Authors: Alexis Morgan
Her Knight's Quest
“Morgan has the gift of bringing her characters to lifeâboth good and badâand keeping you invested in them and their lives.”
“Readers will enjoy passages about the warriors' tenderness toward their animal avatars and the strong, equal partnerships between the warriors and their lovers.”
“Morgan provides a richly woven story that places her damned heroes on a quest for redemption that may or may not culminate in their salvation.”
RT Book Reviews
My Lady Mage
“The first book in her Warriors of the Mist series shows Morgan at her storytelling best.Â .Â .Â . Morgan provides plenty of mystery, action, and passion to keep you flipping pages well into the night. I didn't want
My Lady Mage
“Morgan's fans will be intrigued by her newest venture: a fantasy-flavored series featuring Warriors of the Mist, legendary warriors who seek redemption as champions in order to stave off eternal damnation. Morgan's talent for writing richly detailed characters immediately draws readers into their adventures. An excellent start to what promises to be an electrifying and passionate series!”
RT Book Reviews
“Another wonderful Alexis Morgan read.”
âNight Owl Reviews (top pick)
MORE PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS
OF ALEXIS MORGAN
“An emotional roller coaster. I couldn't put it down! Loved it!”
New York Times
bestselling author Susan Mallery
“A bit of mystery, lots of action, plenty of passion, and a story line that will grab your attention from the get-go.”
âRomance Reviews Today
“Suspicions, lust, loyalty, and love create a heavy mix of emotions.”
RT Book Reviews
“Magically adventurous and fervently romantic.”
“Whew! A unique paranormal story line that sizzles with every page.”
“This book sucked me in, and I didn't want to stop reading.”
âQueue My Review
“Morgan delivers a great read that sparks with humor, action, andÂ .Â .Â . great storytelling.”
âNight Owl Reviews (5 stars, top pick)
“Will keep readers entranced.”
âNocturne Romance Reads
“This action-packed paranormal romance has a little bit of everythingâespecially if you love interesting immortal warriors who are sexy as all get-outâand enough action and suspense to keep you riveted until the last page.”
âBlack Lagoon Reviews
“The spellbinding combination of passionate desires, fateful consequences, and the supernaturalÂ .Â .Â . [is] totally captivating throughout every enthralling scene.”
THE WARRIORS OF THE MIST NOVELS
My Lady Mage
Her Knight's Quest
Published by the Penguin Group
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New York, New York 10014
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A Penguin Random House Company
First published by Signet Eclipse, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright Â© Patricia L. Pritchard, 2014
Agathia map Â© Delilah Stephans Designs, 2013
A Time for Home
Â© Patricia L. Pritchard, 2013
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
I want to dedicate this book to the usual suspects: to my husband for his constant support and for still making me laugh after all these years; to my agent, Michelle Grajkowski, for always being there for me; and to Kerry Donovan for understanding why Kane was my favorite and for helping make his book
I want to thank my friend Janice Kay Johnson for all the brainstorming sessions over lunch. I love thinking back over how many books have we plotted over burgers and
he Warriors of the Mist are a legend, their origins lost in the shadows of the past. In dark times, it is whispered that the warriors can be summoned from beneath the roiling currents when a champion is needed and if the cause is just.
However, the cost will be high and the risks are great. For if the battle is won, the champion faces judgment by the same gods who had once condemned him to the cold chill of the mountain river. If his performance is found worthy and valiant, at long last the warrior will make the final journey to the great hall where the noble knights of the past dwell for all eternity. However, if the champion is found lacking still, he returns with his brothers to the river.
If the battle is lost, regardless of fault, both the champion and the supplicant will be condemned to the netherworld. Together they will wander without hope and without light, lost in cold darkness until the ages have passed and all that exists ceases to be. Only the powerless and the desperate dare approach the Warriors of the Mist to plead for their cause.
