Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday's Featured Author (11/14/13)

Hers to Command

(Verdantia #1)



For some, existence without their mate might seem like the end of their world...
...for the members of Verdantia’s Tetriarch, it would be.

Conte Camliel Aristos deTano, Ari, has long spurned the marriage forced upon him. His contractual bride, Princess Fleur Constante, the beautiful future queen though young and inexperienced, is willing to risk everything, including her own sanity, to save her planet.

The inhabitants of the sentient planet, Verdantia, are poised on the precipice of extinction following a brutal invasion by an off-world, nomadic horde. Verdantia’s capital, Sylvan Mintoth, must have its failing energy shield restored, or the planet is doomed. The Elders know the shield can draw energy from only one thing ~ a very arduous and grueling coupling of two specific people who were pre-chosen by the planet Herself and promised by prearranged marriage contract.

Verdantia draws strength from the duo, but the sentient planet whispers to Ari that a third is necessary ~ Ari’s aide de camp, Visconte Doral deLorion, an angelically handsome, skilled assassin who silently surrendered his heart to Ari long ago.

The trio struggles to make this surprising partnership harmonious, pushing through pride, scars of past abuse, fears of inexperience and distrust. To save Verdantia, they must overcome their individual weaknesses and realize their full potential. Only the Tetriarch and their combined synergy, can harness Verdantia’s immense power to shield its citizens from invasion.

