WIP excerpt: A Queen in Hiding

The arrival of the starfarer caused stirred a great deal of excitement at Little Gaia. Eve couldn’t remember the last time a man from the stars had visited their humble space station. As one of the few unmarried and eligible girls, she took extra notice of the rumors.

Old bald Thomas, the station’s geneticist, said that the starfarer’s arrival was a miracle. His wife Ethel was the matchmaker, and together they did more to determine the fate of the colonists’ lives than even the station master himself. They were the ones behind every betrothal and wedding. They were the ones with veto power over any proposed marriage. Before she could even walk, the course of Eva’s life had already been set, with her choice of suitable husband reduced to only three. Two of them were already married men more than twelve years her senior, and the last was a childhood friend that she would almost certainly have to share.

So when the mysterious starfarer declared his intention to settle down permanently, it provoked no small stir of commotion.

Almost at once, Eve’s life began to turn upside down. Ethel and old bald Tom immediately selected three young women for the starfarer, but the first of them refused. Predictably, this outraged old bald Tom, causing a small scandal.

“I hope you won’t be so obstinate,” he told Eve privately. “It’s been almost a generation since we had an opportunity like this. Without new blood, our colony is doomed to perish.”

“Don’t worry,” she reassured him. “I’m happy to wed the starfarer.”

“Good. And I hope your union will be blessed with many children. Stars know that’s what we need.”

The second woman was Astrid. She was only two years older than Eve, though growing up, they had never been more than friendly acquaintances. Eve had never expected to share a husband with Astrid, so she had never made a special effort to be close to her. Now, all that had suddenly changed.

Astrid reached out to her first, shortly after the engagements had been arranged. They met privately in Eve’s family apartments, the stars spinning silently through the windows underfoot.

“I sincerely hope you harbor no hard feelings for me,” said Astrid. “Please know that I have none against you.”

Eve smiled and gave her future sister wife a reassuring hug. “Of course I don’t, Astrid. I always expected to share a husband.”

“I wish I could say the same.”

Astrid’s grandfather had been a star wanderer from beyond the Good Hope Nebula, giving her some of the best genetics in the colony. From the way she had kept herself aloof in her earlier years, Eve had always assumed that she held this above everyone else. The desperation in Astrid’s voice surprised her.

“Can I ask you a question?” she asked.

“Certainly, Eve.”

“Why choose to marry the star wanderer? With your gentics, you could have your pick of almost any boy on the station. Why him?”

Astrid swallowed. “If you’re asking why you have to share him with me, I—”

“No, no, not at all,” said Eve, putting her hand on Astrid’s arm. “Please don’t take it that way.”

The moment passed awkwardly. Astrid smiled, but the tension still hung in the air.

“There’s more to matchmaking than genetics,” Astrid said at length. She didn’t offer any more of an explanation, and Eve didn’t push her for one. They spent the next two hours talking to each other, and by the end, they were much closer than before. But still, the unspoken questions hung over them like something rotting in the bulkheads.

Before the marriages could be solemnized, the laws of Little Gaia stated that the betrothed must be given an hour alone together, in total privacy without any outside interference. Afterwards, if either of them desired to cancel their vows for any reason or none at all, it was their legal and moral right to do so. Of course, Astrid and Eve weren’t to go in to the star wanderer together. Each would have their hour alone with him.

Astrid went first. The station master’s office was the designated room, since it was one of the few living areas on the station with soundproof bulkheads. She wore her finest red silk dress, handed down as an heirloom from her grandmother, with a silver girdle inlaid with opals. Eve didn’t have anything nearly so fine.

The hour passed like a neverending eternity. Eve sat outside the office, her emotions vacillating from fear to impatience and back again. She’d heard stories about what couples did in their alloted time alone together, up to and including sex. Things that wouldn’t otherwise be permitted were fair game, since no one would ever have to know.

The hour finally passed. Eve stood breathlessly at the door, waiting for Astrid to emerge. When another full minute passed without any indication from inside, Eve wondered if perhaps she should knock. But before she could, the door slid open and Astrid stepped out.

“Well?” said Eve, her heart pounding nervously.

Astrid stared off as if distracted by something down the hall. Her hair was a little messier than it had been before she’d entered, and her dress was wrinkled ever so slightly. Eve’s gut began to clench.

“Astrid?”

