The warrior in her was ready for anything. But she never saw him coming...
Guardians of Light, Book 5
Verdeen is on the brink of becoming an elite warrior ranger until the ultimate humiliation--no war mare chooses her for advanced training. King Loren's consolation prize isn't much better. Journey to the Isle of Ice as bodyguard to a human riever. Daq Aryk. Barbarian. Prince of thieves.
Aryk dreams the impossible: unite six fractious clans into a peaceful nation. Failure means they are all doomed to kill each other off--and the nightmares of his son's death by sword will come true. The new elven ambassador rouses his ire, not because she's female, but because she's inexperienced. Her possibly needless death weighs on his already overburdened soul. Her beauty is a distraction he can't afford.
In a fragrant, moonlit garden, Verdeen dares yield to an irresistible compulsion to kiss the mortal riever. The heat shakes her to the core, and frees a desire that should occur but once in her life. With a mate.
As their quest twists down ever more dangerous paths, though, their bond is the asset that could assure peace...or the liability that could send a dream down in flames.
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September 26, 2011
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Excerpt from Riever's Heart by Renee Wildes
Two groups of armed warriors emerged from a tent at either end. They were all dressed in black, veiled to hide their features. The left group bore gold arm bands. The right group bore silver ones.
"Gold for the queen and silver for the king," Pari clarified.
Lord Elio stepped out betwixt the two teams, numbering fifty each. "This tournament is tradition for each graduating class," he called out. "Prior to the graduation ceremony, this annual game of capture the enemy's flag is played as the tournament opener. An injury shall cause the armband to disappear. If that happens, thou shalt leave the field immediately. First team to capture the enemy's flag wins."
Take-or-defend was a game played out every day on Isadorikja, sometimes for practice and sometimes for deadly real. Aryk watched, riveted, as a melee ensued. To the uninitiated, it might look like utter chaos. But he could see orchestrated patterns in the ebb and flow of the conflict. He watched the two leaders' styles, and the shape of the conflict quickly revealed itself.
He frowned. "These are cadets?"
"Aye." Loren glanced over at him. "Why?"
Aryk could scarce credit what he was seeing. "I ken who's going to win."
"At this early stage?" Cianan scanned the field, the black-clad warriors streaming back and forth, the clash of weapons ringing in the air. "Care to place a wager on it? One of my blades for one of yours?"
"Done. Gold leader."
"How can you tell?" Valkyn asked. "Silver's pressing him on all sides. They're halfway to gold's flag."
"Hai, and they're getting too strung out along a thin line," Aryk replied. "Silver's too aggressive, too impatient. His men are getting separated to where they can no longer defend each other. Each man for himself is no way to take or defend a position."
Dara cast Loren a triumphant glance. Loren was too busy studying Aryk and appeared not to notice. "You are certain?" the king asked.
"My lord, I've played this game for twenty years. Did I not ken the venue, I'd swear you threw a seasoned warrior in the mix. Do they all take the same classes in tactics?"
"Then he was the only one paying attention. Watch." Aryk stared, riveted as the gold leader flowed around and through his troops, keeping them together, slowly retreating back to his flag. He had an uncanny knack for plugging a weak spot afore that weakness became a fatal opening. Silver taunted and feigned, but gold didn't fall for it. Aryk watched the silver line get longer and thinner. There were too few guarding the silver flag. Even with all the gold troops at their own end of the field, if they took out the silver attackers and turned finally to an attack of their own, there would be too few defenders to stop them. The rout was already in progress.
"'Tis already over. They just don't realize it yet."
The end, when it came, was swift and decisive. Gold team fell on silver with a vengeance, and twenty silver warriors were on the sidelines without their armbands almost afore they realized what had happened. The few to escape seemed to realize they didn't have enough to capture the gold flag and rushed to help their comrades defend their own. But gold was already ahead of them, swarming over the silver defenders and grabbing the flag. 'Twas over. Aryk's head swam as he watched silver leader salute gold leader as they returned to Lord Elio. His heart pounded. What were the chances of him interviewing that warrior?
"My blade is yours," Cianan conceded.