Solar date 4633

      Wind gusted against the camouflaged campaign tent. The creak of stretched canvas and squeak of straining rope made an ever-present accompaniment to the soughing of the evergreens outside. Verdantian Supreme Commander, High Lord Ari DeTano, adjusted the lantern light to better illuminate the huge topographical map covering one taut canvas wall. Ari raked impatient fingers through his dark hair as he studied the large red squares indicating the location of entrenched enemy squadrons relative to his elite Verdantian cavalry and League of Federated Planets’ ground marines.
      Red squares ringed the capital, Sylvan Mintoth, the last populated area still protected by a sigil tower.
     “Doral, we will mobilize to attack on their eastern flank, here at Gryphon’s Dell and here, at Haversome Ferry, as soon as we receive confirmation 3rd Regiment Light Horse is in place.”
     He bridged a thumb and index finger to his temples and rubbed slowly. “On that other matter, don’t create an inter-planetary incident, please. Thanks to the LFP, we fight with hope for the first time in three years. We must have proof there is a traitor among them. We cannot alienate them.”
     Doral glanced up. “Without doubt, the League of Federated Planets’ support has changed the outcome of this war.” Doral’s quiet words competed with the outside sounds of the active military camp. “Regardless, the LFP harbors someone who works against us. I will find proof and eliminate him.”
     Ari eyed him and gave an inward scoff at his continued inability to remain unmoved at the presence of his attaché. Tall and lean, blond and blue-eyed, the reserved young aristo oozed sensual allure and elegant, predatory grace. Doral fit in with the rest of his staff like a panther among tabby cats. Assigned to him for over a year, Doral's deceptively angelic, masculine beauty concealed a lethal assassin and master spy. Ari trusted and respected his taciturn, intensely loyal, junior officer as he had no other in his life. I want him. I cannot have him.
     After years of brutal hand-to-hand fighting, the Verdantians were winning the battle of attrition to regain possession of their planet. In the past year, the strong support of the LFP’s forces had reversed the fortunes of war.
     As a battleground, Verdantia thwarted an army outfitted with high tech. Nothing worked. The energies from the vast underground diaman pipes neutralized technological devices. The crystalline deposits emitted a bewildering combination of electro-magnetic and harmonic energies and rendered any form of technology or communications devastatingly unreliable. Verdantia possessed only one planet-side spaceport located in an area devoid of the diaman pipes.
    The planet, herself, stripped warfare to its most elemental. It pitted the strength of man against man. Mounted cavalry and foot soldiers fought armed with sabers and crossbows, battleaxes and pikes. Barbaric, brutal, hand-to-hand fighting determined the outcome of each battle. It was savage. It was archaic.
      With a growl of frustrated anger, Ari crossed his arms over his chest. “We have re-taken the Silveterra and Guardo sigil towers. If they were operational again we could cut off the Haarb’s main supply route. Damn them to the seven hells for their butchery. Without a female partner I can’t work the magicks required to restore the diamantorre.”
     Doral reacted with uncustomary heat. “After the wholesale slaughter of our women, I hope hell reserves a special place for the Haarb.”
     Ari pushed back his grief, an exercise he had perfected through constant repetition. He mourned for his slain brothers and sisters, for the enormity of Verdantia’s loss. Generations of men and women carrying the most elite magickal bloodlines lay heaped in unmarked, mass graves. Grimly, he eyed the map where constellations of black stars indicated whole towns and estates emptied of their populations, either dead or enslaved.
     “Stop! Halt!”
     The sentry’s loud cry drew his second in command to the door of the tent. Doral pushed the heavy canvas flap aside and stepped out before looking back over his shoulder. “A L’anziano courier-rider. Yannis Melcom.”
     Ari joined Doral. The flickering light of hissing torches revealed a disturbance.
     “High Lord! High Lord!” The small, grizzled rider threw himself off his staggering horse and tried to muscle his way through several stout guards. He had brutally used his horse. The raw-boned black swayed on his feet, his head dropping inches from the ground as his sides heaved, sucking air into tortured lungs. With an awful groan, the animal's knees folded and he buckled to the dirt.
     “Let me go! Let. Me. Go! I bear an urgent message for the High Lord.”
     Ari knew him – and Jox, his horse. This cursed war. It takes everything dear. First the old man’s wife, now . . . “Let him through Sergeant Major. I know this man.”
     The aged, weather-beaten rider staggered to within a few feet of him. “High Lord, I carry an urgent message from Elder Patricio. I must speak with you immediately.” He glared belligerently at the crowd gathered. “It is for your ears only.”
     Doral glanced at Ari. “I’ll be out here if you need me, and I’ll see what can be done for the horse.” Doral had been with him long enough to know he would want the animal saved, if possible.
     He nodded tightly and motioned the messenger toward the tent. “Inside, Yannis.” Holding back the tent flap for the old rider and indicated a campstool. “Sit before you fall in front of me like your horse.”
   Tears streaked through the dust caked on the old, grizzled rider’s face. Yannis covered his face with a trembling hand. “Ah, my Jox. Please forgive me. Forgive me, lad.”