Many years have passed since last a worthy supplicant journeyed to the river's edge, but times are dark and desperation has once again come to the people of Agathia. There is a disturbance in the mists, and the waters grow restless. Someone comes, bringing either disaster or redemption.
The Warriors of the Mist ready their weapons and prepare to meet the enemy.
t had been three days since Kane first rode through the arched gates of Agathia, capital of the kingdom with the same name. He already hated everything about the place: the throngs of people, the constant noise, and especially the spicy miasma of dark magic that permeated every corner of the city.
During the daylight hours, he slept. Afternoons he prowled the streets, memorizing the layout of the city. Knowing which walls could be scaled and where the guards dozed while on duty could make the difference between life and death if his mission were to go badly.
His nights were spent visiting taverns to gauge the mood of the patrons. They definitely weren't happy, not with the heavy dose of sour fear mixed with the usual smells of greasy food and cheap wine.
He'd hoped to cross paths with Duke Keirthan's personal guard while they were off duty. Yet he hadn't seen any in the places he'd been so far, and it wouldn't be prudent to ask strangers to direct his footsteps. In this city, anyone who showed too much interest in the duke's men was likely to end up dead.
The Broken Sword was the fourth such place he'd been in tonight, but this time he planned to stay awhile. Long enough to finish a second tankard of ale, maybe even a third.
He looked around the crowded room. Had all of these fine citizens of Agathia taken to drinking in reaction to the growing evil trapped within the city walls? Kane felt
sure it wasn't the quality of the food that drew them to this piss pot. He choked down another bite of the greasy stew and shoved the bowl aside.
At least he had a table to himself. Several people had started to sit down with him but had quickly changed their minds. Evidently, Agathians were reluctant to share space with a man who bore a mage mark on his cheek and had eyes the color of death.
Fine with him. The company of strangers always made his skin crawl.
The evening's entertainment was about to start, the real reason Kane was there. Averel, the newly hired troubadour, sat in the far corner, tuning his lute and warming up his voice for his debut performance in the city. Two oversized dogs lay sprawled at his feet, their relaxed air deceptive. One hostile move toward their master and these people would learn all too quickly how much damage a pair of war dogs could do.
Kane leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest, watching the crowd while keeping a wary eye on the young musician. There was a definite air of innocence about the youth. Most of these fools probably thought the calluses on Averel's hands came from hours of plucking the strings on his lute. In truth, they'd come from years of gripping the pommel of a sword.
If Kane hadn't spent centuries of fighting side by side with the young knight, he might well have bought the innocent act himself. However, despite their long friendship, tonight they were strangers to each other. He'd keep his distance to minimize the chance of someone noticing the two of them shared the same unusual eye color. Those who clung to the old superstitions would say they'd been marked by the gods.
They would be right.
Both Kane and Averel served the Lord and Lady of the River. Along with their captain and two other warriors, they were the Warriors of the Mist or, as Kane actually preferred, they were simply called the Damned.
The gods had sent them to make this land safe for Lady Merewen, the woman who'd risked everything to call the warriors from their sleep beneath the river back on the spring equinox.
Averel headed toward the small platform in the front of the room. Silence followed in his footsteps as he made his way through the jumble of tables and benches. By the time he took a seat on a tall stool, every eye in the room was on him. Kane would have hated that, but Averel took all the attention in stride.
It seemed as if everyone was leaning forward a bit, anxious for the performance to begin. No doubt in these dark days, the promise of any entertainment was a welcome diversion. Even a poor musician would serve the purpose; tonight they were in for a surprise.
Averel had a true gift for music and a voice that lent itself to both the beautiful and the bawdy, depending on the crowd and his mood. Kane waited to see which direction his friend would choose tonight.
“Good evening,” the young minstrel began, pitching his voice just loud enough to be heard over the quiet murmurings of the crowd. “As your humble servant, I will begin with a few personal favorites. Later I will take suggestions, but I make no promises. My master specialized in the old songs, so I have not yet learned the newer melodies.”
