A distant time. Different lovers. The same end.
The tragic past of Tenebris unfolds, as Galia, Mina, and Strayke enter the Hollow City as slaves. Though fate deals them one cruel blow after another, they manage to find solace in their love.
But the Goddess of Tenebris has a different plan for Galia. Though destined for great things, Galia rebels with a daring plan. Only too late does she learn it will exact a terrible price.
Magnificent! This is an epic tale of love and great loss. Can't wait for the conclusion!Kindle Reviewer
This has been a wonderful series so far, but this installment blew the others out of the water.Merissa, Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books!
The continuation of the Hollow City story is nothing short of magical. Now they will know exactly what they are up against, but not know how to combat it.A.C. Wilson, Kindle Reviewer
As I said, it is a dark erotic love story, but so worth reading! And, the story has yet to reach its final chapters. I've already ordered the 6th book and will wait most impatiently for it's releaseSue Me, Kindle Reviewer
Amazing! Finally figuring out what really happened in Tennebris is great. I love all of the twists this series has thrown me.Kindle Reviewer
As Galia scanned the water yet again, her hand closed over Mina’s. They sat on the deck, next to the railing, wedged between two large, oak barrels. But it was a good day. Any day the men allowed them to be on the deck was, by definition, a good day. In the bright light, Galia took a moment to glance at her friend. Mina had started their journey a slender, young woman. Now she was nothing but sticks. Only will and determination held her together.
“Can you see it yet?” Mina asked, her voice hoarse.
“No, not yet.” Galia said, squeezing her hand. “Are you so eager to come to Tenebris, then?”
Mina’s smile was crooked. “If I thought you would jump with me, I would throw myself over the railing right now.”
Galia checked to see if the sailors had heard. One eyed them suspiciously, but didn’t approach. Though his eyes roamed over her from head to toe, he finally looked away. Galia exhaled. Talk like Mina’s could get them locked below decks again. Some of the other slaves there had already succumbed to the fever.
Mina laughed a little.
“You’re so afraid,” she said. “You should save some of that fear for Tenebris.”
Galia shook her head, scooting a little closer. Crammed together, it was hard to tell where one woman began and the other ended.
“It’s not that I don’t fear it,” Galia said. “But I want to walk on the land again. I want to feel it underneath my feet. I want to be still, and I don’t care where it is.”
Mina’s laugh was harsh.
“You won’t want that for long. Soon enough we’ll both wish we were back here.”
Galia bit her lower lip. “But–”
“Here, what are you two doing? Get away from there!”
Galia cringed at the loud voice. She tried to scramble up, shoving Mina behind her.
It was the first mate, a pale giant of a man from the same climes as Mina. In the hot sun, his nose peeled like the skin of some ugly fruit. He squinted down at them.
“We’re sorry,” Galia said, quickly. “We were just trying to stay out of the way.”
“You look like you were hiding,” he snarled. “You look like you were plotting. A word from me and the captain’ll have the whole lot of you back in chains.”
Galia could feel the gaze of the other slaves on the deck, a couple dozen that she could see. She knew that if they were sent below decks, they would blame her and Mina.
“We’re sorry!” Galia said. She could hear the wheedling whine in her voice that made her own stomach turn. “We’re sorry! We didn’t mean anything by it.”
The first mate grabbed her wrist, his fingers traveling all the way around it until they closed and tightened. She winced and a little hiss escaped her.
“Don’t you dare talk back to me, little bitch,” he growled. “When we put into port you’ll have blood dripping down your legs. It’s no matter to me.”
Galia could feel more than see Mina’s rage. The man’s words sickened her, but it was Mina’s rage that she truly feared. The sister of her heart would strike first and ask questions later.
“I don’t want that,” Galia said, casting her eyes down. Her free hand went behind her, flat against Mina’s belly, halting her from jumping up. “Please sir, we don’t want any trouble.”
