HIS DUTY IS TO DIE YOUNG, BUT FATE HAS SOMETHING FAR MORE LETHAL IN MIND…
If Kaell breaks, the kingdom breaks with him. And prophecy says the 19th Bladesman will break…
THE BONDED WARRIOR…
Kill. Die young. That’s what a swordsman bonded to the ancient gods does. Without expecting praise from the man who trained him to survive this centuries-old, malignant war against the inhuman followers of an invincible lord. But Kaell wants more. More of Val Arques’ attention, his approval. Just more.
THE FIRE DANCER…
Ice lord, spy, Heath never loses a fire dance. Yet he longs to know that thrill of danger down his spine as he kills for his god, to fight a warrior who might, just might be better than him.
Val Arques is a bladesman of formidable power entrusted not only with Kaell’s life but with the truth that will destroy him. Banished to a grim outpost of this doomed kingdom of sorcery, poetry, and treachery, he cannot afford to care about the young warrior. For love means loss. And Val Arques has a shameful secret …
A KINGDOM ON THE EDGE OF CHAOS…
As a vengeful god escapes his ancient prison and draws Kaell into his web of deception, even Val Arques can’t protect him from the dark prophecy awaiting him. Because you can’t flee fate unless you’re willing to do the unthinkable.
Duty and love collide in this powerful epic fantasy about shattering loss, betrayal and the price of power.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love sharing the stories going around in my head. I often start with a fragment of an idea and then see where it goes. In The 19th Bladesman, the initial idea was, what if you had to kill a stranger to save someone you love, but the person you had to kill protected the realm. It moved on from there to become a story about dark plots, dark magic, and characters with even darker secrets.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Sometimes they start with just a name. I have a new series, which started with the name of a character. The question became "what does someone with a name like that do?" And suddenly the whole character unfolded as if from nowhere.
Sometimes the character seems to grow out of the plot.
The inn stank of stale wine and cold sweat. Of intrigue. Heath raked its gloom, spying his sister Judith alone at a corner table.
He ducked his head beneath a low-hung beamed roof, his cloak swishing leather boots as he dodged crowded benches to reach her. Discordant voices, laughter, the odours of tallow and roasted meat roiled in a chaotic blend so very typical of this dreadful city.
A girl in a low-cut, tight gown brushed past. Heath stared with undisguised interest at her sand-pale hair. She favoured him with a bold, nearly toothless smile.
A seaman at a nearby table glared. “Go find a goat, stranger. She’s taken.” He pulled the unprotesting girl onto his lap. Dice spilled as the table rocked. Another sailor sprang up, pointed an accusing finger at Heath, and jabbered.
Heath at once groped for his sword. Though—think it through. Killing drunken fools attracted attention. Reluctantly he weaved past two soldiers huddled over a table, their voices low and careful, their glances creeping over their shoulders as though they plotted treason.
An idle thought. His mind turned on schemes more dangerous than betraying kings.
He slid onto a bench opposite his sister, leaning to kiss her cheek. Judith’s perfume tantalised with a fragment of blossoms. It reminded him of lazy, steaming summers, of billowing clouds above fields of cornflowers.
“That girl has yellow hair.” He jerked his head. “Where’d she get that, do you think?”
“What do you care? This is Tide’s End. Every stinking, sweating soldier, priest, sailor, and lordling washes up here. Maybe her mother bedded some blond Venivan. Or the girl’s the whelp of a heathen from beyond the Ice Sea. They all have yellow hair there.”
Heath laughed. “And how would you know, Judith, my precious?”
“I keep my ears open.”
“And your mouth shut—when needs must,” he teased. “A skill I’m yet to master.”
“You’ve mastered talking nonsense,” Judith said. “Made it an art form, in fact.”
A greasy-haired man with sweat stains on his tunic thumped a carafe onto the table. Heath dropped coins into his outstretched hand and poured wine. He sipped.
“I tried the ale,” Judith said. “Undrinkable. I ordered you wine.”
He made a face. “The wine is fit only for pigs.”
She laughed. “My poor Heath. If you can’t get drunk, what will you do?”
“The gods only know. How do the not-so-respectable citizens of Tide’s End live like this? Cursed heat, flies, wine a dog might spew up. What a wretched place.”
“A wretched place?” Judith arched well-formed brows. “The jewel of the Isles? This famed city of stone, light, and air?”
“Give me the emptiness of the Icelands any day.”
Tide’s End, in comparison, crowded like an oppressive mire, crawling with jostling life.
