If you’ve been following anything about the state of the writing industry these past few weeks, you’ll be well aware of the kerfuffle that has gone on. Many much more talented and eloquent writers than myself have weighed in on the #cockygate and KU issues. In fact, I’m not going to discuss anything to do with the writing industry today.
I think we are all tired of the constant issues that have been cropping up in the industry. I am happy though, to see so many of us pulling together to support and help each other. That’s what we need. This isn’t a competition. There is room for us all.
That being said, today I’m giving you all a small gift. The rough draft of the first chapter of The Daggers of Ariyon which is the sequel to The Jeweled Dagger. It picks up just a few weeks after the events at the end of JD. It does contain major spoilers for the end of JD, so I recommend reading JD first. You can grab a copy on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and most other major retailers.
FYI: This is a rough draft and subject to change.
The dagger whistled through the air a hairs-breadth from Jasper’s nose. He backpedaled, bringing his sword up to block the downswing of his opponent’s sword. Another slash from the dagger and this time he felt the edge catch his shirt.
Lafayette chuckled and stepped back, lowering both his weapons. “You did better that time.”
“I suppose.” Jasper used his sleeve to wipe sweat from his forehead. “Though it’s hardly fair you get a sword and your dagger.”
“You want a fair fight go join the tournaments. Besides, I need both because you’ve got a longer reach.” Lafayette twirled the dagger in his left hand. “Do we need to take a break? How is your shoulder.”
Jasper rolled his right shoulder, pain threaded along the joint. “We should likely take a break. My doctor would probably be appalled to know that I’m practicing my swordsmanship this soon after the surgery.”
Lafayette sheathed his dagger and then walked over to the weapons rack to put away his sword. Jasper couldn’t help but watch the lithe figure cross the training room floor. The image of Lafayette crumpled on the dungeon floor whimpering as he bled all over the floor had Jasper shuddering. He shut his eyes and willed the image away. It was enough it haunted his nightmares.
He walked over to join Lafayette at the rack, replacing his own sword. “Shall we get something to eat?”
Lafayette glanced up at him, the dark eyes as beautiful as they sparkled like obsidian. “It’s a bit late for lunch.”
“We’ll call it an early dinner then.” Jasper leaned down his voice dropping to a husky whisper, “Unless you have other plans.”
“You are incorrigible.”
“So corrige me.”
“That’s not even a word.” Lafayette laughed, the silvery sound sending a thrill through Jasper.
“Maybe not.” Jasper conceded as he reached out and pulled Lafayette to him. Lafayette responded by wrapping his arms around Jasper’s waist and tucking his head under Jasper’s chin. Jasper couldn’t help the grin even if part of him wished they didn’t have to hide like this.
“We should go,” Lafayette said after a moment. “The next class will be here soon.”
“Yes, you are right.” Jasper placed a kiss on top of Lafayette’s head. They’d been coming to the Academy training grounds for the better part of a week in an attempt to regain some of their fighting form. So far it was slow going. Today had been their longest session so far at just under an hour. “Are you coming over tonight?”
Lafayette let go and stepped back. “I can’t. I have to be at Court with Rona first thing tomorrow.”
“Oh … right.” Jasper swiped his hair back from his eyes and tried not to let his disappointment come through. “I forgot, I’m sorry.”
“Jasper, I know this is frustrating. I’d give anything to spend the rest of the evening with you but …”
“But you’re a noble and while I’m the Spymaster I’m not exactly courtship material.”
Lafayette grasped his hand, the slender fingers twining with his own. “Can we drop it, please? I really don’t want to argue with you.”
“Right, fine. Consider it dropped.”
“No, no it’s dropped.” Jasper gave Lafayette’s hand a soft squeeze and then started for the door. “At least we’ve got to spend some time together.”
Jasper groaned softly and closing the file set it to the side of his desk along with the other dozen files already stacked there. The tan folders of various thicknesses nearly obscured the audial oscillator and threatened to engulf his typewriter. He’d gone through the dossier of agents five times already. As per Lafayette’s suggestion he’d only had two of the most blatantly traitorous of them arrested. How was he supposed to do his job if he couldn’t even trust the agents under him? Was this how Lafayette had felt the last three years? Struggling alone to protect the Queen against the very people who were supposed to help protect her. At least he didn’t have to worry about the Royal Guard. Once Anders had been promoted the seditionist elements had either recanted their position or fled.
Was ten in the morning too early for a nap? Sleep had been difficult, the ache in his shoulder keeping him awake. Perhaps he shouldn’t be sparing with Lafayette. Laying his left arm on the one bare spot on the desk he started to lay his head down. He jerked it back up as the door to his office opened. Seeing the uniformed figure in the doorway he jumped to his feet.
