I’m not exactly sure where this scene will occur in Dagger of Elanna. Well, that’s not quite right. I know but I’m not telling. VBEG.
A cold wind, as cold as his master’s heart, whipped through the trees. The moisture in the air, not quite frozen but near enough not to matter, felt like knives cutting through his exposed skin. Snow covered the ground for as far as he could see. What he would not give to be warm.
Shivering, he pulled his hood tighter around his face, swearing as he stumbled over something hidden by the snow. Plodding along at his side, the dappled gelding whickered in ill-temper. Neither of them liked being out. Unfortunately, he had no choice. If he wished to continue living, he had to do as he had been told.
Twelve hours earlier, he had been warm, well-sated and safe inside his small cottage. Then a knock sounded at his door. Little had he known that simple action would change his life and not for the better.
Not that it had been unexpected. He had known the summons would one day come. That was the price he had to pay for practicing the black arts. Blood magic was only part of his repertoire and that would earn him death should he ever be brought before the Imperial courts. But should the Imperium discover his other talents, death would not come fast enough. So, when his master sent for him, he knew he had no choice. He either did as instructed or he died. The choice had been an easy one, at least at first. Now, knowing what he did about his master, he wished he had refused.
Slogging through the snow, he knew the chances of successfully completing his mission were slim. Had it been otherwise, he never would have been sent for. His master preferred keeping him and his pets close to hand. What he had not known when he left his cottage was how bad the situation would turn out to be. Now he feared he would not be the only one to suffer his master’s wrath.
Death would be welcome compared to what his master would do to him and all those he cared about should he fail in this mission. A mission he never would have been forced to accept but for the failure of that bastard son Wolf. If his master had asked sooner, he would have told him not to trust anything so important to a skin walker. They were well-suited for violence but not for stealth or patience. Their bloodlust all too often led to them making mistakes. The fact Wolf and his pack were now dead, Gareth knew his prediction had been right.
Wolf and his pack would not be the only ones to die. Their failure to complete their mission would soon result in the deaths of all they cared for. Their master would see to it. When failure happened, those responsible, should they still live, tended to die painfully as did their families. Those who successfully did as instructed were, on the other hand, well-rewarded.
Not that it helped him any just then.
As he neared the edge of the tree line, he glanced across the wide open area of fields and training rings. Beyond them lay the Citadel. The home of the thrice-damned Order of Arelion had been built to be easily defended. Resting atop a tall hill, almost a mesa, three sides formed cliffs leading down to the river. The fourth side, the side he currently surveyed, was nothing but open land, easily watched and guarded. Anyone approaching, either across the fields or by the trade road, would be seen long before they reached the main gates.
His master knew that but cared not. He had given Gareth one order: watch the Citadel. Report who came and went and, should the opportunity arise, kill the girl.
All of which would be easier said than done, as Wolf and his pack discovered. At least he had one tool Wolf had not. He had his pet.
At the thought of his only companion other than his horse, he turned to the gelding. A slight smile touched his lips at the sight of the black raven perched on the pommel of the saddle. Except, when one looked closely, they would see it was not a raven. In fact, it was not alive, not in the strict sense of the word. The bird was a construct, something created from blood and magic. His blood and his magic, as well as the blood of others. Bound to him, the construct was as much a part of him as was his heart or brain.
That alone was enough to turn his blood cold as he looked once again toward the Citadel. Whatever his master might do to him should he fail paled when he considered what the Order might do should they discover him spying on them. To begin, the would destroy the construct and that would be like destroying a part of himself. It would very much be like stripping him of his soul.
The Order did not understand the glory, the power, of blood magic. They were too bound to the Lord and Lady, too blinded to the power they could wield if they would just allow themselves to stray even a little from the Codes. Because of that, they would strip him of his magic, of all that made him. He had no doubt if he failed to answer their questions, they would imprison him or worse. They might allow him to live, a pale shadow of himself, but his family would not be so lucky. If such an existence could be called lucky. No, his master would make sure those he cared about suffered as he should have.
He couldn’t even run. Damn his luck. He should have trusted his instincts the day before when the knock sounded at his door and the messenger said their master wanted to see him. It had been years since the man, if he could still be called such, had issued such a summons. In that moment, every instinct had screamed for him to run and hide. It had warned him not to answer the door. But, unfortunately, his had become over-confident. Ego had overridden common sense and now he found himself in a situation with only two possible outcomes — death or worse.
Standing in the shadows of the trees, he closed his eyes. For a moment, the world seemed to shift under his feet. A moment later, he looked out of this construct’s eyes. He heard the sounds of the forest around them through the construct’s ears. It was time to set the raven to watch. Then he could locate a safe place to set up camp.
A few moments later, he opened his eyes and extended his arm. He watched as the construct hopped onto his gloved fist, much as a living bird would have. The raven cocked its head to one side as he held it close. The feathered head rubbed against his cheek and he smiled slightly. The bond between them was strong and growing stronger. That meant the raven could keep watch on the Citadel while he remained out of sight. That was the best plan, the only plan, he had been able to come up with on such short notice. His master might not approve but his master was not the one risking life and limb watching the Order.
“You know what to do, my pet.” His fingers caressed the construct’s head. “Watch them. Let me see any who come and go. Look for the girl. She is our target. Find her. Our lives depend on it.”
The construct nodded, almost human-like, and unfurled its wings. A moment later, Gareth lifted his arm and watched as the bird took flight. It would keep watch and let him know if trouble neared.
As the construct wined ever closer to the Citadel, he turned and moved further into the trees, the gelding pacing after him. If he wanted to be warm that night, he had best find some place to set up camp. The last thing he wanted was to be forced to cold camp, especially with more snow moving in.
Hopefully, there would be a cave nearby he could ensorcel, one where no one could see his fire or sense his magic. Then he would be safe to practice his craft and find a way to complete his mission without it costing him his life.
Dagger of Elanna is the second book in the Sword of the Gods trilogy. Here’s some information about the first book in the series.
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.