As a decorated soldier, the young General Tao knows only one kind of honor--to his people. But when his own king betrays him, he discovers that his sacrifices, his successes, may not have been for the good of the country at all.
Fate--and his enemies--throw him together with Elsabeth, a red-haired beauty who has served as the royal tutor. Her loyalties, though, remain with her father's people, the rebellious Kurel, who worship the old ways, even harboring the forbidden arks that brought the Kurel to this planet ages ago. When a threat greater than their peoples' war looms, intent on destroying the world they both know, the fierce warrior and the sensitive scholar must unite. Together, they must fight for their planet, for their world and for their love.
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April 30, 2011
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Excerpt from The Last Warrior by Susan Grant
Through a spyglass, General Uhr-Tao peered at a row of lookout towers whose sentries surely were looking back at him. The spires of the palace they protected glowed like newly forged spearheads in the glare of two suns. Four full cycles had passed since he'd last ridden inside those massive fortified walls to attend the wedding of his sister to the man who was now king. Then, he'd been in the company of only a few horsemen. Today, it was the thousands he'd earned the right to lead.
Though well defended, the eastern walls were not as thick or tall as the other three. He'd plan his breech there. Once inside, his army would overwhelm the home guard. The gates would open, and the city would fall.
But of course, none of that would be necessary. Tao lowered the spyglass, holding it to his chest. Satisfaction filled him knowing he'd never have to fight such a battle, and he reveled in it, realizing he could finally put away the mental trappings of war.
The spyglass went back in his saddlebag, perhaps for good. Even at this distance he could smell the city. Scents of incense and roasting meat mixed with the dust churned up by the men and beasts surrounding him. He breathed deep, remembering. Then, faintly, above the grinding and clanking of his army, shrill horns of welcome pierced the air, signaling the opening of the gates.
All told, he'd spent more than half his life away in the Hinterlands, battling the Gorr, going out on his first campaign before he'd shaved his first whisker. He'd never dreamed he'd see this day, his triumphant return home for good; he'd never allowed the fantasy of it to tempt him for fear it would have distracted him with hope in the face of impossible odds. But here he was, in one piece, all his limbs attached and working, a fate he owed as much to being in the right place at the right time as he did to blood and sweat. Or, he well knew, to not being in the wrong place as so many others were.
Thank you, Tao thought as the moment hit him, for sparing my life when so many others perished. Uhrth rest their souls.
Then, a slow smile as he lifted his head. "Gentlemen!" he belted out. Blinding sunlight struck his helmet and leather armor as he raised a gloved fist high. "Today, we will bask in glory. Our victory, our peace. Final, decisive, hard-won. This is the last march of the last war, and we are the last warriors! "
The men's whoops and howls made his heart pump with joy. Their grins blazed beneath the shadows of countless helmets. Tao laughed out loud as Chiron pranced and blew, sensing the fever of celebration, long overdue. It had been a grueling slog from the blood-soaked killing fields of the Hinterlands, the days dusty and monotonous and the nights interrupted by tortured dreams. Not all battle scars were visible. Survival, however sweet, came with a cost.
Along the way, the army's depleted state had left them vulnerable to not only roving bands of Gorr stragglers but to the Sea Scourge as well. Burned in his mind was the memory of the Scourge's shadowy ships mirroring the progress of his army across the southernmost land-bridge. Part human, part Gorr, the treacherous pirates were the offspring of humans who'd mated with the "Furs"--by choice or by force, no one knew. Human at first glance, they were said to have inherited Gorish eyes capable of charming a man's soul right out of his body, if he was careless enough to stare.
Sea Scourge pirates kept the waters off-limits. This time, however, they'd stood down and let the Tassagons pass. Did they fear him, or did they approve of what he'd done to the Gorr? Perhaps it was a little of both.
Even after entering human territory, Tao had been...