Authors: Rachel Rossano
Tags: #duty, #fantasy action adventure, #romance advenure, #fantasy action adventure romance, #dutybound, #sweet romance, #Romance, #Fantasy, #duty loyalty, #duty honor country, #clean romance, #rachel rossano, #duty and friendship, #nonmagical fantasy, #romance action adventure
A Novel of Rhynan
©2013 Rachel Rossano
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This novel is a work of fiction. Though
actual locations may be mentioned, they are used in a fictitious
manner and the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and
imagination of the author. Similarities of characters to any
person, past, present, or future, are coincidental.
Cover by Rossano Designs (©2013 Rachel
Also written by Rachel Rossano
The Mercenary’s Marriage
The Crown of Anavrea
Word and Deed
The King of Anavrea
Wren (A Romany Epistle Novel)
This novel is dedicated to Abigail,
Elizabeth, Alyssa, JoAnna, and all the readers who love the
adventure of the written word.
"The red one is mine," he said.
I didn’t raise my head although instinct urged me to.
Father had called me Red. He said I was born screaming, skin deep
red like the beets in the garden and hair fiery like the setting
sun. The man who spoke was not my father.
I glanced at him from beneath my cloak’s hood.
Arrogant in his size and superior mass, his eyes picked me out of
the writhing mass of captives. Early morning sunlight glinted off
plain armor and an unadorned helm, yet the unwashed barbarians
treated him with the respect due a commander.
The crowd of women around me parted for the soldier
fulfilling his order. Mothers moved back with babes in their arms,
toddlers clinging to their skirts. Their fingers clutched older
children’s hands or shoulders. A living mass, their voices silenced
by the army surrounding them. Their faces spoke eloquently of their
The soldier, smelling of sweat and sour wine, grabbed
my left arm and dragged me out from among them. I didn’t want to
bring harm to the women around me. The soldier would injure many
before subduing me. I allowed him to pull me toward the commander
with only minimal resistance.
Once free of the captives, however, I yanked from the
man’s grip in an attempt to run. Three pairs of rough hands caught
hold of my arms before I managed more than a few steps. The stench
of their unclean bodies turned my stomach. I gagged as I fought
them. They dragged me through the dust and dumped me at his
I struggled up only to be brought down again.
Pressure behind my knees forced me to kneel.
I lifted my face to glare at the commander.
“Remove her hood.”
Someone pulled my cloak half off my shoulders in his
enthusiasm. Red curls fell free in a wild mass about my
Silently I cursed the color. If only I had been
blessed with plain brown or even blond tresses, I could have hidden
in plain sight.
“My Lady Brielle Solarius, I presume.”
He had the audacity to meet my glare. His eyes were
only glimmers beneath the beaten metal and leather of his helmet.
He made no bow or any show of the honor due me. I was a noblewoman.
I didn’t claim the right of deference often, but still the fact
“Might I know your name, barbarian?”
His reaction did not change his posture. I could not
read his emotions.
“Lord Irvaine is no barbarian.”
The soldier at my left, a young man barely my senior,
shoved me between the shoulders. I resisted, pressing back against
his hand despite the burning in my thighs from the effort. Finally
I shrugged him off.
Anger filled me, blinding my reason. Caution, a weak
flicker of light in the night of anger, wavered and almost went
out. The darkness like a living thing, growing ever stronger,
pressed me more closely every second I lingered, waiting to hear my
fate. I could not lose control. My people were counting on me.
Their families were under my watch.
“By what right am I treated like this? I am a noble
of Rhynan, born of an ancient house and loyal to King
“Trentham is dead.” Lord Irvaine lifted a gauntleted
hand and pointed off to the south. “He fell in battle a fortnight
past. Mendal of Ranterland is now king.”
Panic clutched my chest. Old stories of the unrest
that followed a coup flooded my mind. Allegiances sifting with the
wind and the death toll rising despite the end of hostilities as
the unloyal were killed off and the loyal rewarded.
“My cousin, Orwin?”
“Sworn allegiance to my liege, but his sincerity is
suspect. You are King Mendal’s guarantee from Orwin that he will
I laughed, a bitter sound despite my efforts to quell
“I am a worthless pawn for that purpose. Orwin cares
not for my safety. My peril will not hinder his plans a hair’s
“Your peril is not my goal. I seek your
Before I could seek clarification, another helmeted
soldier approached. This one moved like a man with a purpose. The
sudden silence and tension of the men around me clearly marked his
“All are accounted for, my lord, thirty-five women of
marriageable age, twenty-five dwellings with potential to last the
“The lord’s hall?”
“Usable also, given time for cleaning and
Lord Irvaine nodded. “Take the quartermaster and
assign wives. See to it that the men show respect and offer the
women the option to purchase refusal. Give care to look up the fate
of their previous mates before presenting them to the officiate for
vow recording. Warn the men that I will suffer no abuse. If such is
discovered, the offender shall lose his share of spoils and suffer
further punishment based on the crime.”
The soldier bowed and retreated.
