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Adamare

CALTHRACA: by Camryn Cutler WHISKEY CREEK PRESS www.whiskeycreekpress.com Published by WHISKEY CREEK PRESS Whiskey C

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CALTHRACA: ADAMARE by

Camryn Cutler

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by WHISKEY CREEK PRESS Whiskey Creek Press PO Box 51052 Casper, WY 82605-1052 www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright © 2007 by Camryn Cutler Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. ISBN 978-1-59374-781-7

Credits Cover Artist: Nancy Donahue Editor: Kate Scott Printed in the United States of America

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING ABOUT ADAMARE “CALTRACA: ADAMARE is positively exquisite. This story kept me spellbound from beginning to end. After having read CALTHRACA: THE TIGER, I was hesitant at first to hope for Adama’s happiness. Lucky for me, Kesim saw Adama and wanted her immediately. Realizing that the lovely queen controlled his heart, he was willing to throw away an important mission just to possess her. Kesim’s unconditional love and his positively sensual treatment of Adama came through on the pages in a most naughty and excitingly wonderful way. More than once, I found myself completely captivated at the poignant, oftentimes steamy love scenes. Kesim and Adama were soul mates and that warmed my heart. I found ADAMARE to be the perfect sequel to CALTHRACTA: THE TIGER. Camryn Cutler has a hot new series on her hands and I, for one, can’t wait to read the next installment, CALTHRACA: SURRENDER LOVE. I am hooked on this series and don’t envision become untangled anytime soon.” Natasha, Romance Junkies

Dedication This novel is dedicated to my husband, Kevin. Thank you for being the incredible friend you are. For the late nights when you fell asleep long before I came to bed but still told me you loved me when I snuggled next to you. Thank you for bragging to your friends that you were proud of me. Finally, thank you for being my “research assistant” and always inspiring me. I love you.

Prologue The nausea had barely subsided by the time the doctor finished his examination. “Can you give me something to help?” Slowly the doctor removed his spectacles and regarded her. His sandy blonde hair was faded a bit but his demeanor was as gruff as ever. “You’ll feel better in a few months.” The breath she’d been unconsciously holding escaped her. “A few months?” “Yes, that is generally how long it takes for a child to finish growing. You’re already more than a third of the way there.” He replaced his instruments in his black satchel as he spoke. Adama sat thunderstruck by the physician’s words. A child? Impossible! She looked at Sarah, who had the same expression upon her face, then back at the doctor. “Are you certain?” “Majesty, I have been a physician for many years. I know a pregnancy when I see one.” He softened a bit when he realized the shock had not yet left her. “As nearly as I can derive, you are at least three, possibly four months along. That would put your delivery somewhere near Harvest.” He patted her hand gently. “I will send your servants a list of foods which will help with the nausea. Congratulations, Princess.” He stood and Adama nodded, dismissing him with her thanks. 1

Calthraca: Adamare Pregnant? She’d always thought herself barren. Not that she didn’t wish to have children, but that had never been part of her future and she was uncertain how she felt. Things were dangerous here. There were forces prepared to overthrow her mother’s government, and a child would be a powerful tool to use against her should anyone find out. Adama needed a few moments alone. “Sarah, please go to my mother and ask her for a moment of her time?” “Yes, my lady.” Sarah turned and left. The child’s paternity was certain. She had spent one night in the arms of an Alliance commander during the last days of the war with BasSalaam. Unfortunately they had both been drunk and she’d released him the following morning, almost exactly four months ago, never knowing his name. She sighed and stood, moving to the window and looking down upon the village below the castle. She never tired of the beautiful view. Her normal pleasure was somewhat blunted by the thought of what lay before her. She recalled the soldier and his beautiful smile, but very little of their tryst. Certainly she’d never suspected they had conceived. She placed her hands over her abdomen protectively. A child. She smiled ruefully, recalling how very much she’d wanted to become pregnant when she was married. It was all that Tengri had wanted, and the one thing she could not give him. Perhaps it was just as well. It was likely they’d all be dead now had she remained in Tartak. The brutal war, which had begun with Tengri’s death, had raged for nearly ten years. She knew Carcun had been laid to waste, and only now, more than ten years later, the country was slowly beginning to rebuild. Queen Lucia entered the room, breaking into her thoughts, and Lady Sartos, her mother’s closest advisor, accompanied her. Adama curtsied. “Good afternoon, Mother.” 2

Calthraca: Adamare “Sarah said you needed to speak with me?” Lucia spoke as she continued walking into the room. She went to her daughter and took her hand. She knew Adama had not been feeling well of late, and her concern was obvious. “Yes. Could we speak privately?” Adama looked at Sartos with a slight smile. She did not wish to be rude, but she also did not wish to share the news of her impending motherhood with the Council yet. “Of course.” Lucia turned to Sartos. “Excuse us, please.” Together Adama and Lucia followed Lady Sartos to the anteroom of Adama’s bedchamber. Adama seated herself upon a cushioned bench near a polished table, and looked out the single window. When the councilor was gone, Lucia closed the door and turned to her daughter. “What is wrong?” “I’m pregnant.” “Pregnant? But I thought you could not bear children.” Lucia’s surprise would have been amusing had it not been so genuine. “Apparently I can.” She turned and looked directly at her mother. Lucia took a deep breath before speaking. “Adama, is this Christian’s baby?” “No, I haven’t seen Chris for almost six months.” Adama made an exasperated sound. “The child’s father isn’t the problem. The problem is what to do.” “What do you mean, what to do? You’ll have your baby, and the child will take their rightful place in the line of succession as a prince or princess, just as you did.” Lucia was somewhat irritated with her daughter’s attitude. “Surely you’re not thinking of aborting your baby?” “No, no of course not.” Adama waved off the thought. “But, you know I am still wanted in BasSalaam. A bounty man made an 3

Calthraca: Adamare attempt not three weeks ago. It is not safe for me or for anyone near me while I’m here.” “We can increase security, Adama.” “And keep me and my child imprisoned.” “You’ll hardly be—” “It will be a gilded cage, Mother, but a cage nonetheless.” She paused and smiled at her mother. “I will make arrangements and I will go to Andalos until the child is born. When it is safe, I will return, I swear it.” “It does not have to be this way, Adama.” Lucia sat upon the bench beside her daughter. Adama saw her mother was near tears. “Yes it does.” “At least let me arrange things for you. You shouldn’t have to travel like a common foot soldier.” “If you can arrange it so no one knows where I am going or why, then yes, you may,” Adama said. Her mother smiled. “I will have Lucas see to the details. You know he is discretion itself.” Lucas Masters was Lucia’s man at arms, and Adama suspected, her sometime lover as well. It was no matter. Lucia had remained alone since the death of Adama’s father, Addar Draga. If her mother found comfort in Lucas’ arms, so much the better. She knew Lucas was entirely devoted to her mother, and he had always been fond of her as well, giving her a father figure where she’d had none. Adama knew if Lucas saw to her travel arrangements, no one would know. “Adama, wherever you go, you will be in danger. If you stay here, I can see to your security.” “I will go to Andalos. Christian will be there. I will be safe.” She gave Lucia a long hug. “I love you, Mother.”

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Calthraca: Adamare

Chapter 1 She was now a queen in a time and a land where they were less than enthusiastically embraced—and she knew it. It still took her by surprise to think of herself as Queen of Lyros, and it gave her a sad pang when she realized how she’d come to be in this position. A position she’d known would be hers eventually but that she never really wanted. Since her return to Lyros, her feelings had churned between mild irritation and outright fury over the governmental changes that had been made since her mother’s illness, leaving her somewhat sickened at the prospect of what lay ahead for her. God, she wished things were different. The power the Council had gained since before her return and her coronation was nearly total. She had been made aware that she was merely a figurehead. The Council held the real power and would make the governing decisions from now on. She’d been shocked at their boldness, but willing to allow them some latitude since she hadn’t been there when her mother had first become ill. However, the time was rapidly approaching when she would have to make a few changes of her own, unpopular ones at that. Adama Fawkes was tall for a woman, well-muscled and solid from years of living outdoors. She was thirty-two years old, athletic and strong, but she could feel herself softening from inactivity. She was known to be a fierce warrior and soldier, as well as a brilliant commander. Tonight she stood in the grand 5

Calthraca: Adamare hall of her ancestral home Undinagh Anich, Cardinal’s Keep, greeting dignitaries and others who wanted to wish her well. She’d been crowned queen only days before and had disdained the grand ceremony for this smaller one, thinking a huge show of pomp would be tasteless in light of her mother’s illness. She wore her copper-colored hair in a long braid nearly to her waist, and tonight it was threaded through with a rope of tiny seed pearls. Her gown was dark emerald velvet, which set off her flawless skin. Healthy but not pale, she wasn’t one of these soft delicate creatures she was now constantly surrounded with, the ones her Council insisted populate her “entourage.” She was of the opinion they could all use some time in the sun…hopefully away from her. They simpered and groveled around her, constantly attempting to gain favor, then rushed back to Councilor Sartos to report on her every move. For so many years she’d been mostly left her to herself, only appearing dressed and washed and mostly devoid of leaves and debris in her hair when public functions demanded her presence. Thankfully it wasn’t often. Her mother, Lucia Fawkes, had ruled Lyros for fifty years, beginning her reign as a child until she had fallen ill three years ago. She had ruled fairly and was still well-loved by her people, and most especially her daughter. Lucia had let Adama live as she chose once she was finished with her schooling, despite the protestations of the Council. Few knew the truth of what had transpired when Adama disappeared just after her eighteenth birthday, and Lucia was happy to keep it so to keep her daughter safe. Adama had been born with magical abilities, the only one in her family, and she had been tutored by one of the finest sorceresses in Lyros. She had always somehow known things instinctively. She seemed to have a sort of sixth sense about people, when they 6

Calthraca: Adamare were being dishonest or sincere. She dreamed and often those dreams were prophetic. Occasionally her magic would get away from her, especially when she was upset or distressed. As she got older, she learned to focus and control her power, and it became stronger as she aged. Her mother had seen to it that her education in magic and sorcery had been perfected as completely as that in languages, mathematics and history. Adama had lived with Miranda Altrop, a renowned witch and a friend of her mother’s from childhood, for nearly three years as an apprentice. Miranda saw her great natural ability but knew it needed to be controlled and nurtured. The older woman had taught Adama well and the end result was a very powerful sorceress. The Council feared her wild ways, her unpredictability. They had gained more and more power during the last years of her mother’s reign, and now stood poised to relegate the monarchy to a mere ceremonial role, a quaint but antiquated ideal. Their new queen was a warrior throwback to an earlier age, a puzzle to them. It was fine when they could use her to fight their battles and command their armies, but she knew they had no interest in having her command them. Her mother had long ago warned that what the Council feared, they would try to control or destroy. And while Adama knew there was nothing wrong with a little fear, she also knew she would have to be ever vigilant. Adama was startled back to the present when the Qasslian ambassador bowed before her and kissed her offered hand. He began speaking to her about old treaties and trade quotas. She understood his hissing-popping language perfectly well, but allowed the translator to do her job. She smiled and nodded at all the right intervals, trying hard not to stare into his unsettling reptilian eyes. 7

Calthraca: Adamare While he spoke, she looked down at her hand and noticed she had unconsciously conjured a tiny ball of light. It was rolling brightly back and forth across her knuckles as she turned her hand. She hastily palmed it. Smiling she reflected that her mother would have been displeased by her open show of anxiety and nerves. It was most unqueenly. The ambassador moved along to the dining room and she glanced down the receiving line and sighed, seeing there were probably twenty more people waiting to pay their respects to her, and maybe receive a few words in return. Well, she supposed, it had been a while since they had seen her. The last time she had stood in a line like this was fifteen years ago, when her mother had brought her to Andalos. “You could at least look interested,” a deep voice spoke suddenly behind her. Startled but recovering quickly, she drew herself up to her full height, turned her head slightly and said, “Thank you, Lord Christian, for attending our coronation celebration.” “Gracious Majesty,” he replied in an equally haughty tone, “I thank you for your welcome.” Adama smiled. Christian laughed quietly and stepped beside her. “I just arrived from Andalos, and not a moment too soon, I see.” He inclined his head towards the ever-present Council member. “I have someone who is in need of an audience with you,” he said quietly. Hearing his voice, Councilor Darci glanced over then away and back again. A look of alarm crossed his piggish face when he saw Christian, and he rushed away. Adama was secretly pleased. Let him run to Sartos. Under her breath, she said, “Not much longer and I can go. How is she?” 8

Calthraca: Adamare “She’s fine, bossy, and wants her mama. I’ll bring her to you as soon as I can.” He stepped back away from her, but she felt comforted knowing he was there. Adama sighed again, this time with relief. Her daughter was safe. She only hoped she could keep the girl concealed a while longer. Her childhood friend Christian was the only person she knew she could trust with the child’s safety. Christian would die before he let anything happen to Oma. Sometime later, as the end of the receiving line drew near, one of the council members approached her. “Majesty, will you follow me please to the dining hall to begin the meal?” Abruptly reaching past the woman before her to the last two people in line, smiling fondly and shaking their hands while ignoring all three startled expressions, she murmured her apologies and stepped away from the line, followed closely by her small entourage. Christian Valore was never popular with the Council, even less now. He hung back and followed at his own pace, wary of any unseen dangers. He checked again for his dagger, feeling its comforting weight against his leg in its sheath. He would be vigilant. No one would harm Adama without going through him first. Eight years ago, a deranged woman had attacked Adama. Christian had been distracted by another, likely planted diversion in the crowd and he was unable to protect her. Available to her people and always eager to be among them, Adama had failed to recognize the threat. She had been defenseless and had been stabbed several times before the woman was removed and immediately executed, despite Adama’s pleas for mercy. Christian would never forgive himself for not being prepared, for not anticipating any circumstance that might have 9

Calthraca: Adamare arisen. He owed Adama that much. On a much more personal level, he wouldn’t mind slitting Sartos’ throat either, should the opportunity present itself. He knew the mad woman had been planted by Sartos to kill Adama. There was just no way to prove it and one did not make accusations against the head of the ruling Council without solid proof. Christian was an Andalosian. He was far taller than most men, heavily muscled and powerful. He was simply huge. His long hair was blonde, faded nearly white from the sun and his eyes were a dark, deep blue. He preferred leather jerkins and leggings and wore a large fur cape when the weather was cold. All this together made him quite startling to look at. Adama had always accused him of vanity. He denied it aloud, but in his heart, he knew she was probably right. He loved the effect he had on women. They found him irresistible. Andalosians were legendary for being bold, fearless and unswervingly loyal. Christian cultivated that image by appearing serious and stony at all times. Introduced as a page into the queen’s household when he was just a child, Christian had met Adama when she was six and he was seven. Adama’s earliest memories included Christian, and they had been the very closest of friends. When he was thirteen, the age when court pages returned to their lands to begin formal schooling, Lucia offered to send him home to his family. Christian, by then more than a little in love with Adama, decided to stay with the young princess. Seeing his devotion and loyalty to her daughter, Queen Lucia had gone against the advice of the Council and formally adopted Christian into the royal family as her foster son, unable to inherit but still considered royalty and forbade discussion on the matter. She had hoped to head off what she perceived as a budding romance between him and Adama since they were going to live as brother and sister. 10

Calthraca: Adamare Rather than achieving the effect she desired, Lucia was shocked to find that Adama became more and more enamored of the young man. The queen worried she would one day wish to marry him, and that would of course be unacceptable. Within the year, she had begun to seek suitable husbands for her daughter, hoping to prevent such a thing. There had been rumors and stories about Christian and Adama since they were children, about their escapades, and the assumptions people had made regarding their personal relationship. Were they lovers? No one really knew. Naturally it was assumed they were, since Adama had taken no husband. It was all quite scandalous really, the Princess of Lyros with a commoner. Adama, young, pampered and spoiled, ignored her mother’s wishes and had done as she pleased. Of course, the truth was somewhere between the rumors and assumptions. Adama and Christian had been lovers and occasionally still were. At first, Adama assumed she would marry Chris and they would live and rule Lyros together but her mother and a series of events she had no control over quickly squashed those girlish ideas. To this day though, she would not send him away from her. He’d been her friend and protector too long. Christian knew there would never be another woman in his life like Adama, someone so beautiful it made his breath come short. He knew he could have any woman he chose, and he often did, simply to satisfy those physical desires. Nevertheless, he declined every offer of an arranged marriage Adama or the Council came up with. If he must live without her as his wife, at least he would be near her, a moth to her flame. Adama was always secretly relieved when Christian turned down the kittenish, cuddly creatures they came up with as potential wives. She knew he needed a strong woman, someone 11

Calthraca: Adamare who would challenge him, and be able to match his energy and his agile mind. None of the ladies they presented would ever suit him. They were all sweet, delicate, dumb and completely wrong for him. All of them were also intended to drive a wedge firmly between Adama and him. The marriage plans always included his leaving for the outlying borderlands, removing him from her forever. Eventually she’d informed the Council to stop looking for a wife for him; it was painful and humiliating to them both. However, she needed a reason to keep him near, and granted him the position of Protector, charging him with her security. Then she had been attacked. Afterward the Council and Lucia had sent Christian away, banishing him back to Andalos. Adama had been too seriously injured to protest, cut deeply across her abdomen with injuries to her organs, and then later infection. She had nearly died and the Council hadn’t told her that they’d banished Christian until much later. When she discovered what they had done, she sent word, summoning Christian back and clearing him of any blame. Misjudging his devotion to Adama, the Council hadn’t anticipated Christian not only returning, but also now guarding her with a dedication nearly fanatical. Adama knew Chris still felt responsible for what happened to her, but she insisted it wasn’t Christian’s fault any more than it was her own. It was simply poor judgment on both of their parts. One day when they were alone, Christian shared his thoughts that Sartos had planned her assassination. Adama had been shocked to silence. Despite knowing how evil Sartos could be, Adama refused to believe the woman was responsible for the attack. “She’s my mother’s sworn protector, Christian. She has been part of my family since before I was born, it’s unthinkable!” 12

Calthraca: Adamare she had said at the time. Now Adama was worried Chris may have been right. After the attack, when she had finally healed, Adama had left her mother’s court, preferring to live alone, serving in the military as a commander to fulfill her commission, but living on her own away from palace life. Sometimes she traveled to Andalos for extended stays, others she simply lived in the forests of Lyros. Then came the war with BasSalaam. It was a brutal fight that cost Lyros many young lives. Ultimately they’d turned back the huge forces that had crossed their borders but it had been four years of fighting and watching those she knew and cared for maimed and killed. She had gained much of her coldbloodedness from the horrors she had witnessed in this war, but the groundwork for it had been laid much earlier, when she was still a girl. Abducted and taken to Tartak, she had seen firsthand how cold-bloodedness, calculated thinking and an iron will were essential to preserving one’s life. During one battle of the war, she had been captured. She killed two guards during her escape shortly afterward, and there was still a price on her head in BasSalaam. Bounty hunters had made attempts on her several times over the years, but none were successful. After her mother had fallen ill, the Council had ruled Lyros for nearly three years before she knew of her mother’s condition. They had made laws and changed policies and she probably wouldn’t have found out about Lucia’s illness at all if it hadn’t been for a loyal friend who had sent her a message, which finally caught up with her months later. She was prepared to let the Council advise, but she was determined the ruling of Lyros would continue through her, and subsequently her children. Adama knew the Council thought she was going to be a puppet, easily controlled and manipulated. Her fear was they 13

Calthraca: Adamare would try to keep her from her mother, or possibly harm Lucia. She’d been told Sartos implied it would keep her easily in hand. She would have to do her best to dispel that idea as soon as she could. Adama felt safer now that Christian had returned. At first he had solidly refused to leave when she had sent him home two months ago. Only the knowledge Oma might be in danger forced him to go. When Adama was compelled to return to Lyros because of her mother’s illness, she had placed Oma with Christian’s relatives in Andalos. Despite the circumstances of Oma’s birth, Christian considered Oma of his blood, and loved the child deeply. His relatives had recently sent messages stating it was no longer safe for Oma to be there. Eleana Draga, Adama’s half-sister and Empress of BasSalaam, had been threatening the borderlands of Andalos again. No country was safe from her hunger for land and power. Now Christian was back, and he had brought her daughter home. No one in Lyros, except Christian and Sarah, knew about Oma. “Right here, Majesty.” The Councilor indicated a large chair on a center dais. Adama smiled and sat down gratefully. Immediately a young servant stepped forward and poured her a glass of wine. Adama smiled her thanks and he blushed bright red. As if on cue, servers appeared carrying trays and bowls, placing them on the tables around the rooms. The low murmur of conversation now increased to an animated hum as people showed their delight at the artistically prepared dishes. Adama watched her guests help themselves to food and drink. She raised a toast to them, smiled and said, “Welcome and many thanks to my loyal friends and honored guests.”

14

Calthraca: Adamare A loud cheer met her words and she smiled. She drank off the rest of her wine and put her glass down and then rose, abruptly leaving the room. Her entourage of ladies, startled at their mistress’ sudden departure, started to get up to follow her. They saw Christian quickly canvas the room with his eyes, then duck out, and decided that they might be better off right where they were. “Gone to her lover, I see. When did that dirty beast arrive?” Lady Misala said. Not waiting for an answer, she sneered, “I wonder what Adama sees in such a disgusting troll?” Misala was a spy set to keep her eyes on Adama’s actions and report as often as possible to the Council. “I’d not let him hear you say that if I were you, Misala,” said Mistress Boyn, “unless of course you want to see that knife of his some night in your rooms.” She popped a tart into her frog-like mouth. “He could visit me anytime,” breathed Lady Kardia dreamily. “I think he’s handsome.” Misala looked at Kardia in disgust. “He is grotesque.” She turned to Boyn. “He’ll not do anything to me. I know what Sartos uses to bend Adama to her will.” “I wonder what Lady Sartos will say when she finds out the Andalosian is back?” Mistress Boyn mused. “She probably already knows. I think she’s a witch,” said Kardia. Misala shrugged as though she didn’t care. Secretly she was sure this new turn of events, along with having seen the mercenary, Hecate Bosha, earlier in the day would make this boring assignment much more interesting. Still she worried whenever Adama’s gaze rested on her. She couldn’t help but wonder how much Adama knew, and how much the woman just felt. Misala knew exactly who the witch was, and it wasn’t Sartos. 15

Calthraca: Adamare **** Adama walked before Christian through the hallway. Ducking past a stone column, she turned, leaned up on her toes and embraced Christian briefly, kissed him quickly and wordlessly, then continued to her rooms. Grinning, Christian turned and continued down an opposite hallway. Behind them, but not so far that she lost sight of the pair, the mercenary watched. I’ll have to take care of the Andalosian first, then Adama will be easier. Maybe I should make Adama watch him die slowly. No matter, she’d always gone with her gut feelings when it came to these decisions, she’d just have to wait and see what opportunities arose. She knew her mission; the trick was waiting for the right moment to act. Hecate Bosha was a Basaltic mercenary. She had a reputation among the less savory circles for her ability to get in quickly and unnoticed, perform either murder or abduction, and get out as fast. She had been retained more than three months ago by Councilor Sartos, her mission—to abduct the new queen. She’d taken that time to perfect her plans, and was confident it would be a simple affair. She’d also been warned that Adama was a powerful sorceress, and had taken steps to prevent the new queen from using that sorcery to protect herself. Several weeks ago, she had located a sorcerer who’d explained the secret to rendering Adama powerless, and she now had in her possession an iron which would brand the catena, a runic symbol which would interrupt Adama’s vitanae, her magic. The old man, after much prodding and plenty of golden peks, had sold her the item. He assured her that so long as Adama wore the brand, she would be unable to use her magic. Hecate was eager to try it. **** Adama entered her rooms and dismissed her maid for the evening, assuring the servant she could manage her gown alone. 16

Calthraca: Adamare Once Sarah had left, Adama walked over to a tapestry and lifted it, sliding the panel behind it aside to reveal a doorway. She quietly opened the door then turned to a chair where she sat and waited. Minutes later she was rewarded by the sound of small feet running, and her heart filled with joy as her daughter launched herself into her arms. Oma was a beautiful two-year-old girl with lovely long black hair and blue eyes. She was intelligent and sweet and although Adama couldn’t yet see any inclination toward magic, the child positively glowed. Christian, who’d circled around and led the young princess through the secret corridor, hung back, rechecking the passageway to make sure they hadn’t been followed, then checked Adama’s chamber door to be sure it was firmly barred. He glanced back at them and his gaze locked with Adama’s. Her eyes were filled with grateful tears and Christian’s heart clenched. How he wished they could be together as they were before. He’d never gotten over his love for Adama, despite the knowledge it could never be. When she’d come to him in Andalos three years ago, carrying another man’s child, at first he’d been angry and resentful. He was painfully reminded of the two years after she had disappeared. No one would tell him where she was and he had been heartbroken until she’d been found. He was on the ship that brought her home when she had returned from Tartak after her abduction and forced marriage to the prince of the Eastern Plain. Her mother had asked him to go, hoping a familiar face would aid her recovery. He had helped her get through her ordeal, holding her while she cried, helping to convince her to value her life once more. She was different after that. She loved him, he had no doubts there, but she did not want him as a husband. She didn’t 17

Calthraca: Adamare want any husband. So when she came to him pregnant, it was yet another painful blow. He had always hoped against hope she would return to him, and to find that she’d been intimate with someone else had cut him to the quick. Her refusal to tell him any details about the father of her daughter, no matter how hard he’d pressed her, made him suspect she may have been raped, and that was why she did not want to tell him. That suspicion had made it easier for him to accept the child. Regardless of the details of her conception, Oma was a delightful child, and he loved her nearly as much as Adama. Adama let the tears slide down her face, glad her daughter was once again in her embrace. The girl looked at her and said, “Mama, are you sad?” “No, my darling, I’m so very glad you’re here! I think you’ve grown!” Adama knew she could never repay Christian, and she could never give him what he truly longed for. She would never give herself body and soul to another man. She could not risk being hurt the way she had been when Tengri died, but she would always allow Christian to be there for her and Oma. That much she could do. **** Hecate stepped out from behind the column where she’d concealed herself and checked the corridor, looking in both directions. Satisfied there was no one nearby, the mercenary slowly approached Adama’s chamber door and quietly pressed her ear to the rough surface, listening. It sounded as though Adama was crying. It seemed she wasn’t wailing or screaming, just crying softly to herself. Hecate’s agile brain worked to figure out how to use Adama’s emotions to her advantage. It would be easier if she could tell why Adama was in there crying alone and decided to 18

Calthraca: Adamare listen a bit longer. Now she was singing… Was Adama going mad? The insane weren’t as easy to control. This could make things difficult. **** Adama sat and sang a quiet song to Oma who was exhausted from her journey, while Christian listened beside the door for any unusual activity in the corridor. The girl soon fell fast asleep in her mother’s arms. Christian had heard someone moving in the hallway outside, and decided to listen more closely and see if they were being spied upon. He had looked around earlier before he brought Oma to her mother, and aside from the normal movement of the castle residents, he had not noticed anything unusual. After more than an hour, he heard no more movement and felt secure enough to offer to take Oma back to her secret chamber. Adama kissed her daughter and gave her to him. She looked like a tiny doll in his embrace. Once the child had been left with her nurse and his own personal guard, Christian returned to Adama, who had changed into a night robe and stood brushing her hair absently as she stared out the window. Christian came up behind her and buried his face in her hair. “I’ve missed you so much, Adama,” he said. “Mmmm, I’ve missed you too, Chris.” He had begun to nuzzle at her neck, slowly working his way around to face her and kissed her deeply, passionately. She brought her arms up around his neck and tipped her head back, offering him her throat, and he traced hot kisses to her breast. He raised his hands to her breasts then kneaded and fondled them roughly through her robe. “Wait,” she said a little breathlessly, and shrugged the robe off to reveal her lovely form. “Ahhh, Adama,” was all he could manage. He bent and took her nipple with his mouth, suckling hard and making her squeal. 19

Calthraca: Adamare Her back arched and she let out a quiet passionate moan as she pressed her body to his. She worked his clothes off a little at a time and he kicked off his boots to help her. Then together they shuffled toward the bed where he laid her back, bent his shaggy head to hers and kissed her deeply again. He was so large he completely hid her beneath him. She giggled as he ran his hands up her ribs and then shocked him by sliding downward under him and taking him in her mouth. He gasped his surprise. She stopped and shushed him, then resumed her work on his engorged member. Finally he realized he wouldn’t be able to take any more. “Adama, please!” he whispered in a hiss. She came up with a devilish smile on her face and kissed her way up his torso to his chest and his neck then finally reached his mouth and dueled with his tongue. He was painfully erect and held her pinned to the bed while he slid his cock within her. She sighed as he entered her. She was wet and ready for him and he thrust into her body slowly, feeling his climax gathering. “Adama,” he said softly. He thrust harder then came deep within her body, enjoying the way she sighed beneath him, then rolled off her. She lay beside him and ran a finger across his chest while he regained his breath. She cared deeply for Chris, but she knew there was more to lovemaking than this. She was never satisfied. It wasn’t like making love with Tengri-Khan, who had always made sure she found paradise first. Whatever else her husband might have been, he had been a considerate and capable lover. She worried that she’d hurt Chris if she said so. She never talked of her time with her dead husband to Christian anymore. It always caused a fight. There was simply no delicate way to tell him without wounding his pride. 20

Calthraca: Adamare “Why don’t you sleep?” Christian said to her. “I suppose I should.” Adama sighed. “I have to face those jackals on the Council in the morning. Will you stay for a while?” “Yes, of course.” By mutual consent, he never remained within her rooms all night. It was safer if no one knew when they were together. The secret passageway they used had been constructed many years ago and had been known to them since they were children. No one else, save Sarah, knew it was there. Adama looked up at him and caressed his cheek. “Thank you, Chris, I can never repay you for what you’ve done. Thank you for bringing my daughter home.” She lay quietly facing him and he stroked her arm absently. Soon Christian heard her breathing slow down and even out, signaling she’d slipped into sleep. He lay there for a few moments, remembering. She was so different now from when she had been younger. They both were. When they were seventeen, they’d made love for the first time. He’d been a skinny, timid boy and she’d been a lovely young woman, just blossoming into the beauty she was now. They had both been virgins and it had been painful and awkward but she had told him she loved him. It was two weeks before she left with her mother for the conference in Novata. He’d traveled with them, but had left so he could visit a military academy in Tourn. He’d been looking at military schools; he was Andalosian and felt he should at least consider a school in his native country. Lucia had been supportive and told him she would send him wherever he chose. Then Adama had been abducted from the royal palace while they were in Andalos and everything changed. During the two years she was missing, Christian had done his best to live as normally as possible. He’d tried to go on 21

Calthraca: Adamare without her but had failed. He did poorly in school, fought, and withdrew. At last after a long talk with Lucia, he steeled himself and vowed to become the best soldier he could, but he still missed her desperately. When Adama had been returned to them, she was so changed, both physically and emotionally, he barely recognized her. As she recovered, he longed to renew their relationship, but she rebuffed him. Her heart was still firmly tied to her dead husband, and no amount of trying on his part could make her see things his way. Eventually, after she’d completed her studies, they had tentatively explored their feelings for each other and eventually made love again, but the emotions were not the same. Christian suspected she was unsatisfied, but too kind to tell him. He looked at her now and smiled ruefully. He loved her no matter what, and he supposed he always would. He sighed regretfully and rose, crossed the room and pulled his clothing back on. He went back to the bed and brought the coverlet over her. “Sleep well, my lady,” he said. He took the small lamp with him and left the chamber through the secret door, lowering the tapestry and sliding the panel shut, leaving Adama in the light of the dying fireplace. When Christian left, Adama opened one sleepy eye and rolled to her back with a sigh of her own. She had hoped that this time would be different. That perhaps his absence and her abstinence would spark to produce the feelings of passion she so craved. Unfortunately it had not, and she felt just as hollow as always. Slowly she drew her hand down her body, pressing within her folds to caress her center. Her other hand stroked her breasts, pinching at her rapidly stiffening nipples. Her fingers 22

Calthraca: Adamare stroked slowly around her rigid nub and she inhaled, moaning softly. She thought about her husband, Tengri. Conjuring him in her mind, she recalled the way he loved her with his mouth, suckling her, driving his tongue deeply within her hot sheath and forcing her over the edge while she ran her hands across his taut body and through his thick black hair. He would then rise over her and impale her, driving her willing body to ultimate completion. Soon, much too soon, she peaked, groaning and shuddering with passion. It was release, but could never compare to the touch of a skilled lover. **** Hecate returned to Adama’s chamber door and quietly tried the lock, already certain it was barred. There had been no movement or noise from the room since she’d heard the singing earlier. Perhaps Adama was asleep? She knew she would be able to easily enter any time she liked, and soon Adama would be fully under her control. She liked to take her victims when they were asleep. Disoriented, they tended to resist less. Footsteps coming toward her forced her to fade back in the shadows. It was the Andalosian. He walked up to Adama’s door, tried the lock, looking about as he did so, and then sat down with his back against the door and pulled his cloak about himself. Apparently he was going to spend the night. Very well, you get this night with her. Hecate returned to Sartos, reported what she saw and both of them plotted into the night, refining their evil plans. **** Adama awoke to someone crying, and immediately realized it was her own cries she heard. The dream again. She had always 23

Calthraca: Adamare suffered from incredibly vivid and prophetic dreams. She had vainly hoped that having Oma near her would dispel the dreams, but she knew now that wasn’t to be. She had to send her daughter away again. She felt her throat tighten painfully at the thought. Sudden pounding on the door brought her fully conscious and she knew that she was no longer dreaming. Someone was trying to get in. She looked around for her robe, and pulled it on, rushed to her door and said, “Who’s there?” “Adama let me in!” Christian nearly shouted. She fumbled the latch on the door, and it burst open. “What’s wrong?” Christian tried to look everywhere at once. “I…what?” said Adama, who’d narrowly avoided being hit with the door. “I heard you cry out, you screamed and didn’t answer me at first, and I thought you were hurt or someone was killing you,” Christian explained. “I was dreaming. I had a horrible nightmare. What time is it?” She ran her hands through her hair and pulled it back from her face. “What were you doing outside my door?” “I’m not sure, nearly dawn I think,” Christian said, still trying to both wake up and comprehend there was no imminent danger. “I was sleeping outside your door.” “Why would you do that?” she demanded. “I heard someone out here earlier.” Surprising him with her strength, Adama pulled Christian into the room all the way and stuck her head out to see if anyone was around. She saw three or four maids looking in her direction; she then closed the door and locked it again. “What do you mean you heard someone out here?” she spoke sharply. 24

Calthraca: Adamare “I heard someone earlier when you were singing to Oma. I decided to sleep here just in case you were being watched,” Christian said. “Dammit, Chris!” Adama said, outraged. “You left Oma alone?” “No… I just…” “You worried about me more than my daughter,” Adama said flatly. “No, I just knew she was well protected, and…” “That poor Adama couldn’t take care of herself, right?” Christian could see that dangerous light in Adama’s eyes. “No! Not at all! I just worried about you. I wanted to be here to help if you needed me,” Chris ended lamely, knowing it wouldn’t be enough. He’d seen her angry before. Adama crossed the room to the tapestried wall. She threw back the panel and started down the passage to check for herself. “Adama, wait!” said Christian. “I’ll go.” He entered the passageway, ducking his head. He returned a few moments later. “All is well, Adama, I swear it.” She looked at him. “You have to leave.” “What? I just arrived! I’m not leaving.” “Please, I need you to take Oma and leave, Christian,” she repeated. “Would you mind at least explaining why, Your Majesty?” Christian demanded hotly. “There is danger here, Christian. None of us are safe. If you will just take Oma somewhere safe, perhaps to your superiors in Tourn? I will send for you when the danger has passed. You are the only person besides myself that I trust with her life.” Christian closed his eyes and shook his head in frustration. “Adama, I am not leaving you again. I think the strain of your mother’s illness and your separation from Oma has made you imagine dangers which are not there.” 25

Calthraca: Adamare Adama clenched her fists at her sides, willing herself to remain calm. He could be so stubborn it drove her to distraction. “Christian. I am not overwrought. You know as well as I do, when I have dreams like these, they come true. It is not just my imagination. Please, save my daughter, save yourself. I am begging you, Chris,” she pleaded, knowing it would do no good. He was implacable when he set his mind to something. She could tell by his squared shoulders and set jaw he would need more than her pleas to make him go this time. He would need serious convincing. She took his arm, concentrated, and sent him a powerful image from her dream. He yelped and pulled away from her. He hated it when she used her magic upon him. “It isn’t safe here, for you or for her. Something bad is coming. I keep dreaming of pain and loss. I know I am in great danger, and I think anyone who loves me may be as well,” she finished. “Adama,” he said with finality, “I’m not leaving. I can protect you both.” Adama knew what she was about to say would irrevocably hurt him. The thought made her sick to her stomach, but she said it anyway. “The way you protected me when I was attacked?” He looked as though she’d slapped him, and his mouth literally hung open, shocked at her words. She continued on even though hurting him this way felt like a knife to her belly. Something told her she must drive him away, force him from her side, no matter the cost, or his life and Oma’s would be forfeited. “Christian, I’m ordering you to go. Take Oma, see her safe.” 26

Calthraca: Adamare He’d managed to regain his composure. A deep burning anger and shame welled up within him, turning his fair complexion scarlet. He’d always known she blamed him for her attack, despite her words to the contrary. “Ordering me?” he asked tightly. Two hot patches burned on his cheeks, and his voice sounded somewhat strangled. “Yes.” He nodded. “Then I shall do it, but understand this, Adama Fawkes, it ends here. I renounce my citizenship, I claim Andalos as my home, not Lyros. I’ll see your daughter safe, because your family once did me a great favor by giving me opportunities I would not have had, but after this, we are even.” She swallowed hard but said nothing. He was angrier than she’d ever seen him. Christian turned and left the room through the front door, slamming it hard behind him. Adama still didn’t look, though her heart cried out to him. She’d hurt him badly, but it was the only way to make him go. The only way to save both him and Oma. She slowly sank into a nearby chair, knowing her legs would no longer support her, then lowered her face to her hands and wept at what she’d had to do. Later in the day Adama was informed that Lord Christian had been called abruptly back to Andalos, and sent his regrets. Sarah confirmed that the secret room was abandoned. Oma was safe. Adama Fawkes was truly alone for the first time in her life and she knew the danger was only just beginning. **** The abrupt departure of Adama’s lover was grist for the rumor mill for the next few weeks. Lady Misala kept the wheels turning briskly by spreading the rumors of what may have happened and embellishing the dirty tidbits as the tale grew. 27

Calthraca: Adamare Adama didn’t care. She made no effort to defend herself or explain. All that mattered was the child was safely hidden once more, even if she didn’t know where. It broke her heart but she had begun to feel it was the best decision she could have made. Lady Sartos came down from her spider web long enough to offer condolences and false sympathy to her new queen. “My dear, you’ll soon forget all about that Andalosian. I knew many years ago he was no good, one of common birth, certainly not fit for you. No, not at all.” She clucked her tongue at Adama. Her version of consolation continued along this vein for another half an hour, while Adama sat and looked out the window, thinking unkind thoughts, knowing her scandalous history would drive away every “suitable” prince on the continent if they only knew it. That was just fine with her. Abruptly, she turned and said, “Lady Sartos, I am sure my country must have business that needs to be conducted today. Please bring me all of the information on what the Council has been doing for the last six months.” Sartos, clearly taken aback, gaped fishlike at her queen then managed, “Of course, Majesty, I just wished to help you through your time of difficulty.” “Of course you did, my lady councilor. I understand completely. Please do not worry on my account any longer. I shall be fine,” Adama soothed. She wasn’t in the mood to ruffle Sartos’ black feathers, no matter how much she might deserve it. Lady Sartos bowed and backed from the room. When the door was firmly shut, she turned to her personal servant and said, “Find Hecate. Right now.” Moments later in Sartos’ personal rooms, Hecate stood before her, awaiting her orders. “Hecate,” she said, “Adama is testing her strength and is asking questions I do not wish to answer. She isn’t going to be 28

Calthraca: Adamare easily manipulated. Why in the hell couldn’t she just be a figurehead, and hunt and live in the woods like she always did?” Hecate realized her employer wasn’t looking for an answer, so she remained silent, only nodding when she thought Sartos required some encouragement. She understood the old bird needed to think out loud from time to time, and she wondered if the rooms had been suitably soundproofed, then chided herself. Of course Sartos would have a soundproof room; one did not become as powerful as she was without taking precautions. “…time to carry out our plans.” Hecate snapped back to attention. This was the order she’d been awaiting. She listened intently now, reviewing the plans she already knew by heart. It would be tonight or early tomorrow. Once she had set Hecate on her mission, Sartos sat back in her chair and contemplated what she had just done. All of her life she’d been raised to aid the queens of Lyros and what she had done, first poisoning Lucia, a disastrous mistake which did not kill her, and now to Adama, having her abducted was treason. She could easily lose her head for it. The part that most bothered Sartos in her heart was she knew that had Adama been more malleable, a bit more controllable, and slightly more selfish, she could have had the perfect protégé. The power they could have wielded together would have been incalculable. Unfortunately she was too deeply entrenched now to allow Adama to find out the truth. Then there was the problem of Hecate. Hecate was a useful tool, but she may have to disappear as well. The mercenary was mostly insane and barely controllable as well. Perhaps a mercifully swift end would be in order, after her job was completed, of course. It wouldn’t do to have too many loose ends around, and she knew someone who’d do what Hecate was going to do could not be trusted. She waited in her 29

Calthraca: Adamare workroom as long as she could then left for the dining hall to bid her queen goodbye, although Adama didn’t know it yet. **** As though the gossip of the how’s and why’s of her parting with Christian weren’t enough to keep the court buzzing with rumors, Adama had added to it by drinking too much, too often. It was suggested Adama was becoming a drunkard. The truth of it was she drank to make herself sleep and erase the pain of yet another separation from her daughter. As though it weren’t bad enough to have to be parted from Oma once more, she awoke every night bathed in sweat with her heart pounding. The coppery taste of terror filled her mouth and her muscles ached from the tension of the vague dreams. Evil was here, waiting for its opportunity, she knew. During her waking hours, she listened to what was going on about her, and the thoughts as well as words soon became overwhelming. If she could just shut them out long enough to sleep… But her gift was often a curse. Tonight she simply didn’t have the energy to listen for the plot she knew was hatching. She felt something dark was imminent, but she could not pinpoint any details. She sat and drank and let her head dip drunkenly. Despite her best efforts at oblivion, she still was not sleeping much. The dreams were painful, terrifying, but never definite and they frustrated her. Lady Sartos approached her with apologies for not delivering the information she’d requested. Adama assured her in intoxicated magnanimous tones that it was perfectly fine, and she trusted her completely. Surprise and something—regret?— crossed Sartos face. Adama, preoccupied with her own thoughts, dismissed it. She left for her rooms early, followed by the honor guard who accompanied her everywhere and her entourage or “the maids of misery” as she liked to call them, especially the spiteful Misala. They accompanied her into her rooms, closed drapes, 30

Calthraca: Adamare fluffed pillows, brushed her hair and generally made such a nuisance of themselves that she wanted to scream and slap at them, but sat placidly instead. Sarah helped her into her bed. She would bring Adama food and wine later, knowing her mistress’ needs. The ladies were supposed to wait until the queen had fallen asleep completely before they were dismissed. Adama let them go early by snoring loudly just minutes after lying down. Once she was alone, she got up and walked to her windows. She looked out and wondered where Christian was. She truly regretted the shameful way she’d treated him. He was the only person who would have done anything for her, yet she felt she had to force him. Why? Why had she wounded his pride so badly? She knew he couldn’t have prevented the attack; she also knew it tormented him, and she used it like a dagger to his heart. But he would not have gone if she hadn’t…would he? It was the dream, the damned dream. In the weeks since, she’d had ample opportunity to question it. Was it possible she was wrong? Could such a powerful dream be nothing more than nerves and stress? She couldn’t allow herself to think it. Oma was safe, which was all that mattered. She closed her eyes briefly and thought about Tengri. She missed him still, more than ten years after his death, but she knew her fate had not lain with him. She wondered about the freed soldier who was her daughter’s father. She was glad she had been able to free him. He was a good man and she hoped he had gotten to his home safely. Unfortunately, neither of them was the man fate intended for her. He awaited her somewhere, she knew. Her mind skipped nimbly from the men she’d loved to her darling daughter, but found the thought too painful and pushed it aside. 31

Calthraca: Adamare She worried for her mother, who seemed to get no better or worse from day to day, but merely to stay as though frozen in the same state. She worried for her country and her people. Could they withstand another attack from BasSalaam? She knew Eleana was gathering her Alliance troops for another assault. Would it work this time? Adama was exhausting herself with all the questions, regrets and guilt, and she knew she must stop. She heard the door latch click open and smiled. Sarah would be there with her food; still she looked out the window. A small noise made her turn, and as she did one of the brass statues from her side table crashed across her head, knocking her to the floor, smothering thoughts and bringing blessed blackness with it.

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Calthraca: Adamare

Chapter 2 Pain. The dream again. She was almost used to it by now, but—this was different. Adama forced herself out of sleep only to realize this was not a dream. Throbbing pain raced through her head and she could barely move her arms. She attempted to open her eyes, but only one opened, the other swollen shut. She swallowed to moisten her dry throat and nearly choked on the gag in her mouth. A cold knife of panic shot through her and she jerked her body trying to assess the damage and only succeeded in driving a spike of pain through her head and face once again. She could feel that her hands were bound by a length of rough cord, which dug painfully into her wrists. Was this another attempt by the bounty hunters? She’d been bound before, and she knew the thing to do was stay calm, try to relax and take stock of what was working and what wasn’t. Her hands definitely weren’t. She could barely feel them. As she tried to calm her racing thoughts she realized she wasn’t alone in the… Where am I? Her head ached terribly. Am I still in my chamber? It was very dim and she guessed no. Wherever she was, she smelled earth—outside? Maybe in a village cottage or shack, away from the castle. Someone was here, she could feel their presence. What happened? She thought hard and tried to remember. All she could recall was turning, expecting to see Sarah and getting hit with something heavy and solid. Damn! She was more than capable of 33

Calthraca: Adamare protecting herself, but having been inactive for most of three years, she’d been easily overpowered when taken by surprise. She tried to look around and something shifted heavily above her. She looked up and saw a woman staring down at her. Adama was looking into a pair of shocking blue eyes that were totally and gleefully mad. The woman reached down and pulled the gag from her mouth. Adama swallowed and licked her dry lips. “What do you want? I can provide ransom if that’s what you’re after. Is it the bounty you want?” The woman didn’t speak but smiled broadly and moved away. Adama couldn’t turn enough to follow her movements, but she could hear something. Moments later her captor returned with chains in her hands. She moved to Adama’s foot, clapped on a shackle and chained it to an iron ring in the wall. She then pulled Adama to a sitting position ignoring the obvious pain she caused her. “Please—” started Adama, but the woman reached out and slapped her hard. Adama gasped in shock as her head rocked back from the force of the blow. Instantly the madwoman’s face was inches from hers, hissing, “I make the rules here, I am queen!” Without further remark, she moved away and Adama watched her warily for a few moments. She was beginning to get over her shock and decided the only way she’d be able to gain her freedom would be to use her magic, perhaps enchant her captor and make her escape. She began preparing herself by concentrating on the spell to turn her captor’s will to hers. The madwoman stood away from her, near the tiny hearth. Adama watched her bend and poke at the coals, then remove a metal rod, the end of which glowed bright orange. Terror raced through Adama as she realized this woman intended to use the brand upon her. 34

Calthraca: Adamare Slowly Hecate approached. She watched Adama back up as far as she could, bumping against the stone wall behind her, and grinned at the look of pure fear upon her victim’s face. She set the brand upon a small stool, then struggled with Adama as she fought against what she knew was going to happen. At last Hecate overpowered her captive, holding an arm around her throat, applying enough pressure to choke her to near unconsciousness. Bound as she was, Adama still put up an enormous struggle, but it was no use. Hecate held Adama with her arm around the queen’s throat, clutching the woman nearly to her own chest. Quickly Hecate swept Adama’s hair away from her nape and picked up the brand. She braced herself for the struggle she knew Adama would give her, then carefully pressed the stillglowing brand to the back of the other woman’s neck. Adama thrashed in her grip and shrieked in pain, then slumped unconscious to the dirt floor. Hecate examined her work briefly, then left the queen where she fell, locking the door of the tiny cell behind her. Adama regained consciousness not long afterward and managed to push herself back to the corner. Her hands were still bound, so she could not touch the mark, and the burning pain of the brand was nearly unbearable. Try as she might, she was unable to loosen her bonds, and even her light familiar was nothing more than a tiny dot above her. The brand was some sort of dark magic which Adama did not know, and instinctively she knew it would somehow be used to control her. She had known she was in horrible danger, now she thought she might very well die. **** Before dawn, Hecate entered the earthen room; Adama came awake instantly and moved toward the corner where she felt safest. Hecate carried with her clean clothes and hot water. 35

Calthraca: Adamare She untied Adama’s hands and made as though to slap her face. When Adama cringed away, she smiled, satisfied. Four months of captivity had tamed the Lyrosian queen quite nicely. Initially Adama had fought back at every opportunity, doing all she could to free herself, but exhaustion and hunger, in addition to her captor’s constant threats and torment, had weakened her physically as well as mentally. She was no match for Hecate’s brute power, and her strength had crumbled quickly. During the months of her imprisonment, Adama had discovered that the brand essentially stripped her magic from her. She was still able to hear thoughts, and found if she concentrated very hard, she could also still delve into minds for short periods without detection, although the nausea which accompanied her return made her loath to do so. Knowing she could still read minds was something of a comfort, but the physical aspect of her sorcery, the ability to move objects or conjure or even cast spells had been stripped from her, leaving a void within her. She was a prisoner bound by chains as well as dark sorcery. Hecate pointed at the clothes and the water and said, “Wash and dress,” then turned and left. Adama sat and looked at the water and the clothes. She knew it had to be a trick, and she was too petrified to move. She knew Hecate would come rushing back into the room and beat her senseless if she did. The door opened again and Adama knew it was Hecate coming to see if she’d moved. She closed her eyes and inhaled sharply when cool hands touched her. The hands pulled her face upward and smoothed her brow. She opened her eyes just a bit and was shocked to see Sarah.

