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Once Upon 2021 - Rumpled Rhett - Sneak Peek

Disclaimer: Everything in the passage below is copyrighted (©2021 Rachel Rossano) and the property of Rachel Rossano. This is a rough, unedited, unfinished version of the first chapter of Rumpled Rhett (Once Upon a Duchy #3). Anything in it can be changed at any point and the book is still in development and being written. Please refrain from commenting on typos, grammatical mistakes, etc. because they are going to be addressed later.


Chapter One


Rhett


I am the Huntsman, a lone survivor of an ancient family, and the remnant of a mythos almost lost to the history of the seven duchies. Lost things, missing people, and misplaced information—I find them for a price. Roaming the length and breadth of the duchies in the service of my chosen masters, the dukes, their kin, and the security of their joint realms, I keep moving for my own safety as much as practicality. The enemies of my allies would gladly end me.

Each year as the winter frosts melt, I seek work. In the guise of a warrior, a gypsy, a wanderer, I travel the less trodden paths of the duchies and beyond into Rhynan. Seeking and fulfilling contracts, I earn my keep. Only as the winter snows begin to linger and the world burrows in for the deepest part of winter do I come to rest in one place.

For many years I sought out the closest habitable place where I could settle for a few months without risking someone stabbing me in the back for my blanket or slitting my throat for my food. However, of late I have grown weary of constant vigilance. For the past few years, I have returned to the same place every fall. A small village in the far north, nestled between Areyuthian and Everly, it is just far away from each duchies’ capital to be overlooked by both. I had no fear of an army descending on my retreat, or an emissary appearing at my door in the dead of winter.

I embrace silence, stillness, and solitude. My days filled with little beyond the basics of living and enough drilling to keep my skills sharp for the spring. This was my dream.

The price was my reputation and the fear of my anger. An exclusive contract on my skills to defend their small hamlet for two to three months bought me access to little more than a shed and the isolation I craved.

The arrangement worked for a few years, until my sixth return. That fall, I came home to a pile of damp, cold ashes. Counting myself fortunate that I carried my most treasured possessions with me, I surveyed the heap of debris that was all that remained of the building I had called home.

As I assessed the damage, I gradually became aware of movement behind me. Senses heightening, I listened.

Rustling. A bit of uneven breathing that wasn’t my own flitted on the breeze. Distantly a bird took to the air with a stirring of feathers and brittle leaves rattling on the branch. I eased my pack from my back, slipping the straps from my shoulders. It settled at my feet with barely a crunch of dried leaves.

Shifting my right hand to my hip under the guise of settling it there as I surveyed what remained of my house, I flicked the catch of my knife sheath free.

The lurker shifted, stirring, shivering, and then running.