“Oh,” said Astrid, suddenly noticing her. She gave her a smile, which Eve weakly returned.

“Well?”

“Eve, your face is pale. Are you all right?”

I could ask the same of you, Eve thought silently. She shook her head and looked away.

“I’m fine.”

“That’s good.”

An awkward moment of silence passed. There were a thousand questions Eve wanted to ask, but none of them seemed appropriate, and Astrid wasn’t volunteering any answers. In fact, she went right back to staring off at the distance, as if Eve weren’t even there.

“Well,” Eve said at length, “I guess I’d better go.”

“Wait.”

Astrid lay her hands on Eve’s shoulders and looked her in the eye. Her expression was suddenly serious. A chill ran down Eve’s back.

“What is it?”

“Tomas, our future husband, he’s—how do you say?—a telepath.”

She frowned. “A telepath?”

“Yes. Not just him, either. He’s one of many, and now I—I don’t know how to put it. But if you don’t want to go in to him, that’s okay.”

She gently took Astrid’s hands and eased them off of her shoulders.

“Please don’t scare me like this, Astrid.”

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to—honest.”

“Is he… dangerous?”

“What?” Astrid laughed. “No, of course not. Well, he did used to be a pirate, but those days are behind him now. He just wants to settle down.”

How do you know so much about him?

“Eve,” said Astrid, putting a hand on her arm. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Then why did you say it was okay if I didn’t want to go in?”

“Forgive me. What I meant is that you don’t have to let him read your mind. If you do, you won’t ever be the same.”

Her words were not reassuring in the least. By now, Eve’s heart was pounding something awful. But she swallowed and nodded, steeling her nerves.

“Thank you, Astrid. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Spontaneously, Astrid gave her a hug. It was one of the most open and honest hugs that Eve had ever received. They held each other for several moments, Eve’s nervous heart still fluttering.

The station master’s office was one of the most richly furnished rooms on the station. An ornate blue and gold rug graced the floor, the geometric design breathtaking in its detail. The table that sat in the center was made from authentic wood, its legs gilded with gold. Hand-woven and highly stylized tapestries depicted the history of the small colony from its founding nearly ten generations ago. Plush, oversized divans ringed the walls, with dozens of tasseled pillows strewn about for additional comfort.

The star wanderer sat on the far side of the room, his arms resting comfortably along the back of the divan. He was healthy and young, with a head of thick brown hair and a trim, attractive figure. The moment his eyes laid hold of her, they never left. Eve stared at the floor demurely, unsure whether to sit across from him or on the same divan.

He gestured for her to join him, which shattered her indecision. Still, her heart pounded as she sat with her knees close together, only an arm’s breadth away. She looked up at him expectantly, but he did nothing to break the silence.

His gaze, for all its intensity, was surprisingly gentle. As she looked into his eyes, she realized there was no need to feel threatened by him at all. His clothes were foreign but simple, a gray uniform shirt that bore no isnignia with a synthleather jacket that had seen considerable wear. They gave him a roguish appearance that only increased his allure.

Should I say something? Eve wondered as the silence rapidly became unbearable. She remembered what Astrid had said about him being a telepath. Was he reading her thoughts even now? If so, what did he think of her.

He leaned forward and put a hand on her knee. A thrill of excitement shot through her body at his touch.

“Hello, Eve,” he said, his eyes never leaving her. “My name is Tomas. Astrid told you about me, didn’t she?”

Eve’s eyes widened. “You—how can you—I thought you couldn’t speak our language.”

“I can, with Astrid’s help. She’s shown me much about your people. I hope that in time, you can show me much about yourself as well.”

He spoke slowly and carefully formed his words, but there was no doubt that he understood them. Eve cleared her throat and sat up straight, her hands in her lap.

“What would you like to know?”

He withdrew his hand from her. “Do you fear me, Eve?”

“No. I’m… just a little nervous, is all.”

“That’s understandable. Things always move quickly when a star wanderer settles down. I take it you didn’t expect to be marrying one?”

“No,” she admitted. “But I’m looking forward to it.”

“As am I.”

He leaned back and crossed his legs. “Astrid told you that I’m a telepath?”

“She mentioned it, yes.”

“Would you like to be one, too?”

Eve paused. “What do you mean?”

He held out his hand toward her. As she watched, a faint blue light traveled up his arm, growing brighter until it reached his palm. She realized that he was offering it to her.

