Authors: Alexis Morgan
Praise for Alexis Morgan
and Her Novels
“A bit of mystery, lots of action, plenty of passion, and a story line that will grab your attention from the get-go.”
—Romance Reviews Today
“Suspicions, lust, loyalty, and love create a heavy mix of emotions.”
“Magically adventurous and fervently romantic.”
“Whew! A unique paranormal story line that sizzles with every page.”
“This book sucked me in, and I didn’t want to stop reading.”
—Queue My Review
“Morgan delivers a great read that sparks with humor, action, and . . . great storytelling.”
—Night Owl Reviews (5 stars, top pick)
“Will keep readers entranced.”
—Nocturne Romance Reads
“This action-packed paranormal romance has a little bit of everything—especially if you love interesting immortal warriors who are sexy as all get-out—and enough action and suspense to keep you riveted until the last page.”
—Black Lagoon Reviews
“The spellbinding combination of passionate desires, fateful consequences, and the supernatural . . . [is] totally captivating throughout every enthralling scene.”
Also by Alexis Morgan
WARRIORS OF THE MIST
My Lady Mage
Her Knight’s Quest
ARRIORS OF THE
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First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Patricia L. Pritchard, 2013
Agathia map © Delilah Stephans Designs, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
To Walter, the best grandpuppy in the world.
You and your folks are such a gift in my life.
To the talented women who do such amazing design work for me: Josephine, Laron, Mandy, and Delilah. You help bring my worlds to life, and for that I thank you.
River of the Damned
he Warriors of the Mist are a legend, their origins lost in the shadows of the past. In dark times, it is whispered, the warriors can be summoned from beneath the roiling currents when a champion is needed and if the cause is just.
However, the cost will be high and the risks are great, for if the battle is won, the champion faces judgment by the same gods who had once condemned him to the cold chill of the mountain river. If his performance is found worthy and valiant, at long last the warrior will make the final journey to the great hall where the noble knights of the past dwell for all eternity. However, if the champion is found lacking still, he returns with his brothers to the river.
If the battle is lost, regardless of fault, both the champion and the supplicant will be condemned to the netherworld. Together they will wander without hope and without light, lost in cold darkness until the ages have passed and all that exists ceases to be. Only the powerless and the desperate dare approach the Warriors of the Mist to plead for their cause.
Many years have passed since last a worthy supplicant journeyed to the river’s edge, but times are dark and desperation has once again come to the people of Agathia. There is a disturbance in the mists, and the waters grow restless. Someone comes, bringing either disaster or redemption.
The Warriors of the Mist ready their weapons and prepare to meet the enemy.
he mirror-smooth surface shattered, sending a surge of cold water gushing over the side of the bowl to soak Lavinia’s skirts. Despite her best efforts to impose her will over the unruly liquid, it continued to ripple and refused to come back into focus—a clear reflection of Lavinia’s own agitation.
When her third attempt at scrying failed, she snatched up the bowl and tossed its contents toward the roses in her private garden. Maybe the water would do more good for the plants than it had for her. The simple truth was that she would learn nothing until she controlled her emotions, especially her fear.
“Shall I fetch a fresh pitcher of water?”
Lavinia forced a more pleasant expression onto her face before turning to greet Sarra, who hovered a short distance away. The young girl practically vibrated with the need to be of service.
Lord and Lady, had she ever been that earnest and innocent herself? All things considered, it didn’t seem likely.
Injecting a soothing note into her voice, Lavinia shook her head. “No, my child. I will do so myself. The walk will help clear my head.”
Then her smile became more genuine. “Besides, Sarra, I do believe it’s time for your music lesson. Sister Joetta will be waiting for you.”
Sarra’s face lit up as she bolted toward the door that led back inside the abbey. Halfway there, she froze and slowly turned back, her eyes wide with chagrin. “I’m sorry, my lady. I forgot.”
Then she dropped into a low curtsy with her eyes trained on the floor. “May I be excused?”
Lavinia crossed to where the girl remained frozen in position. She gently raised Sarra’s face and then smiled at her with a wink. “All these rules take a while to master, don’t they? Go seek out Sister Joetta. Tell her you don’t need to report back to me until this afternoon.”
Sarra immediately straightened up and surprised Lavinia with a quick hug before continuing on her headlong charge toward the door. “Don’t worry, my lady; I’ll do my best for Sister Joetta.”
“I know you will, little one.”
Alone finally, Lavinia sank down on the bench and rested her eyes. She’d been up since before dawn, searching for answers among the forbidden texts. All that her efforts had garnered her were a headache and more questions with no answers.
