Soul of a Mercenary

scroll down for excerpt                 Book 2 in the Heart & Soul series

***

Warrior, mercenary – danger and death follow her, but insanity is
Reya’s most threatening companion, for a dark secret consumes her
soul.

Love will make the Daamen trader, Maverk, follow her to the
Outlaw Sector and into the growing nightmare reaching out for her
from the blood-drenched past.

 

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**

The fortress was under attack, but not by sophisticated weaponry and fighter craft; electrical currents in the atmosphere made anything electronic burn out quickly. No, the leader of the invaders thought to himself grimly, spacecraft and lasers were out of the question on this forsaken planet.
Swords, spears, arrows and battering rams weren’t. Zormar could hear horses stamping and snorting in the shelter of the trees to which they were tethered. They were being made nervous by the shouts and screams and smell of blood.
The continuous thud of the battering ram sounded rhythmically in the air as it pounded at the huge wooden gates, and the harsh voice of his commander rang out as he gave encouragement.
He knew within the walls of the fortress they recognized that it would not be long before the invaders broke through into their stronghold.
~ * ~
“Damn it to hell!” Vanc strode up and down the great hall. “How close?”
“The gates are holding up…for now.”
“Who’s the leader of the attackers? Zormar does not have the brains to do this!”
The man-at-arms swallowed at the furious look on the master of the fortress’ face. “I have heard the whispers that it is—”
The door slammed open and a soldier staggered in, an arrow protruding from his shoulder. “The walls! They are scaling the walls on all sides!”
Snarling his rage and drawing his sword, Vanc ran outside into the battle. Looking up at the towering walls, his incredulous gaze saw the tops of metal ladders everywhere. His archers were crowding the walkways. They fired arrows downward at the invaders while only a minimum of soldiers pressed in behind them. Down at the gate the thud of the battering ram could still be heard and most of his soldiers were there, ready to take on the invaders when the gate finally gave.
It was a clever ruse.
“The walls! The walls!” he screamed while charging up the stone steps leading to the walkway encircling the inside of the fortress walls. “Soldiers to the walls! Our danger is from there!”
His words choked off as he came to an abrupt halt at the top. Four archers staggered back, arrows protruding from their chests, to fall backward over the walkway as they plummeted to their deaths below in the courtyard.
The first of the invaders came over the top of the wall and Vanc found himself staring into glacier-green eyes so cold they froze his bones. They were his last sight before death claimed him by a sword thrust to the heart.
He fell dead at the beautiful warrior’s feet.
His soldiers surged forward but it was too late. Invaders swarmed over the top of the wall, led by another warrior woman.
Their swords flashing mercilessly as they pressed forward to lead the invaders to victory, the two young warriors fought more savagely than their male companions.
~ * ~
Arms akimbo, Zormar stood and smirked. The fortress was his at last! He didn’t try to fool himself into thinking that he could have done it alone. No, he had others to thank for his victory, and where were they? Squinting through the thick smoky haze that filled the courtyard, the one he sought slowly appeared. Striding through the press of soldiers, she came toward him with her companion by her side. Unconsciously the soldiers parted to let them through their ranks.
He watched them, noting how they towered above the men in the yard by at least a head. They were dressed alike, divided leather skirts that came to mid-thigh, sleeveless vests that laced down the front, rawhide boots that stopped below their knees and fingerless, metal lined gloves that came up to their elbows. Small silver hoops pierced their earlobes, two in the right and four in the left, and each wore a plain silver band around their left upper arm. They walked with long, lithe strides, their bloodied swords sheathed on their backs, and they had blood spattered over their clothes and skin. Dirt and smoke smudged their faces but it couldn’t distract from their beauty.