“There is much that I can show you, Eve. But if we are to join minds, it must be your choice, not mine.”

She swallowed, unsure what to do. Astrid’s words came back to her, about how she would never be the same once she let him into her mind. But if they were to be married, wasn’t she supposed to give herself to him anyway? She’d never heard of anything like this, but it didn’t seem too much to ask.

Tentatively, she reached out her hand. As their fingertips touched, the pulse of light ran across her skin, sending chills in its wake. She withdrew and shut her eyes as it passed all the way to her heart.

A sudden wave of dizziness made her head spin. Though her eyes were closed, she could clearly see the station master’s office with all of its furnishings. Except it wasn’t the starfarer she saw seated on the divan. It was her.

She opened her eyes with a start. Now she was looking at Tomas again, but she could still see herself through his eyes. She could also see the hallway outside, where Astrid was waiting for her. That wasn’t all. Other images swam before her, of places she didn’t recognize—places she had never been. There was a dark, bare room with bars around the door like a prison, and a spaceous mausoleum with large, windowed coffins lining all the walls. She saw them as clearly as if with her own eyes.

“Take a deep breath,” Tomas advised her. “Put everything to the back of your mind except what you can see with your own eyes.”

She did as he told her, and the dizziness soon passed. At the same time, she felt a whole host of thoughts and emotions, none of which were hers. The cacophony in her mind was deafening, and she soon felt overwhelmed.

That was when the voice of the mother-queen spoke.

Be at peace, Eve. You are among friends.

The voice instantly brought calm to the chaos. It was quiet and still, yet it had a commanding presence that dispelled her confusion and fear. She saw, as if in a dream, a young woman whose body was covered in tattoos. The woman looked straight at her, and she realized it was no dream.

I am Reva, the mother-queen. I am in you, and you are in me. My voice brings peace to the chaos, and light to the children of the stars.

What is this?

You are one of us now, Eve. Your mind is melded to ours.

She instinctively reached out to Tomas, who put a hand on her shoulder. His touch was another point of familiarity that provided an anchor to her. She looked at him, and realized that he could read all her thoughts.

“What is this?”

“It’s a long story,” he began.

In the blink of an eye, his life’s history flashed before her mind. A modest childhood, on a colony much like her own. His departure on his father’s starship, full of excitement for the future. His first year as a starfarer, struggling to make it on his own. But then things began to change. A war had broken out in the frontier stars, spreading like fire from world to world. His starship lost, he had fallen in with a band of fearsome pirates, who had taken him beyond the most distant colonies to a hidden world where no soul had ever been. And there, something wonderful and terrifying had happened.

Reva closed her eyes and guided Eve through all of their collective memories since Star’s End. She seamlessly wove the disparate pieces into a narrative that encompassed the full breadth of their experience, from the awakening of the collective to Tomas’s departure and arrival at Little Gaia.

Eve gasped for breath. She felt as if she’d lived a dozen lifetimes in the space of a few minutes.

“Less, actually,” said Tomas.

“Beg pardon?”

He gently caressed her shoulders, bringing her back to herself. “It’s been less than a few minutes.” We can read each others’ mind, you know.

Is this what Astrid meant that my life would never be the same?

Yes.

Eve paused, unsure what to think about that. Until just a few moments ago, it would have terrified her. But now that her mind had been expanded, she felt as if a concourse of bright and fantastic worlds had suddenly opened up to her. All her life, she had only known the hundred and twenty two people on board her little station. But now, she saw worlds full of faces, friends, and family she’d never known. She felt the pain of loss and the joy of reunion, the thrill of victory and the despair of defeat. It was as if her whole life up to this moment had been cast in black and white, and only now had begun to take color.

It’s incredible, isn’t it?

The last thought came from Astrid. Eve reached out to her and saw, in an instant, all of her apprehensions about sharing a husband with a sister wife. Most of it was simply due to the uncertainty, and as Eve opened up in kind, her anxieties rapidly dissipated.

You really don’t hold it against me.

No, of course not. Why should I?

My mother was in a polygamous marriage, and it made her miserable.

Immediately, Eve saw everything: the years of toxic jealousy and rivalry, all kept scrupulously hidden from the public eye. Years of speaking as little to each other as possible, with passive-aggressive turf wars over every inconsequential thing. It was enough to drive anyone crazy.

Then why did you choose Tomas, when you could have had your pick of anyone?

