The Wolf’s Destiny

 

Tales of the Holtlands, Book 3
December 2011

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The final part of the epic story, a full length novel which brings everything to a close. Available only as an ebook.

Two lives, one love, one destiny.

In the wild north of Sheninglas, Jeren and Shan have finally made a home together. But the Holtlands are not finished with them yet. When an assassination attempt claims innocent lives, Jeren can stand it no longer. She must make a stand against the tyranny of her brother Gilliad before it is too late. Shan meanwhile struggles against the seed of darkness planted in him by the Fell’na sorceress and the growing knowledge that no matter what he does, he is losing his beloved wife. All their efforts to stay together just seem to tear them further apart, underlining the differences between them. When Jeren declares her intention to go to war, Shan makes one terrible mistake which changes everything.

Their destiny is written. How can it be changed again?

Excerpt

“Lady Jeren! Lady Jeren!”

Their voices ranged from hushed whispers to shouts of joy. Devyn Roh, her self-appointed bodyguard at such times, though he was only a boy, appeared like a shadow through the crowd and took his place beside her. Still too thin, but taller than her now, his dark eyes scanned the crowd with a frightening clarity.

“Haven’t seen this many before,” he muttered. “Should I send for my da? Get them back a bit?”

“No. Not yet. It’s fine,” she whispered the words to him, keeping her voice calm. The Roh family—the few of them who remained—took their duties as servants to her line far too seriously for Jeren’s comfort. From bodyguards to ladies in waiting, she had always been surrounded by Rohs. Following her escape from River Holt, Gilliad had accused them all of treachery and by his actions made the survivors even more devoted to her. She couldn’t just dismiss them. They’d laugh at her if she tried. A Roh was born, not made.

Jeren allowed her gaze to sweep over the newest wave of refugees. Many were here because they’d encountered one of Vertigern’s raiding parties, still launching guerrilla-style raids along Gilliad’s borders and sending all who needed to flee north to Sheninglas. Ostensibly answering to her, but really… really just attacking wherever they could. Getting people killed.

“Go to Lady Jeren and the Fey’na. They will help you. They will keep you safe.”

Safe. Get them killed even more quickly, most likely.

Jeren straightened her spine and let them sweep her along, aware all the time of Devyn’s presence beside her, his warning glares that made people pull back if they got too close. She nodded and smiled. She shook hands and told people not to bow or kneel before her. They didn’t listen.

All of the refugees watched her, some covertly, some with open amazement. Awe, one might say. To be honest, she had grown used to the disbelief she saw in their eyes, at her outlandish clothes, her hair tied in the fine braids of the Sh’istra’Phail warriors. How savage she must look to the cultured people of the Holts.

But what did she care what they thought? Their hopes, their demands, all they wanted from her—she had given that life up. And yet, still they came.

Perhaps they thought sheer force of numbers would change her mind.

Perhaps, she feared—as more sick and exhausted children took food from their Fey’na hosts with pitiful gratitude that outweighed their inbred fear of the other race—they were right.

Eventually, having heard more tales of woe and desperation from children, old women and young men whose eyes burned with a need for vengeance, she managed to excuse herself. She strode back towards the Fey’na section of the camp where she and Shan made their home. A little patch of safety. The newer the arrival, the less likely they were to tread on Fey’na ground, regardless of their charity. Jeren looked back, watching the people who had followed her here, on only a hope.

“We don’t deserve them,” said Devyn. She followed his gaze to where three Sh’istra’Phail warriors were letting a group of children peer in wonder at their braided hair. They sat still as statues, apparently lost in discussion with each other while two girls and a boy crept up behind them. Neither Jeren nor Devyn were fooled. No Sh’istra’Phail would let anyone get that close without their knowledge.

“No,” she replied. “Sometimes I think we never will. How’s your sister?”

“It’s just a fever, Mam says. Nothing to worry about.”

Jeren frowned. Fevers could be nothing in a child, but they could just as quickly worsen. “I’ll come and see her nonetheless. We can’t risk her. You five are the only Rohs left to me now.”

Last of a line, the Body Servants of Jern. Their families had been entwined since the first True Blood lords took power. Gilliad had almost wiped them from the face of the earth for imagined disloyalty.

“Lady Jeren, I—” He stopped abruptly and lowered his eyes to the ground.

The tone surprised her. “What is it, Devyn?”

“I wanted to ask—I want to join the militia, Vertigern’s men.”

“You want to leave?”

“I want to fight.”

Her heart might have stopped beating. Oh gods, she had dreaded this. She’d known it had to come eventually but she’d thought there would still be time. He was so young.

She pushed her fears and dismay to the back of her mind. “I see… What do your parents say?”

He snorted. That told her everything. Well, she could imagine what Doria had said, no doubt in the most strident tones possible.

“Devyn, you know that you’re important to me, don’t you? If anything happened—”

“Nothing will happen up here. Neither for bad or for good. We’re just sitting here, Jeren—my lady,” he added hurriedly. “We sit here as the days unfold and he does one terrible thing after another. People are vanishing all over River Holt lands. They say even the prisons are empty now, the poor quarters deserted. You know what he’s doing to them, where they’ve gone.”

Yes, she knew. It wasn’t too hard to guess anyway. He voiced her own fears. But if she stood against him, it would be war. And if it came to war, who knew how many would die?

Jeren looked up at the new group again. Not enough made it here. Nowhere near enough. One old man bent over his pack, adjusting the straps, intent on his task. Gilliad didn’t need the infirm or the poor. He needed those who could work and those who could fight. He tended to dispose of things he no longer needed with alacrity.

She hardly needed to ask the question, where? They already knew he was somehow working with the Fell’na, had given them Devyn’s entire family to feed upon. The shadow creatures had captured Shan and the sect mother Ylandra, had almost killed them. The dark cousins of the Fey’na, long corrupted by magic and the blood they spilled for their dark god, had almost killed them all.

The old man looked up, as though aware of her eyes upon him. His worn face stiffened, as if in pain, and he finally opened the pack, never taking his gaze off her.

“Devyn,” she said as some kind of primal alarm stirred at the back of her mind. “Do you know that man?” Devyn shook his head, more interested in his own affairs that those of the refugees. Keeping her voice low, she tried to convey the sudden concern seizing her. “I need you to go and get one of your parents. Whoever’s nearest. Quickly, but without rushing, do you understand?” The quiet urgency in her voice got through to him. He was, after all, a Roh, loyal to the core.

The old man muttered to himself, his lips moving rapidly. Jeren’s uneasiness grew. Something was wrong here, very wrong. She took a step forward, then another.

The air sparked with static, with the heightening sense of magic. Jeren felt its call, her blood quickening in response. A lump formed in her throat. Shan was within shouting distance, but he’d never get there in time. Whatever the old man was doing felt dark, dangerous. So very wrong.

Jeren slid her hand around the hilt of the sword. It went icy cold. She couldn’t move quickly enough, her feet dragging as if through mud. She saw him pull out the knife. Sprinting now across the cluttered campsite—too slow, too slow—she knew she wouldn’t make it either. He fixed his eyes on her, his lips still moving, tears streaming from his eyes making his face glisten. The air between them thickened, heated, charged.

Jeren screamed for Shan.

And the old man slit his own throat.

Blood gushed from the wound, a glossy sheet flowing down his body and onto the pack he had opened.

On to whatever was inside.

The magic writhing in the air between them detonated in a silent explosion of power and darkness. It took Jeren’s legs from under her, throwing her back like a leaf in a hurricane.

She slammed into the ground, all breath knocked from her body.