Tempered (A Daughters of the People Novel) (Daughters of the People Series)

BOOK: Tempered (A Daughters of the People Novel) (Daughters of the People Series)
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Tempered

A Daughters of the People Novel

 

Lucy Varna

 

 

Published by Bone Diggers Press

 

Copyright 2014 C.D. Watson. All Rights Reserved.

 

Cover design copyright L.J. Anderson, Mayhem Cover
Creations

 

ISBN: 978-0-9907730-2-3

 

 

Description of
Tempered
:

Among
the People, Hawthorne the Chronicler is well-known for two things: Her faithful
rendition of their history and her inclination to behead those who betray her.
To mortals, Hawthorne is better known as Al C. Hawthorne, a fantasy writer with
a stellar imagination and a knack for complex stories. It is in this guise that
she must track down the sources of comic book illustrator Aaron Kesselman's
modernized tales of Rebecca the Blade.
Hawthorne's blunt words and lithe grace intrigue
Aaron, enough for him to take her up on the offer of sharing her bed. Before he
knows it, his heart begins the fall into love, a fall he's willing to take if
only he can persuade Hawthorne that she isn't a two thousand year old immortal
descended from one of the most ruthless warriors in British history.
The past isn't the only obstacle standing in the
way of true love. The Eternal Order is on the move, targeting key members of
the People in their never-ending quest to extinguish the Light. 
Hawthorne
soon learns that a strong arm and a sharp blade aren't always the best weapons
in a Daughter's arsenal, especially when her heart is involved.

 

Daughters
of the People: Immortal Amazons unjustly cursed, struggling to save their
People, and their hearts.

 

 

The Daughters of
the People Series:

Book 1:
The Prophecy

Book 2:
Light’s Bane

Book 3:
The Enemy Within

Book 3.5:
Tempered

Book
4:
In All Things, Balance

 

Look for
In All Things,
Balance
coming February 2015 from
Bone
Diggers Press
.

 

Also available
from Lucy Varna, The Witches of Cullowhee Series:

Book 1:
A Higher Purpose

Book 2:
A Wicked Love

 

 

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content.

 

 

License Notes:
This e-book is
licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away
to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,
please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this
book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please
return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you
for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Disclaimer:
This story is a
work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is
purely a coincidence.
Actual
localities and entities are mentioned solely for the purpose of adding realism
to the story.

 

 

Table of Contents

Notes from the Fab Four

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Epilogue

 

Dedication

Acknowledgments

About the Author

The Daughters of the People Series

The Witches of Cullowhee Series

 

 

Notes
from the Fab Four

 

 

Notes on the People compiled by
Tom Fairfax, Phil Walters, George Howe, and James Terhune, known at the IECS
unofficially as the Fab Four.

 

 

Aenkanien
. A tattoo inked into the left-hand shoulder blade
of a Son who becomes the husband of a Daughter. Once approval has been granted
by the mothers of both parties and the tattoo is in place, a formal marriage
ceremony is unnecessary; the two are considered married in the eyes of the
People, though many couples choose to undergo a civil or, less frequently,
traditional ceremony.

 

Amaetien
. The tattoo Sons receive on their sixteenth
birthday (the day they become men under the traditions and laws of the People)
to indicate their maternal lineage. Usually inked onto the upper left arm, the
amaetien
is a symbol of the mother’s eternal protection and devotion, and a warning to
any who would harm the Son.

 

Council of Seven.
The People’s ruling body, consisting of seven
women, one representing the line of each of the Seven Sisters.

 

Daughter
.
A direct descendant of one of the Seven Sisters, Daughters may be either
immortal (if they have not yet broken their own curse) or mortal (if they have
broken their own curse or are the daughter of a mortal Daughter).

 

Eternal Order
. A supposedly mythical group devoted to undermining
the ultimate goal of the People, to break the curse of immortality for every
Daughter through the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Light.

 

High Guard
.
Seven Daughters devoted to eradicating the Eternal Order. A highly secret and
deadly group.

 

Institute of Early Cultural Studies (IECS).
Located in Tellowee, Georgia,
USA, the IECS is the main historical research branch of the People and serves
as a repository for much of its history.

 

Kaetyrm
.
Sister, usually used in a formal situation, though not always.

 

Maetyrm
.
Mother, usually used as a term of respect for an elder Daughter and not
necessarily as a reference to one’s own mother. Teachers, for example, are
referred to as Maetyrm.