Because all my life, the other girls have seen me as a threat. That’s the dark side of having good genetics. I would love to have a husband all to myself, but things can change quickly, and I’d rather marry an unknown than be trapped with a sister wife who hates me.

It all suddenly made sense to her. As she looked into Astrid’s mind, she couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of compassion and empathy. She wasn’t the stuck-up girl everyone thought her to be. In fact, she was more like Eve than either of them had realized.

There’s no need to worry about sharing a husband, Astrid. I’ll be happy to be your sister wife.

Out in the hallway, Astrid quietly wept. Her relief was so strong that Eve herself was nearly brought to tears. If they had been in the same room, she had no doubt but that they’d embrace each other.

Thank you, Eve. That means a lot to me.

It’s the least I can do. We sister wives have to stick together.

We certainly will.

Tomas smiled. “I think this is the start of something wonderful.”

“Yes,” Eve agreed, cuddling up to him. He put his arm around her and kissed her long and slow. No longer were they strangers. As one kiss gave way to another, Eve’s fears and apprehensions melted away, and she felt as if she’d known her husband-to-be for a lifetime.

WIP excerpt: Patriots in Retreat

I finished the 2.0 draft of Patriots in Retreat (Book 6 of Sons of the Starfarers) yesterday, and it’s turning out a lot better than I expected. The next step is to send it off to my editor, and if all goes well, we should have it up for preorder by November. I’m definitely excited to get it out!

In the meantime, here’s an excerpt. Enjoy!


Ayesha wasn’t sure what to expect as she boarded the Starflight II. For that reason, she activated her pocket AI before she stepped into the airlock.

Calculating threat level, the pocket AI whispered silently in the back of her mind. A stream of data appeared on the edge of her vision, giving her a rundown of the ship she was about to board. She touched her right thumb to her middle finger, and the text disappeared, though the targeting display in the center of her vision did not.

Though she was careful not to show it, her mood always soured at these subtle reminders of her lack of humanity. She was a cyborg, a human with enough cybernetic implants to no longer legally qualify as a person. Most of her implants were hidden from sight; her long black hair hid the neural jacks in the back of her neck, and her eye implants were disguised with cosmetic surgery. Still, they were always with her—as well as the memories of her life before she’d received them.

Prepare for high functioning mode, she ordered as her fingers flew over the airlock control panel. Her energy pistol was holstered and uncharged, but the laser-blade in her boot was ready to be drawn at a moment’s notice.

Time slowed as the door hissed open. Hyper-awareness flooded her senses as stepped onto the ship. A short corridor led to a standard cabin: wall compartments, double bunk built into the bulkheads, retractable table with a holoscreen surface, and a small corner alcove with a food synthesizer and kitchenette. A door on one side led to what she presumed was the bathroom, while a narrow doorway led to the starship’s cockpit.

The place had a peculiar musky smell, like faded sweat in an old shirt that has been recently cleaned. It was not unpleasant. The hum of the ship’s ventilation system was soft enough that she probably wouldn’t have noticed it if she weren’t in high-functioning mode. The air was comfortably warm, and surprisingly fresh for a ship of such small size. Though the wall compartments were all closed and the floor was clutter-free, the bed was unmade, revealing velvet bedsheets that were remarkably smooth.

Sweat began to pool in the back of Ayesha’s neck, so she stood down from high functioning mode and returned her metabolism to normal. It was clear enough that she wasn’t in immediate danger.

She found Samson in the cockpit, making preparations to leave. While he was distracted, she slipped into the copilot seat beside him. If her presence on the ship unsettled him, he made no visible sign of it.

“Is this the way you always greet your guests?” she asked, crossing her slender legs.

“I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit pre-occupied,” he said, his eyes never leaving the ship’s holoscreen displays. “Getting out of this sector is a rather high priority at the moment.”

“Why is that?”

“Cats don’t play well with wolves. Hang on.”

The floor shuddered, and a deep metallic clang told her that they had undocked from the Starfall. Moments later, the bulkheads began to hum, and a growing sense of nausea told her that they were about to make a jump. She closed her eyes and used her cybernetic implants to induce a meditative state that dulled the disorientation of jumpspace. The moment they were through, she opened her eyes and assessed the situation.

No sign of Outworld warships, she observed as she looked out the forward cockpit window. He hasn’t betrayed me—yet.

