The Weapons of War - Sample

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Chapter 1 - Briar

He woke me in his usual way, his hands, the palms roughened by the labour of the outpost, stroking my skin. I turned into him, lifting my mouth to his, sinking into his kiss, sleepy and lazy, his body as well-known as my own beneath my hands. The silk of hair, the taste of salt and man, the rasp of his stubble against my cheek, all divine. I wrapped myself around him, burying my face into his neck as he shifted and our bodies merged, his soft moan sighed out against my ear.
The morning light through the twisted branches of our bedroom window screen caught in the silver fall of his hair, pulled loose from its braids the night before by my fingers, and lighting his skin, rolling over the shift of muscle across his back and arms. I caught his face between my hands and brought his mouth back to mine, brushing my lips over his, too breathless to deepen the kiss, enraptured by the building pleasure of my body against his.

“Briar,” he groaned feeling the changes within me, the press of my power against him, the sting of the raw power as I fed it into him, so that when I fell and bound him to me, he could do the same.

The birds sang in the silence that fell between us, heralding the morning. I stroked my hands along his back and across his broad shoulders. He had always been strong, my one, honing his body into a weapon, but the labour of the outpost changed the muscles most in use, re-carving his body into new form, still beautiful but less studied in purpose. He groaned. “Sore there,” he commented his mouth against the pulse point below my ear. I rubbed the muscle, feeding my power in, to ease and soothe the ache away. He moaned again, in relief.

“You’ve been working too hard,” I pressed my lips against his cheek. “Let others do some of the labour, my one.” I knew it was a futile statement; Thorn found it impossible to stay still for any length of time and had to oversee every aspect of the outpost.

“Then how could I be sure things are done right?” his lips curled against my skin. He joked; he trusted his people, knew their competencies. “So, what are you up to today, my one?” he murmured. “Murder and mayhem with your Arcana cohorts?”

I sighed. “Probably weapon training with The Whisper of War, followed by power usage with The Fleet of Flight, and then meditation with The Strike of the Honourable.”

“You don’t have to study like them,” he told me. “It’s enough that they believe you have mastered the shield. You don’t need to become like them.”

“I know,” I stroked his hair out along his back. It reached his waist now. We never seemed to get around to cutting it. In truth, I didn’t want to, I liked to watch it cloak his beautiful body, to thread my fingers through it, and stroke it out along his skin. “But I feel I should take advantage of the training whilst it is offered.” Unspoken between us was my responsibility to be as effective a weapon as possible for the coming war.

He rolled, taking me with him, so that I lay across his chest. He pressed his lips into my hair and stroked his hand along my arm. “Briar,” he murmured. I closed my eyes, afraid of what he would say. “My one,” he pressed his lips into my hair again. “Don’t take all the responsibility for this upon your shoulders. The alliance made their choice, the Arcana made their choice... you are the figurehead we fight behind, but not responsible for every life involved.”

I pressed my face into him, breathing him in, seeking comfort from the scent of his skin. “I love you,” I mouthed against his heart, pressing kisses into the hair there. “You are my everything, Valiant,” I lifted my head to meet his eyes.

“And you mine.”

After lunch I met the Strike of the Honourable up in the avenue of trees. I came upon him, his face turned towards the plains, his green eyes distant and sorrowful. I wondered if he thought of The Song of Sorrow, who had taken off across the plains in the night. He sighed, and for a moment, behind the mask of the Arcana, there was a lonely and confused man. The mask returned swiftly as he noted my presence. “Briar,” he inclined his head.

“Strike,” I replied neutrally. He would not appreciate my pity, I knew. He was a proud man. “It is a beautiful morning.” The plateau was busy. The buildings that framed the vegetable gardens had been converted from shelter for the harvesters and storage, into a headquarters for the outriders, shelter for their horses, and storage for their supplies. I could see Sky bent over a projection, the coloured dots giving the position of various teams. Denal lurked in the background, his face set in stern, disapproving lines, and his eyes glowering at every male that came near his mate.

“It is,” Strike agreed. Riders were incoming, drawing his eye; he watched until they drew near enough to be identifiable. It was Ivy’s team, Azure at the head, but Ivy was not amongst them. That was not unusual; she avoided the outpost. A muscle in his jaw ticked. “We should meditate,” he decided.