“Go on, and smash them both up. See what the captain has to say about you harming the queens of the Bodicci.”
The words were light and clear. For a moment, Galia didn’t know where they had come from. A crewman wouldn’t have spoken such impudence, and a slave wouldn’t have spoken at all. But to her shock, it was indeed a slave. His skin was bronze from the summer sun, but his blue eyes were as bright as the water around them.
Galia felt relieved, even as she hated herself for it. It didn’t matter where the hammer fell as long as it did not fall on her or Mina.
The first mate glared at him. “What the hell did you say?”
“Those two,” the young man said, gesturing at her and Mina. “They’re queens of the northern tribes, slaves that will fetch the highest price. As your meat, they’re only brothel bait. See how the captain likes that.”
For a moment, Galia thought that the first mate would simply beat her, no matter what the other slave said. She could see that he wanted to, maybe even more so now. But instead he dropped her arm, and spat on the deck next to her bare foot. He stalked over to the chained young man. He yanked him up by the hair and landed a savage backhand to his face.
“Mind how you speak to your betters,” he snarled. He shoved him back down to the deck before pacing off, kicking a few slaves as he went.
Galia sagged with relief. Mina, more canny, sat forward and glanced at the young man. He wiped away the blood from his lip.
“You’ve got a big mouth for a slave,” Mina said.
The young man glanced in their direction, and Galia had a chance to actually look at him. He might have been in his early twenties, perhaps a few years older than her or Mina. He was not as tall as the men she had grown up with, but the loincloth he wore revealed a body that was thickly muscled. Like the rest of them, he wore an iron ring that had been beaten to shape around his wrist.
“And you have a wonderful attitude for a Bodiccian queen.”
They weren’t queens, of course, or even from Bodicci. They had been taken on raids from the northern coasts. Galia still shuddered when she thought of the way the raiders had killed the people in their village. She had been orphaned years ago, but Mina had seen her entire family killed.
“Thank you,” Galia said hastily. “You saved us from beatings.” And probably worse.
The young man fisted his right hand and held it over his heart. For a moment she wasn’t sure what he was doing. Then she realized it was like a gesture of respect, a general to a queen. Her cheeks flushed hot, imagining herself the butt of some joke. But his serious face gave no indication that he was anything but sincere. She flushed all the more.
Mina leaned against her again, and Galia wrapped her arms around the slighter girl. She glanced up at the disc of the sun. With her nut-brown hair and olive complexion, Galia fared better in the heat than Mina. The other girl was as fair as snow. She had to stick to the shade or be blistered by the hot sun.
“Sometimes, I think we must have died with everyone else on the raid,” Mina whispered. “Sometimes, I think this must be the afterlife.”
The village that they had lived in had been small. They made what living they could from the wonderfully, fat fish that they caught. Every year, they travelled to the summer camp. There they would meet people from other clans and villages, and trade their dried strips of fish. But this year, no one would go. Galia wondered if they’d be missed. Perhaps in a few years, the summer camp would send men to investigate. By then there would only be a few charred timbers sticking out of the snow. The wolves would have scattered the bones, and the crows would have borne away the scraps of fabric.
Galia hadn’t been born to the northern tribes. Her mother had come from inland. Even so, she had called the village her home. When it had burned, she had felt something inside die with it. The only thing that kept her going was the need to watch out for Mina. She needed to keep her safe. She lived for the sister of her heart, and though she would not have wished such feelings on someone else, she suspected that Mina lived for her.
For the first time since the raiders had put in to the shores of their home, however, she felt something stir. Her curiosity had been roused. The young man who’d saved them was still standing.
“Where are you from?” she whispered to him.
He didn’t look like the hunters and the fishermen she had known. Even cuffed, there was something proud about him.
He shrugged. “Here and there, wherever the wind took us.”
She frowned. In her experience, the only people who traveled were singers and traders. He didn’t seem like either.