“You can relax,” he said as he powered down the engine. “I don’t know the location of the Confederate fleet, and even if I did, I wouldn’t turn you in.”

Ayesha bristled a little at how easily he had read her. She sat back in her chair and affected nonchalance.

“An interesting choice of metaphor. Some would say that the Outworlders are the true wolves.”

“Wolves are pack animals by nature, and highly territorial. Outworlders are more like cats: untameable, independent, and free.”

“But ultimately leaderless.”

He glanced at her sideways. “Yes, there is that. Too many housecats and not enough lions.”

“Do you consider yourself a lion?”

“Far from it. All the lions have enlisted by now. I’m more of a stray.”

Though his body language was casual, she detected a subtle yearning in his voice. But there was also something he was careful to keep hidden from her. That didn’t surprise her, considering the circumstances. But if Admiral Orion expected her to hold Samson at gunpoint for the duration of her mission, he had no appreciation of her finesse.

She rose to her feet and stood in the doorway, facing the cabin. “I take it you’re rarely alone on these voyages.”

“Did the second bunk give it away?”

“It looks like you only use it for storage.”

“I generally do.”

She smirked. “This isn’t the first time you’ve been in bed with the enemy, I take it.”

“Why should I think you’re my enemy?”

His question made her turn. If he noticed her reaction, though, he made no sign of it.

“I’ve only seen a lion once,” she said, more to cover for herself than anything else. “It was in a zoo on the capital world, Gaia Nova. Magnificent beasts, but they’re horrendously expensive to maintain.”

Samson grunted. “That’s only because their homeworld no longer exists. On Earth, they lived in the wild.”

“You still believe the myth about a place called Earth?”

“Don’t you?”

She shrugged. “I suppose such a world could have existed. More likely, Gaia Nova was our homeworld, but the ancients turned it to a desert and recolonized it during the Earthseeding.”

“Interesting theory. I haven’t heard that one before.”

“Theories bore me,” she said, running her fingers along the back of his chair. “And lions belong in captivity, not the wild.”

“That’s why I’m more of a stray.”

“I assure you, I’m more than capable of keeping a stray like you under control.”

He glanced at her and smirked. “And what makes you think that?”

She parted her hair and showed him her neural jack. He nodded, duly impressed. Then, to her dismay, his smirk turned to a smile.

“You remind me of a girl I gave passage to the Nova Minitak system. She was a cyborg not unlike yourself, and also just as gorgeous.”

Ayesha scowled. “The thorns on this rose are sharp.”

“Of that, I have no doubt. And it’s not my intention to pick you.”

“Then what are your intentions?”

He rose to his feet and stood just close enough to be uncomfortable. She fingered the laser-blade hidden in her smartskirt.

“You’re not one of them.”

“Of who?” she asked, frowning.

“You know. The Imperials. They haven’t tamed you yet.”

Their eyes locked, neither of them yielding. Samson didn’t realize it, but their little game of words had crossed a line. She rolled up her left sleeve, revealing her tattoo of the double-headed eagle of the Gaian Empire. In its talons, it held two planets: one, the old Earth of legend, the other the dome-covered world of Gaia Nova.

“You are wrong. Long live the Emperor!”

He said nothing, but continued to smile. She rolled her sleeve down and folded her arms.

“You will work with us to defeat this Outworld Confederacy. Then, when the New Pleiades are fully pacified, you will be free to do as you please.”

“As free as you? Branded into a life of Imperial service?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied.

He leaned forward ever so slightly, as if expecting either a kiss or a slap. Perhaps both.

“Make yourself comfortable, Ayesha Bint Hasan Al-Hasani. You’re my guest, not my enemy.”

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 8

Master Ivanar looked Tamuna in the eye, putting both hands on her trembling shoulders. “We must go south, to the kingdom of Aramand. You’ll be safer there.”

“But what if Araste gives chase?” someone asked.

Ivanar turned to face the room. “We’ll split up to confuse him. I’ll travel to the coast and alert the Aramandi people so that they’ll be ready to receive us. In the meantime, we must do all we can to keep the sword bearer from being discovered.”

The faces around the room were grim, but several of them nodded in approval. Ivanar searched them until his eyes settled on a tall, blond-haired young man. He nodded, and the young man stepped forward, his expression as hard as flint.

Alex, I’m entrusting the girl to you. Take her west over the mountains, until you reach the stronghold at Akalika. Wait for me there.”