Kane was impressed. Averel had come up with the perfect excuse for not performing all the popular ballads. Considering how long they'd been absent from the world, it was unlikely he knew anything that had been composed in several hundred years.
It wasn't long before Averel had the crowd singing along with him. Kane looked around for the tavern owner. The grinning fool was behind the bar, serving up pitchers of ale as fast as he could fill them. Obviously, singing was thirsty work, which boded well for Averel's chances of being hired on for an extended stay.
Kane's situation was trickier. His assignment was to
get close to Duke Keirthan himself. His best option would be as a member of the duke's personal guard, but the man had a reputation of being careful about letting strangers get too close. Considering the man harvested his own people like a crop to feed his blood magic, the caution was understandable.
A movement off to his side had Kane reaching for his knife. Realizing it was one of Averel's idiot dogs, he forced himself to relax. Both of the mutts were working their way through the crowd, mooching for bits of bread and meat. The white one stopped only inches from Kane's table.
Everyone in his immediate vicinity watched the interchange with understandable caution. After all, the dog was tall enough to look a seated man in the eye.
Kane glared at the offending beast. “What do you want?”
The dog responded by wagging his tail and then laying his head in Kane's lap. It would be more in Kane's character to shove the dog away, but then he glanced up at Averel, who gave him a slight nod before looking away.
All right, then. The animal was there for a purpose. Kane relented and gave him a thorough scratching, in the process palming the message Averel had stuck inside the dog's collar. After a few seconds, Kane gave the dog a gruff push.
“That's enough. Be off with you.”
The dog stopped at a few more tables before rejoining the other beast in the back corner. Well done. The message had been delivered without Averel having to approach Kane directly or his dogs singling Kane out for attention.
Averel started a new song, one that had everyone clapping their hands and stamping their feet in time to the music. Kane sipped more of his ale and waited until the song ended before making his escape. Aiming for the back door where the privies were located, he staggered
as if he were feeling the effects of all the ale he'd consumed.
When he was sure he wasn't being followed, he dropped the act and continued on down the alley for several blocks before cutting back over to the main road through town. Thanks to the late hour, the streets were dark except for the occasional pool of light from a window along the way. Kane kept to the shadows, where he felt most at home. The few people he passed gave him a furtive look and hurried on their way. He didn't blame them. There were many scary things that prowled in the darkness; Kane was one of them.
His own destination was close by now. He'd taken a room at an inexpensive inn on the edge of town, the kind of place where a few coins ensured privacy. Add another piece of silver to the price, and the staff would turn a blind eye to anything short of murder in the dining hall. While Kane had no immediate intentions of killing anyone, he did have an unusual companion sharing his quarters. Hob wouldn't attack unless provoked, but just the sight of him would likely throw the whole inn into chaos and draw unwanted attention to Kane himself.
Gargoyles had that effect on most people.
Kane entered the building through a side door. At this time of night, few guests would still be up, but he preferred to keep his movements as private as possible. For the same reason, he automatically avoided the fourth step, the one that creaked.
His room was at the far end of the hall with a window that overlooked the courtyard below. If he needed to make a quick escape, Kane could easily jump to the roof of the stable and then to the street below. A smart man slept better knowing he wasn't trapped in a room with only one way out.
All was quiet as he slipped inside his room and locked the door. Making his way to the small table by the bed, he lit a candle. Averel's note could wait until Kane released Hob and got comfortable.
He kept the shutters closed even though the air in the room reeked of boiled cabbage and stale beer from the dining room below. Murmuring the words to release Hob from his magical resting place on Kane's shield, he averted his eyes from the sudden burst of light that accompanied the gargoyle's appearance.
Hob looked around and shook from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail before leaning back on his haunches in a long stretch. Then he circled around Kane's legs, bumping him in a show of affection.
Kane patted the beast on his scaly head. “Sorry to be so late in returning, boy.”
