Friday, November 6, 2015

The Recognition Run - Chapter 1

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each. Also, Kindle Unlimited subscribers can now read all three books as part of their subscription.
< The Fugitive Heir - Chapter 44                                                                        Chapter 2 >

Olivia Kahn watched her older brother with pride shining in her eyes. Robert succeeded where all of their ancestors failed. No one else in the history of the family ever came close to matching Robert’s victory.  Centuries of futility—until Robert assumed the dukedom, that is.

He terrified the Wilkinson family.

He targeted them, driving the family heirs into hiding.

He killed the heirs off one-by-one until none was left.

He eliminated the family without once leaving evidence of his deeds.

He brought down their ancestral foe.

Of course, His Majesty and the heads of the other Houses knew Robert was behind the destruction of House Wilkinson. House Kahn wanted it no other way. What was the point of destroying political and familial enemies if no one knew you’d done it? But knowing it and proving it were not the same thing.

As a result of Robert’s brilliant campaign Neert, the largest duchy in the star kingdom was simply sitting there, ripe for plucking by the first family willing to lay claim to the title and establish Recognition. Yes, there was still the dowager Duchess, but Emily Wilkinson was Wilkinson by marriage, not blood. She held her title only until the completion of today’s Recognition ceremony.

As if on cue, Her Grace the Duchess of Neert Emily Wilkinson entered the Recognition chamber. Conversation stopped as all heads swiveled toward the woman. The Duchess scanned the gathered crowd, ignoring the stares turned toward her with a haughty disdain worthy of any noble present. Olivia felt admiration for the woman’s style and composure warring with her hatred of the woman’s family. She might only be a Wilkinson by marriage, but she was still a Wilkinson.

Then Lady Emily’s eyes locked on Olivia. Despite her hatred and carefully trained court composure, Olivia’s breath caught when the Duchess glided toward her. Murmurs rose from the gathered nobles, no doubt speculating what Lady Emily had in mind for the much younger woman. For her part, Olivia forced herself to breathe evenly and keep her eyes firmly locked on the approaching woman.

“Hello, Olivia,” Lady Emily said after stopping closer than social custom dictated. In an even, measured tone, she continued, “You’re looking as beautiful as ever, I see. Your blonde hair and pale complexion provide a striking contrast to your black gown. Alas, the effect is marred by your cold blue eyes.”

“Greetings, Lady Emily,” Olivia responded, struggling to match the older woman’s tone and bearing. “I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am at the death of your youngest son, Charles.”

“You’re too kind, Olivia, though not kind enough to stop your brother from killing him.” Lady Emily maintained her even tone, but Olivia saw the anger and anguish burning in her eyes.

Olivia shook her head in mock disapproval. “You surprise me, Lady Emily. I never thought you would be one to listen to court gossip! Surely, His Majesty would have Robert in chains were there any evidence supporting this outlandish claim.”

“Just as surely, His Majesty has no desire to attract Robert the Butcher’s attention,” Lady Emily countered.

Olivia felt anger flare and this time let some of it enter her voice. “You mean Robert the Smith—the nickname given to my brother because he is strong and has a will forged from steel.”

“I meant exactly what I said, Olivia. You’re an intelligent young woman, surely you’ve noticed the line of bodies your brother leaves in his wake.” Lady Emily’s lips turned up in a cold and cruel smile. “After all, your own parents are among those slaughtered by Robert.”

That is a lie!” Olivia’s shout cut through the low conversations in the Recognition Chamber, drawing all eyes her way.

“Come now, dear, even someone as remarkably biased as you simply cannot deny the similarities between your parents’ accident and the one which claimed my Lord Arthur’s life.” Lady Emily shook her head in dismay. “Then there was the death of your last suitor. Bizarre though his death was, the similarities between his death and the others are quite remarkable—unless you consider who arranged those deaths.”

“I will not listen to such slander against my brother,” Olivia insisted. “I know the real reason you’re so upset—you don’t want to lose your position to Robert.”

“I never even wanted my position, dear.” Lady Emily’s cold smile broadened. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t be so sure I was about to lose it, either.”

Before Olivia could think of a proper response to that enigmatic statement, the royal fanfare sounded. Conversation halted abruptly as everyone turned toward the dais at the other end of the room.

A herald banged his staff on the floor three times before announcing, “His Royal Majesty Bernard the Second, king by the grace of God. All present give obeisance due to His Majesty!”

As one, the nobles present took a knee and bowed their heads as King Bernard entered and climbed the dais. Several seconds later, the herald called, “All may rise!”

The king’s gaze swept over the nobles present before coming to rest on a powerful man standing apart from the others. “It appears your show is very popular among Our aristocracy, my Lord Robert.”

Robert clicked his heels together and bowed to his king. “You honor me with your presence, Sire, as do my fellow members of the aristocracy.”

“Yes, quite,” Bernard said lazily. In formal tones, he continued, “For the record, please inform the Court of your intentions, Lord Robert.”

“I have come before Your Majesty and these assembled nobles to stake claim to the Duchy of Neert,” Robert proclaimed, his voice filling the large chamber. “As Lord Arthur and all of his children are dead, I shall place my hand upon the Star Stone and request Recognition as the new Lord of Neert.”

“This is in accordance with the laws and customs of Our kingdom,” Bernard stated. “You are aware the Star Stone will only grant Recognition if Lord Arthur has no other living children. You are aware of this and of the consequences should an heir still live?”

“I am, Your Majesty.”

“Does any member of Our court wish to challenge Lord Robert for the right to request Recognition?” Bernard’s gaze swept the nobles a second time. When no one stepped forward, his eyes returned to Robert. “As none challenge your right of Recognition and as you are aware of the risks inherent in this course of action, We accede to your request.”

Robert bowed once again to King Bernard and approached the Star Stone. The huge, multifaceted gem sparkled scarlet. To Olivia’s eyes, the stone’s color deepened as if it anticipated its role in the ceremony. Robert gave her one quick glance and flashed a confident smile at her.

Pulling the glove off of his right hand, Robert laid his bare hand on the Star Stone. In a strong, clear voice, he declared, “I, Robert Kahn, Lord of Gaunner and loyal vassal of His Royal Majesty Bernard the Second, request Recognition as the new Lord of Neert.”

The Star Stone pulsed once and then bright scarlet light enveloped Robert. He had time for one startled cry before the light blazed so brightly all were blinded for a second. When Olivia could see again, all that was left of her brother was a cloud of ashes settling to the floor next to the Star Stone.

Stunned silence filled the chamber so all present heard when Lady Emily, dowager Duchess of Neert clapped her hands, gave a delighted laugh, and said, "What wonderful entertainment! Lady Olivia, I believe your brother must now be called Lord Robburnt!"

What does your author have in mind with this story? Learn a little more in Chapter 2 of The Recognition Run, coming Monday.