Dec 7 2016 12:00pm
Jeffe Kennedy Excerpt: The Edge of the Blade
The Twelve Kingdoms rest uneasy under their new High Queen, reeling from civil war and unchecked magics. Few remember that other powers once tested their borders—until a troop of foreign warriors emerges with a challenge...
Jepp has been the heart of the queen’s elite guard, her Hawks, since long before war split her homeland. But the ease and grace that come to her naturally in fighting leathers disappears when battles turn to politics. When a scouting party arrives from far-away Dasnaria, bearing veiled threats and subtle bluffs, Jepp is happy to let her queen puzzle them out while she samples the pleasures of their prince’s bed.
But the cultural norms allow that a Dasnarian woman may be wife or bed-slave, never her own leader—and Jepp’s light use of Prince Kral has sparked a diplomatic crisis. Banished from court, she soon becomes the only envoy to Kral’s strange and dangerous country, with little to rely on but her wits, her knives—and the smolder of anger and attraction that burns between her and him...
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“Done,” Trond pronounced, then—Danu bless him—covered Kral with a blanket. An opulent one, embroidered in metallic threads with intricate designs on the burgundy silk that matched pillows mounded behind him, all similar shades to the Hákyrling’s sails. Kral’s signature color. “Being quiet until those creatures disperse will do you good, General. If you don’t reopen the wounds, they ought to heal clean quite quickly. All right, Ambassador Rekjabrel, let’s see those hands.”
“Don’t you have an office or somewhere we can go?”
“I am a moving medic. Dasnarians have no leisure to sit in offices and be tended to.”
Thickheaded, the entire race. Trond examined my extended hands, glanced at my face, and nodded at the bed. “Sit. You’re already green and I don’t need a woman fainting on me.”
How about projectile vomiting? No, I’d keep it down. I’d already choked on my own pride enough for one day. No need to add actual bile to the mix. I plopped my butt on the end of Kral’s bed and glared at his amused expression. Mainly because it saved me having to see that cursed needle. “Would it kill you to have a couple chairs in here?”
He lifted his shoulder, let it fall, and winced. I was petty enough to take bit of gleeful pleasure in that. “I’m not in my cabin except to sleep.” He added a leer. “Or for sex. Why would I need chairs?”
“Clearly your sexual experience is sadly limited if you don’t know what can be done with a chair or two,” I retorted. “Ouch! Danu’s tits—that hurts worse than the original bite did.”
“Because you’re flirting, not fighting,” Trond returned mildly. “You’d do better to argue with your cvan—it would distract you better.”
Kral’s amused leer broadened, so much so that I bit down on the retort that leapt to tongue that flirting with Lunkhead was the last thing on my mind. Any protest would only intensify their teasing.
“Nothing to say?” Kral asked softly, an edge of danger in it.
“I’m concentrating on not hurling on your nice, clean bed.” I expected him to taunt me for it, but no.
Instead he grimaced in what appeared to be sympathy. “Why is it that I can carve up a man in battle, take a thousand hits, but the medic’s needle makes me want to crawl under the bed?” he asked the ceiling, then gestured at the closed shutters. “And this. I hate being closed in. I’d rather face those razor-beaked bird-fish and get sliced up to bleeding to death again than lie still behind closed walls and wonder.”
“Keep your voice down,” I advised, “and they might be more likely to leave.”
Kral fixed me with his intense gaze, more heat in it than should have been possible. It hadn’t been only the mjed talking. I’d flirted, sure—I always did. Flirting was to sex what training was to martial expertise, a woman had to keep limber, make sure her head and body stayed in shape for the game. Didn’t pay to get rusty or flabby in either arena. But something about the way the man looked at me, then and now, like he’d never seen a woman before... Yeah, he really got to me.
“Do you have suggestions for muzzling me?” His voice went rough on the words, reminding me of the way it had sounded that night, all the things he’d said, most of which I hadn’t understood and had written off as unnecessary to parse when his body told me everything I needed to know. Part of me wanted to hear them again, now that I had a stronger grasp on the language. Fortunately, a bigger part of me knew better this time. Could I be growing wiser? That would be helpful.
“Not if it involves being invited to share your bed again. I’ve been enlightened on what that means.”
Trond was holding his breath, doing his best imitation of a fly on the wall. A fly with a big painful needle poking in and out of my palm, one I’d love to swat, particularly if he took any of this gossip back to his fellows. Who was I kidding? Of course he would. I’d never met a warrior who didn’t love to speculate about his or her fellows and their liaisons. Fighting and fucking—pretty much all some of them knew, or cared about. When Harlan courted Ursula, every one of the Hawks knew it before she did. Though none of us would have been disloyal—or foolhardy—enough to do more than hint about it to her. It had taken her long enough to indulge in what he offered her. But then, she was royalty and had more considerations than a night’s pleasure. Arguably, I should have considered more before accepting Kral’s offer. Dafne sure thought so. This being-wiser thing came with an awful lot of second-guessing and dithering.
