last saw each other, and longer than that since they had been together in the way Allen seemed to yearn for. Long enough for Allen's fancies to fade? The moment he saw Allen, and saw Allen seeing him, he knew that was a vain hope.
William had come directly to the hall with the grime of the road still upon him. He could smell his own sour sweat and the dark brown color of his tunic was covering up for more than it should. Now that he was sitting still, he was getting cold and his cloak was bundled up on the saddle of his patient mare outside. Of course, given his luck, if he left the hall to retrieve it the baron would ask for him immediately. And he was only a few such offenses away from losing what little remained of his inheritance. Oh, and wouldn't the baron love to have a few good acres and a modest title to give to someone more "suitable"?
"Well," Allen said with amusement. "Not pleased to be pulled away from that curly headed wife of yours? I don't recall being invited to the wedding but I suppose I must forgive you for that. I am told it was a small and rather sudden hand-fasting, but if that was for the usual reason we'd all know about it by now, eh?"
"I wasn't called; I came all the same," William said, choosing to stick to the first of his old friend's many questions, direct or implied.
"A better knight than the old bastard deserves."
William winced at such undiplomatic words. He had always thought Allen too brash a man, too unconventional, but could not help but like him all the same. Allen was known and long tolerated for his ways, but William was walking an altogether finer line. He was holding onto the last shrinking rump of the family estates by the skin of his teeth--and his own father had been very much in disgrace before he died. Running off with the king's favorite mistress being the worst and last of his trespasses before he retired to rusticate upon the family estates.
"He is the baron, and I am his knight," William said with pointed simplicity as if all other facts flowed seamlessly from these two.
"Ah well, and he gave you a pretty wife... Go on it is your turn."
The baron had suddenly found time for him. William wondered whether his own estimate of the time he was likely to wait had been too uncharitable, or Allen's good standing was somehow acting to his advantage. The baron beckoned vaguely with one hand, not even turning from his conversation.
"Sir William of White Lady Tor," the page announced.
William stepped forward and bowed low upon his knee. "My lord Baron, I do humbly offer my services in your defense against the attack from County Serle." He made every effort to sound, even to feel, sincere in his affirmation but in the great stone hall his voice became small and was almost lost. He could only hope that this time he would do better at concealing his real feelings for the whoring, war-mongering old bastard. That Baron Hambly had made the first attack in the current conflict, in a blatant land grab, was best not mentioned.
The baron looked down in mild surprise as if he had forgotten that the distant White Lady estate supported a man who might call himself a knight, or he disbelieved it. He still, no doubt, remembered their last meeting when the baron had been in waiting for his title and William a callow youth, yet to learn the virtue of caution. The baron had said some things about William's mother that did not bear repeating, and William had said some even less charitable things in return. The baron's insults had been commonplace but young William's were far more strident and amusing enough to be long remembered by many who were present--not least the baron himself.