Sword of Rage – Jennifer Anne Davis

The door to the bedchamber swung open. Harley pretended to remain focused on the vanity mirror while surreptitiously watching Lyle’s reflection as he rushed into the room. He would be irritated she wasn’t ready for the party. Harley quickly looped another curl of her long blonde hair on top of her head, pinning it in place, trying to act as serene as possible with him in the room. Lyle stopped a few feet behind her, his eyes narrowing. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, and she had to force herself not to shiver. “By the time you change out of your captain’s uniform, I’ll be ready,” she assured him. Her hands started to shake so she shoved them in her lap, thankful her voice remained sweet and steady, not revealing her true emotions. “I won’t be changing.” His fingers slowly curled around the hilt of the sword strapped to his waist. The king and queen would never approve of her husband arriving in his captain’s uniform. “I thought my uncle asked no one don military attire this evening?” She prayed Lyle didn’t take offense to her reminding him of that, otherwise she’d suffer for it tonight. However, she didn’t want him to be humiliated by her uncle. If that happened, Lyle would find a way to make her pay for his embarrassment tenfold. “The king asked me to oversee the castle’s main gate.

Far more people than expected are arriving.” She adjusted one of her curls, carefully watching her husband in the mirror, praying he didn’t notice the relief she felt at him not hovering over her all night. Maybe that was why her uncle had asked Lyle to man the gate. Neither he nor the queen were particularly fond of him. The corners of her lips rose as she fought a smile. Not even she cared for him. “I’m surprised you’re working tonight since you were on duty all day.” Lyle finally looked away from her. Harley sucked in a breath of fresh air, thankful she’d have a respite and could celebrate her cousin’s birthday without having to constantly worry about what she said and did. “So am I,” he mumbled as he surveyed the room, probably to ensure they were alone.

When they arrived yesterday, he’d immediately dismissed the lady’s maid that had been assigned to Harley, claiming he didn’t want anyone snooping around their room. Even back home, he refused to allow servants in their house. As he walked across the room, Harley noticed his stiff shoulders and twitchy movements. Something had to be bothering him. “I’ll miss you this evening.” The words felt like cow dung to say; however, she needed to placate him. At the window, Lyle let go of his sword and shifted the curtain, peering outside. “Since my father is still gone, the king is short men.” His words were clipped, indicating he was irritated. “King Coden insisted I stay an extra fortnight with my unit until Commander Beck returns.

” Harley tried not to shiver at the mere mention of Commander Beck. She’d never liked Lyle’s father. The few times she’d been around him, he’d been too friendly, placing his beefy hand on her shoulder, waist, or even her cheek. She made sure to never be alone with him. Thankfully, he’d left Melenia right after she and Lyle wed. The commander had accompanied Prince Owen to the kingdom of Marsden, taking a significant number of the king’s soldiers with him. She wished he’d fall off the ship during the voyage home and drown. Lyle released the curtain, then turned to face her. “His Majesty insisted you stay as well.” Glancing at her reflection, she made sure her face didn’t reveal anything other than that of a doting wife.

Once she was certain she appeared meek and mild, she asked, “If you remain here, who will protect our province?” Not that she cared. She’d simply asked the question so Lyle would know she was paying attention to him. If she didn’t ask questions or engage often enough, he would assume something was wrong and keep a closer eye on her. The last thing she wanted was to draw attention to herself. “You don’t need to be concerned with such things.” Of course not. She was only a woman after all. Reining in her irritation, Harley gracefully stood from the chair, fixing the folds of her sky-blue dress. The one and only benefit of marrying Lyle had been him being granted the position of captain, in charge of the soldiers stationed in Penlar, the province her parents oversaw. She hadn’t wanted to leave the safety of her family home, let alone the countryside where she grew up.

Still, she would have preferred to marry someone she enjoyed being around, someone kind and engaging—even if it meant leaving Penlar. “The party has already started,” Lyle said, extending his arm for her to take. “I’ll escort you to the great hall before going on duty.” Even though they’d arrived at the royal family’s castle yesterday, she had yet to see her uncle or aunt, the king and queen of Melenia. She hadn’t even seen her cousins. It had been a few months since she’d spent any time here. Sucking in her breath, Harley slid her hand on Lyle’s arm, trying not to flinch. She loathed touching him. He led her from the bedchamber. Growing up, she’d always known her parents would choose who she married.

