Avenging Lance - exclusive excerpt
Enjoy this exclusive excerpt from "Avenging Lance" (A Warrior's Redemption 3).
A child’s memory.
A journey’s end.
Lance doesn’t remember the time before Ulfr found him. It’s a dark pit in his mind that he avoids at all costs. And yet, despite his best efforts, pieces start to fall, and echoes from the past begin to ring. However, he has little time to comprehend their meaning, since the Captain of the Imperial Army herself has come to collect him and bring him to the capital city of the Nifdem Empire.
Whisked away to the gilded streets and glittering court of the Hill of Tarran, and then to the snowy reaches of Swenen, Lance and Gust will learn the answers to questions they’ve had from the start. And be forced to acknowledge their roles in the survival of the empire and the ripple effects of their actions. But such knowledge can come at a steep price.
As allies and enemies begin to step from the shadows, Lance will learn the truth of his past and the price of his redemption, and all the pain that comes with them. While Gust will have to decide what he’s willing to sacrifice to safeguard the one he loves.
“We need your help.”
Gust stared at Captain Vibiana, as speechless as Lance. The captain was tall and sturdy but with features like a porcelain doll. Her blue eyes were cold, and her skin and short hair were stark white. Her purple and silver uniform with the crescent moon standard bore weight to her presence. The ten mounted soldiers behind her wore similar uniforms, and their helmets masked their expressions.
Gust came back to his senses first and lowered his bow. He felt the children behind him, and after glancing at Lance’s stunned face, he spoke up.
“How did you find us, Captain?”
She turned her attention to him, never once portraying aggression or impatience. Her hands stayed well away from her sword. “Seer stones. Several priests and priestesses at the Grand Temple managed to discern Brutus’s divine nature and opened a portal to this island.”
Brutus made a noise of surprise and lifted his head.
“What do you mean by needing our help? I highly suspect the emperor wants to execute Lance. Is that not so?”
“No. It is not so.”
Gust couldn’t for the life of him discern if she was lying. Her expression was blank, her eyes conveying no emotion. He wouldn’t want to bet against her in any game. Lance dismounted and approached the captain. Gust stayed where he was since Brutus kept pace with his rider.
“What’s going on?” Celia whispered loudly.
“Hush now, sweetie.”
She pressed against his back, and the other children closed any gaps between them, huddling and trying to hide. Captain Vibiana flicked her gaze over them, and Gust might have sworn there was a flash of sympathy, if he wasn’t convinced she was too well-trained to let any emotion leak through.
“I was once Scourge,” Lance said. “And the emperor doesn’t want to kill me? I don’t understand. I was a monster.”
“Are you a monster now?”
“I don’t know.”
She looked him up and down before considering Brutus and then Gust and then the children. Then she returned to Lance.
“Monsters don’t have friends. Monsters don’t inspire loyalty in others. And monsters certainly don’t have divine animals as companions. From where I’m standing, you’re not a monster. But I’m no expert on the matter.”
Gust swallowed hard.
Lance cleared his throat.
“I only know my orders, Lance,” Captain Vibiana said. “I was told by Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Aurelia herself that I was to fetch you and your companions and bring you to her posthaste. Unfortunately, we will have to travel the long way since we don’t have seer stones to close the distance. I saw a ship by the beach. It should be large enough for all of us. We have supplies. We can sail back to Grekenus, ride on land, and cross the bridge into the Hill of Tarran. It should take us perhaps two weeks, maybe three, since I see we will be taking these children with us, won’t we?”
Lance looked over his shoulder at Gust, clearly overwhelmed and confused.
“Yes, we will, Captain,” Gust said. He turned to the children and each grabbed a piece of his clothes or a part of his arms. “Do any of you have family we can deliver you to?”
They all looked at each other before shaking their heads.
Gust’s heart squeezed. “No one?”
“I think everyone has dead families because of the war,” Celia said quietly, clutching Art and Ard to her chest. “I know mine were killed months ago during one of Agar’s raids. He took me as a slave.”
The other children told similar stories.
“Gods,” Gust whispered. He turned back and glanced at Lance before looking at the captain. “We will be taking them with us, Captain. We have to find them families. They’re orphans of this senseless civil war.”
She nodded. “As you wish. Let us move now.”
“I don’t think I agreed to go,” Lance said.
Gust raised his eyebrows.
The captain gave him a sharp look. “I wasn’t asking, Lance. I have my orders. I’d much rather you come voluntarily. I know your reputation, and I don’t wish to lose my soldiers. But an order is an order, and I am following one given to me by the empress herself. You are part of this empire as well, Lance. You are a citizen and therefore under imperial rule just as I am. Don’t be stubborn. Neither you nor your companions will be harmed. I give you assurances from Empress Aurelia. She wants you brought to her whole and healthy. She has a task for you.”
Lance looked at Gust again. Knowing they had no choice and unwilling to have the children witness any more bloodshed, Gust nodded, and gestured to the ship. Clearly still troubled, Lance nodded to Captain Vibiana.
“Good.” She mounted her horse and led her soldiers to the beach.
“Stay cautious and aware but courteous.” Gust touched Lance’s shoulder. “Let us not make enemies if we can avoid it. What do you say, Brutus? Was she lying?”
Brutus nickered and swished his tail before playing with one of Lance’s braids. Lance sighed and Gust relaxed a bit.
“She’s telling the truth.”
“Or she thinks she is,” Lance said darkly.
Gust leaned up and kissed Lance gently on the lips. “Trust in us, all right?”
His expression softened, and he cupped Gust’s cheek before glancing at the children, now ringed around them. Then his eyes shot wide and he spun around.
Gust cursed and they all ran to the beach.