The city sprawled about an ancient castle rising from cliffs into clouds, a haze of alleys, jutting harbours, and wharves lapped by a too-bright sapphire sea. Sleek, exotic ships with furled sails congested sea lanes or rocked beside long-fingered boardwalks.
Heath had prowled the sweeping harbour that morning, unnoticed in the wash of perfumed bodies thinly clad in silk and linen.
He listened to thuds and clunks as men unloaded goods off vessels from Wardour and distant Veniva, to creaking timbers, lapping waves, the cries of traders, and strident voices cursing or laughing or complaining about the heat.
Tide’s End’s scents—brine, citrus, and sharp sweat—tore at him with longing, a yearning for the lonely icescape of cutting winds and monotonous cold he and Judith called home.
“Surely we can soon return to the Icelands.” Judith grabbed his hand. “No need to look further. Aric Caelan will please our gods.”
“I must make sure.”
“I’m sick of this, Heath. Sick, sick, sick. Can’t we go home? It’s been—” She broke off to stare at the door, murmuring, “No, don’t look,” when he turned.
“Is it Pairas, or whatever his stupid name is? What’s he doing?”
“Laughing with some sweating fool. No doubt comparing jewellery or admiring each other’s garments. Isles men.” She gave a mocking roll of her eyes.
Heath tried the wine again. Still foul. “So what now?”
“We know his weakness.” Judith tucked a strand of long hair behind her ear. “I’ll bring him here and drop a little something into his drink.”
“What a dull plan. More fun if I beat the information from him.”
She patted his hand as she might a child’s. “What’s that old expression? Too much pleasure spoils a man. And I must protect you from yourself, dear brother.”
“Must you? I’d rather be spoiled.”
Scowling, Judith shot to her feet. “That cow.”
“Your yellow-haired lass is all over him. And now another. Well, I suppose he is deliciously masculine.”
“An Isles man? They’re all too pretty for my taste. Can’t tell one from the other.”
“You can’t tell. Only because you’re always drunk.” She shed her cape and smoothed a gown hugging every curve.
Heath risked a glance as Judith glided away, hips swaying, torches dancing auburn light through her tumbling, dark hair. Men gaped. One, more brazen than his companions, called out. Her retort drew barks of laughter.
She reached a young man with burnished, black hair, a bladesman’s curved shoulders, and press of muscle against a tight tunic. Whispered in his ear. The man laughed and shook his head. Women clinging to him glared.
Judith turned with a swirling gown and a flick of glossy hair.
The man discarded his admirers to follow like a puppy. Too easy. Heath yawned.
“Heath. I won our bet. This young man is Pairas. Not who you thought.”
“If he’s cost me money, the least he can do is drink with us.”
Judith touched Pairas’s arm. “Please join us.”
Heath caught a thread of her perfume, too sweet for this wretched den and its licentious Isles patrons.
Pairas willingly sat. His helpless, doglike look reminded Heath of another old Icelands saying from the notorious long-dead lord and poet they called the Ice Rider.
Oh, what foolishness we men embrace, and all because of a pretty face.
“Pairas, this is my brother Heath.”
“Brother?” The Isles captain brightened.
“So you’re not Aric Caelan?” Heath gestured to the tavern keeper for more wine.
Pairas tore admiring eyes from Judith. “I’m honoured to serve Aric. Call him friend, even. But I’m nothing like him.”
“Really?” And everyone said Isles men all looked alike.
The surly tavern keeper brought wine. Heath surrendered more coins as Judith eased an ampoule from her pocket.
“An acquaintance pointed you out as Aric. My mistake.”
“Your acquaintance saw us together, perhaps? Where was this?”
An undercurrent of suspicion. Heath approved. “At a tournament, I think.”
Pairas made no reply. His stare dwelled on a brooch on Heath’s tunic. A tight frown burrowed his brow beneath soft, damp curls. “That’s a curious pattern.”
With a disarming smile, Heath drew his cloak tight.
“An old family thing. Wine? It tastes like piss, I’m afraid. Judith can buy the next carafe since she won our bet.” He wagged a playful finger at his sister. “She always guesses right. Whether it’s who wins the melee or if the king has a new mistress.”
Or which pretty, sweating, ignorant Isles fool he might carve up next.
“A tournament, you said?”
Ah, still suspicious. Hardly surprising. The king wanted Aric Caelan dead.
Heath poured wine to deflect the question.
Pairas raised his cup to Judith. “Lady, to your beauty.”