On the surface, Lyle was handsome to be sure. He wore his blond hair in the typical military style, cut short on the sides with the top slightly longer and neatly combed back. His brown eyes matched the color of damp soil after a light rain. At the age of twenty-seven, he’d already earned the position as a captain in the Melenia army—one of only eight. Of course, his father was the commander of the king’s army. But she’d seen Lyle wield a sword. He fought with a ruthless abandon that helped when training soldiers or dealing with uprisings throughout the province. Since they’d only been married a couple of months, they didn’t have any children. As much as Harley wanted to be a mother, she didn’t intend to have children with Lyle any time soon—not that she had a say in the matter, but she wasn’t ready. Harley shook her head, banishing all thoughts of that right now.

It was her cousin’s birthday, and she wished to celebrate with her. Since Harley was only two years younger than Oriana, Harley had spent every summer at the royal castle, serving as a playmate for the princess. Which meant she knew this place inside and out, like a second home. At the end of the hallway, Lyle pulled her to a stop, squeezing her hand. “I need you to do something for me.” He opened the door on the left, revealing a storage closet. “Wait in there until I return.” He shoved her inside, then closed the door. “I’m going to be late,” she said, confusion rising within her. “My uncle will wonder where I am.

” “I won’t be long.” There was a jingling noise and then a solid thunk as the lock slid into place. With a shaking hand, Harley reached for the handle. It wouldn’t budge. “Lyle?” Footsteps sounded as he left her there. “Lyle!” she repeated, this time louder. People were expecting her. The entire purpose of her trip to the royal castle was for the celebration this evening. She couldn’t miss it because her husband decided to lock her in a closet. They weren’t at home where he could do such things with no one knowing.

Her uncle would notice her absence and send someone looking for her. Tired of obeying Lyle’s every command, she banged on the door, seething with anger. This was not how she pictured married life would be. Most days, she remained at home with nothing to do. Lyle didn’t want her wandering the countryside while he was out working with his soldiers. Her parents had explained the importance of listening to her husband, whether she agreed with him or not. Since they were married, he owned her. Her dowry had been substantial, and she’d had several suitors. Her parents, Lord Silas and Lady Mayle, considered what each man had to offer before choosing the most advantageous match for their only daughter. Things like companionship, love, and compatibility had nothing to do with it.

“Who’s in there?” a male voice demanded from the other side of the door. “Hollis? Is that you?” “Harley?” her brother asked, jostling the door handle. “Hang on.” Something clanked against the handle, then the door swung open. “I always wanted to do that,” he said, holding his sword in one hand and the broken handle in the other. “What are you doing in there? The party already started.” Defiance and frustration filled her. “Lyle locked me in here,” she blurted before thinking better of it. “He told me to wait here for him.” Tears threatened.

This would not end well. Hollis’s eyes darkened. “He locked you in this closet?” She nodded. He tossed the handle to the floor, then sheathed his sword. “Come on out.” Harley hesitated, not wanting to disobey her husband and pay the price later. Maybe if Hollis closed the door, they could pretend he hadn’t seen her in there. Hollis’s eyes flashed with intense anger. “The king sent me to find you. The royal family is about to do a special toast to Princess Oriana.

You need to be there.” He took hold of her arm, dragging her from the closet. “Since I’m your older brother, I can escort you in place of your husband.” His words were clipped and furious. They headed to the large wooden staircase. “Why did Lyle lock you in the closet?” It probably wasn’t a good time for her to mention that her husband did such things quite often back home. She shrugged, hoping to avoid the awkward conversation. “Do you know where Lyle ran off to?” “He’s guarding the front gates tonight.” She lifted her dress so she wouldn’t trip as she descended the stairs. “Is he?” Hollis eyed her sidelong.

“I’ve barely seen you since you arrived. Is married life treating you so well that you don’t have time for your favorite brother?” A loaded question. One he probably already knew the answer to given that he’d just found her locked in a closet. “You’re my only brother,” she answered, purposely ignoring his implied question. Changing the subject, she said, “I barely recognize you since you’re not wearing your uniform tonight.” As a member of the royal guard, he spent most of his time in the castle with the king. But tonight, he was just Lord Hollis—an eligible bachelor with considerable wealth and high connections. At a time when poverty was rampant, someone like her brother was highly sought after. “And I barely recognize you. You’ve lost weight.