He wasn’t fooled, though. These warriors possessed great strength, speed and skill when it came to fighting. He, for one, would not cross them.
Raising his eyes, he studied them as they halted before him.
Dana, the one with the blonde bob, was a fiery one. Dark hazel eyes spat fire and she had a nasty habit of gazing down her short, straight nose at men that rubbed them the wrong way. A real man-hater, that one.
The one that chilled him, though, was the warrior with the wild red/gold curls pulled back in a ponytail that tumbled down her back to her waist. Above the short, tip-tilted nose was a pair of glacier-green eyes. Cold. Deadly. Like the woman herself.
No, he wouldn’t cross these Reeka Warrior Women, these mercenaries. Now that the fortress was taken, he would pay them and send them on their way. Although, if he could convince them to stay in his employ, no other outlaw district lord would dare attack him.
“Reya, I wish you would reconsider and stay for a time.”
“Nay. Our job is done. All we seek is our pay and we will be on our way.”
Zormar sighed and nodded. Turning to his commander, he ordered, “Bring the money.”
“And the horses,” Dana added.
“And the horses,” Zormar echoed.
Within minutes the two war-horses were brought forward and the Reekas mounted them quickly and easily. Zormar handed Reya a pouch. Opening it, she peered inside at the contents. Aye, the silver was all there. Dropping it into the pack that lay behind the saddle, she nodded to Zormar and without another word, wheeled the horse about and rode from the fortress, Dana following behind her. The hoofs of the horses clattered on the cobblestones.
With a shrug, Zormar turned away. Now that the fortress was his, he had other things to think about other than mercenaries. Besides, as all knew, if anyone had need of the Reeka warriors they only had to put a notice up in the taverns and pass the word. Sooner or later, Reya and Dana would turn up.
~ * ~
Standing at the bedroom window, Tenia stared out over the town. White buildings gave an image of coolness in the warm summer sunshine, and the sound of children’s laughter floated up to her.
Large hands rested on her shoulders and she was pulled back against a muscular chest. “What ails you, lass?”
“I worry for Reya. She has been gone for a year, and the things I hear back worry me so.”
Darvk sighed. Aye, his sister-by-marriage worried him as well. “Lass, there’s not a lot we can do. Would you have me drag her back here?”
The golden head tipped back and beautiful violet eyes met his, a sparkle of amusement in their depths. “Do you really think you could drag her—or Dana—back against their will?”
“For you, I would.” Eyes warm with love gazed down at her.
“Seriously, Darvk, they tread a fine line. One wrong step and they could be outlawed again.”
Placing his hand gently on her well-rounded stomach where their unborn babe lay, he sought to reassure her. “Reya and Dana fight for outlaws, true, but against other outlaws, not law-abiding people. While they do so they cannot be outlawed. That can happen only if they attack the innocent.”
“I know.” She sighed and transferred her gaze once more out of the window. “I had thought they would settle once we were pardoned, but it seems I was wrong. Some demon drives her onward.”
“Reya?”
“Who else? She is so frozen inside and I fear that one day she will shatter.”
He rubbed her stomach comfortingly. “It worries Maverk also.”
She placed her hand over his. “He doesn’t say so, but he misses her. She left while he was away on that trading trip, remember? I don’t think he’s really ever forgiven her for that.”
“Nay, but he couldn’t have stopped her even if he’d been here.” Darvk smiled slightly. “Garret wasn’t very happy that Dana followed her, either.”
Turning in her husband’s arms, Tenia gazed up at him seriously. “I would have my sister here for the birth of our child.”
“You’re not due for three months, lass.”
“It will take at least that long to find them.” She pursed her lips. “Mayhaps I should go and seek them myself.”
“Nay.” He frowned sternly. “We can send messages.”
“Which they may not receive. I have a strong gut feeling that Reya is in trouble.”
“Danger?”
“From herself.”