I nodded and took position on the ground. The laughter of the newly arrived riders was overloud. They had seen Strike and their derision was evident, their laughter mocking and defiant. I felt their hate rolling from them. I wondered what he had done to earn their animosity. I knew he felt it too, his shoulders tensed, and his jaw clenched.

My meditation was interrupted by the arrival of another group of riders with a prisoner. I felt Thorn’s presence and opened my eyes to watch him stride towards the headquarters. He carved a path through the busy workers, taller than most, broader of shoulder, and with that confidence and powerful grace that was magnificent to behold... He went into the headquarters and I heard his voice and Sky’s.

I glanced at Strike. His green eyes were open, looking toward the canvas draped shelter. “It sounds like they have an important captive,” he observed coolly.

“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” I agreed. He rose and offered me his hand to help me to my feet.

They had a white-haired man bound to a chair. “Briar, Strike,” Sky greeted us, her voice chill as she addressed the Arcana. I flicked him a glance. Something was going on with The Strike of the Honourable and the residents of our outpost, involving Ivy, I concluded, as Sky was also close with the telepath making her the common element between the three groups. “This one,” she gestured to the white-haired man, “is more than he appears. He burnt something when they captured him. Fire power. They couldn’t save it. A map, they thought.”

The man smiled, defiantly, but did not speak.

“We will see what we can find,” The Strike of the Honourable volunteered. “Arcana aren’t telepaths, however...”

“Should I send for Ivy?” Thorn wondered stepping into Strike’s verbal opening, oblivious.

Sky sighed; she had not missed it. “She’ll not want to come,” she said, “but she will if you send for her, Thorn.”

Thorn met Strike’s eyes. “What do you think?”

“It is up to you,” Strike demurred. “Ivy has been developing her skills out on the plains... her achievements are... quite remarkable.”

He wants Thorn to bring her here, I thought, amused. Had the little mouse of a telepath caught the Arcana’s interest? The Fleet of Flight wasn’t averse to taking the residents of the outpost to his bed but did not form any permanent attachments. Had Strike done likewise? It did not fit with my impression of the man... but then, people continuously surprised me. It would explain Sky and Ivy’s team’s animosity if Strike had... bruised the telepath’s heart.

But, I suspected, from his behaviour, the bruising wasn’t one sided.

“Send for her,” I decided to help romance on its way, with a feeling of benevolence. “We have her, we might as well use her.”

“Fine,” Thorn nodded to Sky, who was frowning at the Arcana man with a hint of puzzlement. “Send Silence for her straight away. She should be able to get to the camp by tomorrow morning.”

Sky recollected herself, lifting her eyes from Strike and inclining her head to Thorn. She cast her eye across the riders who waited under the trees, politely giving us privacy. “Silence,” she called out. A grey-haired woman separated herself from the crowd. “Grab a mount and ride out to get Ivy, please. Thorn needs her to interrogate this prisoner.”

Silence grinned and headed towards the makeshift stables.

“We’ll see what we can find out in the meantime,” Strike offered.

“He’s all yours,” Thorn cast the white-haired man a look of disgust.

Sky cut the prisoner free of the chair. “Come with me,” Strike indicated the prisoner to proceed him. The white-haired man shrugged indifferently and let the Arcana take him down the stairs into the outpost.

“I think Strike and Ivy...” I said to Thorn.

Sky snorted. “Cold hearted, green-eyed - ” she swore. “Ivy would be better off if he kept his hands and - to himself.”

Thorn’s mouth dropped in shock at her language or the idea of the rigid Arcana and telepath being involved, I wasn’t sure which. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “I can’t see it.”

Sky arched her eyebrows at me.

“Never mind,” I took Thorn’s hand. “We seem to have some time to ourselves, my one,” I drew him out of the headquarters, and watched the waiting riders move in on Sky, who snapped out orders. Silence rode by on her way out to the plains. I drew Thorn back into the lengthening shadows of the trees, pushing him back against the trunk of one, and pulling his mouth down to mine.

“Mmm,” he kissed his way along my jaw. “Insufficient privacy, however, my one.”

“I know,” I sighed and wrapped my arms around his neck. “Tell me again why we started an outpost, and didn’t opt for a small and private farm?”

He laughed.

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