Here is the a possible cover (I'm not completely sure of this is the one I'll use - if not, I'll reserve it for a future book).
Here is part of chapter one (a work in progress)
14th day of the Bear Moon, 1185
The sun disappeared below the thick forest canopy. The Mother Moon was dark on this fall night and the smaller, Daughter Moon, hidden completely. The cold evening breeze promised an early snow. Outside, the guard standing watch on the battlements huddled near braziers for warmth and passed a flash of vorane amongst one another. The fiery liquid was a temporary fix.
The day ended on a high note for the ruler of the land. Just as the final rays of sunlight crossed the well-worn road, the stone walls of a castle appeared like a beacon on a foggy night. Pushing his men to the limits of their endurance, King Arken of Greycliff arrived at Faucione Keep in the Kestling region to find the residents celebrating the birthing day of Sir Aumery, the Senschal. Thanks to secret messages provided by a keep resident, the king was prepared with a gift for Aumery. Arken also surprised the crowd by acknowledging that Countess Gaeylnn’s daughter, Lady Amelia, was his by blood.
Gaelynn’s husband, the late Earl, Sir Braeden du Faucione had breathed his last during the previous fall’s Glodveau campaign on the mainland. From the moment Arken first laid eyes upon the young woman within the royal palace at Karivane, the king had been obessessed with Gaelynn. The monarch plotted and planned until the path was clear to make the lady of Faucione his.
In the great hall castle residents prepared for the night. Trestle tables were stacked against walls to allow those who slept in the common area to set up sleeping pallats. Logs were set ablaze in the two large hearths at each end of the room. Pallats were brought out and covered with bedding. Not all were eager to sleep. A few brave souls lingered outside in the lists, watching a handful of knights trading blows with blunted swords by torchlight.
In a guest chamber on the third floor, King Arken lifted his arms. Sir Orrin, the Knight of the King’s Body, removed his charge’s hauberk. A raw-boned man with a face only a mother could love criss-crossed with pox marks and scars, the gruff man fussed over the king. Thick, bushy eyebrows took away from blue eyes sharper than a hawk’s. Orrin had a flare for detail and organization.
He hefted his liege’s armor crinkling his nose at the rank mixture of sweat, trail dust, and horse. Orrin hung the heavy maile on a wooden post near a small window cut in the wall. The knight helped Arken shed his boots. He pulled the king’s gambeson, chauses, linens, and shirt. The offending clothes were dumped in a pile. A nameless servant crept in and gatehred the clothes. The garments would be returned clean. Orrin handed the king a soft, silk robe to wear until he bathed.
Relieved to be rid of the weight and soiled clothing, Arken stretched his arms and back. He ignored a crack when a rib head slipped back into its proper place. Closing his green eyes, Arken rolled his head in a circular motion in an attempt to relax his sore neck muscles. Wearing armor for extended periods of time was cumbersome. If only a blacksmith could invent a lighter-weight but stronger chain mail, I'd make him the second richest man in the kingdom.
Orrin rumaged through a pack and found a fresh set of clothing. The knight hung the garments over the backof a chair." Would you like a massage to relax you, Sire?"
"That won't be necessary, Orrin, however I would like a hot bath. I’m wearing half of Greycliff on my skin. After the water is ready you can retire for the night. Please send in Sir Neelam and Sir Stewart."
"As you wish, Sire. I will be across the hall should you require my services." The tall knight left Arken alone in the room.
The king rubbed his palms together in an effort to fight off the chill. Despite the large stack of wood in the fireplace, the room remained cold. I expect snow any day now. I hate travelling this time of year. Once the chill settles in my bones it’s nigh impossible to warm up. Too bad the Countess is in mourning; her sumptuous body never fails to heat my flesh.
Resigned to finish his duties before he bathed, Arken walked to an oakwood desk against a wall. Pots of ink, quills, a stack of clean parchment, and two thick tallow candles took most of the space on the surface. The king opened a blue leather pouch embossed with the Greycliff royal stamp and leafed through a stack of documents. One piece in particular caught his eye. He sighed and gazed at the proposed marriage contract to the Countess of Faucione. After he finished skimming the contents, Arken ripped the document in half, crushing each piece into balls and tossing the halves across the room.
Disgusted, Arken considered calling for his counselor, Walthen of Campo, to defend the words contained within the contract. No, I daren't see Walthen. I might be tempted to order his head separated from his body. Reciting conditions listed, the king imagined how Gaelynn would have reacted, “Release all rights to her holdings, send Amelia to Baron Wymerth, and place her sons in holdings of my choice? Gaelynn will never agree to this contract! What was the priest thinking? Inconsiderate fool...I wouldn't marry me with those terms." Gaelynn would send me packing, any hopes of marriage dashed against the keep walls.
"I concur with your assessment, Your Highness." Sir Neelam of Wesnes said closing the bedchamber the door behind him. The Captain of the King’s Guard, Neelam had no problems entering Arken's quarters unannounced. The knight wiped a stray drop of water from his right eyebrow, a minor annoyance when one's hair was wet. In addition to leading the Guards, Neelam was the King's Horsemaster: a title used for convenience sake. The man trained as a special tactician and spy at Baron Weymerth’s keep. Neelam was indispensible to the King and he knew it. The knight strode in the room with the confidence of his standing in Arken's favor. Neelam was one of the deadliest fighters in the country. His reputation alone was enough to strike fear in his enemies.
"You could have dried yourself before attending me."
Neelam snorted. "No offense intended Sire, but I seem to recall last time I delayed answering your summons it took an entire week of groveling before you forgave me. I'll put up with damp hair over tantrums any day."
