Title: Vedran’s Hand
Author: Harper Kingsley
Summary: A duel to the death is to take place between two unbeaten champions. The Emperor’s Hand, the man known only as Dragon Knight, has been tasked with giving out eighteen gold seals to men and women of his choice, allowing them to witness the legendary battle between Hezzero and Nasbeth. Everyone wants an invite, and they are willing to do whatever they have to in order to get one.
Meanwhile, machinations are going on behind the scenes and someone is planning for a new Emperor to be crowned. All they need is the death of Emperor Vedran Malvorta.
- NOVEL: Vedran’s Hand, by Harper Kingsley [mm fantasy] – Chapter One
- NOVEL: Vedran’s Hand, by Harper Kingsley [mm fantasy] – Chapter Two
- NOVEL: Vedran’s Hand, by Harper Kingsley [mm fantasy] – Chapter Three
- NOVEL: Vedran’s Hand, by Harper Kingsley [mm fantasy] – Chapter Four
The man known as the Emperor’s Hand was certainly not what people expected on first sight. He looked more like an expensive courtesan than a topless fighter and the Emperor’s most trusted champion.
He was younger than most people thought he would be, and too pretty by far. He dressed in the height of fashion and looked as though he had never swung a sword in his life. To see him, he looked like yet another worthless noble living off the wealth of his family. Few would have ever thought that he had built himself up from nearly nothing, using his family name to earn the chance to serve the Emperor, but becoming the Hand on his own.
The name that he was known by was Dragon Knight. He had been an orphan even before he came to the palace, so there was no one to remember of what family line he had originated from. All anyone knew was that he was the Emperor’s most loyal servant, fulfilling any need that arose.
So when he was summoned before the Emperor, he did not hesitate a moment to answer the call.
Lady Merris was happy to see them, as usual. A visit from Dragon Knight was invariably a profitable one since he had unlimited access to the Imperial Treasury.
Kameris remembered all the objections the Imperial Advisors had made when Vedran had ordered that Dragon be given full access to anything he wanted. It had been like someone had knocked down a hornet’s nest for a few days until Vedran had stepped in and commanded that his orders be obeyed. Dragon was to have whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, no questions asked.
And how did Dragon use that great largess? To pay for whores and fancy clothes. Unlimited funds at his fingertips, and all he wanted was pretty clothes and sex. It made Kameris wonder what the people of the Empire would think if they knew about the untold power the Hand could have, but didn’t even try for.
Kameris had heard all of the whispers and rumors told about the Emperor’s Hand. To most people, Dragon Knight was a complete mystery, the Emperor’s shadow, with no family and no past. He had just appeared one day at the Crown Prince’s side as a child and had stayed there as Vedran rose to power.
Other than the few people that had survived seeing Dragon Knight in action, there were few that really believed he was anything more than an Imperial ornament. They saw his pretty face and body and labeled him useless, unable to believe that anyone so beautiful could have any more purpose than to be visually appealing.
Watching Dragon disappear up the stairs with four of Merris’ best, Kameris couldn’t help but to see why people would believe the rumors about Dragon Knight. The man spent far too much time in the pleasure houses and all of the proprietors knew him by name.
With a sigh, Kameris allowed himself to be led away by a buxom redhead. It would be several hours before Dragon was ready to leave and there was no sense wasting the opportunity to find his own enjoyment.
Sometimes he wished that things could be different. In a better world, Vedran and Dragon Knight wouldn’t be so miserable all the time. None of the lies would ever have been told and there never would have been any hurt feelings. In a better world, things could magically go back to the way they were when they were children, when they were happy, back before everything went out of control.
Allowing the redhead to undress him, Kameris pushed aside his melancholy thoughts and focused on the girl and her rather obvious charms.
Pounding his fist on the closed door, Kameris yelled loudly, “Are you done in there, D? It’s time for us to get back.”
“Just come in,” Dragon Knight’s voice ordered in exasperation. “I swear, I sometimes have to wonder if you were ever trained in the niceties of polite company. Screaming at me through the door, bothering everyone.”
Kameris grinned at him cheerfully once he got the door open. “I truly doubt there’s anyone here that’s sleeping, and if they are, they better wake up before they end up owing a fortune for services rendered.”
Dragon was lying on the large bed, the red satin sheets pooled over his bare lap. The four women rested beside him, their hair spread around them as they slept curled together. Four women, all exhausted by one man. Kameris could almost be jealous.
“Come on, Dragon, we have to get back before second bell if you plan on conducting interviews tomorrow.”
“Interviews for what?”
“To decide who receives the invitations,” Kameris sighed.
