Prince Brier Snow has lived in the shadow of King Snow’s exalted memory. However, his fate changes when he nears his majority and Lirend’s steward queen attempts to dethrone him by exploiting an obscure requirement in the late king’s will: a yearlong sabbatical.
Brier travels to the desolate land of Aire to train under the Ceve guild, scorned refugees of war, including their guarded leader, Roland. Brier’s skillful master unlocks hidden potential, and what begins as a dutiful bond turns into ill-fated affection. When Brier returns to the capital, he’s carrying proof of his indiscretions with Roland—and his condition grows more apparent with each passing day. An affair with the huntsman is a scandal Brier’s enemies can use against him, but the birth of an heir is a burden even Brier is not sure he can bear.
Roland Archer, a man with a murky past, is skeptical of the contract to train the prince but willing to do anything for the guild’s freedom. Despite his best intentions, he is smitten by Lirend’s future king. Roland has resigned himself to solitude, but fate has other plans—for him, for Brier, and for Lirend’s oppressed subjects. Can Roland help Brier face a power-hungry queen and a country torn asunder? Either they will bring equality to a land that desperately needs it, or they’ll be thwarted by cunning enemies and an illusory curse.
Oh my gosh. This book was amazing. I loved everything about it. From start to finish I couldn’t put the book down and had to know what happens and how Brier and Roland end up. It was a rollercoaster ride for sure. But oh so worth it. The ups and downs they encounter as they go have you wondering if they’re going to make it or if the entire thing will end in heartbreak. But the end. Oh how I loved it.
Right from the beginning my heart went out to Brier. His emotions leapt from the page. His loneliness and despair when isolated from everyone and then again while in Aire. Watching him grow and become a true king both in name and demeanor was wonderful. I adored how Brier slowly started to stand up for himself. He was so timid at first but gained confidence in himself the more time he spent in Aire and when he returned as King. It was hard seeing his heart get broken more than once. He was so strong to keep going even if he was hurting. His friendship with Prince Quentin was good for Brier. Even if it confused him at times. While I liked how the storyline with Prince Quentin turned out in the end, you could tell it hurt all three men as it progressed. By the last chapter, you could tell Brier had settled into his skin and was content with his life. I absolutely loved seeing the stolen scene with him and Roland when they don’t think anyone is listening. You can feel their love coming off the page.
Roland was such a dynamic character. he struggled so hard to deal with his feelings. First his self induced seclusion. Then his growing love for Brier and jealousy and insecurity. His commanding attitude is so sexy. But his vulnerabilities are just as attractive. His journey to being able to be with Brier openly and accepted by the Aurelians was long and emotionally trying. My heart hurt for everything he went through and how he was treated by others. His past haunted him for a while and I loved getting to see him deal with it and embrace what happened as something he couldn’t have changed. His love for Brier was all encompassing and beautiful to see. By the end of the story you could feel his contentment.
The journey we embark on throughout the book is one that kept me engaged the entire time I was reading. I loved watching all of the characters grow in the book, not just Brier and Roland. The cast surrounding these two made a great family for them whether by blood, bond, or requirement. The world Mr. EAB created was immersive. You can tell large amounts of time was invested created the land itself, the politics, the language, and everything that goes alone with the world and her citizens. I would love to visit this world again. I want to see more stories set here. I got attached to the world and didn’t want to leave. There are a few questions I’d love to have answered. But they’re not part of Brier and Roland’s story. I hope there is a sequel at some point because I now want to see more about Brier and Roland’s children. There is more adventure and more story. But Brier and Roland are completely happy and content in their life. They have a long love together and will continue that way for the rest of their days. And I am glad for having had a chance to read them.
Chop! Chop! Chop!
The pale pinks, oranges, and blues commingled into a misty dusk. The mountains appeared miles onward, but Brier knew they were buried in the Black Forest with trees and strewn branches circumjacent. Brier’s labored breaths merged with the hacking of Roland’s heavy ax. Each time he lifted it, he felt the vibration of the metal against tree, bone, and flesh. The splinters no longer bothered his calloused hands.