“Yes, Master Ivanar.”

Alex bowed curtly and turned to Tamuna. His arms were strong and muscular, his chest broad. He had a sharp chin and high cheekbones, with deep blue eyes. Even though he was clearly a warrior, he couldn’t have been more than a few years older than her.

You do realize that you may never come back, said Imeris. A war is coming, and this village may not be here when—or if—you return. I wish that you had more time to say goodbye, but that is a luxury neither of us can afford.

Tamuna swallowed, and her knees went weak. She glanced at Sopiko, whose face was red with rage. Part of her longed to hug her, but she hesitated, worried that her aunt would nag her for being so sentimental. In that brief moment of indecision, Aunt Sopiko turned and stormed out of the room before she could say goodbye.

“Here,” said Ivanar, fitting a cloak over her shoulders. “It’s a bit large, but it will have to do until we can get you a proper one.” He reached into his rucksack and pulled out what looked like a belt, but wider and with broad leather straps. As Tamuna adjusted the cloak, he put on the belt and fastened the scabbard to it.

“This may feel a bit cumbersome, but you’ll soon get used to it.”

Alex bent down and pulled the leather straps tight. When he was done, it felt as if she were carrying a bag of rocks on her hip, but the strap across her chest and shoulder offered enough support to make it comfortable.

You’ll grow used to it with time, said Imeris. I won’t always be such a burden.

“No, it’s fine,” she said aloud, blushing as she remembered that only she could hear him. But Alex and Master Ivanar were too busy conferring with each other to hear, and most of the others had already left. She glanced at the door, hoping to catch sight of her aunt, and instead saw Nika. Her eyes widened, and her heart skipped a beat.

“Nika!” she said, hurrying over to him. “Did you hear what happened? There’s so much to tell you, I—”

“Mistress Leladze,” said Master Ivanar, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, but we have to go.”

Nika looked from her to the sword keeper and back again, thoroughly confused. A horrible sinking feeling rose in Tamuna’s stomach, and without thinking she threw her arms around him.

“I have to go, Nika,” she said. “I don’t know when or if I’ll come back, so… goodbye.”

“Goodbye?” he said, giving her a stunned look as she drew back. “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. Away, far away.”

“But when will you—”

“Goodbye!”

She turned her face to hide her tears and followed the sword keeper out into the yard. A rooster crowed as the sun began its descent behind the mountains, while all around her the monks took to their restless horses. She glanced one last time at Aunt Sopiko’s tavern—the only home she’d ever known—before following Alex onto a chestnut mare. He spurred the horse forward, and she held tightly onto him as they galloped southward.

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 7

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?”

Nika stopped at the farmhouse gate and sheepishly turned to face his father. “To the tavern,” he muttered, hoping that was an acceptable response.

“Why, boy? The tavern’s closed.”

Sopiko said she still needs me.” And Tamuna’s been sick all day.

His father jabbed the pitchfork into the ground and swore. “That damn woman had better be paying you for this. Have you had your supper yet?”

“No, sir, I—”

“Good. Eat it there.” He turned to the yard, where Nika’s two older brothers had paused in their work. “Giga! Lasha! What are you doing standing around? Get back to stacking those cornstalks!”

“Yes, sir.”

Remember: Who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat!”

Nika took that as his cue to leave. He slipped out the gate and pulled it shut before dashing across the dusty lane and into the fallow field on the other side. The tall grass brushed against his legs, ticking his skin through the holes in his pants, but he kept running until he was well out of sight. Only then did he slow down enough to catch his breath.

Tamuna was so sick that Sopiko had closed the tavern—which she never, ever did. When he’d arrived in the morning, the door had been locked. Only after knocking for several minutes had Sopiko finally opened it.

“Come back later,” Sopiko had told him when he’d come around back. “Tamuna’s taken ill, and we’ve closed down the tavern until she’s better.”

“She’s ill?” Nika had asked, his stomach falling. “What do you mean? Is she going to be all right? What happened?”

We don’t know. We found her passed out on the floor in the private room, and she hasn’t woken up since. Come back this evening; we may need you then.”

Nika had wanted to ask more, but Sopiko had pressed a few coppers into his hand and sent him on his way home. His father had thrown the meager coin angrily against the wall, and probably would have beaten him, except that his mother had intervened. He was a harsh man, and Nika wasn’t his favorite. Sometimes, Nika wondered if his father cared about him at all.