“Commander, I didn’t hear you knock.”
Commander Cornelius Stanton raised one eyebrow and then walked over to the desk and laid a packet down on it. Jasper almost expected the crisp new uniform to crackle as Cornelius moved, the fabric stiff with starch and the buttons polished until they gleamed like tiny mirrors. His dark hair, just now streaked with grey, was neatly combed and his beard and mustache trimmed to fine points. It made him look sharp and unforgiving. An old blade tempered on the battlefield and still just as deadly.
“The reports from Lieutenant Calder as requested and the new patrol routes.”
“Ah yes, thank you for those.” Jasper managed as he fought to breathe. He’d only seen his father from a distance since the night in the torture chamber. The night he’d been accused of poisoning the Queen and a whole room full of nobles. The night he’d been disowned and left to die a traitor.
Cornelius clasped his hands behind his back and looked around the cluttered office. Jasper knew that keen gaze wouldn’t miss the slightest detail. Lafayette’s old office was crowded with filing cabinets, boxes of paperwork and various paraphernalia including the odd weapon or two. Jasper hadn’t found the time or inclination to clean up. So many other things were more pressing than the dust on the books. Cornelius finally nodded, a single dip of his chin. With that he was gone without so much as a goodbye.
Jasper collapsed in his chair and closed his eyes. His heart jolted against his ribcage like a horse bucking to get free. He supposed it was wishful thinking to hope for an apology or for his father to admit he’d been wrong. Cornelius had never seen him as anything more than a disgrace. That night hadn’t been the first time his father had walked away knowing Jasper would likely die.
Pain flared along his shoulder and arm making him wince. He was probably trying to do too much with it again. Maybe he should admit to Lafayette how much it was bothering him. No matter what the novels said there was nothing romantic about getting shot. It was painful and bloody and he never wanted to go through something like that again. He held his left hand up, looking at the soft supple leather that hid the mangled fingers. The fingernails would grow back eventually, but nothing would ever be the same. He and Lafayette had saved the Queen and nearly destroyed themselves in the process. He’d do it again, though maybe not be as trusting.
Groaning softly to himself, Jasper shifted through the reports. So far nothing on the traitorous Royal Guardsmen. Men he’d led as Captain and trusted. Cadets Mibbs, Jenkins and Brooks were out there somewhere. They hadn’t left the country, unless they’d been smuggled out by boat. Though Jasper had called in several favors with the guards down at Customs and they’d promised to be on the lookout for the trio. Jasper sorted through the reports, organizing them so that the most recent was on top. He had to write his own for the Queen. Though he had nothing new to tell her.
He didn’t know who’d poisoned the food that night or with what. Several of the workers in the kitchen that night had up and vanished as if they’d never existed. Even their names on the roster of palace employees had been fake. Jasper read over that bit of information again and made a note to speak with Beryl Goddard. As the Queen’s assistant she was also in charge of all the servants. Nearly two thousand people. It was possible she’d not had time to check each new hire herself. Or he could just send a letter. He really did not want to speak to Lafayette’s mother. The woman was the most caustic, severe and inhibited person he’d ever met. Worse than that she treated Lafayette as if he was just another pawn in her social climbing instead of her child.
The door to the office burst open, a woman rushed in closely followed by a guard. Jasper sat back in his chair watching the pair struggle for a moment.
“Get off me you oaf!”
“Ma’am you can’t just go barging in—”
“Let her go Cadet.” Jasper got to his feet but didn’t move from behind his desk. The Royal Guardsman let go of the woman’s arm and stepped back toward the door.
“Apologies, sir. I don’t know how she made it up here.”
“It’s fine Cadet. You’re dismissed. Ruby are you alright?”
Ruby smoothed down her skirt and readjusted her shawl. “Yes. No thanks to that brute.”
“She’s just doing her job. Speaking of jobs, shouldn’t you be at work?”
Jasper frowned watching as she continued to fuss with her clothes. She wore the same dress he’d last seen her in, though the skirt had been unpinned to conceal her legs and the shawl covered her exposed shoulders and cleavage. “Why don’t you come sit down and tell me what brings you here?”
“Yes. Yes that would be good.” Ruby sat in one of the chairs across from Jasper’s desk. “I didn’t think I was going to find you. No one would tell me where you were.”
“Well, you are here now.” Jasper leaned against the front of his desk. “How are you doing? I’ll admit I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
Ruby let out a soft laugh. “I didn’t expect to see you either. The newspapers can’t decide if you are a villain or a hero and the gossip is that Lady Merlot carries your child. Of all people, I know you wouldn’t be that careless.”
