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"General Gavin Theron growled and rolled away from the voice intruding into his sleep.
"Excellency, you asked me to wake you this morning so you wouldn't be late for the wedding," the young corporal said, rushing to the other side of the bed and leaning down to peer at the general in earnest.
"What wedding?" Gavin mumbled. His voice was obscured by a pillow covering his face.
The corporal frowned and rested his hip on the edge of the mattress. "The Royal Wedding of the Princess Shatara and Grand Duke Savion, Excellency. The queen says if you're late again for a Royal function, she'll-"
"She'll do what?"
The soldier shrugged. "She didn't finish her thought."
"Gavin squinted, shielding his eyes from the morning light spilling through his bedroom window. Oh yes , he thought, that wedding . He snarled and waved the young man away impatiently. "I'm up, Corporal. You've done your duty, now get out."
The young soldier bowed and quickly rushed from the room.
"Alone now, Gavin dragged himself out of bed and into the shower. He stood motionless, letting the hot, rushing water scald away his fatigue. Closing his eyes, he gave himself over to this simple pleasure.
Running his hands down his body, he could feel how the centuries of battle had taken their toll on his chiseled, green physique. His old wounds whispered the mournful testament of combat in the collection of rough scars that marred his otherwise faultless flesh.
"He was grateful though, despite his age and wear, he retained much of his youthful vitality. His long, black hair was thick with no sign of grey.Unfortunately, his face, with its fierce golden eyes and muscled jaw, had turned very hard. But that didn't seem to put off the many women who came eagerly to his bed, most of whom said they adored him specifically for his rugged, savage beauty.
Standing naked before the mirror, he dressed slowly, taking extra care with the neatness of his attire. With meticulous attention, he attached an impressive class of service medals and the bronze collar insignia of his rank. The gold piping and buttons of his double-breasted tunic were a striking contrast to the black expanse of his uniform, and he ran his hands down the fabric to smooth away any creases.
What a career he'd had in his time, he marveled. Last night had been his landmark eight hundredth birthday, a quiet, drunken event that was the official mark of middle age. For an A Essiryan man, it was the pinnacle of his virility; a brand of veneration for those lucky enough to attain it. For Gavin, there really was no secret to his longevity, only the random and fortuitous tumble of genetics that left him a colossus among his breed.
• • •
Gavin strode into the armory and was annoyed to see many of the men meandering about, laughing and talking as if they were enjoying a long overdue day of leave.
"Obviously, no one was expecting a surprise inspection this morning and it took a few moments for anyone to notice he was there.
"Command, attention!" called the captain of the guard, finally spotting him standing in the doorway.
"The room exploded with noise as the men hopped to their feet. Each took his place in line, standing ramrod straight with their eyes fixed forward.
"Carry on," Gavin said.
"The men resumed their duties, a few slipping past him to get in place for the wedding.
He turned to the young captain of the guard. "Where's the watch bill, Captain Derick?"
"The captain lifted a worn clipboard off the wall and handed it to him. Gavin read it for a moment, then handed it back.
"Did you put Sergeant Logan on the king?"
"Yes, Excellency," the captain said. Then, rubbing the back of his neck, he added, "I understand the king is kind of ill."
Gavin moved deeper into the room, stepping over some discarded armor. He glanced briefly into two side rooms and noted some empty cups and plates pasted with grime.
"Are you a doctor, Captain?"
"Then you shouldn't concern yourself with the sovereign's health," he said, turning to leave. Pausing at the door, he added, "Have some men clean these rooms, they're a mess."
Copyright © 2006 Michelle O'Neil & Lindsey Bayer.