PROLOGUE: The Dream “Coins, mum? Coins, please! Coins – thank ye, guv’nor! May the gods bless ye!

” With a gentle chink of metal, three silver coins fell into the small dirty hands of the beggar boy. The boy had been sitting at the corner of the street for quite a while since he was kicked awake that morning by Snake, his gang leader. He pocketed the coins safely away. With a start, he realized the dusty boots of the traveler hadn’t left. Slowly, he looked up into the eyes of the stranger. The eyes were the only thing visible about his benefactor, and they were an unwavering steel gray. A cloak covered the rest of the man. “How old are you, boy?” the man asked. “Seven…I think, m’lord,” he mumbled, looking down at his toes. He noticed something stuck between the longest one and the one next to it. Nervously, he rubbed it away. “Would you like to work for me, boy?” Surprised, he looked up at the man who looked down at him unblinkingly. Was that a smile in his eye? Without knowing why, he nodded slowly and straightened. The man nodded to him and reached inside his jacket for his purse. Pulling it out, he counted two gold coins into his palm and reached out to the boy. The boy stretched his hand out eagerly but the man’s hand didn’t open. “Listen to me – when I give you these coins, I am giving you my trust. I’m sure that to you, these coins are a small fortune, including the ones I’ve already given you. Meet me here tomorrow with all of your things. Inform your gang that you will be leaving. I suspect your leader will want compensation –” “Compen-wha’?” “Compensation – repayment. He will want repayment from me for taking you away.” He looked down and regarded the boy for a moment. “Be here at this street corner tomorrow with one of these coins with you. Remember that this is your payment for this month. I would like to take over your education, and it starts with being able to handle your own gold. You will repay your leader for me with one coin. If he asks for more, give him the silver ones, but do not give him the gold coin otherwise you will have nothing to spend. Are we clear?” “Crystal, sir.” “Good, now get going. Remember: tomorrow at noon.”

CHAPTER ONE: A New Day Kenan woke with a start and a groan. Rolling to a sitting position, he reached up and rubbed his eyes awake. With bleary eyes, he looked around the dark room from the mattress on the ground that was his bed. A dim imprint of a closet wavered in the dark. Next to the mattress, a bedside table stood on rickety legs. A rickety chair stood by the window These were the only pieces of furniture in the room. There was no decoration as to indicate any sort of personality. Sunlight clamored at the edges of a set of window curtains, outlined by the light. Looking up, Kenan rolled gracefully to the balls of his feet and stretched. He almost seemed to glide as he walked with graceful steps towards the window curtains. With a soft sigh, he brushed aside the curtains, allowing the light to stream into the room, lighting it up. He stood by the window, his eyes closed, bathing in the warmth of sunlight for a moment. It didn’t last very long. There was a knock on the door and it opened, revealing the landlady with a tray of food. “Yer master sent this up fer ye,” she explained when he turned to face her with a polite smile. Ms. Wandel gave him a smile that reflected politeness in her character, and perhaps something more than just politeness. “Thank you, Ms. Wandel,” he answered politely. “You may leave it by the bed.” “If ye need anything at all, darlin’, let me know,” she told him with a wink. With a soft whisper of cloth and a click of a closing door, she was gone. The handsome young man sighed and ran his hands through his sunlight honey-brown hair. He pulled his sweat-soaked shirt off of his back with a groan, revealing a large bruise that bloomed on his side. The door opened again and cool hands took the shirt from his hands and fingertips lightly skimmed his skin. He shivered with the touch and relaxed, dropping into a chair. “Another bar fight?” Jennifer asked with a smile. A glint in her intelligent eyes proved that she knew it wasn’t a bar fight. “Yeah.” She sighed as she reached into her apron pocket. She pulled out an ointment and began to apply the stinging mixture onto his side. He tried not to flinch. “Why do you always get yourself into such trouble?” she asked him. He knew she didn’t expect an answer. Jennifer was a nice girl, he decided. For the past three days of his stay at the inn, she had quickly become his friend and confidant. She worked at the inn and appeared every morning after Ms. Wandel to help him apply a special bruise balm in places he couldn’t reach without being bidden. He settled the tray of food onto his lap and began to eat, twisting under Jennifer’s gentle commanding touches in the correct direction to allow her to apply the balm. However, this morning, the door banged open and Jennifer jumped to her feet in surprise. Kenan was on his feet in an instance but he relaxed when he saw that it was his master. “Leave us,” the man commanded of Jennifer. With a quick curtsy, she fled. “Good morning, sir,” Kenan greeted him with a bow. He wasn’t wearing his shirt, but he knew better than to put it on in front of the man. “I have need of you. The Duke of Voicelles plans to move against the king at noon. It is vital that he does not make it to the palace, do you understand?” The man fixed his steel grey eyes on Kenan.

“Yes, sir.” “I trust in you to do the right thing. You’ve never failed me before, and I do not believe you ever will. Be down at the gates with your horse as soon as you are decent. I will wait for you there,” he said and with that, he whisked out the door again. Kenan shut it after him and rested his forehead against the wood for a moment.

CHAPTER TWO: The Beginning “Good, you’re here.” The boy looked up from where he sat on the ground next to a sack filled with his meager belongings. He was nursing a broken arm, but he didn’t make any noises from the pain that laced up his arm. The night before, when he told Snake he was leaving, the older boy – almost a man – had attacked him in anger, thinking that he was betraying the gang. He had managed to break his arm and beat him rather savagely before the boy managed to explain that he had found a job. After that, he had given a gold coin to Snake who took it greedily and allowed him to go on his way. The man pushed back his hood to reveal golden hair tied back with a rawhide strip. He knelt down in front of him. “Explanation didn’t go well?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. The boy had decided that the man didn’t like to smile, but he had a sense of humor. An odd combination too, he thought. “No, Your Grace.” “You may address me as ‘sir’. Let me see that arm.” “Yes, sir.” With a gentleness that he didn’t expect from a man – his experiences had been bad of course – the man took the broken arm and straightened it in front of them both. He noticed that the boy never flinched once with pain when it would have caused a grown man to holler. Turning his attention back to the arm, he gently touched and turned it a few times. “A clean break,” he determined. “Give me your shirt – you’ll be getting new clothes today.” The boy eased his shirt – no more than rags – off of his torso. Taking it, the man ripped it into strips and arranged it into a sling. Putting it around the boy’s neck, he adjusted it a little and then settled the broken arm into it. “All right, we have a lot of things to do today, and they’re all business about you,” he told the boy. He took the sack in one hand and helped the boy to his feet with the other. “First stop, the healer’s shop to get a real cast for your arm.”

CHAPTER THREE: The Duke of Voicelles “Kenan.” “Sir.” His master rode up on a dappled gray warhorse. They both sat outside within sight of the city gates, Kenan astride a black mare named Lily. “I hope that you are glad to know that I have named you my heir, as I have no sons of my own,” his master told him. Surprised, Kenan looked at him. “You’re surprised? I’m surprised that you’re surprised, Kenan. You’re like a son to me – the son I never had.” “But, sir –” The other man cut him off with a shake of his head. “That’s the end of it. I raised you like my own son, and you’ve always been the best of all of the students I’ve trained for the Crown. You’ve worked hard and your heart has always stayed pure. In this war, there’s nothing else that a man could ask of his student. You’re to be adopted in a formal ceremony when you return,” he said quietly. “And you should return – this mission isn’t that hard. I expect that you return successful, like always.” “Yes, sir.” “Go – he should be down the road.”

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