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Prince Jothri didn't want a wife. Milkmaid Alessandra Shipbourne CERTAINLY didn't want a husband. But the law was clear. The prince of Westhaven must sire his heir on a commoner. And with both the land and their own desires driving them together, only a fool would try to stand between. Alessandra will need her wits about her, because she has been "Chosen By The Prince!" ~~~~~ Excerpt ~~~~~ Her voice, when she spoke, was deeper than usual, with a slow, rolling cadence which was older than the hills. “The Land speaks through me. What is the desire of the Lord who comes before me?” Jothri stood. In the low light, wrought of candlelight and the low glow of the fire on the hearth, his body was magnificent, golden red, like bloodstained gold. His eyes were deep and shadowed, and she saw, with a stab of triumph, that the fabric at his loins could no longer disguise the signs of his swelling arousal. “I am the Lord.” His voice was deep and steady. “I come to claim the Land for my own. Mine and the heirs of my body.” A wave of displeasure rolled through her. This one is arrogant. He will need to be taught a lesson. She raised her chin haughtily. “I am the Land. I submit to no Lord who does not kneel before me.” As if it were the most natural thing in the world, Jothri bowed his head, kneeling before her. “I am the Lord. I come seeking the Land’s blessing.” His position put his head nearly at the level of her groin, and Alessandra stifled a wild impulse to pull up the hem of her robe and demand that he kiss her throbbing womanhood until she climaxed. “Disrobe, my Lord,” she murmured, somehow hiding her panic. “Let us see what you have to offer the Land.” His hands flew to the waist of his robe, and she knew he was aroused as she. It took only moments before he was nude, standing before her proudly. Her legs grew weak, and before she knew what she was doing, she had fallen to her knees. “So lovely,” she whispered, bending forward. It was impossible to resist. The tip of her tongue flickered out, laying a darting kiss on his skin. His taste was divine. Clean soap and male musk and the faintest acrid tang of his sweat, all combining to make him irresistible. She murmured, voiceless, deep in her throat, her body raging for release, as she licked him. His taste burst on her tongue in an explosion of pleasure, and before she knew it, her mouth was open wide, only a hairbreadth from swallowing him whole. Stupid, wretched slattern! The voice was a whip-crack in her mind. Will you ruin everything? Do you want him to spill his seed uselessly in your mouth or on your body? Your child will be queen. But only if you don’t make a bloody stupid balls of it. Stop it. Stop it now! Although it was close to agony, somehow, shaking, she pulled away, raising her head and letting him escape her mouth. Above her, Jothri was shaking like a fly-stung horse, the muscles of his stomach jumping and trembling spasmodically. “Oh no,” she teased, hiding how close she had come to losing control. “You will not spill your seed on barren ground, my Lord.” Why was she still wearing this stupid robe, she thought with a trace of her old irritation. She undid the knot and let it fall to the floor, at last leaving her naked with her lifemate. Teasingly, she ran a finger down her breasts to her stomach, pausing below her navel. “Only within my fertile valley will it take root. “Are you the plowman I have been looking for?”
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By Alana Church
Artwork by Moira Nelligar
Copyright 2018 Alana Church
~~ All characters in this book are over 18. ~~
“No, Mother. I won’t do it.”
Queen Visalla of Westhaven raised her eyebrows at her oldest child. “My. That does sound final.” She lounged back in her chair in her private chambers, studying her son with every indication of profound interest. Resting her chin in one cupped palm, she waved a languid hand. “Please. Continue.”
Prince Jothri took a deep breath. Negotiating with his mother was hard enough. Issuing what amounted to an ultimatum was asking for trouble. But at least she hadn’t refused him out of hand. She was listening.
Although, he noted, catching a devilish spark deep within her green eyes, she just might be waiting for him to walk too far out on a branch before sawing it off behind him, leaving him to fall flat on his face.
The queen did have that sort of a sense of humor.