She’d hoped scrying would prove more useful, but it had failed her as well. Perhaps that walk she’d mentioned to young Sarra would actually help. As much as Lavinia loved the sanctuary of her private garden, sometimes the high walls closed in on her.
She glanced up at the narrow slice of blue sky overhead. How long had it been since she’d last ventured beyond the abbey’s thick walls and out into the real world?
It didn’t bear thinking about. Even without the responsibilities that kept her firmly anchored where she was, the world outside was far too dangerous a place for her right now. Not all predators that prowled Agathia walked on four legs.
As tempting as it was just to soak up the warmth of the sun, she couldn’t. Too much was at stake to pretend everything was all right. She picked up the pitcher and walked back inside, through her office to the hallway that ran through the heart of the abbey. The thick rugs muffled her footsteps as she made her way to the courtyard that surrounded the well.
After filling her pitcher, she savored a ladleful of the cool, sweet water before returning to her garden. This time, she moved slowly as she sought to quiet her spirit. She carefully filled the scrying bowl again and set the pitcher aside. Lacing her fingers together, she closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing.
Slowly Lavinia centered herself, consciously shutting out the distractions of the world beyond the abbey walls. Next, she shut out the muted sounds of the other sisters going about their daily lives and duties. Finally, she shut out her own fearful thoughts and worries. That was the hardest part.
When she opened her eyes, the water in her bowl was mirror smooth and still. At last! She shuffled a half step closer and stared down into the shallow depths of the water. At first, she saw nothing but the rich green of the glass, but then, piece by piece, a narrow strip of road came into focus.
It was impossible to gauge its exact location, but judging from the terrain, it had to be the trade route that led caravans through the Sojourn Valley and past the abbey. Oddly, though, there was no line of wagons anywhere in sight. Why would the gods show her a stretch of empty road? She started to step back, when a small movement at the edge of the water caught her attention.
Ah, so the road wasn’t empty after all. A solitary horse and rider trotted into sight, heading in the direction of the abbey. The image was too small for her to pick out any detail, so she closed her eyes again and concentrated on gathering more information.
When she looked again, the image had changed. This time the horse was grazing, and the rider was sitting cross-legged next to a small campfire. She leaned closer to the water to get a better look at the man, hoping to pick out enough details so that she’d recognize him if she were to meet him in person—in truth, not
she met him. He would not appear in her vision if there wasn’t a connection to be forged between them.
The vision warned that the traveler would soon find his way to the abbey. That wasn’t unusual in itself. There weren’t many places to stop along the route between Agathia and the lands beyond. Most travelers visited the abbey to partake of the sisters’ hospitality.
The real oddity was that few were either brave enough or reckless enough to travel alone. Times were too dangerous, yet this man didn’t seem concerned. A prudent traveler also didn’t leave a campfire burning out in the open where the light might draw unwanted company.
As she watched, the picture abruptly plunged down like a hawk diving after prey. Her stomach lurched with the sudden change in focus. The man jumped to his feet, his sword appearing in his hand as if by magic. His head spun in all directions, as if he were ready to defend himself from an imminent attack.
Finally, he looked straight up, his strangely pale eyes staring right into Lavinia’s. The power of the connection shattered her hard-won calm. She stumbled back from the bowl. What had just happened? Had he truly seen her?
Her heart pounded in her chest, and the air in the garden had grown too thin to breathe. Never in all of her years of scrying had such a thing happened. Her mentor, the prior abbess, had never mentioned the possibility of the window of the water working in both directions.
Rather than risk another look, Lavinia averted her eyes as she carefully covered the bowl with a black cloth. After whispering a short prayer of thanks to the gods for the gift of the vision and asking for the wisdom to understand it, she left the garden.
The gong sounded, summoning everyone to the dining hall. Right now, she was too unsettled to eat, but rituals and routines were important. If nothing else, they provided a sense of order in a world that had long since become dark and dangerous. Yet her earliest memories were happy ones, and she could return to them for comfort. She let her mind drift back to one sunny afternoon when her father had joined her and her mother for a private picnic outside of the capital city. While Lavinia had splashed along the edge of the stream, her parents had held hands and talked softly, their love for each other shining as brightly as the sun.
Her father had been a good man and a kind one. He’d always made Lavinia feel special and loved. It wasn’t his fault that his heart had given out on him or that her mother was too weak to continue on without him to protect her from his other family—his real family. She’d long since forgiven them, but the pain of losing so much at such a young age had made her cautious. Here, within the walls of the abbey, she’d found a safe refuge from the outside world. She suspected that peace was about to end.
Maybe later she would let herself think more about the mysterious stranger who was wending his way toward the abbey. Until he actually arrived, there was no way to know if his purpose was for good or for ill.