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Calthraca: Adamare Her maid, her friend, was crying silent tears, shaking her head and whispering, “Oh your poor face,” she said. “Your poor hands.” Sarah took the water and a cloth and washed Adama’s face and hands, helped her from her filthy clothes, making small nonsensical comforting sounds and sobbing to herself over the bruises on her mistress’ body. Adama stood docilely staring forward and trembling, allowing the maid to wash and dress her. She knew this had to be a trick. She didn’t dare to hope her nightmare might be over. Then it occurred to her that she’d now have to figure out a way to save Sarah. She couldn’t allow Hecate to torture Sarah like she had been. She had to think. Sarah had finished helping her dress in the clothes. They were a sort of prisoner’s garb, baggy pants and a rough tunic. She then led her to a small stool and had her sit. “What has this monster done to you?” she whispered as she brushed out Adama’s hair. She gently removed the tangles and snarls and then braided it into one long plait the way her mistress liked it, laying it gently across her bruised back while Adama sat glancing furtively around, expecting ambush at any second. While she was helping her dress, Sarah couldn’t help but notice the bones in Adama’s back. They showed plainly through her thin clothes. Her silence and the fear in her eyes were unnerving. She wasn’t sure what exactly had happened to Adama since she’d disappeared, but she knew this woman was just a shadow of her mistress, certainly not the woman she had known since she was merely a girl herself. Sarah was appalled at the brutality, but shrewdly guessed this journey was far from over for her queen. When the madwoman returned, she looked at Sarah and asked, “Is she ready?” 37

Calthraca: Adamare “Yes, she is,” Sarah replied, disliking the way Adama cringed at Hecate’s voice. Hecate led them out to a waiting wagon and roughly pushed Adama toward the cart. Adama had been kept almost completely in the dark for nearly five months and squinted in the bright sunlight like a mole. She tripped many times, but Sarah was there to help her. Hecate had also rebound Adama’s wrists with shackles. It was rather pointless actually, considering she was far too weak to either fight back or attempt escape now. Maybe the idea was to continue reinforcing Hecate’s complete domination over her. She decided she didn’t care. The transport wagon was made up of a driver’s compartment and a separate enclosed box area for hauling. Adama guessed they were the cargo. She and Sarah were seated on the floor facing each other with their knees banging together painfully whenever the driver would hit a bump or ditch in the road. I hope we’re not in Lyros; the roads are appalling. Adama smiled inwardly at the surreality of the thought. Maybe there was hope for her yet. “I don’t know where they’re taking us,” Sarah spoke at last. Adama, sitting with her head back against the wall of the vehicle, eyes closed, made no reply. Sarah was becoming more and more nervous in the enclosed space; Adama could hear it in her voice. Sarah decided to try again. “My lady? Can you hear me?” Adama cracked open one eye, looked at Sarah, and said, “Yes, Sarah, I can hear you.” “What is happening here?” Sarah breathed, obviously relieved. Adama shifted slightly in a vain attempt to find a comfortable position. The clinking of the shackles sounded 38

Calthraca: Adamare louder in the small space. Finally she sighed and said, “I was going to ask you the same thing.” It felt strange to her to speak to someone openly. Not to guard her tone or her words, not to worry that offending them could mean her life. Sarah, only too glad to have something to take her mind off her growing terror, related to Adama what had happened after it was discovered she was missing. Both of the guards who kept her bedroom door secured were missing. The other maid who attended Adama when Sarah was asleep or otherwise occupied was found in Adama’s own bed. Her throat had been cut. No sign of Adama had been found and no signs of a struggle had been evident either. A huge search had been launched but nothing was found. She had simply vanished. Some had speculated that perhaps Christian had returned to abduct her and had dispatched the guards and the maid. Everyone knew his preference for the blade. Naturally Lady Sartos and the Council, who had conveniently taken over power in Adama’s absence, had publicly denounced the rumor. Publicly denounced, but privately encouraged through Lady Misala and her viperous tongue and the quiet approval of Sartos herself, Sarah added bitterly. She had known nothing of the sort had happened, and had been frantic with worry for her mistress. Sarah even attempted to send a message to Lord Christian, but she’d received no reply. Two days ago she had been in Adama’s personal rooms tidying up and trying to decide what to do next when she was grabbed from behind. A huge man she didn’t know had threatened her to remain quiet or he would break her neck. He demanded she lead him out of Adama’s stronghold through the kitchens without attracting any attention. He’d led her to this same wagon and 39

Calthraca: Adamare taken her away. She hadn’t been harmed or threatened again since. They had traveled night and day until, she said, they arrived at the cottage where Adama had been held. Sarah added she hadn’t noticed anything missing while she was cleaning, but was convinced she had surprised a robber while he was looking for something. Adama listened intently to Sarah’s story. She tried to figure out why Hecate would want to involve her personal maid. She could have simply grabbed any serving girl if she’d felt it was vital for Adama to have a body servant. So why Sarah specifically? Certainly not as a kindness. Did Sarah know something? Could it be she’d witnessed something or heard something and hadn’t realized it yet? Was it merely that Sarah had interrupted a burglar? Someone working for Hecate, who had forgotten something he was supposed to have taken when they took her? A more sinister idea occurred to Adama. Could Sarah be a spy, planted to watch me wherever my final destination is to be? Would she report to whomever was paying Hecate? She dismissed that thought immediately. She’d known Sarah since they were girls. She didn’t have a truer friend. After her abduction, Adama had quickly realized it wasn’t about the bounty on her head. There was someone who wanted her out of the way, and preferably broken in spirit and mind as part of the bargain. She reasoned that whomever Hecate worked for had informed the assassin to keep Adama’s magic at bay with the brand. Adama wouldn’t be able to employ her magic, and would therefore be even further weakened and helpless. It had to be someone who knew Adama well and had some knowledge of her abilities. The memory of her captivity in Tartak returned to her, and she recalled how she had initially placated TengriKhan, bending to his will to keep herself safe. She had done the same thing with Hecate as often as possible. 40

Calthraca: Adamare In her darker moments, when the pain from her wounds wasn’t as bad, when she could form a coherent thought, she wondered if maybe Christian was behind all of this. Could it be? Could he be somehow punishing me for hurting him? Was he capable of such cruelty? Then she would cry and curse herself for thinking such ugly thoughts about Chris. She knew he loved her deeply, and he could never do this to her, and she was positive if he’d had any inkling of what was happening, he would have done everything possible to rescue her. She knew now, if he hadn’t replied to Sarah’s message, that he must be dead. That left only one or two other people she could think of who would directly benefit from her absence. Her stepsister, Eleana, with no one to stand in her way, she could roll across the borders of Lyros and claim the capitol at any time, especially if the Council was involved. And Sartos would naturally benefit from her being gone, now especially since Hecate had dispatched her mother. It made her heart contract painfully in her chest when she recalled how Hecate had informed her that she’d murdered the helpless queen. She had to ask Sarah. “How did my mother die? Was it very bad?” She spoke in barely a whisper. Sarah looked confused. “My lady, your mother was alive and exactly the same as always when I was taken.” Conflicting emotions crossed Adama’s face all at once, intense relief, shock, and a furious burning anger that actually scared Sarah a bit. “She’s alive?” “Well, yes, my lady. I saw her myself. Why would she not be?” “She is not dead?” Adama asked once more just to make sure she’d heard correctly. 41

Calthraca: Adamare “My lady, your mother lives,” Sarah said firmly. Adama suddenly found it difficult to draw a breath. Her tired mind was once again racing. Huge chunks of truth fell into place for her all at once. If my mother is alive, then didn’t it stand to reason that Hecate had lied about killing Christian as well? Was it possible that Christian was alive too? And Hecate had never mentioned Oma at all, which meant she didn’t know about Oma! Surely if she’d known about the child, she wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to torment Adama with the gory details of her daughter’s murder. Which meant… Adama had allowed herself to believe Hecate and had in turn opened a door for that monster to hurt her more deeply and thoroughly than physical torture ever would. A wave of the blackest hate and rage descended over Adama and she knew she would kill Hecate just as soon as the opportunity presented itself. She would do it with her bare hands…and she would enjoy it. Abducting Sarah was an enormous mistake on Hecate’s part, but a colossal gift for Adama. It occurred to her she didn’t have to try and figure anything else out; all she needed to do was be thankful for the arrival of Sarah. They had been together since Tartak and she had always been more to Adama than simply a maid; she was a friend and a confidant. Adama was now crying silent tears of rage mixed with relief. Seeing those tears, Sarah slid quickly across the floor of the wagon to her lady’s side and gently pulled the queen’s head down to her shoulder. Embraced with love for the first time in months, Adama let the sobs come, the grief and pain she’d held back came with them, and she let herself be comforted by her friend. 42

Calthraca: Adamare They sat together this way for a long time and eventually Adama’s tears tapered off to hitched breaths and sighs. She managed to pull herself together, wiping her face on her sleeve and strangely she felt better, cleansed. She knew she didn’t have the strength yet to escape, nor to kill Hecate, and it would take time for her to get to that point. Therefore, she’d need to gather and conserve her energy, pretending to appear much weaker than she felt. For the first time in months, her companion light flickered weakly between her cupped hands, then guttered and disappeared like a match in the wind. It wasn’t much, but it gave her some hope that perhaps her magic was not entirely gone. As the day moved into night, Adama related most of what had happened to her since her abduction to Sarah, who sat and listened with growing horror. Adama’s tone was dispassionate, as though it had happened to someone else. She asked Sarah questions about the Council and about Lady Sartos. How they’d reacted to her disappearance; what had happened in the time since she was gone. She guessed Sartos had to have had something to do with her abduction. Sartos was another one she’d deal with as soon as she was free. Sarah was astonished by the speed of Adama’s recovery. She was already far more lucid and alert than she’d been when Sarah had arrived, and she marveled at her mistress’s cunning method of protecting herself by feigning weakness. In fact, Adama had taken steps to avoid poisoning and the effects of the drugs almost from the beginning of her imprisonment, even though it took most of her strength to do so. She’d suspected Hecate would want to keep her weak and pliant, likely through drugs or hypnosis or both. She was right; she’d detected sedative drugs in her food right away. 43

Calthraca: Adamare When she’d studied with Miranda, the older woman had insisted Adama master this particular ability. Adama had foolishly questioned her on it. Miranda had plunked her in a chair amid much protesting. Muttering under her breath, she’d pulled a large book off the shelf, opened it and banged it onto the table in front of the sullen young woman. She pointed to a chart of names carefully recorded by hand. It was a long, long list, and Adama had recognized a few of the names she saw, most notably her own. Miranda kneeled beside the now quiet young Adama, and spoke softly. “Read here the names of all the rulers of the house of your mother, our queen.” She looked pointedly at Adama and then put her finger beside a name. “See the names with the red stars beside them? These are the ones who’ve been poisoned or have had drugs used against them to control them.” She paused. “Adama, you must learn this ability in order to protect yourself. My mother taught this skill to me, and your mother has charged me with your education and protection. This is one way you will learn to protect yourself. You will not be able to detect everything, but the most commonly used poisons and sedatives will appear immediately.” So, Adama had practiced and learned the skill and had mastered it. Unfortunately all the learning and skill in the world hadn’t prepared her for the reality of brutal assault. Initially, she’d been confident that her abilities as a fighter would be enough to protect her. But faced with a daily barrage of attacks, lack of sleep and the level of mental effort it required to prevent the drugs from affecting her, she’d been easily overwhelmed and unable to protect herself from all of the physical cruelty. She was beginning to feel better than she had when Sarah arrived, but her strength still hadn’t completely returned. 44

Calthraca: Adamare Recovering from being held in bondage was becoming easier for her, she reflected sourly. Guessing by the length of time they’d been traveling, Adama was almost certain where they were being taken— BasSalaam. She could only think of two people who might want her abducted, but if anyone wanted her completely under control, it would be Eleana. She laid out a plan for what she wanted Sarah to do if they stopped, and she told the girl what she had decided to do. They would play along; Adama would continue acting docile and weakened, until they were somewhere safe enough to attempt escape. Sarah would keep her ears open and listen for any information that might be useful or help them when they arrived in BasSalaam. She was to keep herself out of danger. That was a promise Adama had extracted. It was vital that if Adama was injured, or retaken, Sarah stay safe enough to return to Lyros or to Christian and tell others what had happened. Sarah fell asleep leaning against her shoulder, and Adama was fairly sure it was late. She knew they’d been put into the cart after noon, and they had been traveling for several hours. Through the chinks and cracks in the wooden boards of their prison, Adama could see it was fully dark now. She guessed the time to be somewhere around midnight. She decided to try and rest herself and had just begun to sink toward sleep when she felt the vehicle slow and come to a halt. She was instantly awake, but kept her eyes shut and listened. She heard muffled voices, and couldn’t make out what was being said, but caught an occasional word or laugh. The voices were coming closer. The door unlocked and opened to reveal a clear cool night, Hecate, and a giant. She felt the cool air rush in and caress her face. She also felt startlingly calm and serene. “Wake up, girls! This is our one and only stop.” 45

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah jerked and came awake at the loud voice. Adama slowly raised her head and lifted half-lidded eyes. “Rise and shine, my pet,” Hecate cooed and then grabbed Adama by the upper arm and flung her to the ground. Sarah yelled, jumped up and was caught around the waist by the huge man accompanying Hecate. Adama had anticipated Hecate’s actions and managed to get her hands up, breaking her fall before she was seriously injured. She rose to her knees slowly. Hecate, not finished with her yet, strode over to where Adama was still trying to get her feet underneath her and grabbed her by the braid. She wrapped it around her fist and pulled Adama to her feet where she stood swaying slightly. She kept her eyes closed and brought her hands up in a reflex defensive action, anticipating a blow from her captor. Hecate, only inches away from Adama’s face, peered closely at the other woman. “Soon we shall be parted and I will miss our playful interludes, Adama.” Hecate pushed her away hard, flinging Adama back to the ground. Adama wasn’t able to balance herself and fell hard on her right side. She lay there for a few moments, regaining her breath and renewing her vow to kill Hecate with her bare hands. “Hugo, come here. Bring the girl,” Hecate barked. Hugo lumbered over to where Hecate was standing with Sarah still under one beefy arm. She was kicking and punching at him, having as much effect as attacking a brick wall. He set her down on her feet where she furiously straightened her clothing and stomped hard on his foot, still with no effect. “Great, huge oaf!” she fumed. “Calm yourself,” said Hecate sauntering over toward Sarah, confident Adama was going nowhere. “You’re quite a little spitfire,” she said, then laughed. “I might have need of a servant with spirit.” 46

Calthraca: Adamare The maid glared at their captor. Sarah had seen Adama’s injuries, and remembering her admonition to avoid danger, she wisely kept her mouth closed. Hecate laughed again. “I’d be careful with those looks, or I’ll have Hugo take your eyes out for you.” Sarah blanched. Hecate leaned down and whispered, “I think he likes you already.” Sarah looked over her shoulder at the giant standing behind her and shuddered. “Now,” said Hecate, “you go do your job and cook us some food, like a good little maid.” She flapped a hand in the direction of the clearing where packs and boxes, presumably full of food, and a brightly burning fire waited. Sarah opened her mouth to say something but caught a look from Adama and snapped it shut. Adama meanwhile had managed to sit up and stared into the flames, trying to appear detached. Hecate motioned to Hugo. “Unlock her.” Turning back to Sarah, who still hadn’t budged, Hecate shouted, “Move!” Sarah jumped and hurried to the campfire. Hugo kneeled down in front of Adama and reached for her handcuffs. Startled, she jerked back slightly away from him. Hugo huffed air, reached a bit farther, and caught both of her hands in one large paw. He fumbled a key into the tiny hole and popped the lock. Adama flexed her wrists and ankles but didn’t make any other move. Sarah had been watching from across the fire as she prepared what she hoped would pass for stew. The packs were full and had plenty of ingredients; she only worried she had the ability to cook something edible. Hecate was watching Sarah. “What is it about her that so interests you?” Hecate asked. 47

Calthraca: Adamare “What do you mean?” Sarah replied. “What I mean,” Hecate sighed as she sat on a nearby rock, “is what is it about her that has caught your interest? You have no personal interest in my prisoner. Has she even told you her name?” Sarah shook her head. “Yet,” continued Hecate, “you try to protect her. What has inspired such loyalty? Surely not admiration, or is it possibly just pity?” She doesn’t know who I am! Hecate has no idea I am Adama’s personal maid and must have assumed I was merely a kitchen girl. That would explain her orders to cook for all of them. Regardless, Hecate was awaiting an answer. She knew she’d better stick closely to the truth. She had the feeling Hecate could spot a lie and she knew she’d pay dearly if she were caught in one. Sarah’s suspicions were confirmed by Hecate peering closely at her gauging her response. “I just felt sorry for her. I cannot imagine what she could have done to merit such treatment. I’m afraid you’ll do the same to me.” Hecate grinned evilly at that. She examined Sarah for a moment longer, and apparently satisfied with her answer, she nodded toward Adama and said, “Let’s just say, her treatment was carefully planned.” Adama, who’d been listening to the exchange, knew Sarah was in danger of overplaying her role. She slowly turned her head in their direction. She must somehow signal Sarah. “Please?” she said in a low voice. Hecate turned toward her. “What did you say?” “Water?” Adama asked with a hopeful note. Hecate got up and walked over to the spot where Adama was sitting. She leaned down close to Adama. “You’re thirsty?” 48

Calthraca: Adamare Adama blinked, as though awakening from a dream. “Yes, please. Water.” Hecate reached past Adama, grabbing a large bottle of water and bringing it forward. “I was wondering when you’d come around.” She sat down next to Adama and grabbed her by the chin, looking into her eyes. Adama cringed slightly at her touch. Satisfied, Hecate released her and looked past the fire at Sarah. Hecate held the bottle between both hands now, rolling it back and forth. Adama followed the bottle with her eyes. “What did you tell her during your ride?” Hecate asked Adama nonchalantly. Adama, gaze still following the bottle as though hypnotized, said, “Nothing.” “Nothing? You didn’t tell her your name or who you are? You didn’t discuss the horror of your incarceration?” How much did Hecate know? Would she have bothered listening to us in the carriage? She decided to keep denying. It felt like Hecate was fishing for something. “No, nothing. I…I’m… I think I was sleeping.” Like a striking viper, Hecate grabbed her by the collar and jerked her face closer. Adama made a low moan. “Should I believe you, Adama?” she growled through clenched teeth. “Would you lie to me?” Hecate pulled her even closer, bending her head to drag her mouth along Adama’s neck, moving steadily upward to her ear. “After everything we’ve been through together?” she cooed, running her tongue around Adama’s earlobe. A shiver of revulsion ran down Adama’s spine. She somehow turned it into a terrified tremble. Hecate laughed low and sat back, releasing her. She shoved the bottle into Adama’s hands. “I believe you.” She got up and 49

Calthraca: Adamare walked over to the wagon where she spoke to Hugo and drank from a small jug he held. Oh yes, I’ll enjoy every second of killing you. Adama fumbled the cork from the top of the bottle and drank deeply. She caught Sarah’s eye, brought the bottle down, and made a shushing gesture. The maid acknowledged her with a slight nod. Adama sighed her relief and relaxed slightly, until she noticed Hugo leering at Sarah. Adama could see what was on his mind as the girl moved and worked around the clearing. She would have to be careful and watch Sarah even more closely. Sarah walked over to where Hecate was standing and said something to her, then handed her a bowl. Hecate nodded and gestured toward where Hugo and Adama sat. Sarah went back to the kettle, dished out two more bowls and brought them over, handing them to Hugo then finally Adama. It was some sort of stew, and Adama realized she was ravenous. She was relieved Sarah had served her last. Had she deferred to Adama unconsciously, she might have aroused Hecate’s suspicions. This way it reinforced the belief the two women did not know each other. Adama set the bottle of water down beside her leg and took up the spoon in the bowl. She watched Hecate approaching out of the corner of her eye, and knew the mercenary was hoping to startle her. Adama glanced up sharply, bolstering Hecate’s confident superiority, assuring her that she was in complete control and Adama was still a helpless victim. Slowly she held out the bowl and Hecate poured a packet of granules into it. Hugo looked up from the stump he sat upon and grunted as he watched their interaction. Hecate sat down beside Adama while she ate her own food and when she finished she called Sarah over and handed her the 50

Calthraca: Adamare empty bowl. Apparently feeling talkative she said, “I can see that introductions need to be made. I wouldn’t want to be considered a poor hostess.” Adama continued mechanically eating, spoon to mouth, spoon to mouth. She was listening, but appeared almost oblivious. Hecate was a vain woman. She held a very high opinion of herself and she let others know it. Adama had quickly learned she disliked it when she was not acknowledged, and purposely ignored her. Hecate noticed, and shook her head disgustedly. She reached over to Adama and removed the bowl from her hand. Then gently plucked the spoon from her other hand. Adama stared stupidly at her empty hands, trying to work out the obvious. “As I was saying,” Hecate continued, “we need some introductions.” She pointed toward Hugo. “This is my brother Hugo. As you can see, he’s big as an ox and just as smart.” Hugo smiled at the perceived compliment. “I prefer to keep my business in the family,” Hecate added. “Hugo is here to help me should I require any. Although it doesn’t look as though I will.” She looked hard at Adama who continued to appear like a zombie, then turned to Sarah. “My name is Hecate Bosha. This woman is Adama Fawkes. Do you recognize the name?” Adama’s head jerked up slightly at the sound of her name, indicating she wasn’t completely oblivious. “What do you say, girl?” “She is the queen?” Sarah whispered. “Bravo! Yes indeed, she is your Queen Adama. Although if I may say so, I don’t think she’s looking particularly majestic tonight.” Hecate shook her head sadly. “She’s been my guest for the past few months.” She laughed nastily, and was joined by Hugo whose laugh sounded like a troll. 51

Calthraca: Adamare “Her final destination is BasSalaam. I’ve been paid a great deal of money to deliver you to your sister, Adama.” She watched for any response. “Do you understand me?” Adama looked up then nodded slowly. Eleana Draga was her half-sister, and she was five years older than Adama. They hadn’t grown up together, but they did know each other. Adama also knew Eleana had resented her since she was born as she felt Adama had stolen her father. Adama’s mother, Lucia, had met Addar Draga in a diplomatic conference with BasSalaam and Qassli many years ago. They had become lovers and he had chosen to remain with Lucia in Lyros until things in BasSalaam had become too unstable and he’d been forced to return and restore the peace. Eleana’s mother, Ithia, was a member of the royal family, a third cousin of Addar, and promised from the cradle. She had been a beautiful but cold woman who had done her duty and produced an heir for BasSalaam, but had neither love nor attraction to Addar at all. She had died in a pandemic that had swept through all of the north and midlands six years ago. Adama had met Ithia only once. She was a young girl then, visiting her father, alone except for a maid and a nanny. She recalled Ithia as a cold, aloof woman who’d been particularly cruel to her. At the time of course she could not understand why, when every other adult in her life was kind, but now as an adult, Adama knew being faced with her husband’s bastard child was probably extremely humiliating for a woman as proud as Ithia had been. In BasSalaam, Adama had no official status at all. She was not a princess there, although her father’s subjects and advisors were wise enough to treat her with the deference she deserved. Of course her bastard status had no bearing upon her own ability to inherit in Lyros. Their monarchy was matriarchal, with the legacy carried through the females. 52

Calthraca: Adamare “Good,” Hecate replied. “And finally, you, girl… What is your name?” she asked Sarah. “Salma,” Sarah answered quickly. She used her old name, the one she’d had when she was still a girl in Tartak, just in case Hecate had been told her real name. “Well, Salma,” Hecate continued, “you have been promoted. You will be Adama’s personal maid. Adama, meet Salma, Salma, meet Adama. Her other personal maid had a slight accident and couldn’t be here. Isn’t that right, Hugo?” Hugo grinned and nodded his agreement, revealing several broken teeth in his gargoyle face. Sarah looked at that face and felt faint. She willed herself to stay upright. Hecate thought the murdered maid was her. A few moments earlier and it would have been. “Now that you know what is going on, and where you fit in, Salma, I will expect your cooperation.” Sarah found her voice and said, “Yes of course, my lady.” “Ah, splendid,” Hecate purred. “Now then, come and help your new mistress, she seems…tired.” Hecate laughed her evil laugh, motioned to Hugo and together they walked toward the coach again. Sarah watched her rummage through a box in the cab, then turned back to her mistress. Adama had begun to sway slightly. Sarah sat down and caught Adama as she overbalanced then struggled to sit upright. She helped her up then caught a dull gleam from Adama’s eyes. Adama wasn’t in a drugged stupor after all, but neither was she as totally alert as she had been earlier. Hecate returned holding a wrapped bundle, and dropped it near Sarah. “Salma, help her to get dressed in these clothes. She needs to be presentable to Empress Eleana when we arrive.” 53

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah caught a twitch from Adama and guessed she wanted some more time. “Please, she must sleep; she’s barely able to stay upright.” Hecate looked annoyed. She peered at Adama who was alternately sitting up then drooping over, struggling to stay conscious. She sighed. “Oh all right. We’ll rest until midday, but I warn you, Salma, if you try to escape, or attempt to help her escape, I will find you, and I’ll give you to Hugo. I can always replace a maid.” Sarah closed her eyes. “I won’t escape.” They both looked at Adama. Hecate tipped Adama’s head upright. “What?” Adama swallowed and started again. “We…won’t try to escape. You have my word.” Hecate’s brilliant blue eyes bored into Adama’s as though searching for something. “You never cease to amaze me, Adama. All right, I believe you, and I hold you to your honorable word.” She shook her head, laughing a little as she walked over to Hugo and spoke to him. Sarah spoke low to Adama. “We’ve a few hours before we leave. You should sleep if you can.” Adama guessed they were only a few miles from Rania, the capital of BasSalaam. She’d need her strength to face her sister. **** The sun was high in the sky when Hugo came over to the clearing where they slept. He crouched down and lifted the thin cloak covering both Adama and Sarah, and closely examined Sarah’s form. Finally he ordered, “Wake her up.” Once he’d gone, Sarah sat up stiffly and touched Adama’s shoulder. Adama came out of sleep immediately. Her eyes darted around warily until she realized where she was and who had 54

Calthraca: Adamare awakened her. She had slept and deeply, for the first time in weeks. “May I have some water please…” “Of course,” Sarah said and hurried over to the clearing to get the bottle from where Adama had left it. Adama leaned over and pulled the bundle of clothes that Hecate had given Sarah toward her. She shook out what looked like a traditional white choli blouse and sari-type dress from BasSalaam. “Ugh…” she muttered under her breath and looked at the other items in the bundle. Another sari, this one blue with silver stitching, the other one red and gold. She sighed. She had worn this type of clothing when she was in BasSalaam years ago and they were quite comfortable, but the fact that she was being taken there against her will took the pleasure out of the beautiful clothes. She chose the blue one and looked around for a somewhat more private place to change. She’d been subjected to any number of horrors and humiliations in the past months, and she’d just as soon try and preserve some measure of dignity and not change in front of Hugo. Sarah returned with the water and some bread and fruit. Adama ate a little, drank the water thirstily and felt a bit better. “Thank you for the food; it was thoughtful,” Adama said, handing her the bottle and the small dish. “I’ll need your help to change into this thing.” She stood and stretched. The two women moved behind a cluster of bushes, not quite out of sight of Hugo, but more secluded. Sarah helped Adama into the sari, adjusting the yards of cloth into the required pleats and folds as Adama instructed. Next she helped her unbraid, brush and then rebraid Adama’s hair. Sarah was brushing the dust from the cloak and getting ready to put it on Adama when Hecate approached them. Hecate 55

Calthraca: Adamare rarely slept for long, but had rested in the cart while Adama slept. “Let me see her first.” Adama turned and looked directly at Hecate for the first time since her captivity had begun. She held her head high like the queen she was and did not flinch when Hecate grabbed her right wrist. She brought Adama’s hand up to face-level, never taking her eyes off hers, but neither saying a word. She jammed a silver cuff bracelet down onto Adama’s wrist. They continued to stare at each other for a moment, then Hecate broke the silence and said softly, “Salma, help your lady.” She left them, crossing the clearing to where the cart stood waiting for them on the side of the dusty road. Adama looked at the bracelet and recognized it as her own, a gift from Christian. She swallowed hard and proceeded to the wagon.

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Chapter 3 They arrived in BasSalaam in the early evening. It was a warm night and Adama could smell the fragrant air as she stepped from the wagon. Hecate hadn’t bothered to replace the handcuffs since Adama had given her word she wouldn’t attempt escape, and in fact had not given any indication of doing so. Still Hecate watched her closely. They crossed a long quiet courtyard and Hecate walked beside Adama. She had also noticed Adama regaining her strength, and it worried her. She wasn’t sure how much control she would have over a lucid and strong Adama. “I know you will not make a fool of me, Adama. I wouldn’t want to punish you in front of your sister. Be sure to show your respect and obedience to the Empress when you are presented.” Adama stopped walking and turned to her tormentor. “I know how to conduct myself before royalty and I would never dream of shaming you, Hecate.” She was unable to keep a touch of sarcasm from spiking her words. Hecate’s reaction was typically violent. She hooked her arm around Adama’s neck and pulled her face-to-face. “I do not like your tone. You would do best to change it,” she said through clenched teeth. Adama closed her eyes, set her jaw and said nothing. Hecate covered Adama’s head with the hood of her cloak then roughly turned her back toward the doors and gave her a shove. “Move.” 57

Calthraca: Adamare Behind them, Hugo led Sarah, a huge hand clamped around her thin arm possessively. Two guards pushed open large, heavy doors to a huge receiving chamber. It was far larger than anything in Adama’s small court and all of it looked very ostentatious, but then her sister wasn’t known for being subtle. Adama recalled this hall had been used only for very important functions during her father’s reign. She only thought about her father occasionally, but being here brought his memory back to her as though it were only yesterday she’d last seen him. Her mother had always allowed her to visit him when she liked, though she knew Lucia had never completely gotten over his leaving or his assassination. Her memories of her father were happy ones and she remembered feeling treasured and loved. She also harbored no small amount of pride at being the daughter of the infamous Draga. Two years before Adama’s marriage, Empress Eleana had sent requests to Lyros for ambassadors. She wanted to reopen diplomatic lines. Adama had been there when a messenger arrived, sitting nearby at a long polished table within her mother’s private library. Her mother had asked her to spend some time listening and learning how her kingdom was run. “So, Eleana wants to be friendly. I’m sure she must have some obnoxious agenda,” Lucia said with a trace of bitterness. There was no love lost between the two rulers. “Princess Adama would make a wonderful ambassador, Your Majesty. It would be an excellent opportunity for her,” Lady Sartos had commented. Queen Lucia had looked at her daughter. “Do you think this is something you’d want to do?” Adama’s attention was immediately engaged. She recalled happily the time she’d spent there as a young child. “Yes, 58

Calthraca: Adamare Mother, of course. I barely remember what BasSalaam is like; it’s been so long since I’ve been there.” “You’ll have to live there, and attend court—” “—And conduct yourself like a lady,” Lady Sartos interrupted. Both Lucia and Adama gave her an annoyed look. “Do you think you really want to do this, Adama?” her mother asked. Adama knew her mother did not like the idea of her going to BasSalaam, but she wanted the opportunity to spend a few months away from Lyros. Rather than wheedle her mother, Adama was wise enough to realize she’d need to be logical and convince her. Lucia dismissed Sartos and asked her daughter to stay with her for a few moments longer. “I do not like the idea of you going to BasSalaam,” Lucia said bluntly. “That being said, I also think it could be a good thing.” Lucia moved to stand before the windows of her study which overlooked the village below. Adama knew she was thinking, and patiently waited, avoiding the urge to fidget. Finally Lucia spoke. “I believe you will do well in this assignment, you are after all half Basaltic. My concern is you’ve never been surrounded by people such as these.” “Mother, I’m not a child.” Adama pouted. “I shall be fine, really.” Lucia sighed. She supposed Adama would be fine after all. She only hoped she wouldn’t be hurt in other ways. “All right, you may go. I’ll send word to Eleana.” **** Adama was roused from her thoughts by a loud voice announcing their arrival.

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Calthraca: Adamare “Gracious Empress Eleana, ruler of BasSalaam, Overlord of Andalos, Lyros and Sakendahl, Defender of our People, may I present your humble subjects begging for audience.” Overlord? Adama was completely astounded. Since when was Eleana the overlord of Lyros or Andalos or Sakendahl, for that matter? Hecate stepped forward, made a low bow and waited to be invited to approach. She had left her small party alone to wait and approached the empress carrying only a small box. Eleana was seated on a slightly raised platform, reclining upon a chaise lounge and surrounded by servants and aides. She was wearing a golden cloth caftan dress with sheer red pajama pants gathered with ribbons at the ankle. She had red slippers on her feet and a small golden anklet that jingled musically when she moved. She was petite, at least six inches shorter than Adama, but perfectly proportioned. All in all, Eleana was a stunningly beautiful woman. She had golden blonde hair and a warm peachy complexion. She required no makeup or paint to show her beauty and she appeared much younger than she was. But her beauty belied a dangerously cold woman. “Rise, Hecate,” Eleana commanded. “You’ve been away far too long. Show me what you’ve brought for me.” “My thanks for your kindness, Majesty,” Hecate gushed, pleased and overwhelmed by the small flattery of being recognized. “I’ve brought you two gifts today, both sent by the Lady Sartos, Councilor of Lyros, with her warmest regards.” At that Adama started forward but Sarah held her arm discreetly and pinched her so hard she sucked it in and swore under her breath. Hugo hushed them, settling a beefy hand on each of their shoulders as they stood before him. 60

Calthraca: Adamare “The first gift is here, and it is truly my pleasure to present it to you. With best regards on your birthday, Empress Eleana.” She knelt and set the box on the floor in front of the dais at Eleana’s feet. A servant retrieved the box and brought it to Eleana, who opened it and peered inside. “Well,” she said, obviously pleased, “this is a surprise. I must say I’m overwhelmed. As a matter of fact, I’m positively speechless.” She reached into the box and removed a large, heavy, silver object. It was shaped like a mallet, flat on one end and engraved all over with symbols, and words. It had a line of jewels surrounding a lion’s head crest. There was a collective, “Ahhh,” from the court as she lifted it higher. Even Sarah gasped at the beauty of it as it gleamed richly in Eleana’s hand. Adama merely stared at it then hung her head as silent tears threatened to spill from her eyes. She knew now what Hugo had stolen. “The Imperial Seal of Lyros,” Eleana said. “How lovely! Does this mean my dear sister has passed away unwed and childless?” She laughed evilly. “No indeed, Your Grace,” Hecate gushed. “Your second gift.” At that Hugo dragged Adama forward and Hecate motioned to Sarah to remove her cloak. Sarah took the cloak off and backed away quickly. Adama slowly raised her head and looked at Eleana, who was completely stunned. Adama suddenly dropped to her knees and then forward onto the floor, prostrating herself in front of her sister.

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Calthraca: Adamare Everyone in the room gasped as they recognized who she was and what this meant. Those who knew Adama were only too happy to share their information with those who did not. It had only taken a second for Adama to decide to fall upon the floor at her sister’s feet. As Sarah removed her cloak, Adama had spotted Christian Valore standing beside Eleana and had done the only thing she could think to do. She knew if she ever wanted to see her daughter, she’d better go along, and not fight. Yet. Eyes closed, her cheek was pressed to the cool marble and her thoughts raced. How long has Christian been here? She had not seen Oma anywhere and her heart lurched. Where is my daughter? Eleana was instantly off the couch and walked around Adama’s prone form. “Oh my!” she exclaimed. “Such a turn of events. Is today my birthday?” Everyone laughed at the empress’s joke. “Get up, Adama, you make a terrible rug.” She nudged Adama in the side with one slippered foot. Obediently, Adama rose to her knees and remained there with her hands on her thighs and her eyes down. Eleana walked around Adama again, marveling. She looked at Hecate. “Would you like to tell me what is going on, Hecate, or shall I guess?” Hecate began, “Lady Sartos and her Council felt it would be in the best interest of Lyros and her people to join with Your Grace now, and begin an era of peace and prosperity.” “More prosperous for some than others, I’ll wager,” Eleana said under her breath. “Continue, Hecate.” She climbed the steps to her dais and sat on her chaise. “Oh, yes, of course…” Hecate fumbled. “Ah, despite the resistance of the Fawkes family, who have held power and continue to oppose your efforts to adopt Lyros into your league, the Council made the decision to send the Imperial Seal to you, 62

Calthraca: Adamare and have mercifully allowed the last of the Fawkes rulers to come to you and beg for your favor as your humble subject.” Eleana laughed loudly. “Do you expect me to believe this?” “Your Grace?” Hecate replied, unsure what Eleana meant. “Are you telling me that Adama, Queen of Lyros, Commander of the Lyrosian Forces and a woman whom I personally witnessed kill a man twice her size, willingly agreed to give up her country, her power and her legacy, all because Sartos felt it was a good idea? Is that what you’re trying to tell me, Hecate? Because if it is, I do not believe it.” She sat back. “Your Majesty, Adama Fawkes has been my…guest, for the last few months. We’ve discussed the matter of her surrendering her rule at length, and I believe she has finally seen the light in that respect.” Eleana snorted. “I firmly believe she will be your most obedient and loyal subject.” Eleana narrowed her eyes at Hecate, considering. Then she spoke to Adama. “What do you have to say about this, Adama?” Adama raised her eyes briefly. Hecate shifted toward her, and she flinched visibly. Eleana smiled. “I am your servant, Empress.” Adama’s whispered words were barely audible. Eleana was obviously pleased. “I will be damned! Adama Fawkes on her knees before me,” she marveled. “Hecate, what have you done? I suppose it really is no matter. It seems you’ve instructed her well, Hecate, and you will be rewarded.” To Adama she said, “I told you I would see you this way eventually, did I not?” Then she laughed. “Oh, this is just too delicious to contemplate!” Eleana looked around at her assembled audience. “What about the others?” 63

Calthraca: Adamare “A servant girl brought along as a personal maid to her, and of course, my brother Hugo.” “Ah yes…Hugo,” Eleana commented distastefully. Hugo grinned. Eleana looked at Sarah. “So, you’re willing to stay with your mistress? No matter what?” “Yes, Your Grace.” “Even into death?” Eleana said nastily. “She is my queen,” Sarah whispered. “Ahhh, well no, there you’re wrong,” said Eleana. “However, I shall explain, since you are merely a servant and may not realize, or possibly you are not bright enough to comprehend?” Sarah shook her head, her cheeks flaming, but she remained quiet. “Good,” said Eleana, obviously relishing the prospect of addressing her subjects. “Now then, do you see this?” She held up the Imperial Seal of Lyros. Sarah nodded. “This seal indicates that I, and my heirs, are the rulers of Lyros now. Just as my father had planned before Lucia got her evil claws into him, driving him from my dear mother, his lawful wife.” Eleana looked for any reaction at all from Adama, but she remained stony and silent, head bent, eyes down. She continued. “Because they had a child, and my father was not a cruel man, he allowed Lucia to keep her small insignificant holding, and her brat. But now, Lucia is either dead or soon will be and Adama is here, begging for my mercy. That means she is no longer a queen. Her presence here means she has abdicated, and since she hasn’t done the honorable thing and taken her own life, she becomes mine to do with as I choose, and this is what I choose.” 64

Calthraca: Adamare She addressed Adama directly. “I cannot simply execute you now that you’ve literally thrown yourself upon my mercy, as I’m sure you know. Even if I could, it would be foolish to have you killed and waste such a valuable opportunity to use you. Ironically, I’ve been approached by not one but two powerful families, both looking for noble wives for their second sons.” Adama still made no move. “I also have several gentlemen whom I need to reward for service to me. They would be well served by a noble wife as well; especially one as noble as you. Since I cannot simply toss you to one of them without insulting the others, I must take a few days and decide the best match for you. Despite your newly humbled manner, I shall feel much more comfortable knowing you are safely married, breeding children, and no longer a threat to my holdings or me. In the meantime, you will be addressed as Lady Adama, which is more appropriate.” She stopped and looked at Sarah again. “You may follow Emil. He will take you to the chambers you and Lady Adama will occupy while you stay here.” She indicated a small boy standing nearby. Sarah followed him out. “Adama, I must say, I like seeing you this way. You may sit here,” she indicated a spot on the floor beside her, “until I dismiss you.” Hecate moved slightly and Adama scrambled to Eleana’s side. “Lovely,” she said, and stroked Adama’s cheek with a finger. Adama closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Never in her life had she suspected this treason. She had expected Sartos to move into power but never to turn Lyros over to Eleana. Sartos had lost two sons in the wars herself. Thousands of her people had died defending them, and Sartos had now made their sacrifice meaningless. 65

Calthraca: Adamare To be utterly betrayed by Sartos, to have her legacy and her country stolen from her was unbearable, but worse still was being presented to her half-sister as a twisted birthday gift. It made her humiliation complete. Hecate moved to the side of the room and allowed the other guests to admire Adama and the Lyrosian Seal, as well as present Eleana with their gifts. But she kept an eye on Adama. She didn’t seem to be planning anything, or searching for a means of escape. I have accomplished my mission. In all of the time Adama was with her, she’d had just one regret. She never had the option of keeping Adama for herself. Hecate knew she would have made a lovely prize, an endlessly fascinating diversion, but Adama Fawkes was much too valuable to become her own personal plaything. She’d have to be satisfied with her memories. Adama now had only one thing on her mind. Finding her daughter and assuring the child’s safety. She sat docilely beside Eleana with her head slightly down and scanned the room through half-lidded eyes, grateful her ability to look into the minds of others was still intact. To her left, from the corner of her eye, she could see a large man watching her. He was taller than Christian, though not as broad across the chest. Menacing, dark, and severe in his posture and demeanor, he caused unease to flow through her in waves. She turned her head slightly, hoping to catch a glimpse of his features, but he suddenly turned to speak with someone and was no longer watching her. Adama naturally couldn’t see behind her but she could feel Christian nearby, and she felt he was highly agitated. She concentrated and cast her mind’s eye out searching. She caught Eleana’s thoughts—joy and elation at having her as a captive. No surprise there. She continued to scan the room, picking up many colorful moving thoughts from others in the room; everything 66

Calthraca: Adamare had a slight carnival quality and she felt alternately giddy and nauseated as her own feelings clashed with those she channeled. Without warning, she ran into a blank mental wall that nearly knocked her over in surprise. She shook her head feeling slightly dazed; the sensation felt very much like hitting one’s head on something hard. Instinctively she felt it must be the dark man near Eleana. She turned her head and lifted her eyes slowly, taking in all of him. Her gaze finally came to rest upon his face, and she found him examining her closely as well. He stared at her with a silvery green gaze that revealed nothing. Dear God, it’s him! her brain screamed, and had she not been seated upon the floor already, she was certain she would have fallen down. The man standing behind her sister was the one she had dreamed of all of her life. The man she knew fate had selected for her. He was here, and she had finally found him after so many years—only to discover he was allied with her evil sister. Slowly she lowered her eyes once more and took a deep breath. She cast her mind outward again, trying to delve within his thoughts, and perhaps find out the purpose of his alliance. The dark man looked down at Lady Adama seated upon the floor and smiled slightly when he felt her touch his mind. He masked his thoughts from her gentle explorations. Closing his mind was a habit he’d had for as long as he could recall, but still the sensation he experienced when she touched him mentally was very nearly erotic. This unbidden desire had begun when she had been brought before Eleana. He’d had the most unusual reaction when he saw her throw herself upon the floor; desire had flared within him, immediate, hot and unexpected. She was the woman he’d been waiting for. He had to resist the urge to go to her, knowing he 67

Calthraca: Adamare must not reveal himself to her yet. He would approach her when they would not be disturbed. He’d noticed her reaction when he caught her looking at him and suppressed the urge to smile again. Her eyes had widened considerably, then quickly returned to normal. She had looked away soon after, but he wondered if it were possible that she had recognized him from somewhere. He wanted to look into her mind as well, but decided to save that pleasure for later. A powerful sorcerer, he could sense the agitation radiating from not only her, but also the empress’ lover. Christian Valore knew Adama, wanted her, and would do anything to get her. Hot jealousy flared within him briefly at the thought of Valore with her, and he dismissed it with slight unease. It was unlike him to feel such emotions, but something about her evoked strongly possessive thoughts. Adama turned her mind away from him. Attempting to read his mind was causing her head to ache, and she strongly suspected he enjoyed the knowledge of her mental struggle. She wondered if he knew her, if he had dreamed of her the way she had dreamed of him. Was it possible he had prophetic dreams like hers? She had no doubt he was the man. Every fiber of her being longed for his touch and she was shocked at her reaction, as though she were no longer in control of herself. She wondered how she could approach him. Angrily she pushed these thoughts aside. She did not have the luxury of contemplating her own happiness right now. Her only focus must be her daughter. She cast her mind out once again, this time actively searching for Christian. Then she saw an image of herself. Ahhh, I’ve got you! Adama proceeded to examine his thoughts—maybe she could find out why he was here and where Oma was. 68

Calthraca: Adamare His mind was jumbled with plenty of mixed emotions. Resentment, fear, surprise, regret, betrayal, confusion, love, and lastly, deep sadness. Where is Oma? No thoughts of Oma had surfaced at all. She caught images of herself as a girl and as a woman, images from the last time they’d made love. Then there was another woman. Writhing with pleasure, moaning, gasping, and calling his name…Eleana. Well, at least he’s getting over me, but where the hell was Oma? She could feel him becoming more edgy; he suspected she was there. She backed out of his mind and came back to herself, hating the nausea that always accompanied her return. It was growing very late, but still Eleana made her sit there, offering her bits of food and sips of wine, as though she were some sort of exotic and cherished pet. She accepted these without comment. Troops of dancers and actors performed, followed by an animal trainer with a dancing bear. The creature looked miserable, and Adama commiserated. Finally a magician entertained them with some simple tricks, causing Adama to once more mourn her lost abilities. Occasionally Eleana would speak with someone near her, or raise a hand for something or someone to attend her. The dark man beside Eleana leaned down and spoke low in her ear, then his gaze flicked briefly toward Adama. Eleana replied, and the man nodded, bowed low then left the room. Adama saw him look at her, but she couldn’t make out any of the words he said. Once more the warmth flared within her, and she wished she could at least speak to him. Eventually the stress of her captivity, the exhaustion and the small sips of wine Eleana had fed her began to affect her. She was trembling both inside and out. She felt it, but was unable to stop, and she knew she was near collapse. 69

Calthraca: Adamare This fact did not escape Eleana’s attention. She watched Adama closely and noticed the shaking; she also noted Adama seemed to be sliding toward unconsciousness. She could almost feel pity for her. Eleana wordlessly held up a hand, and Christian stepped over, bowing low so she could speak in his ear. “Please escort my sister to her chamber, Lord Christian. You may also be dismissed for the night.” “Yes, my queen,” Christian agreed eagerly. He was relishing the opportunity to have Adama alone. This was why he’d come back to BasSalaam. He just knew in his heart that Eleana would reward his service and his marshalling of troops from Andalos for her use by presenting him with Adama for his wife. He could barely wait. She would finally be his entirely! He knew she would be overjoyed too. Gently he touched her shoulder. She made a small, frightened sound and sat up straight. Adama looked into Christian’s eyes and was horrified. He was on the border of madness. Oh my God! Where is my child? She would have to be very careful now. **** Christian had removed his warrior’s braids and had cut his hair. He was dressed in some sort of military uniform, giving up his woodland look. He looked good, but not like her Christian. He helped her up and took her arm firmly, leading her down the steps. “Chris,” she said softly, “What are you doing here?” “I came to deliver a battalion of soldiers to the empress, and to let her know the assembled armed forces of Andalos are available to her any time she needs them.” “But why?” “Shush,” he said, turning her about. He then bowed low to Eleana. Adama did the same. 70

Calthraca: Adamare They left the hall and Adama tried to jerk her arm out of his grip, then stopped, refusing to budge. “You’d better start explaining yourself immediately, Christian.” He roughly jerked her arm and she reluctantly began walking once more, stumbling to keep up. He was nearly dragging her down a long hallway in his haste to get her alone. “We will talk soon enough.” She clenched her fists and allowed him to lead her to her chamber. They walked into a small set of three rooms, which were furnished simply. They were nevertheless warm and comfortable. Near a door on the far side of the room, Sarah stood waiting for her. “Do you have any needs, my lady?” she asked. “Yes, do we have a bath?” “Yes, my qu—my lady,” Sarah answered. “Good, I’ll have a bath in a little while. Please make it ready for me, as hot as possible.” Sarah nodded, bowed slightly and left the room. Emil, Eleana’s little servant boy was still there waiting for his instructions. “Bring us refreshments,” Christian said to him. “Yes, my lord,” he replied and was gone. Christian sat down and decided it was time for Adama to learn of her future with him. He was so happy, but something kept bothering him; it always seemed slightly out of his reach, like having a name on the tip of your tongue, but not being able to recall it. Well, it will come to me eventually. He dismissed it like all the other times. Adama sat across from him and watched the thoughts race across his face. Something was desperately wrong with Christian. She couldn’t tell what it was, but he was different, nothing at all 71

Calthraca: Adamare like the man whom she entrusted her child’s life to five months ago. This man bore no resemblance to her friend at all. When she asked him questions, he was vague in his answers, and he wouldn’t say more than, “She is safe,” when Adama asked him about Oma. Christian was saying something about his alliance with BasSalaam, and how he’d convinced the rulers of Andalos to throw in with Eleana and how he’d delivered the loyalty of the army. “So she’s sure to marry you to me as a reward. Naturally, you’ll have to publicly announce your abdication, but that should be fairly simple and only a formality.” She sat there aghast. “What are you saying?” “I thought I was fairly clear, Adama. You give over Lyros, and Eleana will allow us to marry.” “No,” she flatly refused. “Where is Oma?” “I told you, Oma is safe.” Adama could hear the annoyance creeping into his voice and remained silent. Emil entered the room carrying a tray, which he set down on the small table before them. There were two large pottery cups full of tea and a small dish of cakes and biscuits. Adama picked up the heavy cup and took a sip. She immediately tasted the bitter tang of sedatives in her tea. She set the cup down and caught a glimpse of the little servant watching her covertly as she tasted it. Christian was still talking about how glorious it would be when she was finally all his and they could do as they pleased, maybe even return to Andalos. Adama looked at Chris as though she were paying attention to him then slowly reached out to pick up the cup again. She 72

Calthraca: Adamare raised it to her mouth to take another drink then turned fast and threw the cup with all of her strength at Emil. It exploded into a million shards against the wall mere inches from his head leaving pinpoints of blood and pottery in his cheek and forehead. The look on his face was a combination of sheer astonishment and fear. Good, let him fear me. “Don’t you ever give me tainted food or drink again. I will know,” she said, totally furious, but in control. “Replace that, and clean up this mess at once!” Emil scurried to do her bidding. Chris stopped talking and looked at her, shocked. She had seemed so docile before! She was supposed to cooperate. Now unsure of how to proceed, his brow creased in frustration. She turned to face him with fire in her eyes. He knew this look. “Where the hell is my daughter? What have you done with her, dammit!” “I told you she is safe, and if you want her to remain that way, you will comply with your sister’s plans for you,” he said hotly. “My sister has no right to determine my life! I was abducted and brought here against my will—and you, Chris? You would blackmail me with my daughter’s safety, simply for the opportunity to possess me? Even though you know better than anyone what I’ve endured?” Adama was so angry, her words flew at him like tiny daggers. “After everything my family has done for you? You make me sick.” “This is the best way, Adama, don’t you see? Now we can be together.” He stood up and walked behind her to stroke her shoulders. “I thought that was what you wanted.”

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Calthraca: Adamare She shrugged him off. “When I was a girl.” She turned and faced him “Do you think I’d have you now, under these circumstances? I don’t want you for a husband and I never will.” He moved away from her slowly. When she became angry, he was never exactly sure what she was capable of and he still vividly recalled being thrown against the garden wall so many years before. Unfortunately he was becoming more confused and now angry as well. Didn’t she understand how devoted he was to her? Couldn’t she appreciate all he’d done for her? She ought to be grateful he was willing to take her and her bastard brat at all! He clenched his fists and his jaw tightened as he tried to regain his composure. She had always been able to irritate him, but her stubborn refusal to comply was quickly making him lose control. “There is no way Lyros can withstand another attack from the combined forces of the Alliance, Adama. Save your people. If you don’t fight Eleana, they won’t fight her either. It is your duty. When you are my wife, we’ll be Eleana’s best commanders.” Adama jumped to her feet and took a step toward Christian “Don’t you dare tell me my duty! I’ll die and take Oma into death with me before I become your wife. You traitor!” she spat. Black rage engulfed him, and he struck her hard with the back of his hand. She cried out and fell to the floor. Grim satisfaction filled him at having hurt her and a chilly smile touched his lips. She sat up slowly, and he could see she was still quite stunned from the blow. He was large and powerful and he could inflict great damage with his hands. He moved quickly and squatted beside her, then firmly cupped the back of her head in his huge hand, pulling her forward. Her mouth was bleeding. 74

Calthraca: Adamare He kissed her hard, forcing her bruised lips apart and plunging his tongue into her mouth, tasting her blood. She fought him, beating her hands against his chest, finally managing to pull her head back in disgust. “You will be my wife and you will give over Lyros. Your choice in the matter was never an issue. I thought you knew that.” He searched her eyes one last time, hoping to see some acceptance, but found nothing. “The sooner you accept your fate and begin cooperating, the easier this will be for everyone.” He let go of her and stood. She wiped the blood from her split lip, looked at her hand and then turned her slitted eyes up to him. “I’ll never accept this.” “You had no trouble accepting the Tark,” he fired back. “You bastard,” she hissed. “I’ll see you in hell first!” He looked down at her and released a rueful laugh. “Now you know where I’ve been all these years.” He turned and strode from her rooms. **** Sarah returned to the room after hearing their raised voices and saw Adama on the floor. She hurried over to help Adama up. Adama was crying softly and Sarah got a wet cloth to help with Adama’s split lip then kept herself busy while Adama got herself under control. Emil entered, looking terrified, and carrying a tray nearly twice his size. It was filled with wine and cakes and all manner of delicacies in an effort of apology. Sarah took it from him then shooed the boy from the room before setting it on the table. Adama had stopped crying and sat holding the cloth to her lip, staring at the floor, deep in thought. Sarah wisely decided there was no more to be done or discussed tonight, and that perhaps sleep would help her mistress more than anything else. 75

Calthraca: Adamare She poured Adama a glass of wine, and put a small amount of the sleeping drug Eleana’s court physician had insisted she take for just such a situation in the glass, praying it would be enough but not so much Adama would detect it. Adama drank it off quickly and never noticed. Sarah then convinced her to go to her bath. **** Adama walked into the room and realized it had been months since she’d had a real bath. She tugged at the thong holding her braid, and then shook her hair loose. Sarah helped unpin the sari and she let it slide to the floor. She stepped up and then down into a large tub filled with hot water. Sarah helped her get comfortable then went to get the items she’d need to wash Adama’s hair. Adama began to relax for the first time in months. She sighed as the water soothed her tired body and closed her eyes, sliding down farther. She felt sick with worry over Oma, and she knew she would have to repair things with Christian, or at least appear to, if she wanted to find her daughter. She couldn’t figure out what had happened to Christian to make him act so strangely. He was behaving completely out of character. None of this made any sense. When she’d looked into his eyes earlier, she’d thought he was insane, but she wasn’t sure now. Was it truly madness or simply that his desire to possess me has overwhelmed his reason? She had never worried about Christian protecting Oma before. He’d loved the girl totally and completely, or so she’d thought. Could she have been so wrong about him? Something had happened to him, and possibly to Oma as well. She had to find her daughter—but how? Sarah came back and began washing Adama’s back and then her hair. She used plenty of fresh water to rinse it clean. Next Sarah helped Adama from the tub and dried her off, then got her 76

Calthraca: Adamare into a clean and comfortable robe. She toweled Adama’s hair dry and brought her some food and another glass of wine. Sarah felt it would be better not to leave Adama alone so she stood behind her and brushed her hair until she noticed Adama had been still for quite some time. She peeked around the chair and saw her mistress sound asleep. Gently she roused Adama enough to lead her to the bed and get her settled. Then the little maid exhausted herself, found her own bed, and slept peacefully. **** After Christian left Adama on the floor, he stormed from her rooms and down the corridor to his own. He was angry at her, but more so at himself for striking her. He had never raised a hand to her before, and he could hardly believe he’d enjoyed it. Why had he done it? Now she would never forgive him. All his plans were slipping from his grasp. He entered his rooms and found Eleana there waiting for him. “Eleana,” he said, struggling to sound pleased. She walked over to him and ran her hands lightly up his chest, curling herself into his embrace. He was agitated; she could feel the tension in his muscles as he held her. It was plain to her that he wished to be alone, but she had no intention of allowing that. Eleana had every intention of getting what she wanted out of him. As she raised her eyes to his, she noted a smear of blood upon his lip, and she wondered not for the first time what had happened between him and her sister. Inhaling deeply she caught his scent, but did not notice the smell of another woman on him and she sighed her relief. He hadn’t been intimate with Adama then. She knew he wanted her to give Adama to him. In fact he’d begged her for it when he’d first arrived. Not that he’d been in any position to ask anything of anyone. He’d been half-mad and 77

Calthraca: Adamare completely blind when he was brought to her with the trader’s caravan. The nomadic merchants had not realized who he was. His clothing and the remains of his coaches along with the few words he’d been able to convey indicated his worth, so they knew he was valuable to them. They’d found what remained of his party along with him, wounded in the plains of Andalos near the border of BasSalaam. He’d been attacked and hurt badly. They’d helped him but couldn’t send him home because they didn’t know where he belonged. Being closer to BasSalaam, they’d brought him to Eleana. They may not have known him, but she did, and she had rewarded them handsomely. She still couldn’t believe her luck. Adama’s lover, Christian Valore, was completely in her power. All she could think of was how she could use this to her advantage to force Adama to her will. He’d made wild promises of delivering troops and armies to her, and she laughed. He’d begged her to let him go to Lyros and force Adama to marry him, and she’d refused. She suggested something else. Christian had resisted being her lover, insisting his heart belonged entirely to Adama, but she’d been patient and persistent, and he’d eventually complied with her wishes. She’d tempted him by promising him that if Adama was captured, he could have her, knowing full well no one would catch Adama, and if they did, Eleana would refuse. She wasn’t giving him up, and she didn’t care how he felt about it. He was hers now. At first he was hesitant with her, no doubt feeling guilty for what he considered a betrayal. When word had reached them that Adama had disappeared, Eleana suggested that perhaps Adama had possibly left with another lover. He had been furious and made her pay, treating her like a whore and forcing her to have sex numerous times that night. 78

Calthraca: Adamare She was bruised and sore for days afterwards, but she’d loved having him dominate her so totally. The fact he did not fear her power or retribution was erotic to her. Tonight though, she didn’t want hours of passion or the delicious pain she so often craved. Tonight she wanted to remind him she was there for him, not Adama. It was she who held his and Adama’s fate. She wanted him to take her hard and fast. She tilted her head back and looked up at him, wordlessly demanding his kiss. He bent his head to her placing a light kiss on her lips. She snaked a hand up behind his head and held him to her hungry mouth and his kiss deepened. There were times during sex when she knew he was just brutishly seeking his own pleasure, unmindful of her satisfaction. Other times he was careful to drive her just to the point of climax and then torturously stop, forcing her to beg him for release. It was arousing never knowing exactly what he would do. And the fact that he didn’t fawn over her, lavish her with praise, intent only upon her pleasure or approval as most of her lovers were wont to do, was strangely erotic to her. They broke the kiss, and she saw he’d closed his eyes. Stay with me. Eleana ran her hand down to stroke him firmly through his riding pants. He stiffened immediately and she knew she had his attention. Christian’s body was reacting as it always did to Eleana’s attentions even though his mind was elsewhere. He’d been her lover for several months and he enjoyed toying with her, but knew he could never have anything more than a physical relationship with her. He wanted her to leave so he could think, but his cock had other ideas. “Take me, Christian,” she whispered huskily. 79

Calthraca: Adamare He made a low growl, then reached over and pulled her caftan over her head, pushing her backwards at the same time. She connected with the wall and bumped her head painfully. She didn’t care. He forced his knee into her crotch and she grunted in surprise, which aroused him more. Giving up all thought and submitting to his lust, he ran his hands up her sides and caught a breast in each of his palms. He massaged them roughly then bent his head to take one in his mouth and suckle it. She breathed in sharply. “Oh, yes.” He stopped her mouth with a kiss, biting her tongue and sucking on her lip, then moved lower to her neck and throat. He held her to the wall with one hand and his free hand traveled down her body to the belt of her pants. He pulled the tie and let them slide down her legs in a silken puddle to the floor. Now totally naked, she moaned in anticipation. His hand dropped to her moist nether lips and he teased her clit with a finger, then pushed it inside her. “You’re always ready to fuck, aren’t you, Eleana?” he asked harshly. She made no reply but laughed wickedly. Her hands fumbled with his belt, trying to get it off of him, until she finally gave up and reached inside the waist of his pants to stroke him. She could feel the hard length harden further in her hand. He brushed her hands away and yanked his belt off, impatient to give her what she wanted so she would leave him alone. Lifting her, he impaled her with his throbbing cock, driving deeply into her wet passage, pinning her body against the wall. As always, he was thinking of Adama when he took her. She groaned and wrapped her legs around him. Tipping her head back as he began to rhythmically thrust into her, she brought her arms around his neck and held on. 80

Calthraca: Adamare He bent his head again to her breasts, which were high and pointed with hard nipples, not lush and soft like Adama’s were. He suckled and bit at them, then dragged his tongue up the valley between them, only to meet her hot mouth again at the end. They kissed hard and deep as he continued pumping her. Her depths began to contract and squeeze him and he felt the spasms start. Eleana moaned low deep in her throat and when her climax rocked through her, she cried out. Christian braced himself with one hand against the wall, increasing the strength of his thrusts, thinking of Adama in the same position, pinned, helpless. “Oh God,” he groaned in a choked voice as he came hard within her. She moaned, “Oh yes!” in reply and grasped him tightly, digging her fingers into the firm muscles of his shoulders. She bent her forehead to his, breathing heavily, then unlocked her legs. He moved the arm he’d had under her backside and let her slide down the wall leaning his head against it instead, breathing hard and waiting for his legs to stop shaking. She was between him and the wall, but ducked out, recovering first. She dressed quickly, reached around and gave him a kiss, then flounced from the room, satisfied. He stood a moment longer to be sure she was gone. He didn’t want to talk to her. Thankfully, she never stayed very long. He pulled his breeches back into place, and sighed, then punched the wall hard. What was he going to do? And where was the child?

