Authors: R. D. Hero
Tags: #M/M romance, #fantasy
In his prime, Raleigh had snared the vicious fighter Moshe into marriage through a mutual game of push and pull. Ten years later, Raleigh suffers from a chronic knee injury and flagging confidence, while his bond with Moshe has eroded drastically.
During yet another domestic squabble, Raleigh learns that Moshe intends to leave their home to take part in a winter sword fighting tournament. Roused by a mix of broken pride and desperation, Raleigh chooses to attend as well—in what he believes is the last chance to win back Moshe's devotion.
The Rusted Sword
By R.D. Hero
Published by Less Than Three Press LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher, except for the purpose of reviews.
Edited by Amanda Jean
Cover designed by Carolyn Shank
This book is a work of fiction and all names, characters, places, and incidents are fictional or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is coincidental.
First Edition August 2014
Copyright © 2014 by R.D. Hero
Printed in the United States of America
Digital ISBN 9781620044049
To Parker, for the awesome cover; to Brandy, for the emotional support; to my computer, just because; and to G, because she is awesome
"Raleigh, did you, uhm—" Moshe rubbed his temple, staring at some missive he was holding.
Raleigh set his biscuit down and looked at Moshe, who was wearing a simple tunic, light trousers, and a fur thrown over his shoulders to fight the pre-winter nip. He was standing at the stone doorway of their chambers, feet just barely past the line. Raleigh continued to stare, waiting, waiting—waiting.
He settled back in his chair. "Did I what, Moshe?"
Moshe's green eyes met his. "Reply to the Frederick's invitation like I asked?"
"Didn't you do that?" Raleigh replied, already bored as he returned his attention to his parchment.
"If I had done it, why would I ask you to?" came Moshe's swift retort, one Raleigh was expecting.
"Well—obviously I haven't," Raleigh said, flipping the sheaf of paper to the other side.
There was a brief silence, which said everything.
Raleigh was just as adept at not speaking as Moshe was, and he chose to exercise the ability. He could feel Moshe's eyes burning a hole through his skull, but he continued to move his gaze down the line of scrawl on the parchment in front of him, not reading a single word. He took another bite from his biscuit, set it on back on the plate, and brushed the crumbs away from his fingers.
Just as he heard a low curse and shifting of feet, he looked back up at Moshe. "Your breakfast has gone cold."
He saw that Moshe was already halfway out the door and staring over his shoulder at Raleigh. "How heartwarming that you can sit so idly," Moshe said, "and enjoy a hot breakfast with nothing to unease your mind."
Raleigh considered him, face devoid of emotion.
"This," Moshe said, turning fully and branding the invitation at him. "This is for the winter games. It is handwritten by the Frederick himself."
"I am truly moved," Raleigh replied, lip curling. "How trying it must have been for the duke to lift a quill."
had gone too far. Raleigh winced internally at Moshe's widening eyes, and mentally crossed off his morning ride. It would be at least an hour's time before this particular storm would blow over. Moshe stomped to him, slammed down the invitation, and then stood straight, bracing his fists on his hips. "A personal
, Raleigh. To the duke's castle, to Marvle-Dein. For winter court. Far away from this sad, isolated pit."
Raleigh clenched his jaw. "Cha—" He paused, breathing out through his nose, and then continued, "Do not speak of Chaylain that way. It is our home. Your home."
He heard a light snort from Moshe. "Oh, how I know it."
Suddenly tired, Raleigh just shook his head. He could write this conversation out word for word, not having to hear Moshe's side of it. He already knew it by heart. He was just about to concede the fight, tell Moshe that of course Raleigh was at fault and had been derelict in his duties by not responding to the duke, when he noticed a sheaf of parchment underneath the invitation. He stared at it for a moment, and then reached out to slide the invitation to the side.
the first line read, before a hand slapped down over the words. Raleigh jerked his face up to see Moshe tight-lipped and gaze averted.
Raleigh let out a small chuckle. "Personal invitation from Frederick, indeed."
Despite everything, despite the way they so rarely bothered to care about each other's business anymore, Raleigh felt a small spark of annoyance at the way Moshe didn't immediately jump to explain. He looked back down at Moshe's hand, then clawed it away, flipping the paper out of his reach. At Moshe's surprised intake of breath and quick attempt at grabbing it back, Raleigh stood up and held it above his head, scanning the contents.
"'Dearest Moshe,'" he read, bracing his palm against Moshe's slender chest to keep him away. "'How many seasons have passed since we last spoke face to face? How long has it been since I've seen the flash of your blade in the sunlight of Marvle-Dein's tournament ring?'"
"Raleigh," Moshe growled, his fingers gripping Raleigh's arm.
Raleigh looked down at Moshe—at his flashing eyes, his contorted face.