With that unsettling thought, she fell into line with the other sisters and let their loving presence comfort her.
* * *
Duncan thanked the goddess that his friends weren’t there to witness him jumping at shadows. Certainly Murdoch would never have let him forget it. After one last look around, Duncan sat back down by the fire. He fed another log to the flames and watched the sparks fly up into the night sky.
That had been the second time he’d experienced the strangest feeling that he was being watched. The first time happened as he had been riding along the trail, his thoughts drifting with the breeze. Between one breath and the next, his mare had snorted and sidestepped, almost unseating him.
He’d looked everywhere, trying to determine what had startled the horse. When nothing obvious presented itself, they’d continued on. Even so, he’d found himself looking back over his shoulder afterward for some distance.
This time, he’d been staring into the fire and waiting for Kiva to finish his nightly hunt. At first he’d thought it was the owl swooping back to their makeshift camp that had disturbed him, but then that same powerful sensation had washed over him.
He’d reacted instinctively to ward off an attack, one that never came. The night was silent; nothing stirred, the only threat the uncanny feeling that someone was out there watching Duncan’s every move.
After checking in all directions, he’d started to relax, when he happened to look up. For the briefest instant, the image of a woman, one with worried eyes and a lush mouth set in a deep frown, had superimposed itself over the gibbous moon. Her face had appeared and then disappeared so quickly, he had to have been imagining things.
Even so, he could still see her in his mind with disturbing clarity. She’d been lovely, with the kind of beauty that would haunt a man’s dreams. Duncan shifted uncomfortably, his body reacting in a way it hadn’t in a long time.
Time to seek his pallet. At first light, he would resume his trek to the abbey. Lady Merewen, the woman whose cause he served, had provided him with a rough map of the area, but there was no telling how accurate it was. At best, it had given him the general direction and a few landmarks to watch for. As far as he could tell, it would take at least one, maybe two more days of hard riding to reach his destination.
Until then, it was just him, the horse, and Kiva. As he thought about his companion, the huge owl swooped down out of the sky with a brace of rabbits clutched in his talons. He carefully dropped them right next to the fire before flying back up to roost on a low branch of a nearby tree.
“Thank you, my friend.”
Duncan’s breakfast and midday meal for tomorrow were taken care of thanks to the owl’s efforts. He made quick work of dressing the two rabbits and putting them on the fire to roast. It wouldn’t take long, and it would put him that much farther ahead in the morning. Cold meat and tea would suffice to break his fast at first light. The gods knew there’d been times in his long life he’d subsisted on far less.
As the meat sizzled over the flames, Duncan glanced up at Kiva. “Do you want to sleep in the tree for the night or in the shield?” The bird fluffed his feathers and settled in right where he was. Duncan smiled. “I don’t blame you. Did you have a good hunt?”
He reached out with his thoughts to touch those of the great owl. His mind filled with dizzying views of the surrounding land. The connection the two of them shared was so close that Duncan enjoyed the cool slide of the wind through Kiva’s feathers. He saw the world through the stark clarity of a raptor’s vision and savored the rush of excitement when the bird dove toward his prey.
Duncan didn’t need to experience firsthand what happened next. Kiva’s table manners were questionable, not that Duncan wasn’t grateful for his hunting skills. He also appreciated knowing the bird would stand guard while Duncan slept.
After the meat cooled a bit, Duncan wrapped it in a cloth and tucked it in his pack to keep it safe from scavengers. His chores finished, he let the fire die down.
“Sleep well, Kiva.”
Anyone outside of his narrow circle of friends would think him mad for talking to a bird. But Kiva wasn’t a normal owl any more than Duncan was a normal man. He was one of the Damned, an avatar of the gods along with three other warriors and their leader, Captain Gideon. The five of them were closer than brothers.
He missed them. How many centuries had it been since he’d last spent so much time alone and away from his four friends? Well, other than when they all slept under the river, separated from the mortal world. Even then he was still aware of their presence like a soft hum in the back of his mind. At this distance, however, he couldn’t sense them at all.
Rather than dwell on it, he closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. He’d picked up one more thing from Kiva’s thoughts. There was a caravan of traders making its way toward the abbey. From what he’d been able to see, their camp was at least a day’s ride behind him.
If he stayed where he was, they’d catch up with him. As long as he acted the part of a scholar looking for work as a scribe, they might allow him to join them for the remaining distance to the abbey. He’d prefer to arrive as part of a group.
He weighed his options. Lost in a crowd, he’d be better able to assess the situation and then decide how best to approach the abbess. Requesting full access to the abbey’s collection of books and manuscripts would be tricky. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if the sisters tried to turn him away.