Because of the unforeseen delays in production of both Books 2 and 3, here is the prologue from Hunter as a peace offering. We thank all our loyal fans and readers for their patience.
Prologue: On the Road
“…Inya,” Selo blinked, her voice dull, “it’s only been an hour.”
“I know,” the herbalist scowled, uncomfortably moving from foot to foot, “but I haven’t been on the road for over a year, remember? It’s going to take some time getting used to this all over again. Umi’s already out of breath.”
Indeed, the semi-rotund little donkey appeared to be gasping for breath. Selo didn’t know whether to be amused or annoyed. Walking to her was almost the same thing as breathing; it was something she did all the time everywhere. In fact, the only time Selo ever bothered with horses was for long journeys with short deadlines.
“Fine,” she sighed wearily, “we’ll take a break. But I recommend we get off the road.”
“Agreed,” Inya nodded. She pointed towards the forest which lined the road leading out of the city. “The forest is always nice and cool. And the trees will hide us from other travelers.”
The small party headed into the woods, where the smell of soft green grass was like a heady rush for Selo. Never again did she want to be held hostage in some silk-swaddled palace, not when the tall trees and warm west wind were calling her name.
They sat beneath an old tree with giant branches. Its leaves were in full bloom, kindly blocking out the sun.
“So where do we want to go first?” Selo asked excitedly. “I’ve never spent much time in your kingdom before.”
“Oon Sati has a lot of diversions,” Inya assured of her. “Do you like pleasure palaces?”
“Never heard of them.”
“They’re like mansions filled with all these educated, beautiful people who pour wine, play music, and tell really entertaining stories.”
Selo’s eyes lit up. “That sounds like so much fun!”
“It is,” Inya nodded. “But they can also be quite expensive, especially if you want to stay the night. I suppose we can always go to a regular drinking house instead.”
“Never been to one.”
Inya blinked, caught off guard. “But you’re a warrior!?!” she exclaimed. “I thought the drinking house was your second home.”
Selo shrugged. “I was training to be Captain of the Royal Guard. I couldn’t leave the palace for any reason.”
“Okay…,” Inya blinked. “So what did you do for fun?”
Selo shrugged again. “Practiced my double swords; competed in tournaments. I was undefeated, you know.”
Inya beamed. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Selo chuckled. “No one in my age group could take me out. Queen Ituti always said I reminded her so much of my mother.” She paused looking away into the forest for a moment. “I never knew my mother.” She turned back to Inya. “How about you?”
“My mother taught me everything I know about herbs,” Inya replied. “It’s the custom in the lake country. Once my mother’s favorite donkey died, she retired from the nomadic life and moved back to the lake country.”
Selo smiled broadly. “We should visit her sometime.”
Inya shuddered. “Gods, no. The only way I’ll ever again suffer the presence of that old harridan is when Umet finally gives us no other choice but to be together in the afterlife.”
Selo laughed. “I suppose if my mother were alive today I might avoid her too. None of Queen Ituti’s daughters could stand her presence for too long. They were always asking to be assigned somewhere far, far away from the capital.”
“It’s the way of things, I guess,” Inya yawned. “Mothers and daughters were never meant to get along.”
A part of Selo disagreed; something told her that if her mother had survived childbirth to raise her, the two of them would’ve been inseparable. Her mind flashed to her hallucination from the night she almost died. She remembered her mother gently touching her face.
To stave off the growing melancholy, Selo asked, “Can we go yet? I want to be off the road by sunset.”
“I suppose,” Inya sighed begrudgingly, rising to her feet and dusting her dress off. “Umi seems to have caught her breath, and my feet have stopped hurting…for now.”
“I promise we’ll sleep at an inn tonight,” Selo told her, “but we have to be realistic about things, Inya. We’re no longer employed by royalty. We have to spend as little money as possible.”
Inya waved dismissively. “There’s always ways to make money on the road,” she said. “You just have to keep your eyes open.”
Next ~ Vathi
Next ~ Vathi