Thoughts like these always made his heart heavy. But the cool autumn breeze and the splash of gold across the evening sky soon lightened his spirits. A rooster crowed somewhere in the distance, and the sound of cows mooing in the thicket made him smile. Old Giorgi’s cow had just had a calf a few days ago, and he’d been there to witness the birth. It was amazing how the little ones could walk almost from the moment they left the womb.

Sometimes, when he wasn’t busy, he liked to sit in the shade of a tree and watch the mother hens roam the yard with their broods. While the little chicks pecked and played, the mother hen stood watch, chasing away anyone who dared come too close. And in the evening, while the other chickens flew into the trees to roost, the mother hen would stay on the ground and gather all her chicks under her wings, protecting them throughout the night.

Of course, there was always a straggler who didn’t get to the food as fast, or couldn’t keep up with the rest. Whenever he could, Nika would take the straggler aside and hand-feed it to make sure it grew up strong. Sometimes, it was enough to make a difference.

The footpath turned into the wide lane that led from the village to the western mountains. He passed a few cows and a small clutch of geese, who moved to the other side of the dirt road as he walked past.

In a lot of ways, his friend Tamuna was a straggler. Just as the mother hens knew the difference between their chicks and the ones that didn’t truly belong to them, Sopiko clearly knew that Tamuna wasn’t her true daughter. It showed in her stern demeanor and overly-critical eye. Of course, Tamuna never saw it that way. When she needed someone to talk to, though, he always tried to be there for her. He often stayed in the stables late into the night just to talk with her, after all her chores were done.

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!

The Sword Keeper — excerpt 6

Tamuna swallowed again, shooting a nervous glance at her aunt. I’m sorry for all this, she wanted desperately to tell her. Please, forgive me.

“Well?”

“Y-yes,” she stammered. “Yes, I did.”

The man’s eyes narrowed, and he withdrew his hand from her shoulder. For a moment, she wondered if he thought she was lying, but then he held the sword out to her, hilt first. Once again, the room fell silent.

“If what you say is true, then prove it by drawing the sword.”

She hesitated, unsure what to do. Her aunt shook her head, but once again she felt as if some unseen hand was pushing her forward, down the path of destiny.

Don’t be afraid, Tamuna, came Imeris’s voice. You made your choice, and you made it wisely. These men are here to help you, I promise.

Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her fingers around the ancient hilt. To her surprise, the sword practically leaped into her hands. She stumbled backward, the blade ringing in the stunned silence, and for a very brief moment she lost her balance. The tip swung down and hit the wooden floor with a thud.

“I’m sorry,” she said, horrified at herself. “I didn’t mean to—”

Before she could finish, the silver-haired traveler went down on one knee and bowed. Words failed her, and it was all she could do to keep from dropping the sword entirely.

All my life, I’ve longed for this moment,” the traveler said reverently. “For almost a thousand years, we have kept the sword Imeris hidden from the eyes of the world, searching for the one who would fulfill the ancient prophecy, and now, our search has finally come to an end.”

He looked up, and his eyes shimmered with tears. Tamuna didn’t know what to say. All around them, the silence gave way to a torrent of hurried and excited words, like the patter of rain from the breaking of a storm.

He’s right, said Imeris. You are the sword bearer.

“I don’t—”

Hold on.

For an instant, she saw a man on a black horse, galloping full strength at the head of an evil storm. In his hand, he held a sword that shimmered like lightning, a red-speckled black stone embedded in the hilt. She shuddered in fright, but the image fled as quickly as it had come to her.

We’re in danger, said Imeris. The others have seen your face and know our location.

“But—”

There isn’t time to explain. We need to go now!

Tamuna’s stomach fell, and her heart began to race. The memory of the darkening shadows came back to her, and she knew, intuitively, that Imeris was right.

The Sword Keeper

The Sword Keeper

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: The Twelfth Sword, Book 1
Genres: Epic Fantasy, Fantasy
Tag: 2017 Release
Tamuna Leladze always dreamed of adventure, but never expected to answer its call. That changes when a wandering knight arrives at her aunt's tavern. He is the keeper of a magic sword that vanished from the pages of history more than a thousand years ago. The sword has a mind and a memory, and it has chosen Tamuna for purpose far greater than she knows. More info →
Buy now!