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Chapter 4 When morning came, Adama awoke feeling rested and stronger. She judged by the light it was probably sometime near six or seven o’clock. Sarah entered the room carrying a tray with hot tea, toast, an egg and some fruit and cheese on it. “Good morning, my lady,” Sarah said, chipper as a robin. “Let’s get you up and start filling in those bones.” “Apparently you’ve found the kitchen,” Adama said dryly. She knew her maid would be resourceful and do her best to make their stay as comfortable as possible. Sarah smiled. She sat near the window overlooking the winter gardens, and ate her breakfast, wondering how long it would be before Eleana called for her. Meanwhile, her maid had laid out the clothing she could choose from, the way she did when they were in Lyros. Adama wasn’t looking forward to more saris and caftans. However, Sarah had managed to acquire several sets of clothing, in the style Adama preferred. High boots with a low heel, a maroon velvet top with a high neck and a short dark brown doublet, dark brown leggings and heavy leather belts which crossed each hip. Normally she would also have a dirk in her boot and on her hip, but she supposed Eleana would frown on that. She dressed quickly. “Where did you get these clothes?” 82

Calthraca: Adamare The maid looked startled then apologetic. “I went to the public market early this morning. Servants can come and go as they please. My lady, please don’t be angry. I sold your bracelet for the clothing.” Adama was stunned at the resourcefulness of her maid. “Sarah, don’t be worried. I’m not angry.” Sarah’s tense posture relaxed as she sighed in relief. “Honestly, I’m pleasantly surprised. I have a need for comfortable clothing much more than I do a bracelet.” “Oh good, I also brought you a gown, in the style of Lyros,” she added hastily and was pleased to see Adama smile, a real smile. “You’re a good friend, Sarah, and it was truly a miracle that you were brought to me when you were. I’m afraid I wouldn’t have made it much longer without you.” Sarah smiled, tears in her eyes. “Adama, I was so worried for you.” “I know you were, and I’m glad at least someone was.” “Oh!” Sarah exclaimed. “That reminds me.” She reached into her blouse and pulled out a pendant on a long silver chain. It was a two-inch round disk with a raised knotted symbol and a tiny pentacle in the center. Adama recognized it immediately and couldn’t believe her eyes. It was Lugh’s Shield, a powerful protection and sorcerer’s charm. Miranda had given it to her as a sort of graduation gift, and it had been her personal talisman. She was deeply touched that Sarah felt protected by her magic, and was also profoundly grateful to her. “I don’t know what this means,” Sarah said sheepishly, “but I’ve been wearing it since you were taken.” She took it off and handed it carefully to Adama, who put it around her own neck.

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Calthraca: Adamare Instantly the power of the talisman coursed through her, its magic totally galvanizing her. She tucked it inside her shirt near her heart. Sarah left Adama to bring the breakfast tray to the kitchen and see what information she could overhear on the way. Adama took the opportunity to rest and meditate and even to pray. She had given up on prayer the first week she was held captive, but figured it certainly couldn’t hurt now. “Please keep my daughter safe,” she whispered like a litany. Sarah returned without much information, she’d only learned that Christian was regularly visiting with Eleana and was most likely her lover. News they’d already known. They had no idea how long Eleana would make them wait and since Sarah had found a few games in a small chest in the sitting room, they decided to play to pass the time. Adama taught Sarah how to play backgammon and chess, and told her she had a fine mind for strategy, making her blush. Late in the afternoon, there was a light rap on the door. Sarah opened it to reveal Emil carrying a large pile of brightly colored clothes. He bowed low. “My lady Adama,” he began, and then stopped short. He looked at her and his mouth literally fell open. “Ah, um…” “Oh for heaven’s sake, spit it out, child,” Adama said impatiently. “Her Grace, Empress Eleana, has ordered you to be examined by her personal physician, after which she requires your presence in the main hall for an audience. She has graciously sent you these clothes, so you do not appear as a beggar,” he announced imperiously. Sarah took the clothing from him and raised her eyebrows over his head at Adama.

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Calthraca: Adamare “I’m quite comfortable now, but please send my deepest thanks to my sister. Now then, am I to go to the physician or will he come to me?” “He is to come to you, madam.” “Very well, go and fetch refreshments, Emil,” Sarah instructed. The boy looked positively horrified at being ordered about by a servant whom he considered lower than himself. He opened his mouth to say something to Sarah about it, when he heard, “Emil.” It was the empress. Everyone fell to their knees immediately, including Adama. Eleana was accustomed to such treatment, but she particularly enjoyed seeing Adama still showing some respect and obedience. Her eyes widened when she saw the clothing Adama was wearing, but chose not to address it. There would be time to fix her wardrobe choices soon enough. “Emil, please go and get Doctor Trasain and bring him to me. Then go to the kitchen and bring refreshments.” The boy scrambled to his feet, eager to do his duty. Eleana then turned to Adama’s maid. “Girl, you may rise. Go to the kitchen and help Emil.” Sarah left quickly as well. Eleana intentionally let Adama stay on the floor. There was no one else in the room and her personal guard was posted outside the door. She walked around Adama and sat down on a low divan, silently admiring her sister’s prone form as she passed. “Let’s talk, Adama. Sit up,” she said regretfully. She rather enjoyed seeing her sister so submissive. Adama sat up slowly. She looked at Eleana, and then lowered her eyes. 85

Calthraca: Adamare “You know,” Eleana remarked in a considering tone, “I do like you humbled, but I can’t help but feel it’s somewhat less than sincere. Don’t forget, I know you, Adama. Look at me.” Adama looked hesitantly at her sister. “Empress Eleana, I am your most obedient servant.” “Oh please, spare me,” Eleana replied sarcastically. “Adama, I think you’ve been through a horrible ordeal. Several months with Hecate would be more than most could take, but I also think it would take much more than that to break you.” Adama could hear the reluctant admiration in her voice, but remained impassive. “Be that as it may,” Eleana continued, “I want you to understand something clearly. You have no country, and you no longer have any home. I’ve already sent emissaries to Lyros to accept your crown in my name. Much as I would like to, Adama, I can’t say this was the way I planned to gain Lyros.” Adama looked down and blinked away tears. The full impact had finally hit her. She had nowhere to go. Eleana noticed and smiled at the reaction. “Now, Adama, don’t feel badly. I fully intend to find you a suitable husband. Someone who is worthy of your station, who will care for you, and keep you out of trouble. Naturally you’ll have to publicly endorse me and announce your abdication.” She didn’t try to hide her condescending tone. “And if I decide not to?” Adama finally spoke. Eleana sighed. She’d expected this question. “If you decide not to, then I shall give you back to Hecate, announce your death, and take Lyros anyway.” Adama nodded slowly. It wasn’t an agreement, it was simply an acknowledgement of Eleana’s reply. “You could accept your fate and try to find happiness, Adama,” Eleana snapped. She was becoming uncomfortable; she wasn’t accustomed to her sister’s silence. Normally Adama 86

Calthraca: Adamare would challenge every word defiantly. To see her so was strangely unsettling. Eleana knew she couldn’t have changed that much since the war. No, Adama was definitely acting differently. Now all Eleana had to figure out was if it was truly an act or if she was really this damaged. The empress looked at Adama hoping for some reaction, but still she sat head down, resigned. “Speak, Adama, it’s got to be killing you to sit still and have to listen to me. I give you permission to speak freely to me.” Adama looked at Eleana again and said simply, “I will accept my fate, Empress.” Eleana snorted her irritation. What do I have to say to get a reaction? “Lord Christian has petitioned me to make you his wife. He is most eager to become a husband, it seems. Perhaps this is your wish also, Adama?” Adama jerked visibly. Ahhh, I’ve found a sore spot. Eleana wished she knew what had happened between them last night. All she’d known was what Emil had told her before they’d sent him out, but she’d noticed Adama’s bruised lip when she had sat up. They must have argued, and he’d struck her. She had no intention of releasing her new toy back to Adama. She wanted him exactly where he was. She might even declare him her consort, force him to stay and give her children. She smiled at that thought. How much fun it would be. She couldn’t tell if Adama still loved him though. She hoped she did. Maybe she’d name her sister as a lady-in-waiting so she could see them together regularly. She liked the idea of Adama watching her with Christian. Watching Christian pleasure her… She shook the thought from her head abruptly. “It doesn’t matter right now. I’ve still got a few others to consider as well. Would you like to hear about them?” She didn’t wait for a reply. 87

Calthraca: Adamare “There is a powerful family with a son in need of a wife, as he’s been recently widowed, and there was some question as to the method of his wife’s death, but I’m sure we could overlook it. In the same family there is also an older son, a decorated war hero, who’s decided to retire and raise a family. A noble wife would be an excellent reward for his devoted service.” “I will accept your decision,” Adama said again. “Yes, I know you will.” Eleana sat back, still irritated. She’d have to watch Adama closely. Doctor Trasain would be helpful in gauging what her true feelings were. She also had an idea of how she’d get Christian to give up Adama forever. A few moments later Emil entered and bowed low followed by the doctor and Sarah carrying a tray. Doctor Kesim Trasain was a Minalosian who had been a member of Eleana’s court for a little over a year. He was darkly handsome and the women of the court alternately adored and feared him. He had a severe demeanor and tolerated no nonsense in his work or his life. Still, women vied for his attention at court and beat a path to his door with a variety of ailments, mostly imagined, trying to win a few hours in his bed. Because he was a foreigner, most of the men of the court were suspicious of him. They were jealous of his popularity with the women, especially the empress, and because of their inability to garner the same reaction, they claimed him to be conceited and arrogant. They would have killed him long before had he not been in Eleana’s favor. Eleana’s fascination with the sorcerer made Christian particularly mistrust him. He saw the way he flirted and toyed with the empress, and he disliked Trasain profoundly for it. Eleana had made him her personal physician after witnessing him save the life of a young girl who had been struck by a wagon in the courtyard. He was an excellent healer, a trusted advisor, 88

Calthraca: Adamare and it didn’t hurt that he was pleasant to look at. Besides all of this, she knew his magical abilities far exceeded Adama’s. Eleana had briefly entertained the idea of taking him as a lover, but had abruptly decided not to. His way of looking into others’ minds made her worry he’d see her darkest thoughts and somehow use them to control her. She knew he would make his examination and report back to her anything he thought she ought to know. As he always did. The doctor bowed low to Eleana, and made a short bow to Adama as well. Eleana said, “Doctor, this is my sister, Lady Adama Fawkes.” He extended his hand down to her. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Lady Adama.” Tearing her gaze from his handsome face, Adama took the opportunity to examine the rest of him a bit more closely. She estimated his age at somewhere around thirty-five years. Tall and arrow straight, he stood well over six feet. He was muscularly built, with golden olive skin, and Adama couldn’t help but draw mental comparisons with Tengri. His dark hair was wavy and pulled back in a tight braid. Tengri had worn his hair long and loose, with only his warrior’s plaits. The doctor’s eyes were silvery-green; Tengri’s had been nearly black. He was dressed in a long black coat, with matching pants and high boots, and he wore only a simple golden disk on a long chain around his neck. She took his offered hand and immediately a heated shudder passed through her at his touch, mingling with a shot of fear at his incredible power. Her head fell forward and a quiet sigh came from her slightly parted lips. “Sorcerer.” Immediately, his voice spoke softly in her thoughts. “Do not be afraid.” 89

Calthraca: Adamare “What have you done?” “I’ve enchanted you.” “But why?” “I need you to listen, and play along with my charade until I can get you safely out of BasSalaam. Trust me.” Adama felt him withdraw from her thoughts as quickly as he had entered. His deep voice purring inside her head left her hot and breathless, and more than slightly aroused. Unfortunately it had also left her with more questions than answers. He was here to get me out of BasSalaam? How? Can I trust him, or was this merely a trick on Eleana’s part? Adama’s hand remained in his firm grasp. She was unable to move or speak, and she disliked the feeling intensely. Eleana smiled. She knew Adama was now completely at his mercy. She’d be forced to obey him no matter what. The doctor smiled back at Eleana, pleased with Adama’s reaction to his touch. “Her mind is very pliant,” he commented. “Arise and sit on this stool, please, Adama.” Adama got up from the floor and moved to the low stool beside Eleana. He briefly released her hand and she came back to herself, drawing back. Feigning annoyance, the doctor merely reached forward again to take her by the wrist. Every time he put his hands on her, she felt controlled, totally conscious of what was happening, yet unable to stop it. “Please release me.” “Soon.” He could feel her fear, despite his assurances. He disliked frightening her so, but knew her honest reaction would help him keep Eleana convinced of his loyalty. Inwardly, Adama tried to relax, but found it difficult. The feeling of having someone control her so completely was 90

Calthraca: Adamare terrifying, draining. This man was the most powerful sorcerer she’d ever met. He gave her a normal physical examination, then looked into her eyes. Compelled to gaze back, she noticed his strange eyes and how they shifted like mercury. Nodding his satisfaction, he held one hand gently on her cheek, caressing her absently with his thumb. He turned to Eleana and said, “Her heart, lungs, and eyes are all clear. She’s suffered a break to two or three bones in her right hand which is mostly healed, and a split lip which is a new injury, but otherwise, she appears to be healthy, if a bit thin.” He continued, “She is…lovely.” He smiled at Adama and she shuddered visibly. “I am not feeling any duplicity from her though; her docile demeanor appears to be genuine. If I may, I would like to examine her further.” “I will give you that opportunity, Doctor, but not tonight. Perhaps tomorrow,” Eleana replied. Trasain nodded but said nothing. He wanted to be alone with the woman, but he could bide his time. After all, she wasn’t leaving. He released Adama from his sorcery and she leaned forward half-fainting. He caught her by the shoulders and set her back, steadying her until she could hold herself up on her own. When she returned to herself, she realized she must continue acting and recoiled, trembling violently. Slowly Adama looked up into his eyes, somewhat shocked at what he had so easily done to her. She felt weak and thoroughly exposed, as though he’d touched every portion of her soul. He flicked his gaze over Adama once more then brought her hand to his lips, pressing a kiss there and sending another heated shudder through her body. 91

Calthraca: Adamare Doctor Trasain released Adama’s hand, bowed to the empress then turned to leave. “Kesim, join us for dinner tonight,” Eleana commanded. “As you wish, Empress.” He left the room and Eleana turned to her sister. “He has an amazing effect on people.” Adama looked at her sister and blinked tiredly. The strength of him, and the emotions he’d evoked, had left her entirely drained. “Make sure you are present for dinner as well.” Eleana stood and swept from the room, leaving a stunned and thoroughly exhausted Adama looking after her. **** Dinner was uncomfortable. Eleana was seated at the head of the table, Christian to her left, and the sorcerer to her right. Adama was seated beside him. Other courtiers, ladies and gentlemen of the court, were seated farther down and along numerous other tables. Dinner at Eleana’s high board was always a long ordeal; a test of one’s endurance as well as their appetite. During her term here as ambassador, Adama had learned to pace herself, to keep up with the others, else she become easily exhausted. She would have been just as happy to remain within her rooms and dine with Sarah, but she knew that Eleana wished to have her here, open to the inspection of any prospective bridegrooms. The food from Eleana’s kitchens was renowned for its quality and abundance, and it was considered a great honor to dine with the empress. Several roasted fowl, a suckling pig, roasted venison and beef, along with an abundance of vegetables and fruits, cheeses, bread and an entire table devoted to rich desserts stood awaiting the hungry diners. 92

Calthraca: Adamare Adama was quiet as the meal wore on, sipping from her wineglass, but not eating very much, deep in thought. She was quietly going over scenarios in her head as to how she might get Christian to reveal where Oma was. She was also still unsure if she should believe what Doctor Trasain had said to her earlier, and avoided his stares. Even as engrossed as she was in thought, she could still feel the gaze of the sorcerer upon her as he silently observed her. “I want to see you alone.” His voice spoke in her mind, and she started slightly. “I cannot just leave.” “Let me take care of that. You must act as though you dislike me.” “I’m not certain I do like you, or even trust you.” Beneath the table, he slowly drew his hand up her thigh and smiled slightly at the shudder that passed through her. She felt the same way he did, and again arousal flared within him. “You are wise to be mistrustful, but you must believe me.” With enormous effort, she pushed his voice from her head then turned to face him. She was willing to take the chance that he might be telling the truth. “Did you wish to ask me something, Doctor?” “I noticed you have barely eaten any food. If there is something wrong with your appetite, perhaps I could help?” “There is nothing wrong with my appetite,” she said tightly. “I simply do not wish to gorge myself. Thank you for your concern.” He nodded then bent his head close to her, brushing her ear with his lips. “You really should consume something besides wine. You need to regain your strength.” Christian Valore followed their conversation, watching the Minalosian closely. He hadn’t spoken to Adama since last night, and was still angry with himself for striking her, but spoke up now. He did not like what he saw, and his dislike for Doctor 93

Calthraca: Adamare Trasain was palpable. “If she says she is not hungry, then I believe she knows her own mind, Trasain.” Adama looked at Christian for a moment, annoyed he felt the need to step in. She then turned to face Kesim more directly. “I am fine, but if you feel strongly enough, perhaps you ought to mention it to my sister. It would delight her to see me bound, my jaws forced apart and food jammed into me, I am certain.” Kesim grinned at her melodramatic tone, and then lifted a stray lock of her hair, pushing it back to expose her neck. “Part of it would delight me as well.” Adama opened her mouth to reply, then realized what he meant and a slow blush crept up her throat. Christian was a bit quicker at discerning his meaning and slammed his fist down hard upon the table making everyone except Kesim jump. Kesim continued smiling his wolfish smile and Adama turned away with a frustrated sound, hoping to convince the others of her dislike. Eleana placed her tiny hand over Christian’s large paw and smiled at him. She would have to address his remaining emotions over Adama soon. She could not risk losing him, and the longer Adama stayed, the harder it would be to keep him. Christian looked down at her hand and into her smiling eyes, took a steadying breath, then pasted on a smile that was less than genuine. “Do you see the gentleman at the foot of the table, Adama?” the empress asked. Adama looked down the table and saw him. He was a heavy-set, muscular man of perhaps forty years. He looked as though he was extremely displeased with having to be here at all, and Adama knew how he felt. Aside from his obvious irritation, his face revealed a rather sour countenance.

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Calthraca: Adamare “That is General Leigh Ardell. He has petitioned me for a noble bride. He has recently retired from military life, and wishes to settle down and start a family. Does he appeal to you?” Adama took a steadying breath and said, “He looks very angry.” “Oh he is, but I’m sure you could work your witchcraft upon him and please him immensely, couldn’t you?” “I wouldn’t know how.” She was unsure if her sister knew she no longer had any magic. Kesim raised an eyebrow, his interest piqued at her answer. Eleana laughed. “Pretty liar, I am certain if you do not, you could figure it out.” Adama looked back at the general and swallowed hard. No matter what, she could not allow herself to be married off and sent away. She would never find Oma then, let alone get back to Lyros. That opened up an entirely new problem. What would she do when she finally arrived back in Lyros? “He is all wrong for her,” Christian commented upon finishing his wine. “She needs someone more intelligent, a husband who will foresee any plans she might make. General Ardell is far too slow-witted.” “Speaking of slow-witted…” Kesim’s voice popped into her mind again and she nearly spit the sip of wine she had just taken. Adama covered her mouth with her napkin to hide her giggle then sobered and raised a weary hand to her brow—she knew Christian was maneuvering to make himself the ideal candidate. “Excuse me, Your Grace, I believe Lady Adama is feeling unwell. I think perhaps she ought to retire for the evening. If you will allow it, I shall escort her to her quarters,” the doctor suggested. “I am quite fine,” she protested. “I do not need an escort.” 95

Calthraca: Adamare Eleana looked at her for a moment, then nodded. “Very well, Kesim. While you are there, perhaps you would like to finish your private examination?” A wicked smile lifted the corners of her mouth. The sorcerer picked up Adama’s hand and instantly she felt his powerful charm wash over her, leaving her helpless again. “Why do you continue doing this to me?” she demanded. “I like seeing you this way.” “You like seeing me helpless?” He squeezed her hand gently, stroking his thumb along her palm. “I can think of a number of different ways I’d like to see you, my lady.” Adama lowered her eyes, blushing furiously at his words, silently cursing his cool demeanor. “Of course, it will be as Your Majesty wishes.” Kesim stood and pulled Adama to her feet then led her from the dining hall. He felt Valore’s angry glare boring a hole in his back and could not resist bending his head to Adama’s neck and slowly running his lips up to her ear, gaining not only another furious growl from the Andalosian, but a heated shudder from Adama as well. It was a short walk to her chambers, and the guards who stood outside her bedchamber door stepped back and then entered behind them. “You may resume your post outside. Her maid may stay, should I have need of anything,” Kesim said to the guards. Eleana had asked him to take a closer look at her sister, and he intended to do just that. “Girl,” he asked Sarah, “is there a place where I can examine your mistress privately?” Sarah nodded slowly, and indicated the door to Adama’s bedchamber. She had noticed the vacant look upon her mistress’s face, and the fact she had not spoken one word yet. Sarah had no intention of leaving him alone with her. “I’ll come with you.” 96

Calthraca: Adamare Doctor Trasain tilted his head slightly and looked her over. She felt as though he was looking through her, and she shuddered. He smiled then. “As you wish.” The doctor brought Adama’s hand to his lips and kissed it, then led her from the room. Sarah hurried after them. Inside the bedchamber, he sat Adama down on a low couch and kneeled in front of her. Looking directly into her eyes he said, “I’m going to release you now.” Cautious relief coursed through Adama, replacing the growing knot of dread and fear. She was still unsure of how far she ought to trust him but something told her that she could put her faith into him, and Adama had long ago learned to listen to that tiny voice. “My apologies for using sorcery upon you, but I did not want you to fight me. I knew you would be overwhelmed at my touch. I was not sure what you had been through and I feared you might react negatively if I allowed you to speak, and right now I need you to listen. My name is Kesim Trasain and I am indeed a physician but I am also an operative for Minalos. I’ve been here for just over a year. Five months ago, I was sent a dossier about you, with instructions regarding what to do should you appear as a captive here. We’ve been searching for you since you disappeared. Someone like you doesn’t just disappear without people noticing, Your Majesty. I was instructed to assist you in regaining your freedom, and to extend to you the hospitality and aid of Minalos in reclaiming your throne, should that be necessary.” Throughout his speech, he’d held her hand, forcing her to listen, and she sat transfixed at his words. She detected no malice or duplicity in him and he’d left his mind open. He was telling the truth! 97

Calthraca: Adamare “Queen Adama, my superiors also wish for me to inform you that Princess Oma is safe in Minalos. She is hidden with a family who can be trusted and has been there since the first month of your captivity.” Adama had so many questions, but before she could speak, he said, “I know you have questions, and I promise I shall answer them as much as I can. Right now, however,” he glanced toward the door, “I need you to remove your clothes and get into the bed.” Adama’s mouth fell open. He resisted the urge to grin at her obvious shock and briefly tried to explain. “I have a reputation with the women of the court, toying with them—and your sister instructed me to seduce you to find out if you were really as subdued as you appear or not. I…I’ll explain it all later,” he finished. She still hesitated, looking at Sarah, who was equally shocked. “Hurry! Your sister is coming,” he whispered urgently. He then waved a hand at Sarah and said, “Consopios.” She collapsed into a heap of skirts on the floor. Kesim turned to Adama. “Don’t worry, she is unhurt.” He unbuttoned his coat. She nodded and began pulling off her boots and clothing. She jumped on the bed, still in her camisole, and pulled all the blankets up into a large messy pile then turned back to see where he was. She watched him as he removed his coat and shirt and let out a soft sigh at the sight of his body. His form was breathtaking and she felt the first real stirrings of arousal she’d experienced in years. Briefly she considered what his body would feel like pressed against hers, and the thought made her shiver with anticipation. Naked to the waist, Kesim flung himself on top of her. He knew he was there only to protect her, and to convince Eleana 98

Calthraca: Adamare that he had in fact seduced her, but his body thought this was the real thing and he found himself aroused at the sight of her there in her camisole, looking so irresistibly wanton. Grinning charmingly, he placed his lips tenderly upon hers. He had intended the kiss to be merely staged, something which would appear much more than it actually was, but the instant their lips connected, he felt the most incredible jolt of energy he’d ever experienced. She moaned softly, feeling it too. Her mouth softened, then opened slightly and he touched her lower lip briefly with his tongue, eager to explore the softness within her. It no longer mattered that he was only trying to convince Eleana, now the only important thing to him was the woman he held in his arms, this sorceress who had so easily captured his heart. He heard her small gasp at the touch and she allowed him entrance. He delved within her mouth, tasting the sweet wine upon her breath and growled low—she wanted this as much as he did. Slowly at first, then more urgently their tongues danced, both of them eager for more, yet hesitant to go further. In the instant their lips touched, Adama’s body was covered in gooseflesh. The sensation was incredible, like nothing she’d ever experienced in her life. He was entirely new to her, but she felt as though he’d always been with her. Adama broke the kiss for a moment and took a shaky breath. When she heard the quiet growl come from him, she opened her eyes slowly and looked up into his soft gaze. She felt the connection between them and saw nothing but pure loving desire upon his face. Hesitantly at first, then more boldly, she traced her hands up from his waist, over the sculpted ridges of his broad chest and then around, exploring the powerful muscles of his back and shoulders. She reached up behind his neck and drew him back down to her, and he placed a soft kiss upon her lips before fully taking her mouth once more and she allowed 99

Calthraca: Adamare herself to be swept away, forgetting that her sister’s arrival was imminent. As Kesim had predicted, the door flew open revealing Eleana and just behind her, Christian. “I’m so sorry, Doctor, I only wanted to ask…Oh dear!” Eleana exclaimed, pretending to be embarrassed. Kesim slowly broke the kiss, then turned his head and glared at Eleana, who took a step back, surprised at his expression. He moved away from Adama and gained his feet. “Empress.” He bowed. His voice revealed his annoyance at being disturbed. Adama, still entranced by the powerful kiss, slowly opened her eyes, trying to comprehend what was happening around her. She came up on one elbow to see them in the doorway. Until Trasain moved, Christian had not realized who was with him. Now he took in the scene before him. Adama Fawkes, the only woman he’d ever truly loved, lay there upon the rumpled bed, almost completely undressed. Her face was flushed with passion and her eyes held a look he’d never seen upon her face—the look of a woman who wanted much more. Valore’s demeanor changed from one of bored indifference to fury, and then something snapped. “You treacherous bitch, I’ll kill you with my bare hands!” he screamed. Adama snapped to attention when he yelled, the hazy lustful fog of the kiss leaving her at once and sharp fear replacing it. “Christian!” she gasped. She saw the look on his face and her blood ran cold. He lunged into the bedchamber directly at Adama. He was fast but she managed to roll to the left and onto the floor, and he missed her by mere inches. She gained her feet quickly and moved away from him, unsure where to go, leaving Chris in the middle of an empty bed. 100

Calthraca: Adamare “I always knew you were a lying, cheating whore!” he yelled and lunged again. Eleana held up a hand, staying her guards who had moved in. “This is going better than I’d expected,” she commented quietly. She knew Adama wouldn’t have allowed Trasain to touch her had she been able to resist him, but Christian did not. Kesim heard Eleana and stared at her incredulously for a moment before regaining his poise. “If Christian reaches Adama, he’ll surely kill her.” He struggled to keep his voice even and unhurried. Eleana shrugged slightly, smiling evilly. Quickly Kesim turned his attention back to what was happening between Adama and Valore. The urge to protect her flared hot and demanded to be heeded regardless of Eleana’s wishes. He reached for his own weapon, but realized that it was still on his belt on the floor. He scrambled for it, even then knowing things were happening too fast for him to do anything about it. Meanwhile Adama quickly scanned the room searching desperately for anything she might use to protect herself. She spotted a knife on one of the guards and moved in that direction. She took two steps before Christian grabbed her hair and hauled her back, nearly off her feet. He spun her around, still holding her braid and raised his fist to strike her, intent on murder. Dear God, he’ll kill me! Adama did the only thing she could think of. Facing him, she held her hands up in front of her hoping to lessen his killing blow. Kesim had heard her terrified thought and acted without further deliberation. As Christian lowered his fist to deliver the blow, Kesim pointed at him. “Consopios!” His voice thundered 101

Calthraca: Adamare through the small room. Christian fell to the floor, unconscious, dragging Adama down on top of him. Eleana furiously turned to Kesim. “What did you do that for?” A deathly silence blanketed the room and at last, Adama pulled her hair free from Christian’s still tight grasp and got up shakily. “My apologies for interfering, Empress. Lord Christian is unharmed,” Kesim replied quietly. He looked at Adama gaining her feet and his heart contracted painfully, but he continued playing his role. “I never would have expected such a reaction over a mere woman. Perhaps he is ill?” He looked down at Eleana and smiled wickedly. “It is no matter, he will sleep for a few hours, and then awaken unharmed.” Adama took a step away from where Christian lay upon the floor. She stopped and turned to look back, bringing a trembling hand up to cover her mouth. Her breath was still coming in short, terrified gasps and she couldn’t seem to stop it. Concerned, Kesim softly commanded, “Adama, come to me.” She walked slowly over to him, looking back at Christian once more, her eyes huge and round. Kesim put his arm around her shoulders. “He was going to kill me.” Her voice held a slightly hysterical note. “Doctor Trasain, perhaps another time would be better for your evaluation?” Eleana suggested quietly. “Empress,” Kesim said, “I think I would like to remain, if you don’t mind? I have not yet concluded my examination, and Lady Adama and I were simply getting better acquainted.” He grinned leeringly, and Eleana couldn’t help but smile back. She had known the doctor would be intrigued with Adama. She pursed her lips as though considering, when really things had 102

Calthraca: Adamare worked out exactly as she’d wanted. “Yes, all right, Doctor. I’ll leave you to your…work.” She knew there was no way he would give Adama up now. She might be forced to give her to him. At least she knew he could control Adama. She ordered her guards to carry Christian out of the room, then indicated Kesim should remove Sarah. He gathered her up and carried her to a couch in the other room, then laid her down gently. He returned and moved directly to where Adama stood. Eleana noted his concern and wondered again if perhaps the sorcerer was beginning to care for her sister. “You both will appear before me tomorrow, and I shall decide what to do with you then, Adama. I want you gone from here.” She feared that Christian would not stop his quest to have Adama, and she no longer wanted her sister here a moment longer than necessary. Eleana left and closed the door behind her. As she made her way back to her own chambers she reflected upon what she’d seen. She had hoped something like this would happen. Hopefully Christian would now hate Adama and would end his begging to have her. Still, she wondered briefly if it was wise to allow two powerful sorcerers to join forces, and then dismissed the thought. She knew she could trust Trasain. **** Once they were alone, Kesim took Adama by the shoulders and turned her toward him. The trembling had stopped, and she appeared calmer. He looked down into her eyes and said, “You are a sorceress, why didn’t you protect yourself?” Adama swallowed and lowered her eyes from his, shame and anger mingling. “Are you all right?” Kesim asked. 103

Calthraca: Adamare She nodded and leaned forward into his embrace. Slowly she pulled her hair back away from her neck, revealing the horrible brand. “Hecate put this cursed brand upon me when she kidnapped me. I haven’t been able to use my sorcery except for reading thoughts since then.” Kesim looked closely at the scar upon her neck. It was healed but still held the garish pink color of a new burn. He recognized the symbol and a shiver of revulsion ran down his spine. The catena was a powerful charm used by black sorcerers to subdue their enemies. A slow burning sense of rage began to grow within him at the thought of how such a thing might have affected her. He knew for himself that to be stripped of his sorcery would be akin to having a limb removed, or losing one of his senses. The devastation had to have been overwhelming for her. “I’m so sorry,” he finally managed. She looked into his eyes and saw the emotions he felt, felt his pain for her, and looked down once more. “Do not be sorry. I am alive, and my daughter is safe, that is all that matters to me now.” He brushed her lips with his, and then lifted his gaze to her, an unspoken request in his eyes, wanting to taste her again, to comfort her and to feel the softness of her pressed against him. She wanted to kiss him. She craved the feeling of his soft lips on hers. She wanted to know if that dazed feeling was real or if she’d just imagined it. When she looked up, she saw the same thoughts in his incredible eyes. She turned her face up to his. Kesim lowered his head and took her mouth once more, rocking her to the core with the power of his kiss. “No, it’s not your imagination.” His words spoke seductively in her mind. “Why do I feel such a sensation when we kiss?” she asked when she finally came up for air. 104

Calthraca: Adamare “That is the sorcerer’s kiss. It is a result of our power clashing, combining. You are not entirely powerless.” Adama pulled him down to her in another long kiss, touching his tongue with hers, pressing her body against him, wordlessly conveying her desire and reveling in the heady pleasure the magical kiss gave her. “I want you.” “Yes, I want you, too.” When the kiss broke, they looked at each other for a long moment. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Yes, I’m sure.” Adama was nearly breathless. Her desire was nearly overwhelming in its intensity. All that mattered now was this man, the one she knew she needed more than anything. The man she’d waited for, the one fate had promised her. Adama swallowed hard and ran her hands up his broad chest, enjoying the feel of his coarse hair. When she reached his shoulders, she curved her hands around them roughly and pulled Kesim to her, making him groan as she molded herself to him. He lifted her into his arms and kissed her again, instinctively feeling he must be gentle and proceed slowly with her, but his body begged him to take her hard and fast. He wanted her so badly he could barely contain himself. Never had he felt such a reaction to anyone. Kesim took a steadying breath, forcing himself to slow down. She had recovered well from her incarceration and Eleana’s little planned scene, but he knew she was still emotionally very fragile. He couldn’t risk taking advantage of her in a weak moment. Often he would inadvertently overwhelm women with his powerfully passionate nature, and he knew a sorceress like Adama would feel that sensation much more acutely than other women did. 105

Calthraca: Adamare His own reaction to her was startling as well. He’d heard she was a beautiful woman, but really she was exquisite. Her eyes were large and dark green, like emeralds set in an ovalshaped face. She had flawless skin with a light spray of pale freckles across her nose, the same color as her magnificent hair. Her lips were soft and warm when he kissed her, and he felt that burning passion aching to burst forth. He needed to touch her and taste her, to linger over her and protect her with his life if necessary. He looked at the door and said, “Claustrarum,” and the bar fell down. He carried her back to the tumbled bed and lay above her as he had before, cradling her in his strong arms. Adama could feel his desperate desire, but she also sensed his hesitation. Her arms came up around his neck and she gazed deeply into his eyes. “I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, you won’t hurt me.” He nodded, hoping she knew what she asked. “You’re sure?” “Yes, Kesim.” “Will you trust me?” he asked. “Yes.” She lay perfectly still upon the bed as he removed the braid from her hair and fanned it out. It shone like burnished copper, and he plunged his hands into it, cupping his hands along the back of her skull, loving the way her eyes closed in pure bliss. Slowly he began to remove her camisole, untying the ribbons at her breast and shoulder, placing soft kisses wherever he touched, then slid it down to her waist and further, until he’d removed it entirely. Adama watched him through lowered lashes, then raised her hand to touch his face and he caught it, kissing her palm and sending a shot of heat through her, making her tremble. Although she was thin, she remained soft and lush in all the right places. He was left breathless looking at her tempting form, 106

Calthraca: Adamare which was flawed only by a scar that snaked across her abdomen. It had to be the injury from the attack when she was younger. He lifted the amulet that rested between her luscious breasts and smiled. “Lugh’s Shield. You won’t need Lord Lugh this night.” He raised it over her head and set it upon the table beside the bed. “Watching you at dinner was torture for me.” He spoke quietly as he stroked his thumb over her nipple, enjoying the way the skin puckered at his touch. Kesim bent his head and kissed the tip of her nipple, enjoying her slight intake of breath, then gently licked it with his hot tongue, encircling it and suckling upon it, only to stop and bestow the same tribute to her other breast as well. Adama made a slight whimper and softly caressed his head and shoulders. He was making her burn. “Oh…it was?” Her reply was soft, distracted. His words, his careful caresses and finally the feeling of his hot tongue upon her, aroused her already incredible desire even further. “Yes, it was. All I could think of was being here with you, touching your glorious body—tasting you.” He raised his head once again and kissed her mouth, flicking her bottom lip provocatively. Grinning, he placed careful kisses down her throat and her chest to her flat abdomen. Adama felt his breath upon her belly and nearly groaned with desire at what he was about to do. She opened her thighs to him. Oh God, yes. She heard him chuckle quietly at her eagerness. When he finally touched her, spreading her lips to reveal her glistening sex, she arched upward, offering herself to him entirely. She gasped as he encircled her sensitive bud slowly with his talented tongue, then trembled beneath him as he moved 107

Calthraca: Adamare down to her passage, impaling her with his tongue until she cried out her pleasure. Dear God, she never expected such passion. Kesim was completely intoxicated by her and could have continued this way forever, but his randy cock wanted more, needed to be within her. Kissing her inner thighs, then moving upward slowly, he planted warm kisses upon her belly and her hip while he gently rubbed her rigid clit with his thumb. He heard her whimper and moan and knew she was ready for more. She was so incredibly sensitive to his touch it made him shudder with anticipation. Kesim drew himself up over her kissing her again, hard. He took both of her wrists in one large hand and pulled them up over her head, surprising a frightened gasp from her. “No!” He released her immediately. “Shhh, trust me… I will not hurt you,” he whispered, soothing her with a burning kiss, darting his tongue into her hot mouth and dueling with hers until he felt her tension begin to melt away. Silently he cursed himself. She’d had a horrifying experience and he realized he needed to be more careful. Kesim was a skilled and tender lover. Naturally dominant, he loved nothing more than rendering a woman helpless, and then driving her over the edge of passion. He strongly suspected Adama would enjoy such lovemaking as well, but he knew he must use caution. “I must tell you, I am more demanding than any lover you’ve ever had. I will bring you pleasure like no other, and no other shall ever have you again. Mine. You are mine.” His growled words caressed her thoughts seductively and she moaned softly. Every thought he sent to her, every touch upon her body was specifically designed to set her aflame and all of her nerves seemed to lead directly to her sex, making her squirm, desperately needing more. 108

Calthraca: Adamare He took her mouth then, and when he kissed her, she could taste herself on his lips. She devoured his mouth greedily with her own as Kesim continued his relentless attack upon her swollen bud, gently massaging it with his thumb until her hips were grinding against him almost unconsciously. “Please,” she gasped when he broke the kiss. “Please?” Her plea was unsure. Did she want him to stop or did she want him to give her release? He commanded her quietly, “Adama, tell me what you want. You must tell me.” “Make love to me,” she whispered urgently. The tiny spark of passion which had begun to smolder within her earlier now flared to a hot blaze. Something she had not felt in so long. Could it be that finally, after so long, she would find completion with a lover? As he bent to kiss her once more, she moved her hands to the waist of his breeches and pulled the buttons of his fly loose, trying to aid him in undressing. He grinned against her mouth, aroused even further by her eagerness, the promise of what was to come. At last he sat back, then stood and dropped his breeches to the floor, kicking them away. Never breaking eye contact. He continued gazing at her and drew his hand down, touching himself, feeling his almost painful arousal. He moved back to the bed and lowered himself over her, slowly pressing his length along her slit, teasing her further and reveling in her frustrated groan. “Dear God, you are so hot and wet…” His voice spoke in her mind; his tone nearly a growl. A delicious shiver of arousal rushed through her again and she trembled.

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Calthraca: Adamare Kesim tried to be as gentle as possible as he entered her but now, feeling how incredibly soft and tight she was, his cock took over and he plunged forward forcefully. “Oh, Kesim!” she said on an inhale. He was enormous and the painful pleasure of that initial thrust was incredible. She knew if he only moved slightly upon her now, it would take very little to send her over the edge to her peak. “Are you all right?” Kesim asked hesitantly. He didn’t dare move within her yet. “Yes,” she managed. “Has it been very long since you’ve been loved, Adama?” “Too long.” She brought her hands up around his neck and caressed his hair. His tight braid had come loose and she loved the feel of his thick hair. Then she drew him down for another kiss. Slowly he began to move his muscular body upon hers, while rubbing small circles around her clit. She closed her eyes and began to climax almost at once as they kissed. The throbbing of her pulse beat a steady rhythm, echoing his forceful thrusts, and she brought her legs up around his waist tightly. “Oh yes…” She came powerfully and he felt her sheath tighten upon him, spasming wildly. He clutched the sheets above her head tightly in his fist, denying the urge to come himself. She cried out her pleasure and her cry carried through his head, through the room, and he was unable to discern one from the other. She shuddered and sighed as the wave of pleasure receded and she came down. He broke the kiss and flicked her lips with his tongue; he could still feel her internal muscles spasming along the length of him, but more slowly now as the urgency of her peak had passed. “Oh.” She shivered and he grinned. 110

Calthraca: Adamare “Adama, that was magnificent.” She moaned sweetly in response. What Kesim couldn’t know was she hadn’t achieved a climax with anyone since she had been married. Christian had never brought her there and she couldn’t recall her night with the Alliance soldier. After she was abducted, her body had been battered, tortured, and taken regularly by Hecate. She had feared that perhaps she was no longer capable of feeling that sweet release, but now she knew she could, and oh, she wanted more. Kesim found his rhythm once more and began to thrust, drawing himself almost all the way out before plunging deeply back into her. Adama arched upward into him, raking his back with her nails, drawing thin lines of blood. He sucked in his breath but he didn’t relent. He slid one hand down between them again and massaged her clit once more, knowing what she desired, driving her toward the release he knew she craved. She cried out and he caught her cry with his mouth in a deep kiss, plunging his tongue into her mouth as he did his battering cock into her body. She pulled her head back and made small breathy sounds from the force of his thrusting rhythm. Kesim suddenly withdrew himself from her body completely, ignoring her outraged gasp. “Get on your hands and knees.” Warily she rolled to comply, slightly afraid. He was totally in control and she was enjoying it. The part of her brain still rational warned her that this man, despite his tenderness, and her dreams, was still no more than a stranger to her and she needed to use caution. Her heart half-listened. Even though he still frightened her somewhat, she knew he would not hurt her. “I will only give you pleasure.” He had felt her hesitation, and sent her the reassuring thought. He wanted to possess her 111

Calthraca: Adamare entirely, to dominate her and he wasn’t sure he would be able to resist that urge, but he did not want to frighten her. She was so receptive and eager to allow herself to be led, that he had delved within her mind as deeply as he had her body, selfishly seeking to have all of her. “My God—Kesim, it has never felt this good.” Her voice, husky and seductive, whispered in his head. Pleased, Kesim ran a hand down her side and positioned himself, then slowly drew the head of his cock along her soaking sheath, holding her tightly when she tried to push against him, at last entering from behind, smiling at the surprised sound she made when he plunged forward filling her full once again. “Wait!” she said in a breathless whisper. He paused, letting her get used to him once more. After a few seconds, she nodded, and he drew her gently up to her knees, pulling her back to lean against his hard body. He bit at her neck and caressed her lovely breasts. He waved a hand at the wall before them. “Reflectorae.” His voice was low and powerful and the wall shimmered. It became a large mirror and she could see herself and Kesim behind her. Adama reached up and touched his face and her reflection did the same. She then ran her other hand down her belly, over the arm he had wrapped around her middle. She loved the way his golden skin looked against hers. He plunged his hand down to her swollen lips again, massaging her while he continued to thrust into her from behind. Her eyes closed and she rested her head against his shoulder. The hand which had left her breast was now splayed over hers on her belly and she moaned as he continued to drive within her—such a wonderfully powerful sensation. He’d never been with a woman who enjoyed sex as much as Adama obviously did. His breath quickened and his cock positively throbbed with each tiny sound she made. 112

Calthraca: Adamare He reached up and took her other hand from his neck and brought it down to her soaking pussy. He needed to see her touch herself. “Show me how you pleasure yourself,” he whispered against her neck. He bit her softly upon the earlobe, then watched over her shoulder in the mirror. Her mouth was half-open and she pleaded, “Kesim, please.” “Not yet.” He wanted her to show him, he needed to see her submission. “Open your eyes and watch,” he said. “Touch yourself. Unless you want me to stop?” He ceased his long powerful strokes. “No! God, no,” she breathed. He felt her anxiety at the thought of his stopping and could not resist a knowing grin. He chuckled low and slowly resumed. “Let me watch you, Adama,” he whispered in her ear. “You are so beautiful.” She began hesitantly at first, and then picked up speed, stroking and sighing. He watched her fingers slip into her moist cleft and work herself, stroking and pulling, brushing his raging cock, while the other hand caressed her breasts, roughly pinching and twisting her own nipples. He placed his hands over hers echoing her movements. He was mesmerized watching her in the mirror as she brought herself to one more small orgasm. It was all he could do not to climax with her. He had disciplined himself to last a very long time but she was testing his strength and didn’t even know it. “You have the most satisfied expression upon your face,” Kesim said. She smiled slowly. “It has never felt this good.” “It’s the magic.” He drew a finger lightly down her belly, stopping to caress her scar, then moved lower. Entranced, she followed his hand in the mirror. 113

Calthraca: Adamare “Sorcerers are far more passionate than normal mortals.” She inhaled and her eyes widened, then slowly slid closed as his fingers slipped downward, working her clit gently. Watching her beautiful face begin to flush again with passion, his still-hard cock twitched, reminding him of his own increasingly urgent needs. He removed his fingers and she opened her eyes. Kesim deliberately sucked upon them now, gazing into her eyes in the mirror, tasting her, causing another heated tremor to flare within her at the eroticism of the act. He moved before her, drew her down upon the bed and lay above her. “Adama, I cannot wait any longer.” Adama kissed him passionately, running her tongue seductively along his lips when they parted. He knew how to do everything she loved, and it was better than anything she’d ever known. “So beautiful,” he whispered against her mouth and was rewarded with her soft sigh as she allowed herself to be swept under his erotic spell once more. He proceeded to drop kisses onto her entire body, licking and nipping at her until she was writhing and moaning and arching her back in desperation. He moved up beside her. “What do you like?” he asked quietly, kissing her neck. “I don’t know…” “Yes, Adama, you do know. Now tell me, what do you like?” “I like it when you make me watch,” she said huskily, somewhat ashamed of her admission. He rolled her over, drawing her up to kneeling once again, but did not enter her. Instead he held her around the middle and pulled her hands over her head to bend at the elbows, making her breasts stand up firmly. He ran his hand down her body, all the way to her cleft, and she shivered as his fingers slid within 114

Calthraca: Adamare her luscious folds. His other hand held her gently but firmly by her wrists, forcing her to watch him fondle her in the mirror wall. He stroked her softly at first, then more rapidly, coaxing her jewel from its hood, flicking at her and sliding his long fingers within her. He curled them forward and stroked deeply within her. Adama’s hips thrust slowly along with him and she released a pleasured groan. Adama was enjoying the way he was being so forceful, yet gentle with her. It hardly seemed possible that she could be more aroused, yet the thought of his taking her so forcefully made her burn white-hot, every nerve in her body flaring with sexual tension, wondering what he would do. “You’ve never been bound for pleasure?” “No,” she breathed. “Are you frightened?” He did not offer to stop if she were. God, he didn’t think he could. “Will you hurt me?” “Never.” His insides quaked with desire at her responses. She struggled a bit then, just to see if she had the strength to escape and he chuckled. When she realized he was much too strong for her to fight, even if she wanted to, she let her head fall back against his shoulder. “Come for me…” he whispered softly into her mind and she trembled. “Think of the reward I will give you, when I drive myself into your hot body. You cannot escape, Adama; you are helpless, so come for me.” He held her loosely, nuzzling her neck and her ear. She watched his skilled fingers touching and stroking her in the mirror, faster and faster. The delicious tension was growing within her and her heart pounded only bare seconds before peaking. She could feel her juices flowing. Her eyes slipped shut and the wave crashed over her. She cried out and her hips 115

Calthraca: Adamare bucked forward, as he brought her to a climax. He then released her wrists and held her as she shuddered violently. “Oh…” She was nearly spent, he could feel it. He already had his strong arm around her waist and helped lay her down on her back again. “What else do you like? Tell me.” Kesim now brought his fingers to her lips. She licked at them and then sucked on them as he slipped them into her hot mouth, tasting her own passion on him again, arousing him powerfully. “I like it when you make me come.” Her words popped into his head, soft as a caress, and he growled. “You are glorious.” He brought his hand up to her face and cupped her chin to stare deeply into her eyes. “Do you want me again?” he whispered, taunting her. “Kesim!” she gasped. Her body still ached and throbbed, but she longed to give him his own release. He swung a long leg over her, straddling her. “Do you need me deeply within you? Tell me, Adama,” he demanded. His own urgent need now ruled him and he knew he could hold out no longer. He slid back slightly and positioned himself between her trembling thighs, pressing his enormous member very slowly and deliberately inside her. He felt a small flutter race through her at his entry. He stopped and she sucked in her breath. He leaned back to his haunches and then picked up her legs to put the bends of her knees over one of his wide shoulders, positioning her for the deepest possible penetration. Slowly he began to move within her. She brought her hands down to his bowed head, running her fingers through his thick hair as he bent to suckle a breast. 116

