In book one of the Night Warriors series, questions were raised about Veriel's motives. Did he have a claim, or was he insane? What relationship existed between Jorg and Regana? Who did Regana love (her husband, Pauwel elder killer, the "Crossbearer Turned", or the beast Veriel), and who was Andris of Crossbearer's father? This book answers it all.
"Veriel, Regana and Pauwel--perhaps the most famous trio of the whole series--are on the front stage in this book. A story of love, honor and betrayal unfolding against the ruthless backdrop of the warriors' lives, mortal risks and immortal souls being at stake. The blend of romance, drama and mystical lore makes the reading experience quite enjoyable." Reviewed by Daria for Romance Junkies 4 Ribbons!
"Ms. Lyons has given us another great story, one that answers the questions of why Veriel turned beast and why he went after the Anna. She has once again gripped us by the shirt collar and woven a spell of a fantasy world that has warriors that protect the innocent. It may be that all is not what it seems and that Veriel isn't as evil as we thought." Reviewed by Donna for Fallen Angels Reviews 5 ANGELS
Gawen marched over the uneven ground. The trees were thick but thinning as he neared the planting fields and home. His kill was slung over his shoulder. It was only a small deer, hardly larger than a wolf, but it would feed his family well. He hefted it as if it weighed not a thing. At nine, he was already the size of many of the smaller men in the village, and the deer was not a burden to him at all.
In a land full of tall, broad men with eyes as fair as a summer sky and hair the color of grain and fire and clouds, he was one of the marked. The Stone-Chosen were all dark haired--black except for the brown of Jorg's--and had deep brown or black eyes--except for the silver-gray of Jorg's and Wil's dark blue ones. Larger even than the largest of the local men in adulthood, the Stone-Chosen were giants even amongst the giants.
He scowled at the birthmark on his wrist. The blood mark given him by the Stone was the mark of Syth, the mark of the chosen master trainer and Stone lord. He was to be Sibold's replacement when the time came.
Most days, being chosen was simply what Gawen was. He no longer strutted about as if it made him important as he had when he was five and he had been given the duty of watching out for his younger brothers when they were brought to Sibold to play at battle with wooden weapons and hear the stories of the ancients that would define their places as protectors to the village.
Their formal training would not begin for many years--at fifteen. Gawen would be fully trained by the time the next, that insolent pup Tilbrand, was ready to begin his training. He secretly hoped Sibold would take on Tilbrand personally and knock the cocky attitude out of him quickly while Gawen worked with Wil. He would be a man of twenty-four by the time Jorg began his training.
Gawen knew Sibold and Eberhard, the village leader, were still searching for more of his brothers. The thought chilled him. They already numbered thirteen, and at times, controlling them was like reasoning with wolf pups.
He sighed at the thought that Ditrich would join the play in half a year.
Jorg was still a babe and would not join them for almost three years. When he did, it would be up to Gawen to shield him. Though Jorg had the blood mark of Reg--the intensity of the base of the fire, as proof of his status, prominent on the front of his shoulder, his features were different enough to cause dissention. With his rich brown hair and silver eyes, the difference had been noted immediately. Tilbrand had already been censured for wondering aloud if the difference in appearance denoted a weakness in the boy.
Sibold had high hopes for Jorg. He'd confided in Gawen that the Stone had named their youngest brother the greatest Warrior, their champion. Though Gawen was slated to lead, he would not be the strongest. He smiled at the thought that Jorg would be hard pressed to prove his place with twelve older brothers wrestling to knock him from his perch.
Strangely enough, Pauwel stood out as the shining star with his blood mark of Ori--the sun, even at only four years of age. If anyone would be a challenge to Jorg, it would be Pauwel, and Gawen was not sure that Jorg could live up to that challenge.
He furrowed his brow in concern. Being the most powerful Warrior made Jorg the weakest in other areas. He would be most unable to control his Blutjagd, most affected by printing, and most susceptible to being lost to madness. But, it was still a matter of many years before they had to worry about any of that. Still, the fact that Jorg's family's lands bordered his own was lucky. Sibold had given Gawen the duty of protecting their tiny, fatherless treasure as much as the fates permitted.
Gawen waved to a man from the village that was working cutting firewood; he sighed as the man bowed his head respectfully, fearfully. It had been millennia since more than two or three had been chosen by the Stone at once and more than a century since there had been more than one. The villagers were panicked and suspicious to have so many chosen.
Gawen hated the fear in their eyes. Even if there was a war coming, and by all reports it seemed there was, it was not the fault of the Warriors. Their duty was to fight to their deaths to protect all within the village. They were not the most pressing threat.
The foederati was unsettled. The peace was tenuous at best. It had been ten years since Sidonius had been exiled after his battle with Elric of the Goths.
Childric had continued the expansion of his father, Merovech of Chlogio, Chief of the Salian Franks, alternately allying himself with Rome and pushing the borders back to the Somme River. Three years in power, Childric's son, a man named Clovis, was attempting to continue the process of subduing friends and foes alike. His borders stretched out from the Pyrenees to the Rhine. Now, word was in the wind that Clovis and Ragnachar, his kinsman, would seek to take Syagrius at Soissons soon.
All these things were told him by Sibold, most of it knowledge imparted to the master trainer by the Stone. Gawen learned it all faithfully, knowing that the fight would eventually come to their village. Until then, it was a mass of politics and battles that had little bearing on this place hidden away from such things.