"I should punish you for that remark," Arken said as he waved Neelam over to the high-backed chair next to him, "but I shall forgive you this time for I am in a pleasant frame of mind. Come, sit and share some wine with me. This white variety is worthy of the Gods."
"Don't mind if I do. Anytime you visit Faucione your mood improves. I can jest without fear of losing my head. Has the Countess made up her mind on your marriage proposal yet?" A knock at the door interrupted the good-natured bantering. Neelam watched as a servant came in carrying a tray of food. Sir Rhydon, the King's Silver Serpent stood behind the man motioning to Neelam the meal had been cleared for any potential poisons. Behind the kitchen servant came a train of men with buckets of water and a tub. As the castle staff set up the tub and started the process of filling the container with the hot water, Neelam kept a careful eye on the staff. He didn't trust any man or woman he didn't personally select and even then he never let down his guard. Assassins could pop up from any corner.
While the Faucione servants trudged back and forth from the kitchen filling the heavy oaken tub, Sir Stewart received the King's message. The knight climbed the second set of stairs to find Walthen of Campo, priest of the Red Snake Temple and advisor to King Arken, on the landing barring him from moving ahead.
Walthen's red eyes and stale breath from too much wine betrayed his recent indulgence. The stench from the priest's rumpled clothing and his unwashed hair offended the knight. "Douglas, you are in a hurry for this time of night. Have we been summoned for a meeting?" The Priest swayed slightly but caught his balance by a hand against the stone surface.
Stewart was disgusted by the Priest's condition. "Walthen, you're in your cups. Go to bed before you embarrass yourself and the King. Get out of my way." Sir Stewart tried to walk around Walthen. The priest grabbed the man's shoulder with a firm hand.
Shaking his head to try and deny his condition, Walthen hissed "I'm not in my cups. I am fighting the ague. Why wasn't I called to Arken's chamber? I've been the King's friend longer than any of you and still he pushes me away. I blame the Countess of Faucione. The she-wolf will influence him and drive the king from my counsel. Arken can't marry her. That hairrigan will cause him grief and ruin the country. We need to stop this wedding!"
Tired of the Priest's rants, Sir Stewart pushed Walthen against the cold stone wall in a quick push. The knight’s strong forearm held the priest firm by his neck. "Listen to me, you whey-faced dolt! I will not hear another filthy word about the Countess out of your lips. She is the future wife of our King, and as such, will be our Queen. One more derogatory word and I will drag your worthless carcass out to the bailey and tie you to the whipping pole where I will flog you until the blood runs out of your body, leaving a dried out husk. Do you understand me?"
Walthen coldly stared at Stewart. “I am the King's High Counselor! How dare you insult or threaten me! Perhaps you forget who I am." Walthen struggled to get free before sniping, "You will come to regret your treatment of me, Stewart. I won't forget this conversation or how you manhandled me!"
Sir Stewart released Walthen with a shove. The priest smoothed out a few imaginary wrinkles from his clothing. With a final sniff, Walthen walked past Stewart with deliberate steps. The King's knight reviewed the priest's words in his mind as he continued up the Arken's chamber. Sir Neelam needed to know of this conversation. Walthen meant trouble.
Sir Egred de Terisol and Sir Andre Brandt stood guard duty for the evening. Andre opened the bedchamber door for Stewart. Sir Michael, a Knight of the Sacred Sword sat by the fire with Sir Rhydon. Sir Neelam leaned against the wall close to his sovereign. The smell of soap and water permeated the air.
Arken's green eyes reflected the firelight, eerily reminiscent of a forestcat at night. He slipped his feet in a pair of velvet slippers and let out a long breath. I feel safe at Faucione Keep and love being away from the masses and Court. Faucione is peaceful and quiet. The worries of my position melt away while I'm here. I can see why Gaelynn is reluctant to leave her home. "Michael, your idea of bringing gifts for Faucione's Seneschal, Sir Aumery, was brilliant. Earning the favor of Faucione's people will raise my hopes of a marriage with her."
Sir Michael bowed his head in acknowledgment. "I do what I can to further your cause, Your Grace."
"Kevin du Faucione isn't a stupid man. Gaelynn’s brother-by-marriage knows Faucione will prosper if their Lady becomes Queen. I want you all to mention the added income she will bring the family and holdings. Kevin will see the advantages and encourage his sister to accept my suit. The man will agree to Gaelynn's betrothal as her oldest male relative. If he doesn't, a few threats won't hurt. I expect each of you to speak to the residents in my favor. The more pressure the better."
Neelam tsk'd as he replied, "Playing dirty again, Sire?"
"A King follows no rule book in the pursuit of his desires."
Sir Stewart added, "Begging your pardon my lord, you may not worry about laws of the land but the rest of us are concerned about our standing in the eyes of the people. Campo is less than pleased about not being invited to our after-dinner party. I don't think the priest cares for your intended bride." Douglas poured a goblet of wine.
"I am the law, Stewart. Campo is suspicious of anyone who takes my attention away from him. Don't worry about Walthen: he'll follow my wishes." Sipping on wine, the ruler of Greycliff let his mind wander. I wish I were in the bed of the Countess. It's obscene how Gaelynn doesn't age. Braeden du Faucione is dead. There is nothing holding her back from becoming my wife. I'll formally acknowledge our daughter, Amelia, and give the girl a title. Braeden didn't care for the child. I suppose being forced to give a bastard his name might have had something to do with Braeden’s treatment of my girl. Arken let his men chatter for a while until he grew tired and ordered them out for the night. He went to bed with dreams of Gaelynn in his arms.
In her bed chamber Gaelynn tumbled under her sheets with her lover, Sir Ranulf de Corbeau. The king was the last person in her thoughts.
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