Excerpt: The Rusted Sword

“Raleigh, did you, uhm—” Moshe rubbed his temple, staring at some missive he was holding.

Raleigh set his biscuit down and looked at Moshe, who was wearing a simple tunic, light trousers, and a fur thrown over his shoulders to fight the pre-winter nip. He was standing at the stone doorway of their chambers, feet just barely past the line. Raleigh continued to stare, waiting, waiting—waiting.

He settled back in his chair. “Did I what, Moshe?”

Moshe’s green eyes met his. “Reply to the Frederick’s invitation like I asked?”

“Didn’t you do that?” Raleigh replied, already bored as he returned his attention to his parchment.

“If I had done it, why would I ask you to?” came Moshe’s swift retort, one Raleigh was expecting.

“Well—obviously I haven’t,” Raleigh said, flipping the sheaf of paper to the other side.

There was a brief silence, which said everything.

Raleigh was just as adept at not speaking as Moshe was, and he chose to exercise the ability. He could feel Moshe’s eyes burning a hole through his skull, but he continued to move his gaze down the line of scrawl on the parchment in front of him, not reading a single word. He took another bite from his biscuit, set it on back on the plate, and brushed the crumbs away from his fingers.

Just as he heard a low curse and shifting of feet, he looked back up at Moshe. “Your breakfast has gone cold.”

He saw that Moshe was already halfway out the door and staring over his shoulder at Raleigh. “How heartwarming that you can sit so idly,” Moshe said, “and enjoy a hot breakfast with nothing to unease your mind.”

Raleigh considered him, face devoid of emotion.

“This,” Moshe said, turning fully and branding the invitation at him. “This is for the winter games. It is handwritten by the Frederick himself.”

“I am truly moved,” Raleigh replied, lip curling. “How trying it must have been for the duke to lift a quill.”

Ah, and that had gone too far. Raleigh winced internally at Moshe’s widening eyes, and mentally crossed off his morning ride. It would be at least an hour’s time before this particular storm would blow over. Moshe stomped to him, slammed down the invitation, and then stood straight, bracing his fists on his hips. “A personal invitation, Raleigh. To the duke’s castle, to Marvle-Dein. For winter court. Far away from this sad, isolated pit.”

Raleigh clenched his jaw. “Cha—” He paused, breathing out through his nose, and then continued, “Do not speak of Chaylain that way. It is our home. Your home.”

He heard a light snort from Moshe. “Oh, how I know it.”

Suddenly tired, Raleigh just shook his head. He could write this conversation out word for word, not having to hear Moshe’s side of it. He already knew it by heart. He was just about to concede the fight, tell Moshe that of course Raleigh was at fault and had been derelict in his duties by not responding to the duke, when he noticed a sheaf of parchment underneath the invitation. He stared at it for a moment, and then reached out to slide the invitation to the side.

Dearest Moshe, the first line read, before a hand slapped down over the words. Raleigh jerked his face up to see Moshe tight-lipped and gaze averted.

Raleigh let out a small chuckle. “Personal invitation from Frederick, indeed.”

Despite everything, despite the way they so rarely bothered to care about each other’s business anymore, Raleigh felt a small spark of annoyance at the way Moshe didn’t immediately jump to explain. He looked back down at Moshe’s hand, then clawed it away, flipping the paper out of his reach. At Moshe’s surprised intake of breath and quick attempt at grabbing it back, Raleigh stood up and held it above his head, scanning the contents.

“‘Dearest Moshe,'” he read, bracing his palm against Moshe’s slender chest to keep him away. “‘How many seasons have passed since we last spoke face to face? How long has it been since I’ve seen the flash of your blade in the sunlight of Marvle-Dein’s tournament ring?'”

“Raleigh,” Moshe growled, his fingers gripping Raleigh’s arm.

Raleigh looked down at Moshe—at his flashing eyes, his contorted face.

Raleigh felt the smallest sparks of arousal, his cock thickening. Not wanting Moshe to see it, he quickly turned around and walked away by several paces. “How long has it been, Moshe?” he asked. “To have the duke writing such delicate words.”

There was silence, and Raleigh allowed himself a rare feeling of triumph.

But then Moshe said, “Too long.”

Still with his back to him, Raleigh looked down at the letter, finishing it. It really wasn’t anything suspicious, more a love letter to Moshe’s sword-fighting abilities than to Moshe himself. It was a challenge—perhaps you hide because you fear you will lose, Frederick taunted—but Raleigh knew the duke and he knew that it was good-natured teasing. That was something he had always excelled at, cajoling Moshe to fight him without having to ignite a deep rage.

Unlike Raleigh.

He palmed his forehead. “I am scheduled for a morning ride,” he said wearily. With a sniff, he turned and set the letter down next to the invitation, keeping his gaze to them and not to Moshe.

Silence. Moshe stepped towards him, and for a brief moment Raleigh thought he was about to embrace Raleigh, but he did not. He grabbed the slips of parchment and headed back towards the door. “Fine,” Moshe said shortly, “I will reply to the duke.”

Raleigh cleared his throat. “To decline?”

“To accept.”

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