Calthraca: Adamare He thrust hard and deep. His smooth long strokes made her moan softly. She had never been taken this way, and it was incredible. “Oh, Kesim, oh yes…” She felt it, far away but rushing toward her, in an unstoppable wave. It washed over her, pure joy and relief. The sheer force of her orgasm filled her full of unspeakable pleasure. She’d never suspected such a feeling was possible, even with Tengri it had not been this sweet. It made every other orgasm she’d ever had seem insignificant and small, literally knocking the breath from her. He felt it hit her. All of her muscles loosened then tightened, contracting painfully around him. He felt his own climax building. Adama felt his cock grow within her just before he came and she moaned. “Oh, God…” With a groan, Kesim let go, giving in to his own incredible pleasure. Everything they had done had led to this point, and he came harder than he ever had. He groaned loudly as his world spun for a moment—a dizzying rush raced through him and he clamped his eyes closed against the very real possibility of falling unconscious. He heard her cry out his name, felt her go rigid, then completely limp. Kesim shuddered hard, trying to catch his breath and recover. He removed her long legs from his shoulder and withdrew from her body. Kneeling beside her now, he spoke her name softly and stroked her face. Adama didn’t hear him. She lay still and motionless, eyes closed. Her chest rose and fell evenly, if somewhat exerted. He looked at her lovely face, still flushed with passion and he knew she would come around shortly. Her pulse beat strong in her throat, and he bent over her, kissing her softly, then pressed his lips to that pulse before rolling to his back. He lay there for a moment, listening to his own heart hammering in his ears as he 117

Calthraca: Adamare placed his hand on her belly, reluctant to break the physical contact they’d shared. Her body twitched at his touch and he smiled. He’d never been with a woman who could allow herself the complete freedom to be guided through lovemaking. He knew now he could torture her gently, not to break her spirit but to drive her higher. She might be apprehensive but she also was able to trust him and that was unique, especially since she had no reason whatsoever to have faith in anyone. He’d sensed slight fear in her at least twice, but she’d been brave enough to let him keep going, her concern replaced by pleasure. He felt if he had the time, he could bring her even farther than this, but knew she’d have to work up to it slowly. He would love to spend several weeks tutoring her so she could reach this pinnacle every time. As long as it is with me. He recalled his vivid dreams of her. The sense of completeness he felt in those dreams was like nothing he’d ever experienced and he knew true contentment. Then he would awaken without her, to a feeling much like grief, and the longing which was never far from the surface. He remembered one particular dream of her where she’d been pregnant, heavy with his child, and he smiled. Yes, he knew he must make her his, even if she did not yet know it He glanced at her face, recalling how she’d given herself so totally to him, and realized she probably already knew. He felt that wonderful familiarity once again, only now, finally, he would not awaken alone and bereft. Kesim sighed inwardly. What he really ought to be doing was figuring out a way to help them both escape this place, but it would not be easy. After the episode earlier, he doubted Valore would just forget Adama’s seeming betrayal and what he’d done to prevent her murder. He knew how violent and unpredictable 118

Calthraca: Adamare the Andalosian could be, had seen firsthand the damage he could inflict. They were in more danger than ever now. He needed to think, but out of Adama’s range, so as not to upset her. He didn’t know if she intentionally read peoples’ minds, but he knew she was powerfully intuitive and could pick up on others’ thoughts and emotions. He recalled what she’d done to Christian, searching his mind; he had to throw a mental wall up to keep her out. He rose from the bed and walked to the window. He watched the people come and go in the courtyard, thinking it must still be fairly early, but the clock on the mantle read half past midnight. He’d been with her for nearly four hours. He laughed shortly to himself and realized he still felt randy enough for four more. “Four more? I don’t know if I can,” he heard Adama say weakly. How strong is she? Startled she could pick up a thought from that far without making physical contact. He stepped back and drew the drapes closed. He turned to her. “Adama, you are incredible.” “Kesim, I…” She didn’t know what to say. She’d never been like that before. She had thrown herself at him and was ashamed for having acted like what she considered a common whore. She knew he was technically a stranger to her, but her heart and her dreams had cried out that there was more. He made her feel comforted and safe, something she hadn’t felt in a very long time. She closed her eyes and sighed, then a startling thought occurred to her. What if Kesim also considers me a whore? Christian had never made her feel the way Kesim just had. She had never experienced an orgasm with Chris at all, and even her husband Tengri hadn’t brought her to the heights Kesim had. 119

Calthraca: Adamare Tears rolled down the sides of her face pooling by her ears. She was exhausted. Kesim walked to the bed and lay on his side beside her, kissing her eyes. “Don’t cry, I know you are not a whore.” He caught a tear as it rolled down her face, and drew her head down to his chest, gently placing a soft kiss upon it. “It has been so long… I just worried what you would think of me.” She sniffled. “I’m sorry.” Still she lay there crying softly in his arms. He knew she needed sleep, and was angry at himself for pushing her so hard when she was still vulnerable. He passed his hand over her face, smoothing her glorious hair back. “Rest, we shall talk soon enough.” “We can’t—” “Consopios—sleep,” he whispered. She sighed and slid into deep peaceful sleep. He would let her rest for a few hours then wake her. They would need to talk before they met with Eleana. Kesim got up and pulled on his pants then crossed the room, unbarred the door and stepped barefoot out into the sitting room. He was surprised to see the fire lit in the hearth, and two covered dishes on the sideboard. Adama’s maid was sitting on a small stool by the door, dozing lightly. He walked quietly over to her and touched her shoulder, startling her. “Find your bed, girl. Your mistress won’t need you tonight.” “Is she all right?” Sarah sat up quickly, instantly alert. He could feel the fear radiating from her, but still she stood her ground and faced him. Her devotion was admirable. “She is fine; she’s just sleeping. You may look in on her if you like,” he said, smiling. 120

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah stood up and ducked past Kesim, hurrying to the bedroom to check on Adama. She pulled the coverlet over Adama’s bare shoulder, then left quietly. Sarah looked at Kesim and pleaded, “Please do not hurt her; she’s been through too much already. She is a good woman, and deserves to be treated gently.” He tilted his head and looked at the maid closely. “I have no intention of doing anything except protecting her, I swear.” She nodded and made a little curtsy. “Good night, my lord.” “Good night, Sarah.” He surprised her by knowing her real name. After she left, he lifted the covers on the dishes and then decided he’d eat later with Adama. Right now, he felt nearly as exhausted as she was. Kesim returned to the bedchamber and looked at his reflection in the mirrored wall he had created. He knew his duty was to protect her, but he wasn’t sure what to do about his feelings for Adama. He knew that what he had done was entirely improper and he could lose his commission. He knew and yet he did not give a damn. Still the feelings nagged at him, making him question everything. The man staring back at him had no answers either but they both looked tired. He waved his hand at the wall and said, “Recursus,” and it was once again just a wall. He knew he should leave now, return to his own apartments and concentrate on his mission to see her safely home, before his feelings for her got in the way and he got them both killed. Kesim looked at her sleeping, and knew that wasn’t going to happen. He dropped his pants and climbed in beside her. She was beautiful and irresistible, and for now, his. Once he was settled, she curled up to him, sliding an arm across his broad chest, sighing contentedly. Kesim was accustomed to sleeping alone, but he found her embrace pleasant 121

Calthraca: Adamare and comfortably familiar. As he started sliding toward sleep, he realized the name Adama meant “love.” He opened his eyes and looked at her again. In his world, words were powerful. From the lips of a sorcerer as talented as he, the right word could mean death to an enemy, or ecstasy to a lover. The love spell Adamare was easy enough to invoke, and he wondered if perhaps that, in addition to his dreams, was the reason he felt so drawn to her in such a short time. As he considered that possibility, he realized it didn’t even matter why he was drawn to her, it was simply meant to be. He sent her the thought, “Adamare,” and drew her sleeping form closer to his, kissing her gently upon the forehead. Before closing his eyes, he saw a small smile play across her lips, and she sent the thought, “Redamare.” To love in return. **** Christian slowly came awake on a divan in Eleana’s chambers. He’d been dreaming about the men who’d attacked him when he’d been traveling with Oma. They had hailed his party as though they needed help. There had been no way to avoid them. When they stopped, he remembered seeing three more men come from behind the wagon they’d rigged to look broken. They’d leaped on him and knocked him to the ground, kicking him in the head and beating him senseless, stopping only when they thought him dead. They had killed all the members of his small traveling party as well. The robbers wanted his money and anything else of value they might have, including Oma. He remembered seeing her small round face being carried away, and then blackness. He had been blind the next time he’d awoken. Christian leaped from the small couch and looked wildly about. “What?” he said gruffly. 122

Calthraca: Adamare Eleana looked up at him from the page she was reading and said, “You’re in my chambers, Christian. Are you hurt?” He was entirely awake now. “No, I’m fine.” Slowly, he sat down again then brought his hands up to cover his face. He felt something tickle his nose and examined his fingers. Wrapped around his ring were several long copper hairs. Everything that had occurred in Adama’s bedchamber came back to him and dull fury thumped in his head. Eleana watched his face for a moment. Finally she spoke quietly, “She did this to you. This woman you beg me for. She took the first opportunity presented and threw herself at my court physician.” She narrowed her eyes and looked hard at Christian. “She’s no better than her whore mother.” Christian got up and crossed the room restlessly. Eleana was right, of course. He’d been blinded by Adama’s witchcraft. She had to have enchanted him to keep him by her side all these years. He should have left when she’d spurned him after she’d come home from Tartak, but he couldn’t because she’d bewitched him. It all made perfect sense. He could imagine them laughing at him after the sorcerer had cast his sleeping spell. Adama and her lover. He no longer wanted to just kill her; he wanted to make her suffer. He hoped the raiders had killed her brat. He’d love to tell her that news. Eleana came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his middle. “I shall send her away from us, my love, and I shall name you my consort.” He stood staring pensively at the fire in the hearth, and she worked her way around to face him, drawing his attention to her. “Together we will rule the Alliance with an iron fist, crushing all those who oppose us. We shall be invincible.” He looked down at her and saw her devotion. He grabbed her roughly by the forearms and pulled her to him, crushing her lips in a hard kiss. She could taste the blood in it. 123

Calthraca: Adamare Christian was hers entirely, and she hoped Adama was suffering greatly with Doctor Trasain.

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Chapter 5 Sarah arrived near six o’clock the next morning. She entered the sitting room and pulled open drapes, brought in fresh food and generally made plenty of noise before she had to enter the bedchamber. Adama laughed at her maid’s attempt to warn them should they be making love, but she needn’t have worried. Though Adama was already awake, Kesim was still sleeping peacefully upon his back with his large but graceful hands folded upon his chest. Adama took a moment to look closely at him. He was a particularly handsome man. He had long sooty lashes and slightly almond-shaped eyes. His skin was the color of golden wild honey and she was sure he must darken considerably in the sun. He had soft, full lips and she loved his neatly barbered goatee. The hair on his chest was attractive, soft and thick. Men in her country were not hairy as a rule and she found Kesim’s utterly appealing. He was well-built and muscular and overall, quite sexy. Simply looking at his handsome face aroused her. She took a moment to examine a tattoo he had on his left bicep; runic letters, linked in a circle around an eclipse. She knew the letters but didn’t understand the significance of them together. “I hope I meet with your approval, Majesty?” Kesim said softly without opening his eyes. A slow grin crossed his face. “Oh you’re awake!” She smiled. 125

Calthraca: Adamare He opened his strange greenish-silver eyes and looked at her. “Sarah is making enough noise to wake the dead. Besides, I could hear you thinking.” She blushed, and his smile deepened further. “I was flattered especially by your assessment of my hairy chest,” he teased. “The men of your country are hairless?” “No, they have hair,” she laughed, “but they aren’t as beautifully hairy as you are, that’s all.” He sat up a little and put another pillow under his head, then laid his arm out, inviting her in. She lay against him once more. “The runes are a charm for strength, luck, and protection,” he said quietly. She looked at him quizzically. “The tattoo?” “Yes. You have some of your own, do you not?” Surprised he had noticed, she lifted her leg and looked at her own tattoo. Three lines down her ankle, written in Tarkir. “I had those done a long time ago,” she said simply. “What do they mean?” “Nothing anymore.” He smiled at her, content for now with her reply, but he’d sensed something when he mentioned it, almost like a brief flash of pain. He pushed it aside for now. She would either explain when she was ready, or she wouldn’t. He saw no reason to press her for information. Adama loved how his whole face lit up when he smiled. “You have the most remarkable eyes,” she said. “That’s not the way I usually hear them described.” He laughed. “Why?” “Usually people call them ‘warlock’ eyes or ‘witch’ eyes. They tend to be somewhat unsettling.” 126

Calthraca: Adamare “I think they are incredible,” she said, smiling. “I think you are incredible.” Kesim pulled her down into a long kiss and then reached under the covers to fondle her breasts gently. Adama sighed, relaxing into his embrace. He had just begun to nibble at her ear, making her giggle and squirm, when Sarah tapped on the door and waited for permission to enter. Adama sat up and pulled the coverlet over herself. “Enter, Sarah.” Sarah entered and bade them good morning. “My lady, Empress Eleana sent her boy to deliver a message to you and Doctor Trasain.” She walked over and handed Adama a small envelope, and then opened the drapes and the windows letting in some air. She picked up Adama’s clothes from the floor and carried them into the large closet. She then returned and picked up Kesim’s clothing as well. “These will need to be pressed, Doctor. Would you like me to do it?” she asked, holding his long coat. “No thank you, Sarah, I shall be going to my own apartment soon,” he replied, smiling at the way she averted her eyes from them. She made a small curtsey as she turned and left the room. Meanwhile Adama had read Eleana’s note and handed it to him. Adama, I shall expect you and Doctor Trasain to appear before me in my personal receiving hall at ten o’clock exactly. You are to wear the clothes you were given by my servant yesterday. I shall make my decision regarding to whom you will be wed at that time. Eleana 127

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim set the note aside and rolled back over to Adama. “Where were we?” Adama sighed. “What are we going to do? I cannot allow her to marry me off, Kesim.” He ignored her question for the time being and moved closer. He wanted her again, wanted to soothe her fears but mostly he wanted to bury himself in her soft heat and stay there forever. He would not allow anything to happen to her again, even if it meant his own life. Last night had been incredible, and this morning he felt even more positive she was his soul mate. He stroked her breast, slowly circling her nipple with his thumb, crushing it softly and enjoying the little sounds she made. Then he lowered his head and suckled upon it for a moment, scoring her with his teeth before licking all around it to soothe the bite. He moved lower to touch her sex and Adama made a low lustful groan. God, he makes me weak. “Do you think it is any different for me?” his voice spoke softly in her mind. “It isn’t polite to look into other’s thoughts. I could block you out.” In truth, she couldn’t have resisted him if she’d tried. His soft touches and caresses left her incredibly aroused and she wanted him hard and deep within her as soon as possible. Nevertheless, she still worried about what Eleana would do. What if she marries me off to the angry soldier from last night? How would Kesim stop it? Kesim was now placing soft kisses along her collarbone and throat, and moving higher. His kisses were maddeningly distracting. “Stop thinking so much.”

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Calthraca: Adamare She made one last half-hearted attempt to at least pretend resistance. “We don’t have time for this,” she said softly, even then raising her hand to caress his head. “Yes, we do,” he breathed. His mouth was very close to her ear and he ran his hot tongue around the lobe, grinning as she shuddered and closed her eyes. “Mmmm…” He drew himself over her and slid his hand down between them, gently stroking her folds, making her moan again. He kissed her and once more was shocked by the jolt that ran through their bodies. A powerful sorcerer’s kiss. He felt her hands on him, pulling him, encouraging him. He slid his fingers within her and she arched a little as she kissed him. “Oh,” she gasped against his mouth. “Oh yes.” He rubbed at her nub, stroking his now moist fingers back and forth over her. He loved the way she got so hot and wet at his touch. Adama shifted, bending her knee and opening herself wide to him. He removed his hand and slid his rigid cock into her hot sheath with a groan. She gasped at his entry and her eyes opened wide to stare up into his. He startled her again as he leaned back onto his knees, pulling her with him so she straddled his lap. Adama loved the way he kept surprising her with his lovemaking. He was so different from anyone she’d ever been with, changing from one moment to the next, and driving her to heights she would not have believed possible. She held him loosely around the neck, placing soft kisses upon his neck and face while he fondled her breasts, pinching her delicate nipples until she was writhing and squirming. From her position above him, she bent her head to meet his mouth in another searing kiss. Holding her waist lightly, he lay back, and she found herself astride him. 129

Calthraca: Adamare “Do you ride?” he whispered. The sensation of her body wrapped around him was incredible, like the softest glove, gently gripping and releasing him, igniting him. “Oh God, yes.” She began to move upon him, clutching him with her strong thighs and knees. He nearly lost himself as she gripped him with all of her muscles, both without and within, no longer gentle but forceful and strong. He groaned and clenched his jaw, breathing hard through his nose as she rocked her hips upon him. “Holy God,” he moaned hoarsely. She was going to force him to climax if she didn’t stop soon. “What do you like?” she whispered as she bent close to his ear. He smiled and rolled her onto her back in one fast movement. “I like you struggling beneath me.” He grinned wickedly at her. “I like watching you play with those big, gorgeous tits, and I like it when you cry out as you come.” He thrust hard and she cried out. “I like it when you beg me for release,” he growled. “Please…” “Just like that.” He took his time, drawing his entire length from her, and then plunging forward again. She began to make a sweet, highpitched keening noise her desire was so great, and a light sheen of perspiration coated her body as he pistoned smoothly within her slick sheath. He could have spent the entire day loving her this way, but decided to let her have some relief. He brought her hand down between them. “Stroke yourself. Let me see.”

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Calthraca: Adamare She began to stroke herself, becoming more aroused than ever, circling and caressing her clit so sensually he nearly came right then. He stopped moving and rested on his hands, attempting to regain his control. She could feel him within her, hugely stretching her body and rock-solid. Adama moaned quietly, and when Kesim could feel she was beginning to climax, he gave up trying for control and sought his own peak, moving roughly within her. “Oh yes,” she groaned. She felt his enormous manhood pounding deeply within her and cried out in pure bliss, shuddering uncontrollably as she held on to him tightly. He came deeply within her and she moaned as she felt the hot spurt of his seed, incredibly wishing he would give her a child. Never had lovemaking felt so entirely right. She sighed as he held her tightly, shaking from the force of his own passion. Her strong internal muscles still flexed along his length, squeezing him, and he breathed harshly against her ear. “Adama.” He regretfully withdrew from her, holding her less tightly but still as closely as possible, as though he were afraid he would lose her somehow. They lay together trembling and breathing heavily for a few moments. Finally she disentangled herself from him and kissed him softly. “Thank you,” she said in a low, heartfelt whisper. Kesim touched her face and searched her eyes trying to see if she felt the same feelings he did. She smiled at him knowingly and sat up, sliding her legs over the side of the bed. He rolled to his back and sighed.

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Calthraca: Adamare Adama got up and stretched, then bent to retrieve her robe from under the bed where it had fallen. “Sarah?” she called out to her maid. After a few moments Sarah opened the door and poked her head in. “Yes, ma’am?” “Please start my bath, very hot. I’ll wear the gold sari with the red blouse. Also the gold calfskin slippers, I think.” Sarah dipped a quick curtsy and had turned to go when Adama said, “Oh is there food?” Sarah smiled at her. “Yes, my lady, your breakfast is laid out in the sitting room.” Then she hurried off. “Thank you!” Adama called after her. Kesim barked a short laugh, amused at the closeness of Adama and her maid. Adama smiled at him. She tied the robe and asked, “Would you like to dine with a deposed queen?” Not waiting for his reply, she left the room. Kesim lay there a moment longer before getting out of bed. He found his pants where Sarah had laid them across the chair back, pulled them on and walked to the bath. Sarah was just coming out and edged past him, somewhat embarrassed at his half-naked state. He inhaled the fresh scent of Adama’s bath oil and contemplated what he’d seen. She was the most refreshingly simple royal woman he’d ever met. He supposed he was jaded having spent so long among them and seeing how truly nasty they could be, but it was refreshing to him to see that Adama treated Sarah as much a friend as a servant. She didn’t treat her maid poorly and expect instant obedience. She was kind to Sarah and treated her generously despite what she’d gone through, earning Sarah’s respect and loyalty. He was eager to spend some real time learning about Adama and find out what in her life made her so caring for those around her. 132

Calthraca: Adamare He used the commode, then went to the sink and washed his hands and face. Running his hands through his hair to pull it back somewhat, he then finished dressing and joined Adama in the sitting room. She’d already poured herself coffee and was sipping it, standing by the terrace window overlooking the garden, a light breeze gently lifting her hair. She wondered if Eleana had spies listening nearby. She was so devious, it would be like her to do so. Kesim came up behind her and kissed her neck, and she closed her eyes, enjoying it. He whispered in her ear, “This room is private, no one can hear us.” Adama nodded, surprised at his having read her thoughts even though she should have expected it. Turning from her, he went to the buffet and poured himself coffee then poked through a basket of warm rolls, coming up with a cinnamon bun and taking a bite. “We’ve got to discuss quite a few things, then I have to go to my apartment and get ready for this audience with Eleana.” He licked the sweet icing from his thumb. Adama nodded and went to the table and sat. She indicated a chair opposite herself and he sat also. “First of all, my daughter?” “Yes, the princess is fine. She was found with a traveling band of merchants. They attempted to sell her as a slave to one of our operatives in Sakendahl. Fortunately, the agent recognized the runic writing on the girl’s bracelet as that of a sorcerer, and bought her immediately. When she questioned the girl, she learned her name, and that she had been with her uncle, who had been killed. She said the merchants had been kind to her, but they were the ones who killed him. You can imagine our agent’s surprise when she found out she had a Lyrosian princess on her 133

Calthraca: Adamare hands. A princess who before that was only a speculation, I might add.” He cocked an eyebrow at her. Adama had tears standing in her eyes when she looked up at him. “No one could know about her,” she said quietly. She looked past him out the window. “Now it makes sense. Christian must have been severely injured, and she thought he was dead. My poor baby.” “Well from what I’ve been told, she’s perfectly fine and she asks about you every day.” He touched her hand gently for a moment, then took another bite of his roll. Adama wiped her eyes with the napkin she had been twisting, relief flowing through her from head to toe. He let her compose herself for a moment before proceeding. “Now then, how we’re going to get you out of here is something else entirely. I was hoping to have a few more days to come up with a plan, but I’m sure Eleana is rushing your marriage because she wants you away from court and Lord Christian.” Kesim put the last of the roll in his mouth and chewed speculatively. “I do have an idea,” he said slowly. He picked up his cup and took a swallow of the hot coffee. “But I’m not sure you’ll like it.” She looked at him, searching his thoughts, then slammed her cup down in frustration. “Damn,” she said simply. “Kesim, she wants to marry me off to punish me for resisting her damned Alliance too, you know.” He nodded. “If she thinks I want to marry you, she’ll give me to the camel driver from the plains in a minute.” “What if you didn’t want to marry me?” he asked slowly. “What if you not only didn’t want to marry me, but hated me and wanted me dead? What if you went to her on your knees 134

Calthraca: Adamare begging her to let you marry Christian, and that you’d do anything at all to avoid being given to me? After all, everyone here thinks I’m a rotten bastard anyway. It wouldn’t be anything less than they’d have expected.” “And if you wanted me, despite that? She might do it just to hurt me.” She considered his words for a moment, then shook her head negating the idea. “Kesim, it’s too dangerous. If Christian is there, he could kill you.” “Or you,” Kesim finished. She nodded sadly. He picked up a vision from her mind of Christian as Adama remembered him. A very different man than the Valore he knew now. He felt it was necessary to tell her what he knew about Christian. “Adama, my orders are to help you gain your freedom, so I want you to understand something. From the time he first came here, I have never seen Christian as you remember him. He was gravely wounded when he arrived, and temporarily blind. I was the first to treat him. He had suffered a skull fracture when his party was attacked. After he was healed and had regained his sight, all he could talk of was you. How he must have you; how he would return to Lyros and force you to marry him. He begged Eleana to let him. “But then he became her lover. Since then I have seen Christian Valore perform vile acts upon innocents here in this court as mere entertainment for Eleana. I have seen him do things decent men would weep over, and I have wept myself. Whatever love he may have once felt for you, it has degenerated into a fixation. Striking you the night you arrived, and trying to kill you last night, those were not the acts of a man in love; they were the acts of a man obsessed. He is not the man who left you six months ago. He has become a monster.” He regarded her with a hard look in his eyes. “If I must, I will kill him to protect you, and I will not regret it,” he said grimly. 135

Calthraca: Adamare Adama swallowed hard and looked down. “Once we are married, we shall leave here and head back to Minalos. From there, we shall decide how best to regain your throne, if that is even possible at this point.” There was something else. She caught a brief flicker of it, and then it was gone. Some other thing he wanted to say, then decided not to. She couldn’t see it in his mind; he’d thrown up a wall to her again. She wasn’t offended. It was a useful tool and Miranda had shown her early how to guard her thoughts. Still, she knew it must be a thought or feeling he had for her, or he’d not have blocked her from seeing. She knew he was right. “If you must kill him, please be swift. He has been my friend since we were children, and despite the monster he’s become, I cannot see him suffer.” “Only if he threatens your life again.” “You will protect yourself as well,” she said and her tone left no room for argument. “Do you agree that my plan is the way to do this?” She nodded, hoping her fear wasn’t too obvious. “You must prepare for your deception, Adama.” He reached inside his shirt and withdrew a tiny stone amulet on a thin silver chain. He took it from around his neck and pressed it between his palms, then closed his eyes briefly. “Because you have no magic, I’ve charged this amulet.” He held it up and it glowed amber, as though a tiny firefly were trapped inside. “You do not have very long, but it will give you enough power to do what you must.” She took the stone and nodded, swallowing her apprehension at what they were about to do. God she hoped it worked. “Don’t be frightened, you have me now.” He smiled at her, holding her hand tightly. 136

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim reluctantly released her hand and stood to put on his coat, leaving the buttons undone, then bent to kiss her. He tasted of sweet cinnamon. “I’ll be back for you in an hour,” he said quietly. “I’ll be ready.” After he left, she ate a few bites of egg, but couldn’t force herself to eat much more. Her stomach was knotted with dread over what was to come and with excitement that Oma was safe. Finally she gave up trying to eat and went into her bedchamber. She walked to the bed and sat on the side where Kesim had slept. Slowly she lay down and ran her hands under the pillow he’d used. It was still warm. She smiled and turned her face to the pillow; the smell of him was there and she allowed herself a delicious shiver, recalling their passion. Sarah bustled in. “Oh, no,” she scolded, “you’re not going back to sleep. You need to get in that tub before the water is stone cold.” Adama laughed at the maid’s motherly tone and sat up obediently. “I’m all yours, Sarah. Do your worst.” The two women walked into the bath and Adama handed Sarah her robe then stepped into the steaming tub. Much as she wanted to relax and consider everything she had seen and heard since she’d arrived, she knew she simply did not have the time. She bathed quickly then with Sarah’s aid, began dressing. There was a sharp rap on the door. Adama continued pleating the dratted sari, and Sarah exited to see who was calling. The door opened to reveal Kesim’s personal man from Minalos, carrying a small box. He bowed and said, “For the Lady Adama.” Sarah took the box and the servant turned and left. She brought it into the bedroom where Adama stood waiting. Sarah handed her the box and went behind her to button her up the back. 137

Calthraca: Adamare Adama opened the box slowly. “Oh!” she exclaimed as she revealed a golden disk on a long chain. It was the bookend to match Lugh’s Shield. The pendant was a medallion, about an inch and a half across and had the face of the sun being eclipsed by a moon etched onto its surface. The outside ring of the sun was detailed with topaz and the circumference of the moon was lined with diamonds. There was a note attached. For the believer, The Eclipse portends great events and change. Adamare. K. Adama smiled and showed it to Sarah, who admired the lovely gift. “Will you wear it today?” “No, I mustn’t wear any jewelry,” Adama said. “Well, I think there are some foolish customs in this country,” Sarah huffed. “I agree.” They got the sari on and pleated properly, and Adama thought she looked ridiculous, but Sarah told her she was beautiful. Adama sighed and sat, gathering her thoughts as to how she would explain things to Sarah. “Sarah, we must talk,” Adama said seriously. She sat her friend down and began to explain what she and Kesim had discussed that morning at breakfast. She also told Sarah not to come to the receiving hall. Adama wanted her friend to remain here and wait for her to return. If anything happened to her, then Kesim would escort Sarah safely back to Minalos and Oma. Sarah listened somberly and nodded when Adama asked if she understood. “It’s so dangerous, my lady,” Sarah said at last. 138

Calthraca: Adamare Adama took Sarah’s hands and held them tightly. “Yes I know, but it’s the only way.” She released Sarah and stood. “Now, I must prepare.” She placed the amulet stone that Kesim had given her around her neck and felt his power surging through her immediately. His strength was enormous and she stepped back, rocked by the intensity. It was far more powerful than she’d expected. In order to convince Eleana that she feared Kesim, it must appear that he’d hurt her. She knew she needed to inflict bruises in obvious places upon her body, but dreaded the thought. Adama entered her bath and looked in the mirror. Her light familiar blazed above her, stronger than she’d seen it in months and she choked back a sorrow-filled sob, mourning her lost abilities. Finally, she took a deep breath and concentrated on her face. She whispered “Vulnaro.” The large painful bruise on her left cheekbone and the cut on her lip where Christian had struck her became more pronounced and bled a bit. Adama gasped at the pain and had to steady herself; this was harder than she thought it would be. Sitting upon a low stool, she concentrated on her ankle. “Plaga.” Large welts rose, as though she’d been bound. She did the same with her wrists, and then moved on to her upper arms and torso, raising a few more bruises and welts. When she finished, the pain was almost unbearable. She whispered the spell to relieve pain, “Adlevo,” and she felt better but not so much that she forgot her bruises. She heard a pounding on her bedchamber door, and then Kesim’s deep voice, speaking to Sarah. He raised his voice. “Adama, come now.” He was annoyed and he sounded like Eleana’s physician again, not her lover. 139

Calthraca: Adamare She sighed and sent up a brief prayer to whichever gods listened to the prayers of the desperate. Before she could get to the door, it banged open, frightening a small, startled scream from her. Kesim strode into the room. He looked magnificent, wearing a long dark blue coat with two silver buttons at the neck and silver piping along the seams and cuffs. A silver sash was tied about his waist, and he wore tight white riding pants and black boots that came to his knee. His hair was bound in a severe queue against his neck. He looked so foreboding and huge that he took her breath away. Kesim looked at her and gave her a quick wink. Aside from the ugly bruise, she was lovely, like a vision from the stories his mother had told him as a child, a fairy tale princess. Her beauty was enough to make him weak. She smiled at his attempt to reassure her. “Did I do that?” she whispered, pointing to his face. He had three long furrowed scratches on his cheek, which disappeared into his beard. He nodded then said quietly, “Ready?” She nodded and he resumed his act. “Why are you not ready and waiting for me?” he demanded loudly. He grabbed her by the upper arm, making her wince and flung her at the doorway. She fell through and landed on her hands and knees. “Did I not tell you to be ready for me at half nine? It is unwise to make me wait, Adama.” Two guards had accompanied Kesim, and stood waiting in the room as well as Sarah. One grinned at her on the floor, the other averted his eyes. Sarah hung her head sadly. Adama started to get up. “My lord, I was just…” “Never mind, we must go now. Couldn’t you have fixed that?” he asked, pointing at her face. 140

Calthraca: Adamare “I’m sorry, my lord,” she whispered, gingerly touching the bruise on her face, and looked down. He made a derisive sound and took her by the arm again, pushing her ahead of himself. “Let’s just go.” They walked down the hallway without saying anything but Kesim would occasionally push or pull her if he felt she wasn’t keeping up or moving quickly enough, making her gasp in pain when he did so. They arrived in the antechamber and the guards moved ahead to announce them. It wasn’t quite ten, but he was sure Eleana would want to see him first. When they were alone, Kesim turned her to him and said, “My God, Adama, are you all right?” “I’m fine, really. I just bruise easily.” She smiled grimly. He shook his head at her lame attempt at humor. The guards returned. “Doctor Trasain, Empress Eleana will see you first.” They turned to Adama. “You are to wait here.” She said nothing but bowed her head, stepped back and waited. Kesim walked briskly into the receiving hall, assuming his normal aloof air, and approached Eleana. He noticed Christian standing behind her and several other men standing nearby. Around the receiving hall there was also the usual assortment of court ladies and gentlemen assembled as well. All of them there to fuss and fawn over Eleana. Kesim heard the excited whispers of a few of the ladies as he entered. Eleana smiled at him, noting his scratches. “Good morning, Doctor. I hope you slept well?” He bowed low, and then stood up straight and grinned wolfishly at her. “Very well, Majesty. Thank you.” “What is it then, Kesim? Has my dear sister really become a sweet docile creature, easily controlled, or is she merely acting?” 141

Calthraca: Adamare “Majesty, she is the same as always, although maybe more docile this morning. I found her quite compliant…eventually.” He grinned. There was low laughter in the room, except from Christian, who remained stony. Eleana looked around sharply then smiled at the doctor. “I hope you beat the bitch,” Christian commented coldly. Kesim looked at him blandly and said, “Among other things, my lord.” He didn’t bother concealing his contempt for Valore. “Very well,” Eleana said, pushing ahead. “I’d hoped it was an act. It seems a shame that her spirit has been broken.” Kesim gingerly touched the scratches on his face. “I would say she still has some spark left.” Christian snorted. He looked closely at Kesim, sizing him up. “Very well,” Eleana repeated, scowling at Christian. “Let’s move on, shall we?” She turned back to Kesim. “I want to get this over with. I need to see her married before I begin the next phase of my plans for the Alliance. Bring in the Lady Adama,” she said to a guard. Adama entered slowly then fell to her knees before Eleana. “Rise, Adama,” she said, motioning for Kesim to help Adama get up. He bent to assist her and she shrieked and pulled her arm out of his grasp. “Don’t touch me!” she hissed, shocking him briefly. She turned to Eleana who gasped at her appearance. “Eleana! Look at what he’s done to me!” Adama caught sight of Christian behind Eleana. He looked detached and aloof. His jaw was clenched tightly. She threw herself at him and Eleana jumped up and stood behind a chair. “Adama! Stop at once!” she ordered. “Oh thank God, Christian,” she said desperately, ignoring Eleana. “You must help me! It wasn’t what you think! He forced me!” 142

Calthraca: Adamare She clung to his leg in apparent desperation, and he looked down at her with distaste. Kesim followed her. He laughed and said, “No, my lord, it wasn’t what you think, she enjoyed it. Very little force was necessary beyond what she wanted.” He took her from behind by both arms, dragging her off Christian. The other men in the room had stepped forward to assist, but stepped back hastily when she rounded wildly on the doctor. “No!” she yelled. She pulled a dagger from inside her skirt and took a fighting stance, hissing, “I’ll kill you if you come near me.” He laughed cruelly and grabbed her wrist, pulling her hard forward and into his arms. “I think not,” he said. He bent her hand back hard. “Drop it.” She cried out and dropped the knife with a clatter, struggling and backing away slightly. She spat at him and then managed to get one arm free, hitting him in the stomach and jaw, next raking her nails down his face, drawing blood from the scratches already there. Surprised and in pain, he grunted and jerked his head back away from her, dodging another blow and getting his hand up to catch hers before she took another swipe at him. He caught both hands in one of his big ones and twisted them painfully, making her cry out, changing hands to hold both behind her back. She kicked him hard in the shins making him suck in his breath sharply. Finally overpowering her, he twisted her arms again making her gasp in pain once more. He took her face in his other hand and looked deeply into her eyes, seeing genuine fear flicker there for a moment. He felt her try to scan his thoughts, but he threw up his mental block. He did not want to jeopardize their deception by having her inadvertently act as though she were not terrified of him. 143

Calthraca: Adamare He grinned wickedly and whispered, “Consopios.” Immediately she slumped down, unconscious. He let her fall to the floor, where she lay on her back, both arms behind and underneath her. Christian caught sight of a large bruise on her ribs as her sari slid up and he looked away quickly. Kesim turned, disregarding Adama completely. He kicked the dagger away angrily, wincing as he fingered the once again bleeding scratch on his face, then looked at the blood on his hand. “Dammit, you bitch,” he muttered angrily. The room was deafeningly silent. He stood bent with his other hand on his knee, breathing harshly. She’d really fought him and he was glad. He had wondered for a moment if he actually could subdue her. “Docile as a kitten,” Eleana said quietly. “More like a hellcat,” commented one of the gentlemen in the room. Eleana looked up quickly. “Clear this room immediately! No, Trasain, you stay. Christian, you’ll stay as well.” Everyone else left quickly speaking in hushed tones. Eleana glared at Kesim, furious. “Under control?” she yelled. “What in the hell did you do to her? Do you think I’ll be able to give her to any of the men who just saw that outburst? Word is probably already spreading as we speak about how she is completely mad!” “Empress… I…” Eleana glared at him then spoke again in a lower tone. “Apparently, Doctor, you are the only one capable of handling her. It looked as though you were enjoying the fight. Therefore, she’s yours. I can see you’re enamored of her.” Kesim blanched; he needed to appear shocked. “Your Majesty, no, please I…have no need of a wife. Truly, I do not 144

Calthraca: Adamare wish to marry at this time. What about the other gentlemen who were not here, or perhaps Lord Christian, he’s expressed his desire for her, has he not?” He sounded desperate. “As if I’d have her after you,” Christian scoffed and laughed derisively. “Is she too much for you, Doctor?” He took a step toward Kesim. “Don’t worry, your pretty face will heal and the women of the court won’t be upset for very long. I suspect their husbands will most definitely be relieved though.” Kesim opened his mouth to reply then snapped it shut. Christian had dropped his hand to the hilt of his sword. Eleana looked hard at Christian “Don’t you dare.” She then turned her attention back to Kesim, narrowing her eyes. “No one said you had any choice in this matter, Doctor. Lord Christian was wed to me this morning. He is now my consort and in any event, no longer desires Lady Adama.” She paused looking hard at him. “No, Kesim, you created this problem, you shall take care of it. I cannot marry her off to any of them. She’s obviously uncontrollable without the aid of sorcery. Do you have any idea how lucky you are? I’ve seen her kill.” “I’m sure you’ll both enjoy each other immensely,” Christian remarked nastily, daring him to say more. Kesim clenched his jaw but said nothing. He looked down at Adama and shook his head. “It will be as you wish, Majesty.” “Now then,” Eleana said, “wake her up and we’ll finish this. I want you on the road to Minalos tomorrow.” “Minalos, but why?” “You’re going far enough away from here that I don’t have to worry about you or her for some time. Maybe, after she is safely pregnant, you may send word to me and I shall consider allowing you back.” Softening at his stricken look, she said, “Kesim, I value you, but you had to know something like this would happen if you 145

Calthraca: Adamare toyed with Adama, and I did try to spare you last night. I shall miss you, but I need her away from my court. There are too many opportunities for her to cause problems.” “Can’t we just kill her and be done with it, Empress?” he asked hopefully. “I can’t kill her. She’s thrown herself at my feet, and I must honor that, simply because of our shared royal blood,” Eleana said. “Kesim, this will be for the best. I know it. Think of her as an amusing diversion.” He nodded sadly. “Now, wake her up. A bride should be awake on her wedding day.” “One moment, Empress,” Kesim knelt down beside Adama, pulled her upright into a sitting position, her hands still behind her, and whispered, “Bindare.” He didn’t want her to wake up swinging at him. When he was satisfied she was restrained, he passed a graceful hand over her face and said, “Expergi.” Adama’s eyes fluttered and she came awake, gasping and struggling. He held her shoulders as he crouched behind her. Eleana looked at her and said coldly, “You’re to be married Adama, congratulations. The good doctor has generously agreed to marry you. After the scene you just displayed in front of your other suitors, you ought to be very grateful someone has.” “No,” Adama whispered. She swept her terrified eyes up to Christian. He looked at her for a moment, knowing she was thinking of Tengri-Khan, and very deliberately looked away, severing his heart from her. Behind her, Kesim pulled her close. “Oh yes, my dear,” he said, stroking her cheek. “And you’re going to do exactly as you’re told, aren’t you? Although, perhaps you might enjoy being punished further.” 146

Calthraca: Adamare She shuddered and closed her eyes. She tried once more to scan his mind with no luck, and for a brief moment she had no trouble believing he really meant her harm and that everything he’d told her was a lie. He stood and she opened her eyes when he pulled her to her feet. She glared at him furiously as he took her sore arm and walked her to the dais. He chuckled and kept walking even though she attempted to kick him several times. “I’m glad to see there is still some life left in you, Adama,” Eleana commented. “You’d better hope he kills me quickly, Eleana,” she spat back furiously. “I knew you were in there somewhere!” Eleana retorted. “You don’t frighten me, Adama. I’ll assume you’re temporarily insane and ignore your implied threat.” She laughed, and then raised her hand to the guard near the door. “Bring in the priest.” The court holy man came in, looking as though he’d been awakened from a drunken stupor. Eleana ordered several of the courtiers who were lingering outside to return and act as witnesses as well and the priest proceeded through an expedited ceremony at Eleana’s request. “Will you take this man to be your husband?” he asked Adama, who stood stonily with her jaw clamped shut; refusing to answer. Kesim squeezed the back of her neck. “Yes. I. Will,” she said through clenched teeth. The holy man looked to Kesim. “Will you take this woman to be your wife?” he asked. “I will,” Kesim said stiffly. “Have you a ring?” Eleana spoke up. “Yes, here.” She handed Kesim a gaudy gold ring with a pearl in the center. Kesim took it and smiled his thanks. 147

Calthraca: Adamare Adama’s hands were still bound behind her and Kesim merely turned her about and slid the ring over her finger. That quickly, they were married. “You may kiss your bride,” the priest said. Kesim then grinned his wolfish grin and planted a slow, wet, lingering kiss upon Adama’s lips, simply for Christian’s benefit. She made a strangled yelp and tried to pull away. “That wasn’t so bad now, was it, my dear?” Kesim asked. She narrowed her eyes at him and spat. “One last thing, Adama,” Eleana said. “You must renounce your throne.” Adama shook her head. “I will not.” Christian, beyond angry after the kiss, strode across the step, took her by the arm and dragged her stumbling from the dais. She cried out as he hurt her wounded arm further. He was so large and so much stronger than she was, he didn’t need to use any force at all. “You will say the words before the holy man, and be gone from here, witch.” She twisted in his grasp and succeeded in hurting herself further. “No!” He forced her to her knees. “Say it, Adama. Do not make me kill you.” He had her throat in his hand and could feel her pulse fluttering under his fingers. One quick snap and it would be over. He tightened and she gasped, “Chris, please!” Her world grayed out and he loosened his grip slightly, and shook her. “Now!” he ordered, his voice a deadly whisper. A small, frightened moan escaped her. He wanted to kill her, and would not hesitate to do so, she realized. 148

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim stood back, clenching his hands together behind his back, resisting the urge to kill Christian. He could tell Adama was frightened. He worried this may have been a very bad idea and silently he prayed she’d say the words; they were so close to escape! If he interfered now, they would both be killed. Adama took a shaky breath and looked up at the holy man. “I renounce my throne and my rule of Lyros. I give rule and power to my sister Eleana. I do this of my own volition.” Tears rolled down her cheeks unchecked. The priest nodded and recorded her words in a large book. Kesim exhaled as Christian dragged her to her feet once more. “You’ve made me a traitor just like you, Christian. I hope you are happy,” she said quietly. He flung her away from himself with disgust. She hit the marble floor hard, unable to break her fall and struck her head and shoulder painfully; leaving her stunned and motionless at the feet of several courtiers who gasped and stepped back quickly. Christian turned stiffly and walked up the step. Kesim looked at him blandly as he passed. “Fetch your wife, Trasain.” Blinding madness blazed in Christian’s eyes and Kesim wondered if Adama knew how close to death she’d actually come today. Eleana read what the holy man had written and smiled. Without looking up she said, “Now, take Adama and return to Minalos. Give her a child to keep her busy. I shall miss you. Farewell to you, sister.” She looked up once again. “And Kesim?” He turned to look at her. “Do not kill her,” she said seriously. “Oh, I won’t,” he said, walking over to Adama and bending down. She had blood running from a small cut above her eyebrow and still looked dazed. 149

Calthraca: Adamare “I may just kill him,” Adama warned thickly. She pulled away from Kesim’s hands. “Don’t touch me!” she hissed between clenched teeth. Kesim grinned again. “Adama, I plan to touch you quite a lot.” He turned to look back at Eleana, and his eyes flashed merrily. “It is just possible I shall enjoy this very much after all. Thank you, Your Majesty.” Eleana laughed evilly. “Eleana, do not do this!” Adama said desperately as Kesim picked her up. He carried her over his shoulder as though she were a rug, or some other mere possession, and left the room with her pleas ringing throughout the great chamber. Kesim set her down on her feet outside of the doors. The guards were there to escort them back to her rooms. “Release me,” she said to him curtly. “Do you swear not to fight me?” “Yes.” “Resolvo.” Her hands were released. She swiped an arm across her face, trying to clear away both blood and tears. Taking her by the other arm, he led her forward to her chamber. She muttered a string of vile curses and called him every name she could think of the entire way. The guards were smiling behind them, almost feeling bad for Trasain. She had a viperous tongue. At her door, the guards bade them good afternoon, and left. Kesim and Adama entered the room and closed the door; he turned her to face him and searched her eyes. “Are you all right?” he asked urgently. “Did I hurt you?” Relief flooded through her so much that her knees nearly gave out. She had begun to fear he really was as evil as he was acting. 150

Calthraca: Adamare “No, you didn’t hurt me, Christian did.” Her voice caught. “I’m fine, but I do have a headache.” Hearing them enter, Sarah rushed from the bedroom. “My lady, you’re all right? Oh God!” she gasped, finally getting a clear view of Adama. Adama caught the hands Sarah was trying to touch her with and said, “Sarah, I shall be fine soon enough, please don’t worry.” “Who would dare to do such a thing to you?” She was appalled. Adama, embraced her friend. “Sarah, I’m fine really.” Kesim had stood back during all of this, smiling at Adama and at Sarah. He cleared his throat a little and both of the women turned to look at him. “Oh!” said Adama. “Kesim, I’m so sorry! Sarah, Kesim and I are wed,” she said. The little maid looked at her and then at Kesim. “My lord prince.” She curtsied low and solemnly. Kesim was startled; it hadn’t occurred to him that he’d be a prince if he married Adama. “Ahem, yes, well…let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re not safely out of here yet,” he replied uncomfortably. Adama laughed softly. “You didn’t realize what marrying me would entail, did you?” Kesim changed the subject quickly. “Ah, we have to get ready to leave in the morning. I shall go to my chambers and leave instructions for my servants to pack my things. Then I shall return, we will dine together, and I’ll spend the night here.” Sarah regarded him with surprise. “Isn’t that what normally happens on your wedding night, my lord?” He was again taken aback by her forthrightness. He wasn’t accustomed to servants addressing him so, and looked at her surprised. 151

Calthraca: Adamare “Well, yes of course…” He wondered whether Adama would want him to share her bed again tonight, and shifted uncomfortably. Smiling, Sarah shook her head and retreated to the other rooms once more. “Kesim, go and do what you must then return here. Is there anything special you’d prefer this evening?” Adama said. He didn’t say anything, just grinned at her. She didn’t understand at first, and then she picked up a mental image and blushed hotly. She swiped at him and he dodged back laughing a bit. “Anything will be fine,” he said. She nodded then he turned to leave. “Kesim?” She stopped him and he turned back. “Will you kiss me please?” He stepped forward and took her in his arms, bringing a hand up to gently touch the bump on her head. She looked up at him and they locked gazes. He bent his head and kissed her, a long, lingering kiss. The galvanizing bolt shot through them when they touched, leaving them weak, and she was glad he held her; she thought she might have fallen onto the floor. The kiss ended and he pulled his head back and rested his forehead against hers. Her mouth was slightly open, and her eyes were closed. “Adama,” he said softly. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. “I just needed to know.” “So did I,” he replied, his tender tone matching hers. “Go and do what you must,” she took a shaky breath, “then come back to me.” He nodded not trusting his own voice. He kissed her again softly and left. Sarah, who had been watching discreetly, stepped out and said, “My lady, I think he loves you.” 152

Calthraca: Adamare Adama was surprised by her maid’s observation. “Don’t be ridiculous, Sarah, we’ve only known each other for two days.” She laughed lightly. “Oh no. You’ve known each other your whole lives, you just didn’t know it.” Sarah walked by her and went to the kitchens for their supper, leaving Adama surprised once again. **** Kesim walked slowly down the corridor to his own chambers. He was thinking of the look in Adama’s eyes when he’d left her, and was therefore unprepared for the hands that seized him and dragged him into the alcove he’d been walking past. A strong blow to the stomach sent him to his knees, gasping for air. “I know you forced her, you bastard,” Christian Valore growled through bared teeth. Kesim couldn’t get any air to reply and held his hand up to ward off another blow. With pure brute strength, Christian grabbed him by the scruff of the collar and slammed him face first into the stone wall, then dragged Kesim back around to face him. “She’s never been anything but a cold fish in bed and you’re welcome to her.” He punched Kesim hard in the jaw. “But that is for taking what was mine.” Kesim slid to the floor, barely conscious. Christian used the fact Kesim was down to deal another blow and kicked him viciously in the ribs. “I could have killed you, Sorcerer. Consider it a little wedding gift that I did not.” Christian crouched beside him and pulled him up by the collar once again, bringing them face to face. “Stay the hell away from BasSalaam and do not try to see Eleana again because I will kill you both if I lay eyes on you again.” 153

Calthraca: Adamare He shoved Kesim back and walked down the hall, nursing his scraped knuckles as Kesim’s world went black. After a few moments, he came around with a start, a bolt of pain seared through his whole body making him groan hoarsely. He struggled to a sitting position then used the wall to gain his feet while clutching his arm around his chest where he’d been kicked. He staunched his bleeding nose with his coat sleeve. “Damn,” he groaned, positive Christian had broken it. “Fine sorcerer you are,” he muttered to himself. “Didn’t anticipate that, did you?” He then gingerly felt his ribs. Definitely cracked, possibly broken. He took a jagged breath inward and grimaced as he was only able to exhale in short breaths. “Definitely broken,” he amended. He was hurt and knew he needed to get back to his rooms to see how badly Christian had damaged him. Taking a shaky step out into the corridor, he walked directly into Sarah, collapsing onto his hands and knees as he lost his balance. Sarah stifled a scream holding her hands over her mouth. “Sarah,” he said weakly, struggling to stand. “Oh my God, Lord Kesim!” Sarah quickly bent to help him up. He stood doubled over clutching his midsection with his right arm, and she guided his left arm across her shoulders. “Help me to my room,” he groaned. His voice was harsh. “Lord Kesim, what has happened?” “I encountered a spurned lover.” He indicated a turn in the corridor and they shuffled past two doors before he pointed to the next one. She could see he didn’t have enough breath to speak anymore so she beat on the door with her little fist until it opened to reveal the servant 154

Calthraca: Adamare who’d brought Adama her gift earlier. His impassive expression changed to alarm when he realized the bleeding man was Kesim. Sarah’s legs began to tremble and she leaned hard against the doorframe pulling Kesim with her. “Sanji,” Kesim gasped. The other man got under Kesim’s arm where Sarah had been and lifted him easily to his feet once more. Together they managed to get to an ottoman where Kesim sat awkwardly and tried to catch a breath. Sarah closed the door behind them and waited in case she was needed. Sanji crossed to a long table and wordlessly poured an inch of amber liquid into a glass then brought it to Kesim, who accepted the glass gratefully. He swallowed it all at once and held it out to Sanji, who promptly brought him another. “My lord, will you be all right?” Sarah asked anxiously. He looked up at her. “Sarah, yes, thank you. I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t come along.” He paused and gulped air. “You mustn’t mention this to your mistress,” he said breathlessly. “I don’t want her to worry. It’s not as bad as it appears.” She nodded nervously. “I…I must go.” Kesim nodded and motioned to the door. Sanji rushed to open it. “Thank you, little one,” Sanji said quietly as she passed, and he shut the door behind her. Kesim sipped at the whiskey slowly this time. “Damn, this hurts,” he said ruefully. “That bastard is the strongest man I’ve ever met.” He struggled to his feet again knowing he must move. His broken nose was causing his eyes to swell shut. “Who did this to you, my lord?” Sanji asked. “Valore,” Kesim said bitterly. “I’ve married his woman, and he’s unhappy.” “Married? Sir?” 155

Calthraca: Adamare “I’ll explain it all later, Sanji. Right now would you help me to my bedroom?” The other man rushed to help him. “How bad is it, my lord?” he asked quietly as he walked with Kesim into his room. Kesim huffed out a slight laugh. “I think I might need a doctor.” Then he winced in pain again as he sat down on his bed. Sanji nodded. “Do you wish for me to help you disrobe?” “No, I’ve got to tend this first,” he said. Sanji nodded then turned to leave, closing the bedroom door quietly behind him. Kesim lay back painfully on the bed and concentrated. There was a spell to heal the body, but it took an enormous amount of power and focus. “Paean Medioceri,” he whispered. With his words, he felt a warm glow envelop him. His body was suffused with light and he gasped and gritted his teeth as the pain became more intense, then dissipated altogether. The Panacea spell healed the body quickly, but took a great toll on one’s energy. It left him exhausted and spent. Bloody and still fully clothed, he gladly surrendered to sleep. Sanji cracked the door a little later and saw him sleeping, still a mess, but no longer battered. Sanji had known Kesim long enough to know he’d be able to heal himself, but the condition Kesim had been in when he’d arrived had worried the servant considerably. He closed the door again and went to prepare his master’s bath, knowing Kesim had worked another of his medical miracles. **** After Sarah left, Adama tiredly leaned against the wall, exhausted physically and mentally. She pushed herself off and went to her bedchamber to relax. She smiled wearily at the small fire Sarah had built in the fireplace, then sat on a low divan close to its warmth. 156

