PREVIEW - CHAPTER ONE
The rapier slid from its sheath with a soft susurration that presaged swift and violent death.
Morgan McRobbie ignored his opponent’s blade. Instead he scanned the man’s eyes for the telltale flicker which signaled an attack. All around them men lunged and dodged and whirled. Cries of anguish and triumph rang out over the clash of steel on steel. But for Morgan no one else existed at this moment.
His attacker approached, his movements tentative. From caution, perhaps, leavened with a bit of trepidation. He was, after all, facing the renowned Knight-Commander of the King’s Legion. The Dark Knight of Kilbourne. Morgan’s scowl at this sobriquet was enough to make his opponent take a hasty step back.
Then, gathering himself, the man lunged with a wild yell. His sword sliced the air in a hissing arc. Morgan stepped back out its trajectory, and air was all it sliced.
Morgan acknowledged the strike with a brief nod. Maintaining his defensive posture, he watched the other man’s eyes for his next move. He knew the fellow to be a decent swordsman. He was also well aware his opponent didn’t possess Morgan's level of proficiency. His reaction and recovery times were definitely slower. Offsetting this lack of expertise was an attitude of grim determination.
His opponent launched a furious flurry of thrusts and slashes, but Morgan parried the attack with studied ease. He refrained from going on the offensive himself quite yet. He had plenty of time, Morgan reasoned as he turned a fierce riposte. If he finished off this fellow too soon, there’d be plenty more ready to take his place.
The attacker lunged again, his blade darting like a swallow in an attempt to find an opening in Morgan’s defenses. The man was breathing a bit harder now, further evidence of his lack of practice. Morgan flashed him an evil grin.
“Not slowing down, are you?” he taunted. “I would have expected better from you.”
His opponent didn’t answer. He just gasped a little. In all likelihood saving his wind for the fight. He lunged again. This time he was careless, leaving his left side wide open,
It was like being handed a gift. Seizing his opportunity, Morgan went on the offensive at last. His sword sliced the air with an angry hiss as he stalked inexorably towards his foe. The man fell back into a determined defensive posture, managing to parry the first few thrusts. Then Morgan feinted, his blade slashing low. As his opponent reacted, Morgan shifted his stance in the blink of an eye, his rapier darting in high to find its mark.
Gently he touched the point to the spot over his opponent’s heart. “You’re dead, Your Majesty,” Morgan said.
Rhys Gwynfallis, King of Kilbourne, yanked off his protective helm. Tossing it to a waiting attendant, he grimaced and ran a hand through long, sweat-soaked black hair. Rhys handed his sword off as well. “Blast it, Morgan,” he groused. “After all this time I still fall for your tricks.”
“But you are getting better,” Morgan pointed out charitably. “Once upon a time I would have had you in the first couple of minutes. Your defense is much more controlled now. You just need to focus on your opponent’s eyes instead of concentrating so completely on his blade.”
“As you’ve told me time and again,” acknowledged Rhys with a rueful shake of his dark head. “Very well, you’ve killed your king. Again. Gwyn won’t let me hear the end of it, you know.” His fierce scowl was at odds with his normal good humor. No doubt the thought of the teasing he’d receive from Queen Gwyndolyn rankled more than his actual defeat. Then he shrugged and quirked a grin. “Which is why you’re knight-commander and I’m just a king,” he said. “Let’s go get an ale, eh? I’m parched!”
“Sounds like a royal command to me.” Morgan sheathed his blade, and tossed his own helm to an attendant. Doffing their protective garb, king and knight left the training ground in search of something to quench their thirst.
As they walked through the palace corridors Rhys suggested, “How about going to the Sword and Crown?”
Morgan shot him a look of surprise. “Really? I imagined you wanted to go back to your study.”
“Yes, really,” Rhys replied in a tone which brooked no argument. “I don’t get out and about enough of late. There’s a lot going on in the wide world beyond these walls, and I need to have a good feel for it. As you keep reminding me, a man can get stifled in here. Besides, you’ve been raving about Rajan’s latest batch of ale. With such a masterful swordsman at my side, what could possibly happen?”
Morgan hesitated, but only for a moment. “By your command, Sire,” he said. “Let’s be off to the Sword and Crown.”
A quarter of an hour later found Morgan escorting his liege lord down Montrose Street and into the tavern. Rhys had waved away his suggestion to change out of the military leathers he wore for sword practice. He would prefer, he’d stated emphatically, to slip out of the palace incognito. Or at least as much as was possible, given his thin, angular face was well-known to pretty much every inhabitant of the city of Caerfaen, capital of Kilbourne.
The Sword and Crown was a soldier’s tavern, and the only one Morgan visited with any regularity. It exuded an air of comfortable shabbiness, along with a firm disregard for the creature comforts. No one came here for the atmosphere. They came to eat, drink, and gossip. And on occasion, to brawl.
Solidly built but well-scarred tables and chairs of dark oak were spaced about the main common room, far enough away from each other to allow a man to carry on a conversation without being overheard by his neighbors. A massive utilitarian hearth, currently occupied by a slowly roasting boar, took up nearly one entire wall. The smell of the sizzling meat hung heavy in the air, delectable and enticing. Morgan felt his stomach growl with pleasant anticipation.