Gawen's people no longer bothered much with distinctions. In this region, only the tribe was of importance, only the village. Romans, Gauls, Christians, or Barbarians were of no importance here. Even the fact that Pauwel, the grandson of a Christian emissary who intermarried and produced an heir that now served the Stone of his grandmother's gods was hardly reason to wonder in a place like this.
Buried deep in mountains rich in iron and fertile for farming, the village prospered under the protection of the Stone. The Stone chose its people well, and the bargain had been sealed in blood and power. Every generation, a boy was born of a different family, chosen by the Stone to be its lord and confidant. On occasion, two were born...or three, based on the Stone's perception of the coming need of the village.
The Stone lord was always apparent by the mark of Syth. There were twenty symbols in the ancient language, and the Stone marked its choice of any of the aspects on its chosen--except Zel, signifying an end, Jee for Justice, or Ani--the sign of the birth mother of beast killers. Those were signs of war and death coming.
Tilbrand had been born with the sign of Wul--the cunning and feared wolf. It was a rare symbol, but it seemed appropriate for Tilbrand. Wilhelmus, Wil, carried the sign of Len--the strength of the mountain, and he was already a mountain of a young Warrior. Olbrecht had been born as Baroo--thunder, and Dado was Pol--the strength and speed of the horse. Cunczel was Vin--the untamable wind, Bertolf was Nul--the darkest night and stealth personified, and Redulf was Iol--immovable ice. Ditrich was Dobler--the twin peace bringer and diplomat, while Geldric was Fih--war personified and Dobler's opposite number. Gerhardus, Ger, was Hir--the cool depth of the wood.
For millennia, the Stone had protected the village, but many felt the coming situation was hopeless. Only once before in recorded history had there been so many chosen. Gawen knew that the villagers weren't sure whether to fear another beast war or an enemy so dire as to require thirteen Warriors more.
Sibold's magic should be sufficient to prevent beasts, but with the political situation, Gawen wasn't sure even the entire seventeen allowed blood marks would suffice. In the end, Zel and Jee might be required, and the village might be lost. In that case, Gawen would take the Stone away as was his duty, followed by whatever brothers remained, to find a new home.
Gawen speeded his step as his home came into view. For some reason, he was suddenly glad to be there. He wanted to run his hands over the baby growing inside his mother Marcwi, a brother or sister in blood that he had almost given up hope of ever having.
His breath caught, and he ranged his gaze over the group of people in the main room, his hand tightening on the edge of the rough door. His father, Abbo, wouldn't meet his eyes. Eberhard and Sibold stared at Gawen in a calculated way that made him uneasy, and he retraced his steps over the past few days to assure himself that he could not be in danger of censure for some misdeed.
When his gaze fell on Emecin, the young midwife who assisted Adalind as she learned her craft, peeking around Sibold's shoulder and looking grim, his blood ran cold. There was a problem with the baby, he guessed. His hopes of being a true brother seemed to crumble within him as he recognized the sound of weeping from his mother's bedchamber. The fates could not be so cruel! It was the only thing Gawen wished for, and they could not take it from him this way after all the months of hoping and watching the baby grow in Marcwi's belly.
Sibold smiled warmly. "Do not be concerned, Gawen. Come meet your sister." He turned and scooped a baby from Emecin's hands to show her to her brother.
Gawen smiled widely and dropped his kill on the table as he made his way to her.
She met his eyes evenly and seemed to assess him before yawning. She was newly born, still covered in a slick of their mother's blood and a milky substance he had seen on other new babies. Her eyes widened, as he stroked her cheek and hair with one huge finger. Her eyes were as dark as the night sky beneath a sea of black hair that was soft as down.
"She looks like me, Father," he exclaimed excitedly.
Abbo winced, then cast a sad look at his son, but Gawen gave it hardly a thought. Surely, it was an aberration of some sort. The Stone didn't choose female Warriors.
"Yes," his father agreed quietly. "Yes, she does, Gawen."
Sibold nodded his head. "You are her personal protector, Gawen. No matter what happens, it is your duty to keep her always safe."
Gawen furrowed his brow. "Of course. She is mine, a woman of my house," he replied seriously. A Warrior's duty to his house, especially women of his house, was taught early, before any other consideration.
"More than that, Gawen. The Stone demands this duty of you. Love and protect her as the Stone demands--with your life, if necessary."
He nodded soberly, unable to conceive of a duty greater than that to any woman of his house but accepting that it must be so if Sibold said it was. He put out his hands to accept her into his care, and Sibold placed his sister in his arms gingerly. Gawen laughed in glee, as she grasped his finger while he tickled her cheek.
"What would you name her, Gawen?" Sibold asked quietly.
Gawen looked at him in shock and dismay. "My mother?"
"She lives, though she is very weak. The child is yours, Gawen. What would you name her?"
He looked to his father, but Abbo shook his head and left, seemingly saddened. The door closed behind him with a chilling finality. Gawen felt his heart begin to pound. They really meant to give him this child as his own responsibility. They meant for Gawen to raise her as if she were his own. "Gana," he decided.
"Regana," Sibold corrected him. "Her name is Regana. The Stone approves of her name."
Gawen nodded quietly. "Regana." He smiled as she brushed her mouth over his fingertip, rooting for food, his concerns momentarily forgotten. "You hear that, little one? You are mine. You have to obey me," he ordered her.
"I never said that," Sibold interrupted him. "In fact, I wouldn't expect it of her."