Wings of Fire [Vows & Honor Series: Oathblood]
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by Mercedes Lackey
Description: Tarma and Kethry follow a Hawkbrother's bond-bird into a nest of firebirds--and a woman who seeks to enslave them all.
eBook Publisher: Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, 1991 Sword & Sorceress 8
eBookwise Release Date: January 2007
62 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [31 KB]
Reading time: 16-23 min.
Heat-haze shimmered above the grass stems, and insects droned monotonously, hidden down near the roots or swaying up near the new seed heads. There was a wind, a hot one, full of the scent of baking earth, drying grass, and the river nearby. Kethry held a half-finished basket in her hands, leaned back against a smooth, cool boulder in the shade of her tent, and drowsed. Jadrie was playing with the other youngsters beside the river--Lyan and Laryn were learning to ride, six-month-old Jadrek was with Tarma and Warrl, who were watching him and the other babies of Liha'irden, sensibly sleeping the afternoon heat away. All four of the children were safe, safer than at home, with all of Liha'irden watching out for them.
Kethry felt perfectly justified in stealing a little nap herself. The basket could wait a bit longer.
Then a child's scream shattered the peace of the afternoon.
Kethry reacted to that cry of fear as quickly as any mother would--though most mothers wouldn't have snatched up a sword and unsheathed it as they jumped to their feet.
Even so, she was a heartbeat behind Tarma, who was already running in the direction of Jadrie's cry, toward the trees lining the river.
"Mama, hurry!" Jadrie cried again, and Kethry blessed the Shin'a'in custom of putting women in breeches instead of skirts. She sprinted like a champion across the space that the herds had trampled bare as they went to and from the waterside twice a day.
As she fought through the screening of brush and came out on the bank under the willows, the first thing she saw was Jadrie, standing less than a horse-length away. The girl was as white as the pale river sand, with both hands stuffed in her mouth--she seemed rooted to the riverbank as she stared down at something.
Kethry sheathed her sword and snatched her daughter up with such relief washing over her that her knees were weak. Jadrie buried her face in her mother's shoulder and only then burst into tears.
And only then did Kethry look down to the river itself, to see what had frightened her otherwise fearless child half out of her wits.
Tarma was already down there, kneeling beside someone. A body--but a wreck of one. Shin'a'in, by the coloring; a shaman, by what was left of the clothing. Tarma had gotten him turned onto his back, and his chest was a livid network of burn lines, as if someone had beaten him with a whip made of fine, red-hot wires. Kethry had seen her share of tortured bodies, but this made even her nauseous. She could only hope that what Jadrie had seen had been hidden by river water or mud.
Probably not, by the way she's crying and shaking. My poor baby--
The man stirred, moaned. Kethry bit back a gasp; the man was still alive! She couldn't imagine how anyone could have lived through that kind of punishment. Tarma looked up at the bank, and Kethry knew that cold anger, that look of someone's going to pay.
And get the child out of here.
Kethry didn't need urging; she picked Jadrie up and stumbled back to the camp as fast as she could with the burden of a six-year-old in her arms.