Veti padded over to scrape his paw on the back of his torn jodhpurs, but Brier was so focused he hardly noticed he’d reached his last piece of firewood for the day.
“Quitting time already?” Brier rubbed the wolf’s shaggy mane. He tossed the last piece of cubed wood into a dense hill by Roland’s shed. He’d cut more today than he had yesterday, and considerably more than three months ago when Roland showed him how to wield an ax. His arms no longer ached the next day when he cut the firewood. He could lift two casks of water from the river a mile onward, and he’d more than perfected his fire-making technique.
The red hair stuck to his flushed cheeks as if pasted on. His face burned slightly from bitter cold, but he knew the warmth of the fire would thaw him almost instantly. Roland was inside making dinner for them, and he would scold Brier if he came in too late.
Brier’s days were now spent with the guild hiking up the craggy rock mountains and fishing in the river before his afternoon training. Each day of the week, he practiced a skill with another member of the guild. For the physical side, Botcht taught him the longsword while Caite taught him how to use knives and daggers. Dur focused on his endurance and combat. He lifted rocks, logs, and sparred with the giant once a week. Leighis’s training mostly consisted of gathering medicinal herbs and showing Brier how to tend to combat wounds. After that, Umhal would take him to his lab and teach him how to create salves and concoctions used for fighting infections. This training suited Brier the best. Nonetheless, Brier enjoyed all his lessons with the members of Ceve. They’d become an almost family to him. With Sasta, Dur, and Caite as his brothers, Leighis and Botcht as his strict parents. Umhal as his uncle and Roland….
“Hungry?” Roland asked Brier as he stepped inside. He could smell the simmering lamb on the burner and the boiling potatoes on the fire next to it.
“Starving.” He took off a fox fur cloak Roland had mended to fit him and sat on his couch to remove his heavy boots. Roland reinforced the leather on the heel and toe to give him more traction. They were heavier, but made him sturdier when they climbed the rocks. Roland also made him a small bookshelf for the books Brier managed to borrow from Leighis, and a dresser drawer to keep his clothes. Then he built him a bed to sleep in, citing that the couch had grown lumpy since Brier began to sleep on it. For Brier, it seemed there was nothing Roland could not build or mend.
“Dinner’s almost ready.”
“I’ll go wash, then.” Brier had also successfully kept the scars hidden from his proxy, taking care to bathe early mornings or late in the evenings when Roland went to bed. He did feel a tinge of dishonesty when he woke before the sunrise in order to clean himself, but on several occasions, the scars glowed noticeably. At those moments
Black Snow53any guilt he had about keeping himself hidden vanished. Explaining the eyesores on his skin was one thing, but if they glowed, Roland might think him blighted.
“Haah!” Brier came out of the washroom and stopped as if Roland hammered him into the floor. His master had removed the shirt he wore when Brier first entered the house. His arms flexed as he lifted the heavy basin and sat it on the counter. Brier could not help but stare at the—what felt like sudden—change of garb. He felt a spark of heat flare his cheeks and stepped quickly past Roland into the pantry where they kept the bread.
“Are you still cold?” Roland asked Brier, ladling the potatoes into bowls.
Brier pressed his lips together, grabbing a half loaf before sitting down across from his mentor. “No…. Why do you ask?”
“Your face is red.”
Brier lifted his hands to his face to hide his cheeks, staring into the slate-blue eyes. “I’m a little chilly… I suppose,” he mumbled as the steam from the pot of roasted lamb clouded his vision.
“You only go red when you’re cold, out of breath, or excited.” Roland shaved off a piece of light meat and plated it for him. Did Roland study his reactions so closely or was he just so transparent? He’d seen the man’s naked chest at least once every day, but the vision still made him flush. It was more than foolish.