 

People, The
.
The name used by the descendants of the Seven Sisters to describe themselves.
The People include all immortal and mortal Daughters, Sons, and the mortal
descendants of all submitted Daughters to the second degree (i.e. through the
grandchildren of Daughters who have submitted their wills and become mortal).
Other descendants are not counted among the numbers of the People.

 

Prophecy of Light
. Issued by an unknown person at some distant point
in the past, the Prophecy of Light portends a way for the curse of immortality
to be lifted from all of the People, and not solely the Daughters who submit
their wills and become mortal. (See the
Daughters of the People
website.)

 

Seven Sisters
. The progenitors of the modern People. The seven
women, all sisters,  avenged the deaths of their parents by killing the men of
the People (the original band) and were cursed by the god An to live immortal
lives without the ability to bear sons. The curse was tempered by the goddess
Ki, who decreed that the curse could be broken by each one if she would submit
her will, in whatever way (except sexually), to the man she loved. (See the
Legend of Beginnings on the
Daughters
of the People
website.)

 

Shadow Enemy
. The traditional enemy of the People.

 

Son
.
Usually refers to the child of a Daughter who has broken the curse and become
mortal, but may also reference the child of a Son or another male descendant of
a Daughter.

 

Tellowee, Georgia, USA
. One of the centers of the
People, located in rural northeast Georgia.

 

Chapter One

 

Late August

 

The noise in the
main conference room of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta grew as fans flocked in to
watch the stick fighting exhibition and the wrestling matches that would follow.
Hawthorne stretched slowly and observed the people milling about. Across the
ring, Levi Ewart, her opponent, bent over at the waist and touched his palms to
the floor in a straight-legged stretch. He was tall and solid with the sturdy
bone structure of his Scottish father and the innate grace of his musician
mother. His vivid personality matched the copper hair capping his even
features.

Women were drawn
to him, moths to a living flame, handsome young man that he was. Behind him, a
mother seated with her young son patted her chest, her wide eyes fixed intently
on Levi. Near her, two younger women tittered and sighed trying to catch his
eye, then slumped when he ignored their efforts.

Silly women.
What temerity these modern women had, to think they could catch the attention
of a Son, this one in particular. Hawthorne had plans for her great-grandson,
not one of which included mating him to a mundane mortal.

Levi walked his hands
forward along the mat, held a plank, and moved smoothly into a cobra pose. He
pushed into a stand and winked at Hawthorne, as if he knew exactly what effect
he had on the women in the audience.

Incorrigible
lad.

Three rows away
from the fighting ring and to Hawthorne’s right, a tall, dark-headed man in his
early thirties took a seat next to a shorter, pudgy man with the sallow skin of
one who seldom saw the sun. She shifted subtly to include them in her view. The
tall man slouched in his chair, arms crossed over a broad chest, knees spread
wide. His hair fell in disheveled waves to curl over his collar, framing a tanned
rectangular face. This one was not afraid of the sun. From his appearance, he
dwelt in it regularly. Heavy thighs under worn jeans, muscled forearms, flat
stomach; possibly gained through bicycling and swimming, perhaps hiking.

Aaron Kesselman,
a graphic artist and native of San Francisco, presented a stark but pleasant contrast
to his bloated friend. This was the man Rebecca Upton had asked Hawthorne to
investigate during DragonCon. Apparently, his last creation had mimicked the
world of the People a shade too closely to be a coincidence. Rebecca had
requested information on Kesselman’s sources, and Hawthorne had acquiesced as a
favor to the other warrior.

She would resent
the intrusion on her time if not for her sense of duty to the People. The Con
was the one time each year when she exposed herself to the mortal public as
precisely herself. There was no need to hide her apparent lack of aging or to
assume a polite expression, no need to navigate the intricate and often tedious
politics inherent in being an elder, no pressure to reproduce or lead or do
anything aside from protecting and caring for her family. At the Con, no one
asked her to be anything other than what she was, a storyteller. It was a
blessed relief to have the favorite part of herself outweigh her other
obligations, if only for four days.

It would be no
hardship to investigate a man as handsome and fit as Kesselman. Perhaps she
could persuade him to share a brief sexual interlude. She indulged herself so
rarely, it seemed shameful to waste the opportunity now. If his work derived
from an innocent source, she would seduce him into her bed, thereby fulfilling
two needs, her duty to the People and her need for intimacy. Sensible,
efficient, and all without having to bother herself with the social niceties.