“And what”—Kral breathed it like a dare—“do you believe an invitation like that entails?”
“Okay, done!” Trond declared, tying the last bandaging cloth into place, obviously relieved to escape. “Unless there’s any other wounds on you, Ambassador?”
“Perhaps you should undress,” Kral offered blandly, “so I may check you for additional injuries.”
“Thank you, Trond,” I said to him, deliberately ignoring Kral and rising to go. “My hands were the worst of it.”
“Stay, Ambassador.” Kral’s tone enforced that this was an official order. “Leave us, Trond.”
With a salute for his general, Trond beat a retreat hastier than farmers fleeing before shape-shifted Tala.
I faced Kral, using the movement to take me a safer half step away from the bed. Not that I feared he’d grab me—though the thought gave me mixed feelings—but to ensure a more formal perimeter. If I’d guessed back at Ordnung that I’d be faced with a solo diplomatic mission reliant on this man, I wouldn’t have fucked him.
Okay, maybe I would have, knowing me, but I would have been smarter about it.
Or maybe not, knowing me.
Danu, give me strength. “Look, Your Highness.” I jammed my fists on my hips, then suppressed a wince as the stitches pulled. “I may be new to the ambassador game, but I’m not a toddler in the hunting party. You don’t get to give me orders, and I don’t have to obey them.”
“And yet you did obey,” he pointed out with a hint of a smile. “Toddler in the hunting party?”
Dafne had taught me Harlan’s trick of translating words directly if I didn’t know the other language’s version of the expression. Better to get the sense across than say nothing for fear of saying something wrong, she’d advised. In the face of Kral’s bemusement, I reconsidered the wisdom of the advice. Of course, the man seized any opportunity to amuse himself at my expense.
“It sounds better in my dialect. When an inexperienced youngster goes along hunting and causes problems through ignorance.” I sounded remarkably patient.
“Oh, I understood the metaphor.” He levered himself up on the pillows, pain crossing his face at the awkwardness. “Help me here.”
“I’m not your nursemaid.”
“I’m wounded battling magical creatures unleashed on the world by your queen, while protecting you and your companion, and you refuse me the minor assistance of helping me take pressure off a painful injury—because of, what, your damnable pride?” His voice rose until he finished on an incredulous near shout.
“Hush,” I hissed at him, jabbing a finger at the boards over his head, a gesture made considerably less dramatic by the white bandage. When he opened his mouth, a hard look in his eye, I moved in to help, more as a way of shutting the man up already. This was all I needed—to be becalmed, trapped and surrounded by lethal fish-birds, while Kral and I took bites out of each other. And not of the enjoyable variety.
“More on the other side,” he directed, indicating the side away from him, where the bed abutted the curving wooden wall, requiring me to lean over him.
“I can get it from this angle.” I shoved an arm behind the pile of pillows, adjusting them that way. No compunction to be overly gentle, lest he think me softening toward him. “There.”
“Better,” he grunted.
“May I be excused, then?”
“Now, explain,” he said, as if I hadn’t spoken. “Who takes young children hunting?”
“Look, Kral. I’d love to hang out and chat, but I have things to—”
“To what?” He interrupted. “To go sit in your cabin and be quiet?”
He had a point. I’d already driven Dafne and Zynda crazy on the journey thus far with my pacing. Being cooped up didn’t suit me any more than it did Kral.
“Stay,” he coaxed, in a much more enticing tone. “Talk to me. Don’t make me lie here alone to listen to the fish-bird scratches. I hate having to lie abed with injuries.”
I could sympathize with that, especially having spent my own time recovering recently. “Conversation isn’t exactly our strong suit.”
“There.” He jutted his chin at the far wall. “In that cabinet you’ll find some mjed. We can share some to mute the pain.”
“Yes, but what will mute the misery of your company?” I replied, mostly out of habit, because I was already halfway to the cabinet. An afternoon bout of drinking with my friendly enemy to kill the boredom. What in Danu could go wrong?
Danu didn’t reply. The bitch goddess never did when I needed it.
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffe Kennedy.
Learn more about or order a copy of The Edge of the Blade by Jeffe Kennedy, available December 27, 2016:
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. She lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine Coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at JeffeKennedy.com, or every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.