Brier focused on his meal instead, sipping the broth from the potatoes and chewing the seasoned lamb.
“Speaking of cold, in a week’s time we’ll go to the open plains before the frost sets in.”
“Are you saying it gets colder than this?” Brier asked incredulously.
“Much colder.” Roland soaked his bread in the broth. “We’ll go out on the hunt for meat to store for the worst of it. Once winter sets fully, there won’t be anything.”
“Surely there’s a rabbit or deer?”
“Nothing. Not even rabbits come through this way.”
Brier nodded, understanding the situation. The trip needed to be successful or the guild wouldn’t have enough food to last them through the freeze. Brier never needed to worry about his basic needs. Food, clothing, water, shelter, were all provided in the palace. In Aire, if Brier wanted to be warm, he had to build the fire. If he wanted to make Roland’s early morning coffee, and his afternoon tea, he needed to fetch the water. If he wanted to take Frieling out for a stroll, he needed to make sure he’d completed all his chores and training. Roland was strict and oftentimes uncompromising. Brier even helped to make the clothes on his back. Perhaps he should have missed his life in Avenough, but it was difficult to when he’d found so much purpose with the guild. Back home no one needed him or wanted him. He was a blemish in everyone’s eyes, save for Marietta. However, here in Aire he’d found a friend in the guild and especially his rugged master.
Brier continued to sip his broth. He noticed the huntsman hadn’t spoken of the others regarding this trip to Sherdoe. “Will it just be….” Brier thought how to ask Roland without causing him to misconstrue the question. “Will the others join us?”
“Na,” Roland answered in Thenian, a habit he often did when they were alone. Brier could understand some of the language with ease, as dialects had always been his best skill in school.
“Lei and Botcht have a contract to take care of. Umhal needs to prepare stones and medicines for the winter. Caite, Sasta, and Dur will stay here to mind the cabin and sell our remaining store of firewood.” Brier’s heart raced when the realization crept over him. He would be alone, hunting with his master. He tried to stifle the excitement he felt, but he knew it was for nothing. Roland had become the main source of his happiness, and while Brier enjoyed the guild’s company, alone time with his master could not compare.
“I’ve never been hunting before,” Brier confessed. He wanted to banish any preconceived ideas his master might have had about his hunting skills.
“I figured as much. A prince of Lirend doesn’t need to know how to catch his own food.”
“He does if he wants to survive in Aire.”
“You’re right about that.” Roland nodded, impressed at his reply. “You live well or you die hard. There are no—”
“Shortcuts in Aire, little prince.” Brier imitated the man’s booming voice.
“Ha-ha! I see my lessons are working.” He stood and grabbed the empty plates.
“Your lessons?” Brier scoffed and began to wrap the leftovers. For Roland’s part, he had not trained him in anything. Leighis told him Roland’s specialty was the bow and arrow, but Brier never saw the huntsman use his bow, save for stray birds near the cabin. “You just repeat the same thing over and over again. ‘Work hard or die.’ Even the gods give us more options than that, Roland.”
“There’s only one option in life.” Roland turned toward him.
“Which is?” Brier quirked his eyebrow.
“To live until your very unfortunate, very gruesome, and very untimely death.”
“Dear gods! Why does everything need to be so morbid with you?”
“Because that is life, Brier.” Roland dried his massive hands and reached out to pat Brier’s head. Brier tensed at the contact, but mellowed when he felt the familiar calm Roland’s touch brought him.
“And what about love?” Brier piped. No matter what Roland said, life consisted of more than just avoiding death. He’d read about lively adventures and forgotten treasures and passionate affairs. He felt Roland’s hand move uneasily from his crown. When he peered up, blue eyes were on him.
“What about love?” Roland asked accusingly.
“If you’re living just to survive, just to exist one more day, surely there’s no time for friendships or family or—” Brier paused and averted his gaze. “Or lovers….”