A referee
stepped into the ring, signaling the beginning of the exhibition. Hawthorne shut
everything out of her mind save her opponent. They swung their hanbō in
unison, Levi wearing a cheeky smirk. Her muscles flexed and pulled, stretching
deliciously in a sinewy motion so ingrained it was nearly automated. A bell
rang, the crowd hushed as if collectively holding a breath. Levi circled lazily
to her left, his hanbō lowered in a deliberate taunt.

Hawthorne’s lips
twitched. Boy was getting cocky. Perhaps a set-down was in order. Nothing that
would wound him or his pride, simply a reminder that he should be careful when
dealing with a warrior nearly two millennia his elder. She lowered her own
guard, coaxing him to come closer, and set out to give their audience a show
they would remember for a very long time to come.

 

* * *

 

 Aaron Kesselman
divided his attention between the banter of his agent, Jason Truman, and the
exhibition in the center of the room where a man and a woman, each dressed in
form-fitting athletic wear and carrying a hefty, yard-long stick, circled one
another preparing to fight. The man was tall and rangy, his red hair shades
lighter than the woman’s. Hers was cut short and gelled so that it stuck out in
irregular intervals, making her look like a demented pixie. A tall demented
pixie, but still. Her face was completely expressionless, her toned form
relaxed, loose. The man struck a testing blow to her waist. She deflected it
with a casual downswing, using no more effort than if she’d been swatting a
fly.

Interesting.

Aaron sat
straighter in his chair, angling for a better view around the two gossiping
women in front of him. His mind automatically formatted the fight, breaking it
into panels on an imaginary storyboard.

Thrust, parry,
evasion.
You’re no match for me!
in a dialogue balloon above the woman’s
head.

Leg sweep,
thump. Aaron winced as the man hit the mat with a thud and bounded back up into
an attack so swift, his stick hand was a blur.

Man:
Ha, I’ve
got you now
.

Woman:
In
your dreams
.

They moved
around the ring in a graceful dance of swings and lunges, their muscles
bunching and stretching as they fought, the action so smooth it could’ve been
choreographed.

He should be
filming this to use as a reference for his next book.

Aaron patted his
jean pockets absent-mindedly. Right. He’d left his camera in the hotel room so
it wouldn’t be in the way. He dug a scrap of paper and the nub of a pencil out
of his pocket and made a quick sketch of the woman’s face. Oval with high cheek
bones, tilted almond-shaped eyes. Too far away to see the color. He glanced at
her, lined in the bow of her mouth, the delicate line of her nose. How old was
she? Twenty-five, thirty? Older than the man she fought, but not by much.

He stuffed the
sketch and pencil back into his pocket in time to see the woman tap the man
three times in succession, once each on his back, stomach, and butt as she twirled
around him, completely eluding his defenses. The man laughed and held his hands
up in surrender, and the referee called the match as the audience burst into
applause. The man snatched the woman up in a ground-clearing bear hug and
kissed her firmly on the mouth.

Aaron scowled
and slumped into his chair. Figured she’d be taken.

Jason nudged him
with an elbow. “She’s something, isn’t she?”

Aaron grunted.
“Good fight.”

“What crawled up
your butt?” Jason shook his head. “I thought you’d enjoy seeing the famous Al
C. Hawthorne in action.”

“That’s
Hawthorne?” Aaron studied her again. She spoke quietly to her opponent, who
listened as if she were reciting the divine law. “I thought she was a he.”

“You really need
to get out more, man. She’s hot property right now. A dozen novels out in half
that time, all released under her pen name. Epic fantasies. Complex shit. Her
agent’s Dana Goldburg.”

“We’ve met.”

“That’s right.
The Con in San Diego last year.”

“See? I get
out.”

Jason snorted.
“Right. Anyway, Dana loves her. Thinks she’s the best thing since sliced bread,
even if she is a hermit. Only event she’ll attend is this one. I got an earful
of Hawthorne on the flight over.”

Aaron slid a
glance to his agent. “Told you to fly out with me.”

“Then I woulda
missed out on some great gossip.” Jason waggled his eyebrows. “Also, flirting.
It’s that thing you do with women where you laugh and make gaga eyes at each
other. You remember that?”

“Ha. Funny. I
get out.”

“Only when I
make you. Come on.” Jason slapped Aaron on the shoulder. “Time to meet the
fabulous Al C. Hawthorne.”

“Who says I want
to meet her?”

“The sketch in
your pocket says so,” Jason said bluntly. “Last time you drew a woman, you
married her.”

