(On a quest to rescue his betrothed from the sorcerer Mahldimir Djaan-Baih, soldier Riven kan Ingan finds an unexpected ally in Bar-Bara, a runaway slave boy, and makes a startling discovery.)
...Behind him he heard Bar-Bara's footsteps.
“Drel, boy! You run ran as heavy as a herd of horses!”
He looked up to see the child running toward him, booted feet barely making a sound on the hard ground and still the noise of hoof beats continued.
"Riders! In the cleft!"
Seizing his sword, Riven ran toward the ledge, dropping onto hands and knees, Bar-Bara at his left side.
Trapped forever in the ravine, the wind blew hotly upward, tossing sand into their faces. Through the dust they could see the riders, too many to count, in the same harness-armor and loinskirts as the B'akshir who had escaped Riven at the farmhouse, rectangles of cloth protecting their faces. The sun gleamed from the metal on the harnesses.
A sudden gasp from the boy made Riven turn quickly to look at him.
"Ilda." Immeasurable pain filled that one word.
Behind the riders stalked the great silver stallion with the imperious figure upon it, and seated on the saddle fork in front of him, a golden-fair girl-child. One metal-braced arm was across the child's chest, hugging her body tightly against his own while her little hands gripped his forearm.
"Ilda!" Bar-Bara rose to his knees, leaning forward.
Before Riven realized what he intended, the boy scrambled to his feet and with surprising quickness, pulled the sword from the Francovian's loosened grasp. He
stepped onto the ledge, gathering himself to jump.
Leaping to his feet, Riven seized the boy around the waist and lunged backward just as Bar-Bara flung himself into space.
The sword slung out of his hand, landing in the sand, point down. Riven fell backward, solid rock-ledge striking his shoulders. With a stifled grunt, he braced against it, holding the struggling child.
"Let me go!" Bar-Bara gasped at him. "'Tis Ilda! 'Tis my little sister! I've got to--"
Riven's hand slapped over his mouth, stifling his cry. The other arm tightened around the boy's waist as the frantically twisting figure threatened to slip from his grasp. As the sound of hooves and the jingle of harness faded into silence, he pulled the boy's head back, whispering, "If I let you go, you little fool, will you be quiet?"
Furious blue eyes glared. Renewed struggling answered him.
He tried to tighten his hold, had to take his hand away from the boy's mouth and risk him crying out. His hand closed on the boy's chest, clutching at the rough fabric, felt the laces part.
His fingers touching soft, yielding flesh.…
Riven released Bar-Bara so quickly the boy fell to his knees but he didn't stay down, instead scrambled to his feet, fairly choking with fury, chest heaving in short angry pants and 'twas at his chest that Riven stared as if stupefied, mouth dropping open.
His fingers still tingled, feeling scorched from the contact with that soft flesh and the swell of breast where there should have been none. Riven stared at the gaping tunic, at the white mounds, small, to be sure, but rounded and pink-tipped and definitely female.
At last he managed a surprised croak, "You're a wench!"
"Oh, you've torn my tunic!" The cry was so feminine it brought an unwilling smile to his face. She hastily pulled the rent cloth together, attempting to re-lace it. It did little good....
"So you found me out! No matter. Let's be on our way! We can follow them from the cliffs."
"Not so fast, little one! I haven't decided what I'll do with you."
"What's there to decide? That was my little sister he was holding!" She tugged at his arm. "We're wasting time! Let's go!"
He pulled away from her grasp.
"Has my being female blasted your memory? After him! To Ak-Madesh!"
"Nay! Things are different now. The only place you and I are going is to the nearest village, and there you'll stay!"
"No!" She stamped one small foot in anger. "You promised!"
"I promised a boy I'd take him to Ak-Madesh, a boy I thought I might somehow teach to fight. I'll admit I was a fool to think that, but I'd be a bigger fool to take a female with me!"
"Very well!" Bar-Bara decided for him. "If you won't take me, I'll go by myself!"
"You're no more equipped to survive now than you were before!" He was going to say it! He had to! Something was forcing the words from him.
He finished in defeat, "I'll take you to Ak-Madesh."
The look she gave him held surprise and triumph. Truly, her eyes were the deepest blue he'd ever seen, like sea water, full of darkness and anger, deep pools. A man could drown in that blueness....
(BLOODSEEK is published as an e-book by Double Dragon Publishing, paperback through lulu.com)