“No time. And no point.” Roland’s boots echoed on the wood as he stepped away and settled into a humongous hearthside armchair. Brier trailed the man’s footsteps tentatively.
“Marietta says there is always a point to love.” He kneeled down and began to untie Roland’s boots. He did not know when this routine became normal to him. Conversation between them was always aimless and easy. Even when they disagreed, Roland never begrudged him for it, and Brier had long grown accustomed to Roland’s brazen exterior.
“On this one your nursemaid and I will have to disagree. You’re a prince. Royal marriages are often arranged for a purpose other than love.” Roland leaned his head back, smiled, and closed his eyes; he would not be long for sleep now. Brier could tell by the lazy way he lifted his foot and the small quiver of his Adam’s apple as he spoke, and the man’s husky voice, which made Brier’s stomach knot. “But who knows. Maybe you’ll love her.”
“I doubt that. Women do not interest me.” Brier pulled off the second boot. He debated whether or not to tell Roland about Adeline. They were not engaged, but something told Brier if he was forced to marry, it would be a blonde from across the sea.
“Mm.” Roland yawned. “That is because you are still young, little prince. When you get older you’ll find a woman who makes your heart race. She’ll make you feel like you belong together, like nothing else in the world matters but the two of you. You’ll feel like you’re floating and falling at the same time.”
Floating and falling? Brier stared into the man’s content face. The way Roland spoke, it was as if he’d experienced such a sensation before.
“Nothing makes sense, and yet you feel a calm only she can trigger. It’ll make you question everything—from your morals to the things you hold dear. All at once you understand what love really means, and then after that….” Roland exhaled sleepily.
Brier sprawled at Roland’s feet, in a trance, enraptured by his mentor’s words. “After that?”
“After that you learn what loss means.” Brier swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. Just now… just now what had he expected Roland to say?
“Just focus on your training for now, Brier. Don’t get caught up in abstract things like love. You’ll only get hurt.”
Brier lowered his head and let out a shaky laugh to stifle the disappointment. Despite the man’s shell of misanthropy, Brier could tell there was benevolence. It was the little things mostly. He covered Frieling with a blanket when the stalls grew too cold and gave the elderly woman five miles up the road free firewood to warm her house. The way he smiled with Leighis and laughed with the guild. Roland shaved Brier’s wooden training sword to make it easier to wield and bought him a carving knife to teach him how to whittle the fantastical designs on his furnishings. Roland would even make his favorite foods when Brier felt drained after a strenuous day of training or especially homesick.
Veti came to lick Roland’s fingertips clean of lamb residue, and Brier giggled. Mayhap the most telling sign of his master’s kindness was how Roland came by Veti, an orphan cub after his mother was killed. He took the wolf in and raised him. Despite the frequent complaints of having to care for the creature, Brier knew Roland loved him. Why did the man pretend not to care?
Brier exhaled deeply and laid his head against Roland’s legs as the man slept. The fire cracked on the logs he’d chopped, and he lost himself in the burning wood, wondering how to turn off the feeling growing inside him. Brier had the opposite problem of his mentor. Rather than caring, Brier found pretending not to care the most difficult. He did not want to offend the man who’d given him so much, and he was sure Roland would meet his adoration with revulsion or condemnation. Brier could not bear either. Certainly he’d been snubbed and rejected before, but the thought of Roland shunning him brought him close to tears. No. He could and would not share his blossoming feelings. Not now or ever.
EAB is an airline steward/stewardess—depending on the day—who loves writing erotic fiction. This translates to serving Wild Turkey bourbon at 38,000 feet and writing smut at 3:00 a.m. EAB spends free-time role-playing and reading. While EAB’s true passion is writing, EAB also enjoys reaching high scores in nerdism, spending time with family (cats included), and watching anime. An East Coaster at heart, EAB loves New York’s Broadway and greasy, heartburn-inducing pizza. Feel free to drop a line or recommend some good reads! Always looking for a new book to devour!