Each Wednesday for the next month or so, I’ll be snippeting from Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up  Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). This book has been delayed for several reasons, life being the main one. The other is that I realized once I finished the rough draft that the beginning just wasn’t right. So I went back and have been completely rewriting the opening third or so of the novel. It feel right now. That means the work is coming easier and it should be going to the editor in another couple of weeks. As with other snippets posted on this site, this is a rough draft.  By the time it goes to publication, it will be edited and so the final version very well be different from what you see here. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green. All rights reserved. You know the drill.

Chapter One

Out of the early morning mist, looking like something out of the tales from his childhood, rose the stone walls of the Citadel. Frost and the remnants of the last snow dotted the fields and training areas that lined the road leading to the fortified entrance. From where he sat astride his horse, the lone rider looked nodded once. The location was almost perfect from a strategic standpoint.

Almost being the operative word.

The Citadel, home of the Order of Arelion, rested atop the highest hill, one that ended in a cliff overlooking rapids that prevented a water approach. An approach from the front meant either crossing the fields or coming via the road, both of which were easily visible from the watchtowers inside the double walls of the compound. For more years than any of the current residents had been alive, that had been enough to keep the Citadel safe from attack.

But there were weaknesses to the location. His very presence proved it. There he sat, half an hour outside of the main gates, watching and judging. For all those inside the walls knew, he could be a scout looking for weaknesses and finding them. There were no guards in the trees to watch him, no one to challenge him. At least no one who might take action should he prove to have ill-intent against the Order or any of its members.

The Citadel and all it stood for called to him now just as strongly as it had when he was younger. He remembered his first sight of the compound as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Fear and anticipation had filled him them. He knew his life had been about to change and he had been determined to do everything possible to join the Order. The Lord and Lady had blessed him then as They did now. He was back, despite all odds, and he hoped he would not have to leave for a while.

As he sat there, studying his home and feeling that all too familiar pull, he frowned slightly. The call to bring an end to his journey was tempered by something else. Something that held him in place, senses alert.

Instinct warned of potential danger. Not from the community within the fortified walls. No, this was closer. But what? More importantly, was it aimed at him or with the Order in general? Gods above and below knew he carried information some would prefer the Order not learn. Others had tried to stop him already. Had they determined to end his mission and his life here, so close to the one place he felt safe, or was something else at play? He had to find the answer, or at least try to, before continuing on his way.

He lifted his head and inhaled deeply. The crisp morning air burned his lungs. But it did not hide the smells around him. Animals, some alive and even more dead. Smoke from fires at the Citadel. The distant aroma of something cooking. Under it, so faint he almost missed it in the smell of his horse, was the stench of unwashed flesh. Someone else was there and not far away.

Frowning, Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, dismounted. Once he had, he turned to his horse and checked saddle and girth, using his body to shield what he was doing from anyone who might be watching. The fingers of his right hand closed over the long knife in its specially designed sheath hanging from his saddle. The blade slid soundlessly from the sheath and disappeared beneath his cloak.

He turned and glanced around. Nothing looked out of place. More telling was the fact the birds and small animals he knew to inhabit the grove took no notice of whoever else might be there. That meant the person had either been there long enough for them to get used to his presence or he had somehow magicked himself so they overlooked him. Neither option reassured him.

His boots moved silently against the snow covered ground. Senses alert, he slowly walked toward the tree line on the east side of the road. As he did, he shook his head and muttered softly to himself. Then he reached up and rubbed his chin and yawned. Anyone looking on would see what he wanted them to: a weary traveler in need of a break before continuing on his way.

He paused next to a tree and made a production out of relieving himself. Sometimes, the need to answer the call of nature served more than one purpose. Now it gave him an excuse to leave the trail and that, in turn, gave him the opportunity to try to locate whoever had been watching the Citadel.

The wind shifted and he caught the scent again. Not as close but still near. Watching and waiting. That was enough, for the moment at least. Fallon returned to his horse and mounted. As tempting as it was to continue searching for the watcher, he needed to move on. He should have returned to the Citadel weeks, if not months, earlier. What none of them had anticipated was that his mission would take him so far from the capital region of the Imperium. Besides, for all he knew, the Order already knew of the intruder and had been keeping an eye on him. Somehow he doubted it but, if that were the case, it would be best not to interfere.

***

The watcher slipped deeper in the shadows, fear warring with frustration. For more than a month he had been camped in the trees, if you could call it a camp. His master demanded it and he had learned long ago to never risk angering the man. Balaar’s earthly arm was every bit as dangerous as the god and he had no desire to meet his death yet.

For all that time, he had been unable to do the one thing his master most wanted. He had been unable to discover a way to end one woman’s life. It should have been so easy, especially with Balaar on their side. But the gods continued to conspire against them. The gods and this thrice-damned weather that seemed to grow colder with each day that passed.

The cold seeped ever deeper into his bones. He did not dare build a fire. Not until he moved his camp again, this time further from the road and out of sight of the Citadel. His master might not agree but he knew he had been lucky the Order had yet to discover his presence. Now, however, his luck might have finally run out.

He watched as the lone rider dismounted. The man did not look like a member of the Order but he knew looks could be deceiving. Something about the way the newcomer held himself reminded the watcher of their knights. As the rider looked around and then walked toward the tree edge, the watcher moved deeper into the shadows. Nothing about the newcomer indicated he was aware of the watcher’s presence but instinct said differently. Had his presence finally been discovered?

Whether his master liked it or not, they needed to reevaluate their tactics. With winter upon them, the chances of their target leaving the Citadel slimmed to almost nothing. Was this not the time to regroup and plan their next line of attack, one that would be more successful?

Not waiting to see what the rider did, the man moved quickly, silently deeper into the trees. A few minutes later, he paused and lifted his left arm. He did not have long to wait. A slight smile touched his lips as a large bird winged down from the early morning sky to land on his wrist. His fingers gently rubbed the construct’s head as he shifted positions so he looked the bird in the eye.

“Keep watch, my pretty. You know the target. Come for me if she leaves the walls.”

With that, he lifted his arm high and the construct took flight. Hopefully that would be enough to satisfy his master, at least long enough for him to explain why he had left his post. If not, he would not be long for this world.