Cebrus had thought his quest would take him to new parts of the land. He didn’t know it would lead him to the prince of his dreams. When Prince Silvan catches sight of the sexy wandmaker it’s love at first glance. However, it takes a battle, a journey and an encounter with a fantastical beast before the two lovers can find their middle ground.
Silvan is determined to do anything to marry his mate even if he has to go against a king and give up everything to keep the man he has claimed for his own.
Cebrus Starn strolled down the road with a small pack strapped to his back, a stick of wood in one hand, and a knife in the other. He whittled as he walked, flicking bits of wood behind him like a trail of breadcrumbs. The soft wood began to take shape beneath his nimble fingers as he continued to chip away at the outer bark to reveal the brighter wood hidden beneath. Several minutes later, he stopped by the side of the road to examine his work.
The rough column now fit the needed size and shape for a good-sized wand. He slipped his bag off his shoulders and set it on the ground. Crouching down, he opened his pack, pulled out a leather sheath, and slid his knife inside. He’d been taught young the value of keeping tools in their proper place and the harsh penalty for losing one. Small scars decorated his fingers, tiny reminders of his painful learning curve.
Clutching the stick in one hand, he used the other to search the bag’s inner pockets. After a few minutes of feeling through the contents, he wrapped his fingers around a shaping stone. A fond smile curled his lips as he pulled it out. One of a set of three given to him by his father, each piece helped smooth and conform the wood to create a plain, blank wand ready to be bonded to its new owner. It always served him well to have a good variety of wands prepared when he entered a new town.
Pleased he had found the right stone on his first try, Cebrus straightened, refastened his pack, then returned it to his shoulders, the soft sound of wood clattering together followed his movements.
As a wandmaker, Cebrus traveled from town to town trading his skills for food and shelter. Most wandmakers stayed in one place, plying their trade to the locals and merchants who traveled into town for their services. Cebrus’s itchy feet didn’t allow him to settle down in one location, despite his family’s disapproval of his nomadic ways. He tried to make sure he visited them once a year during festival season to help out with the influx of additional customers, but this year he’d miss it. His quest didn’t allow for backtracking or returning home halfway through his travels. If he’d even gone halfway.
He’d never met another traveling wandmaker. A shame since their specialized abilities were needed in every town and there were too few wandmakers to serve everyone. Most places had to use standard wands mass-produced by apprentice wizards and not properly matched with their new owners. Shabby bits of wood that most people didn’t realize were a step below their potential. Only high-level wizards bothered to have their wands correctly bonded because of the time and expense involved in traveling to a wandmaker.
Cebrus had no idea how close the next town might be, but the beautiful weather didn’t prod him to be too concerned about distance. There was no need to hurry, and he enjoyed the journey as much as his possible destination.
The sound of hooves had him looking up from his task to discover a team of five soldiers in full uniform riding toward him. Their large, powerful horses stirred up dust and thundered like an oncoming storm against the dry ground. He didn’t bother to hide his surprise when the men pulled to a stop before him. What could they possibly want? He didn’t have the wealthy appearance of a successful merchant or any discernible luxury about him. Stories of soldiers preying on unwary travelers drifted through Cebrus’s mind. He braced himself for possible confrontation.
“Halt, stranger.” The leader of the group blocked Cebrus’s path with his horse, his face stern and commanding.
“Is there a problem?” Cebrus examined the soldier with great interest. He’d never been stopped before. In general, people left wandmakers alone. Their special jurisdiction allowed them to travel wherever they chose.
“We’ve heard rumors a wandmaker is traveling this road. Are you that man?”
Cebrus looked at the wand in his hand, then back at the soldier and raised an eyebrow.
The soldier blushed, but quickly rallied. “Under the command of the king, I order you to accompany us to the royal palace.”
Cebrus sighed, then shook his head at the soldier. “I’m on a quest. I don’t have time for spoiled royals.”
Stepping to one side, Cebrus moved to go around the soldier’s horse. He grinned when the officious guard pointed his wand at Cebrus and muttered some garbled words Cebrus assumed created a spell.
Of course, nothing happened.
The soldier paled.
Why was it that people were never aware of the primary skill of a wandmaker? Taking pity on the confused man, Cebrus paused to explain. Maybe the soldier could pass on his knowledge to others. People were woefully uneducated these days.