Raleigh felt the smallest sparks of arousal, his cock thickening. Not wanting Moshe to see it, he quickly turned around and walked away by several paces. "How long
it been, Moshe?" he asked. "To have the duke writing such delicate words."
There was silence, and Raleigh allowed himself a rare feeling of triumph.
But then Moshe said, "
Still with his back to him, Raleigh looked down at the letter, finishing it. It really wasn't anything suspicious, more a love letter to Moshe's sword-fighting abilities than to Moshe himself. It was a challenge—
perhaps you hide because you fear you will lose,
Frederick taunted—but Raleigh knew the duke and he knew that it was good-natured teasing. That was something he had always excelled at, cajoling Moshe to fight him without having to ignite a deep rage.
He palmed his forehead. "I am scheduled for a morning ride," he said wearily. With a sniff, he turned and set the letter down next to the invitation, keeping his gaze to them and not to Moshe.
Silence. Moshe stepped towards him, and for a brief moment Raleigh thought he was about to embrace Raleigh, but he did not. He grabbed the slips of parchment and headed back towards the door. "Fine," Moshe said shortly, "I will reply to the duke."
Raleigh cleared his throat. "To decline?"
Raleigh did not go on his ride.
He watched from his—their—chamber window as Moshe stood out in the courtyard, slowly moving through his warm-up paces. He held a light sword, one he apparently had since young adulthood and which he used for practice, and slid it cleanly through the air.
Next would be the longsword, and then perhaps a foil. Occasionally, Moshe chose not to use the fencing sword and did basic hand-to-hand combat forms instead. This always brought a frown to Raleigh's face, but he never spoke of it to Moshe. The last time he'd brought up the foil's omission, Moshe had gotten a curious look on his face and said, "If you join me for a round, I would be more inclined to use it."
As the usual troubled feeling at the idea of facing Moshe in fight clenched at Raleigh's gut, he heard a low cough behind him.
"Yes, Peter?" Turning around, he faced his servant.
"Sir Moshe had asked me to make sure a letter of his went with the rider to Marvle-Dein …"
They stared at each other for a brief time—too long a time, probably. Raleigh slowly looked back down at Moshe. "That's Master Moshe, not Sir. You know that, Peter."
He knew full well the reprimand did not upset Peter. However, Raleigh was more troubled with himself. For the first time in a long time, he had felt the urge to resort to his old ways. But as he watched the twisting turns of Moshe's sword form, so beautiful in its mastery, he took some comfort that he had not. He didn't need another reason for Moshe to regard him with such disdain.
Bringing his hand to his mouth, he touched his lips. And then he said over his shoulder, "Could you read me what Master Moshe has written?"
"It is an acceptance for you and Master Moshe to attend the winter games at Marvle-Dein," Peter replied immediately.
Raleigh closed his eyes. "Both of us?"
That was unexpected. And Raleigh had not agreed to it. He was not sure if Moshe took Raleigh accompanying him for granted, or if he was going to somehow shame Raleigh into going once the duke already assumed that he would be … Either way, Raleigh would have to speak to Moshe about taking such liberties with Raleigh's time, as well as assuming he was free to accept that invitation for either of them without permission from Ral—
Raleigh stopped himself mid-thought, letting out a small sigh. It was unlikely he would be able to speak to Moshe in such a way. No doubt Moshe would laugh in his face.
Once upon a time, such an imperious tone would have had Moshe fuming—and then whimpering as he and Raleigh played their games.
Raleigh watched his husband with hooded eyes. Moshe was not as sleek and trim as when they first met, but he still had the aura of a cornered viper ready to strike. The lines on his face and the bit of flesh he had gained he carried well; they spoke of experience that tempered his volatile moods and made him an even more worthy opponent outside of the tournament ring.
And every day he went down to the courtyard to practice his sword skills. Raleigh was quite sure Moshe had never missed a session. For the first few years after he had come to live at Chaylain, he and Raleigh would battle it out for hours—not just with swords, but also in hunts and races and any other opportunity to butt heads, all so they could play their intricate game.
If Raleigh ever lost a bout, he had to sleep in a cold bed that night.
"Peter," Raleigh said, and he grimaced at the croak in his voice.
"Did he write that I would be participating in the games?"
A beat passed, and then Peter said, "No, sir."
"Will he be participating?"
Raleigh settled back in his chair, resting his chin on his palm. Moshe had moved on to the longsword, his muscles flexing to hold the weight. Unable to suppress a smile, Raleigh recalled how he used to tease Moshe for fighting with a sword almost as tall as himself. Well—it was more than teasing; it had been mocking, and Moshe would snarl and stomp and take a swing at Raleigh, who would laugh and grab Moshe's arm in a firm grip, all the while falling in love.