Kegs of ale and casks of spirits lined another wall. A third was taken up by the bar itself. No gleaming wood here, just a good stolid place at which to enjoy a pint or two, or however many Rajan Turksa, the barman and owner, would allow.
Only a couple of tables were occupied this early in the afternoon. After dark, there would hardly be room to move. Rhys looked about in royal approval as Morgan led him to a table. “It’s been a long time since I was in here,” he observed. “A comfortable place. Nice and quiet.”
“Until a fight breaks out,” Morgan chuckled. “A couple of nights ago some big farm boy wandered in after having a few too many at another tavern. He decided he’d pick a fight with anyone who’d take him on. Rajan had to use the big club he keeps beneath the bar to clean house. Afterwards they stacked the bodies out in the street.”
Rhys hooted as Rajan Turksa made his way to their table with as much haste as his bad leg would allow. Normally the barmaids waited on customers while he kept to the bar. Rajan, who had served under Morgan in the Legion, made certain he attended to the Knight-Commander himself.
The barman’s eyes opened wide when he recognized Morgan’s companion. “Yer Majesty,” he gasped, attempting to kneel. “You do me great honor.”
Rhys scrambled out of his chair and steadied the barman, raising him to his feet before he toppled over in the effort. “Here now, we’ll have none of that,” the king declared. “Commander McRobbie has given me glowing reports of your ale. I decided I should come try it for myself and make certain he wasn’t exaggerating.” He gave Rajan a knowing wink.
The barman grinned. “Well, now, Yer Majesty, I’ll admit, ’tis not bad, not bad at all. I keep a little something set aside for special customers. I’ll not be but a moment.” He stumped off behind the bar.
He returned in short order, reverently bearing two foaming tankards. He placed one before the king with a flourish, and then handed the second to Morgan.
“Thank you,” said Rhys, taking an exploratory drink. He licked the foam from his lip and set the tankard back down on the table, regarding it with pleasure as Morgan sipped his own drink.
“Morgan’s reports were accurate, as I expected,” Rhys proclaimed. “Excellent, most excellent.”
“Thankee, Yer Majesty,” beamed the barman. “Let me know when ye needs another.”
Rhys nodded, took up his tankard again, and took another drink. “Ahhhh,” he sighed happily.
Morgan took a long drink from his own tankard while his mind raced. What the devil was Rhys up to? He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
“Morgan,” said the King of Kilbourne, wiping foam from his mouth with the back of a royal hand. “I was wondering…”
“Here it comes!” Morgan cringed in mock terror. “I knew it.”
Rhys laughed. “You know me too well, my friend. But it’s nothing too onerous, I assure you. Nothing like the last little task I set you.”
Morgan grimaced at the recollection of Rhys’ “last little task”. At the king’s request he had posed as a turncoat in order to expose a traitor on the Royal Council. It had nearly ruined his good name and resulted in his arrest on charges of murder and treason. It had also almost gotten him killed at the hands of the ruthless Rhuddlani agent Xavier.
Of course, it had also led to several encounters with Lady Marissa duBerry. Some of those encounters had been more pleasant than others, but on balance Morgan felt making her acquaintance might have been the only good thing to come out of the whole affair. If, he amended, he could finally bring himself to…
Realizing he was woolgathering under the curious gaze of his sovereign, Morgan shook himself out of this reverie. “So what do you want me to do this time?” he inquired darkly. “Vanquish another dragon? Storm Rhuddlan single-handed? Go on a quest to find the Jewel of Archandyll?”
Rhys laughed. “No, nothing so formidable. Although…” His black eyes gleamed with mischief. “A quest for the Jewel of Archandyll might--”
Morgan cut him off with a growl. The Jewel, a blood-red ruby reputed to be as large as a man’s head, had not been seen by anyone in living history. Indeed, most scholars considered it a myth, and a particularly tenuous myth at best. Morgan was not inclined to go chasing after myths at the moment. He had other, more interesting things in mind to pursue. Like Lady Marissa.
“Very well,” said Rhys with a grin. “It’s really quite simple. Merely a little courier assignment. I need to you to deliver something to the Dwarf King in Rockfast.”
Morgan leaned forward, his face registering genuine surprise. “Something to do with the upcoming trade negotiations? Something you can’t send by regular Royal Messenger?” He frowned. “Just what is it I’m to deliver?”
Rhys heaved a sigh. “Prince Robert,” he said.
Check out the trailer for DESPERATE KNIGHT
No time… No plan… No options…
No one said saving the world would be easy.
Morgan McRobbie and Lady Marissa duBerry swing back into swashbuckling action, facing old enemies, new threats, and a diabolical conspiracy. Not to mention a more personal battle, one with hearts and pride at stake.
As the pair escorts Prince Robert to the dwarf king’s court, a fiendish scheme is unfolding, intended to hurl men and dwarves into a devastating war. Morgan ends up sidetracked by a kidnapped dwarf and a centuries-old feud, while a mysterious wizard’s revelations shake Marissa to her core, throwing into question everything she thought she knew about her past and future. And the advent of a rival for Marissa’s affections threatens any hope of a happy ending—if they survive.
Once again the desperate knight and indomitable damsel must hazard everything on a single throw of the dice, gambling on untested allies and unimagined weapons to save their world. And the odds have never been worse.