Judith threw him a bold, low-lidded look, her scarlet lips parted.
Pairas’s breath stalled. His dazed look mimicked other men’s around Judith.
Heath sighed. He expected a trickier hunt, given the young captain’s wits cut as sharp as his blade. Or so men said. And men in Tide’s End had a lot to say about Pairas—for a handful of coins.
“A good swordsman… not as good as Aric Caelan, mind you,” they had told him. “But then who is?”
“True, so true,” Heath had replied, nodding, “but about Pairas?”
“Oh, Pairas. Young for an Isles captain. Wellborn. The only son of an impoverished lord drinking himself to death on a crumbling rock in the middle of the sea.”
Very sad. Heath hid another yawn as his sister clashed cups with Pairas. She slipped a hand beneath the table. A time-proved way to scramble a man’s wits, sharp or not.
Pairas put down his cup. He drew Judith’s hand onto the table and covered it with his own. “Can we just talk? I possess only your name. That isn’t close to enough. I must know what’s behind that beautiful face. I must know everything.”
Judith sat back. She hid a blink of surprise. A small silence settled about her and Pairas.
Across the tavern, laughter broke up voices raised in discord. A man shouted for ale. But neither of Heath’s companions spoke.
At length, Judith turned to him. “Heath, I thought you must meet a trader.”
He forced a doubtful look. “And leave you alone in this dreadful place? It’s too much to ask this young man to watch out for you, Judith, when we only just met him.”
Solemnly, Pairas said, “It would be my honour to serve you and your sister.”
“If you’re sure.” Pairas talked a lot about honour. An honour to serve Aric. An honour to service—ah, serve—Judith. “Then I am in your debt. I’ll retire to change.”
He rose, nodded, and made his way to the stairs. The seamen glared. Heath chuckled. Long memories in the Isles. They held a grudge for at least half an hour.
Upstairs, he left his door unlocked, lit a candle, and dropped onto the bed. Not long now. Judith’s potion stunned as readily as her beauty.
Softly he whistled a stupid tune he heard all over Tide’s End about a knight called Goffren who betrayed the king. It followed them everywhere. The Falls, the Mountains, the Plains.
The minstrel in the city of kings, Dal-Kanu, was a swarthy, balding man with plump cheeks. At Tide’s End a pale-faced boy too thin to have breath in him belted out the words.
In a Downs tavern, a sallow-cheeked woman with braided hair amused drunken patrons with cheekily added lewd gestures.
Fat, thin. Old. All sang the same tune, it seemed. What tune might the young captain sing?
WIND WHOOSHED as the door thumped back. Heath leapt up to catch a slumped Pairas.
“Quickly.” Judith pushed past. “Help me with him. He drained his wine in one swig. Silly boy. I could barely rouse him.”
“You had no trouble rousing him before.”
She glared at his crude humour. Heath muttered, “I am truly unappreciated,” and dragged Pairas to the room’s only chair. The man’s head drooped.
“How much did you give him? I can’t question him if he’s senseless.”
“Not my fault he gulped his wine.” Judith knelt to search a chest. “However, I have another potion that will somewhat restore his wits.”
Heath tapped fingers on the wall. She grew careless. He had known for a while but did not have the will to correct her. Not when he grew careless too. Sick to his gut of all this.
When they had first left the Icelands, Judith’s artistic seductions required only a mere promise to hook and land their prey. Now—
“He gulped the wine so he could bed you quicker. Of late, you’re reckless, clumsy even. I saw your hand. What did you do? Fondle him in public?”
“You have a wicked mind.”
“I touched his thigh. He”—her fingers stilled on the trunk, brow furrowed at the memory—“removed my hand.”
“The chase, Judith. That keeps a man keen. On the Downs you let that swordsman with the grey eyes work to win you. This one? You could teach that yellow-haired wench a trick or two about plying her trade. If it’s too easy, a man like Pairas will suspect you want more than his body.”
“Shut your mouth.” Judith surged up, clutching a vial. “How dare you judge me. I serve our family and our gods.”
Heath gestured at Pairas. “He’s out of it, Judith. I won’t learn anything about Aric.”
“I don’t care. We learnt all we need. But you must make sure. Always making sure.”
“Lower your voice.” He pressed an ear to the door. “A poor choice will anger the gods.”
“I’m beginning to think one swordsman is just like another.”
“You don’t mean that.”
Hands on hips, Judith glowered. “No bladesman is Aric’s match. Instead of this nonsense, it’s time, surely, to come up with a clever plan, my clever brother, to abduct him.”