How would an elven blade feel in his hand? Like everything else around him, the weight and balance would probably be flawless, without equal. Aryk recalled the glowing weapons his guards had borne and could scarcely wait to ken for himself.
The silver warriors, save for their leader, left the field. The remaining gold warriors stood at attention afore Lord Elio. "Congratulations, gold team. This concludes the team phase of the competition. Now on to the first part of the individual phase. Single combat. Count off by twos."
Sword and long-knife. Elven speed was incredible--'twas humbling to watch. No small wonder they'd triumphed at Riverhead. If these were but cadets, he could only imagine how capable a full-fledged, experienced elven warrior must be. He watched the gold leader carefully. Smooth and graceful in his movements, like water--or a cat. The warrior was smaller than his opponents, shorter and slighter, but made up for that in speed, flexibility and an uncanny gift for evasion. Like a runty pup who turned out to be the pick of the litter.
The longer he watched, the more it nagged at him. Gold's way of moving...like someone back home...
Nay. 'Twas not possible.
Loren cast that sideways glance at him. "Something on your mind, Daq Aryk?"
Realization struck like a hammer. "She's a woman."
Valkyn choked as gold leader squared off against silver leader, the last two standing.
Cianan grinned. "What gave her away?"
Loren and Dara didn't look surprised by his revelation--only his discovery of it.
Part gymnastics, part dance and amazing speed, her sheer endurance to outlast all her male counterparts...gods, her grasp of tactics and patience beyond her experience... Aryk watched her bend over backward to escape silver's blade, continuing into a back walkover to regain her feet. Silver struck a brutal blow to her thigh, knocking her sideways to the ground, but she rolled and retaliated with a hard strike to his torso. Ribs were fragile things, and Aryk wasn't surprised when silver went down--and stayed there.
Gold staggered back away from him, favoring her left leg. Relief washed over Aryk that she was limping but able to bear weight on it. A bruise, then, not a break.
Valkyn shook his head. "Impossible. No woman defeated all those men."
Queen Dara snorted.
"My people," Lord Elio announced, "behold your champion--Verdeen te Seppala."
"First woman to graduate in ages." Dara's expression, and tone, was smug. "Top of her class."
Aryk watched, spellbound, as she ripped off hood and veil to reveal tight coils of braided wheaten hair. His breath caught in his throat at her delicate features. So lovely. The damp black silk clung to her slender curves, tightening across her breasts as she stretched. Time seemed to stop as her full lips curved in a smile and she raised a small hand to brush a strand of hair from her eyes. What color were they? He had to meet her, to hear her voice, to have her smile at him.
"Stovak nos briel," he whispered. His heart pounded, making him dizzy. Never had he felt this way about a woman afore. Now he had to tamp down the urge to rush down there and carry her off for himself. Utter riever madness.
Rather than acknowledge the scattered applause--most folk seemed too stunned to react--she reached down and helped silver to his feet. She had to be exhausted, but the proud line of her back never wavered. After helping her classmate off the field, she retrieved a bow and joined a dozen men back on the field as archery targets were set up.
"'Tis not over?"
"This is a separate demonstration," Loren replied.
"No one has beaten my record yet," Cianan added.
Diabolical to hold the archery contest after the tournament, when weariness and aching muscles would most cause one's aim to wobble. Probably the reason for the low number of contestants. He watched Verdeen take her place at the end of the line with but the slightest of limps. Her pale braids shone in the sun. What would her hair look like down?
Her long, delicate fingers curled around the ashwood bow, and his gaze riveted to the black silk of her breeches tightening across the lush curve of her backside as she bent over for an arrow. Each archer's fletching was a different color--hers was gold, for the queen. She placed her arrow and drew the string back until Aryk vowed he could feel the hum of tension radiating down her slim arm. She anchored herself with her thumb resting at the corner of her mouth, her pink lips pursed and her eyes narrowed in concentration.
He imagined his hand cupping her chin, the sharpness of her jaw and the petal softness of her cheek, his thumb sweeping over the fullness of her lower lip. She hardly seemed real, standing there at the end of the line, like something his empty heart had conjured up to taunt him.