Lasara’s thoughts filled with the things Misa had told her
about being Petan’s prisoner. Her stomach curdled. How had the man who’d once
been almost part of her family gained control of so many men? He desired women
for their vivid lines of fire and he didn’t care if they died.
Her hands tightened on the reins sending Daro into a
restless dance. She drew a deep breath. He and the men he’d corrupted had a
secret lair. They raided farms taking what they needed for survival and any
young woman who would serve Petan’s need to service the man he called Master.
When Misa had spoken about the pale lines, Lasara had
thought of her mother‘s after a visit to the Swordmaster’s quarters. But her
mother hadn’t died though days passed before her lines regained their scarlet
color. Another thought occurred. Did her father meet this man and service him?
Shudders shook her body. She had to do something but she
had no idea what. Returning to the Defender’s Hall was impossible. As long as
her father ruled as Swordmaster all she could do was stay low. She refused to
consider bonding with Petan.
Slowly she grew calmer. What could she do alone? Her goals
had changed. She would find Petan’s lair and find some way to let the Defenders
know. From all Misa had said there were at least two dozen renegades. Most were
Trees rustled as she rode past. Soon she would need to
stop for the night.
Her thoughts returned to Misa’s story. The presence of a
stranger who appeared and disappeared at will chill her. Who was this man with
ice blond hair and glacial gray eyes? Where had he come from and what control
did he have over Petan? These troubling thoughts made her ill.
Stories she’d been told as a child flowed into her
thoughts. She had always thought they were myths. What if they were real? The
tales full of mystery and danger had kept her awake at night. What if there was
a truth buried in the stories? Her ancestors had used some magical means to
cross time and space. Their god had built the Citadel and the four Halls as
No on knew how the massive stone walls had been erected or
the four Halls built. Defenders, Healers, Artisans and Justicars were the
Slowly some people had left the refuge to establish farms
and villages. Patrols were sent from the citadel to spend two years visiting
those outside the walls and gleaning those with talents for the Halls.
Dueling had been established as a way to solve all
quarrels when the people protested the Justicar’s rulings. From her early
years, becoming a duelist had been her goal.
Lasara frowned. Had this man called Master found the way
his ancestors had brought people to this land?
The sky darkened. She saw a pyramid of stones with no
feather marking it as occupied. She pulled a gray feather from her pack,
dismounted and set ir as a marker. Finding a campsite meant food for Daro,
water and she hoped safety. She cared for Daro and started a fire in the pit.
After erecting her tent, she prepared a meal using water from the stone basin.
Then she carefully set her traps.
On the next day she continued the journey. Could she find a
full patrol and tell her tale? Only if she saw tents showing the presence of
Justicars with the Defenders dare she take a chance.
She had one other choice and thinking of meeting Petan in
a duel brought a rush of uncertainty. As a duelist she had bested more
experienced men and women. If Petan would fight fairly she believed she could
win. Except he would cheat. If she found no other way she would challenge him.
This decision felt right but she still worried.
She glanced at the sky. Dark clouds gathered. A change in
the air boded a storm. Finding shelter for the night became her goal. Though
she had a tent, summer storms were often downpours filled with thunder and
bolts of lightning.
She noticed a spiral of dark smoke shooting into the blue
gray sky. She slowed Daro and moved him from the road into the trees. The
amount of smoke troubled her. Was there a forest fire? Then she and Daro
reached a fence surrounding a grain field. A farm. What burned? Could she help?
She rode along the fence and was about to enter a lane. She halted. Shouting
and raucous laughter reached her. She turned Daro and retreated. What even
happened at the end of the lane she didn’t want to barge in.
She dismounted. If there was trouble, she needed to know
what to do. “Stay,” she commanded.
After climbing the fence, she crawled along a path between
two rows of the tall stalks of grain. A view of the farmyard showed her the
source of the fire and much more. The flaming thatched cottage burned. In the
glow from the fire she saw men. A scream rose above the shouts of men. How many
She counted nine saddled bihorns. Frustration filled her.
Seven men and she was alone. She might be able to down two. Her hands clenched.
She couldn’t draw her sword and dash into the fray. When the men mounted, a
sense of relief filled her. Then she saw a young woman seated before one of the
riders. Misa’s story came to mind. A scream died in her throat. The girl’s
lines were a vivid scarlet. In this instant she knew these men were among
Quickly she scurried back to the fence and pulled Daro
into the shelter of the trees. She slid her sword from the back scabbard. If
discovered she would fight.
An explosion of laughter followed by loud voices grew
nearer. The string of mounted men reached the road and sent their steeds
Again, she repeated her vow. She would find where they
laired and somehow find a way to destroy Petan. Her honor as a duelist called
for a confrontation. She shivered. Though she knew what she must do she wasn’t
convinced she would win.