Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) is now available for pre-order. Here’s another snippet.
The howling of the wind outside her small cottage greeted Cait Hawkener as she emerged from the sleeping chamber. She carried of mug of hot tea to the window and looked outside. The light snowfall of the night before had turned into a blanket of white that coated the ground. Large, heavy flakes continued to fall and, despite the warmth of the cottage, she shivered slightly.
A moment later, someone hurried down the narrow lane in front of the cottage. The figure lurched against the wind, as if walking upright might be impossible. Woolen cloak and scarf hid the person’s face. Whoever it was, they wasted little time getting down the lane. By early hour and the fact few who were not Confirmed members of the Order lived in this part of the Citadel, Cait guessed it was one of the clerics, hurrying to prepare for morning prayers.
The wind howled again and snow danced in the early morning light. She had seen worst mornings in her year and a half at the Citadel but not this early into the season. Remembering the tacticsmaster relaying the weather witch’s warning that this would be the worst winter in years, Cait wished she did not have to leave the warmth of the cottage. Unfortunately, just like the person stumbling by her window a few moments earlier, she had duties to see to and they would not wait simply because she preferred to stay warm and dry.
“At last you no longer have to compete for hot water and a place near the fire,” she reminded herself.
Once, she would not have awakened in this cottage. Then she had been a journeywoman, hoping to one day stand for Confirmation into the Order. Like so many others over the years, she spent her nights in one of the dormitories near the center of the Citadel. For much of that, she’d had her own room but had shared bathing facilities with the other journeymen. Meals had been taken in the common dining hall. The one advantage of living in the dormitory was that it was a quick jog across the courtyard to her classes.
She sipped her tea, her mind returning to the day when Kirris and Berral told her she would stand for Confirmation. At first, she could not believe it. She had not finished her studies. Others who had been preparing much longer than she would not be joining her in the Trials. Despite that, and despite her protests, the Knight-Commandant and the Adept assured her it was time.
Much as she wanted to serve the Lord and Lady, nothing had prepared her for that day. Or for what happened after she proved herself worthy to become a member of the Order. Even now, looking at her forearms and the markings the Lord and Lady had blessed her with, she sometimes wondered when she would wake and find herself returned to the nightmare that had been her life before coming to the Citadel.
Turning away from the window, Cait counted her blessings. Less than two years ago, she had been nothing more than a slave, to be used and abused by Dante Giaros. The patrons of the Black Duck Tavern had turned a blind eye to everything happening. Then Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, had arrived and her life had been forever changed. He rescued her from her enslavement and brought her to the Citadel where she worked hard to prove herself worthy, not only of all Fallon had done for her but of joining the Order. She might not remember life before waking in the slaver’s tent the day Giaros took possession of her but one thing she did know. She wanted to join the Order. She was meant to do so.
What she had not expected was for the Lord and Lady to prove They had a perverse sense of humor. With her Confirmation, Cait became not a knight or a cleric. As with her time as a journeywoman, she showed no specific Calling. Indeed, she had excelled in all her Trials and the Lord and Lady rewarded her not only with Their markings but with her ranking. She now held a seat on the Knights Council. She did her best not to think about the fact she was technically the third highest ranking member of the Order. She had enough to worry about with the classes she now taught as well as her own continuing studies. Then there were her duties as assistant to both the Weaponsmaster and the Tacticsmaster. There were times she longed for the days when she had been a journeywoman. At least then she had the occasional day off when she could rest or spend time with her friends.
In some ways, she was more tired than she had ever been during those dark days in Lineaus. Nightmares of her time there still plagued her, although not as badly as when she first arrived at the Citadel. keeping busy helped. But she knew the best medicine had been finding her place in the Order. She might not yet know what the Lord and Lady had in store for her, but that mattered not. She had willingly given herself as Their weapon to wield against the evil of Balaar and his followers.
The wind howled again, rattling the windows and finding every crack, no matter how small, to seep inside. Shivering Cait considered moving at least her first class of the day inside. No one would blame her if she did. No one but herself. She had not moved the yeoman’s class the day before and the weather then had been almost as bad as now. The yeomen had not only lasted the entire class without asking to go inside but they had thrived. They seemed to immediately grasp one lesson not always taught in a classroom – wars and battles are rarely fought in good weather and under comfortable conditions. Surely if the yeomen could understand that, so could the journeymen.
She finished her tea and returned the mug to her small kitchen. A few minutes later, she shrugged into the padded jacket she often wore for weapons practice and reached for her fur-lined cloak. As she settled it around her shoulders, a knock sounded at the door. Wondering who it could be, she crossed to the door and opened it.
“Your pardon, Lady Cait.”
As he spoke, the journeyman lifted his gloved hands and pushed back the hood of his cloak so she could see his face. When he did, the corners of her mouth turned down. That one act was yet another reminder of the troubles that had reached the Citadel before her Confirmation. They were still dealing with the repercussions from all that had happened.
Recognizing the journeyman as one of those currently assigned to the Knight-Commandant’s office, she stepped back and motioned him inside. For one brief moment, it looked like he might agree. Then he shook his head and her frown deepened.
“What can I do for you, Jaysen?”
“M’lady, the Knight-Commandant sends his greetings and requests your immediate presence in the council chamber.”
Cait studied the young man, hoping for an explanation. She could count on one hand the number of times the Knight’s Council had been called to emergency session since her arrival at the Citadel. In the time since her Confirmation, such a session had not been necessary. That Knight-Commandant Kirris saw fit to call one that morning worried her, not that she would let the journeyman know.
“Thank you, Jaysen.” She thought for a moment before continuing. “Please find Journeywoman Kala and ask her to take my morning class. Tell her I will relieve her as soon as I can. If she is unable to, let me know at once.”
“I will do so as soon as I finish delivering the Knight-Commandant’s messages, Lady Cait.” With that, he turned and took off at a run.
Cait closed the door and fought the urge to beat her head against it. Much as she had not looked forward to working out in the snow, at least that was something she understood. More importantly, she was comfortable teaching weapons to the yeomen and journeymen. Being part of the Knights Council was new and not something she had come to feel at ease with yet.
Wanted or not, she had a duty and the sooner she performed it, the sooner she could get back to her classes. With that thought in mind, she glanced around her cottage. Something was afoot, elsewise Kirris would not have called the session. Never one to take chances, she shrugged out of her cloak and hurried to her sleeping chamber. She might not have time to change clothes, but there was time enough for a few adjustments to her wardrobe.
Five minutes later, she checked her appearance one last time. Her hair, still in its braid, had been released from the tight bun she wore when teaching weapons. Now it hung down the middle of her back. She now wore a white silken blouse under a black leather jerkin. Hidden under the sleeves of the blouse were her quick-release sheaths and her throwing knives. For a moment, she considered her sword and scabbard where they lay on the foot of her bed. Her hand closed over the sheathed blade and she made quick work of securing it in place across her back. Being so heavily armed might not be necessary, certainly not within the confines of the Citadel, but it also made a statement. She would go into this session reminding the other members they were a warrior order, sworn to protect those who looked to them.
Nothing else mattered in the grand scheme of things.
To see the beginning of Cait’s story, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).
War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails. Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission. Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.