“Magic doesn’t affect wandmakers. You can wave that thing all day, and it won’t do anything to me. Besides your wand doesn’t suit you. Whoever you got it from was an idiot.”
Nothing irritated Cebrus more than people who bought whatever stick someone offered to sell them under the assumption one wand was as good as another. Only a properly trained wandmaker could correctly calibrate a wand. He didn’t blame the soldier for his inferior tool. He likely had nothing else to choose from.
To Cebrus’s surprise, the soldier got off his horse to approach him.
“I’m Trelfan Fairwen, King Minr’s captain of the guard,” the soldier introduced himself.
Cebrus bowed at the introduction. “Cebrus Starn, wandmaker.”
“How can you tell my wand doesn’t suit me?” Trelfan asked.
Cebrus never knew how to explain to someone when they had a bad wand, but he gave it his best try. “Part of my ability is I can see the magical connection between wand and user. It’s a talent of mine.” Most wandmakers shared that skill, but not all. Cebrus didn’t like to brag, but his family considered him the strongest wandmaker ever born into their clan.
“What kind of wand would suit me?” The soldier obviously wasn’t going to let the subject or Cebrus go without a more thorough explanation.
Tilting his head, Cebrus focused entirely on the soldier, he let his power pour over Trelfan and waited for his magic to give a proper answer. Pulling his pack off his shoulder, he opened it again. He tucked his current blank in with the others as he searched around until he found the wand he sought. It was long, heavy, and made out of a grainy hard wood he’d come across during his travels. Perfect.
The soldier gave Cebrus a cynical look. “And what will it cost me to get a wand like that?”
“Your old wand. I would like to give it a home with someone who can use it. I will siphon the absorbed magic from your old wand into your new one and take the empty one with me.” Cebrus hated to waste a wand, and even though the poor quality of Trelfan’s wand offended him, Cebrus could salvage the piece.
Interest sparked in Trelfan’s eyes. “Really? That’s all you’d ask for?”
Cebrus never understood why his fee always surprised people. “My father gave me a bit of advice before I started out on my own. He told me, ‘A man who only asks for what he needs will always be wealthy.’ I don’t need much besides food, the occasional roof over my head, and a bit of coin to replace my clothes when they wear out. I’m a man of simple needs. Now would you like the wand or not? I have a bit more land to travel before I reach my stop for the evening.”
Trelfan’s face took on an even more serious mien. “Yes, thank you. Will the transfer hurt?”
“Why would it hurt?” Where did people get their foolish ideas? Preposterous.
“Because it hurt the first time.” The shadow in the soldier’s face told Cebrus all he needed to know about the other supposed wandmaker’s skill.
“Magic transfer shouldn’t be painful. It is your magic going where it belongs. I’m sorry you had someone incompetent last time.”
“Then I want to do it.” Trelfan straightened his shoulders as if he were still expecting pain despite Cebrus’s reassurance.
“Captain.” One of the other soldiers sounded like he was going to protest, but Trelfan glared over his shoulder and nothing more was said.
“Give me your old wand.” Cebrus held out his hand.
Trelfan handed it over.
“Take your new wand in your right hand and put your left on top of mine.” Cebrus held out his right hand flat while clutching the soldier’s wand in his left.
Trelfan audibly swallowed before taking a deep breath and obeying Cebrus’s command.
“Relax. This won’t hurt, I swear.” Cebrus felt a pang of sympathy for Trelfan. No one should be afraid of their own magic.
Closing his eyes, Cebrus focused on the transfer of power from wand to wand until he felt the connection click in his mind. “Transfer,” he whispered. He opened his eyes and watched the wand in his hand dim and the wand in Trelfan’s hand glow a bright white before turning back to its natural brown color.
“Wow.” Trelfan’s eyes widened.
“We’re not done yet,” Cebrus warned.
He tucked Trelfan’s old wand into his pack before turning back to the soldier. “Put your hands together with the wand in the middle. We need to connect you to your new wand and rebind it with your magic.”
Cebrus placed his hands on the outside of the soldier’s fingers. “Bond.”
The air crackled with electricity, and an intricate tree design worked its way around the wand until the carving covered the entire surface.