” At the bottom of the staircase, Hollis headed to the right. The entrance to the great hall stood directly in front of them. “Ready?” he asked as they neared the doors. “I wish Mother and Father were here.” Even though she lived in the same province as them, Lyle rarely let her visit her family. “You know Mother never comes to the royal castle, and Father’s health has been declining. He can’t afford to travel so far. It was one of the reasons he insisted on you marrying even though you’re only eighteen. He needed to be sure you’re taken care of.” The mere thought of her father’s failing health made her stomach sour.

Growing up, he’d read to her long into the night, insisted she have the same education as her brother, and he’d take her on rides throughout the countryside, ensuring she knew her way around the province. She couldn’t imagine him not being there as she traversed her way through life. Hollis patted her hand. “Because tonight is special, I won’t press the matter about why you were locked in a closet. But tomorrow, you and I are going to have a conversation about Lyle.” His jaw clenched. “All right.” Maybe it was time she confided in someone about what was going on. However, there was nothing Hollis could do to rectify the situation. She belonged to Lyle now, and he could do with her as he pleased.

When they neared the doors to the great hall, the two men standing guard bowed. The one on the right said, “Welcome Lord Hollis, Lady Harley.” The brother and sister entered the great hall, which had been transformed for the occasion. Garland hung from the beams of the tall ceiling, and flowers decorated the tables around the perimeter of the room. Dozens of people danced in the center of the hall while a group of musicians sat in the corner playing their instruments. The royal family stood on the dais—King Coden, Queen Martie, Prince Oliver, Prince Oakley, and Princess Oriana. Hollis led Harley through the throng of people. “It doesn’t seem right that Prince Owen isn’t here,” he mused. “I agree.” Owen had always enjoyed parties and dancing.

The king spotted Harley and smiled, waving his niece and nephew to the dais. “There certainly are a lot of people here,” Harley mumbled. So many that the air became hot from the bodies packed so closely together. Though there were many familiar faces, there were several she didn’t recognize. However, every single person wore fine clothing, indicating the kingdom’s richest and most influential families were in attendance for the birthday celebration. When they reached the dais, the king wrapped Harley in a hug. “It’s good to see you. How’s your mother?” “She’s doing well. She sends her love.” “Cousin,” Oriana said.

“I’ve missed you. I’m so happy you came to my birthday party.” The king released Harley, and Oriana squeezed her. Whispering, she said, “As soon as this toast is over, we need to catch up. I want to hear all about married life.” She released Harley and wiggled her eyebrows, indicating which part of married life she wanted to know about. Harley didn’t want to discuss that aspect of her marriage. It was uncomfortable talking about such things. Especially when such things were unpleasant. Maybe if Lyle took his time and wasn’t so rough, it would be different.

“Are you okay?” Hollis asked as the two of them moved to the side of the dais. “I’m fine.” She forced a smile on her face. Today was about Oriana. She shoved all thoughts of Lyle away and focused on what she did have—a loving brother, a doting uncle and aunt, and wonderful cousins. It was enough to keep her going. A servant handed the royal family, along with Hollis and Harley, goblets filled to the brim. King Coden took a step forward. “Thank you all for coming,” he bellowed, capturing everyone’s attention. Holding a drink in hand, Harley watched Oriana beam as the king proceeded to announce how proud he was of his beautiful daughter.

Harley wondered if any princes from the neighboring kingdoms were in attendance. Now that Oriana was twenty, it was time she married. “Raise your drinks,” the king said, holding his goblet high. “Happy birthday, Princess Oriana!” As Harley took a sip, the door to her left banged open, garnering her attention. A hulk of a man with furs draped over his body stepped forward, filling the doorway. A collective hush descended over the great hall. At each entrance, a man of similar size and stature hovered with a sword in hand. “What’s the meaning of this?” King Coden demanded, his face turning red, furious at the untimely interruption. The dozen or so men remained towering in the doorways, effectively blocking all exits. Like ocean water returning from the shore to the sea, the guests parted, an aisle forming in the middle of the hall.

Three men strode toward the dais with lethal intensity. These foreigners were wolves in a room filled with bunnies. Harley wondered where Melenia’s guards were and why they hadn’t they stopped these men from interrupting Oriana’s party. Cold terror slid down her spine as she recalled Lyle saying that a significant number of the king’s soldiers were gone. Hollis leaned closer to her. “Hide,” he whispered, his urgent voice leaving no room for arguing.

.

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