“That’s not
true.” And it wasn’t. He drew women all the time, sometimes even from live
models. It was merely a coincidence that Jeanne had been one of those women.
“Besides, looks like Hawthorne’s taken.”

“Then it won’t
kill you to make nice.”

They stood and
edged their way through the crowd. A handful of women had cornered Hawthorne’s
boyfriend, twirling their hair and batting their eyelashes at the handsome
young man, who graciously autographed whatever was placed in front of him,
including one woman’s arm.

Hawthorne stuffed
her bare feet into unlaced tennis shoes, gathered her stick, and stepped
gracefully through the ropes and off the edge of the ring. She caught Aaron’s
gaze as she slipped through clusters of fans, politely deflecting requests for
autographs until she stood in front of him. She was half a head shorter than
him, if that. Her pearlescent skin gleamed under the harsh lighting, bare of
makeup.

If she’d broken
a sweat during the fight, it didn’t show.

Jason held out
his hand. “Jason Truman and this is Aaron Kesselman.”

Hawthorne shook Jason’s
hand then Aaron’s, her grip firm but brief. “I am Hawthorne. You work with
Dana,” she said to Jason, her voice as accentless as her expression was empty.
“She is here?”

“At the Con,
yeah,” Jason said. “Don’t know where, though.”

“I shall find
her later.” Hawthorne turned piercing gray eyes on Aaron. “Mr. Kesselman. You
are interested in my form?”

Aaron choked on
an indrawn breath. “What?”

“My fighting
form. You were sketching.” She blinked, the only change in her expression. “Or
were you more interested in Levi? I shall fetch him, should you like.”

“No, that’s ok.
Your, uh, form is fine.” He stuffed his hands into the back pockets of his
jeans. “You must have quick eyes to’ve caught me drawing.”

“Observation. It
is a simple skill, though much neglected among modern humans.”

Aaron exchanged
a puzzled glance with Jason.
Modern
humans?

“We shall talk,”
she continued. “I must bid Levi adieu and then you will accompany me to my
hotel suite where we shall drink to our acquaintance.”

“That’s my cue.”
Jason waggled his eyebrows. “People to see, places to go.”

He slipped away,
leaving Aaron alone with a woman who, unless he was sorely mistaken, had just
propositioned him.

On the other
hand, she seemed completely straight-forward. Maybe to her, a drink was just a
drink.

Levi appeared
behind her and rested his right hand on her left shoulder. “Stirring up trouble
again, Nana?”

“Interacting
with my professional peers. Mr. Kesselman, this is my relative, Levi Ewart.”

Aaron nodded at
the young man, who eyed him with a steady gaze eerily reminiscent of
Hawthorne’s. “Great demonstration.”

“Thanks. Don’t
get a chance to fight Nana often.” Levi’s mouth twisted into a smirk. “She
usually kicks my arse, though. Says it builds character.”

“Character and
fortitude. I cannot have you defenseless to the world.” She turned to face Levi
and cupped his face in her hands. “Mr. Kesselman and I are going to my rooms
for a drink. Please tell your mother I said hello.”

“I will.” Levi
grasped her elbows and bowed until their foreheads touched. “Be good, Nana.”

“Am I not
always?” She kissed him lightly on the mouth and forehead, and released his
face. “Well met, child.”

“Well met,
Maetyrm.” Levi nodded solemnly to Hawthorne and Aaron, then slid past them
toward the entrance.

Aaron followed
the young man’s progress with his gaze. “Maetyrm?”

“A term of
respect.” She moved to stand beside him. “Shall we go?”

He hesitated,
not because he didn’t want to. She was the first woman to catch his interest in
months. It had been a long time since he’d had a date, let alone sex, and he
didn’t quite trust himself to behave, especially considering the venue.
Professional
image
, he reminded himself.
No touching
.

Looking, on the
other hand, was perfectly acceptable. One drink with an attractive woman
wouldn’t kill him, and he could enjoy the view while they talked.

“Sure,” he said.
“Lead the way.”

He followed her
to a private elevator, waited while she swiped a keycard to open it. They were
silent on the way up. Aaron leaned against the back wall and studied her. She
held herself the same way she had during the fight. No tension, no fidgeting.
He’d never seen a woman with such economy of motion before. He eyed the
graceful set of her shoulders, the curve of her hips, the firm length of her
legs. Desire stirred in his gut, surprising him, and he eyed her again. That skin-hugging
outfit was better than her being naked.

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