“Oh, that. What will be, will be,” Dragon said, stretching and sitting up. Muscles flexed under the smooth flesh, not a single scar in evidence. Some people would take the lack of scars to mean a lack of experience, but Kameris knew it just meant Dragon Knight was that good. No one had ever managed to get the best of him, and if they did, they were never able to leave a permanent mark.
Few people ever got the opportunity to see the Dragon Knight go all out, and those that did understood perfectly why he was the Emperor’s Hand. He was never so beautiful as when he had a sword in his hand and an enemy against the Empire to face. He danced divinely, his passion undeniable, and his purpose fully disclosed.
Dragon Knight was a weapon in the service of the Empire. His beauty was just a camouflage for his lethality.
He was meeting with his ministers when a messenger hurried into the sitting room and delivered a scroll. The red ribbon denoted that it was fairly important.
“Please excuse me,” he said, pulling off the ribbon and tossing it on his desk in front of him. He drew in a silent breath before breaking the seal. “Enjoy the tea service.”
He ignored the curious looks the ministers gave him and they turned their attentions to the rather lavish bounty of pastries and sliced fresh fruit.
Vedran unrolled the scroll and began to read. He could feel his eyebrows trying to climb toward his hairline and his mouth went dry.
Dragon Knight had killed Lord Herold Pendai in the baths in a brutal display of strength.
There was no doubt in Vedran’s mind that he was going to be hearing from his lords. They would be baying for Dragon’s blood. Not that he would ever allow them to have a single drop.
He rolled the parchment back up and leaned forward to place it in the black lacquer box he kept for just that purpose. It would stay with the other important scrolls and remind him of the day Herold Pendai had been silenced forever.
He smiled at his ministers. “Now, where were we?”
First Minister of Agriculture Lord Daesun Retta cleared his throat and placed the cucumber sandwich he’d been eating on the edge of his small plate. He fastidiously wiped his hands clean on a napkin when he spoke, “We were discussing the famine in the South Province.”
“Ah, yes,” Vedran said, forcing his mind away from thoughts of Dragon Knight. “Authorize them grain and rice from the Imperial Storehouse. Also ensure they receive some dried pearapples to prevent sickness. They will need the fruit.”
“As you wish, Sire.” Retta bowed his head, then made a note in his journal.
“Deploy some troops to ensure order is maintained as well,” Vedran said. “We do not need any kind of situation.”
He remembered the food riots that had taken place a decade before. Numerous people had been hurt and nine people had lost their lives. He never wanted to see a repeat of a situation like that, not if he could stop it.
“On to other things,” he said, looking each minister in the face as he spoke. “Please make all of the preparations for the upcoming duel. We will be having some foreign delegates in attendance and it would be best if we made a good impression.”
“Of course, Sire,” Mattimeo Arreck, the Second Minister of Domestic Affairs, hastily agreed, nodding his head. “It will be as you wish.”
Vedran gave him a close look, taking in the drop of sweat on his wide brow and the nervous tremble to his upper lip. Once he was sure he’d made himself very clear, he lifted his stylus and began writing on the pad of paper on the desk in front of him. He had so very many things on his schedule that he had to make notes throughout the day.
He glanced up. “Is everything prepared for the arrival of the foreign delegates?”
“Yes, Sire,” Second Minister Arreck said. “Quarters have been arranged for them and guides have been assigned for each group. Preparations for tomorrow’s ball have already begun.”
“Good.” Vedran nodded. “If that’s all, you may see yourselves out.”
They rose in a flurry of formal work robes and bowed their way out, none daring to turn their back. He watched them go, his lips a hard line as he controlled himself until the door clicked shut behind them and he was finally alone.
Vedran rose to his feet with a sigh and walked from around his desk to go over to the large window that faced the inner courtyard garden. There were so many beautiful flowers and trees that he could stand here for hours on days when he simply needed to get away from the stress.
This garden view was the closest he ever came to the freedom he’d enjoyed in his youth.
He looked down at the large blossoms he’d had the gardeners populate the flowerbed outside his window with. Flashy orange flowers that instinctively drew the eye and had been extremely rare before he’d shown an interest in them.
Such an odd looking flower, yet so striking as well. Six vivid orange petals folding back like a star with black fuzzy stems rising from the centers. They were beautiful, but that wasn’t why they had become his favorite.
No, they were his favorite flowers because each blossom embodied the memories of his past. Each flower reminded him of the sweetest of summers and the halcyon days he refused to lose forever.
Focusing on the flower closest to the window, he couldn’t help remembering the first time he’d seen a tiger lily.