“Ah, so the birth of the babe is just an excuse for her and Dana to return?”
Beseeching, she gazed at him. “A little. I’m so afraid for her. She’s on a path of self-destruction and no one knows why. If I could just see her, talk to her.”
“You think she will open up and tell you her dark secret?” Darvk cupped her smooth cheek tenderly. “‘Tis extremely unlikely, lass.”
“But I must try.” Tears shimmered in her eyes. “She is my sister, and Dana is my cousin who also treads a dangerous path.”
He cradled her close to him. “Very well, lass. I will send someone to find them and give your message of the coming birth of the babe.”
“Thank you.” She kissed him softly. “Who will you send?”
A devilish sparkle lit the vivid blue eyes. “Oh, this is definitely the job for Maverk and Garret. They’ve been looking for an excuse to go and find those two wenches!”
Tenia laughed.
~ * ~
The tavern barman looked up as two men entered the nearly deserted bar in the early morning. Nervously he took in their outlines. They were huge, each standing at least seven feet tall, towering over the brutish bouncer who leaned sleepily against the wall. Their chests beneath the sleeveless open vests rippled with muscle, and their arms bulged with the same. Coarse material pants skimmed long, strong legs and were tucked into low-heeled boots.
The two men approached the bar and now he could see them more clearly. The one on the left had brown eyes and long, blond hair tied at the nape, while the one on the right had grey eyes and long, brown hair that hung loose and shaggy. Both sported a small silver hoop in their left earlobes.
The barman sighed with relief. He recognized these two young men now—they could have been no more than twenty-two or three—as Daamen traders. He felt relief. Outlaws as big as these two giants could have torn the place apart. The Daamens, while having a love of brawling, weren’t outlaws and didn’t cause damage deliberately. Unlike the outlaws who lived in this settlement of Kyro.
“’Morning, friends,” he greeted. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Maverk.” The blond nodded pleasantly. “This is my friend Garret.”
The barman nodded. “Simet’s my name.”
“Well now, Simet, we need some information.”
Immediately his eyes became guarded. “That’s not healthy around here on the edge of the Outlaw Sector.”
Maverk laughed. “Relax, I’m not looking for bounty!”
“Nay,” Garret added. “What we seek is information on two wenches.”
“Wenches?” Simet’s face cleared. “There’s a couple upstairs—”
“Not them.” Maverk grinned. “The two we seek are Reekas.”
“Ah, I recognize you now. Weren’t you both a part of that Daamen crew that cleared the name of the Reeka warriors two years ago?”
“That is us. Now, about—”
“I can still remember that fight between those Reekas and the Inka soldiers out front and how you giants waded into the fight. What a night that was!”
“Er… aye. The two we seek—”
“Can’t be Tenia, the golden-haired one,” Simet informed them knowledgeably. “She wed your captain. Must be that older sister of hers, Reya.”
With relief, Maverk snatched at the opportunity. “Exactly!”
“And a blonde,” Garret added, “fiery little thing.”
“’Little?’” Simet raised his eyebrows. “Don’t know about being little. They’re nearly as tall as you two are. But fiery, yeah, Dana is fiery all right. Not like Reya, she can freeze a man with one look at twenty paces!”
“You obviously know them, then?”
“I surely do.” He rested both elbows comfortably on the bar. “They came in here covered in blood and dirt from a battle with a district lord, and they were looking for a place to rest up.”
Garret’s eyes lit up suddenly. “Which room are they in?”
“Oh, they’re not here anymore. That was two weeks ago.”
“Where are they now?” Maverk asked in exasperation.
Simet tapped his chin thoughtfully and his face brightened. “They were heading for another job.”
“Where?”
“Now that I don’t know. Those warriors say nothing.”
“So how do you know they were heading for another job?”
“Because they’re mercenaries, swords for hire.” The barman looked up at him in disgust. “They’re in demand by warring district lords, you know!”
Maverk scratched his head. “All right, which district lords are fighting now?”
“You’re kidding!”
“Nay.”
“Let me see.” Sarcasm laced the answer. “Where would you like me to start?”

**

copyright Angela Verdenius