“I have lots of clever plans in my clever head. I just need to know where Aric might be so we can snatch him. With luck, this man will tell me.”
In answer she knelt and held the uncorked vial beneath Pairas’s nose. He coughed.
Judith rose, arms folded. “Well, he’s yours to torment. So make certain.”
Heath slapped their captive’s cheek. “Captain, you can sleep after we talk. You want to answer my questions. You must answer my questions. Can you do that?”
Pairas grunted. His dark eyes were hazy, his body and mind languid and soft.
Despite the dreamlike state, their sister Myranthe’s potion compelled answers. She loved her draughts, her spells. Magic gave Myranthe control. Even of her scheming siblings.
“What was that?”
“Good. I want you to think back to a tournament in the Falls. Aric Caelan was there.”
“Aric fell in the melee.” Pairas smiled faintly. “Drank too much the night before.”
“He lost? To whom?”
“Aric doesn’t lose. He recovered, held off the Stone Knight, Sherrin Cross, I think—” His voice trailed off.
“Aric is the best swordsman you’ve seen?”
“We know this,” Judith muttered.
Pairas hesitated. “The best.”
“You sound uncertain.”
“No. Aric never loses. It’s just—”
“What?” Heath hammered.
“A Downs tournament years ago. There was this woman—”
“Yes, yes, forget the woman. What about this tournament?”
The Isles captain’s voice blurred. “He was perhaps sixteen. His lord raged when he learned he entered the lists. I thought he might strike the boy.”
“Kaell. Vraymorg dragged him away, shouting, ‘A bonded warrior does not waste his talents at tournaments. He serves the gods.’ Not a man to cross, the Mountains lord.”
“Vraymorg.” Judith frowned. “We keep hearing strange things about him.”
Heath leaned in. “You watched Khir’s bonded warrior fight. In a tournament?”
“Some Cahireans ambushed Kaell. Vraymorg killed—”
“Forget Vraymorg. Tell me about Kaell.”
Heath heaved an impatient sigh. “Is this Kaell a better bladesman than Aric Caelan?”
“This is pointless.” Judith threw up her arms. “We can’t touch Kaell. You know that. He belongs to Khir.”
Ignoring her, he gripped Pairas’s wrist. “Just tell me. Then you can sleep.”
“About Aric. And Kaell. Who is the better swordsman?”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Then how is it?” He no longer had a taste for this. Time he and Judith returned home.
Pairas’s eyelids drooped. “That boy. He stunned everyone. His speed. His control.”
“So he is better than Aric?” A flat despair emptied him. The old gods protected Kaell.
“Kaell is brilliant, his technique perfect. But he fights coldly, without passion.”
That was a weakness? Not in the Icelands. Not in a fire arena.
“And Aric Caelan?”
Pairas smiled fondly. “Aric fights with both head and heart. Not that he’ll fight much after he bends his knee to Cathmor.”
Judith gasped. Heath’s breath died. He knew nothing of this.
“Why should Aric Caelan, prince of the Isles, bend his knee to King Cathmor?”
“No.” Pairas shook his head furiously. “It’s still secret. I can’t.”
“You want to tell me.”
The man’s head sagged as if the compulsion in the command crushed his will.
“A treaty. An end to war between the false king Cathmor and Aric’s father, King Hatton. Signed secretly. Aric is escorting his sister Azenor to Dal-Kanu to marry the false king.”
Heath threw Judith a bewildered look. His sister shrugged a “don’t ask me.”
“And Aric? Will he stay in Dal-Kanu? Or return to Tide’s End once Azenor weds?”
“Cathmor won’t let him leave. I told Aric that. I told him not to go, reminded him the king had a price on his head, that he’d find an excuse to arrest him. He wouldn’t listen.”
Judith whispered, “Heath, what do we do?”
“About him?” He drew his knife. “I’ll finish him, dump the body at sea.”
“No!” She grabbed his arm. “There’s no need. Leave him to sleep it off.”
“Judith, this man is not some drunken Downs knight or an unwashed Mountains warrior with a dog’s wits. He’s an Isles captain. He saw my brooch, may even know what it means.”
“No,” she howled, fingernails in his flesh. “Please. I can’t stand any more. I haven’t slept properly since you cut that soldier’s throat in Dal-Gorma. Please. Not this one.”
Heath dragged his hands down his face, too weary to argue. Let the fool enjoy a few dazed hours of life. Time enough to kill him later. “Tie him up.”