“It’s barbaric, Mother. The Choosing is a relic of the past, and we should abandon it.” Remembering his classes in rhetoric, he stood up straight, making a broad gesture with one hand, playing to an invisible crowd. “We’re a civilized people. If we expect other countries to treat us with respect, we have to show them that we are worthy of that respect. And that doesn’t include a tradition where the heirs to the throne treat the common people like a herd of livestock, using them for a breeding program!
“How can we hold our heads high when they snicker at us? I’ve had to deal with it for the last two years. Every petty lordling in the Inner Kingdoms thinks we’re no better than savages, who see our women as less than human. Merely chattel to be used to slake our lusts and then discarded when we have had our fill.” He took a deep breath. “I can’t count how many arrogant bastards asked me what it was like to rape a trembling virgin who had been dragged to my bed, because I couldn’t get a woman in any other way.
“It’s wrong, Mother. And I won’t be a part of it.”
“Really?” Visalla raised one elegant eyebrow. “You’ll renounce the throne in favor of Rinaya?”
He matched her stare for stare. “I’m renouncing nothing.”
“Then you’re a fool, Jothri.” Her smile took some of the sting out her remark. “And if you think that you would be accepted as king if you abandoned the Choosing, then you’re a fool twice over. Your sister would make an admirable queen. And Rinaya has none of your…misgivings about the Choosing. Indeed, she has been very enthusiastic about fulfilling her obligations as an heir of the royal house.”
“She would,” he muttered. “So. Is that your final word on it?”
“It is.” Her eyes were kind, but there was not the slightest hint of leniency in her expression or voice. “If you refuse to take part in the Choosing, you will be disinherited. Not because I wish it. But because half the country would rise up in rebellion if you tried to plant your ass on the throne.”
He bowed stiffly. “As you will.”
“Oh, stop it.” At last, her voice bore a hint of true irritation. “Tell me. Have you spoken with your father since you returned?”
“Father? No. I just got back this morning. As you know.”
“Go see him. Today. Take that as a royal command, if you must. Have him tell you the difference between honor and reputation, since you seem to care so much about your reputation. In fact, tell him that I request and require it.” She snorted. “To think that my son should care what a bunch of priggish louts from the Inner Kingdoms think about Westhaven!”
“Yes, Mother.” He waited a carefully-timed moment. “Do I have your permission to leave?”
“Yes, yes. Go, by all means, and stop looking at me as if I’m a whore who wandered into the archbishop’s bedchamber!”
He stopped, suddenly struck by guilt. If he was refusing the Choosing, could his mother think he was making a slur against her own character? He was, after all, a scion of her own Choosing. “Mother, I…I didn’t mean…” he stuttered to a stammering halt.
After a long moment, her eyes softened. “I know you didn’t, love.” She stood, suddenly not the queen, but his mother once more. “You don’t have a cruel bone in your body. And I know how easy it is for a young man to be confused, when he is a long way from home.” Once corner of her mouth twitched. “Which is one more reason for you to talk to your father.”
She embraced him, fierce and tight, then stepped back. Awkwardly, he turned away, moving to exit her chambers.
When he had his hand on the door, her warm, throaty voice called him back. “Jothri?”
She smiled at him.
It didn’t take him long to find his father. At this time of the day, Jothri knew precisely where he would be.
Jimel Coalbiter was at his forge, just off the main market square. From the entrance, left wide open to provide some measure of relief from the stifling heat, came the ringing sounds of a hammer beating metal on an anvil.
“Hello?” he said loudly, poking his head in the door.
“Jothri!” His father looked up with a wide smile on his face. “Your mother said you would be home soon. Let me finish this up,” he said, holding up a piece of armor with a set of tongs, “and we can talk.”
Jothri smiled and leaned against the wall, taking pleasure in watching his father work. When he had been Chosen by the Queen, nearly twenty years ago, his father had been apprenticed to a smith in one of the poorer parts of the city. Both her patronage and his own skill had raised him up, until he owned his own forge, employed a half-dozen journeyman smiths, twice that many apprentices, and supplied the royal guards with armor and weapons. At night he either went home to his own house, or wandered up to the castle, where he enjoyed a casual arrangement with the queen which never quite seemed to slide over the line into marriage and ran on a schedule only the two of them seemed to understand. Jothri admired him, his sister Rinaya adored him, and he moved in the halls of power with a dry, understated amusement which suggested that he found the games of politics and power slightly ridiculous.