A soft chime sounded, and Cebrus released Trelfan’s grip. “There, all done.”
He looked at his work with the satisfaction of a job well done. The wand’s energy now aligned in perfect rhythm with the Trelfan’s magic.
Trelfan turned the wand over and over in his hand. “This…this is my family crest. How did you do that?”
Cebrus frowned. “I didn’t do it. You did. That’s what happens when a wand is matched properly.”
Personal symbols helped magic users identify their stick. How did he not know this? Cebrus couldn’t remember what Trelfan’s wand had looked like before. He just remembered it hadn’t fit the soldier.
The captain shook his head. “No one in the kingdom has any carving on their wands. I’ve never heard of this. Will the magic wear away the engraving?”
“A bit. Yours will last until you either die or you change wands again.”
Trelfan’s forehead creased, and his bushy eyebrows almost met in the middle. “Why would I change wands?”
Cebrus stared at the soldier. “Do you people know nothing about wands? You need to change your wands as you age and fine-tune them as your magic changes. If you don’t re-bond your wand every ten years, your magic will stagnate at that level.” The idea that no one in this kingdom had such essential information changed Cebrus’s mind. He couldn’t let them remain uninformed. It was almost criminal. “I will come with you after all. It’s obvious you people need some instruction.”
He’d have to put off his quest for a bit, but he’d already done it for three years, a little more time wouldn’t make much difference. Besides, the more kingdoms he could enlighten about the importance of a proper wand, the better off they would be. Although his family might not thank him for the additional work bound to come out from Cebrus’s educational tour.
Cebrus rode behind Trelfan on the soldier’s horse. He tried to concentrate on not falling off. He didn’t enjoy horse riding, mostly because horses were evil. They enjoyed tossing off their riders and stomping on them afterwards. He had a scar on his left shoulder from one such occurrence.
Trelfan spent the time enthusing over his new wand. A few of the other soldiers cast Trelfan envious looks, but maybe they figured the captain should receive special services. Cebrus silently vowed to help them later. Everyone deserved a proper wand.
Even on the back of the devil spawn, it still took almost two hours to reach the castle. Cebrus hadn’t realized he’d wandered so close to a kingdom. Generally, he avoided the royals and went directly to the townspeople. Even with protection laws in place, royals always thought they could order wandmakers around. Explaining they were mistaken never went over well. One of these days, he’d end up in a royal’s prison, but hopefully not today.
The soldiers were saluted at the gate and allowed in with only a few curious glances toward Cebrus. Maybe the soldiers brought strangers in often.
After dropping their steeds off at the stables, Cebrus was escorted to the throne room.
“He might be a bit bossy, but he’s a good king,” Trelfan swore.
The first thing that caught Cebrus’s attention was the size of the throne room. He could easily fit his entire village inside the audience chamber. The second thing he noticed was the man sitting beside the king. Tall with pitch-black hair and brilliant blue eyes, he had the build of a soldier and the sex appeal of a man Cebrus wouldn’t mind finding in his bed.
“Your majesty,” Trelfan bowed to the monarch. “I present to you Cebrus the wandmaker.”
“You’re a wandmaker?” King Minr was a big, muscular man who looked as if he could wield an axe with one hand and a sword with the other. His cool gray eyes examined Cebrus like he was an interesting bug who had mistakenly wandered into his court and might need to be smashed at any moment.
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Cebrus didn’t bow. The man wasn’t his king, after all.
King Minr frowned. “I expected you to come to me sooner, but never mind, you can still be of some use. I want you to make me a wand out of heartwood. I expect it ready in two days.” He waved his hand as if dismissing Cebrus to go carry out his request.
“Sorry but no, Your Majesty.” Cebrus gave a respectful nod, hoping to take a little sting out of his rejection. Royals never appreciated hearing no. It never failed to get Cebrus threatened with prison time. Monarchs were a pretty predictable lot overall.
“What?” The king’s shout echoed through the chamber.
Cebrus sighed. “You aren’t suited to heartwood. You would do better with iron wood.”
“I want heartwood,” King Minr insisted.
Damn, royals were stubborn.
“I won’t make an inferior wand. If you want heartwood, find another wandmaker.” It didn’t matter to him what the king demanded. He refused to make something unsuitable.