“Let’s leave him here, Heath. He doesn’t know who we are.”
“Bind him. Let me think.”
Judith dropped her hands to her side. “Heath, what do we do? If there’s peace, we lose all. The prophecy says a true Caelan king must rule before fate draws the seer back to the Icelands. If Hatton bends his knee, he can’t be king.”
Heath snatched up his cloak. A restlessness twitched. “I must go out.”
He nodded towards Pairas. “Watch him. I’ll deal with him when I return.”
THE GIRL STRAIGHTENED HER SKIRTS. She flashed Heath that toothless grin and brushed strands of blonde hair from her cheek. “My, you’re a strong one.”
Heath pushed off the rough wall. Flooded tides left a line of salt and grime on stone.
He wrinkled his nose against the vinegarish stench of the narrow, mud-stained alley.
As he yanked up his pants, the girl held out her hand.
“I’ve a weakness for men with dark-brown hair. Reminds me of my first lover. But a girl’s still got ex—” She struggled briefly with the word, then proudly pronounced, “Expenses.”
“You’ve got more than that.” Heath looped a lock of hair around a finger. Such a strange colour. With a laugh, he dug into his purse to find coins. She took them, again flashing gums.
“Why do you have yellow hair?”
“What’s it to you? A quick poke doesn’t mean you can ask questions.”
He shrugged. “Curiosity. I’ve not seen a lass with pale hair in Telor before. You hear stories sometimes, nonsense I thought, that a few of the Seithin survived.”
She slapped his hand away. “Don’t you go saying that. Don’t you dare. You’ll get me arrested and killed and all. I’m not Seithin. That’s stupid.” She gulped in an outraged breath. “My father’s Venivan. A ship’s captain, my mother says.”
“Oh, a captain.”
“Yes, a captain.” She tilted her chin. “Lazy cow can’t remember his name, but he was Venivan, with yellow hair. So don’t you go causing trouble, saying I’m Seithin.”
Heath backed her up to the wall. “Cause trouble? But you’ve a weakness for men like me.”
“I’ve a weakness for men with coins in their pockets.”
Heath groped her breast, lazily aroused again. Ah well, he had a few more coins. From the moons, the night was not so old.
A bell tolled, its peal rippling silver in the clear, crisp darkness.
“Nothing. Get off me.”
“A bell in the middle of the night means something. Tell me.”
The girl squirmed beneath his weight. Heath let her go and stepped back in one graceful movement. He held up a gold coin. “What’s happening?”
“Some poor fool’s about to die. You really don’t know? Where have you been? The ends of the earth?”
Something like that. “What poor fool?”
“Cultist probably. There, I told you.” The girl snatched the coin, backed up a step, then scuttled from the alley.
Heath followed. To his surprise, the black night awakened with nervous laughter and whispers as a stream of people hurried along the road beside the sea wall towards the docks. Some bristled with excitement. Others peered over shoulders with frightened expressions.
He pushed into the crowd, catching snatches of conversation as it carried him forward.
“Did they uncover another one?”
“What do you think? Why else summon everyone?”
The mob surged towards torches blazing upon jutting breakwaters in the stone-walled harbour then grumbled to a halt.
Squeezed shoulder-to-hip with men and women held back by a line of guardsmen, Heath could only stare as figures in sinister, purple robes appeared on a breakwater. Moonlight gleamed on white-painted faces.
Between the breakwater and the quayside where the expectant crowd waited, the tide lapped stone, a silver-streaked inky pool.
Hooded figures dragged a half-naked man onto the breakwater. Young, scrawny, with matted, black hair, he slumped in their grasp. Broken. Too exhausted to be afraid.
The bells stopped. In the taut silence, heavy with menace, cold slivered down Heath’s spine as though something unseen and ancient breathed on his neck as it swept past.
A figure stepped forward. Torch flames cast a woman’s silhouette upon the wall. As she addressed the crowd, Heath struggled to catch the words. Something about judgement. Gods.
A priestess then. He shrank back. Some called his gods cruel, but these Isles deities surely could frost even an Icelands winter.
The priestess lifted her voice. “An offence to our king, to our gods.”
“What offence? What did the wretch do?” he asked a man near him. The stranger shushed him with a disapproving frown.
“Accept this traitor, accept his life as our offering, oh gods who protect us and grant us life,” the priestess said. “May the Three always turn their faces towards us.”