Calthraca: Adamare She felt chilled, and supposed it was her nerves finally catching up with all that had happened today. She tried to relax, laying back on the divan and enjoying the flames as they snapped and jumped hypnotically. She couldn’t believe she was married. She sighed and turned over onto her side, closing her eyes and trying to settle herself. She wanted to nap a bit before Kesim returned. She thought about what Sarah had said, that Kesim loved her. She had scoffed at that but Sarah was so matter-of-fact about it, so sure, she wondered if her feelings for him were as obvious. Was it possible? Could he really love someone who was so weak she’d lost her own country? A woman who’d allowed him the freedom of her body so easily? Was it love or just lust? Why don’t you just admit you already love him too? said the little voice in her head. “I do…but you can’t love someone you’ve only known for two days. Can you?” You’ve dreamed of him all of your life, you do know him. Consider—it took barely any time to fall in love with Tengri, and you knew what he was, the voice reminded. “You’re right.” She let her mind travel to last night, and felt her body grow warm at the thought. The way he’d mastered her completely and it had felt so good…so right! With something close to shock, another idea occurred to her. She hadn’t thought about Hecate, or the time she’d spent imprisoned at all since she’d met Kesim. For some reason, he took all the bad things away and left only the good. Briefly she wondered if it were some spell he’d placed upon her to help her forget, then dismissed the idea. No, it was simply that she had finally found him and she knew through his words and his deeds that he would never let anything hurt her again. She smiled and settled herself more comfortably, closing her eyes. 157

Calthraca: Adamare Now that she’d conjured Hecate however, the specter of her imprisonment was reluctant to leave. The mercenary was responsible for her no longer having any magic, and she felt that loss profoundly, especially when she was with Kesim. Her brow furrowed with the thoughts that ran freely there. When she was younger, Adama would have simply taken her revenge quickly and killed Hecate as she slept. Now, the thought was repellant. She wanted Hecate to pay, but she knew if the mercenary were to get true justice she must bide her time and wait for it to come. She could not be its harbinger. With great effort, she pushed Hecate and her time in hell away from her, and turned her mind to Oma, and how happy she’d be to finally see her daughter after all these months. **** Sarah returned with supper a few hours later and found Adama asleep on the divan. She decided not to wake Adama, simply covering her bare legs with a throw and retreating to the sitting room to set up their wedding supper. Kesim knocked upon her door once and opened it before Sarah had a chance to answer it. He saw Sarah setting their dinner table and he looked questioningly at her. “Where is Adama?” “She is asleep in your bedchamber, my lord,” she answered him. She stared in stupefaction at Kesim’s appearance. Gone was the bloody, beaten man she’d found in the hallway. In his place was a slightly paler and swollen, but otherwise healthy prince! Kesim smiled at her reaction. “I told you it looked worse than it was.” He proceeded quietly to Adama’s bedchamber and found her asleep on the divan. Kesim closed the door and crossed to where she lay. He could see the ugly bruises on her body and they made his heart ache. He knew it took tremendous strength to inflict 158

Calthraca: Adamare those sorts of wounds on oneself, even with the aid of magic. The one on her face troubled him the most. He kneeled down beside her and placed his hands slightly over her body, but did not touch her. He then closed his eyes and concentrated. “Paean Medioceri,” he whispered. It took a lot from him, and having to use it on himself already today had weakened him considerably, but a twinge of guilt snuck through him seeing her this way. He should have helped her heal the bruises earlier, but he’d been so eager to get to his rooms and then back to her that he had failed to think of her needs. He cursed himself for not helping her sooner. He felt the heat radiating from his hands spreading across her, enveloping her body in its warm glow. Adama whimpered in pain, then breathed deeply as though a weight had been lifted from her, and her bruises slowly began to fade. He sat beside her for a few moments, regaining his strength, then brushed a lock of hair from her face, and looked at her. It had been a long time since he’d felt so good, and part of him questioned if he wasn’t falling in love too quickly. It was true that he’d dreamed of her, he knew her better than he’d ever known any other woman, but his cautious nature warned him to slow down and use care. Several months ago Kesim had been sent a file which contained all of the pertinent information about her; but it hadn’t contained anything but hard facts, and showed him nothing of what she was really like. He’d read all about her life, her military service, her career as an ambassador, and her relationship with Christian Valore in the dossier. When he read it through, he had felt strangely connected to her but he couldn’t completely understand why. She was portrayed as a spoiled daughter but interestingly a remarkably good commander in the documents. There was a two and a half 159

Calthraca: Adamare year gap, from just before her eighteenth birthday until just after to her twentieth that was unaccounted for, and the Minalosians assumed she’d been studying, but no one knew for sure. There’d been no sightings of her at all. He wondered how his superiors would react when they found out he had ended up married to his subject and the thought made him laugh ruefully. There were regulations governing such things, and he knew he would have charges to answer. They could go hang as far as he was concerned. He married her not just to save her, but because he felt he was meant to. Kesim laughed quietly to himself. It was no matter, he wasn’t about to explain himself to a group of politicians. He got up and walked to the window and pulled the curtain aside, looking down at the courtyard again. He closed his eyes and let himself enjoy the wave of euphoria as it rolled through him. He knew it came partially from the healing spell, but also simply being near Adama made him feel incredibly good. Just a look or a touch from her sent sparks flying through him, and he felt as though his grin was permanently locked in place. Additionally he was glad to be leaving BasSalaam. It had been more than a year since he’d seen his family, and he was eager to introduce her to them. He paused. He had to stop thinking like this and get them out of here safely. Once he had her in Minalos, he could relax and devote himself entirely to her. Earlier when he had awakened from healing himself, he’d gotten things started by explaining what had transpired to Sanji and had sent him ahead to notify his superiors and his family of their arrival. He also sent word instructing a troop of Minalosian soldiers to meet him at the border; they were to be told they must not dress in military garb, but in civilian clothing, ensuring the safety of Adama and the traveling party. The trip to Minalos 160

Calthraca: Adamare would take a little over three weeks if they did not encounter any problems. Kesim had very few possessions here, and cared little about what happened to them. His clothing and jewelry would be packed and shipped to Minalos later, but the things he’d felt too valuable to be left had already gone ahead in a small chest with Sanji. Tonight he’d brought a sack with him that contained a few changes of clothing and other items he thought important, along with his medical bag. Right now the only thing of importance was Adama, still sleeping peacefully behind him. He turned, half expecting to see her wide awake and watching him, she was that intuitive, but she was still breathing slowly and evenly, sound asleep. He crossed back to her and kneeled down beside her once again. Leaning forward, he kissed her softly on the lips, enjoying the quick zing he got from her. Adama opened her eyes slowly and smiled at him. “What a nice way to wake up.” “How do you feel?” “I feel…good. Actually, very good.” She chuckled. “I must have been very tired.” He smiled and stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers, simply enjoying the softness of her skin and sight of her lying upon the divan and looking so beautifully sleepy. Her eyes had closed and she made a soft moan as he touched her face so gently. Part of him wanted to hold her close to his chest and cherish her, the rest wanted to drag her to the floor and take her hard and fast. “You changed your clothes?” 161

Calthraca: Adamare “Yes, I got something on the others.” He cleared his throat then helped her to sit up and changed the subject. “I brought you a gift.” Reaching down, he picked up a small box and placed it into her hands. She opened it to reveal a pair of golden bangles. “Thank you, Kesim, they’re beautiful.” She smiled admiring them. He took them from the box and put them on her wrists. “They are just bits of metal compared to your beauty.” He slid his hands down to hold hers and gazed into her eyes. “Adama, Eleana and Valore have left court for Pasil. They won’t return for a few weeks. They were wed this morning,” he added softly. She closed her eyes and swallowed, surprised by the sudden tears that sprang forth. She nodded and silently wished Christian, once her best friend, luck. When she opened her overbright eyes and looked at Kesim, she saw nothing but concern upon his face. He helped her off the divan, holding her close to him, letting her rest her head upon his chest. “I hope he is happy,” she whispered. Kesim chose not to comment upon her remark. “I think we should go and enjoy some of the wonderful supper Sarah has prepared for us.” Hand in hand, they came out to a candlelit room. The table had been filled with covered dishes and laid out with expensive china, crystal and silver. Sarah had used a beautiful white linen tablecloth and had strewn pink and white rose petals all around the place settings. Adama was touched by Sarah’s thoughtfulness. She had no idea her maid was such a romantic. Walking past a large mirror, Adama caught sight of her face and stopped. She ran a hand over her cheek. “How—” she started, then asked, “You fixed all of the bruises? But what happens when we leave?” He stepped behind her and put his hands on her arms. “It hurt me to see such ugly bruises on your lovely body. No one 162

Calthraca: Adamare who matters will see us leave. We’re safe enough, but we’ll cloak you to be sure.” Kesim smiled and pulled her chair out for her. Sitting down, she looked at all of the food and her stomach growled loudly, making her laugh. After he’d gotten settled, she asked, “Would you like me to serve?” “Only if you don’t let Sarah see you doing it,” he laughed. She lifted one of the covers revealing rare roast beef and broiled vegetables and served some to both of them then recovered the dish and moved on to another one. Rice, fish, chicken and more vegetables were found in various delicious recipes. They tried a little of each one. While Adama served them, Kesim poured them both some wine. He’d sent four bottles, two red and two white, from his own personal cellar to Sarah earlier, preferring it over the weaker, fruitier wines of BasSalaam. Adama had never had Minalosian wine, but found it wonderful. He cautioned her to be careful, as it was much more potent than average wines. She smiled and nodded, knowing she could hold her own. As they ate, they talked. They talked about their lives and their childhoods, their educations and their military service. They both thought it strange and wonderful how similar their lives had been. She was fascinated by his stories about growing up the child of a sorcerer. He was enchanted hearing about her wild childhood and her years with Miranda. Cautiously, she avoided the topic of her first marriage. For some reason, she was hesitant to share that part of her life with him, at least for now. “I just realized I have no idea what day this is,” Adama said suddenly. “It is Onsdag, the twenty-second day of Elemb.” She tried to recall her Minalosian. “That would be Wednesday, the twenty-second of November?” 163

Calthraca: Adamare “No, December,” he corrected. It was the first time she really thought about how long she’d been gone, and it must have shown on her face. “Are you all right?” he asked. “I was taken in August, um…Anagantios, just after my birthday.” “You’re safe now, Adama.” He brushed his lips over hers gently, then leaned back in his chair, smiling slightly. She picked up her glass and took a sip of the wine, trying to calm herself. To change the subject, she asked him to explain to her about his reputation with the women of the court. He cringed inwardly, and then sighed resignedly. “It’s not as bad as you may have heard,” he said. “When I arrived here, Eleana wished for me to become her lover. Not from any sort of emotion, but simply because she likes to try all the men of the court herself.” Adama was uncomfortable thinking about him with Eleana. He saw her discomfort and hurried on. “We were never together. Eleana fears me. You see, she’s unable to trust, and she has an evil heart. She feared I would control her totally, and she’d lose her power.” His eyes were dark as he spoke of Eleana. She lifted her wineglass to her mouth hiding her tiny smile—pleased that he had not slept with her sister. Adama could feel his discomfort as he explained, and guessed he was worried about what she thought. “Soon after I arrived, I was being called upon by women of the court on a daily basis. Married or single, it didn’t matter. All of them with a variety of ailments. I had no desire to bed any of them, but I knew it would be an excellent cover, and also a good way to extract information. Therefore, I would welcome them in, make a cursory examination, let them attempt their seductions, and put them into an enchanted sleep. Once they 164

Calthraca: Adamare were under, I’d plant suggestions and thoughts with them, and extract whatever information they might have. Then I’d remove one or two strategic pieces of clothing,” he grinned, “place the women upon my bed, and awaken them. They left feeling satisfied, and I had what I needed without putting myself at risk in any way, except for the occasional jealous husband. Unfortunately, I came away with a reputation as a womanizer, but it served me well, and no one ever suspected I wasn’t exactly what I’d portrayed myself to be.” He picked up his glass and drained it, then poured both of them more. He covered her hand with his, stroking her with his thumb. “Sometimes my work requires me to appear as something I’m not.” She nodded with a sigh of relief, a bit amused to find herself jealous at the thought of Kesim with anyone but her. “You’re jealous?” His grin was infectious. Lying was pointless since he saw her thoughts clearly and she smiled, blushing, then wordlessly took a sip of the delicious wine and looked at him. He was watching her as well. He leaned forward and touched her lips with his, tracing her bottom lip with his tongue, promising so much more. Adama sat forward and raised her hand to his face, stroking him gently along his cheek, loving the feel of his warm skin. Unable to resist, he growled slightly and took her mouth in a long searing kiss that left her weak, her eyes sliding shut in pure bliss. When he broke the kiss, he ran his thumb along her lip and she opened her mouth, taking it into her warm mouth, sucking it briefly before looking up at him. He took a steadying breath and stood, then offered her his hand, pulling her to her feet and leading her to the bedchamber. Candles lit small intimate areas around the room and the bed had been hung with sheer drapes as well as red rose petals scattered about the room this time. 165

Calthraca: Adamare “Let’s talk some more,” she said suddenly. He was still holding her hand and without saying a word, he pulled her into his embrace. Kesim held her in the circle of his arms, looking down upon her as she tilted her chin up. She was so delicately luscious he could hardly wait to have her. His strength was considerable, but he was always in control. He made her feel so small in his arms. “You have been the only thing on my mind all day,” he said. “I want to make love to you now, Adama.” “Kesim…” she started. He put his fingers on her lips. She searched his eyes, knowing but not caring that she could be lost and drowned in their silvery green depths. Thoughts of revenge and justice were set aside. She wanted him; he was hers and no one was going to try and ruin her life again, not as long as they had each other. He dipped his head to her throat and bit and nipped at her, kissing his way up to her mouth. “You are so beautiful,” he said. “I know it had to be fate that brought us together, Adama. My God, you enchant me.” She wondered just who exactly was enchanting whom. He had a way of making her feel totally helpless, but strangely she didn’t mind. She felt infinitely protected and cherished, a feeling totally foreign to her, and she welcomed it. As a girl, she thought she loved Christian, but their inexperience had prevented them from knowing what real love was. He had never made her feel this way. She thought she had loved Tengri-Khan as well, but Tengri’s love was brutal and allconsuming. It altered her, and she had nearly lost herself in the process, but ultimately, he’d never made her feel that she was anything more than a possession. Neither had ever satisfied her as Kesim could. 166

Calthraca: Adamare He turned her away from him and slowly undid the buttons along the length of her back, pressing soft kisses down her spine, making her shudder heatedly. He let her sari slide down to the floor, and she stepped away from it. He took his time kissing her and working her blouse off, then her camisole. Finally she was totally naked except for her golden bangle bracelets which gleamed mellowly in the candlelight. She closed her eyes and scanned his thoughts, and saw nothing except visions of her. One word circled softly within his mind—beautiful. Kesim felt her in his mind and smiled, then took both of her hands and kissed them. “I would love to see you dressed this way always.” He sank to his knees before her and kissed her navel. “Perhaps a sapphire here.” She felt his hot breath as he kissed her hip and her flat belly. “And a golden chain here.” He moved up slightly and kissed her breasts, circling her puckered nipples with his tongue before whispering, “And ropes of pearls here.” She sighed at his touch. His deep voice rumbled against her skin sending thrills through her, and she knew she couldn’t wait any longer, she needed him with an intensity she didn’t think possible. “Kesim, love me,” she pleaded. He pulled her down to join him on the thick carpet in front of the fire. He loved the way her body looked in the firelight. Kesim lay atop her, fully clothed, and took her mouth roughly with his. He wanted to dominate her, to bind her and make her scream in passion, but he held those urges firmly in check. There would be time for that. He had no doubts she was his, and once they were safely away, he would have the opportunity to explore every delicious inch of her at his leisure.

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Calthraca: Adamare He worked his hand between them and gently slid his finger into her, catching her surprised gasp with a kiss. “I love how wet you are for me,” he growled into her ear. He caressed her until she was whimpering and writhing beneath him. Then, still stroking, he sat back and took her hand, replacing his with her own. “Pleasure yourself while I watch you.” She slowly stroked her now rigid clit, feeling warm and comfortable and very desirable. She ran one hand up her side to her own breasts and began to knead them until her nipples were erect and painfully hard. She sighed deeply, switching hands to bring her moist fingers to her mouth and seductively lick them while he watched. Kesim stared at her with a look of pure desire upon his face. He undid his sash and absently began working the buttons on the inside of his jacket. He was preoccupied watching her bring herself to a small climax, and at the same time painfully aware of the lack of space in his breeches. He recalled what Valore had said to him about her. He’d called her a cold fish. This woman was no cold fish. She was adventurous and intoxicating and he knew Valore had simply never possessed the key to unlock her treasures. When she licked her fingers, her eyes half-shut enjoying her passion, he licked his own lips in reply and had to hold himself back to keep from simply leaping upon her. Adama saw the urge to take her quickly and roughly pass across his face like storm clouds across the summer sky, and she moaned softly at the thought, wondering what it would be like if he dominated her the way he wanted to. He’d removed his coat and dragged his linen shirt off over his head ignoring those buttons altogether. He pulled off his belt and laid it on the ottoman beside them, then took his boots, stockings, and pants off, finally standing naked before her. 168

Calthraca: Adamare He was magnificent. Tall, lean and strong, his shoulders were powerful and nicely defined leading to his chest which was broad but not overly muscular. The hair on his chest tapered to a V then resumed below his flat abdomen. His enormous cock jutted upright from his body, his arousal clear. Once again she got the image of a large jungle cat, a panther, as he came toward her, sinking to his knees and moving between her legs, nuzzling upward until she opened herself to him with an eager moan. He plundered her sex with his mouth, lapping along her outer lips and nibbling delicately at her clit, scoring her lightly with his teeth and making her groan, at last driving his tongue deeply within her. She nearly shrieked with pleasure as her juices flowed and she spasmed. He came up beside her and a low groan of desire came from him as he took her mouth with his own. Her whole body was instantly covered in gooseflesh, which he soothed with his warm hands. He positioned himself over her body, gently nudging her thighs apart with his knee. “Give yourself to me.” She opened to him eagerly. He was hard and drove roughly within her waiting flesh, loving the sharp gasp she made as he entered her. Kesim couldn’t have been gentle then no matter how hard he tried, but he made a Herculean effort to go slowly. He took his time, balancing his weight upon his elbows and forearms, kissing her and stroking her body, savoring her reactions. Beneath him, Adama’s eyes were closed and her body relaxed into his rhythm, her face the very picture of arousal. She moved along with him, drawing her leg up over his hip, until her heel rested upon the base of his spine. One of her hands slowly caressed his broad back, as the other tangled itself in his hair, gently massaging his neck and head.

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Calthraca: Adamare His relentless thrusts brought her to the edge of orgasm, and he felt her muscles tighten and flutter slightly then relax. He stopped until she moaned. “Don’t stop, please…” Her voice was husky with passion. He grinned and pulled her up to a sitting position on his lap while he remained deep within her. He held her tightly to him, kissing her mouth and rubbing her rigid clit with his thumb. Adama brought her hands up and ran them through his hair and over his muscular back again, this time scratching him lightly, then pulling on his shoulders and encircling his neck as though trying to draw him farther into herself. “God, you are so perfect,” he breathed. He lifted her slightly and laid her back on the divan to thrust into her further. She brought her thighs about his waist and squeezed him hard with her muscles. “Adama, I cannot wait,” he said in a tight voice. “Ahhh, I know,” she breathed. Kesim began to drive into her body with hard deep thrusts. He forced her to a shuddering climax and she cried out his name. With a cry of his own, he spent himself within her. They lay that way for a moment each trying to regain their breath and finally he spoke. “You make me weak.” He rolled off, so as not to crush her. He sat upon the edge of the divan, then left her and returned a few moments later carrying a warm, wet cloth. She gazed at him with large tears sliding slowly down her cheeks. He washed her tenderly then lay beside her, drawing her into himself so her back was against his chest. Wordlessly he dropped a soft kiss upon her head, then lay back with a contented sigh.

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Chapter 6 Sarah quietly awakened them before dawn. Adama was sore and exhausted once again as she and Kesim had made love twice more the night before, moving from the divan to the bed. She was tired but at peace and for the first time in a long time, happy. With Sarah’s help, she pinned her hair up on top of her head and climbed into a hot bath to cleanse herself and to relieve some of the soreness in her muscles. She knew it would be days before she had the chance to take a decent bath again. She had just begun to wash when she heard Kesim’s low voice speaking to Sarah outside the door. He opened the door and entered dressed in a large blue robe, and a grin. Adama raised an eyebrow. “May I join you?” he asked her with mock politeness. “I don’t think so. After all, this will be the only bath I get for some time.” She shook her head and took up the sponge once more. “Is that so?” He dropped the robe leaving himself completely naked and capturing her eyes in a hot gaze that set off a blaze of lust between her legs. His body was so fine it made her breathless. She let her eyes slide over him and smiled a little. He looked so good standing there, and it would be days before he had a hot bath again too… He began to walk toward her. “I’ll be ever so good, if you’ll just share your bath with me.” 171

Calthraca: Adamare “You promise?” He held his hand up as though swearing an oath. “Upon my honor.” “All right,” she relented. He stepped up into the tub with her and sat behind her, splaying his legs around her then immediately pulled her to his chest. He playfully nibbled her neck, tickling her with his morning stubble. “Trying to keep me away, were you?” he growled in her ear. He brought his hands up from her waist to her chest and fondled her breasts. “Kesim!” she giggled. He laughed. “I can’t help myself, you are irresistible.” “You were supposed to be on your best behavior,” she scolded him. “I am always at my best.” He bit her softly upon the earlobe and nuzzled her neck again and when she was sufficiently aroused and breathless, he abruptly stopped and handed her a sponge. “I’m so sorry. I forgot. I swore to behave, didn’t I?” She glared at him teasingly. “You are a beast!” She burst out laughing. She felt his low rumble of laughter and a soft kiss between her shoulder blades that made her shudder heatedly. Sighing, Adama took up a small bar of soap, lathered up the sponge and began to wash herself. “I will wash you completely, provided you will return the favor,” he whispered. She relented, turned and washed his broad back and his gorgeous hair for him, then soaped his hairy chest and rinsed him clean. When she finished, she leaned forward and kissed him softly, then pushed the sponge into his hands. “Now, it’s my turn.” She smiled. 172

Calthraca: Adamare When he finished, she sat with her back against his chest, enjoying the hot water and the comfort of his big body while he slowly dragged his fingers up and down her arm. She sighed reluctantly when he stopped. “We should get out before we become pruney.” When Kesim didn’t reply, she looked over her shoulder at him. He was looking toward the door, scowling slightly as though listening to something. “Hecate is coming to your door. She wishes to see you before she leaves,” he said quietly. “She doesn’t know we are wed.” He closed his eyes and tilted his head, concentrating more fully to hear Hecate’s thoughts. “She’s very enamored of you, Adama.” He knew seeing him there with Adama would anger the mercenary. He’d met Hecate a number of times before and disliked her enormously, even more now knowing what she’d put Adama through. “What should we do?” Shaking his head as if to clear it, he sprayed her lightly with drops of water, trying to lighten the mood. When he saw it wasn’t working, he sobered. “Lie back against me.” There was a loud commotion in the sitting room, and Kesim could feel the fear radiating from Adama in waves. “Are you all right?” “Yes,” she breathed. “Lie back then, you’re supposed to be enslaved, remember?” He grinned at her, showing a dazzling array of white teeth. She nodded and dropped her head back onto his shoulder, opening her mouth slightly and watched through half-lidded eyes.

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Calthraca: Adamare He bent his head to her neck and nuzzled her throat lightly. “Do not fear,” he whispered, holding her body close to his. “No one will harm you again.” The door of the bath flew open and hit the wall with a loud bang. “I don’t know what you’ve done with her, but your new maid’s very defensive of you, Adama. She—” Hecate came to a halt and stared at them in the tub. Kesim jerked his head up as though surprised. His eyes flashed angrily at her, making her take a step back. “You have business here?” he growled. Hecate recognized him as Eleana’s physician, the Minalosian. What was he doing here with Adama? Looking beyond him at Adama, she was shocked to see she looked drugged, perhaps unconscious. Hot, jealous anger boiled up inside her. “What have you done to her?” she demanded. Kesim narrowed his eyes at Hecate then turned his head and examined Adama casually. “Ah, well, sometimes I do get a bit rough. Now if you don’t mind, I was enjoying a bath with my wife. Wasn’t I, my dear?” he asked Adama, nudging her slightly with his shoulder. Adama raised her head slightly and rested unfocused eyes on Hecate. She moved to grab the side of the tub, as though attempting escape, but Kesim clamped an arm like a steel bar around her, forcing out a little breathless gasp. Adama surrendered again with a quiet whimper. “Your wife?” Hecate said skeptically. “She is drugged.” How conveniently she forgets her own methods, Adama thought bitterly. Kesim stroked her belly slightly beneath the water in an effort to reassure her. “Oh no, nothing so crude,” Kesim replied to Hecate. “Adama is quite easily manipulated through the use of 174

Calthraca: Adamare suggestion.” He roughly grabbed Adama’s chin to turn her head and looked into her eyes but spoke to Hecate. “I rather think she enjoys it.” He harshly caressed her nipple with his thumb then turned his head back and looked at Hecate hotly. “Now then, what can I do for you?” Hecate was completely shocked seeing him so intimate with Adama, and then for him to look at her in such a way… She’d heard stories about him, that he was a rake and a womanizer, but she hadn’t known the extent of his womanizing until now. She was nearly at a loss for words and her mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. Quickly she changed the subject. “She was intended for a nobleman, not a mere doctor. I don’t believe you are wed.” She was angry and hurt that Eleana would give Adama to this foreigner. She would have taken Adama herself, had she known the empress had planned to toss her so carelessly away to this filthy Minalosian. Hecate tried not to squirm as the doctor’s eyes seemed to stare her down and she fought the urge to run. Those ominous sorcerer’s eyes of his had frightened her beyond anything she’d ever seen the first time she had seen him in Eleana’s court. He had made her feel like he could see all she had done, all she planned to do. She knew he could see right through her. And those damned eyes were now causing the same feelings all over again. Hecate suppressed a shiver. “Oh yes, we’re wed,” Kesim said, holding Adama’s left hand up for Hecate’s inspection. “We were married yesterday in Eleana’s receiving chamber, by her own holy man. Ask her yourself, if you doubt me.” He turned his attention back to Adama for a moment. “We’ve been enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company since that time.” He looked back at Hecate, once again leering. “I’m sure I could find some time to get better 175

Calthraca: Adamare acquainted with you though, if you’d like. I know my dear wife wouldn’t mind.” He started to rise out of the tub. Hecate jumped back holding up her hands. “No!” she said quickly. “I merely wanted to see Adama before I left BasSalaam. I didn’t realize she’d been wed. My apologies.” She backed out of the room slowly, closing the door behind her. As she turned to leave Adama’s bedchamber, she gasped, nearly shrieking at the sight of the doctor standing before her in the bedroom, entirely naked. “How… You were… I was…” she stammered in fear. “Are you sure, Hecate?” he said softly. “I know many ways to pleasure women.” The mercenary gasped in terror as his hand reached toward her. “No!” she screamed and bolted past him, out the bedroom door and through the sitting room. He heard the main chamber door slam shut a second later. When Hecate left the bath, Adama sat up quickly and turned to Kesim. She looked at him. He had his eyes shut and his left hand was clenched in a tight fist. “Kesim?” She was worried because she couldn’t read any thoughts coming from him, and when she touched him he seemed— empty. He was warm, but it felt like no one inhabited his body. She heard Hecate scream “No!” then heard running and the slamming of a door. Adama spoke his name once more, this time more urgently and after a moment Kesim blinked several times, relaxed and took a deep breath, letting it out shakily. “What just happened?” Adama asked him quietly. “God, that always takes so much out of me,” he said. “Let’s dry off and I’ll tell you everything.” She stood and carefully climbed out of the tub, reaching for one of the soft towels Sarah had left. She wrapped herself in one then handed the other to Kesim as he stepped out. 176

Calthraca: Adamare He took it with a thank you and briskly dried his hair, patted the water from the rest of his body and wrapped the towel around his hips. He looked at her for a second then walked over to her, cupped her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly. When the kiss ended, she stepped back. “Kesim, tell me what happened.” She couldn’t help but worry about him. He picked up her robe from the peg where it hung and helped her into it, then put on his own. Kesim took a deep breath, put his hands on Adama’s arms and closed his eyes. His hands tightened, squeezing her painfully. “Adama,” he said, but his mouth didn’t move. His voice had come from behind her. She turned her head sharply to the right and Kesim stepped into her view, even though he was standing before her holding her arms tightly enough to leave a mark. “Oh! Enigmana!” Adama whispered the name of the powerful spell. The other Kesim flickered and disappeared. She looked at the Kesim holding her, and he suddenly blinked and took a shuddery breath. “That is what happened,” he explained. “You can send your image from yourself?” Her eyes were wide with amazement. She’d of course heard of the spell, but never seen it practiced before. “Yes, but not for long.” “That is a particularly difficult spell. You must have scared Hecate to death.” She grinned, delighted. “I believe I did, judging from the speed of her retreat.” He smiled. Kesim led her into the sitting room where Sarah had laid out breakfast for them. As they entered, they heard soft sniffles coming from the terrace. 177

Calthraca: Adamare “Sarah?” Kesim said. “Where are you?” Adama asked. “Here, my lady,” Sarah answered and came out from behind the terrace door. There was blood on her face and one of her eyes was swollen shut. Hecate’s work. “Oh, dear lord!” Adama exclaimed. “What happened?” Sarah came trembling to Adama’s embrace. “Hecate came to your door and demanded to see you.” She wiped at the tears which ran freely down her cheeks. “I told her you were in the bath and could not be disturbed. She pushed me out of the way, and when I tried to block her from entering, she struck me in the face. I’m sorry, my lady.” She began to cry harder and Adama held her closely. “I will take care of her.” Kesim placed a hand on Sarah’s head and quietly said, “Adlevo.” Sarah closed her eyes and Kesim caught her as her knees unlocked and lowered her to the floor. He was a bit surprised at her loss of consciousness, although he’d seen the same reaction to his magic before. He checked her pulse, then lifted Sarah and moved her to their bed. Finally he joined Adama at their breakfast. “I wish I could kill her,” Adama seethed. “It would be a service to humanity.” “Thoughts like that will not help us get out of here more quickly, Adama. Put it behind you for now,” Kesim counseled. “It’s not easy to put behind me, Kesim. That woman destroyed my life.” Adama was irritated with his calm rationality. “Have you considered the consequences to such an action? What would happen to you if you were caught? Or to Sarah, or me?” Adama didn’t reply but kept a look of steely resolve upon her face. 178

Calthraca: Adamare “If you do this, you risk all of our lives, and I could not bear to lose you.” He stroked her cheek gently then picked up his cup, stood and left her sitting alone. She watched him, then got her own coffee and sat back at the table alone, not wanting to talk to him at the moment. She wasn’t accustomed to being questioned about her actions by anyone, and she resented it. Unfortunately, he was right and that annoyed her. Meanwhile he stood outside, holding a cup of coffee rapidly cooling, trying to resolve his anger with her. He understood her desire to exact revenge, but reasoning with emotion was always the wrong reason to launch an attack. True, she had been badly abused by Hecate. He didn’t know positively if she’d raped Adama, but he felt reasonably sure she had. Adama had blocked her mind when he tried to look into the subject of her captivity. He was also angry with himself for not reassuring her that he would help her find justice when the time was right. He took his now cold coffee and poured it over the railing into the bushes, took a deep breath, and returned to the sitting room where she waited for him. “Adama.” “Kesim.” They spoke at the same time. “Please, you go first,” he said. “Kesim, I’m sorry. I should have known I could trust you to help me gain my revenge on Hecate. You will have to forgive me; I’m not accustomed to being questioned, even when it’s in my best interests. I apologize.” She looked at him with a solemn expression. This was difficult for her. “I’m sorry also.” He sighed. “I should have understood how strongly you felt about avenging yourself. I swear to you we shall exact that revenge together. I promise.” She gave him a tentative smile and he smiled back. 179

Calthraca: Adamare “Right now,” he continued, “I want to get out of here as soon as possible.” **** It was barely an hour later when Sarah came around. She was deeply embarrassed to find herself on their bed and jumped up despite Adama’s protests to help her dress for their journey. Sarah laid out a dark green jerkin with a high-necked shirt underneath, black leggings and the usual heavy leather belts and once Adama was dressed, Sarah helped her with her boots. Sarah then brushed Adama’s hair out and braided it for her, lastly going to the closet for the heavy hooded cloak Adama had arrived in. Kesim had dressed for travel as well, forgoing the long coats he favored and opting for a short leather doublet, jacket and riding pants. Adama took a long admiring look at him until he smiled smugly, lifting his eyebrows. She laughed a little and shook her head at him. Clearing his throat, he reached into the valise he’d brought with him and pulled out a hastily wrapped package, tied with a silver ribbon. Wordlessly he handed it to Adama. She accepted the package with a quizzical look, pulled the ribbon and laid back the cloth, revealing a set of three knives. Two were approximately ten inches long, double-edged and perfectly balanced. They were black with black leather binding the handles, and sheaths of the same material. The smallest one was about seven inches and also double-edged with a boot sheath. All three of them were wickedly sharp, and exquisitely deadly. Adama looked at him in wonder. “Thank you, Kesim. They are beautiful.” 180

Calthraca: Adamare “I knew you preferred knives, and I didn’t wish to see you unarmed.” She looked at him for a moment longer, and then nodded. After she removed her belts, she placed the knives at her hips. Then she refastened the belts and slid the boot sheath into place. She breathed in the comfort and protection the presence of the knives gave her, and wiped away a single tear from her cheek at Kesim’s understanding. Kesim stepped beside her and turning her face to his with a gloved hand, he kissed her lovingly. She believed he would help her gain justice against Hecate. It might not be swift, and it definitely would not be merciful, but it would come nonetheless. **** Just before nine o’clock, they left Eleana’s court of Rania to travel to Adjiban. The trip would take a few weeks depending on how much ground they could cover and the weather. There was a considerable amount of travel through a mountainous region, and the weather could be questionable this time of the year. Kesim led a heavily cloaked Adama to a young, delicatelooking mare and helped her mount. Kesim then climbed onto a large black stallion. Both of the animals were his personal property and used to him, but Adama noticed the other horses became skittish when he drew near them. She wasn’t sure if it was because of his unique energy, or if the creatures saw him as a predator, the way he sometimes appeared to her. They left as soon as their escort was ready, Kesim and Adama on horseback, Sarah ensconced in the coach with the baggage. They rode side by side in silence for some time and Adama enjoyed the exercise of riding after being inactive for so long. As they made their way along the rutted roads, she looked up from time to time, examining the craggy mountains she could 181

Calthraca: Adamare see in the distance. They were white-capped and shrouded in clouds and fog. Their climb wasn’t terribly steep yet, but she could definitely feel the terrain angling upward. Soon they would be in the mountains of Sakendahl and away from BasSalaam. “When we reach Minalos, I plan to do the most decadent things to your beautiful body.” The soft purr of his voice sliced through her thoughts and she sat upright. “Decadent? Sounds intriguing, tell me more.” She couldn’t help but smile slightly, then lowered her head letting the deep hood of her cloak cover her face entirely. “I picture you upon your knees, with my cock firmly within your pretty mouth, your succulent lips stretched around it.” Adama squirmed as the first sparks of desire began to leap through her. “Can you imagine my hot tongue traveling up your length, then circling as I reach the head?” His low chuckle galvanized her like a bolt of lightening. “I can almost feel it now.” “And what will you do after that?” The motion of the horse under her rocked her hips slowly back and forth and she squirmed in her saddle, more and more aroused by the second. “Then I will lay you upon my bed and spread those strong thighs. God, I can picture you now, lying back with that gorgeous red hair splayed around you like a cloud. I’ll use my tongue to open your pretty lips and suck on your clit, and you’ll make those tiny sounds I love so much.” Adama’s insides quaked at his soft words and her hands tightened upon her reins. Her horse pulled forward, irritated at being jerked so hard. She cut her gaze across at him and caught his quick knowing smile. “Kesim, please… I’m almost ready to come right here.” 182

Calthraca: Adamare “You are enchanting when you beg, you know. I’d wager I could make you come right now if I tried.” She took a steadying breath then reined her horse to a stop. “I think I ought to ride in the carriage for a while.” His seductive whispers and the horse’s movement stroking her sex so tirelessly made it impossible for her to ride any longer; her arousal was too great. Kesim reined his horse as well and stepped down to the ground. He crossed to where she sat and reached out to take her down from astride her horse. As he lowered her to the ground he slipped his hand between her thighs and felt her moist heat. “You are so wet! Your body is begging to be fucked, isn’t it?” When he sent her the thought, she groaned and her whole body shuddered in his arms. She was nearly having an orgasm right there! “Thank you, my lord,” she managed, then swallowed hard and moved to the coach. Kesim tossed the reins of her horse to a soldier who’d accompanied them, a man he had brought with him from Minalos, his nephew and the only guard he trusted. Adama put her hand upon the handle of the door and jumped when his hand closed over hers. “I think perhaps I shall ride in the carriage as well.” He leaned in and nibbled her ear, then grabbed her backside as she climbed up. As Adama passed her, Sarah poked her head out. “Is something wrong, my lord?” she inquired. “No, Sarah, not at all. Please go with Cyril, the soldier there with the horses.” He pointed to the man nearby. “We’ve decided to stop for lunch.” Sarah smiled and took his hand as he helped her down, then moved in the direction Kesim had indicated. Kesim climbed into the coach and yanked the door closed behind him. 183

Calthraca: Adamare Adama regarded him with a sultry expression. He moved to her quickly and his hand grasped her breast, almost mauling her in his eagerness. She sucked in a sharp breath. “My God, how I want you,” he breathed as he bent his head to her and she met him halfway. Their lips ground together, both of them groaning with the passion of the kiss. He took her hand and placed it on his growing erection. She began pulling at his breeches and he moved to help her out of her own leggings. She was positively aflame, almost as much as he was and neither of them could stop for very long to remove clothing, instead simply loosening what they hadn’t taken off. “Lie back,” he said huskily as he bent his head to her cleft. He ached to taste her again. She moaned sweetly as his tongue delved deeply within her. He circled her clit and sucked making her hips buck involuntarily into his plundering mouth. The coach did not afford much room, but he was able to maneuver her so her legs were over his shoulders and then he took her in earnest, lapping her juices into his eager mouth. He felt her go rigid as he impaled her with his tongue once more, her muscles tightening upon him and she cried out loudly. Before she could descend from her peak, he moved over her and drove his rock-hard cock deeply within her and she squealed in surprise. “Oh yes…” she managed before he captured her mouth in another deep kiss. “You love this, don’t you?” he said, moving smoothly within her slick sheath. “Yes…” Her hot little tongue poked out and touched his. He stopped moving and withdrew. “Take me in your mouth.” Impossibly, his cock actually got harder as he 184

Calthraca: Adamare contemplated the sight of her licking her own juices from him. He swallowed hard and sat back against the opposite bench. She moved to her knees, licking slowly from the base of his rigid manhood to the very tip. His knees shook as she took his entire length within her mouth and he felt the inside of her throat contract slightly when she reached the base. She looked up at his face as she took him and watched his eyes roll up in his head when she buried him in her throat. Slowly she moved back and felt his hand move to gently hold her braid up so he could watch. She drew her mouth all the way from him and dove to lick at his heavy sac. She encircled his testicles with her tongue and drew first one, then the other into her mouth, oh so gently, and he ground his teeth together. God, the feeling was exquisite and it was all he could do not to peak right then. Adama released him and moved up his body, pulling her jerkin up and over her head before dropping it to the floor. She impaled herself upon him and thrust her hips against him, working herself upon his rigid cock. He put his feet on the floor of the carriage for leverage and thrust back hard, making her whimper. His hands slid up her ribcage and he kneaded her breasts. “You want to come, don’t you?” he breathed. “I…yes…” she gasped. She sounded so sweetly excited it was all he could do not to explode within her then. “Say it and I will give you what you want.” “Make me come, Kesim,” she begged and he grinned. He released her breast and then moved lower, flicking at the hard flesh of her rigid clit, enjoying the sounds she made, then slowly worked his finger around, slipping it within her juices and over her clit to tease her further.

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Calthraca: Adamare Her mouth made a perfect circle of pleasure. He pulled her head to his and took her mouth, stifling the cry of passion she let out. At the moment he felt the muscles of her tight sheath contract with her powerful orgasm, he removed his hand and let himself find completion as well, exploding within her, groaning weakly as she collapsed on top of him. They lay together nearly spent, but still he craved her. Her eyes were half closed and she twitched occasionally. He laid her back upon the opposing bench. Very slowly he moved his skilled fingers to her clit and once more began stroking. She made a small interrogatory sound and her thighs fell open. He lay beside her and gently slipped his fingers into her sheath as he would his member, thrusting slowly in and out, pleased when her pelvis began to rock along with his movements. He caressed her clit with his thumb and she arched. “Come for me again,” he whispered into her ear. Adama sucked in a sharp breath. “I can’t.” “Yes, you can. Come for me.” He could feel himself stirring, and he knew he would take her again before he left the coach. She made a series of small grunts, punctuating his thrusting fingers before finally surrendering. He felt the shattering orgasm hit her, the muscles of her sheath tightening around his fingers, and she groaned as her climax shook her to the core. She lay there breathing heavily and he moved over her again. She gasped, surprised as he slid within her. “Again?” she asked weakly. He nodded and began to move upon her once more. This time slower, more gentle. He felt enormous within her, bigger even than before. He stretched her body and she loved it. She looked into his glorious eyes as he worked her. 186

Calthraca: Adamare It was raw and wicked to be taken by him with soldiers within earshot of the coach but she was so shamelessly aroused she had no choice but to give herself over and let him do as he wished. He moved with stronger and stronger thrusts until the carriage was rocking upon its wheels and when at last he touched her clitoris, stroking her firmly, she shrieked with the pleasure of her climax. He raised his fingers to her mouth and she suckled each digit as he pulled her body closer, trying to delve as far within her as possible. Finally with a guttural growl, he came hard and deep within her. Her head dropped back and her eyes fluttered closed. Breathing hard, he smiled and rubbed his cheek against hers tenderly. **** Kesim emerged from the coach and straightened his hair then tucked his shirt in. He was sporting a new scratch on his cheek. He looked about and found Sarah sitting beneath a tree with Cyril, patiently waiting to be underway. Sarah blushed hotly as she met Kesim’s gaze. She knew what had transpired in the coach, as did all the soldiers, and she was unsure in exactly what condition she would find her mistress. She walked quickly over to the coach and climbed in, breathing a sigh of relief at finding Adama fully clothed and blissfully asleep. The guards elbowed each other and grinned as Kesim approached them. He said darkly, “Let’s go. I want to be at the border before sunset.” They were soon underway and Kesim felt relieved to be moving again. He knew he would breathe much easier when they were safely out of BasSalaam. He had left Adama sleeping and satisfied in the coach, but he was still edgy and tired. He’d 187

Calthraca: Adamare put the scratch on his face before he stepped outside for the soldiers’ benefit. He longed to stretch out beside her and take a long time making love to her again, then sleep, wake up and pleasure her again until neither of them could move. He was completely intoxicated by her, but he knew he’d better concentrate on getting them safely to Minalos, or he’d never be able to indulge his fantasy. **** Three hours later, they arrived at the border of Sakendahl and switched the small court coach for a larger, more comfortable one especially made for traveling that Kesim’s own men had hired. He was grateful to see soldiers he recognized from Minalos, and even more thankful to see Eleana’s troops leave. Now without the threat of Eleana’s soldiers, he felt confident riding with Adama in the coach. He climbed in and let out an exhausted sigh of relief. Seeing how tired he was, Adama pulled his head down to lay across her lap, and he soon fell into a deep sleep, lulled by the rocking of the coach and Adama’s hands gently stroking his hair. Sarah was already asleep on the bench across from them. They ascended into the mountains, and there was now snow on the ground and in the air. They traveled through the night, stopping at dawn at a roadside inn to change horses and replenish their supplies. Adama awoke first and kissed Kesim’s cheek, waking him gently. She’d slept sitting upright but leaning slightly to the side. She was stiff but didn’t mind as she knew how tired Kesim had been. He sat up sleepily and kissed her softly, then got out and found an outhouse. She waited for her turn and left the coach and spoke to the innkeeper in the meantime, ordering a full breakfast for herself, Kesim, Sarah and all of the men, plus a 188

Calthraca: Adamare room for herself and Kesim. She made arrangements for Sarah and the soldiers as well, so all of them could sleep comfortably before resuming their journey. The innkeeper, a large, cheerful man wearing an old kilt with an apron over it, happily agreed to provide the requested items, and was even happier after he’d seen the gold Adama paid him. After they ate the hearty breakfast the innkeeper’s wife had prepared for them, Adama assigned Sarah the daunting task of repacking the coach with enough food for lunch and dinner for everyone. Sarah asked Kesim if it was permitted for her to request a soldier to help her reload the coach. He said it was, and spoke to the commander, his brother-in-law, James Coleman. Cyril was assigned to help Sarah and be at her call should she need him. He was eager to be of service. Sarah had gone upstairs before Adama and checked the room to make sure it was acceptable for her, and found it was fine, clean and warm, if a bit tattered. Adama went up shortly afterwards and said to Sarah, “Cyril is very handsome. Although I’m sure you hadn’t noticed.” She raised a skeptical eyebrow. “No, I hadn’t, my lady.” Sarah smiled as she left the room. Too exhausted to wait for Kesim to finish up with the soldiers, Adama decided to lie down and relax for a bit. She removed her heavy belts and set them on the chair beside the bed, then pulled off her boots and put her boot knife on the nightstand. She then went to the basin of warm water Sarah had left and washed herself, and when she had finished, she lay down upon the big bed. Almost immediately she was deeply asleep. She dreamed. She was standing upon a terrace, looking down upon a torch-lit courtyard. She could see a group of soldiers surrounding a Saracen soldier upon a horse. Behind him there was another, larger man shackled 189

Calthraca: Adamare at the neck and wrists, and two packhorses. Slung over one of the horses was a body. Her body began to quake in terror and dread. The Saracen dismounted and bowed solemnly to the man who greeted him below. Together the two men walked to the bound man, who had fallen to his knees in exhaustion. Without warning, the Saracen struck the man a vicious blow across the face, knocking him to the ground, where he lay motionless. Adama covered her mouth, nauseated by the violence of the act. She moaned in her sleep and tried to turn away from the image, understanding it was a dream, but she knew it would not abate until she’d seen all she was meant to. Laughing, the two men continued to the other horse. The Saracen cut the ropes binding the body and it slithered to the ground. He kicked it to roll it over and the sack which covered the body fell away revealing a dead man. As though magnified by her terror, she clearly saw his eclipse pendant slide from his shirt and fall to the cobbled stones of the courtyard with an ominous clink. “Kesim!” she screamed. She came up out of sleep with her own cry echoing in her ears, gasping and shaking. Kesim was there beside her and gathered her into his arms, holding her tightly as she trembled. “Are you all right?” he asked her quietly. She nodded, not trusting her voice yet. “It was a dream,” he said against her head, kissing her gently. “Shh.” She took a deep shuddering breath, closed her eyes, and buried her head into his chest. He could feel her heart pounding hard and closed his eyes, trying to see her dream in her thoughts. She had raised the wall in her mind, and he couldn’t see anything. “Oh God, Kesim,” she said shakily. “It was horrible.” 190

Calthraca: Adamare “It was only a dream, just sit with me a bit, you’ll be fine soon enough.” “You don’t understand…” she began. “It’s all right, it’s not real,” he soothed again. “No. It’s not all right! Dammit, Kesim, I’m not a child. I know which dreams are only dreams and which are prophetic.” She broke free of his embrace sat up on the side of the bed, swinging her legs over the side. How could she tell him this had happened to her before? How could she tell him without mentioning Tengri? He raised an eyebrow at her vehement reaction. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I was only trying to comfort you.” She sighed. “I know. I’m sorry as well. You had no way of knowing.” She lay back and he took her in his arms again. “Do you want to tell me?” he asked. “No, but I will.” She related the dream to him trying to include as much detail as she could recall. When she finished, he was silent and she knew he was thinking. Finally he asked, “You don’t know where you were at the time?” She shook her head. “And you don’t know when this happens?” Again, she indicated no. “Well, I suppose we must proceed with caution then, but I don’t think I’ll be murdered today, do you?” He was trying to make light of things and she smiled weakly. She sat up on the side of the bed again, bending to retrieve her boots and pulled them on. She got up and moved the window. She pulled the drape aside and saw the sun had moved between the distant peaks. It was sometime after noon. Sarah and Cyril were carrying two 191

Calthraca: Adamare large boxes to the carriage, snow swirling about in the air. It looked bleak and cold. She watched Sarah hurry back to the inn and Adama wondered briefly where the maid got her energy. She refastened her belts and replaced her boot knife. “We should go.” Kesim had sat up on his side of the bed and was watching her closely. “Come here.” She stepped over to him and he took her hands. “Everything will be fine. I promise.” She smiled and nodded at him. He tugged her hands, pulling her forward and she took a step. He tugged again and her leg bumped the bedrail. He pulled even more and she overbalanced and fell on top of him where he wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. His arms were like steel. “Kesim, please let me go.” He grinned. “No.” “You’re an evil bastard.” She grinned down at him and he laughed wickedly. Making a token struggle, she felt him tighten his grip. He turned his face up to her and she met him with a kiss. As their tongues touched briefly, she let her body relax in his arms and was rewarded by his loosening his grip on her. She let him roll her over and plant sweet kisses on her throat and mouth. He took her mouth in a deep kiss again, running his hand up her chest. She was feeling languid and heavy and aroused. Sleepily she said, “Kesim, we don’t have time for this.” “The next time we will have a warm bed and a modicum of privacy will be when we arrive in Daskad,” he reminded her softly. He ran his tongue around her ear and she shivered, then sighed with regret. “Nevertheless, we have to go.” She sat up abruptly and moved away from him. At the door, she turned and said, “Don’t 192

Calthraca: Adamare try to enchant me again either, you wicked man.” Then she smiled and added, “At least not without my permission.” She opened the door and left him lying on the bed with a substantial problem. He laughed out loud. He was shocked at her departure, but more at her reaction to his attempting to enchant her. Just the fact that she felt it told him she was much more powerful than he’d thought. He wondered if perhaps the Panacea spell had healed her and restored her magic at the same time. Reluctantly he pulled himself together and left the warm room for a cold saddle and a long trip. **** They traveled most of the day in a light snow, but as night fell, the temperatures plummeted and they knew they’d have to stop soon for the night. Because their next stop was more than two days’ ride ahead, Kesim made the decision to return to the inn. He had a bad feeling about the weather. They arrived back just before dawn the next day in a howling blizzard. The snow fell for five days blanketing the mountainside in more than four feet of fresh impassible snow. The roads were gone, the paths were gone. They were snowbound.

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Chapter 7 It snowed again the day they left four months later, and they made camp in a slight valley, protected from the worst of the wind and snow. The coach had a small brazier in it which burned coal and was comfortable enough to sleep, but the soldiers slept around the campfire they built. Fortunately Sarah had packed enough supplies to feed everyone a hot meal, and Cyril had packed plenty of blankets for everyone. “They make an excellent team,” Adama commented to Kesim as he came up beside her. He’d seen to the horses and made sure they were sheltered as much as possible. “Who?” he asked. “Sarah and Cyril. They work very well together.” Kesim made an amused sound and turned toward the coach. “They certainly spent enough time together at the inn.” “They could do worse,” Adama said. She made a mental note to speak to Sarah about it. Kesim continued to the coach. He was tired and cold and wanted to be comfortable, at least for a few hours. He held out his hand to Adama and she took it and climbed ahead of him into their warm sanctuary. Everyone retired early and the first watch was taken by two of Kesim’s guards. Kesim had left orders that he’d take the next watch along with Cyril and they were to wake him. Adama offered to take the next one and Kesim refused. 194

Calthraca: Adamare “Why?” she demanded, outraged at his refusal. “Because the entire purpose of our trip is to see you safely into Minalos,” he explained calmly. “It would be incredibly irresponsible of me to allow you to put yourself in danger, not to mention it’s not your place to guard us.” She couldn’t argue with his logic, but it didn’t mean she had to like it either. Bandits were known to prowl the mountains and passes, and although not likely to be out in a snowstorm, they had to be cautious nonetheless. The next day the vanguard who had ridden ahead sent back word that riders had been spotted then disappeared, and the coach and party was to use caution. Although they kept a sharp lookout, they encountered no one for several days. Adama was riding along on her horse a few days after they left. Warm and comfortable in her heavy cloak, gloves and furlined boots, she loved the physical exertion of riding, especially after being cooped up for so long. Kesim was ahead of her speaking to Captain Coleman, commander of the troop, and his friend. She liked watching him when he wasn’t aware of it. She loved the little thrill she got when he felt her staring at him and looked at her. She shook her head, laughing. “Adama, you’re hopeless,” she said to herself. The day had dawned cold but clear and they were making excellent time. Suddenly from out of nowhere a horseman appeared riding hard directly at them. He was joined on either side by another two riders, then two more, then even more. By the time he’d reached them, there were at least twenty men surrounding their party. Dressed all in black, they were a terrifying sight.