     He understood Yannis’ heartache. A horseman to the soles of his riding boots, the adolescent Ari had focused his dreams and passions on continuing his family’s proud heritage. For generations, the House deTano had bred the finest of purebred horses. For him, the dream would never be. Elder Patricio, the head of the L’anziano, had seen to that long before the Haarb arrived.
      Crossing to a low table, he poured a cup of water. “Here, drink this.”
     Accepting the clay cup from Ari’s hand the old rider downed its contents. Visibly pulling himself together, Yannis wiped his dirty face on his even dirtier sleeve. In an urgent undertone, the messenger forced words through dry, cracked lips. “Your Lordship, you must be in Sylvan Mintoth by this time tomorrow. The sigil, the diamantorre, is failing.”
     Ari regarded him sharply. “Say that again.”
    “Sylvan Mintoth’s sigil is failing. Elder Patricio requires you to perform the Great Rite. Your Lordship, it is Sylvan Mintoth! You must go.”
   Ari turned away, slamming the water pitcher to the table. Patricio has some self-serving reason for summoning me. Magisters deGregio and deFlores reside at Sylvan Mintoth, both capable of performing the Great Rite. How like him to use the one reason I cannot ignore. The High Enclave and the palace cannot fall to the Haarb – not now. Damn the man to the seven hells. I must go.
     “Yes, I will go.”
      Striding to the opening, Ari jerked the flap back and motioned for Doral to join him.
    “Doral, pack my saddle bags with my travel kit and tack up Grey. Have him ready in fifteen minutes.” He could read the question in Doral’s steady gaze.
    “Sylvan Mintoth’s diamantorre, the sigil, fails. Patricio summons me to perform the Great Rite. I think a single rider stands the best chance of remaining undetected infiltrating the Haarb lines. I will ride alone.”
The muscles in Doral’s jaw tightened at Ari's quietly murmured words. His blue eyes became arctic. He nodded curtly. “High Lord, what weapons?”
     “I carry my poniard.” Ah, that did not sit well.
   “Sir, you cannot ride out armed with only a dagger. It is suicide. The Haarb's elite divisions ring Sylvan Mintoth. They continually patrol the entry gates.”
    Ari felt a smile barely move his lips. “If my presence is discovered I am a dead man no matter how well armed. I shall just have to be very clever.”
     Doral's level stare challenged him. “I will ride with you.”
     “And risk both of us?” He shook his head rejecting Doral's statement. “Just do as I ask.”
     Doral’s were eyes bold with displeasure. “As you command – sir.” The honorific was slow in coming.
    He watched Doral’s rigidly silent departure. He wouldn’t put it past the man to follow him anyway. I don’t know why I pretend to give him orders. Shaking his head, he turned back to the old rider “So, Yannis, who will partner me in the rite?”
     The grizzled old man shifted uncomfortably and mumbled something under his breath.
     “Speak up, man. I can’t hear you if you mumble.”
     “Princess Fleur Constante.”
     Of course, our Principessa Royale. Ari’s fists clenched and unclenched. “Manipulations, plots and schemes, the hallmarks of Elder Patricio. Why am I even surprised?” Taking a deep breath, he let go of his anger.
     Crossing the tent, he began to strip, donning dark colored riding clothes. He raised his head and regarded the elderly rider.
     “Yannis, stay in my tent and recover before you go back to Sylvan Mintoth. Ask Doral for anything you need. You may take one of our remuda mounts for your return.”
     “Thank you, High Lord. But if my Jox can be fit to travel in a few days, I would not part with him. I’ll lead him back on foot if I must.”
     Ari looked up sharply.
     The old rider shrugged in apology. “He is all I have left, sir.”
     He had pulled on his dark, long sleeved shirt, black leather leggings and riding boots. The addition of his hooded black cloak completed his transition into a dark wraith. Hearing the messenger’s words, Ari’s closed expression softened. “I expect to see you and Jox at Sylvan Mintoth in a few days, Yannis. May the Goddess shine her glory on you.”
    Ari strode through the door flap and crossed the yard to where Doral held his gray gelding, saddled and ready to travel. “You are ever efficient, Doral. What would I do without you?” He smiled his thanks and stamped down much warmer feelings that surfaced unbidden.
     “You would manage – sir.”
     Doral’s clipped statement drew another wry smile from him. “Perhaps, but not nearly so comfortably. You take good care of me, Visconte. I notice.”
     “On the rare occasions you allow it, my Lord.” Doral looked off, grim.
     Swinging up easily onto his horse, he gathered the reins into one hand. As Grey sidled with pent up energy, he stroked his dappled neck. “You have a very important job to do, my fellow. I need all the strength and speed you possess.” He caught Doral’s eyes with a quick nod. “You are my acting commander, Visconte.”
     He turned Grey toward the eastern reaches and Sylvan Mintoth and touched his heels to the horse’s flanks. The well-trained mount lept forward as if the demon-wolves from the seven hells of Jurossa nipped at his heels.
     Doral felt the old rider move to stand next to him. Together they watched horse and rider fade into the brightening east. Yannis turned to Doral.
     “Will he reach Sylvan Mintoth in time?”
     He tore his gaze away from Ari.
    “Have no doubt old man. That horse of his will die for him.” He couldn’t help his snort of self-derision. Looking back toward the direction of Sylvan Mintoth, his eyes strained for one more glimpse. “And he is surrounded with men just like his horse.” 

Patricia A. Knight is the pen name for an eternal romantic who lives in Dallas, Texas.

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