As I don’t seem to be able to get Amazon to do the “look inside” thing, here is an excerpt from my fantasy fiction short story, The Peace of Elias, which is FREE on Amazon until Friday 15 June only.
Negus Shahbaz waited at his desk. He was a patient man, all great leaders are, but today even his patience was being pushed to the limit. He stared stoically into the middle distance; his jaws clenched tight, his hands pressed palm down on the varnished desk to avoid fidgeting. I can’t stand fidgeting.
He took a deep breath, slowly brushed a manicured hand over his neat, cropped silver hair and brushed a non-existent speck of dust from the breast of his immaculately pressed black velvet doublet. Suppressing a twitch of his plucked eyebrow, he smoothed his red sash methodically from shoulder to hip and glanced at the clock at the opposite end of his office. His guest was late. Intolerably late. I can’t stand lateness.
Shahbaz had always been a calm, unflappable man, he had lived his life as a diplomat, an ambassador, and a successful one too. He had made many alliances in Western Temeria and, he felt, helped to make Arc-Stone and the surrounding country safe, peaceful and mostly prosperous. He had dealt with every kind of character he could imagine, some pleasant, some unreasonable, and he had always maintained good terms. But something about Cyrus enraged him. The man was arrogant, selfish, bad-mannered and, worst of all, his nephew. I can’t stand my own nephew.
Finally, Cyrus strolled into Shahbaz’s office, noisily chewing on an apple. Shahbaz bridled at the insult but, as usual, managed to contain his disgust.
“Cyrus, you are late,” Shahbaz brought his hands together on the desk in front of him, unconsciously forming two large fists.
“I had a late night,” Cyrus replied through a mouthful of apple.
Shahbaz sighed, “When I summon you to my office I expect you to be punctual. Sit down.”
Cyrus sat heavily in the chair across the desk from Shahbaz, slurping as he sucked the juice from the apple core, and glanced around the room for a place to discard it. Shahbaz shot him a glanced that would have ignited the drapes as Cyrus carelessly made to toss it on his desk. The young man hesitated, glancing down at his uncle’s white knuckles, and stuffed the apple core in the pocket of his dishevelled coat.
Shahbaz’s finger and thumb rubbed at his temples, then worked their way down to his tired eyes. “Cyrus, I promised your father, the Gods deliver him, that I would take care of you. Why must you make it so difficult?”
Cyrus’ face reddened. “I do not need you as my bodyguard. I am a man! I can take care of myself.”
“You are twenty years old,” Shahbaz spoke calmly and clearly, as though explaining to a child why they must not touch a hot stove, “you have a lot to learn. One day Arc-Stone will be in your charge. You are blessed with a life of luxury, a life many people can only dream of, and with it comes responsibility.”
“This again. I have heard it before. What is there that I could possibly learn that I do not already know? I am ready now. I could govern Arc-Stone tomorrow!”
“There is a lot more to it than you realise, Cyrus, every day people’s lives depend on my smallest decisions. I am trying to teach you, Cyrus, if you continue this way you will only-”
“Only what?” Cyrus snapped, tears in his eyes as he suddenly leaned forward, his body shaking with impotent rage. “End up like my father? Dead in a ditch?”
Shahbaz’s weakness was his sympathy for Cyrus, he had done his best to raise the boy as his own but since his father, Shahbaz’s twin brother Theebs, had been killed by a lucky punch in a tavern brawl, he had been unable to control his rebelliousness and petulance. That had been twelve years ago. Theebs had been somewhat of a live wire too, but he had possessed great charisma and intelligence with it. Sadly, Cyrus had inherited all of Theebs’ unpredictability and frivolousness but none of his wit.
“I just want the best for you, Cyrus, there’s no shame in your family looking out for you.”
“Like you looked out for my father?” Cyrus’ bottom lip began to quiver.
“What happened was a tragic accident, I was every bit as grieved as you, he was my brother as well as your father. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could have taken his place.” Shahbaz had been through this a thousand times, but he knew Cyrus would always blame him for Theebs’ death. “Now, I am sorry Cyrus, but I must enforce a curfew.” Cyrus stiffened but Shahbaz held up a hand for silence. “It is for your own good. I cannot have you out on the roads after dark. What were you doing outside of Arc-Stone at that hour?”
“I was visiting someone in Evestomb, a friend.”
“On your own? Have you learned nothing? The roads are too dangerous to travel without a company of armed guards. The civil war has left the wild country full of brigands! Desperate, masterless soldiers who will kill you for a few talents! I’ve no doubt you were porking some little tart. What’s wrong with your whores in Arc-Stone? You’re lucky you were discovered by Elias.”
Cyrus snorted, his grimace showing his disgust of the farmer and his overgrown son. “Lucky? It wouldn’t surprise me if they were involved in my attack. They’re probably up there now, laughing at us both.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Cyrus. Elias is a simple, honest farmer. He lives in near poverty, although that is as much down to his frame of mind as the state of his finances. Since his wife died the poor man has barely bothered to wash.” Shahbaz sighed, it struck him that they had all been effected by loss, in different ways. He had become obsessively organised and introvert, Elias had lost the will to do anything other than survive and Cyrus had become angry, self-destructive and eaten up by his own hatred.
“I find it too much of a coincidence that they picked me up straight after I was attacked,” Cyrus continued, “that boy isn’t as stupid as he looks, I’d wager it is all a front. They’re nothing but common thieves.”
Shahbaz’s sympathy ebbed away as Cyrus’ arrogance once again rose to the surface. “Nonsense. Can you not see the good in anyone?”
“Not in common thieves. I’ve a good mind to take a few men up to that ridge and make an example-”
“You will do no such thing!” Shahbaz stood suddenly, pounding his fist on the desk, making the heavy wood shudder like a loose floorboard. Cyrus leaped back in fright, knocking his chair over and stumbling backwards towards the door. “You will not leave these grounds. Do you understand me? No harm is to come to the farmer!”
Shahbaz was shaking with rage, glaring at his nephew, his fists involuntarily opening and closing. Cyrus had never seen the man lose his temper before and it frightened him, which in turn made him angry. The young knight composed himself, smirked at his uncle, turned on his heel and stalked from the room, leaving Shahbaz to chide himself for allowing his normally solid composure to crumble.