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by Susan Kelley
Description: Tiger warrior Darien Kavlon meets his future mate as he travels toward his homeland, but intriguing sorceress Sarimariann Kei hides secrets dangerous to their relationship and perhaps fatal to their families.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: December 2011
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [398 KB]
Reading time: 253-355 min.
"I've distributed all the charms with me today, good woman," Sarimariann repeated for at least the tenth time. "And I don't have the power to make more. Primis Ulisa alone conjures magical protection devices. If Flegal's End needed more you should have sent word."
"Bah, girl, you and the other witches in your fortress care little about the likes of us. We could all fall to the zipling spell for all the help we get from the collection of witches at Warlock's Bane."
Sarimariann suspected Berclia, the insufferable bickering hag, wanted the charms to sell for her own profit. "Need calls me elsewhere, Madam."
"I suspect your leader, Ulisa, would notice soon enough if our tribute fell short this fall. Perhaps then she'd send a real sorceress to us instead of a young pretender to the magic such as you, wench."
"Don't dare threaten Warlock's Bane, woman." Sarimariann chastised herself for letting this bitter, old crone irritate her each year when she visited these dismal settlements of the western lands.
"Humph, go then. We thank you for the dregs and crumbs you deem fit for us, your royal sorceress."
The dripping, sweet sarcasm grated further on Sarimariann's nerves, but she replied with calm nonchalance. "Good day, Madam. I'll report your personal dissatisfaction to Primis Ulisa upon my return to Warlock's Bane. Perhaps next year when I visit, the Primis will instruct me to deal with a different enchantress. Surely one in this settlement will appreciate our efforts."
Sarimariann took little pleasure from the look of fear and surprise on Berclia's lined face. Feeling small and cruel, but glad to be leaving Flegal's End, she gestured to her guards. Less than an hour later, they'd left the last of the sad little shanties behind. The fertile, western grasslands stretched before her and the two silent swordsmen. Only men of the grim, quiet sort dedicated themselves to the security of Warlock's Bane and the sorceresses of the fortress. Casual conversation with their charges rarely occurred. Bilo and Hoch represented the best of the lot.
The quiet of the plains suited Sarimariann fine. She lifted her face to the setting sun and let her mind wander where it went so often. Bilger's Landing and her parents' home. Did Lilimariann miss her? Or did Sarimariann's parents entertain their only granddaughter with some clever new toy? The entire settlement often showered the child with gifts from their kind hearts.
Concern came as it often did. Should she have left her daughter alone with Bart and Ginimariann, or should she have left her behind at Warlock's Bane? Bilger's Landing would have been disappointed not to see Lilimariann this year, but they would have understood. The settlement had protected the child from Roget with their silence for the past eight years. The wonderful people of the riverside village had helped Bart bring financial ruin to Roget of Vandora as promised should he hurt Sarimariann. Keeping the existence of Roget's daughter a secret provided special entertainment for Bart's friends.
"We should make camp for the night soon, Mistress Kei." Bilo looked back over his shoulder from his forward position.
"Whenever you wish, Sir Bilo. You're in charge of the traveling."
"I wish us to head home, Mistress, rather than gallivanting here in the wilds. The few people we visit aren't worth the risks to you."
"I appreciate your concerns, but these people need me. Warlock's Bane serves all, not just those living comfortably in town."
A rare smile lit the warrior's grim face. "Your opinions earn you this mission each year, Mistress. You deal with the harpy in Flegal's End and obstinately search this desert of greenery until you find those ignorant nomads."
She laughed, taking his remarks as a compliment. He and his companion, Hoch, had guarded her the last three years she made this journey. She doubted she could have found better traveling escorts as the two warriors still in their prime. She trusted their ability to protect her completely.
After they'd made camp and eaten a light meal, Sarimariann's thoughts turned again to the safety of her daughter. Never would she allow her sweet, innocent child to even meet Roget Billet. In the past year, Sarimariann's former husband had sent three different emissaries to either Warlock's Bane or her parents' home.
Did Roget suspect or know of Lilimariann? The emissaries insisted Roget regretted putting aside his young wife. As if she would believe anything he claimed. Either he'd found his new wife barren as rumors whispered, or he suddenly had need of a sorceress.
The recent rumbles of trouble from Hummelsdale spoke of black magic wielded in vicious battles. Some said a great witch had been slain near Green Haven, and now many local landowners sought the succor of Warlock's Bane. Only personal gain or fear would motivate Roget's renewed interest in her.
The full moon peered through the branches of the lonely tree where Sarimariann and her guards sheltered. She saw no beauty in the brilliant white face in the heavens, only a cold feeling of exposure. More than any other time since the sundering of her marriage, she feared the future. She shivered and closed her eyes, knowing as her spirit drifted into sleep, her nightmares would find her.
Darien wrapped an arm around each wolf, their familiar scent filling his nostrils. His heart and theirs rejoiced at the sight of the full moon. Unlike them, he suppressed his urge to howl at its beauty and power and the freedom it represented. He trembled along with his friends as their need grew. The hunt! To run across the open plain in search of prey! The thrill of the kill.
"Go. I'll stand watch until you return." He need not voice his wishes to Leader and Love. They knew his thoughts as soon as they formed in his mind, but using human speech reminded him of his humanity. Though some odd gift of nature connected him to the wolves and their minds, he really didn't want to tear anything apart with his teeth. But he did enjoy two-legged game as prey. Many times he and the wolves had hunted down those who would rob their family of their gems.