She nodded. Hooded figures threw the young man down. A muttering ran through the jostling crowd as he sprawled on his hands and knees, dirty hair spilled across his face.
At a grinding sound, the mob hushed. Metal clinked and rattled. Heath used his height and swordsman’s bulk to force his way to the front of the human tangle as a stone slab rose from the water, its rusted chains creaking against the breakwater.
The prisoner scrambled back, clawing helplessly at the wall of robed captors, his mouth open in a noiseless scream. They grabbed his arms and pulled him towards the stone. The throng pressed close, straining to see.
Two robed priests leapt onto the wet stone. Their companions thrust the captive at them. They knocked him to his knees then onto his back. He arched and kicked, but they pinned him with their bodies until iron fastened his wrists and ankles.
The priests returned to the breakwater, their sacrifice uselessly struggling in fetters. The priestess lifted long-sleeved arms, her chant lost in an excited babble and the roar of water.
The stone rumbled into the sea.
With morbid anticipation, even an exhilarated fascination, Heath wondered at the young man’s likely terror as he disappeared beneath the water.
He should feel something else. Shouldn’t he? Compassion. Disquiet. Horror, perhaps.
A hush fell. The crowd stilled like a stalking beast. Waiting.
A woman near Heath swiped a tear from her cheek, saw him staring, took a startled breath, and disappeared into the mob. This time, unexpectedly, pity stabbed. Did she know the sacrificed man? A brother? A lover? Husband?
He tried to follow her with his eyes, but the crowd sighed as a grinding split the quiet. With a mighty splash, the stone broke above waves. The manacles lay open, the young man gone.
Not as dramatic as the deaths Heath delivered his gods in the fire halls. But curious.
“Praise the gods.” The priestess’s voice lifted. “They accept the sacrifice.”
A ripple tore through onlookers. Relief. Excitement. Everyone spoke and laughed at once. A stranger slapped his back. “Cultists. It’s too quick a death.”
More talk of cultists. What were they? Why did they deserve this? “It’s a trick,” Heath said. “A mechanism releases the chains, so the body disappears. The tide does the rest.”
The man sneered. “You don’t know what you say, stranger. But best not say it too loud.”
Heath peered into swirling, murky waters. Even if the tide carried the body off, it must float. No, he no longer liked this at all. Nor anything about these vicious Isles gods.
With heavy footsteps, he returned to the inn, wondering at his coldness. Was this what he had become after years fighting to survive in the arena? A man unable to feel even shame at his lack of sympathy, his hardness.
When he stepped into the room, he froze in surprise.
Like the sacrifice upon the stone, Pairas lay on floorboards, ringed by burning candles.
Judith stood over him, holding a cup. Blood smeared her brow.
“You can’t kill him now,” she said.
Heath tore the cup from her. Blood spilled on his wrists, dripped to the floor. He considered Pairas. Smears patterned his naked chest, but no wound marked him.
Judith thrust out a gashed arm. “It’s my blood.”
“What is this? What have you done?”
“A protection spell. Myranthe told me how. She knows what you’re like.”
Heath snorted a sigh. A restlessness crept back into his bones, a weariness of spirit.
“A protection spell,” he repeated dully. “Against me?”
Judith held up a knife. “I used your knife for the spell. Myranthe said to take an object that’s worn close to your body. It means you can’t kill him now.”
Heath snatched at his missing blade, then let his hands fall to his side. “Judith, please understand. He must die. We can’t leave ends untied.”
“Whatever you do to him, my spell means it rebounds against me.”
He stared at her beloved face, enlivened by determination. How dare she take the side of some fool warrior from a gods-forsaken rock in the middle of nowhere against him. Him.
“Why him? Tell me that, Judith? You’ve never cared before.”
“He reminds me of someone,” she said, her eyes hazing with memory.
“Where does this leave us, Judith? How can I trust you after this?”
Her expression softened. She took his hands. “You can always trust me, Heath. How can you ask that? After everything that’s happened. It’s only this one thing.”
Heath snatched his hands away. Only this one thing. He dug fingers into his aching temples. “I don’t have time for this. If Aric Caelan is in Dal-Kanu, then you and I must follow.”
“And we will. But first let this man go. It can do no harm.”
He sighed. “Very well, nag. I’ll leave him outside the city gates. Alive. I swear it.”
Judith threw her arms around him. “Thank you.”
He smiled at her. But alarm cut through him like sharpened steel. Heath Damadar, a lord of the ice, fire dancer and spy, knew he—they—just made their first mistake.
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