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Calthraca: Adamare Kesim had eleven of his own men, plus himself. He could see these bandits were well-armed and they knew these woods, but they might have a chance if they were smart. He dropped back to Adama’s side when he saw the first rider and reached out to grab her reins. He could see she was thinking of a plan. “Do not do anything until I say so,” he said softly. She didn’t look at him but reached slowly inside her cloak, checking her knives. “Stay where you are. We want your valuables and your women. None of you will be harmed if you cooperate!” the leader of the group yelled to them. Coleman looked back at Kesim, who nodded. All at once a loud yell came out of the woods, and Cyril, who’d managed to get ahead of them, came crashing down into their midst. At his signal, all of Kesim’s troops drew their swords and attacked the bandits. Adama reached for her knives, and Kesim, knowing what she was about to attempt, slapped her horse hard on the rear with the flat of his sword. The mare screeched and reared, then bolted across the road away from the raiders. Adama somehow managed to keep her seat as the animal exploded into motion beneath her. “Dammit, Kesim!” She sent the thought as she held on for dear life. “Ride! I will find you. You must stay safe!” His worried voice sounded in her head and she hunched low over the animal’s neck as they tore off through the glade. Kesim watched her go then rode directly into the fray. He saw the leader of the bandits signal to another to pursue Adama, a second joined the first and they took off after her. He prayed she’d ridden fast enough to get away from them. 196

Calthraca: Adamare Adama turned in her saddle and saw two of the black riders coming after her, then faced forward again, looking for any way to throw them off her trail. Her horse was fast, but she knew they’d be able to catch her easily on an open run like this. Their horses were used to running long distances along rough terrain. Hers was not. She looked ahead for the next bend in the road. Slightly ahead and to the right she found what she was looking for. As her horse made the turn, Adama leaned hard to the left and rolled from the mare’s back, letting the horse continue down the road. She came to rest under the boughs of a huge pine, and lay upon the ground, perfectly still as the two riders thundered past. Slowly she got to her feet, brushing the snow and pine needles from her cloak, worried for Kesim and Sarah as well as the other members of her party. She looked up directly into the leering face of one of the bandits. He reached for her and she leaped backward reeling from the surprise. He must have seen her fall and done the same thing as he was covered in mud and snow. “Come on, now. I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said in a deep growl. She shook her head. He leaped toward her and grabbed her arms. She yelled and brought her knee up, connecting solidly with his crotch and sending him to his hands and knees upon the ground. He hadn’t anticipated her not wearing long skirts under her cloak. As she stepped around him, he grabbed her by the ankle. She fell painfully, winded. How could he have that much strength after I kneed him so hard? She pushed the thought away as she felt him pulling her toward where he lay. Rolling onto her back, she brought her other foot up and kicked him squarely in the face breaking his nose, but his iron grip on her ankle remained. 197

Calthraca: Adamare “Unh! You bitch!” Adama brought her foot back again for another kick, and he slapped it away easily. She thrashed and managed to get her ankle free, but he had her around the middle now. He was strong and she could tell he wasn’t interested in her gold alone. Gaining his feet, he pulled her upright as she fought, kicking and punching him with all of her strength. Laughing harshly, he turned her toward himself and slapped her hard across the face, knocking her briefly senseless. Her hands dropped to her sides and he saw her knives. She felt him fumbling at her belts and brought her knee up again, trying to keep him away. His big hands got hold of her belts and pulled them off. “I’m gonna kill you,” he said, “but not right away.” He snuffled blood and snot as he panted, eager to get her leggings off as well. “First we’re gonna have a little fun.” She twisted out of his grasp and went down to her knees and heard his rough laughter again above her. She felt for her boot knife as he grabbed her by the hair and hauled her upright. She came up quickly surprising him by making a short turn and driving her boot knife into his chest below the sternum. Still not done with her, he slapped her hard, knocking her to the ground, and then staggered, falling onto his back with a gasp. He lay there, opening and closing his mouth like a landed fish. Finally he drew one last whistling breath, and never exhaled. Slowly she got to her feet; she walked over to him and planted one boot firmly on his chest, then bent to pull her knife from his dead body. “How fun was that? You pig,” she gasped. She wiped her knife on her thigh and replaced it in her boot, then went to get her belts. 198

Calthraca: Adamare As she buckled the second one on, she heard the other rider coming fast. She had time to look up as he flung himself from his horse directly into her. He bowled her over into the snow and came up atop her with his knees on either side of her body straddling her chest. He pulled back a fist and brought it halfway down before he realized she was a woman, and stopped, completely shocked. “You’re a woman!” “Yes, I am,” she confirmed, then bucked him off of her and scrambled to her feet, taking a fighting stance. She could see he was only a boy, albeit a big, muscular one, and decided she would let him live if it was at all possible. “I can’t fight a woman!” The boy was nearly sick. “I’ll let you live if you just get back on your horse and ride away, boy,” she said as he circled her. “What would my chieftain say if I told him a woman had chased me off?” he asked her then made a lunge. She’d drawn one of her knives and swiped at him as she dodged his lunge, cutting him deeply across the chest and arm. “Ah!” he yelled, clapping a hand over his arm. “You can’t do that!” “I just did,” she said harshly. “The offer still stands. You can go if you just ride away right now.” She felt bad for the proud boy. “I can’t,” he said simply. He hung his head as though defeated. Adama lowered her knife. “Look, just get on your horse and go. No one will know. Be smart, boy. I really don’t want to hurt you.” She sheathed her knife and took a step toward him. He just shook his head, still holding his arm trying to staunch the bleeding. “Let me see,” she said, crossing toward him. 199

Calthraca: Adamare Immediately she saw the error she’d made. He had tricked her. He turned fast and hit her hard across the jaw with everything he had. Soundlessly, she fell to the ground unconscious, and he kneeled beside her. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He tugged the thong from his hair, flinging his head back as his long hair fell in to his eyes. Turning her onto her stomach he pulled both of her hands behind her back, tying her firmly, then took her knives. He then picked her up easily and threw her over the saddle of her own horse. After checking to be sure that the other bandit was indeed dead, he pulled the reins on both horses and began moving along the familiar road. He felt remorse for tricking her, especially after she’d tried to help him, but he didn’t want the others to taunt him for letting a woman escape, so he proceeded cautiously back to the raiding party. The raiders had managed to overtake Kesim and the soldiers after a brief and violent struggle. Sarah and Cyril had escaped successfully and no one had even noticed them going. Three of Kesim’s men were killed in the skirmish, and Kesim had a shallow gash across his chest where he’d jumped back at the last possible second to avoid being sliced in half by the leader’s wickedly sharp sword. The prisoners were bound and seated in a line near the trees, while the bandits rifled the coach and all of the packs. They’d found everything of value, and half of the bandits had left carrying their booty. “Any sign of Eric or Lugar?” the leader asked one of his men. “Nothing yet, Galen. I’ve sent out a party to find them.” Galen nodded tersely and walked toward his prisoners. He stopped in front of the commander. “You’d better hope nothing happened to my nephew, or all of your lives will be forfeit.” 200

Calthraca: Adamare Coleman said nothing. “Are you the owner of this coach?” Galen looked at Kesim. Kesim raised his head and said, “I hired it, yes.” “No one warned you of the dangers of crossing these mountains?” Galen laughed harshly. “Or is it just that you’re a fool?” Kesim just looked at the bandit. Finally he replied, “Why don’t you let us go, you got everything you wanted.” Kesim had already untied his bonds but couldn’t risk endangering the others, so he remained seated, biding his time. “Not quite everything. The woman was valuable enough for you to have her run. Once Eric and Lugar return with her, we’ll go.” Galen moved on to his own men, speaking low so he wasn’t overheard. A few moments later, Eric rode in leading two horses, accompanied by the search party. Adama was laid across the saddle of her own horse. One of the men took the boy’s reins as he leapt nimbly from the saddle. Kesim saw her and swore a string of angry curses out loud. “Eric!” Galen said, obviously pleased to see the boy. “I see you caught her, but where is Lugar?” “She killed him, Uncle,” the boy said quietly. “What? No, he must have fallen,” Galen said, disbelieving. “Uncle, she stabbed him with these.” Eric held out her knives. Galen walked over to Adama and pulled her head up by the hair. There was blood on her face where the boy had struck her, and she was still unconscious. He looked at her a moment too long for Kesim’s comfort, then dropped her head. Galen met Kesim’s eyes and grinned lecherously, then turned and shouted to his men. “Let’s go!” 201

Calthraca: Adamare The bandits took all of the horses, including those that pulled the coach, leaving them stranded as darkness fell. Kesim got up and untied Coleman and together they untied the others. Kesim watched the last of the bandits riding into the distance with a thoughtful look upon his face. Coleman walked over to him and handed him the hip flask he carried. “Kesim, they will kill you if you follow them.” He didn’t have to be a sorcerer to know his friend’s thoughts. Kesim rubbed the back of his neck, took a long swallow from the flask, and barked a harsh laugh. “If that bastard hurts her, I’ll kill him much more slowly than I’m already planning to.” He winced at the pain from the saber slash upon his chest. It was thin, but deep. He looked at Coleman, took a deep breath and started walking. “What are we to do, Kesim?” Coleman called to him. “Proceed on to Daskad and send word to Minalos to let them know what’s happened. Await us there.” “What should I say has happened to you?” Coleman asked. Kesim turned to reply then stopped, listening. A rider was coming fast. He walked back to Coleman. He saw Cyril and Sarah rein up near the carriage. Cyril slid down to the ground and reached back to help Sarah. The girl scanned the group quickly trying to spot Adama, and then rushed to check the coach. Cyril walked over to them. “Uncle Kesim, Father, is there anything I can do?” Kesim looked at the horse and said to him, “You just helped more than you know, Cyril.” He took the reins from his nephew. The horse snorted and pawed at the ground, preparing to rear. Sarah rushed over to Kesim. “My lord? Where is the queen?” She was nearly frantic. Kesim tossed the reins to 202

Calthraca: Adamare Coleman and took Sarah gently by the arm leading her a few steps away. She stiffened at his touch. “Shhh,” he said soothingly. Leaning down to speak in her ear he said, “Sarah, your lady has been taken by the raiders. I am going to retrieve my wife. I know you love her very much, and by now you must know that I do too.” As he spoke he touched her, placing a spell upon her to calm her. Sarah nodded, but remained silent. “I shall do everything I can to bring her home. Please don’t worry. Adama will need you when she returns.” She nodded slowly, almost sleepily. He guided her to Cyril, who had a concerned look on his face. Kesim held up a hand to him. “She is fine. She may need to rest in the coach for a little while though.” He took the reins from the captain and the horse eyed him warily, shying away again. Kesim took the bridle in his hands and pulled the horse’s long face down to his. “Pax sedare equus bellator,” he said quietly. “Be calm, brave beast.” The horse snorted but no longer tried to pull away. Kesim swung up into the saddle then held an arm down to Cyril. “I’ll need your help.” The boy grinned then turned to Sarah, who nodded and let go of his arm. “I’ll be back soon. We’ll bring Queen Adama back,” he assured her. She surprised him by kissing him on the cheek. “Stay safe,” she said. He took Kesim’s arm and swung up behind him on the horse’s rump. “James,” Kesim said, “I’ll see you in Daskad in three days, no more.” Coleman nodded. 203

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim wheeled the horse and rode off fast in the direction the bandits had taken. **** Adama came around briefly still slung over the horse’s back. She felt nauseated and her head was pounding. She opened her eyes a crack. It was completely dark now. The world spun out of focus making her groan. She closed her eyes, and drifted back to oblivion. When she opened her eyes again, she was lying on her back on a bed of some sort. There was a fur blanket covering her to the neck. She could barely move and realized her hands were tied painfully behind her back. Still feeling dizzy and nauseous, she struggled onto her side and vomited. An old woman came over to her and put a warm hand on her shoulder. She laid Adama back and wordlessly cleaned up, then returned with a cup of cold water. She helped Adama sit up and fed her small sips of water until she felt slightly better. Adama smiled her thanks at the woman, whose weathered face creased into a thousand wrinkles as she smiled back. She patted Adama’s flat belly. “Yes, I’m better. Thank you,” Adama said, hating the weak sound of her voice. The old lady nodded. “Can you untie my hands?” she asked, and the old woman smiled and nodded again. “You can’t understand one thing I’m saying, can you?” Adama smiled. She supposed she could ask in Sakendahli, but decided she simply didn’t have the energy. Once again the old woman nodded her head. She took a cloth and gently wiped Adama’s brow and the side of her face, washing off the blood. Adama sighed and rested her head back against the wooden frame of the bed. She closed her eyes briefly then opened them 204

Calthraca: Adamare as the woman moved away and sat near a cookfire. Adama watched the old woman pick up a pile of wool yarn and go back to knitting. She flexed her sore jaw and ran back the events of the day, thinking about the boy who’d tricked her. I won’t take pity on him the next time. The room was warm, and soon she felt herself beginning to doze again, though she fought to remain awake. Then she heard someone enter the cabin. She couldn’t see the door, but she felt the cold air rush in. She woke up entirely now. A man came into the room where she was, and spoke low to the old woman who gathered her things and left. It was the leader of the raiders who’d taken her. He was average height for a man, a little taller than she was, and medium build. She thought he looked like a thief. Limber, quick and sly. He had dark carroty-colored hair thinning on top of his head, and he wore a mustache and beard. He wasn’t terribly handsome, but neither was he ugly. Adama kept her eyes slitted shut so she could watch the man’s movements. He walked over to the bed and sat on the side of it. “I know you’re awake.” She slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. Saying nothing. “You’re a very beautiful woman,” he said. “I’m sure Lugar was going to try and take his pleasure with you; is that why you killed him? He was one of my strongest and most skilled men, you know.” Galen looked into the fire. “If he was the best you’ve got, you ought to train them better,” Adama said. He whipped his head back and glared at her. “You’ve got a sharp tongue, woman.” 205

Calthraca: Adamare “I’m used to speaking my mind.” “Your husband was the leader of the group?” Adama nodded. “Obviously he never beat you adequately.” She made an amused sound. “Kesim never beat me at all.” He picked up a fallen lock of her hair and ran it between his finger and thumb. “Perhaps he should have,” he said softly. She wisely made no comment. Galen got up and walked across the room. “The fact remains that you’ve killed one of my men, with only a knife, if the boy is to be believed, and I’ve never known my nephew to lie.” He didn’t mention that he was glad she’d killed Lugar, as now there would be no one to try and take her from him. She’d be his entirely. Unfortunately he would have to bring her before Dakkar, their chieftain, and that could pose a problem. Adama watched the man carefully. Everything she could pick up from his thoughts made her shiver with revulsion. He was very nearly mad and she was in serious danger. “So what should I do with you?” “I don’t suppose releasing me with a horse and three days’ worth of supplies is among my choices?” “No,” he said simply. “Well then, could you please untie my hands?” She decided to see if she could gain his trust. His thoughts and emotions were jumbled and she was worried he would do something to hurt her if she did not comply. He didn’t respond, but walked slowly back toward her. When he reached the bed, he looked at her for a long moment, and then sat down putting his hands on either side of her. He grabbed her by the hips and pulled her body down so she lay flat on her back. She winced as her hands were once again pinched under her body. 206

Calthraca: Adamare Reaching down he pulled her boot knife from his own boot and held it against her throat. “Is this the knife you killed him with?” he asked her. “I knew him all of my life, you know…” He slowly traced the knife down her breastbone. She swallowed at the chill of the steel, but didn’t flinch. He grinned, looking her in the eye. Then he rolled her onto her stomach and leaned in close to her ear. “I ought to fuck you now. No one would care if you cried out, and I could use you all night.” He laughed low; she could feel him hardening against the back of her thigh. She stiffened and fought the urge to buck him off, which would only encourage him. She didn’t say anything. She’d never beg, and she saw in his mind, this man liked to hear women beg. He was a sadist, and enjoyed inflicting pain and humiliation. He sat back and quickly cut the leather thong binding her hands. “I cannot tell if you are brave, mad or just a foolish woman. Do you not have the sense to be afraid?” he asked as he moved away from her. She sat up slowly, rubbing the circulation back into her wrists. The thong had cut into her skin in a few places. She answered trying hard to keep her voice level and composed. Anger was quickly replacing fear. “He was trying to kill me. Would you not kill to protect yourself, if faced with the same situation?” “Was that before or after you broke his nose?” “Before I broke his nose, he would have been satisfied simply raping me,” she shot back. “Neither of those choices was acceptable.” “You’re a married woman, certainly not a virgin. He would have taken your body and let you live.” “That was not acceptable,” she said. He shook his head again. “You knew you’d be able to fight him?” 207

Calthraca: Adamare “I thought I would disable him, and then escape. He had other plans. It isn’t my fault he is dead, it’s his own.” She was tiring of the banter and wanted some answers. “Who are you?” she demanded. “My name is Galen Sandoss. I lead the raiding parties. My brother Dakkar is the chieftain of our clan. We are a proud family, we never had to resort to banditry, at least until the Alliance forces and the resistance forces began clashing. Five years ago, our men were conscripted into service for the Alliance. We fought and returned to our mountain as soon as we had gathered all of our men.” “Do your loyalties lay with Empress Eleana?” she asked him bluntly. “Our loyalties lay with whoever holds the biggest bag of gold as things stand now,” he said. “Do you have lots of gold, warrior woman?” “No, it was stolen from me, by a bigger thief than you.” “Do you have a name?” he asked. “My name is Adama Trasain,” she said simply. He took her arm and pulled her to her feet. “Let us go and speak with the chieftain.” As they left the small cabin, he grabbed her cloak from the peg by the door, placing it across her shoulders, then turned her around to clasp the front. There was furious fire in her green eyes. Galen was completely enchanted by her, and he wondered what she’d look like underneath him, with passion in those eyes instead. If things went the way he wanted, he’d soon find out. She reached back and pulled her hood over her head. Effectively cutting off conversation. She was angry that he was somehow trying to say it was her own fault she’d been abducted. Again! 208

Calthraca: Adamare God, how can I escape this place? she wondered, silently observing the camp they walked through. She knew Kesim would not be deterred from following. He loved her, and he also had a job to do. He’d not simply leave her here. She shrugged her cloak more tightly about her. Snow was falling steadily and it was quite cold. She hoped Kesim could find her soon, and if not, that he’d at least stay safe. Galen led her through a small encampment. There were little cabins scattered here and there. People and horses were moving around, going about their chores and business. She noted how Galen puffed out his chest, trying to look larger and more imposing than he really was. The people they passed all averted their eyes or laughed openly at his swaggering. She wondered if they had any inkling of the madness that festered within him. Galen stopped at the door of another longer, larger cabin and spoke to the guard at the door. The guard stepped back and Galen opened the door and ushered her inside. He walked ahead of her while she shook the snow from her cloak and lowered her hood. She looked around this large room. Apparently this was the meeting house of the clan, and this appeared to be their Great Hall. There were people seated in small groups all about the room, drinking and talking. Most of them stopped talking as she walked slowly past them. Galen realized she’d slowed down and turned back to her “Come here,” he hissed. Adama rolled her eyes and caught up with him. At the end of the long room, she caught sight of a huge man with black hair. He turned his back to them, and she wasn’t able to get a better look. Adama noticed a few women moving through the crowd, serving the men, sidestepping and grinning at their playful 209

Calthraca: Adamare gropes and pinches. They didn’t seem to be bothered by the good-natured teasing. Seated beside the great chair were two other women dressed in brightly colored clothes, and Adama recognized the saris that Eleana had sent to her in BasSalaam. She was pleased that someone would get some use from them but one of the women was wearing Lugh’s shield, and Adama had to resist the urge to leap forward and rip it from her neck. She was thankful she’d put on Kesim’s talisman that morning or that would have been in their possession now as well. The women were both beautiful in their own way. The one on the left was raven-haired and pale-skinned. She had an aristocratic face, and surveyed her surroundings in a bored way. With her slanted, nearly black eyes, she had the exotic look of the people of Tartak. The other woman was blonde. She was older than the darkhaired woman, but not by much. She had the ruddy complexion of these mountain people, and large, beautiful, blue eyes. She reminded Adama of a doll she’d had as a child. She guessed they were the wives of the chief, Dakkar. She hoped he wasn’t looking for a redhead to complete his set. Galen turned to her. “Wait here.” She stood there, thinking of how often she’d been ordered about in the last few weeks. She was tired of it. He spoke to the huge man with the auburn hair, then returned and took her by the arm. She pulled her arm out of his grip, annoyed. He gave her a hard look and she glared right back at him. He indicated the direction he wanted her to go, then turned and walked ahead of her, confident she’d follow. She followed.

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Calthraca: Adamare The man she assumed was Dakkar sat in his large chair, looking expectantly at his brother. He looked familiar to her. Did she know him? “Galen! It’s good to see you,” he boomed. “Fine work today, you’ve brought in many beautiful goods. How did my son do?” “Brother,” Galen said. “It’s good to see you as well. I’m pleased you were happy with the take. Eric performed bravely and well. He even took a captive.” “Someone worthy of a large ransom?” Dakkar said happily, anticipating a payment. “Possibly,” Galen started. “There is a problem, however.” “What is it?” Dakkar had lowered his voice. “Lugar is dead.” The room fell silent. Dakkar paled slightly and closed his eyes. “How?” he asked after a moment. “She killed him!” a voice rang out from the back of the hall. Everyone turned in that direction, including Adama. The boy, Eric, came forward through the crowd. He couldn’t have been more than twelve years old. “Brat,” Adama hissed as he approached her. “Tell me what happened, Eric,” Dakkar said to his son. The boy repeated the story from his perspective. “And when I returned, I saw her pulling a knife from Lugar’s chest. He was dead.” Adama wondered bitterly if good ole Lugar would have let the boy watch while he raped her. Eric was excited now and warming up to his tale, loving the attention and approval he got from his father. “I did not realize she was a woman; I thought she was a boy like myself. I rode my horse directly at her and leapt onto her knocking her to the ground, prepared to kill her. When I realized she was a woman, I stopped. She then threw me to the ground and pulled out 211

Calthraca: Adamare another of her wicked knives. She told me to leave and she would let me live. When I refused, she cut me, here.” He pointed to the bandage on his shoulder. The blonde woman gasped and Dakkar’s brow darkened, but he said nothing. “When she attacked me again, I hit her as hard as I could, and knocked her unconscious. I bound her hands and took her knives, then threw her over her horse and brought her to Uncle Galen,” he said, satisfied he’d done the right thing. Dakkar looked at Galen. “Is this the truth?” Galen nodded. “As far as we’ve been able to tell, yes. I’ve questioned the woman, and she admits she killed Lugar. She claims he was trying to rape her.” “No surprise there,” Dakkar muttered under his breath, low enough for only those nearby to hear him. Eric had stepped over to his mother who was fussing over him. “Please, Talia. Don’t coddle the boy,” Dakkar said absently to her. “He’s fine, he acted like a man today. Well done, Eric.” Eric positively beamed with pride. Adama sighed. Dakkar looked directly at Adama for the first time and his eyes grew wide. “You!” She took a hasty step back. “Me?” “Adama Fawkes. You are she, are you not?” Galen stepped in beside her. “She said her name was Adama Trasain, brother.” Dakkar looked annoyed. “It may be that now, but I know this woman is Adama Fawkes. Aren’t you?” “Oh my God.” She realized who he was finally and she felt her knees go rubbery. “Yes, it’s me.” He beamed at her then turned to his brother. “Galen, take her to my dayroom, I wish to speak to her privately.” 212

Calthraca: Adamare Galen, helplessly confused, nodded slowly and took Adama by the arm again. This time she didn’t resist him. “Why didn’t you tell me you knew my brother?” he hissed in her ear. “You’ve embarrassed me.” He nearly dragged her to a set of rooms behind the main hall. Adama was starting to feel better, but this little lackey was irritating her. “I didn’t know I knew your brother, you toad. Now why don’t you release my arm before you twist it off?” “How do you know him?” he demanded when they stopped. They’d entered a lovely set of rooms, well furnished and comfortable. Many heavy pieces of axe hewn furniture and fur blankets populated the space in front of the fire, which was lit and warm and welcoming. “Why don’t you ask him yourself, Galen?” He took her by the shoulders and gave her a hard shake making her teeth click painfully. “You’ll tell me!” he said harshly. “I didn’t intend to give you over to him! You were supposed to be mine!” He raised a hand to strike her. She stood up straighter and prepared herself for the blow. She’d give him one strike, and then she would kill him. “Galen!” Dakkar shouted from the doorway. “Leave.” “Dakkar,” Galen started, “I…” “I’ll speak with you later.” Dakkar glowered ominously. “I particularly want to speak to you about letting my eleven-yearold son go with Lugar after a woman.” Galen paled slightly. “Dakkar, she was supposed to be mine,” he whined petulantly. “You are an idiot, Galen. Do you know who she is?” “She’s a merchant’s wife, worth nothing. Far too bold, even for the slave markets in Qassli, except for that hair,” Galen assessed her bluntly. She raised an irritated eyebrow. 213

Calthraca: Adamare “You’ve managed to capture the Princess of Lyros, fool,” Dakkar said in a hard voice. “Or rather, my son has managed to capture her, although I think there may be more to the story than Eric told us.” He looked sidelong at Adama. “This woman is a highly trained soldier, and you’re lucky she hasn’t slit your throat yet. Eric wasn’t mistaken when he said she’d killed Lugar by herself.” Galen gaped at him. “How do you know this?” he finally managed. “That is none of your business. Get out of here, Galen. I’ll speak with you later.” Galen looked at his brother, then glared at Adama. Murderous fury blazed in his eyes. Abruptly he turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him. “He thinks you want me as a wife,” Adama commented. “I did once.” He’d moved beside her and handed her a glass of wine he’d poured. “I’d have moved Heaven and Earth to make you my wife then. I had one wife already when we last met, Talia. She’s a fine woman. She gave me my son, Eric, whom you’ve met.” He laughed. “Now, of course, I have two wives. You probably saw Ming Tse?” “Yes, both of them are very lovely.” She smiled. “You’re a lucky man. Dakkar, I had no idea who you were. I’m so sorry.” “Don’t be sorry, I’m only glad to know you never forgot me completely.” He smiled and her heart warmed looking at it, glad to have found a friendly face. “Uh, no. I couldn’t have,” she said hesitantly. “Dakkar, I have a child.” “Here?” He looked around. “That is, I mean…we have a child, together. You and I,” she finished lamely. 214

Calthraca: Adamare “We? But… it was only the one night,” he exclaimed “Can that happen?” She smiled. “Apparently so.” He broke into a broad, beaming smile. “Tell me about him! Is he brave and strong as his father, or fierce and bloodthirsty like his mother?” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Well, she is a beautiful, brave girl. Her name is Oma, and… Oh God, Dakkar, I love her so much.” She was shocked to find herself crying. He gathered her into a comforting embrace. She took a deep breath and said, “I was going to her when we met your clan.” “A girl…and she is a princess!” He beamed with pride. “I have many sons, but no daughters, until now that is. She was not with you?” She moved away from him a little. “No, she is in Minalos. That’s where I’m going now,” Adama said. “Eleana took Lyros. It was safer for her to be away from me.” “I see. I am sorry about Lyros.” “I just want to get to my daughter,” she said, and large tears rolled down her face. She swiped at them furiously, and then sat down on one of the couches near the fire. “Galen said you were a merchant’s wife, how can that be?” Dakkar asked, trying to change the subject until she felt better. “His name is Kesim,” she said. “Only he’s not a merchant. He’s a doctor…and a soldier,” she added, then laughed a little. “Anything else?” His eyes sparkled with good humor. “Yes, Dakkar, he’s a sorcerer,” she said seriously. “Just like you,” he said kindly. “I knew you’d find someone like yourself to wed. A bandit’s wife was not the life you deserved.” He sat on the sofa beside her and took her hand into one of his huge paws. “Tell me everything.” 215

Calthraca: Adamare Adama sighed. “It’s a long story.” “I have time.” She told him all about Christian and Hecate and how she’d been abducted, her time in Eleana’s court and finding Kesim, their deception and finally their escape. He sat beside her and encouraged her when she needed it, and refilled her wineglass as she talked into the night. The fire had died down and dawn was long past when she finished. He’d put his arm around her shoulders earlier, and his embrace comforted her. Protected and warm, she fell asleep leaning against his arm. He took the glass from her hand and set it on the table beside the sofa where they sat, then picked her up and laid her on the large bed in the alcove, covering her with a heavy fur blanket. He bent and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “I wish I could have been there to protect you.” He left her to her peaceful sleep and exited his rooms. “Where is Galen?” he asked Talia, who was waiting for him. “He was in the hall drinking until a few hours ago, the sniveling dog,” Talia said. Dakkar took in a deep, displeased breath and let it out. “All right.” He turned to one of his men waiting nearby. “You, Elias. Take four riders and find the party you held up last night.” Elias turned and Dakkar spoke again. “And Elias?” “Yes, Dakkar?” “Bring them their horses.” Elias’s eyes widened. “I’m releasing her, and she is to have our help if she needs it. Go now,” he ordered, then turned back to his wives. “You said Galen was here drinking?” “Until a few hours ago,” Ming-Tse answered, “then he left with one of the serving girls.” 216

Calthraca: Adamare Dakkar shook his shaggy head again. His brother was a difficult man even when he got what he wanted. Drunk and denied Adama, he was going to be twice as difficult as usual. He was torn. He didn’t want to confront his brother now, but he was concerned about leaving a serving girl alone with him. He left the hall, crossed his courtyard to the commons, and his mind traveled back to Lyros and the night he spent with Adama, making him smile. She was a truly special woman, but he knew this life would never suit her. She deserved better, but he was thankful a small part of him would always be with her. A horse tore into the compound rousing him from his memories. Two men on the one horse, both seemingly very agitated. Dakkar didn’t recognize either of them, but held up a hand to them. The man guiding the horse turned the animal’s head toward him and cantered over. “Hail, rider!” Dakkar boomed at him. The second man Dakkar saw now was still little more than a boy. He knew the other must be Adama’s husband. He decided to afford the man the respect he deserved, being married to a princess. “Queen now,” he muttered absently. “Lord Kesim, I presume?” He bowed slightly. **** Kesim slid down from the saddle and openly assessed the huge man standing calmly before him. He was taken aback at being recognized. The panic which had been growing within him over Adama’s abduction abated a bit. “Yes. Where is my wife?” Dakkar stood up straight. “I am Dakkar Sandoss,” he introduced. “I am chieftain here. Welcome.” Kesim was frankly surprised by the welcoming reception. He had expected to have to fight his way in and out once he found Adama. 217

Calthraca: Adamare “My party had the pleasure of meeting your brother Galen yesterday,” Kesim replied sourly. “We were under the impression we would not be welcome here.” “Galen is a difficult man.” Dakkar sighed and his brow darkened. “Let’s walk this way,” he indicated. “I imagine you’re searching for Adama. I’ll take you to her.” “You know my wife?” Kesim stopped walking. Surprised, Dakkar turned. He took a close look at the sorcerer. “Yes, I know Adama. She once did me a great favor, and for that I shall always be in her debt, and I will do whatever I can to help her regain Lyros, if she so chooses. I shall help you as well, Sorcerer.” Kesim looked up at this great man and wondered what Adama’s relationship with him could be. “Right now, I’m going to my brother’s house. Unfortunately, he is very angry at being denied the charms of your lovely wife. I’m afraid he may be venting that anger on one of my servants,” Dakkar went on. Kesim clenched his jaw at hearing this news. It was a small relief for him to know Galen hadn’t gotten her after all. He’d suspected Galen wanted Adama, which was why he’d launched his failed attack on Galen yesterday, but to have the fact confirmed by Dakkar made it real and made him angrier. “Can we help you, sir?” Cyril asked. Dakkar was surprised but smiled kindly at the young man and said, “Yes, I may need it.” They continued toward a small cabin when Kesim felt the most searing pain shoot through his mind. He gasped and grabbed his head, and as quickly as it came it was gone. Adama’s scream sounded through the encampment. Without pause Kesim turned and ran in the direction the scream had come from, closely followed by Dakkar and Cyril. 218

Calthraca: Adamare They rushed into the great hall and found Galen there, holding Adama. Her back was to his chest, his arm bound her tightly to him, and he held a knife to her throat. “Adama!” Kesim came to a skidding halt several feet before them. “Kesim…” she whimpered. Dakkar stopped where Kesim had, holding him back so as not to get Adama killed. Kesim could see the terror on Adama’s pale face, and knew her terror had been the cause of his pain. Adama tried to push Galen off and he tightened his grip, pressing her skin with the blade and drawing blood. “Ad Deus defendare.” Cyril said softly and crossed himself. Kesim agreed. It would certainly take God to help them now. Softly Dakkar said, “Galen, let her go.” Galen looked at his brother. “Why should I, dear brother? If I cannot have her, then no one shall.” Adama made a small terrified sound at his words and began to struggle again. Kesim said nothing, trying to get closer. If he could just get near Galen, he could put Adama’s assailant to sleep, and they could help Adama. He needed to be closer, but he was afraid he’d push Galen into cutting her throat if he threatened the man in any way. “Adama, do not move. Do not make a sound. I’m begging you.” He spoke urgently in her thoughts and she reluctantly relaxed in Galen’s arms. “Do you know how thrilled your wife was to see this lumbering ox of a brother I have?” Galen demanded of Kesim. He was nearly shrieking. Spittle flew from his lips, his eyes bulged, and he could see the man was completely mad. “They are friends,” Kesim said calmly. 219

Calthraca: Adamare “Friends…ha!” he sneered. “She couldn’t wait to be with him. I’m sure he must have fucked her good, didn’t you, you disgusting warthog!” he screamed at Dakkar. “Do you know how much I hate you, Dakkar? Always the favorite, always getting the best. The most beautiful wives, the leadership of the clan. Nothing left for Galen. Then the one woman I truly want, you take her.” “She isn’t yours to take, Galen,” Dakkar replied softly. The madman was still holding Adama tightly, but the knife had dipped now away from her throat. “When I tell you to, I want you to drop to your hands and knees.” “What? Why?” Adama asked. “Just do as I say!” Dakkar said, “Brother, it wasn’t what you think. I only talked to her.” “Oh yes, this little bitch here looks as though all she’s good for is talking.” He sneered at Dakkar. He raised the knife once more then bent in to finish the job. A thin line of blood appeared upon her white throat. “Galen, no!” Dakkar shouted. He took a step forward and Galen snarled at him, lifting the knife slightly from her throat. “Drop now!” Kesim shouted, and Adama fell upon the floor at Galen’s feet. “Necorarae!” The word flew from Kesim’s mouth across the room like a living thing and struck Galen in the chest. He was thrown against the wall where he collapsed to the floor, dead. In the stunned silence which ensued afterward, all they could hear was Adama weeping softly. Cyril and Dakkar turned and saw Kesim standing with one arm outstretched. Slowly Dakkar walked over to his brother’s body. Sighing, he reached out and closed Galen’s eyes. At least he was saved 220

Calthraca: Adamare from having to execute his own brother. He’d known for a long time Galen’s end would be tragic. He wiped his eyes and stood. Kesim rushed to Adama and held her to his chest, stroking her hair gently. He checked her neck injury, which fortunately was not too deep. Dakkar looked at Adama, who still had not spoken, then moved to give them some privacy. He spoke to Cyril, who was staring at Galen’s body, stunned at what his uncle had done. “Come with me, boy.” Cyril followed Dakkar. Kesim kissed his wife on top of her head. “Adama,” he said quietly. “It is over, stop now.” She sniffled and got herself under control, then opened her eyes and looked up at Kesim. She sighed and looked at Galen’s body. “You killed him.” “I did what I had to, Adama, please don’t torture yourself over it.” He held her closely. “He would have killed you if I hadn’t stopped him.” “He was going to.” She sighed. He kissed her and put his head against her brow. When Adama felt strong enough, they walked slowly out to the main hall where Dakkar and Cyril waited. Dakkar’s men silently moved in and removed Galen’s body. Kesim sat her down and cleaned the small cut upon her neck and Dakkar looked at her. “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” he said kindly. They moved back into the sitting room to speak privately. “Two of your people have died in two days, Dakkar, one of them your own brother. It’s rather hard not to feel badly, I’m afraid,” Adama replied. He sat down beside her. “You protected yourself from a man we knew was a rapist, and to tell you the truth, we suspected was a murderer. He’d have killed you. I could not pass 221

Calthraca: Adamare judgment on him because he’d never harmed one of our people, not that we could prove anyway.” Adama said nothing. He looked past Adama to Kesim standing beside her. “Galen would have lost his mind eventually. He would have killed your wife today. You did me a service,” he said quietly. “How?” Kesim questioned. “You spared me from having to put my only brother to the sword. I can at least face my mother in Heaven with a clear conscience.” He smiled sadly. She hugged him hard. “I’m so sorry, Dakkar.” He nodded and stood up, signaling Kesim to join him outside the room, then spoke to his wives. “Sit with Adama for a moment.” After her husband had left, Talia sat upon the sofa beside Adama. “It’s a blessing that he’s dead,” she said. Adama looked at her with a puzzled expression. Talia sighed. “Galen was always a danger to Dakkar. He envied my husband’s position, wives, and sons. Galen’s jealousy made him dangerous. My son Eric is Dakkar’s legitimate heir, although he has many sons. He was always a threat to Eric, and I believe he would have killed both father and son had the opportunity arisen. Lord Kesim has done me a service also, you see?” Adama looked into her lovely china doll eyes. “Dakkar’s told you about us?” “Yes, he has. He told me about you when he returned. Do not forget, I always knew there would be another wife one day. I married him knowing it.” She shifted slightly on the sofa. “I was jealous of you at first, but when he married Ming-Tse, I knew he’d gotten over you. Besides, it’s unwise to envy a memory. Dakkar never forgot you, but he was able to move on and be the chieftain he was born to be.” 222

Calthraca: Adamare Adama nodded. “He said you bore his child, a girl?” “Yes,” Adama said. She liked this plainspoken woman. “Her name is Oma, and she’s only three.” Talia smiled. “Good, at least you’ll always have a part of him with you as well.” Talia was not a fool, she’d already learned the girl was younger than Eric, and as a girl she’d be unable to inherit in their clan. Still she’d begun to like Adama, and she wanted to make Adama feel better. “We are like sisters then,” she said to Adama. “Will you bring your daughter to meet her father?” “I shall some day,” Adama answered honestly. Right now, all she wanted to do was be gone from here, and on her way to Oma. They sat in companionable silence, looking at the fire, and Adama began to find some measure of peace. Dakkar and Kesim had stepped out into the Great Hall, which was deserted. “Adama will be all right?” Dakkar asked him. Kesim nodded. “Yes, she’ll be fine physically. I don’t know how she will be emotionally.” “You’re a good husband for her. I know she will be fine. Right now, I need a drink.” Dakkar reached into a cupboard and produced a small keg. He pulled the cork from it and poured two drinks. One for himself, and the other for Kesim. “Drink, my friend.” He handed him a goblet. Kesim took a large drink and struggled mightily not to cough it all over his host. It was easily the strongest spirit he’d ever consumed. Dakkar drained his cup and poured another, offering Kesim more as well. Kesim shook his head. 223

Calthraca: Adamare “Qasslian brandy. Strong enough to take the tarnish off of silver.” Dakkar laughed. Kesim barked out a short surprised laugh of his own, releasing some of the tension he’d built up since last night. Dakkar poured more of the violent liquor into Kesim’s cup, which he hadn’t asked for but drank anyway. He was already feeling slightly drunk, but he liked this bearsized man. “I think I’m getting drunk.” He laughed. Dakkar laughed with him then poured them both another drink. Carrying the keg, he led them to his favorite chair, and sat down, indicating a spot for Kesim to sit. “I met Adama during the war with BasSalaam. We ended up sleeping together just once and she sent me away the next day. I don’t tell you this to boast or brag, my friend. I tell you this because our one night together produced a child.” “Oma,” Kesim said in almost a whisper. “Yes, the Princess Oma is my daughter. My only daughter,” he added. He picked up his goblet and drank the rest of his drink, looking at Kesim. “I’ve come to like you, Sorcerer,” Dakkar finally said. “Can you be a good father to my child? A child that isn’t yours by blood?” Kesim started to speak then stopped. He began again, “I have no children of my own.” “Not yet.” Dakkar smiled. “I shall be a good father to Oma,” Kesim said. “I promise you, Dakkar. She will know about you, and I shall bring her here to see you myself, as soon as it is safe.” He didn’t think it was wise to tell him how Oma came to be in Minalos. Dakkar looked at him, as though trying to see what he was made of. “I do not love your wife, Kesim, and I’m happy for you both. It is obvious to me that you are a good man; I don’t need magic to see it. That is why I chose to tell you something that 224

Calthraca: Adamare perhaps Adama might have preferred I hadn’t. Neither of us could have known or would have worried that one night would produce a child. I do not want you to be angry or upset when you look upon Oma, simply because of a mistake we made trying to find a little comfort. You are a better man than that.” Kesim nodded solemnly then drained his cup and refilled it again. When Adama reentered the hall, she noticed there was a commotion at the end where Kesim and Dakkar were sitting. It appeared to be good-natured, thankfully. She pushed her way toward the front of the group of people who had gathered around, and saw both men, obviously completely drunk, matching each other drink for drink. Small short glasses were in front of them, and one would take a drink, then the other. Wagers were being placed by some of the men in the hall. She leaned close to one of the men with the money. “Who is winning?” “We won’t know until someone passes out,” he said then laughed. From the appearance of the men, that was forthcoming. Kesim finished his drink, banged the small glass down on the table, and swayed alarmingly. Dakkar picked his up and brought it up to his mouth. He looked distinctly ill. He opened his mouth and quickly swallowed his drink, also banging his glass on the table. Once again Kesim picked up a refilled glass. He held it tightly and tossed it back as he had the first. “Gahh!” He shuddered as he put the glass down. Dakkar squinted at the glass in front of him then reached out and picked it up. He tilted his head back and poured the drink down his throat, overbalanced his chair and fell over. 225

Calthraca: Adamare Stunned silence followed the loud crash as he hit the floor. When he had not gotten up after a few moments, one of his men went back to check on him, and reported he was unconscious. Kesim was declared the winner to much drunken cheering. Apparently Dakkar had never lost this game. Kesim, nearly as drunk as Dakkar, picked up another drink, knocking over several glasses in the process, oblivious to the commotion across from him. Adama stepped forward and plucked the glass from his hand. “I think you’ve had enough,” she said, amused at the manly display. Kesim looked up and blinked slowly. “Hello, darling. I’m playing a game with Dakkar,” he said in a loud whisper. “I think he’s gonna win though… I’m very drunk.” Adama crossed her arms and grinned. “I’d have never guessed.” Talia stepped forward. She’d seen to Dakkar; three of his men had managed to haul him to his feet and off to bed. She looked at Kesim, who was staring at his hands in wonder and smiled. “No one has ever outlasted Dakkar at this game. He will be mortified. Now, your husband won’t be fit to travel until tomorrow,” she said. “Will you stay with us again this night?” “Yes, if you’ll have us.” Adama was trying to help Kesim to his feet. He managed to get up, but stumbled and sat back down, pulling her onto his lap in the process. He nuzzled her neck. “You are so beautiful,” he slurred, drawing his hand up to gently squeeze a breast. Adama flushed hot and aroused, barely able to believe she’d responded so. “Where can we sleep?” she asked Talia breathlessly, pushing Kesim’s hands off and standing. “Mmmm, sleep. I can’t wait to sleep with you,” Kesim said, making a playful grab for her. Adama turned as he caught her wrist and kissed her palm. 226

Calthraca: Adamare “You want me, don’t you?” She couldn’t help but grin at his drunken display. “Yes, Kesim, you know I do.” He stood and hugged her, then nearly pulled her to the floor with his weight as he stumbled. Talia elbowed the man nearest her. “Morgan, bring them to the guest house. Help her with him.”Sshe clucked maternally, flapping her hand. Kesim had begun singing a bawdy song to some of the ladies near him, and the women giggled behind their hands. Morgan was much bigger and broader than Kesim, although not much younger. He slung Kesim’s arm across his own shoulders and hoisted him easily to his feet. “This way, my lady,” he said as he half-walked, half-dragged Kesim out of the hall. Adama smiled her thanks at Talia and said, “I’m sorry.” “Don’t be,” Talia replied, “They’ll both be fine. Sleep well.” Adama rushed after the men. If she’d had to track them, she wouldn’t have had a difficult time of it. They left a large lumbering path through the powdery snow. Morgan had brought them to the little house that Adama had woken up in the night before. He could have simply tossed Kesim on the bed and been done with them, but instead chose to help her get his coat and boots off. He knew the man was Dakkar’s friend. When he’d pulled off the second boot, Kesim asked, “Did I win?” Morgan stood up and pushed Kesim gently backward where he fell asleep immediately. He turned and smiled at Adama. She recognized that smile. “You’re Dakkar’s son, aren’t you?” Surprised, he smiled again. “Yes, I’m the eldest, Morgan. It was very nice to meet you, but I should go now. Goodnight, my 227

Calthraca: Adamare lady.” He ducked his head to avoid hitting the doorframe and left the little house. Adama walked behind him and placed the bar across the door. She then went to the fire and poked it up, adding a few pieces of wood. It was comfortably warm in the cabin, and she wanted it to stay that way. Although it wasn’t very late, the sun had set, and she realized she was very tired. She hadn’t slept well since they left the inn outside of BasSalaam. The events of the last two days had tired her immensely. She began taking off her clothes. She had hung her cloak on the peg earlier, now she took off her boots, jerkin, and highnecked shirt. Her belts came next, then her leggings; she sat on the chair by the bed and pulled them off along with her wool stockings. She hung them over the back of the chair behind her. Last came her camisole. Naked, she climbed into the cold bed, shivering deliciously and already warming up, enjoying the goose down mattress and comforter, and the heavy fur blankets. She leaned over, kissing Kesim lightly on the mouth. “Good night, darling.” She then slid easily into sleep. Hours later she awoke, alone in the bed. She sat up looking around. Had Kesim said her name? She scanned the room. He was sitting in the chair, facing her, with the fire behind him. She could see his silvery warlock eyes glittering in the dim firelight. “Kesim?” she said softly. “Are you all right?” He got up and came to the bed. He had removed his shirt and stood before her in his pants alone. “Have you been awake a long time?” His silence was a little unnerving. He bent over the bed and gently took her face in his warm hand, cupping her chin. He bent and kissed her passionately, 228

Calthraca: Adamare darting his tongue into her mouth to duel with hers. She moaned softly, surprised at the intensity of his passion, and strangely aroused by his silence. He released her chin and ran his hand down her chest to caress a breast, then traveled lower. He knew she was already moist and ready for him. He lowered his pants with one hand, and then climbed onto the soft bed, holding her body close to him as she lay on her side. He continued to rub her gently, enjoying the small sounds of passion she made. He knew he could bring her to climax now if he so chose. It would be enough to satisfy most women, but Adama could go much farther, and he loved to take her higher. He’d been sitting in the chair for nearly an hour, watching her sleep. When he awoke, he half expected to be alone after the way he’d groped her in public. While he sat he sent her a series of thoughts and images. “I love the small sounds you make when you come…and your hot mouth on my cock. The way you let yourself go and enjoy our lovemaking arouses me like nothing I have ever known, Adama…” She hadn’t heard him call her name as she thought she had, but he had called to her nonetheless. He was pleased and absurdly flattered when she received his thoughts so easily. He had wanted her to be wet and ready for him, and he could feel she was. He nudged her legs apart slightly then slid firmly into her tight sheath, loving the way she gasped a little at his entry. He didn’t move but continued caressing her breasts and massaging her body. She shivered at his touch. He was gentle and rough and giving and demanding all at once. She felt drugged, almost as if she were dreaming. He was not enchanting her, still she felt languid and sleepy. 229

Calthraca: Adamare He roughly rolled on top of her and began to move upon her body. Slowly. Agonizingly. She was acutely aware of him throbbing within her, and amazed at the stamina it must take not to simply take his pleasure quickly. He was intent on bringing her pleasure as well. His methodical thrusting was driving her nearly mad with passion; withdrawing nearly all of the way, then plunging back in. So intense was the feeling as to be nearly painful. When he was deeply embedded within her, she squeezed her muscles tightly around him, enjoying the groan he made. She wrapped her legs around him squeezing again, this time with her thighs. He sucked in his breath deeply and shut his eyes. She saw him clench his jaw and swallow. He held her gaze with his mercury eyes. He bent his head and kissed her deeply, enjoying the way her tongue dueled with his. Loving her passionate nature. He stopped thrusting and she breathed, “Don’t stop…” Taking her wrists in his hand, he pulled them up. He bent his head and suckled her breast, drawing hard and making her gasp. He ran his tongue around the dark aureole, and then nibbled lightly with his teeth on her rigid nipple. She tried to wiggle away from him, and he laid his body heavily upon her. He was still within her, and still hard. She could feel him and she knew what he was thinking. He needed to feel that he was in control. His pride had been bruised meeting her former lover. Dakkar must have told him earlier in the evening. Somehow it was harder for him learning about Dakkar than Christian. He feared she still wanted the chieftain, and he was trying to prove he was a better lover. There was no need. She couldn’t even recall her night with Dakkar beyond awakening with him the next day. She’d known they made love, but that was all. 230

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim was by far the finest lover she had ever had, but for some reason, he didn’t believe her when she said it. Oh Lord, how would she ever tell him about Tengri! Up until her abduction, she was always the one in charge in every aspect of her life, and she craved having someone else take over for a change. If it had to happen in bed, so much the better. She didn’t have to act helpless, his lovemaking left her weak. “Please,” she whispered. He raised his head and his eyes flashed wickedly. “Beg me,” he taunted her. “Please, Kesim,” she said breathlessly. He drew one of her hands down between them. “Feel me. Do you feel me within you, Adama?” He bent his head to her forehead. “Mmm,” she groaned as he moved slightly. He was huge and she could feel him stretching her body, and throbbing within her. “Oh God, please finish!” she pleaded. He grinned. Seeing her this way thrilled him. “Not yet, my love.” He pulled her upright onto her knees then brought her hand down to herself, so they both massaged her swollen clit. She was grinding her hips in time with him, and she made a slight hum. He slowly withdrew from her body, rolling onto his back and pulling her down on top of him. “Now mount me and ride me the way you rode your horse when we were attacked.” She smiled at him wickedly and straddled his body, impaling herself upon him. She tucked her knees in close, and gripped tightly with her thigh muscles. She rocked and thrust her hips and squeezed him tightly within her sheath making him draw in a sharp startled gasp. She leaned low across his chest, rubbing her rigid nipples against his soft chest hair and when he reached up to feel her breasts, she placed her hands over his, echoing his movements. 231

Calthraca: Adamare She leaned in and took his mouth in a deep passionate kiss, guiding his hands up above his head. She broke the kiss and grinned. “If I had my powers, I would bind you. But since I do not, you must have the willpower to keep your hands right here.” She placed his hands upon the headboard and he gripped the spindles. She rose from the bed, and prepared wine for them both, along with warm water. “Adama…” She ignored his questioning tone and helped him to sip some wine, then poured a little on his chest, and she licked it off. He shuddered. Satisfied he was completely at her mercy, she proceeded, pouring wine on him and licking it off with long seductive strokes of her hot tongue. Once she had him panting and straining, she decided to let him rest for a few minutes. She bathed his still stiff member with the warm water she’d prepared all the while she spoke low and seductively to him. “I love your cock, it’s so big and hard.” She kept his interest and anticipation high, but he was somewhat uncomfortable with her erotic torture. She’d aroused him to a point where he was very nearly in pain and she knew it. He’d tried to close his legs, and she warned him, “Do not move, Kesim, or I shall bind you.” Then proceeded to lick and nibble and bite him until he was gasping sharply. She bit him hard on his hipbone. “Ah… Adama!” “Don’t you enjoy this, Kesim?” she asked him innocently between licks. “You were right, it is very exciting to see you bound this way.” She took his whole cock all at once into her mouth. “Oh God!” 232

Calthraca: Adamare She drew hard on him and he made a slight strangled sound, then exhaled as she released him only to draw her warm tongue up the length of him, then plunge down once more. She did this repeatedly, then moved lower and caressed his testicles with her tongue and he groaned. She licked and suckled the head of his throbbing shaft until he could barely breathe, and then bent and left a bite mark on his inner thigh, making him jerk and shudder. “Don’t you dare come yet,” she said harshly. His eyes widened at her words, and they cooled him slightly. He was unsure if he liked having her be the dominant lover and was certain he didn’t want her to become used to it. She leaned in close and let him suckle at her breasts as she held them above him. Then stroking him firmly, she licked his lips. “Do you want to take me until I scream out your name?” “Yes, God yes,” he whispered against her mouth. She looked deeply into his mercury eyes. “Beg me.” Kesim laughed and grabbed her roughly by the arms, laying her back upon the bed, loving the surprised sound she made. “You’ve had your way, now I shall have mine,” he said as he reached down and pulled her hands together. “Kesim…” “Shh… Now you’re mine. Bindare.” Her hands were immobile. She lay upon the bed, looking at him with her cool green gaze. She struggled a little against the invisible bonds that held her fast. “Kesim, please…” she said a little desperately. He ignored her and walked to the table. He poured a cup of water for himself and drank it, then looked at the wine for a long moment. “Which do you prefer, red or white?” he asked at last. “I really would rather sleep, Kesim,” she said hopefully. “Oh, I’m sure you would.” He grinned, sharklike. “Red or white?” 233

Calthraca: Adamare She was slightly afraid and didn’t know if he was angry with her for controlling him. “White,” she said hesitantly. He poured the wine and whispered, “Conglaciare.” She could see it turn cold, the silver goblet frosting along the sides. He sat beside her and held the cup just above her, then lowered it slowly to her skin, spilling some on her abdomen. She gasped at the cold, and he grinned wickedly. He bent and sipped the pool upon her belly. “Mmm. An especially good vintage.” She rolled her eyes, and he smiled. “Would you like some?” he asked. “Yes.” He moved to help her sit up, then spilled a little over her breast and she gasped again. “Oh, let me help,” he said. He bent his head and licked at her where the wine had splashed her skin. He took her nipple within his mouth and sucked hard and she groaned. “You’re an evil man, Kesim,” she finally managed, and he chuckled. He held the goblet and let her sip from it, then bent his head and kissed her deeply tasting the dry wine on her tongue and lips as she dueled with him. They shared the drink, he would give her sips then drink himself, and she was surprised to find herself pleasantly muzzy. Still she was worried as to what he might do. Finally, he set the wine aside and pulled her gently to her feet. Her hands were still bound before her and he turned her so she was facing away from him. He pushed her a little and she took a step or two, but the wall before her made her stop. “Put your hands against the wall,” he ordered quietly. “Lean forward.” 234

Calthraca: Adamare Slowly she raised her hands over her head and leaned forward into the wall, supporting herself against it with her forearms. He leaned down and pushed her feet apart then dragged his hand up between her legs, stopping to fondle her and make her gasp. He stepped behind her and brought his hands around her middle, resting them upon her abdomen. One hand slid south, the other traveled north, and he bent to nuzzle her neck. He fondled her until she was gasping and moaning, then he moved and entered her from behind while he continued running his gentle fingers across her sensitive clit. He thrust into her body at a leisurely pace, enjoying her gasps and felt her climax building. Abruptly, he stopped and moved away from her. “Oh God,” she moaned and hung her head. He turned her roughly so her back was against the wall. “Did you think I would not exact some revenge, witch?” His eyes glittered dangerously, and a slight smile played at the edge of his mouth. “Kesim… please.” He took a step forward. “Please? Please what?” He tilted his head quizzically. “Are you begging me?” She was breathing hard. Oh, he knew she would love this game. “Lift your hands,” he ordered. She looked up at him defiantly, and he reached down and took her bound hands, pulling them firmly up over her head. Back to the wall, her body open to him, she felt not ashamed, but incredibly aroused. Her body was hot and wet and her need was almost overwhelming. She knew she would do whatever he demanded, but decided to make him work for it.

