Excerpt from Grace Draven’s “The Darkest Midnight”

Here is a delightful excerpt from Grace Draven’s “The Darkest Midnight” in the December 12th release of AMID THE WINTER SNOW…

Jahna envied her that particular talent and wished she might be able to employ the same as she tried for a second time to reach the main doors. She wanted to race outside, kick up snow drifts and laugh with joy under the winter moon. Her euphoria over Dame Stalt’s offer wasn’t dimmed by yet another interruption, this one even more welcomed than the dame’s had been.

“You remind me of a lantern whose flame burns bright, my lady. Your eyes are dancing, though you are not.” Sir Velus raised a questioning eyebrow, his own eyes green as the coveted sea glass brought over the mountains by the intrepid trade caravans and sold as jewelry to rich noblewomen.

Jahna grinned, still riding on a swell of elation. “I don’t dance because I’m never asked, Sir Velus.” She hurried to qualify her statement in case he thought her remark a clumsy attempt at garnering an invitation from him. “And I value my feet. Too many drunk lords fancying themselves butterflies on the dance floor when they’re really oxen.” His low laughter joined hers, and she thought his as delightful as his speech. “Why aren’t you dancing?”

He’d been scrutinized, measured and admired the moment he walked through the doors. A person would have to be without eyes or blindfolded not to see it. That he hadn’t been swallowed up by the spinning, swaying crowd, a partner on his arm, puzzled Jahna.

Wry humor played across his mouth. “Because I’m not important enough or high enough in status to warrant the time. You’re young, but I suspect you know how this works. This is a dance only on the surface. Underneath is a battlefield and those who strategize best are the envy of even the most successful generals.”

She blinked. He had just neatly summed up why she disliked this particular festival dance. Its air of calculation, of desperate purpose, stripped the joy from it. People used the event as an excuse to maneuver for position in court and negotiate marriages and trade alignments. Her father waded into the thick of it, never dancing but flitting from one cluster of nobles to the next as he bargained and gleaned information that would expand his influence.

“You’re right,” she said. “I don’t participate, but from here, it feels like I’m watching a battle instead of a dance sometimes. I like the courtyard dances much more, especially the Maiden Flower Dance. Have you seen it?”

Her companion nodded. “I have. The villages closest to Ilinfan come together to celebrate Delyalda. The Maiden Flower Dance and the Firehound story are always the favorites.”

“I love the Firehound story!” Jahna blushed, mortified by her enthusiastic outburst. She sounded more like an overly excited seven-year-old than the dignified young woman her father so desperately wanted her to be.

Sir Velus grinned, the expression one of appreciation instead of mockery. “Mine too. One of the older swordmasters possesses a touch of sorcery and can create the Hound from flame, though to be honest there’s been years where it looks more like a rabbit or piglet.” He winked at her. “Keep that between us.”

A bubble of laughter escaped her, and she captured it by covering her mouth with her hand. She had met this man only hours earlier, knew almost nothing about him other than his profession and his purpose in being here, but oh, she liked him very much. There was about him a steady confidence, as if he was very sure of his place in the world, with no need to prove his worth to anyone. He’d shown her great kindness, even before he knew she was his employer’s daughter.

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