Jimel held up the greave, inspecting it minutely, then nodded once, dousing the hot metal in a water barrel nearby. Steam rose into the air with a sullen hiss as he placed the piece of armor on a nearby hook to cool.
“Tricky piece of work, that,” he commented, waving Jothri inside. “You have to get the fit right, or it won’t protect the knee. Fool guardsman wasn’t careful enough in a sparring match in the practice ring a few days ago. If it hadn’t held, he could have had his leg taken clean off.”
Jothri winced in sympathy.
“So.” His father stretched to his full height, his hands reaching towards the ceiling as he worked out the kinks in his arms and shoulders. Unlike other smiths, he wasn’t a huge, over-muscled man, instead tending towards the wiry, like his son. Though his shoulders were broad and his arms strong, he was best known for his delicate touch around metal. Others, mainly apprentices, handled the big, crude jobs, like horseshoes and plowshares. “What brings you down here? Visalla says you’re coming home for good?”
“Yes.” He bit back a smile. It scandalized the people in the palace when his father spoke of the queen as if she were no different than a serving wench in an alehouse. “Two years was plenty. I’ve had enough of the academy. All the masters there look at students from the outlands as if we’re all a bunch of sheep-humping barbarians.”
“Language,” his father said mildly. He raised a curious eyebrow. “Do I detect a note of disillusionment?”
“No, you detect an entire symphony.” He made a frustrated gesture. “As soon as they found out I was from Westhaven, the whispers started. About the Choosing. About how the royal family treats the common folk like cattle.”
Jimel frowned. “You know that’s not true.”
“Yes. I know it. But what am I supposed to do, when all the women look at me as if I’m a depraved rapist?
“Which reminds me. Mother sent me here to talk to you. I told her I didn’t want to take part in the Choosing. She told me that she asks - no, she requests and requires, thank you very much - that you talk to me about the difference between honor and reputation.”
“Ah.” The older man nodded. “That one. That’s thirsty work. And not something I want to shout about, with all the banging and clanging that goes on in here.”
Walking towards an uncluttered corner, he picked up two mugs and small keg, then led Jothri outside. Walking around the outside of the building, he sat on a bench against the wall and waved his son down beside him.
“Honor,” he mused. “And reputation. Your mother and I had a long talk about that once.” He broached the keg and poured a measure of frothy ale into his mug, handed it to Jothri, then did the same for his own.
“One of your mother’s councilors, and never you mind who, had a son who got himself into a spot of trouble over a girl. You know how it is. Two men, randy as goats, both pining over the same woman.
“Well, the other boy was killed, under questionable circumstances. Some people at court started whispering that he’d been murdered by his rival.” He shook his head. “But things are never that simple. Oh, yes, the boy could have killed him, if it had been in battle or the dueling ring. But he was no murderer. If I were to guess, I’d say the rival was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and his death was a robbery gone wrong. There are still some dangerous spots in this town. I know. I lived there once.
“After things had calmed down a bit, the boy asked the girl to marry him, and she said yes. But her parents listened to the rumors, and asked the queen to stop the wedding.
“Visalla asked me to attend, when she talked to the youngsters.” A smile spread over his face. “It was obvious to anyone who cared to look that they were heels-up in love with each other, and that trying to come between them would only cause the poor children pain. She told them to go ahead and wed with her blessing. But her father complained about the damage to the family’s honor, if she married a man who was suspected of murder.”
He stopped, taking a large swallow of ale. “And?” Jothri asked, trying to hide his impatience. His father could spin a tale as well as any bard, when the mood struck him. And he was just as good at pausing at the good parts.
“Well, I was tired of listening to everyone gabble about like a clutch of hens, so I said my piece.” He opened one hand, palm upwards. “Reputation is what other people think they know about you.” He opened the other. “Honor is what you know about yourself.