When Kane opened the shutters, Hob laid his head on the sill to taste the night air with a few flicks of his tongue and then gave the rest of their quarters a thorough sniff. Satisfied all was well, he turned a few circles before curling up on the floor at Kane's feet.
Unfolding Averel's note, Kane spread it out on the table near the candle for light. All it said was
The Empty Keg
The Rooster's Crow
. No other explanation was needed. Averel knew Kane was hunting for the tavern where the guards spent their off hours. He must have heard something about these two places.
Kane would visit them as soon as the sun went down tomorrow night. He needed to evaluate the caliber of man the duke was hiring but also hoped to bring himself to their attention. The best way to get a job as a hired sword was through a recommendation from someone already on the payroll.
It wasn't much of a plan, but before meeting Captain Gideon all those centuries ago, Kane had made his living as a mercenary. Some things never changed, especially the demand for men who could wield a sword and weren't too picky about who they worked for.
He stripped out of his clothes and stretched out on the thin mattress. When Kane was situated and had the threadbare blanket pulled up to his chest, Hob crawled onto the bed and curled up at his feet. The damned
animal took up too much room, but he and Hob had been partners since Kane's grandfather had presented him with the freshly hatched gargoyle. He'd intended it as a bribe to purchase his grandson's willing assistance in his magery. The ploy hadn't worked, but Kane and Hob had formed a bond that had proven unbreakable.
That wasn't the only reason he tolerated Hob sprawling across his ankles. The Damned had fought as a unit even before the goddess had taken them into her service. Not that he'd admit it to his friends, but Kane missed them on this solo mission. Hob's solid presence close by helped fill the gap.
Before dozing off, Kane offered up a prayer that his time here in the city would be short. He'd volunteered for this duty, but war was coming; he sensed it in his bones. When it came time to fight, the Damned would face their enemy together.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
An hour after sundown, Kane left the Empty Keg to move on to the next tavern. Outside, he overheard an argument in the nearby alley. He crept closer, his pulse quickening at the possibility that he may have just stumbled across exactly the kind of situation he'd been looking for. He peeked around the corner to see one of the guards facing off against a middle-aged man dressed in clothing suited for a well-to-do merchant.
The guardsman shoved the older man back a few steps. “Hold your tongue, you twice-cursed fool! Quit spreading false lies about your ruler! I'm off duty or else you'd already be on your way to prison for such traitorous remarks.”
Rather than listen to the sound advice, the man pushed back. “The truth cannot be silenced no matter how many of you brutes the duke hires, Captain Bayar. Does he think we don't know what he's done? How many of his own people have died at his hands?”
The guard was both drunk and belligerent, a volatile combination, but it was his opponent who had Kane
worried. The merchant's words echoed with grief and righteous anger. The man might have good cause, but he was asking to get skewered.
The argument turned lethal as both men drew their swords. Kane charged forward, hoping to distract the two long enough for them to back away from the precipice.
The guard reeled forward, but even drunk, he disarmed his opponent easily. He could have stopped there, the fight done before it had really started. Instead, he sneered and held the tip of his blade at the merchant's throat.
“Do you really think you can insult both me and the duke and live?”
Kane drew his own sword as he closed the distance between himself and the two men. Hoping the guard would respond to the bark of an order, he shouted, “Drop your weapon!”
He was too late. The merchant dropped to the ground, his throat slit. Kane took up his cause. Drunk or not, the captain was paid to protect the citizens of Agathia, not to execute them over a few ill-advised words. Yes, the merchant had been foolish to cross swords with the guard, but he didn't deserve to die for it.
But maybe the captain did.
Bayar blinked at Kane. “What do you want?”
Kane smiled. “To ensure you face the judgment of the gods tonight for crimes against Agathia, including murder.”
The fool bellowed in fury and went on the attack. Kane sidestepped him easily. Despite the alcohol he'd consumed, the captain still put up a credible showing. It was tempting to play with him for a while, but the other guards might be looking for him.