Jasper groaned and dragged a gloved hand down his face. “That rumor needs to die an ugly death. Lady Merlot and I only met a couple of times and yet people insist on pairing us.”
Ruby looked down, red hair sweeping forward.“Jasper … when you came to me asking about Felix you said he was involved in an attempt on the Queen’s life.”
“Yes. Is something wrong?”
Ruby shook her head, short blunt fingers twining through the fringe of her shawl. “I … I’m not sure. I mean yes, but it could just be me worrying over nothing.”
“You wouldn’t have come all this way if you really thought that.”
She glanced up at him still fidgeting with the cloth. “Yes, you’re right. I just hate to think that Miss Pearl is caught up in all this.”
“All what, Ruby?” Jasper kept his tone gentle.
She dropped the fringe and sat up straighter in the chair. “Last night, while I was entertaining a man, he started going on about how I’m too pretty to be working at the Peacock.” She waved a hand. “You know how they get sometimes.”
Jasper eased himself back in his chair, careful of his shoulder. It was amazing how emotional some people became when given attention, even attention they’d paid for, promising outlandish things to a complete stranger. “I do.”
“He promised me everything, a home, kids, pretty dresses. As if I don’t have half those things already. I asked him how he thought he’d pay for all that. He gets this big stupid grin on his face and says that he was paid a thousand hyetals to work in the palace. Just scrubbing pots and saying his lines when shit went down.”
A chill crept over Jasper. A thousand hyetals was easily more than he made in three months and he considered his salary quite nice. But that wasn’t what had his attention.
“Lines? He was told what to say. Did he mention when this was?”
Fabric swished as Ruby got to her feet. She approached the desk and folding her arms on top of the audial oscillator she leaned down to look at him. It wasn’t the come-hither look she gave clients, no lowered lashes or carefully tilted head. Just an open gaze that held a hint of concern and curiosity. Once again he found himself appreciating that she never crossed any boundaries, even if they were unspoken. She traced a finger in the dust on the top of the oscillator.
“The night the Queen was poisoned. He went on and on about how hilarious it had been to see all the nobles puking their guts out. He’d been told exactly what to say when questioned by the Royal Guard. What happened that night Jasper?”
“I’m sorry. I really can’t discuss that with you. I’m not even entirely certain myself. But this does give me a large clue. Did he say who told him this?”
Ruby shook her head. “Someone by the name of Sulis.”
The dead jailer. Of course. Jasper shifted to get more comfortable and forced himself to relax tense muscles. His shoulder ached. “This man, do you know his name and will he be visiting you again?”
“Oh he’ll definitely be a repeat customer,” Ruby said with a grin. “He had some very common name, what was it … Ollie or Orval. I can’t remember right now.”
“I think I might need to speak to this Ollie or Orval.” Jasper took a scrap piece of paper and scribbled down a note on it. “Will you give this to Pearl for me, please? I’d rather have her permission than just go barging in again.”
“Like last time?” Ruby reached out and ruffled his hair making him have to shove it out of his eyes. “That little Kedonian with you caused quite the ruckus. Mr. Wainright still complains about the incident.”
“Lafe? Yes, he’s rather good at finding trouble. And if he can’t find some he makes it.” That might not have been totally fair of him but in the four months he’d known Lafayette his life had been completely tumbled ass over tea kettle. Not that he’d have it any other way. Though less bloodshed would have been nice and fewer bullet holes in his person. He handed the note to Ruby who tucked it away in a pocket of her dress. “You can reassure her that I won’t be bringing him.”
“I’ll do that.”
Jasper opened the top desk drawer and pulled out another slip of paper, this one embossed with the royal crest. He wrote more deliberately this time. “This one’s for you. If you need to visit me again just show the guardsman this and they’ll let you through. I’m also giving you the code to give the operator so you can call me as well.”
“So professional.” Ruby winked at him. “You take to any job with the same effort. Can’t say that of everyone.”
“I prefer to be useful.”
The amusement faded from her eyes and she reached out again to run her fingers lightly over his gloved hand where it rested on the desk.
“There’s a fine line between being useful and being used, Jasper.”
He wrapped his fingers around hers and gave a light squeeze. “I know. Take care of yourself Ruby Anne.”
“Always. See you soon.”
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt. Please consider sending me a coffee too keep me motivated! I’m 40k words into the manuscript and working hard to complete it. If you’d like more frequent updates on the Daggers of Aryion series along with exclusive content, $1 on Patreon gets you all the content I post there along with other neat perks. And you are always welcome to join my newsletter which goes out once a month and has lots of freebies! You can also find me on the #lgbtwip thread on Twitter talking about the series, just follow @brohne.
As always thank you for being here! Let me know what you think of the chapter in the comments!