“That boy’s reputation might have been harmed. But not his honor. Suspicion is not proof. And if the girl loved him, that should have been enough for everyone. And it was,” he concluded with satisfaction. “They wed and are very happy, from all accounts.”
Jothri nodded. He understood why the queen had tasked him to discuss this with his father. “So as long as I act with honor, I shouldn’t worry about what others think?”
“I wouldn’t go quite that far. Wanting the good opinion of others is not a bad thing. Just don’t let your desire to be liked or admired steer you away from what you know is right.
“The Choosing isn’t an evil thing, son.” A wistful smile crossed his lips. “For me, it was the best thing that ever happened in my life.”
“What was it like?” Jothri asked suddenly. “For you? When Mother chose you?”
“Like nothing I could have possibly imagined.” Jimel blinked rapidly. “Dusty out here,” he muttered.
You old fraud. “Sure it is, Father.”
“Keep it up, boy. You’ll find you’re not too old to go over my knee.
“Well, I was a young, stupid lout when it happened. Twenty years old, and ignorant as a pig. I couldn’t read, and could only count as much as it took to make sure my master didn’t cheat me of my pay.
“Your mother had just taken the throne from your grandmother the year before, and no one knew if she would wed one of the other lords to make her position more secure. They were around her like rats on a corpse, all snapping for an advantage.”
He smiled in memory, the action making his face shed years, turning him back into the skinny youth he had been on that momentous day. “Back then, the Choosing only happened here in the city three or four times a year. The other months, Visalla would travel to the outlying baronies to Choose.
“On that day, me and a couple of my cronies were in the market square. Right there, as a matter of fact.” He pointed at a harness-maker’s shop. “The bells had just rung noon, and we were joking, the way stupid young men the world over do, about what we would do to the queen if we were Chosen. Gods,” he shook his head. “What a bunch of damned fools we were.”
He sighed. “You know that not everyone asks to be Chosen. It’s an old, old rite. Old magic, if you ask some of the bards or priests. Some are happy with their husbands and wives or lovers. Some do not favor women. Or men, as the case may be. Some are scared. Some have other objections.
“But when the queen came out of the palace that day, riding her horse down the street, and she looked at me…” He smiled helplessly. “She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. Like something out of one of the old tales.
“And she looked at me. And she lifted her hand and pointed to me. ‘You,’ she said. ‘I Choose you, Jimel Coalbiter.’”
“She knew your name? How?”
“Ask the gods,” his father replied. “I don’t know. And I stood there like a sun-dazed cow with my mouth hanging open. I hadn’t shaved in days, hadn’t bathed in a week, and I didn’t have a clean set of clothes to my name. I wanted to fall to the ground and apologize, sure there had been some sort of mistake. I felt ashamed of being so smelly and dirty when she was so beautiful.
“And instead of chopping me to pieces on the spot, her guardsmen took me by the arm, and put me on a horse, and put me side-by-side with Vasilla as we rode back to the palace.
“And later that night we made love for the first time.” He grinned. “Of course, by then I smelled quite a bit better.”
That had, Jothri was reminded, the last Choosing his mother had ever taken part in. Once she had found her lifemate, she had settled into her life has queen, borne himself and his sister, and had ruled the country with the sort of benign neglect that left the common people feeling easy, secure under a gentle hand. Though she and his father had never formally wed, there was no question that they loved each other deeply. Each were free to take other lovers, and had, from what he understood. But they always came back to each other.
“You should marry her, Father,” he blurted. “Why haven’t you?”
One shoulder lifted in an uncomfortable shrug, and he hid his face behind his mug, taking a long swallow of ale. “I get nervous in the palace,” he said, jerking his head at the huge stone building, visible through the tree tops on the other side of the market square. Pennons flapped bravely from the turrets in the spring breeze. “I’m always worried I’m going to shame her, somehow, being a dirty-faced kid from Cobbler’s Row. I never knew my father, and my mother, may the gods grant her peace, was no better than she had to be. It’s a miracle she wasn’t hung as a pickpocket or a thief. And you know how touchy the nobility can be.”
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