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Calthraca: Adamare He held her hands over her head with one of his and bent his head to suckle at her breast, making her gasp. She came up on her tiptoes and cried out as he bit her then kissed her sore skin. He stepped closer and pressed against her so hard she could scarcely draw a breath, then moved and lifted her slightly pinning her to the wall, and impaled her upon his cock. “Is this what you were begging for?” She didn’t respond, she wanted to resist him, but it was impossible, he was too good. Kesim dragged his chin along her jaw and she whimpered. “Answer me,” he growled into her mind. “Yessss...” She brought her legs around him, and he thrust hard into her. “Oh yes, Kesim!” This was the way he had wanted to make love to her, she saw in his mind. He’d longed to dominate her, to have her totally at his mercy, but he’d resisted those urges until now. She moaned softly as he continued working her body. His cock thrust greedily into her clenching channel, pushing her closer and closer to her climax. With a moan of pure surrender, she peaked and collapsed against his body, exhausted, but he did not relent. He turned, holding her, and laid her upon the bed with her legs still locked around him. Standing beside the bed still firmly within her, he put his hands on either side of her body and bent to kiss her, bruising her mouth with his. Soft groans came from him as he thrust, once more working her body hard and she arched up against him. He broke the kiss and whispered, “Resolvo,” releasing her wrists. She brought her hands down with a sigh, then ran them up his hard chest. She unlocked and lowered her trembling legs, and he caught her ankles in his big hands. Pushing forcefully against her 236

Calthraca: Adamare straining muscles, he grabbed her knees as they bent and he held her there. She gasped and came again, shuddering against his hold. His own passion burst forth and he let it come with all the force he felt behind it. He cried out her name as he spent himself within her. His legs gave out, dropping him to his knees. Too spent to rise, he simply rested his head upon her warm thigh. After a few moments, he pulled himself up, then collapsed beside her on the bed, breathing heavily. “I love you,” she gasped. “I know.” He grinned. **** They lay together sated after lovemaking. Adama was curled against his side, with her head upon his chest, lulled by his soft heartbeat. Kesim drew lazy circles upon her shoulder and arm, nearly dozing himself. Just when he thought they had reached heights in their passionate lovemaking, she would thrill him with something new. He couldn’t help but grin recalling what they had just done. “You are the man I have dreamed about all of my life.” Her voice was low in the quiet dawn. He laughed. “Truly!” she protested. “I believe you,” he said. “I’m laughing because I have dreamed of you as well. I wondered when you would be brave enough to tell me.” “Brave— You’ve known?” she sputtered. She punched him and he made a surprised “Oof!” then laughed harder as she pummeled him with a pillow. He drew his knees up to his belly, snickering helplessly as he tried to fend her off. “Woman, you’re a menace!” 237

Calthraca: Adamare Finally he reached out and caught her wrist pulling her down into his embrace. He kissed her tenderly. “We were meant to be together, Adama. I only wanted to let you tell me when you felt comfortable doing so. I will never force you to do anything.” She nodded. “Thank you. I cannot believe how fortunate I am to have you.” She hugged him and then sighed. “When will we arrive in Minalos?” He lowered his arm around her shoulders. “The rest of the party went on to Daskad, and would have been there yesterday before supper since Dakkar returned the horses. I sent word to them to wait for us, but it shouldn’t take more than one day if we ride hard to catch up. Then two more days to Adjiban,” he finished. “Good,” she said and snuggled close again, inhaling his warm masculine smell. “We’ll need to leave soon,” he said regretfully. “I know.” She sighed from her pocket of warmth beside his ribs. “Kesim, it is freezing in here, and I can’t dress in the cold.” She hopped out of bed and ran lightly to the fireplace. Naked, she leaned down and pulled two fairly large logs from the bin and placed them on the fire, then poked it up with the iron poker. He watched her, loving the way she looked, strong, yet soft and feminine. He felt a lustful twinge, and his mouth went dry. She ran back to the bed and slipped under the covers. She put her cold feet against his legs and he sucked in his breath at how cold they were. He and pulled her close to himself, and she could feel him hardening against her rump. “I ought to hold you down and fuck you until you scream, then do it again. God, I enjoy making you come.” He licked her ear as he sent her the thought. 238

Calthraca: Adamare “Never mind that!” she said firmly, rolling to her back to look up into his face. “No?” He bent his head and nuzzled her neck, then worked his way up to her lips. She sighed, opening her mouth to his exploring tongue. “Maybe just once?” he whispered against her lips. Her whole body shuddered at his seductive tone and she groaned regretfully. “We can’t.” He let her go, staring at her with a loving smile, then sat up and began looking for his clothes. She watched him dress, and then reluctantly left the warm bed in search of her own.

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Chapter 8 They entered the main hall, which was quiet, although many people moved about. When they saw Dakkar seated in his favorite chair barely moving, head in hands, they realized the reason everyone was being so quiet. He was in pain from last night. Kesim had a rather smug look on his face and Adama elbowed him in the ribs, smiling with grim satisfaction at the surprised rush of air she forced out of him. It occurred to her that Kesim hardly showed the effects from his night of drinking with Dakkar. As a matter of fact, no one would guess he’d been drinking at all. He walked over to Dakkar, called out a loud, “Good Morning!” and clapped the large man on the shoulder in greeting. Dakkar cringed and rolled bloodshot, pain-filled eyes at Kesim, mumbling out something that might pass for, “Good Morning” if one was hard of hearing. Dakkar realized something was odd and looked at Kesim hard. “You’re feeling well this morning?” he asked. No one ever felt well after drinking Qasslian brandy, especially in the quantities they had. “Oh yes, quite well, thank you. I suppose I just hold my liquor better,” Kesim needled. The larger man glowered. “I do, however, have an excellent remedy for your ailment.” He looked around and caught Talia’s eye then moved 240

Calthraca: Adamare to speak to her, and together they left the hall for Dakkar’s receiving room. Adama smiled listening to her husband and Dakkar banter. She got herself a cup of strong black tea and sipped it as she sat gingerly beside her friend. “So, you’re ill?” She tried hard to keep the laughter from her voice. “No,” Dakkar groaned. “I’m hung-over. I consumed too much Qasslian brandy with your evil husband last night, and now I feel like a horse-stomped snake.” Try as she might, she wasn’t able to contain the snort of laughter that slipped out at his comment. Still holding his head in his big hands, he said, “Adama, you know I love you, but please don’t mock me. I think I’m dying.” This time she did laugh out loud. “Do not be so dramatic, Dakkar. I promise you aren’t dying.” She rubbed his back and he moaned pitifully. “Although I’m sure you wish you were.” Kesim returned to the hall and approached Dakkar. Talia was behind him holding a goblet. She set it down beside her husband and Kesim said, “Drink this remedy, my friend. It will make you feel better.” He raised his head and looked at the cup doubtfully. “What’s in it?” “Oh, Dakkar, don’t be such a baby. Just drink it. I watched Kesim make it, it has herbs and dried flowers and such mixed with wine.” She picked up the cup and took a drink, then held it out to him. Dakkar looked at his wife, then without taking his stare from hers, he took the cup and drank it all at once. Kesim lifted his hand as though running it through his hair. He flicked his fingers toward Dakkar and murmured, “Adlevo.” Adama was certain she was the only one who heard him. 241

Calthraca: Adamare The effect on Dakkar was dramatic and immediate. He surveyed the room with an almost comical look on his face and exclaimed, “I feel better!” “Wonderful!” Talia said to him. Then she took his big shaggy head in her hands and kissed him soundly. Kesim grinned happily and looked around for Adama. He caught her arched eyebrow and winked at her. She shook her head and smiled back at him. Together they found a hot breakfast laid out and helped themselves to slices of ham, hot-cooked cereal, eggs, fresh bread and more strong tea. Dakkar, now fully recovered, ate heartily. “My son Morgan will lead you out of the mountains. I’ve had your horses saddled, along with two pack horses with plenty of supplies for you,” he commented around a mouthful. “That is very kind of you, Dakkar,” Kesim thanked him. “You’ve been very kind.” Adama went a bit farther. “I thought perhaps Morgan would like to join us as we go to Daskad. That is if you will permit it?” Her real reasoning was that the bright, friendly young man deserved to see something of the world besides the mountain, and should be allowed to seek his fortune wherever he chose. Conversation quieted and then stopped entirely as the whole room anticipated Dakkar’s reply. Kesim raised an eyebrow in surprise. She’d said nothing to him of it. Dakkar looked at her closely. His brow cleared and he said, “Let us ask him what he would like to do.” Morgan stood holding a plate of food looking as though he’d rather be anywhere else. “I…” He stopped and cleared his throat. “I think I would like to see what things are like off the mountain, Father.” His honest face burned bright red. 242

Calthraca: Adamare Dakkar nodded, his blue eyes glittering. “Then you shall go. Your home is here, Morgan. You may always return,” Dakkar said quietly. Morgan’s face split into a huge grin. “Thank you, Father!” Unable to resist his son’s infectious good humor, Dakkar grinned back. “Thank you, Dakkar. He should see some of the world, and I shall protect him. I swear it.” Dakkar smiled at Adama. “I know you will, my dear.” He looked at his son, pride lighting his features. Morgan was surrounded by a group of backslapping well-wishers, yet still trying to balance his plate without dropping it. “Perhaps he shall find a lovely woman to make a life with. He’s a fine man. But now, I suggest you all get ready to leave. You’ve a long trip.” Kesim signaled to Cyril and jerked his head toward the door. Cyril jumped up and left the hall. Together Adama and Kesim said good bye to Ming-Tse, and the others, then made their way to the commons. Cyril had seen to the horses before he ate and they were loaded and ready to embark. Kesim’s stallion, Stator, had been left for him along with Adama’s mare. Dakkar strode over to them along with Morgan and three other young men. He took Adama by the hands and kissed her cheek chastely. “It was good to see you, in spite of it all. I know I shall see you again.” He looked in her eyes. “Take care of Oma, bring her to see me if you can.” He released her and took Kesim’s offered hand, pulling him into a huge bear hug. He released Kesim and said, “You’re a good man, Sorcerer, and you’ve got a wonderful woman. I know you will have happiness together.” Kesim nodded. Dakkar clapped a paw around the back of Morgan’s neck and hugged him hard. “Safe journey, my son. You’ll always have a place here.” 243

Calthraca: Adamare “Thank you, Father,” Morgan said. Finally they mounted and were ready to leave. As they rode from the compound, people waved and wished them well. They entered the woods along the path and Morgan rode forward taking the lead. By noon of the second day, they had managed to make the outskirts of Daskad. The vendors and peddlers hawked their wares, multitudes of items both necessary and frivolous were on display, and new faces were always cause for commotion. Adama and Kesim, both having traveled through large cities before, merely smiled and waved off most of them, refused others, basically just trying to reach the main gate of the city. Cyril rode along slowly trying to appear dignified and aloof, like Kesim, whom he admired greatly and tried to emulate at every opportunity. Morgan on the other hand, having never been beyond the mountain where he was born, stared goggle-eyed trying to take in everything. During the day, the gates of Daskad were open to any who wished to enter, but they closed at sundown. If someone was caught outside of the walls after the gate closed, they wouldn’t get back until dawn the next day. Adama sat upon her horse and looked up at the wall. It was nearly a hundred feet tall and made of whitewashed stone. Visible for miles in all directions, it shone like a diamond in the sun. The wall was smooth and impenetrable, and Adama wondered what it had taken to build such a thing. It was easily the largest manmade creation she had ever seen. A manmade desert surrounded the city for a five mile radius, leaving no cover for approaching enemies. The guards could see anyone approaching, friend or foe, leaving plenty of time for defensive measures if necessary. It was a brilliant defense strategy, from a strictly military standpoint. 244

Calthraca: Adamare Unfortunately, it also required that rather than farm the land around the city, all the food grown was required to be grown at least five miles away, then shipped in. Adama stepped down from her saddle and stretched waiting for Kesim and Morgan to catch up with them. She sighed. She felt irritable and couldn’t wait to find an inn with a bath. Tired and smelling of horses and other unpleasant aromas, she was exhausted and cranky, and she really wasn’t feeling very well at all. She knew a bath and a soft bed would go a long way toward changing that. The heat was nearly oppressive after the extreme cold of the mountains. She had stripped off her heavy tunic earlier and now wore only a white sleeveless camisole, her leggings and boots. She reached up into her pack and pulled her waterskin out, taking a long drink. The water was warm and tasted bland from being in the sun for hours. She bent her head and pulled her hair up, then tied it so it was no longer hanging against her neck. She wished Kesim would hurry. She saw them coming at a distance and swung back up into the saddle. Morgan was laughing at something Kesim had said and they both looked as though they’d been joking the entire time. Seeing them so jovial irritated her further. They reined up beside her and Cyril. “What took so long?” she demanded, annoyed at their hilarity. Neither man answered so she turned to Morgan. “What is so amusing?” “Amusing? Oh…” Morgan blushed crimson. “Something seemed very funny when you approached.” She glared at Kesim, who still had a faintly amused expression on his face. He was examining the wall as she had earlier. 245

Calthraca: Adamare “Oh, nevermind.” She knew it was probably something bawdy or rude, and they didn’t want to tell her. She sighed. “Let’s just get going. I really want to find an inn and a bath,” she said, turning her horse’s head. Kesim reached out and grabbed the horse’s halter and pulled her back. He smiled lovingly, leaned over and kissed her gently, then released her horse. Riding forward, he took the lead into Daskad. **** He was right, there were plenty more vendors within the walls of the city, and they had to force their way through the throng. They all called out to the new arrivals as well. Kesim ended up trying three inns before they found their little party. He had sent Cyril in to check and was relieved when he exited with Sarah. Adama was relieved as well. She didn’t think she had the energy to go much farther. She dismounted and Sarah flung herself at her mistress. Adama caught her in a crushing embrace and smiled. She allowed the girl to hug her for a few moments longer, and then pried Sarah’s arms from around her neck. “Oh, my lady, I’ve been so worried about you!” “I’ve missed you too, Sarah,” Adama said quietly. She turned and began unfastening her saddlebags, and Cyril leaped forward. “I’ll do that for you, my lady.” She looked at him for a moment, and then turned. “Fine,” she said tersely. “Sarah, please show me to my rooms, and please tell me I have a bath.” The maid led her to a huge oak staircase. “Oh yes, my lady, you have a beautiful bath, with a copper tub. I knew you’d want rooms with a bath for both yourself and Prince Kesim. The innkeeper was most pleased to provide us with the best rooms 246

Calthraca: Adamare when he found out you were coming,” she chattered happily, glad to have done as her lady would have wanted. “Sarah, you are an angel,” Adama commented in a weary voice. They walked down a short hallway to a huge, thick wooden door, which was banded with strips of cast iron. Sarah turned the door handle and pushed the door open, stepping back to allow Adama to enter first. Adama stepped through and found a lovely room with an abundance of fine furniture and art. Thick draperies hung from the windows, and areas of the polished wood floor were covered with colorful rugs from the Eastern Plains. The room faced east, and there were doors to other rooms on both the south and the north. The room seemed built to house giants. There was a man standing in the middle of the receiving room. He was of average height and dark-skinned, and like Kesim, also wore a neatly barbered beard and mustache. He was dressed in a beige kurta coat and pants, and he wore a small tight turban of the same color on his head. He bowed low when she walked in. “My lady,” he said then resumed his original upright position. Adama took a step back, bumping into Kesim, who had entered behind her. He placed warm hands upon her shoulders and greeted his servant. “Sanji!” he said happily. The man bowed low to Kesim. “My lord Kesim.” “Adama, this is Sanji, he’s my personal man.” Kesim released her and walked to Sanji. “Oh, I see,” Adama said. She sank gratefully into one of the huge fireside chairs. “Kesim, I’d really like to be alone.” She was feeling anything but gracious at the moment. 247

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim looked at her for a moment. “I know you do. Just a few more moments, I promise.” He turned to his servant. “Morgan will be staying with us here in our rooms.” Adama groaned audibly. “Sir?” Sanji said. “There are no other rooms to be had in this inn or any other. It seems we are fortunate to have the ones we’ve got. I’m sorry but you’ll have to stay with us,” he said to Morgan. “I can sleep in the servant’s quarters,” Morgan said quietly. Kesim replied, “Oh no, that won’t be necessary.” “You’re our guest,” Adama said, remembering her manners. Morgan nodded. “Thank you. Right now I think I’d like to have a look around town.” He smiled at Sarah. Sarah nearly fell over, utterly charmed by the handsome man smiling at her. “Would you like to escort me about?” he asked her. “Sarah? My bath?” Adama’s tone was tired and petulant. Remembering herself, Sarah replied to Morgan. “I would, and I will, but right now, I want to get my lady into a hot bath and fed. Then we shall see about exploring the city together.” Morgan smiled again. “Agreed.” Sarah pulled Adama to her feet and led her toward the north door. When they’d gone, Kesim looked at Morgan. “Maybe you’d better get cleaned up a bit before taking Sarah out?” “Oh yes!” Morgan said hastily. “Where?” Sanji said, “Right this way, Master Morgan,” and indicated the south door. Kesim laughed a bit. Then a thought occurred to him. “Morgan?” Morgan turned at the door. 248

Calthraca: Adamare “Cyril has shown some interest in Sarah, well…more than interest. You may want to keep that in mind. Although, I do not know Sarah’s feelings in the matter,” he finished. Morgan said, “Thank you,” then nodded and continued to his bath. Kesim walked around the large sitting room, then to the windows at the eastern end. He looked out the window and saw a moderately large garden area where people milled about. A green space to enjoy the sun and the air. He’d have to remember to tell Adama about it. He crossed back to the fireplace where he’d noticed a table with bottles. Lifting the stoppers on the cut glass decanters, he found a rather nice single malt whiskey and poured himself a drink. He then poured one for Adama and walked through the north door to find her. He entered a large room with a fireplace, a sitting area by the windows, a huge dressing area, and a bathroom just adjacent. There was an enormous four-poster bed hung with scarlet drapes in the center of the room. Sarah’s voice clucked maternally from the dressing room punctuated by quiet replies in Adama’s soft alto. He sipped his whiskey and walked into the bath. Setting Adama’s glass down on the counter, he walked to the big copper tub and put his hand under the running water. Running water was a convenience he still wasn’t entirely used to. Very few people had it, and then, only those who could afford it. His own home had running water, but it was less common in the northern countries. Not too long ago, water for a bath like this would have had to be heated in the kitchens and hauled to the rooms. He felt slightly selfish, but this was one luxury he enjoyed immensely, and guiltlessly. 249

Calthraca: Adamare He saw Adama’s favorite bath oil beside the tub and poured in a healthy dollop. He loved the citrus tang and the way it made her skin smell so fresh and clean. Looking around the rest of the room, he saw a vanity bench and a large chair with tapestried cushions, as well as a commode. He sat in the chair and sipped his drink, waiting for her. A short time later, she entered the bathroom. She was wearing a jade-colored, satin robe and had her hair pinned on top of her head. She walked to the high copper tub and let the robe drop to the floor, then stepped into the hot water, sighing with pleasure. She looked at him and smiled, then seeing his drink she said, “Is that whiskey?” He grinned. She always managed to make him feel breathless and lightheaded when she looked at him. “Do I get any?” she asked, grinning back. He got up and picked her glass up from the counter. He handed it to her and kissed her gently. She sniffed at the liquor then took a long sip. “Mmmm… That is lovely. Thank you.” Kesim returned to his chair and enjoyed both the view and the excellent drink. He wanted to get in that tub with her and do the most deliciously wicked things, but resisted the urge, knowing he would have her later when they would be totally undisturbed. She set the glass down beside her on the small incidental shelf and slid down farther into the water so only her head was above it. The bath was hot and oily and felt glorious on her aching body, and she was feeling pleasantly mellow from the warmth of the whiskey. Sarah entered singing a bit of a naughty taproom tune that Kesim recognized. She came to a quick halt when she saw him smiling at her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were here, my 250

Calthraca: Adamare lord,” she said, then laughed a little and blushed. “Should I come back later, my lady?” she asked Adama. “No, no, Sarah, let’s get this done.” Adama sighed and sat up. She took the pins from her hair and laid them next to her drink. “Kesim isn’t going to see anything he hasn’t seen before,” she said, and Sarah blushed once again. Adama caught his lustful glance over the rim of his glass and smiled. Sarah began to wash Adama’s long hair. Once it was clean and rinsed, she pinned it back up and took up the sponge to wash Adama’s back. Despite his desire to do the job himself, Kesim watched Sarah instead. He could see Adama was enjoying the attentions of her maid and knew Sarah would be mortally offended if he dismissed her in order to tend Adama himself. Besides it was incredibly erotic simply watching; both women were so accustomed to each other they barely acknowledged his presence. Kesim shifted slightly in his chair and uncrossed his leg from his knee. “I want to sit you on the edge of the tub with your legs over my shoulders, and then I’m going to lick that delicious little clit.” He was startled from that particularly lustful thought by Adama’s voice. “Have you seen Captain Coleman yet?” Adama asked him. Her eyes were closed and she was relaxing. “And that sounds positively wicked,” she answered him mentally, a slight smile upon her lips. “Ah no, but I left word for him downstairs to see me upon his return. I want to remain here at least tonight and tomorrow,” he replied. She opened one eye. “No, Kesim. I want to leave here tomorrow at dawn,” she said, her voice quiet but firm.

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Calthraca: Adamare “I know you do,” he replied patiently, “but I can also see you are exhausted nearly to your breaking point and I won’t let you become sick by pushing on despite my better judgment.” Annoyed, Adama sat up, splashing water on the floor. Sarah yipped and jumped back before she got wet. “Kesim, I am perfectly fine. All I need is a decent night of sleep.” He smiled. “Yes I know, therefore two nights will be doubly effective.” Instead of smiling back, she narrowed her eyes. “It’s easy for you,” she said. “You don’t have a child waiting at the end of your journey. You’re just as bad as Christian ever was. All you want to do is coddle me and keep me safe so I’ll be available to you whenever you desire me. I am not your possession, and I was perfectly capable of caring for myself before I met you, Kesim.” Now it was his turn to be angry. Hurt by her venomous outburst, he slammed his glass down and walked over to her. She looked up at him with daggers in her eyes. “You are right. I do not have my own blood child waiting for me. I have your child waiting for me, and for you. I would hardly be doing her any favors if I brought her mother to her dying of exhaustion.” His voice was tight and low, his disappointment clear. “My decision was not based upon my selfish needs or my desire for you, but your needs. I take offense at being compared to Valore, when my motive was merely concern for you. No, Adama, I would never presume to think I possessed you. It is you who most assuredly possesses me.” He turned and strode from the room. Adama grabbed her glass from the shelf and flung it at the closed door, shattering it. “Bastard!” They heard the bedchamber door slam. 252

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah was speechless. She had never seen him angry with Adama, or Adama so angry with him. She moved to clean up the glass. Sarah could sense her lady was unwell and knew rest would be best for her. “Sarah, I’m finished,” Adama said quietly. Wordlessly Sarah helped Adama from the tub and held a warm towel for her. Once she was dry, Sarah helped Adama into her robe. Adama turned and faced Sarah. “He’s right, you know.” Sarah nodded. “Dammit. Why does he have to be right?” Sarah smiled and Adama reluctantly smiled back. “I should apologize to him. I said cruel things.” Again, Sarah nodded. “Say something, Sarah,” she said emphatically. “You seem to have all the answers already, my lady,” Sarah commented wisely, and smiled over her shoulder at Adama as she left the room to see to the meal. It was still early but she thought Adama might want to eat before she slept. When Sarah left the room, Adama walked barefooted into the bedchamber, enjoying the areas of soft carpets she crossed as she approached the windows. The room was huge, bigger by far than her own bedchamber in Lyros. As she got closer, she realized they were actually floor-to-ceiling doors that led onto a small terrace. Beyond the terrace she could see a pretty garden below, someplace for the guests to walk and enjoy the air she assumed. She’d try and remember to tell Kesim later, if he would speak to her, she shook her head. She reached out and flicked the lock on the door. She was ashamed at what she’d said to him. What had possessed her to speak to him that way? He’d never treated her as poorly as Christian had, and she knew it. She had said those 253

Calthraca: Adamare things out of spite like a spoiled child who hasn’t gotten her way. He had every right to be angry. She wasn’t usually so irritable and she knew she was taking it out on those around her. Everyone in her party was committed to getting her safely to Minalos and certainly Kesim would lay down his life rather than see her harmed. Still a feeling of unease persisted. She sighed and rubbed her upper arms. Kesim was right. One more day here wouldn’t hurt anymore than not seeing Oma already did. She just hated feeling so nervous and edgy, there was an inexplicable urgency she felt, and it made her prickly. Adjiban was only a day or two away. She could hold on. She crossed the room to the double doors and opened them. In the parlor Morgan was standing very close to Sarah, who was blushing fiercely. They hastily drew apart, and Adama stifled a smile. She went to the bar table and poured herself a fresh drink, then sat on the sofa before the fire, staring pensively into the flames. She sipped the smooth liquor and thought about how she would apologize to him. Freshly bathed himself, Kesim came from his own rooms dressed in his favorite riding pants and a white linen shirt open at the throat. Sanji had brought his personal items and he wore a medallion very similar to Adama’s. It was also an eclipse, but had runic writing rather than jewels. The eclipse was his personal crest. He saw her sitting on the sofa and his heart clenched. She was deep in thought but had blocked her mind and hadn’t heard him enter. She looked both strong and vulnerable at the same time. His desire for her, which he’d thought well dampened, 254

Calthraca: Adamare flared up as he looked upon her. He heroically resisted the urge to grab her by the arm and drag her back to their bed. He knew she had only spoken in anger and that she didn’t mean the things she’d said. Not that it would have changed his decision at all if she had. Still her words had cut him. Of more concern to him however, was why she had been acting this way. He could easily touch her and most likely discover the reason, whether illness, pain or merely fatigue; but he would never do that without her consent. Silently he motioned Morgan and Sarah from the room. Morgan took Sarah by the hand, tugging gently, and led her out. Kesim sat beside her on the sofa without speaking. Together they sat silently for long minutes and finally she said, “I am sorry, Kesim. I was wrong.” He looked at her and said mildly, “Apology accepted.” She stood up, then turned back and bent to kiss him lightly on the mouth. She crossed to the bedroom, setting the glass on a table as she passed. The door closed with a quiet click. He shook his head and laughed a little. He certainly couldn’t fathom women at all. He left their rooms to find Coleman. Adama was too tired to discuss her feelings or her motivations; she only wanted to sleep. She removed her robe, knowing she would be more comfortable in just her satin shift, and climbed into the bed. Drawing a light coverlet over herself, she was grateful to be able to sleep, but the unease she’d felt all day was still with her. Kesim found Coleman in the stables. He’d returned from a ride, and was handing his reins to one of the servants. He bowed his head slightly to Kesim. “My lord.” “Any word from Minalos?” Kesim asked him. 255

Calthraca: Adamare “Only to acknowledge our earlier message that we were enroute after a slight delay,” Coleman answered. He’d sent messengers the morning before Kesim and Adama had arrived. “What about my parents?” “I’m sorry, there’s been no word from them yet.” Kesim nodded. He’d sent messages through Sanji and Coleman that he was arriving with his new wife, hoping to prepare his parents. They assumed they would choose his wife when the time came, according to his father. He was unsure if they would be displeased or not but he hoped they would eventually come around. He also hoped their silence wasn’t indicative of their reception. He looked up from where he was standing and he could see Adama’s terrace windows above them. The drapes had been pulled closed, and he knew she was sleeping within. He thought about how much he’d like to climb the trellis, kick that door in and take her, but resisted the urge. He laughed a little, and Coleman looked at him quizzically. She had the most amazing effect on him. They entered the inn through a small door that opened into a taproom, which was busy even though it was still early. Coleman was explaining why there were so many people in the city. Apparently there was some sort of gathering of tribal leaders for a treaty conference in the town, which was why there were no rooms to be had. Daskad was a well-known political capital. They found a table near a trio of angry looking Tarks. “We were fortunate to get these rooms, however they cost us quite a lot,” Coleman finished. “Don’t concern yourself,” Kesim said absently. “I’m glad you got them; I will cover the cost. Adama deserves to have accommodations which reflect her rank.” 256

Calthraca: Adamare “And yours.” Coleman drained his cup. His normal formality was set aside when they were alone, and he thought it was time to discuss this subject with his brother-in-law. Kesim blew out air and looked up, but didn’t respond. He leaned back in his chair. Coleman had been Kesim’s friend since childhood, and he was also married to Kesim’s older sister, Marla. “You know you’re going to get a lot of comments like that, don’t you?” Coleman said seriously. “Yes, James, I know,” Kesim replied. He sat up abruptly. “What exactly do you suggest I do? Divorce her? I can’t, I love her.” “No, I don’t. I’ve never seen you this way about any woman, and I’ve known you nearly all of my life. I just want you to be prepared for it. Your parents aren’t the only ones who may be upset.” Coleman paused. “All I’m saying is, your mission was to rescue her and, Kesim, you married her. People are going to talk, and some of them won’t be saying nice things. I hope you’ve considered how this will impact your family, even if you don’t care about your own reputation.” Kesim thought about his friend’s words for a moment. “I’ve given all of this careful consideration, James. What more can I say? All my life I’ve done what everyone else expected of me. I respected my parents; I served my country. Now it’s time for me to do what I have to for myself. If that means I will lose my commission, so be it, but at least I’ll have accomplished my duty.” He took a long drink from his cup. “Accomplished your duty, and got the spoils, Kesim? Everyone knows your effect on women.” Kesim looked hard at Coleman. “Are you implying I used sorcery on her? That I somehow tricked her into this?” His eyes flashed dangerously. 257

Calthraca: Adamare “No! I’m not, but don’t be shocked when others do,” Coleman said. Kesim couldn’t understand why James was being so difficult. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” His comments were cut off when Morgan joined them carrying his own cup. “May I join you?” he asked politely. Glad to change the subject, Kesim smiled and made room. **** After midnight Kesim let himself into their rooms. He was startled to see two figures on the sofa before the light of the fire. Sarah and Morgan. They were asleep, entwined in each other’s arms, but much to his relief, fully clothed. Quietly, he walked to his own rooms and found Sanji dozing on a chair. He put a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Go to bed, man,” he said. “I’ll not need you tonight. Thank you for waiting for me.” Sanji awoke and stood, embarrassed to have been caught dozing. “Good night, Lord Kesim.” He left the room for his own bed. Kesim left the room and returned to the parlor, he hunched down beside Morgan’s head and said, “Morgan.” The younger man snorted and turned his head. “Morgan,” Kesim said, more loudly. One of Morgan’s large paws came up and cupped Sarah’s breast. Kesim’s eyes widened then he shrugged and left them asleep where they were. He had more pressing things to attend to. Quietly he opened their door. Adama was still asleep in the huge bed, looking very small amid its bolsters and hanging drapes. She was curled on her side facing the terrace windows. He pulled off his clothes and slid into the bed beside her. 258

Calthraca: Adamare She felt him get into bed with her and woke up slightly as his arm snaked across her midsection and pulled her close to himself. “Kesim…” Her voice was thick with sleep. “Don’t move,” he growled in her ear and a wave of thrilled fear shot through her at his words. His voice was tight, and she heard the desire in it. Desire he was struggling to hold in check. Slowly he drew her nightgown up her body, caressing her wherever his hand paused. She could feel the heat of his touches igniting her, and as always she became wet with her own arousal. She whimpered and he clutched her to him tighter. He smelled of ale, and pungent cigars; she knew he didn’t smoke, but she was fairly sure he’d been drinking. He must have been in the taproom downstairs. One thing she did know definitely; he wanted her…now. She couldn’t have resisted if she’d wanted to. With her help, he pulled her silk gown over her head and tossed it to the corner of the bed, leaving her naked in his arms, gooseflesh pebbling her skin. She turned until her backside was firmly planted against his groin and she could feel him hardening against her. She brought her arms up and back, around his neck to caress his face and run her hands through his thick hair. “My God, how I love you.” She felt his breath tickle the back of her neck as he exhaled a silent laugh. “God knows how much I love you, Adama.” His hand slid down her body, caressing her, and fondling her breasts. He loved the lush feel of her body, warm from sleep. Her nipples were hard under his palm, as she stretched back against him. He slowly drew one hand down to her cleft, his fingers found her hot and getting wetter by the moment. He stroked her most intimate spot with a butterfly touch and she squirmed in pleasure. She could feel his probing length hard behind her as it slid into her hot sheath. As always she was 259

Calthraca: Adamare rendered nearly breathless from the sheer size of him. He pulled her even closer. Surprised by the abruptness of his entry, a slight, “Ah…” was involuntarily forced from her lips. “Shhh,” he whispered. He still held her in a crushing embrace but slowly began to rock his hips, thrusting into her gently. His thumb found its rhythm as well and worked relentlessly, forcing quiet sounds of pleasure from her. “Touch yourself,” he said softly, his breath hot in her ear. He’d been thinking about her all night and during his watch the night before, and seeing her bathe today had just fueled his desire even further. He knew she was tired but there was something about her that rendered him constantly randy and aroused. When it came to making love with her, he was insatiable. She could sleep after. She slowly brought her hand down to caress her breasts, rubbing the flat of her palm against her stiff nipples, and her other one slid down to join his in stroking herself. His hand slid up and massaged her other breast once again. Adama gasped as he rolled onto his back with her lying atop him, her back to his front. The quilts slid from their bodies. His legs were between hers and he spread them slightly, easing her thighs further apart. The feeling was strange. She’d never been taken this way before and it opened her up wide to both his caressing hands and her own. Her head was in the pocket of his shoulder and he nuzzled her neck, biting softly, making her whimper with need. “Shhh… The others are just on the other side of the door, and I don’t want to wake them,” he whispered, knowing a full cavalry charge wouldn’t wake them. He released her from his embrace and his hand came up to join hers, caressing her breast. 260

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim could feel her climax building, and he continued thrusting and massaging slow circles upon her swollen nub. She panted slightly as it washed over her. She moaned and he laid a hand over her mouth, which shocked her and incredibly made her peak higher. Her whole body was wracked with a shuddering, shattering, silent orgasm that rocked her from head to toe. She drew a sharp panting breath against his hand and he once more held her around the middle as shudders of pleasure passed through her body. Once again he was amazed at her capacity to trust him and let him lead. “Oh God, that was sexy as hell.” His voice was low and sexy in her mind, but she could hear the strain in it. He was still deeply within her although he had stopped moving. She let herself relax and he withdrew from her. He maneuvered her to her back and slid down her body. She soon felt his hot mouth upon her. “Oh my God,” she whispered on exhaled breath and he chuckled. The light of the full moon illuminated their bodies in silhouette. She could see the muscles of his back flex as he moved closer to her. He probed and flicked and licked at her and she sucked in a sharp gasp as his broad shoulders forced her thighs farther apart and he drove his tongue deeply into her. “Ah!” His head came up. “No noise,” he scolded. The flat of his tongue swirled along her lips and over her throbbing center and she groaned. “You are so deliciously wanton. I love having you at my mercy.” “Kesim… I…” She shuddered and writhed under him, entirely abandoned in her passion as he continued teasing her. Now that he had her moaning and panting once again, he brought himself up even with her, and then brushed the hair from her forehead. He gazed deeply into her eyes. “You are perfection, Adama.” 261

Calthraca: Adamare He smiled his wolfish smile but she knew he was by no means finished with her. He slid himself into her slippery, hot depths with a groan at her tightness. She contracted her muscles hard, knowing he wouldn’t be able to withstand that tightness much longer. He lay very still and as she brought her hands up to embrace him, he bent his head to kiss her deeply. “I’m not ready to finish yet.” His words were stern in her mind and she whimpered. She relaxed her muscles upon him and felt the anxious tension flow out of him as well. His lips were soft and full on hers and sent the now familiar jolts of electricity shooting through her. His tongue traced her parted lips and he thrust hard, forcing a gasp of surprise from her. “Please,” she whispered. “Shhh,” he said again, grinning wickedly. He held both of her hands above her head, his fingers interlaced with hers. “Oh, Kesim…” She trembled fiercely with her desire. He loved seeing her this way. He loved the effect he had on her and her incredible response to their lovemaking. Where he went, she willingly followed. She would let him lead her nearly anywhere sexually and he was touched that she trusted him so. He let go of her hands, gathered her into his strong embrace and began to thrust again, enjoying the sharp sting of her nails on his back. He would stop if he felt her begin to peak, waiting until she relaxed to begin once more. Driving her toward a towering climax. When her back arched for the final time, he pounded into her forcefully. She made a quiet whimper as he caught her sigh with a kiss and her last orgasm tore through her. He let himself climax as well, a feeling he was beginning to think of as falling from a high distance. He made a deep rumbling growl as he came. He could feel her muscles still fluttering around him and he kissed her eyelids gently as she began to stir. 262

Calthraca: Adamare They lay together weakly; entwined in each other’s arms, both hot and sweaty from exertion. He bent his head and kissed her lovingly. “I love you,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry we fought.” “I know, I love you too.” He gathered her close, and kissed her deeply. Neither of them noticed the shadow pass on the terrace. **** Kesim awoke expecting to feel Adama’s body beside him in the bed and became completely alert when he didn’t. He sat up and looked around the big room. Everything was illuminated with the soft, pink, light of dawn coming through the terrace doors. “Adama?” Receiving no response, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and walked naked to the bath. She wasn’t there. He went to the door and opened it and looked out into the parlor, where Sarah and Morgan had evidently awakened and vacated the sofa, then closed the door softly and turned to the terrace. He saw her then, standing in the growing light of dawn. She was looking out toward the desert watching the sunrise. She’d wrapped herself in a sheet. It hung in folds down her back to the cleft of her backside and her hair was pulled over one shoulder. He smiled. Where she stood, every luscious inch of her was illuminated. The early sun glinted from her hair and skin, as though she were surrounded by an aura. Her beauty rendered him weak and his chest was tight with emotion. She looked something like a goddess from the ancient myths, and he loved her with a passion that took his breath away. Quietly he opened the terrace door and stepped out. She didn’t turn, but she knew he was there. He stepped behind her 263

Calthraca: Adamare and brought his arms around her body, resting his chin on top of her head. “Since I was a child, I’ve always loved the dawn,” she said quietly, leaning back into him. “It’s lovely.” “There is something special about witnessing the awakening of the day, something important, as though you were the only creature there, as though you were about to learn some great secret… It…it’s difficult to explain.” She laughed a little at herself. She turned in his arms and embraced him, bringing the sheet around his back, and pressing her warm body to his chilly one. He swallowed hard, surprised by the emotion that had tightened his throat. “You’re right,” she said. “One more day isn’t going to hurt any more than being away from her for all these months has.” He looked down into her eyes; deep green was magnified by unshed tears. “When Hecate held me captive, I thought Oma was dead,” she said quietly. He hugged her closer, reassuring her. She’d never spoken to him of her abduction. Adama blinked and two large tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped them away with the sheet impatiently. She took a deep breath and continued. “She told me she’d murdered my mother and Christian, so I assumed she had killed Oma as well. I let her go. Now it feels like…if I don’t get to her, I might lose her again.” She put her forehead against his chest and paused for a moment. “I just realized that I don’t even know if my mother is alive or dead now. I mean, Sarah told me she was alive when she was taken, but since then…” She stopped, too choked up to 264

Calthraca: Adamare continue. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t do this,” she said quietly, and began to pull away. He held her tightly and she looked up at him. “Don’t be sorry. You’ve lost so much, Adama. If you had no sorrow over your loss, I’d be much more concerned about you.” He wiped a tear away with his thumb. “Don’t apologize for your feelings, especially not with me. I love you.” He looked up over her head at the sky. “Three days at most and you will have Oma again, I swear. This morning we will send word to our operatives in Lyros; they will know about your mother. Although we may not know anything until after we arrive in Adjiban.” She nodded but didn’t say anything more, allowing him to hold her close and give her the comfort she desperately needed. As the sunrise turned to day and light spread across the city, he opened the door for her to pass before him back to the bedroom. As she entered, he felt the sting of an insect bite and slapped the back of his neck, annoyed. He took a step into the room and stumbled slightly, catching himself upon the doorframe. The room spun for a moment before he was able to right himself. Adama turned and saw him, then hurried back. She pulled his arm over her shoulders and helped him to the bed. “You’re exhausted. You shouldn’t have had so much to drink last night.” Kesim knew he was not exhausted, nor was it the effects of alcohol, but he was unable to speak. Whatever had stung him was now affecting him entirely. His body was weak and felt heavy as though he were being dragged into unconsciousness. This was not a mere insect bite. As he lay down upon the bed, Adama scanned his thoughts but was unable to discern anything coherent, and she felt him slipping into sleep. She pulled the coverlet over them and snuggled close, enjoying the warmth of his big body beside hers. 265

Calthraca: Adamare She had slipped into a light doze when she felt the presence of someone else in the room. Expecting Sarah, she rolled to her back and opened her eyes. Like a never-ending nightmare, she stared into the leering face of Hecate Bosha. She gasped and the mercenary slapped a hand over her mouth, stifling a scream. Hecate smiled at her. “It’s so very good to see you again, Adama. I’ve missed you.” Adama scanned the room looking for anything she could think of to help her. “Kesim!” she screamed his name in her mind. “Dammit, I cannot move. She has drugged me.” “Oh God…” Hecate had somehow managed to disable him, most likely with a dart. His body was completely useless, and he now had to endure Adama’s horror along with her, without being able to help her. He struggled mightily, fighting whatever evil potion she’d hit him with but was still paralyzed. “I can feel your fear, Adama. It arouses me,” Hecate purred. She sat on the bed beside Adama and ran a hand up her body over the smooth satin of her skin. “Mmmm, so soft. How I used to love touching you this way,” she murmured. Adama arched her back in an effort to escape Hecate’s touch, thrashing her head back and forth wordlessly, forcing Hecate to press down harder upon her. Terror leapt nimbly around Adama’s mind, forcing her to recall the many times she’d been attacked by Hecate before. Memories she’d fought hard to lose. “Oh… yes,” Hecate grinned. Beside Adama, Kesim continued fighting the potent drugs. He was nearly mad with rage, and in her mind Adama could feel him struggling to move, to speak, anything to aid her. Hecate took out her knife and ran it lightly over Adama’s breasts and down her abdomen. She brought it back up and Adama jerked, making Hecate chuckle evilly. She pressed the 266

Calthraca: Adamare knife into Adama’s side, making a deep cut, forcing a pained moan from her. “Now you’re marked as mine.” Adama’s eyes locked with Hecate’s mad blue gaze then squeezed shut as Kesim’s anguished cry rang through her head. Hecate glanced at the unconscious sorcerer lying beside Adama. Something about him still made her uneasy. Then she noticed his hand moved, just a bit. A look of confusion crossed her features, and she sat back slightly, loosening her grip upon Adama who gasped in a terrified breath. How could he be stirring? His arm came up slowly as though trying to reach for her and she slid back, nearly falling off the bed before catching herself. She looked at Adama whose eyes were huge and round. “I must go,” she said, trying to sound braver than she felt, “but know that I will be watching you, Adama, waiting for my opportunity. You will never be free of me.” She reached out and caressed Adama’s cheek and the terrorized woman cringed back away from her, making her chuckle. Quickly she crossed to the terrace door and met her brother who stood waiting. Together they stole from the inn. Adama heard their horses leave the cobbled courtyard. Kesim frantically called to his wife. “Adama!” She did not answer. Instead Kesim received a flood of memory enough to make him cry out in anguish. It was all the catalyst he needed and his body jerked back to consciousness. Slowly he sat up and groaned, closing his eyes against the nauseating effects of the drug, holding himself up on the bedframe. When he could open his eyes, he turned and found Adama curled upon her side, holding the sheet tightly against her chin. Her eyes were wide and glassy and a slow pool of blood spread out along the sheet where she’d been cut. 267

Calthraca: Adamare “Dear God.” He scrambled to her side and tried to pull it away but hesitated when she whimpered in fright. “I need to see how badly you’re cut,” he spoke softly, trying not to scare her further. She looked up at him with tears standing in her eyes, and his own eyes watered as he finally understood the horrors she’d endured. He ran his hands through his hair and looked around, torn between going for help and following Hecate himself. Finally he stood and rushed to their bedroom door. “Morgan!” he shouted, then turned back to Adama. Gently he peeled back the sheet from her side, trying not to move her. “I will not hurt you, Adama, but I must look.” Morgan, shirtless and newly awakened, entered the room looking around for the trouble. Sarah stood not far behind wrapped in a blanket. “Lord Kesim?” “We’ve been attacked. I need to see to Adama’s injuries. Will you go and get Captain Coleman? Have him alert the authorities.” Morgan nodded. As he passed Sarah, he drew her close and placed a tender kiss on top of her head before leaving to find Coleman. Sarah returned to Morgan’s room and dressed hastily, then joined Kesim who had managed to check the deep cut in Adama’s side. He motioned for her to be quiet. “What happened, my lord?” Sarah whispered. He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “We were attacked by Hecate.” Sarah’s eyes were wide and filled with tears. “She will never forgive me for not letting her kill Hecate when we were in BasSalaam.” 268

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah said nothing as she knew he might be right. Adama had the generosity of heart to forgive a multitude of sins, but this might be more than she could absolve. Hecate had hurt her on a level none of them could even fathom, and to Adama, a queen by birthright, the only fair retribution would be death, at her hands. Sanji walked into the room and stopped short, surprised to see them. He bowed. “My lord,” he said, and then looked around, brow furrowed. Kesim got up from the floor beside Adama. He took Sanji by the arm and explained the situation to him. Sanji and his family had been members of Kesim’s household for more than thirty years. They proudly served the Trasain family and would gladly lay down their lives if necessary. Sanji’s father had been Kesim’s father’s personal man and Sanji, the youngest, had naturally been assigned to the youngest son. “Right now, please look around outside, have the innkeeper search everywhere for a huge man and a woman who may look suspicious. If I can catch that bitch, I’ll kill her with my bare hands.” Kesim took a deep breath and pushed the thought aside. “We must make sure they don’t escape. I need to be with my wife.” He looked intently at Sanji, as though about to say more then shook his head. Sanji nodded and strode from the room, intent upon his mission. Adama began to stir on the bed. She made a low pained moaning sound, and Sarah rose to get some water while Kesim easily drew her up into a sitting position, letting her lean against his side. He put a comforting hand across her shoulders. “Please, don’t touch me,” she said in a breathless whisper. Her eyes were huge, glassy, and terrified. “I’m going to heal that cut. It may hurt a bit, but only for a moment. Then you will sleep. You are safe now,” he soothed. 269

Calthraca: Adamare She nodded, but held his eyes with hers, too afraid to look away. The look of sheer terror upon her face made his heart ache. Sarah returned with water and approached Adama, who whipped her head around, frightened again, trying to see everything at once. Calmly Kesim said to Sarah, “Just set the glass down and move back away from her, Sarah.” Sarah did as she was told, nervously backing away. “She’s in shock, and right now everyone is a threat to her,” Kesim explained, keeping his tone conversational. “What should I do?” Sarah whispered. “Nothing. I will help her.” He pressed his hand against her side, and concentrated. “Paean Medioceri,” he whispered. Adama jerked and sucked in a sharp breath, then exhaled a soft moan, dropping into sleep in his arms. Kesim exhaled his own breath and then recalled that Coleman, Morgan and at least ten armed soldiers were about to come through that door, guaranteed to awaken her and frighten her even more. He stood and pulled on his breeches, buttoning them as he spoke to Sarah. “Stay with her. I will return in a few moments.” He stepped outside just in time to stop the men from bursting through the door. “What’s going on?” Coleman demanded. “You must come in through the salon,” Kesim said. “Have you lost your mind? What in hell is going on? You drag us down here at the crack of dawn and then won’t let us enter? Are you mad?” Like a striking snake, Kesim grabbed Coleman by the front of his jacket and slammed him against the wall, then threw an arm across his throat. “Not quite, James,” he snarled through bared teeth. Anger overwhelmed him and he drew back a fist to 270

Calthraca: Adamare strike. His fury at what he’d had to helplessly witness made him forget the man he held was one of his best friends. The soldiers moved toward them but stopped when Morgan stepped forward, encircling Kesim’s hand in his own large paw. Coleman held his hands up showing he meant no harm. “Kesim… Let him go.” He relaxed his fist and Morgan released him. Angrily, Kesim let go of Coleman as well. “Adama is sleeping. She can’t be frightened further, you’ll have to go through the salon.” Coleman turned wordlessly and led his men and the constable away. Kesim leaned against the wall, bent nearly in half. He held his head in his hands, sickened by the way he’d acted. It was his own inability to be able to save her that drew out his fury. He felt Morgan’s hand on his shoulder. “She has been through so much,” he said sadly. “It will be all right, she only needs to rest and heal. It wouldn’t hurt you to rest and heal as well,” Morgan added. “You do not look well.” “I’m fine.” Kesim shook his head. “We cannot stay here. This place won’t be helpful for her. She’s still in danger. I can feel it.” “Kesim, you don’t mean to travel with her in this condition? Let me see to other rooms,” Morgan suggested. Kesim nodded, pulling himself together. “Yes, all right. Good, I’ve, ah… I’ve got to go back to her.” Morgan nodded and stepped back. “Yes of course. I’ll do what I have to, but, Kesim? Don’t allow your anger to hurt those who care for you.” Kesim nodded, somewhat surprised at the maturity of Morgan’s insight. Morgan looked at him for a long minute, then turned and pounded down the staircase, loudly hailing the innkeeper. 271

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim returned to the room and found Sarah watching Adama with a look of concern. Adama was still asleep, and he knew she would be for some time. He returned to the bed placing a tender hand on Sarah’s shoulder and giving her a gentle squeeze. “If her breathing becomes labored or she appears in pain, come for me. Otherwise, I’ll be back soon.” She nodded. He walked to the door of the salon. Coleman was speaking quietly with Sanji and the constable. He looked warily at Kesim as he entered and crossed to where they stood. Sanji bowed, and Coleman inclined his head. “What will happen now?” Kesim asked the constable. The constable bowed hastily when he realized who the shirtless man was. “Oh! My lord. We have searched the grounds and sent out word to the outposts to stop anyone fitting your assailant’s description. You will need to come and sign a statement. If they are captured, it will be death for an assault upon a royal personage though.” Kesim nodded. “Thank you, Constable,” he said, offering a hand. The constable took his hand and shook it, obviously pleased to be of aid to a prince. “My pleasure, Prince Kesim,” he gushed, making Kesim cringe a bit. He was feeling less than princely at the moment. The soldiers left the room and Kesim saw Coleman looking at him, unsure whether it was safe to approach. Kesim held his hand out to his friend. Coleman took it, although a bit more cautiously than normal. He made a short bow and said, “Kesim, my apologies. I had no idea what had happened here. I’m very sorry.” He looked Kesim in the eye for the first time, noticing the pain and sorrow his friend felt. 272

Calthraca: Adamare “Thank you, James, I’m sorry as well. I should never have lost my temper as I did.” Coleman nodded. “How is she?” “She’s sleeping now. I’m not sure how she will be once she awakens.” He looked outside. “They have been following us the entire time. This was not merely a chance encounter.” Coleman shook his head. He’d been vigilant about keeping watch for danger, and still he’d missed it. “What now, Kesim? Do you wish to leave?” Kesim shook his head. “No, she can’t travel yet. I think Morgan was seeing to new rooms for us.” “There aren’t any.” “We’ll have to see what Morgan can do,” Kesim insisted, turning from him. Coleman nodded, his heart aching for the two of them. He liked Adama. He found her charming and beautiful, a perfect mate for his friend who had been lonely for so long. He only hoped his wife, Kesim’s sister Marla, would be as enchanted with the woman her brother had chosen. She had always been so dependent upon Kesim, and he knew she would feel slighted. Sanji approached them. “Forgive me, Lord Kesim, for the interruption, but Master Morgan asked me to tell you he has arranged new quarters for you and your lady wife.” Kesim nodded. He hadn’t stopped looking out the window, his facile mind working over the events of the day. “So we’re staying one more day?” “Yes, at least one, James,” Kesim said absently. “I’ll see to moving your wife,” Coleman offered, turning to go. “No, thank you, James. I’ll do it myself.” Kesim turned away and left them to return to Adama. 273

Calthraca: Adamare Coleman looked at Sanji and cursed his bad luck. “We have to make sure they stay safe. Kesim isn’t going to allow anyone near her now, but I don’t want anyone getting close to him. He would lay down his life for her.” Sanji spoke quietly. “I have never seen him so. I will do all I can to protect him, Captain.” He looked at Coleman a moment longer then bowed and left the room as well. Coleman dismissed his men and remained alone on the terrace, watching the guests of the inn come and go. The sad part of this was that he knew Kesim was genuinely happy for the first time in many years, and Coleman could see why. Kesim Trasain had always been a man alone, but now he was somehow complete, and the fact that his love for this woman and hers for him could bring such a dramatic change, spoke volumes. Adama was funny and charming, well-read and articulate, not to mention her beauty and strength—all qualities Kesim greatly valued. He shook his head again and left to increase the number of soldiers guarding them.

