The walls of Englred were coming into view when Lady Varys hissed a curse word and pulled her mount to the side of the road. There were plenty of people and horses and carts milling around the outer bridges, but out of their number came a man on a black horse, riding like an arrow toward them with an intentionality that was apparent even over the mile or so between them.
Kelsie was sure that the rider was about to receive a bolt of lighting or some such elemental punishment, but instead Victoria allowed him to ride up to them without question, his horse skidding to a halt on four hooves with a well practiced quick stop.
“Madame Varys,” the man growled.
Victoria raised a delicately shaped brow at “Madame”.
“Leo Falkroy,” she said. “What do you want, boy?”
Kelsie had never seen anyone less like a boy than Leo Falkroy. He was a man, a tall broad man with steel gray eyes and thick black hair shorn close to his head. There was a light touch of gray at his temples, but he was not old by any means. He was in the prime of life. He wore toughened black leather armor studded with plate across the arms and shoulders, leggings to match, and tall plated boots that rose up to his knee. There was a tattoo on the back of his left hand, a regent’s falcon, wings spread. She couldn’t help but stare at it and wonder if he had any other markings on his strong body. The very thought made her blush and avert her eyes.
“You shouldn’t be here, Victoria.”
“There is nowhere I should not be,” the lady replied haughtily. “A sorceress does not ask permission to enter her own city.”
“Maybe not at the best of times, but this isn’t the best of times. There’s a warrant for your arrest and a bounty on your head.”
He shifted in his seat and rested his arm on the pommel, leaning forward to look her dead in the eyes with his steel gaze. When he spoke his voice was gruff.
“King Eldroy and his Queen Annabelle are furious with you. Especially Annabelle.”
“Ah? That is all you have to say, Victoria?”
“Do not lecture me, Leo,” she said waspishly. “We will go on to Velderton and I will attend to matters there.”
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “There are riders out looking for you. I’d turn back.”
“There’s nothing but shanties and wrecks from where we’ve come. And plenty of creatures I’d rather not subject myself to twice.”
“Annabelle has said she will have your head.”
Victoria made an annoyed sound. “I will go and speak with her.”
“I don’t think that’s wise.”
“Did I ask what you thought? Come with me if you are so concerned, and lend your sword if necessary. Otherwise, go on your way after whatever criminal you seek.”
His horse nickered and stepped in place, tail swishing with impatience. “You’re not understanding me, Victoria. You’re the criminal I seek.”
“You will not arrest me, Leo.”
“I will,” he said. “But I’ll give you a head start before I do.”
A playful smile appeared on Victoria’s lips. “I don’t have time for one of our games, Leo. Can’t you see I have a charge to attend to?”
He hadn’t seen Kelsie, any more than he had seen the broken fence post or the muddy ditch. She was part of the dirty background of the world, nothing compared to the beauty on horseback. Kelsie lowered her head so she couldn’t see him looking at her, if that’s what he was doing.
“This isn’t a game. The cuffs will be real this time,” he said gruffly. “Not illusions you can bat away when you decide you’re done being bound.”
At eighteen years of age, Kelsie of Kinleigh has nothing but a short and miserable life of poverty to look forward to. She is a peasant looked down on by the other peasants, clothed in rags and fed from the scraps of pigs.
Kelsie’s fortunes undergo a marked change when she is plucked from her little village by the sorceress Lady Victoria Varys. Victoria has plans for the innocent peasant girl – plans which are abruptly interrupted when an assassin named Leo Falkroy tracks them down with the intention of arresting Lady Victoria.
Lord Falkroy is a dangerous man. With a sword in his hand, he is second to none. He leads a life of rigorous discipline, leaving nothing to chance and ensuring that everything in his domain is firmly under control. He is educated, dominant and deadly – just as well, because Lady Varys is about to lead all of them into very big trouble.