He smiled at her. “I was a blank-shield soldier,” he said. “Part of a company that fought for pay all along the great sea.”
Now she could see it. Everything fell in place. No wonder he hadn’t been afraid. No wonder his body was like a tightly strung bow.
Mina looked up at him, her gaze curious now too.
“A sell-sword,” she said, not even trying to hide her disdain.
Galia flinched. One day Mina’s lack of care was going to get her killed.
“Aye,” the young man said, smiling. “A sell-sword. I take it you’re impressed.”
“Hardly,” Mina said with a sniff. “We had no use for soldiers where we came from.”
It was true enough in the tiny hamlets of the north, but only because there were so few people.
The young man’s gaze turned slightly cruel, though there was still a slight smile on his lips.
“Is that so? From what I’ve heard about your lives on board, there was at least one time when you would have liked to have had soldiers on hand.”
Galia felt Mina tense. She wrapped her arms around the smaller woman’s shoulders. Because Mina had never been able to answer anyone with blows, she used her tongue instead.
“You’re too pretty to be a sell-sword,” Mina said. “But I’ll wager you sold something, and right happy those men were to get it too.”
At home that insult would have had a man baying for blood. Instead, the young man only smiled gamely, with a shrug. Galia thought that was the end of it. Then he spun as quick as a top and lunged for them. When Galia thought about it later, she would have realized that he didn’t intend to harm them. He was only stamping on the ground in the way young children frightened chickens. All he wanted to see was Mina flinch back or squawk with dismay.
Instead, what he got was Galia jumping to her feet in front of Mina. He froze, and she did too.
His eyes are beautiful.
For a moment, she thought he was going to shove or push her. Instead, he took a half-step back, and gave her a long, appraising look.
“Now that’s a lovely queen,” he said almost to himself. “That’s one I might follow.”
Galia’s face felt as though it were on fire. “Keep your opinions to yourself, if you please. If you’ll stay away from us, we’ll stay away from you.”
She sat back down, but to her dismay, Mina turned an amused expression on her. Galia would have been angrier except it was the first expression of anything Mina had made in weeks. Her friend was a quicksilver sprite. She could turn and bite as quick as a snake, but her laughter and affection came as easily.
“Well, well,” she said, amused. “Guess you’ll know better than to threaten me when I have my bodyguard here.” The young man inclined his head gravely at them both. “What’s your name, anyway? I am Mina, and she is Galia.”
Something flickered across the young man’s face.
“I don’t have a name anymore, at least not one I care to say.”
“No name? None at all? Even the beasts in the field have names.”
Galia could only put up with the teasing cruelty for so long.
“I’m afraid the beasts of the field have me beat,” the young man said. “I suppose I will be nameless then.”
Mina’s laugh was a strange cross between condescension and companionship. The last months had made her cruel. Still, it was better that she be cruel than broken.
“Then we’ll call you Strayke,” Mina said. “That will do, won’t it?”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, Mina!” Galia said. “We’ll do no such thing.” But the young man didn’t understand. How could he? “It’s a name from our many…stories.”
Mina snorted. “Strayke is a dog.”
Galia frowned. That wasn’t strictly true. “Strayke was the great wolf that sat next to Perun’s throne, his loyal protector.”
“His lap dog,” Mina retorted.
To Galia’s surprise, the young man slowly smiled. “That will do. Call me Strayke, beautiful queens.”
Mina might have continued her game, but Galia pulled her back. The young man––Strayke––took a seat again. Mina sat back and leaned close.
“He’s not bad looking,” she whispered.
“Hush,” Galia whispered back. “Of all the silly things.”
If the fever didn’t claim them, a sailor would. Some young man, even if he was handsome, was the last thing they ought to be thinking about. But despite her words, Galia couldn’t help but steal a peek at him. He was looking right at her. She quickly looked away. Now she was sure she must be glowing.
Mina seemed as if she would say something.
“Hush,” Galia said. “For once, Mina, please, just hush.”