Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Fragment Friday!

Time for my first-ever Fragment Friday! Every Friday I’ll share an excerpt from Veiled Iron. Please feel free to comment, complain, critique, whatever 🙂 It’s all helpful.

A few words of introduction–Sanjar sneaked into the stands a few pages earlier to watch his new siegeball team practice. Only Layla and his “basinmate” Jiro know he’s come to play on their team, and Sanjar thinks the player he sees wearing a mask must be a guy from one of the desert nomad tribes. He’s very impressed with “Mask’s” ability to run and catch the ball. Master Kemal is their siegeball master (head coach).

Sanjar had seen enough. He rose from his seat and ducked through the exit, grabbing the handrail to swing himself down the wide, spiraling stairs. The door at the bottom swung open with a screech, and all motion on the field stuttered to a halt. Seventy pairs of eyes swept his way.

Damned rusted door. He straightened his shoulders. It would have been better to walk up quietly and re-introduce himself to the siegeball master, but it couldn’t be helped now.

He reached the master and sketched a brief bow. “Sorry to interrupt your practice, sir. I thought I could wait to meet my new teammates, but I was mistaken…Master Kemal.”

One heavy eyebrow rose. The man’s eyes ranged over his watching team. He sighed. “You must be my new lancer,” he said loudly enough for their audience to hear.

Voices erupted across the field as the siegeballers dropped all pretense of minding their own business. Mask seemed to have forgotten his sullen mood. He darted forward, with Jiro and his very smug grin jogging in his wake. Sanjar fought a smile. Somehow, Jiro had known he couldn’t wait long, and from the looks of it, he was the type to relish being right.

“Fine, huddle up, you undisciplined rats,” the master said. The mob-like semi-circle took mere seconds to form. “I’d like to introduce a new player. His name is Sanjar bey Morteza, and he’s just come here from Bahador.” Kemal gave him a sidelong glance.

Sanjar seized the opening, praying the master wouldn’t take it as an interruption. “I played lancer back home, and I’d like to play here if you’ll give me a trial.”

Those expressive black eyebrows lowered again. Kemal kept his eyes on him a moment longer, then said, “Of course. Why don’t we say…you’ll practice with the team the rest of this week and all next week and we’ll decide then. Suit up.”

He let go of the breath he’d been holding. The master hadn’t said a thing about the Prince bringing him here.

It took him awhile to find his way through the practice facility and back to the school grounds to retrieve his helmet and thigh pads, so he made quick work of his change once he was in the dormitory. The shoulder gear he scrounged from a pile of miscellaneous equipment in the practice facility. There had been an oddly feminine storage chest in that equipment room—pale cherry with mother-of-pearl inlay and gilded hardware—but it slipped from his mind the moment he strapped the borrowed, and rather snug shoulder gear onto his frame. Time to measure himself against his new teammates.

Master Kemal knew how he’d wound up here, but did the position masters? Most importantly, did his teammates know? They had to want him on his own merit—not because Prince Hakan had broken a few rules to get him here—or they’d never play well together.

The offense and defense must have run quite a few plays while he was gone, because when Sanjar returned, the boy playing ram boasted several fresh grass stains and Jiro was whooping in the endfield.

Sanjar ran a quick lap to get his blood moving, then approached Master Kemal. “I’m ready, sir.”

“Good.” Kemal blew a short blast on his whistle and barked, “Layla!”

Sanjar frowned. Layla? Strange name for a boy.

Across the field, Mask jumped up from his running stance. Sanjar watched his approach with an odd, sinking feeling in his stomach.

When slight receiver stopped before the master, Kemal jerked his head in the direction of the players standing idle on the sidelines. “It’s time Musa got some reps, and Jiro’s having better luck with Bekir today. Why don’t you take Sanjar and a few receivers who aren’t doing anything over to the south end of the field for a little pitch and catch.”

Sanjar barely heard him. This guy named Layla had the most unusual eyes he’d ever seen. Dark blue ringed the intense green irises above his mask. Unease pressed on Sanjar’s lungs.

“I’d be happy to,” Layla said, with a voice too high and honey-smooth to belong to a boy.

The proof ricocheted through Sanjar’s senses. The name. A covered face. Eyes Ramza would never waste on a boy.

This receiver with the speed of a hawk and the hands of a thief was a girl.

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