“By what right do you do this?” I demanded. “We are
citizens of Rhynan, not cattle to be divided and claimed. These are
free women not slaves.”
Lord Irvaine’s displeasure at my words was evident in
his stiffened stance. I savored my small victory.
“They, you, and this land are tribute to King Mendal
from your cousin, part of his measures to convince the king of his
shift in allegiance.”
“You take pleasure in raping women and possessing
land not your own? You are no better than the robber barons over
the border. They take what they wish without compensating us. You
defile the title of noble, my lord!” I spat the title into the torn
earth at his feet.
Answering anger tensed his left arm as his fingers
curled into a fist. I lifted my chin and awaited the blow that
would reveal his true nature. Instead, he pulled his helmet from
his head. Dark, sweat-matted hair plastered his head and dirt
streaked down his hollowed cheeks from dark circles around his
eyes. He dropped his helm to the ground at my knees. It rolled to
rest against my thigh. He stepped forward and leaned down so close
I smelled his sweat. I noted the lack of sour wine on his
“Look in my face, Lady Solarius, and see the truth. I
take no joy from this task. But I am a loyal soldier. I do as my
His dark, haunted eyes bore into mine. Something deep
inside my chest stirred. However, anger still possessed my
“I see only a monster intent on unleashing his
pleasure-seeking men on a village of unarmed women and
He flinched, a barely perceptible movement in his
“Enough.” Rising to his feet with more grace than I
expected, he strode away. “Antano!” A burly man, helmetless and
carrying more visible weapons than the other men in the group,
answered the call.
“See that she observes the operation, but doesn’t
interfere. Then escort her to my quarters by nightfall.”
“Aye, my lord.” Antano approached respectfully. “This
way, my lady.”
I watched Lord Irvaine stride away among his men. As
I rose from the dust, I picked up the helmet. It was heavy, but
well made. The leather felt worn and supple. What kind of man hid
behind its surface?
I offered it to my escort.
“Nay, bring it with you, lady.” Antano loomed over
me. “You can return it to him tonight. For now, we must go. He
wishes for you to see how your women are treated.”
He crossed the now empty village center toward the
lord’s hall, due east. I followed him, dreading the hours to come.
Despite the fleeting inclination to leave it behind, I carried Lord
Irvaine’s helmet with me.
Taltana, the village midwife and wise woman, took the
news of her only son’s death without the release of tears. Her face
stilled, the light in her eyes dimmed, and she stared at the mud
wall over the record-keeper’s shoulder.
“Marriage status?” he asked.
“Widowed last spring.” Unmoving except her mouth,
Taltana’s life withered before my eyes.
She flinched and shook her head as though dispelling
a dream before looking at the man bent over the leather-encased
tome. “Thirty-seven summers.”
His pen scratched the parchment. “Do you own
“I maintain the western most hovel, the garden
beyond, and a one day’s plow in Lord Wisten’s fields.”
The recorder grunted and wrote. Then without lifting
the tip of the pen, he asked, “Do you wish to marry or pay the
price to remain unwed? Either choice requires you house three men
under your roof for the winter season. They shall contribute to the
household. If you marry, your husband will protect you.”
“What is the cost of saying nay?”
“A month’s measure of grain or an animal from your
flock or herd.”
“How can you put a price on her…” Antano’s grip on my
upper arm silenced me.
The record-keeper’s pen paused, but he didn’t lift
“No interference,” Antano reminded me softly.
Taltana spoke. “I will marry.”
The record-keeper nodded. “Proceed through that
door.” He flicked ink-stained fingers in the direction of the far
doorway and the sunlight beyond. “Your choice of mates will be
presented to you.”
As she passed, Taltana bowed to me. “I don’t blame
you, my lady. You had no hand in sending my son to war. Tell Orwin
that he owes me a life. I spared him at birth when I convinced his
father that he would thrive despite his curved back. Now he has
taken my son. Should we cross paths, I’ll claim his life.”
The cold death in the woman’s eyes froze me to my
Taltana turned away and walked through the door into
the stable yard as though she had just discussed the weather.
Beyond the opening, her voice greeted the men. I released the
breath in my chest.
“I would warn your cousin, my lady,” Antano advised.
“That woman has revenge in her heart. I believe she will kill him
as soon as she lays eyes on him.”
“I know.” A shiver gripped my spine.
A quiet, feminine voice interrupted. “Am I to come in
At the sound, my chest constricted. “Not Loren.”
Loren, my sister of the heart, stepped into the room.
She had no brother, husband, or father to ask after and no land in
her possession. She lived in the hall as a companion for me.
Willowy and fair, she embodied most of the village men’s ideal.
Over the years, she had discouraged all advances. My chest ached at
the waste, saving herself only to have the choice taken from her in
Antano acknowledged my plea by gripping my
“Nay, my lady. None will be spared between eighteen
and forty. Your men were wiped out in the final confrontation. The
king ordered us to settle here, set down roots and replace the male
population. We will till the land, maintain the holdings, and
defend the border.”