Here's a bite-sized taste of the next book in "A Warrior's Redemption." Due out August 25.
A tragic secret.
A trial of pain.
Gust holds a secret close to his heart, and it festers like an infected wound. While part of him wants to tell Lance so they can deal with it together, he fears what it will do to his friend. The last thing he wants to do is hurt the man he is falling in love with. And it never seems the right time as they pursue Ulfr’s warriors and elude hunting parties of royal soldiers.
Lance wants nothing more than to confess his love and undying loyalty to Gust. But he fears rejection. He has Gust’s friendship and dares not ask for more. He’s not yet a man worthy to ask for more. And as he continues on his self-imposed mission to cut down Ulfr’s warriors, he begins to wonder if he will ever find the redemption he so fiercely seeks.
When word of a new Scourge reaches them, their journey brings them to the war-ravaged kingdom of Grekenus. It is there that Lance is forced to face the actions of his past, and once again his life hangs in the balance. Now it is only Gust who can defend him against those thirsty for blood… and to Lance himself.
The warriors were growing restless and annoyed, eager for action. More and more arrived every day, eager to join Agar’s warband. Wonderful. Ylva stood next to her tent, dressed all in black, her tunic and trousers originally made for a man. The slight incline overlooked the rest of the camp. She smiled, pleased with the progress. Almost a month had passed since Ulfr lost his head, and Lance set out on his mission. She had donned the black armor three times now, relishing her role as Scourge. It was a relief to give into her battle lust after so long playing the spy. The power that came with the armor, and the fear she inspired gave her a heady rush, better than any wine.
These newcomers would need a demonstration of who they answered to, and she was more than happy to give it.
“Agapa, my sword, please.”
Her handmaiden quickly pushed out of the tent, handing over the sheathed sword grip first, exactly as she was trained to do. Without glancing her way, Ylva took the sword and tied it to her belt before walking down to join Agar in greeting the new recruits.
She noticed a few younger folks, barely more than children, among the new warriors, and frowned. That would have to be dealt with. Orphans of the war, no doubt. Or recently acquired slaves from independent raiding parties. She noticed a few bruises and a lot of terror. Clearly abused. She had no time for such nonsense.
Agar stood in the center of camp, tall and hulking, his long blond hair pulled back in a tail and his scruffy beard full and unkept. She liked the rugged look of him, the promise of savagery. His blue eyes were dark and merciless.
She stepped beside him and waited for the others to join.
“Welcome to all you bastards!” Agar bellowed in Taris, making sure every single person could hear him. “Listen up! You join this warband, you give your loyalty, and I give you riches and bloodshed. I consider that a fair deal. I won’t tolerate oath breakers. You swear fealty to me, I expect you to keep it until death takes you. Now, to the rules—”
“Rules?” someone said gruffly with dripping contempt. “What kind of warband is this? I didn’t come here to be treated like a pansy soldier.”
Ylva caught sight of her target and repressed a smile. There was always at least one idiot willing to act as a demonstration.
Agar grinned. “Thank you, good fellow. You just volunteered.”
“For what?” he asked with a sneer. A few of the warriors beside him shuffled away.
“To act as a lesson,” Ylva said softly. “To those who are unwilling to follow the rules.” Silence fell as she stepped forward and unsheathed her sword.
The burly warrior scoffed and gave her an insulting once over. “I don’t fight whores. I hump them.”
Only a few snickered. The rest had enough good sense to be wary. Ylva didn’t need to look over her shoulder to know that Agar would be grinning like a well-fed cat. He enjoyed watching her work.
“Oh darling,” Ylva purred with venom, batting her eyelashes coquettishly. “I don’t fight cowards. I slaughter them.”
With a deep scowl, he pulled his sword, and she was on him before he could bring it fully to bear. She sliced across his biceps with quick movements before twirling away, using her speed and agility against him. Like the oaf he was, he stumbled after her, cursing viciously as blood soaked his tunic. She played with him, dodging and feinting, slicing and poking. Little jabs, trickles of blood. She made him look like an idiot, and he knew it. The rest of the warriors moved away, giving them a modest arena, roughly a circle. Their audience cheered and jeered, treating it as a sporting event.
Ylva tossed her flaming red hair over her shoulder before putting her hand on her hip and angling it at a mocking angle. “Is that all you got, coward?”
He roared and charged. “Wench!”
Ylva laughed and skipped out of the way, using both her years of battle training and her years of dance lessons to keep one step ahead. Then she decided she was done playing. Let them see the brutality she could inflict.
She started hacking. First went his hand at the wrist, the one holding the sword. He howled and grabbed the stump spitting blood. The crowd went silent in shock for a moment. Then she took his other hand. He dropped to his knees. She approached him, gripping her sword in both hands. She sliced her blade diagonally across his face. He fell to the ground and curled up, sobbing and begging. With her heart racing and her blood pumping, the battle high an intoxicating euphoria, she drove her blade through his neck, stopping the sound in an instant. With a slight gurgle, the disrespectful warrior fell silent.
With a satisfied sigh, she straightened and set her hands on her hips, panting and triumphant. She blew a few strands of hair out of her face and looked at the shocked and excited faces surrounding her.
“I doubt any of you would be so happy if that was you lying in your own blood and filth.” Her words stopped the cheers and laughter. “We don’t have many rules, and the ones we do are set in stone. Loyalty, my bastards and bitches, is obligatory. Traitors are killed with less mercy than what I showed our friend here. Second, all those children you brought? And all the children and young folk in this camp? Off limits.”
Cursing, grumbling, groans, and protests.
She waited a moment and let Agar bellow at them to shut up before continuing.
“Slaves are resources. We do not hump our horses, do we?” She squinted at the crowd. “I hope to the gods none of you enjoy such things.” A few nervous snickers. “So, I say, treat your slaves as your horses and your ships. Off limits. If I hear or see you act otherwise, then you will meet this coward’s fate. I will enjoy it greatly.”
She gripped her sword and yanked it free. “Agar? Feel free to continue.”
Agar continued giving the rules—there weren’t many—as Ylva moved away from the crowd. They parted for her, no one so much as brushing against her. She was pleased.
Then she caught several familiar faces and grinned. “Ah, there you are. I wondered when you’d get here.” She spoke in Spart, the native language of Grekenus. She was fluent in all the major tongues of the empire.
Mundi scowled at her. “Didn’t know you’d be here.”
She laughed. “Where else would I be? Why should you get all the fun? Come on, all of you. We have things to discuss.”
Twelve warriors, formerly of Ulfr’s band, followed her to her tent. Agapa quickly took her sword and handed her a cloth to clean her face and hands. Then Agapa handed her wine and stepped outside. Ylva sat in the only chair available and smirked.
“You ran with your tails between your legs,” Ylva said, enjoying being blunt. “I don’t see fierce warriors standing before me. I only see pesky little rats that scurry away at the first sign of danger.”
She eyed each of them in turn and was pleased to see that her insult offended them.
“You were there,” Mundi said. He seemed to appoint himself the leader of those gathered. “You ran with the rest of us.”
She raised an eyebrow. “At that time, I was merely an observer. Unlike you, I follow my orders. Lance is one man, and you ran after your precious leader got his head severed.”
“He’s not one man,” one of the women said, a lanky brunette with one green eye and one brown. “He’s Scourge.”
“Not anymore. Now he’s grown soft. According to my reports he travels with a companion now. A healer. He’s hunting all of you, and if you keep running, he will gut you like any worthy predator. I suggest you turn around and ambush him. He won’t be expecting that.”