The king jumped to his feet. “I could have you killed.”
Cebrus pulled out the pendant he had hidden beneath his shirt. He hated confrontation, but that didn’t mean he’d back down. “If you don’t mind losing your kingdom and your life, go ahead.”
He hated bullies.
The king stomped over to look at Cebrus’s pendant. “Well crap, you’re a heritage wandmaker.” He paused for a moment. “So, iron wood, huh?”
Cebrus bit his lip to hold back his smile at the king’s new respectful tone. Curiosity compelled him to ask, “What kind of wand do you have now?”
“I don’t. I lost it while hunting.” The king returned to his throne.
Cebrus gaped. “You lost your wand?”
How was it even possible for someone to lose their wand?
The king blushed.
“Was your old wand heartwood?”
“Yes, and it suited me just fine,” King Minr insisted. If he weren’t a king, Cebrus would accuse him of pouting.
“Uh-huh.” Cebrus didn’t even try to hide his disdain over the king’s previous wand. He probably got it from some charlatan. Opening his sack, he pulled out the iron wood blanks he’d stuffed inside. After some contemplation of their differences, he pulled out the thickest. The king had big hands. He’d need something solid to hold.
“Put both of your hands on your wand.” He pointed where he wanted King Minr to place his grip. A few minutes later, Cebrus had the king bonded to his new wand. He also now knew the king didn’t have much magic since the transfer process took hardly any time at all.
The king stared at the piece of ironwood in shock. “It has my family crest.”
Cebrus rolled his eyes, but refrained from mentioning the king must’ve used a second rate wandmaker for his last wand. He might not like royalty, but he didn’t want to get a reputation for being too rude.
A yawn had him covering his mouth.
“Sorry, it’s been a long day.” And the king was boring, but he kept that part to himself.
The king nodded to the sexy man Cebrus had been eyeing during their entire encounter. “Silvan, escort our wandmaker to the blue room.”
Silvan raised an eyebrow at the command, but didn’t argue. Instead he walked over to Cebrus and offered his arm. Surprised by the old-fashioned show of manners, Cebrus tucked his hand in the crook of Silvan’s elbow. At the contact, a crackle of electricity went through him, and he gasped to catch his breath.
“Mmm, don’t worry, little wandmaker. I’ll take good care of you,” Silvan’s voice, filled with dark promises, sent shivers of need down Cebrus’s spine.
He cleared his throat. “Who are you exactly?” he asked as Silvan led him down the hall. He had no objection to the handsome stranger gracing his bed, and being taken care of sounded like just the thing to make this entire side trip worthwhile. However, he liked to know a bit about his bed partners in case they turned out to be psychotic killers.
“You don’t know who I am?” Silvan stopped in the middle of the walkway and turned Cebrus to face him. As he searched Cebrus’s expression, a look of wonder filled his eyes. “You really don’t know me.”
“Should I?” Maybe Cebrus should’ve known one of the king’s companions was half a load short of a cartful, but he didn’t exactly follow castle gossip in any kingdom. He didn’t like it when people talked about him. Why would he encourage that sort of rumormongering from others? He didn’t really care who Silvan was, as long as he knew what to do in bed.
A wide smile brightened Silvan’s dark features. “I don’t believe it. The fortuneteller didn’t lie. I did meet the one man who didn’t know me.”
“Don’t think so much of yourself. I’m sure there are others who haven’t seen your face before. No one is that famous.” Cebrus frowned at the impudent man even as a dawning suspicion grew. But surely the king would’ve mentioned…
“Ah, you finally figured it out,” Silvan said, a smile spreading across his face.
“You’re the crown prince.” Cebrus was ready to accept his award for dumbest man in the kingdom. Only someone royal would share the throne dais with the king. He blamed the long day of travel for his idiocy. He searched his mind for details about this particular kingdom and drudged up a few facts from his memory.
The prince was known for leading a successful battle against the troll rebellion, for single-handedly negotiating a treaty with the giants, and for being the best strategist in any kingdom. He thought he’d heard a story about Silvan enjoying both men and women, but gossips rarely got those sorts of details right.
“I see you figured it out. I knew you were a bright lad,” Silvan teased. His brilliant eyes glowed with approval.