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Chapter 9 Kesim returned to the bedroom. He found Sarah busily packing and moving from their current rooms to their new ones. She was in complete control of the situation, ordering servants here and there with quiet efficiency. He wasn’t sure how Morgan had managed it, but he was grateful to the young man once again. Grateful to both of them. Kesim kneeled down to the floor beside Adama. She was sleeping, a good, healing sleep. He touched her throat and felt her pulse. He was pleased that it had slowed considerably, and her skin had lost the clammy feel of one in deep shock. He looked at her side. Her wound was gone, and he exhaled as he sat back on his heels. Sarah looked at him anxiously, and he gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile. “She’s better,” he remarked, “now all we have to do is be patient, let her tell us what she needs, and give her time to heal.” Sarah nodded, looking somewhat relieved. “We’ll need to move her soon, my lord,” she said softly. He nodded as he got to his feet. “Where are we going?” “Morgan said he’d gotten a suite of rooms on the north wing of the building,” she replied. “He said the innkeeper was appalled that his honored royal guests were assaulted in their own rooms and felt he must do something to make things right. He’s moving the people currently in that room to this one.” 275

Calthraca: Adamare Just then a large burly servant came up to them. “My lady, my lord…shall I move her now?” Ignoring the way he’d addressed her, Sarah stood up quickly. “That won’t be necessary. Prince Kesim will take Queen Adama to their rooms himself.” The man bowed and moved away. She looked at Kesim. “Will you rest when we get to your new rooms, my lord?” she asked. He gave her a wan smile. “After we get her settled, I promise.” He squatted and gently placed his hands under Adama, lifting her with ease. Automatically her arms came up around his neck to hold on, even though she was still asleep. To him, it was a good sign. Sarah rushed ahead of them to lead him to their new rooms. They found Morgan waiting for them in rooms that were markedly different from the ones they’d vacated. Light, airy colors replaced the dark and somber wood paneling, sheer silk hangings covered the walls, rather than heavy tapestries, and cool marble with scattered rugs replaced deep carpets. A much more relaxing space. Kesim surveyed the room quickly, then going down two steps, he strode toward one of the bedchambers. He didn’t care which one. It was smaller than their last one, but that was no matter. It was ample for their needs. Sarah rushed before him to turn down the bed. He laid Adama down and carefully pulled the old blanket away from her. She was covered in dried blood and sweat, and he knew she would want to bathe; she hated being dirty. “Is there a bath here for her?” he asked suddenly, concerned. He tugged the white coverlet up over her chest. “Yes, my lord,” Sarah answered. “Are you all right?” “Yes, yes…” he said and ran his hands through his long hair, looking about. 276

Calthraca: Adamare He smiled slightly as Sarah pursed her lips. He read her thoughts and found her wondering just how far she might have to press him to rest, but he was reluctant to leave Adama’s side. “My lord,” she said quietly, “I will get her cleaned and dressed. I’ll see to some breakfast for you, so you may eat before you sleep.” “I will bathe her then we can see about some food,” Kesim insisted. He was shocked to realize it was still quite early, well before noon. He sat upon the bed while Sarah left to run the bath. Gently he stroked Adama’s cheek, smoothing her hair away from her face. “Adama, awaken,” he whispered in her mind. At his words, her eyes fluttered and slowly opened to reveal her sleepy green gaze. Suddenly they flew wide and she jumped. “Kesim!” He held her close, soothing her. “Shhh, you are safe.” She clung to him, burying her face in his chest, then burst into tears, sobbing her pain and fear. Kesim held her tighter, pressing his lips to her bent head as she cried. Outside their door, Sarah paced nervously. Finally she decided to sit upon the sofa to wait. Morgan entered the room, closing the door behind him with a quiet click. She looked up and he smiled at her, recalling their night together. She was so small and forlorn looking he couldn’t help but feel the need to comfort her. He sat beside her on the sofa and picked up her hand. “I am so worried for them.” She sighed. “Kesim will care for her. She needs more than you can give her.” “But she’s been through so much, and I don’t know, I just feel as though I should be doing more.” Morgan kissed her cheek softly. “I know, but I believe she has exactly what she needs.” 277

Calthraca: Adamare **** Kesim sat before her in the hot bath, watching her face as she closed her eyes. She was lulled by the hot water and his strong presence. Wordlessly he lifted the sponge and gently drew it down across her chest to her side, wiping away the blood which had dried upon her. She let him tend her, knowing he needed to do this, to help her when he hadn’t been able to help her before. He carefully washed every bit of her body, avoiding any sexual suggestion, simply cleaning her, reassuring her with his tender touches. When he had finished, he sat back and pulled her into his embrace. She cuddled against his chest, listening to his loving heart beat softly within him. Safe. **** When Adama awoke, it was dark. A cool breeze stirred the sheer silk curtains from a doorway on the other side of the room and lifted the hair on her brow. She turned over and looked at Kesim lying beside her. He was sleeping peacefully, and she watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest. The moon was still mostly full, and she could see clearly around the room. She sighed quietly. She hadn’t been lucky enough to forget what had happened. She knew she probably wouldn’t. She moved closer to Kesim and felt his arm come down gently across her shoulders. “How do you feel?” “I’ll live… Unfortunately,” she said then laughed a bit. She felt his chest rise and fall in a low chuckle. “Is it very late?” she asked quietly. “I’m not sure. Probably.” He paused. “Adama, I’m…sorry.” She heard the words catch in his throat and knew how much this hurt him. “Kesim, you had no control over what happened. Neither of us was prepared.” 278

Calthraca: Adamare He clenched his fists. “When I think of what she did to you, it makes me so angry… I…” Frustrated, he brought a shaking hand up and ran it through his thick hair. “Shhh,” she soothed. She looked into his large, sad eyes. “I forgive you.” He hugged her to himself tightly, but said nothing. They lay quietly together, not speaking, but enjoying the comfort they gave to each other. Later, when she thought he’d gone back to sleep, he surprised her by asking, “Are you hungry?” She laughed low. “Actually, I’m ravenous.” “Mmmm, so am I. I wonder if Sarah left us anything to eat.” “Knowing Sarah, I’m sure there is plenty of food.” She smiled. He swung his legs over the side of their bed and stood, then came around and held his hand out to her. “Be careful, you’ve been lying for a long time, so you might be dizzy,” he said solicitously. In fact she was a bit lightheaded as she stood, but it passed quickly. He quietly opened the door to the outer chamber, and still holding her hand, entered. The main salon of the new suite was like a pavilion, with wide columns and a high vaulted ceiling. Kesim pointed out the fountain and koi pond as they passed. Oil lamps with lowered wicks dimly lit the room, giving it a soft welcoming glow. “This is beautiful,” she said, looking around. “Mm, it reminds me of my home.” “But you didn’t have to do this,” she finished. “The other rooms were fine.” He arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps I did it for myself.” He’d led her to a red lacquered buffet. It was brightly ornamented with gold leaf and filigree. Spread out on the buffet 279

Calthraca: Adamare was a wide array of covered dishes and baskets. True to form, Sarah had left them an abundance of food to choose from. “Well then, if it was just for you, the rooms are beautiful.” She looked up and a slight smile lifted the corner of her mouth. He bent to her and kissed her lips softly. “Thank you,” she whispered, resting her head against his chest. He held her tightly and she hugged him back trying to draw strength from him. Finally she released him and swiped at her eyes. “We… Ah, let’s…” His voice was hoarse. “Yes, let’s eat,” she said, turning to the buffet. She took up a plate and began filling it with food, enough for the two of them to share. Cold roasted fowl thinly sliced on braised vegetables, warm flat bread, and fresh fruit, along with delicious wine. They sat on overstuffed pillows on the floor at a low table overlooking the quiet city. When they had finished, Kesim poured them both more wine and sat back. “Do you feel well enough to travel?” She looked at him for a long moment then said, “I’m not broken and I doubt I’m going to fall to pieces, despite Hecate’s best efforts. So, yes. I feel well enough to travel.” He grinned. “Good, we’ll leave as soon as we dress. It’s nearly dawn.” She stared at him gape-jawed. “You haven’t told anyone, have you?” “No. Well, none of our party yet. I did send letters yesterday to people in Adjiban who need to know we’ll be arriving.” He took a long sip of his wine. “I know someone among us must have tipped Hecate to where we were. Therefore I’m telling only Morgan when we leave.” “Morgan?” she asked. 280

Calthraca: Adamare “Yes, I know Morgan has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the troubles we’ve encountered,” Kesim said thoughtfully, and then added, “and he’s proven himself to be very dependable and trustworthy. I want to reward him somehow when we arrive in Adjiban.” “Maybe a commission in the service?” Adama suggested. “Mmm, maybe. He has definitely proven himself a friend, and worthy of trust.” In fact, Kesim had something else in mind. “Do you know who it was?” she asked. “No,” he replied grimly. “But I do not wish to trouble you with it either. You and I will go ahead, and we’ll be in Adjiban by tomorrow if we ride hard. Let’s finish here, I have something I must do before we can go.” She nodded and he offered a hand to her, helping her up. In their rooms after a short search, they located their clothing and dressed quickly. Once dressed and packed with a change of clothes, Kesim handed her a bag and said, “Wait here for me and we will go to the stables together.” He sat at the secretary and wrote out his statement regarding Hecate’s attack, then folded the letter and sealed it. Next he crossed to the bedroom opposite theirs and rapped softly on the door. No answer. He pushed the door open to find Morgan sleeping soundly along with Sarah tucked firmly under his chin. He quickly crossed the room and shook Morgan lightly. The young man’s eyes opened and focused. “My lord?” he said hastily and sat up. Sarah opened her eyes then squeaked and covered her head with the comforter. “Does her majesty require me?” came her muffled voice. 281

Calthraca: Adamare “No, Sarah, she’s quite fine. Morgan, I must speak with you.” “Certainly.” Morgan reached for his pants before sliding out of the bed. Kesim returned to the main salon and waited for Morgan to join him. As Morgan came out of the room, he turned and spoke quietly to Sarah, then closed the door softly. He looked at Kesim quizzically. “My lord?” he began. “I’m sorry for waking you, Morgan, but I must ask you for your help once again.” Kesim handed Morgan the letter he’d just written. “Please deliver this to the constable at dawn, It’s my statement regarding the attack yesterday.” Morgan took the letter and nodded. “Kesim, is everything all right?” “Everything is fine. I’ve just decided it would be safer if Adama and I traveled the remainder of our trip alone,” Kesim answered. “You suspect enemies in our group?” “Images I pick up from those around me lead me to believe we are still in danger. If we leave in a day or two, our assailants could have time to prepare another ‘mishap’ on the trail. I cannot risk it.” “Images?” Morgan said skeptically. “Kesim, I…” Kesim suddenly reached out and grabbed Morgan by the shoulder. The young man jerked out of his grasp after only a second or two, but in that instant, he knew the sorcerer had looked into his heart. He looked at Kesim as he rubbed his shoulder with his other hand. Finally he said, “I trust you believe I am your friend?” He was vaguely uneasy over Kesim’s touch. He had no idea how powerful of a sorcerer Kesim actually was. 282

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim nodded. “I see you and Sarah have decided to wed.” Kesim grinned. “When you deliver my statement tomorrow, have the magistrate perform the ceremony.” He reached into his doublet and withdrew a pouch. “Take this for your needs, and give Sarah our love. Follow us to Adjiban in two days. James knows the way. Since I know you will not wish to be separated from your new bride, and I know she will not be separated from her mistress, I have a position within my household for you. If you are inclined?” Morgan accepted the pouch and nodded, then looked up at his friend. “Thank you. Safe journey to you, Kesim, and to Adama as well. I cannot tell you how much this means to us.” Hesitantly he offered Kesim his hand. Kesim shook it with none of the shock from earlier and left Morgan in the growing light of dawn. Adama and Kesim entered the dim stables, slowly making their way down the long center aisle looking at the placid faces of the horses as they passed. Stables always comforted Adama, as she loved horses. They were searching for Kesim’s stallion, and near the end of the row they found him. He had his head stretched around to the next stall, gently nuzzling her mare beside him. “Now, why doesn’t this surprise me?” she said to Kesim who smiled. The horse, Stator, looked unfazed by Adama’s observations. Kesim set down the saddlebags he carried and opened the stall gate. He grasped his halter and led Stator out into the center of the aisle with him, giving him a friendly pat on the rump as he went back into the stall for his gear. He put his blanket on then swung the heavy saddle onto his back, cinching the belts tightly. He gave them a final pull then put his bridle and bit over Stator’s head and secured those as well.

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Calthraca: Adamare Ready to work, the stallion stood calmly, looking powerful and intimidating. His striking black color picked up the dim light and reflected it back. Adama had meanwhile saddled her mare. Minerva was obviously pleased to see her and gave her a friendly nudge with her nose. She laid a loving hand on her velvety face. “I’m happy to see you as well.” Adama picked up the saddlebags and handed Kesim his, then placed hers over Minerva’s withers and mounted. Kesim took the reins of both animals then led them to the end of the barn. He lifted the bar on the door and pushed them open to the cool dawn breeze. The sound of their shod feet echoed loudly in the quiet courtyard as he led them forward, stopping momentarily to close the doors again. Kesim swung easily up into Stator’s saddle. He smiled at her and she smiled back, overjoyed to finally be on their way. “Shall we?” He gestured toward the city gate, newly opened for the day. “I think so, yes.” He flashed his roguish grin once again and wheeled his horse dramatically, bolting in the direction of the gates, clattering madly over the cobbled streets. Adama kicked her heels into Minerva’s side and left the courtyard at roughly the same pace. As they left, she glanced up and saw Sarah and Morgan standing together on the balcony, looking down at her. She raised a hand in silent farewell, and then picked up speed to catch Kesim. Sarah watched her go then turned to Morgan. “I hope she will be all right.” “She is safer now than she has been since we left the mountain,” he said quietly, hugging Sarah closer. 284

Calthraca: Adamare **** Kesim kept up a demanding pace, riding hard throughout the day, stopping only to rest and water the horses, then continuing on. As the sun set on the second day they were surprised to find themselves crossing into Minalos, but didn’t slow down. Six hours later, shortly before midnight and nearly dropping from exhaustion, they clattered up a long gravel road past a dark carriage house to an attractive white villa. The house was silent and Adama worried their noisy arrival might disturb the inhabitants. Kesim slid down from his horse with a groan then reached up to help Adama. Once safely on the ground, she held her back and stretched. “Will we rest here?” she asked, looking dubiously at the dark windows. “Yes, this is my house.” “Your house?” she said, delighted. He smiled, enjoying her reaction. “I suppose I should say ‘our’ house.” He took her hand and led her to the doors. “I’m sorry there is no one here to greet us, but only Sanji would normally be here, and he is still in Daskad.” He pushed open one of the doors. “Stay here while I get a light.” She stood in the darkened doorway listening as he walked down a short hallway. She heard a brief clatter then a thump, a low curse muttered under his breath, and then he was walking back carrying a lamp he’d lit. “I tripped over something,” he admitted sheepishly. She stifled a grin and nodded. “Come in, I know you’re tired. I want to show you our rooms.” She was a little apprehensive entering his house. It wasn’t that she was afraid, but this was his place, a house that he’d had 285

Calthraca: Adamare before he knew her. Presumably a house where he’d had other women as well. The first place they would sleep together that wasn’t new for both of them. He looked into her thoughts and saw her hesitancy then he leaned down and kissed her lightly. “This is your home, Adama. I’m sure it’s probably not what you’re used to, but I want you to be comfortable here.” She nodded. “Kesim, it is fine. Don’t worry about a place being opulent enough for me. Remember I slept in the woods for three years.” He didn’t say anything but smiled and led her down the hallway. He entered the same room he’d gone in before. It was a large room with a high ceiling painted in a muted color, although she couldn’t tell what it was in the dim light. Kesim rummaged in a drawer and found three thick candles, which he lit then set about the room in different areas. Adama sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her boots off with a grateful sigh. She had told him not to worry, but suddenly he found himself doing just that. He was nervous that she wouldn’t be comfortable here. He could see she was nearly dropping from exhaustion when they arrived, and he wanted her to be comfortable. He bent and started a fire in the fireplace then rose dusting his hands together. “If you want a bath…” He paced restlessly back to the other side of the room, and she took his hand as he went by her. “Kesim, your home is lovely. Can we go to sleep? Please?” she said quietly, squeezing his hand a little. She disrobed to her camisole and neatly folded her clothes, setting them beside the bed on the floor, then climbed into the big bed, pulling the heavy quilt over her shoulder. 286

Calthraca: Adamare He smiled. “Yes. I just have to see to the horses, and I’ll be back soon.” He kissed her again, and she smiled. Reluctantly he left to tend the animals. Kesim had been away for more than a year, which was why he’d sent Sanji ahead when they left BasSalaam. To open the house and make sure it was fresh and clean, even changing the bed linen. In the past, he never knew when Kesim would return; therefore everything was kept in order and ready. It wasn’t difficult to keep a house clean when no one lived there. Kesim returned to the horses and walked them to the stable. He opened the doors and found the lamp hung near the door, lit it, and then walked the animals inside. It was quiet and deserted. He’d sent all of his other horses to his father’s house when he was assigned to BasSalaam. They would be sent back to him as soon as he sent word that he was home. God, he was exhausted. Leaving the barn, he extinguished the lamp and closed the doors firmly. He could see the flickering light in his room and wondered if Adama was asleep yet. The thought of her lying in his bed stirred him, and he hurried back to the house. In his room, she was already asleep, burrowed down under the warm quilts and looking quite peaceful. He unbuttoned his jacket and sat on the bed, undoing the buckles and pulling off his boots. He stripped down to nothing, then carefully climbed in beside her, trying not to jostle her too much. She sighed and smiled as he lay down. Seeing she wasn’t completely asleep, he pulled her closer and whispered, “I love you.” “I love you too.” ****

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Calthraca: Adamare Dawn came steel gray and rainy; bringing howling wind and hail along with it. Spring was an unpredictable season in Minalos, and snow would not be out of the ordinary. Adama awoke with a start as one of the windows blew inward on a strong gust of wind, wetting the floor and sending a scatter of leaves across the bedroom. Quickly she got up and closed the window and the shutters, turning the knob firmly to keep them closed. Her feet were cold from the wet stone floor and she gratefully climbed back into the warm bed. Kesim was still deeply asleep, and she could see his eyes flicking back and forth as he dreamed. He slept the deep way one does in a familiar bed, and she was just slightly jealous. She sighed and rolled over, trying to find a comfortable position. It wasn’t working and at last she decided sleep was over for her and got up. She pulled on her leggings and tunic and carried her boots with her as she left the room, closing the door with a soft click. She walked down the silent hallway toward the room at the end. They hadn’t gone that way last night, and she was curious as to what was in the room. The house was laid out in a sort of cross pattern with an atrium at one end housing the front entry and a fountain. The center of the cross was a dining area with a long low table and many colorful silk pillows and bolsters. A kitchen, pantry and servants quarters were at the other end. The left side of the cross contained Kesim’s bedroom and bath, as well as another small bedroom. The right side was where she entered now. The room was filled with a ghostly gray light from the windows. She could see it was a sort of salon. Beside the salon were two more bedrooms that shared a bath. Slowly she entered the salon, looking about as she did. She guessed it was also Kesim’s study. There was a large desk facing 288

Calthraca: Adamare the eastern windows and a fireplace on the outside wall. The desk was scrupulously neat and free of any sort of papers or clutter. Numerous low couches and ottomans populated the space before the desk in front of the windows, and a huge bookcase took up most of the wall behind it. She found an impressive collection of old books on nearly every subject she could imagine. She squinted at some of the titles, the ones faded by age nearly illegible. Naturally there were large volumes on medicine and healing, but also small handwritten books of poetry and of stories and histories. Toward the center of the bookcase, in a place of honor, she found a lovely set of leather bound books, their titles etched in gold leaf. Obviously this was a collection Kesim treasured. She reached up and pulled one of them down. Examining the front cover, she was surprised to see an exact duplicate of her pendant embossed on the front of the book. Unconsciously she felt for her necklace. Curious, she flipped open the cover. It was a pristine edition of a magical spell book, one that detailed correct casting, usage of differing incantations, and explained the language of the sorcerers. The author was Sebastian Vara. Intrigued, she took the book back to one of the couches near the fireplace, and sat down, curling her bare feet beneath her. The book was fascinating. It had essays regarding spells she’d never heard of, anecdotal accounts of interesting natural occurrences as well as magical ones, even a chapter on what he described as ‘alternate worlds’ and portals to reach them. Adama wondered what it was that made her choose this particular book. There was nothing particularly special about its appearance, yet she’d felt drawn to pick it up. She turned the page and saw a word which sent a wave of fear directly through her. 289

Calthraca: Adamare Catena. It was the evil charm that Hecate had branded upon her skin. She nearly closed the book, so great was her revulsion, but something made her continue reading. Perhaps this book could tell her how to reverse the effects, and possibly restore her magic? Kesim looked in and found her a few hours later. He’d bathed and dressed not too long after she had left the room, and was already back with a boy from town to take care of the horses and the promise of a woman to come and cook and clean for them. She looked up and saw him leaning against the doorjamb, looking at her with the most loving expression upon his face. Her heart stuttered slightly as a blossom of pure heat bloomed there. She could see his complete and utter love for her. He was carrying two large cups and set them down on a low table near the couch then sat beside her and leaned forward to see what she was reading, tilting his head slightly to see the title. “Ah!” He grinned. “Primara Librum Magica.” “It’s fascinating. He advances theories I’ve never even considered. And God, Kesim, I’m fairly sure there is a way to reverse the brand. Unfortunately I don’t think we can do it.” She carefully handed him the book, her finger marking the page. He took it from her and began reading where she indicated as she sat back and sipped the hot sweet tea, watching him read. “Oh this is delicious, thank you, Kesim. I was getting chilled. What do you think?” Absently he waved a graceful hand at the fireplace and said, “Flammare.” A soft whump followed his spell and tiny tongues of flame licked at the dry wood in the hearth. “You don’t always use it, do you?” she said quietly. Drawing his attention from the section he read, to her. 290

Calthraca: Adamare He smiled. “No, not always. The magic is simply part of who I am, not all of me.” He paused for a moment then looked back at the book. “This says the spell is released when the person who placed it upon you dies.” Adama nodded sadly and set the book aside. “Don’t worry. We shall restore your magic, Adama. I swear it.” He kissed her hand. She looked at him with love and nodded, trying to be strong. When Kesim had entered the room and saw her reading, looking positively adorable sitting on the big divan with her feet tucked underneath her, he had to stop and just drink in the sight. Simply looking at her was enough to make his breath come short, and when she’d raised those glorious eyes to his, he saw how pleased she was to see him. At the look of pure adoration upon her face, his heart had nearly seized in his chest. He didn’t know how he’d managed to live his life for so long without her. He wanted to ask her to marry him again, but this time he wanted it to be out of love, not force or necessity. He thought for a moment. He’d have to find the right time to do it; perhaps when his parents arrived, or even with Adama’s daughter there to witness. Pushing the thought aside for a moment, he cleared his throat and looked back at the book. “I always found those books fascinating as well. My grandfather had some radical ideas for the time though.” “Your grandfather wrote these?” she asked. “Yes, he was a well-known sorcerer in Minalos. Apparently I follow very closely in his footsteps.” He grinned. “Much to my father’s disappointment and my mother’s delight.” “That’s where my eclipse comes from.” She beamed. He sipped from his own cup and smiled. 291

Calthraca: Adamare He had sent her the pendant after they’d been together. It was supposed to be for a future bride, and he’d known nearly from the moment he laid eyes upon her that she was the one. Legend said it would find its way to his true love. He’d always thought it was just a romantic tale, never really believing it. As it was a tradition in his family, his mother had insisted he keep it with him. Now he was glad he had. Maybe the old legend was true. “I have a few things to do this morning, but I was hoping to invite my parents today to meet you, perhaps for dinner. I also sent word ahead to my superiors and asked them to notify the family hosting Oma, that is, to let them know we’ve arrived. I haven’t mentioned our nuptials yet.” She leaned forward and put her cup down on the table. “Will you get in trouble?” He sat back and flashed that marvelous grin which made her heart skip excitedly. “It is against the rules to engage in a physical or emotional relationship with a subject,” he recited. “Unfortunately, I seem to have broken that rule, as I have come to love you desperately.” “I seem to have broken it too,” she breathed, leaning against him and touching his mouth with a tender kiss. “The consequences for breaking direct operative orders are rather severe,” he whispered against her lips. “Oh, have I been very wicked?” Adama smiled. “Very.” His hand slipped under her tunic and caressed her breast, lazily thumbing her rigid nipple. “Perhaps I should reprimand you now?” Breathlessly she said, “Yes,” and let her head drop back as he kissed her neck and throat. He lifted her into his arms and carried her to their bed. He laid her down on the bed and kissed her deeply again, darting his tongue into her mouth, dueling with hers. He pulled 292

Calthraca: Adamare his head back to draw a breath, and then plunged forward once again nuzzling her breasts as she brought her hands up to caress him. He laid his big body beside hers and continued stroking her gently, kissing her neck and face. He lifted her tunic and drew it over her head, dropping it to the floor. She had been chilled earlier, but was definitely getting warmer now. He took one hand and slid it down to stroke her between her thighs. He tugged at the waist of the leggings she wore, pulling them down and slipping a finger into her. She groaned and arched into his hand. “I’m so wet for you,” she whispered, shocked at her own reaction. “I need you inside me right now, Kesim.” “Perhaps we ought to stop,” he teased. He stopped stroking her. “No!” she said quickly. “Please, I don’t want to stop!” She reached up to pull him down to her again, but he easily held back. “I have so many things to do…” he continued as though actually considering it. In reality, his cock was aroused so much his breeches were straining against him. Seeing her so hot and aroused was incredibly sexy. He bent his head and touched her lips lightly with his. “Well, maybe just the once.” Her hands fumbled the buttons of his breeches, reaching within to free him and it was Kesim’s turn to groan. He kicked them off the rest of the way and pushed her back. Adama made a startled gasp at his abrupt movement, but didn’t have the opportunity to think about it very long before he nudged her thighs apart and slid himself deeply within her body. She gasped sharply at his entry and was overwhelmed by an unexpected wave of passion that carried her to an incredible orgasm. 293

Calthraca: Adamare Once again he was amazed at her passionate nature and gratified that he had this effect upon her. He felt her body stiffen, then her muscles thrummed and shuddered along his length, and he hadn’t yet moved. She gripped his shoulders like a drowning swimmer, clinging to him, gasping and shaking from the force of her climax. He loved the small rapturous sounds she made when she came. He kissed her forehead as he held his weight balanced above her. Unable to hold himself back, Kesim moved hard and fast upon her, driving her now until she cried out his name. He came with a soft moan of his own, pulling her up and holding her in a crushing embrace. She felt the hot spurt of his seed deep within her. “Oh my God,” she managed finally. He bent his head further and kissed her lips, then plundered her mouth with his tongue. The jolt was huge and both of them moaned with the sweet shock of it. They broke the kiss and he opened his eyes to find her looking intently at him. “Consider yourself reprimanded,” he whispered. “Oh lord, I’ll have to break the rules more often.” She sighed softly. Laughing, Kesim rolled to his back, and she cuddled close to him. Soon both of them were dozing, their passion sated for the time being. Much later, after they awoke and made gentle love again, she realized, horrified, she hadn’t asked about Oma or the family keeping her. “Kesim, were we expected?” “No, I’ve sent word for them to come here. I don’t want you to have to travel any longer.” He pulled her close. “Your daughter will be here tomorrow.” She hugged him tightly, barely able to contain her joy, then stopped. 294

Calthraca: Adamare “What about your parents? Were they expecting us?” she asked, then another thought occurred to her. “Kesim, when is your birthday?” “The tenth of Samon… Tomorrow,” he said tiredly. He was drifting off. “Sleep, Adama. You ask too many questions, woman.” She heard the smile in his voice. “When you wake up, your life will be yours once again.” She liked the way that sounded, and lay on her back looking at the ceiling. “My life will be mine once again,” she whispered.

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Chapter 10 “What do you mean they’ve gone!” Coleman demanded. Sarah cringed at his loud voice, and Morgan moved beside her protectively. “When I checked on her majesty this morning, there was no one in the room,” she said. “Then Morgan checked the stables.” “Their horses were gone. They must have left last night or the night before,” Morgan added helpfully. He wasn’t certain Kesim wished anyone to know when he and Adama had left. “You mean neither of you checked on them all day yesterday?” he asked, incredulous. He wanted to pull his hair out at Kesim’s neglecting to tell him he’d decided to leave. Instead he rubbed a hand over his face. “No. Lord Kesim left strict instructions not to be disturbed,” Sarah replied. “Of course he did. That would be just like him.” Coleman sighed. He turned and left the room. How was he supposed to protect them, when Kesim wouldn’t tell him when he was leaving or where he was going? Sanji watched him leave, but remained behind. He looked at Morgan. “You know more than you’re saying,” he said quietly. “Do I?” Morgan replied. “Yes, you do, and I’ll wager you know exactly when Kesim left.” Sanji walked down the two steps from the front door of the 296

Calthraca: Adamare suite, toward Morgan and Sarah. “But that is just as well; they will need people they can trust. You will make an excellent ally.” He smiled at Morgan, then nodded to Sarah and gave a short bow, before leaving the room as well. **** Coleman walked down the corridor to his room. He felt guilty he had not captured the people who had attacked Adama. “Now what?” he asked out loud. He stood by the windows and stared south into the desert. He’d have to leave immediately. If they left last night, then they wouldn’t have reached Adjiban yet. He guessed they would go to Kesim’s villa. He could be there by tomorrow if he left right now. It wasn’t unthinkable that they could be attacked by Hecate again if she and her brother anticipated Kesim’s plans. Both he and Adama could be killed with no one to protect them. It was his duty to be there. Coleman started jamming items into his saddlebags. As a soldier, he learned to travel light, and it didn’t take long for him to be on his way. Sanji entered his room in the attic over the kitchen of the inn, and began to pack his things as well. He guessed that Coleman would follow Kesim, and he wanted to be there. **** Less than an hour later, Morgan rapped on Sanji’s door. Hearing no answer, he opened the door and found no one there. He closed the door and turned to Sarah. “Let’s go,” he said, taking her hand. “Where are we going?” “We finally have a little privacy, and I intend to enjoy it, and you, at least for a little while.” Sarah looked up into his blue eyes and nodded, her mouth already dry with anticipation over his lovemaking. **** 297

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She was sitting on the window seat in the salon, holding the babe to her breast. The slight weight of him was comforting and warm and she cuddled him closer to her. As he nursed, she could feel him falling into sleep, and his body relaxed entirely. Slowly the soft pull of his mouth eased upon her nipple and she gently pulled him away, looking down into his sweet face. He had dark hair and golden skin, and his tiny rosebud lips were pursed, still nursing as he dreamed. She couldn’t help but smile. She kissed him softly upon his dark head, inhaling the fresh clean baby smell of him, and her heart nearly burst from the sheer joy she felt. Kesim was there at her side, gazing down upon his son and then turned to look at her, a huge grin on his face. Adama awoke from her dream. Her hands were over her abdomen, holding the child that grew within her. It was no longer simply nausea or exhaustion, she knew. She was pregnant, and carrying Kesim’s son, the child they had created with such passionate love. Dawn arrived sunny and warm, so different from the day before. Her life would be different from before as well, she knew. She woke to the smells of breakfast, more specifically hot bread and fresh coffee, and her dream, still vivid in her mind, brought her peace she hadn’t felt in years. “Mmm, something smells good,” she said stretching. Kesim inhaled deeply. “Ah, breakfast,” he exhaled. Adama sat up slowly. “Let me guess, you hired a cook?” “Pansy Walker. She’s excellent. She used to make me cookies when I was a boy,” he said, smiling at the memory. Adama grinned at his corkscrewed hair, which made him look like a boy as well. “Happy birthday, Kesim.” She kissed him softly. As if on cue, a small elderly lady entered the room with a tea tray that looked as if it weighed as much as she did. She 298

Calthraca: Adamare thumped it down on the table near the windows, then turned and threw back the drapes that kept out the majority of the bright sunlight. Kesim groaned and pulled the blankets over his head. “Never mind that, my lord,” she chirped in a musical voice, making Adama think of woodland elves or fairies. “You asked me to run the household, and run it I shall! And you!” she said, turning her sights on Adama. “Let’s get you into the bath; you have to meet Lord Kesim’s parents this day, and you’ll not shame him by being late or looking unkempt.” Adama’s mouth fell open. In the instant the words fell from her mouth, the old woman went from delightful fairy to frightening drill sergeant in her eyes. “Mrs. Walker…” Kesim began. “And where is that lazy Sanji anyway?” she asked. “That kitchen was disorganized and dirty, just shameful.” Kesim lay back down. “Ah… He’s on his way here…ma’am,” he added quickly. “Humph.” She snorted. “Well, I’ll wager you can see to your own bath.” She turned and bustled into the bathroom. Soon the sounds of water running emitted from the room. Adama gave Kesim a long look then grinned mischievously. “She’s an evil little busybody, isn’t she?” she whispered. Kesim could barely contain his laughter and Adama hit him in the belly with her pillow, smiling at the groan she got in return. “We haven’t all day, my dear!” Mrs. Walker called from the bath. Adama rolled her eyes and reached for her camisole then decided against it and walked to the bathroom nude. She entered a large room with marble floors and a sunken tub. It was a lovely room, done with russet colored tile and tasteful decorations hung here and there. 299

Calthraca: Adamare Mrs. Walker hustled her into the tub and began to scrub at her delicate skin. “I use lemon oil in my bath,” Adama said, wishing Sarah were there. “Lemons?” the old woman exclaimed. “Good Heavens no! You’re definitely a vanilla… Maybe gardenia…” Adama had enough. “Mrs. Walker, do you know who I am?” “Certainly, my dear. You’re Lord Kesim’s wife. And don’t you worry, if you just do as I say, you’ll be a proper lady before such fine people as Lord Thomas and Lady Sitia.” She grinned. “They are very enlightened, and would never judge you too harshly. Especially if Lord Kesim loves you.” “I’ll be fine?” Adama said more to herself, but Mrs. Walker replied. “Yes, socially. You’ll be fine. You’re certainly pretty enough, and with some of these people, that’s all that matters. They won’t even care about your past.” “Mrs. Walk—” The old woman dumped a bucket of water over her head. “Mrs. Walker!” she sputtered. The woman stopped. “Yes, my dear?” Annoyed, Adama pushed her hair from her face. “What exactly have you been told about my past?” Mrs. Walker looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I’m not the sort who spreads tales,” she said, pursing her wrinkled lips. Adama patiently waited, wiping a drop of water from the end of her nose. Mrs. Walker sighed. “Lady Marla said you were a…a woman of easy virtue.” She hurried on. “But don’t worry, my dear, we know Lord Kesim will make an honest woman of you.” Adama was completely taken aback. “A woman of easy virtue? Is that what she told you about me?” She laughed, it was almost funny in its complete absurdity. 300

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim entered the room clearing his throat. He’d heard everything while dressing. Adama was overjoyed to see him maybe he could make some sense of this. He looked at Adama. “This is my fault,” he said quietly. “I should have introduced you. I’m sorry.” He turned to Mrs. Walker. “Please allow me to introduce my wife, Queen Adama of Lyros.” The expression on Mrs. Walker’s face was nearly comical in its surprise, then it quickly changed to mortification. “I…you must forgive me,” she said in a scandalized whisper. “I am so sorry, Your Majesty.” Seeing the woman was sincerely ashamed of her behavior, Adama smiled kindly at her. “My sister told you I married a prostitute?” Kesim was still incredulous. “Well, not directly…” Mrs. Walker hesitated. “I believe whore is the word you’re looking for, Kesim,” Adama added. He looked at her impatiently. She decided the only way she was going to finish this bath was to do it herself. She washed her own hair, sinking into the depths of the tub to rinse off. She then stood and stepped carefully out. Kesim offered a hand then handed her a towel. “Thank you, darling,” she said quietly and he winked at her. He was as charming and solicitous as always, but she could tell he was appalled at what his sister had done. Taking the other woman by the arm, he guided her to a chair in his bedroom, and kneeled beside her. “Mrs. Walker, will you please tell me everything?” Despite the fact that he was furious with his sister, he treated the old woman with kindness. “Last week, Lady Marla arrived and spent several days here. When she came to the town, she did as she always does, 301

Calthraca: Adamare purchasing different things, making small talk with the merchants. She told everyone that you’d married, but no one knew your wife. She made it sound as though you’d met her in a brothel or an inn, and married her simply to preserve your inheritance.” Kesim closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose, clenching his jaw. “Go on,” he said tightly. Adama entered the room still in her towel, having nothing clean to put on. He looked at her and she gave him an encouraging smile. Still, he was angrier than she’d ever seen him. Mrs. Walker continued. “Well, naturally word spread quickly around town that your wife was a lady of questionable character…” “You mean a whore?” Adama interjected. Kesim lowered his head in exasperation. “You’re not helping.” Adama grinned wickedly, knowing he was trying hard to stay calm but needling him anyway. Mrs. Walker turned to Adama. “Everyone in town loves Lord Kesim. He’s always been very good to us, and we just wanted him to be happy. So when he asked me to come and cook and look after things, I thought it would be helpful to instruct you in how to behave before nobility; thinking that you were of the common class, so he would not be shamed.” She looked fondly at Kesim and put her hand on his cheek. “Now I know it was a terrible mistake, and I’m so sorry.” She burst into tears. “Please don’t cry,” Kesim patted her shoulder uncomfortably. “I know you intended no harm or disrespect.” Adama got up and brought the woman a cup of tea. “Don’t cry, Pansy,” she soothed kindly. “You only did what you thought would be helpful.” 302

Calthraca: Adamare The old woman took the cup from her. “You’re a good lady. Thank you.” Kesim had been considering. “You did exactly what Marla hoped you’d do. But what I want to know is, why?” He looked at Adama. “She wouldn’t inherit anything if I wasn’t married. The only way she would inherit is if I died with no heirs. So why would she want to discredit you?” Adama shook her head. “I don’t know, Kesim.” Mrs. Walker spoke up. “My lord, I think I know why.” They heard a loud bustling commotion in the atrium at the front of the house. “Now what?” Kesim said under his breath. “Oma?” Adama asked hopefully. “Not until later…suppertime at least.” He heard women’s voices coming from the other room. “Mrs. Walker, please tell me you brought the parcels from the seamstress?” he asked quickly. “Why yes, Lord Kesim, they’re just there.” She pointed to the doorway. “Good.” Relief flooded through his body. “Please help my wife dress. I shall go and investigate; I believe my sister has arrived.” He left the room, leaving the two women looking at each other. Adama practically bolted to the parcels, and Mrs. Walker showed surprising agility for one so old as she quickly got up to help. They pulled the clothing from the wrapped bundles. Together they pulled out a white long-sleeved shift, with a slit from the bottom edge to mid-thigh made from fine silk which went on first; the sleeves were delicately stitched at the cuff with golden threads with tiny flowers, the neck was a simple V that revealed a healthy amount of cleavage. Trousers done in gauzy 303

Calthraca: Adamare emerald silk and tied at the waist followed this. Over the shift, she wore a heavily-brocaded coatdress. Collarless, it was accented with the same golden thread and emerald color as her trousers. It had mid-length sleeves and one button at the waist, then fell gracefully nearly to the floor. Slippers that matched the coat were in the bundle as well. She felt ridiculously overdressed, but knew this was the customary costume for nobility in Minalos. The old woman helped her with her hair, brushing it out then braided it with a string of golden threads. After she lined Adama’s green eyes with kohl, Mrs. Walker stood back and said, “You are a very lovely woman, my lady. Lord Kesim’s parents will be pleased.” “Thank you, Pansy. Let’s hope his sister has the same opinion.” Adama turned and rummaged through her saddle bags for a moment, finally withdrawing a handkerchief that had been tied into a knot at the top. She pulled the knot open and revealed the golden bangle bracelets Kesim had given her, then pulled her amulet from inside her shift so it was visible. She wanted to look regal, yet understated. “Oh! My lady, I must tell you why I think the Lady Marla wanted you discredited!” the old woman said in a hushed whisper. She proceeded to explain to Adama that there had been a rumor about Lady Marla and a girl whom she had contracted to be Kesim’s wife. The family of the girl had agreed to the wedding and had delivered a huge dowry to Lady Marla, intended for Lord Kesim. Rumor had it that there was very little left. The girl, Anna, was said to be plain of face, and her parents had leapt at the opportunity to marry her to a Minalosian noble. Now Lady Marla would be a social outcast. She would have to cancel the 304

Calthraca: Adamare wedding and return the dowry, but would never be able to do so. “So that is why,” Adama commented. “If I was totally unsuited to be Kesim’s wife, he would have to divorce me and marry the girl. No matter the truth, she was willing to allow the rumor mill to work against us. Kesim is wealthy. He wouldn’t care about her dowry, but he would care about his family honor.” Adama narrowed her eyes. How dare this woman impugn her reputation, when she’d never even met her before, simply to keep a dowry, and preserve her social standing! **** Kesim strode into the atrium and stood with his hands behind his back, waiting for his sister to turn. There was a young girl with her who saw him enter the room and stood staring at him, her mouth hung open slightly as though shocked. The girl was plain-looking and rather mousy, although richly dressed and jeweled. He knew it wasn’t one of Marla’s children, as none of them were quite this old. He maintained his stern demeanor, but nodded briefly to her, and her mouth snapped shut. Apparently sensing something was different from the girl’s expression, Marla turned quickly. “Kesim!” She rushed to kiss his cheek. “It’s so good to see you!” she gushed. She embraced him and he remained passive, not returning her greeting. “Marla. Why are you here?” “I’ve brought you a surprise, Kesim!” she said, unfazed by his rejection. “A surprise? I wouldn’t have thought you could outdo the one I just discovered,” he said tightly. “Perhaps you’d like to explain to me why nearly everyone in the town of Adjiban thinks I’ve married a whore?” 305

Calthraca: Adamare Marla adopted a scandalized look. “I’ve never said you were married to a whore! I’m hurt you would say such a thing!” “Mmm. Imagine how hurt my wife was when she heard it.” “Oh, Kesim, you know you can’t stay married to her. There’s no way father will allow it. Mother and Father didn’t even meet her before you were joined in that sham ceremony at Eleana’s court. Really, I doubt any magistrate would force you to stay married,” she scoffed. Kesim kept his hands behind his back and clenched his jaw. His sister was a meddler and a busybody, something James usually managed to keep reined in, but left to her own devices, his sister tended to leave trouble in her wake. “Marla, what do you want here? I’m expecting people and I do not wish to be bothered.” “Wonderful!!” Marla gushed again. “We’ll have lots of guests for your wedding!” “I’m already married,” he replied quietly. “Nonsense,” Marla retorted. “You were forced into it as part of your mission. I’m sure it’s not a real marriage at all.” She turned. “Here is your proper bride. This is Anna De Pasce. I’ve made the contract with her family already. You shall be married today, on your birthday.” “No, Marla, I am married to Adama. It was done before witnesses. I am truly married already.” “But… You must marry in Minalos for it to be legal!” “I know. We shall,” he said simply. “So tell me, why do you care so much? You do not stand to inherit anything if I’m not wed, Marla.” His voice was low and dangerous. “Tell my why this matters so much?” He cast his mercurial gaze on her. “Don’t you dare try your magic on me!” she exclaimed hotly. “Marla, I wouldn’t think of it. I only want an honest answer from you, and I can tell you’re floundering.” 306

Calthraca: Adamare The girl had shrunken back against the doorway watching Kesim and Marla argue. She looked up to see a lovely woman with long red hair and beautiful clothing approach Kesim from behind. Marla saw her too and backed up a few steps. “I’ll tell you why she cares, Kesim,” Adama said to her husband. Kesim didn’t turn but held his hand out to her. “Marla, I would like you to meet my wife, Adama Fawkes-Trasain, Queen of Lyros.” Adama looked at Marla and said nothing, then turned to Anna and smiled warmly. “Welcome.” The girl was pale as a sheet. For more than a year, Marla had assured her she was to marry this handsome man before her. “Lady Trasain, it is my pleasure to meet you,” she choked out the words, near tears but determined to keep her composure. Adama’s heart went out to the girl, concerned at her pallor. “Your sister cares about your marriage to me because she’s arranged for you to wed this young woman.” Adama held her hand out to Anna, who walked over and took it. “She also took possession of the large dowry that Anna’s family sent along with her.” Adama looked directly at Marla, who stood looking outraged and insulted. “Unfortunately, barely any of that dowry is left, and she cannot send the girl home without it. Not only would she be shamed before Anna’s parents, she would also be a social outcast.” “Is this true, Marla?” Kesim didn’t really need to ask; he could see the truth in her thoughts. Marla looked at her brother as though she hadn’t seen him before. “You would believe this woman before me? She is nothing! A deposed queen with no country and a bastard child! She has nothing; she’s no more than a beggar to you! She isn’t fit 307

Calthraca: Adamare to wipe the mud from your boots, Kesim, and yet you believe her over me, your own flesh and blood.” “Is. It. True.” Kesim bit out the words, his voice barely audible. “Yes,” Marla said. “Yes! It’s true, all of it. I might have known you’d find a witch like yourself to wed, Kesim! Mother will be so happy,” she sneered. She grabbed Anna’s other hand. “Come along, I’m bringing you home, and to hell with the dowry. Your father can call it room and board for a year.” She pulled the girl, but Adama would not let go. She looked at Marla, who stopped pulling. Anna made a miserable little sound between them. Adama drew the girl behind her, then spoke quietly. “You have done me a grave insult. However, because I love my husband, and because I know he loves you, I shall not demand satisfaction from you.” Adama stood with her most regal bearing and spoke directly to her. “Know this, Marla Coleman, you are not my sister. You have lied and shamed your family and your friends. You have stolen from those you supposedly love. The girl will remain here until we can find suitable accommodations for her, and you can make arrangements to repay your debt to her family. Go now.” Marla turned to Kesim as though expecting him to intercede. When he said nothing, she said, “So, you allow her to unman you before your family? You’re a weakling, Kesim. At least Kaden was worthy of our family. He was more of a man than you’ll ever be.” He looked at her then closed his eyes. “Go, Marla.” Marla laughed bitterly at him, then turned and left, slamming the door hard behind her. Kesim squeezed Adama’s hand, then wordlessly turned and went into his study, closing the door firmly. 308

Calthraca: Adamare Adama, still holding Anna’s hand, said, “Come, you can stay in the spare room until we find proper quarters for you.” Mrs. Walker poked her head out of Kesim’s bedroom. “May I help, my lady?” she chirped. She’d heard everything, and her opinion of Adama had risen much higher. “Ah perfect!” Adama smiled. “Anna De Pasce, meet Pansy Walker. She will help you until I find a maid for you.” “I don’t need a maid…” “Nonsense, all ladies of breeding have a maid to help them dress and take care of their needs.” Adama grinned. “I’m not a lady,” Anna bemoaned. “I’m a merchant’s daughter.” “We’ll make a lady of you yet,” Pansy said, patting her shoulder. “For now, let’s get you settled in your rooms.” She led the girl by the hand and hoisted one of her heavy bags in her other hand, and proceeded to the spare room. Adama stood alone for a moment then opened the door to the study and entered. Kesim was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands. She tried to read his thoughts but he blocked her. “Kesim,” she began. “You…are beautiful,” he said, looking up at her. “Thank you.” She took a deep breath. “Kesim—” “No, don’t.” He sighed. “Don’t tell me you’re sorry. What Marla did was unspeakable. So don’t say you’re sorry, because you have nothing to be sorry about.” He shook his head sadly. “I cannot believe she’d do such a thing. I am sorry this is the first impression you’ve had of my family.” “Kesim, I should have let you handle her and I apologize,” she said finally. “It is no matter, Adama. You dealt with her fairly and I’m afraid I’d have been much more harsh.” “At least she can hate me and still love you,” she whispered. Kesim laughed a little at that. 309

Calthraca: Adamare “What will you tell your parents?” she asked him, already knowing what he was going to say. “I’ll tell them the truth,” he said simply. “What more can I do? I’m not sure what, if anything she’s told them about you. Hopefully I can fix any damage. Or…if they know about the girl, then they most likely don’t know about you.” He paused, thinking. “Regardless, I don’t want you to worry about it. I’ll handle my parents.” He got up and walked to the windows. He was agitated and restless. “There is something I must tell you.” “What is it, Kesim?” she answered, worried. “Marla and I are not the only children in my family. I have an older brother, his name is Kaden. He is a year older than me, and stood to be my father’s heir until he disappeared five years ago.” “That is why your father wanted you married?” “One of the reasons, yes,” Kesim replied. “You said he disappeared? Where?” She was interested but didn’t wish to pry too hard into something that obviously bothered him. “He was on an assignment for the military. He and I were in the same division. I had been sent to a different area for further training, and he was sent to the southern coast of Silania. His entire party disappeared,” he said. “Last year, my father finally had him declared dead. It was too painful for my mother to wonder where her son was. They needed some peace. I just felt you ought to know.” “Thank you for sharing that with me,” she said quietly. She could feel his anxiety and pain at telling her. It had been difficult for him. She knew she should tell him about her life with TengriKhan in Tartak as well, but she hesitated. Would he understand how it had been? 310

Calthraca: Adamare A cloud of dust drew Kesim’s attention to the road beyond his house. A rider was coming. He couldn’t make out who it was, but they were arriving fast. Adama crossed to the sofa and shrugged off her heavy brocade coat, laying it carefully across the chair beside her, then sat gracefully, crossing her legs. He could see the dark emerald of her trousers and a silhouette of her thigh through the slit in her shift. He glanced at her face and smiled. She really was so beautiful, it made him breathless. He openly admired her, making her blush like a girl. “Kesim!” she said, then laughed. He could see her erect nipples beneath the shift, and imagined how hard they must be, rubbed by the silk when she moved. Feeling distinctly lightheaded and lustful, he looked back out the window, squelching the thought. Just looking at her made him randy and weak-kneed, like a young boy again. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything he could do about it just now. “What about the girl?” he asked, changing the subject. “She’s in one of the spare rooms for now, but she really cannot stay here. It wouldn’t be proper. We can’t send her home, as she’ll be shamed with or without her dowry, and no man from her region will want to pay her court after she’s been gone for more than a year.” “No one has touched the girl,” Kesim said. Adama felt as well as heard the betrayal he felt at what Marla had done, complicating all of their lives as she had. “Yes, I know that, and you know that, but no one else, including her parents knows that to be the truth, Kesim. If you were looking for a virgin to wed, would you believe she was untouched?” He opened his mouth to say yes, then stopped. “No, I wouldn’t.” 311

Calthraca: Adamare “Exactly,” she said quietly. “I’ll dower her, or at least replace what Marla stole, but you’re right, we have to find her other accommodations. I’ll send a letter to her parents tomorrow. I’ll ask them to come here and we’ll explain together.” He sighed and ran a frustrated hand through his hair, wishing he could wring his sister’s neck. “What the hell made Marla think I’d want a fifteen-year-old girl anyway? My God, I’m old enough to be her father,” he said almost to himself, disgusted. “It was a marriage of convenience, Kesim. She could have been an infant with a fat dowry and it wouldn’t have mattered to Marla. She merely wanted you married to stop the rumors and the whispering among her society friends. A wealthy bride was the perfect one to use.” He turned and looked at her. “What do you mean?” “Think about it,” Adama said. “When are you ever here?” “I’m nearly always away.” “So, here is this lonely girl, easily led, married to you, and you’re not here to keep Marla from using her. And she would have control of your wife and your money. I’d say it’s ideal,” Adama declared. Kesim began to say something, but was interrupted by a sharp rap on the study door. “Come!” The door opened and Mrs. Walker entered. “There is a messenger here for you, my lord.” “Thank you. Show him in, please.” A young man wearing a dark blue uniform with gold stripes on the sleeve entered, then swiped his hat from his head. He saw Kesim and saluted smartly. “Sir!” he said. “Ma’am.” Kesim saluted back. Adama leaned forward to listen. “At ease,” Kesim ordered. “Commander, I have a message for you from Admiral Tandus.” The messenger handed Kesim a folded letter. 312

Calthraca: Adamare Turning from the man, Kesim took the letter to his desk and picked up his letter opener, then tore the message open. He read it then laid the page down. “Mrs. Walker, please see to this man’s comfort, give him something to eat and tell him where he can stable his horse.” He turned to the messenger. “I’ll have a reply for you to carry back.” The soldier nodded and saluted again, then turned to follow Mrs. Walker from the room. Adama looked at Kesim expectantly. He had his jaw clenched and she knew he was upset, but he’d blocked his thoughts. “Is everything all right?” she asked, wondering why he kept her out. “Yes,” he said, “my superiors wish for me to inform Her Majesty that they will be here to welcome her and take her for debriefing either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.” Adama’s face went pale. “Take me where?” Kesim walked to the sofa and sat next to her putting an arm around her shoulders. “You aren’t going anywhere. They can ask their blasted questions here, with me present.” “Kesim, what do they mean by debrief?” Adama was a soldier, she knew what debriefing was, but had only questioned prisoners. “Am I a prisoner here?” “No!” he said quickly. “They only want to ask you a few questions about your imprisonment with Eleana and her involvement, and your captivity with Hecate. They’ll probably also have another doctor examine you to be sure you’re not suffering any lingering emotional effects.” “Such as marrying my rescuer?” she asked quietly. He looked at her but she’d looked away. She looked delicate and small sitting beside him. Despite her undeniable courage and strength, he was sensing a vulnerability about her. 313

Calthraca: Adamare She looked down at her hands. He saw she was turning the ring she wore around and around on her finger. “Adama?” “You…ah… You won’t let them ask me too many questions?” She was near tears. He looked into her mind and winced as he felt the pain and anguish of her abuse at the hands of her captor. He picked up her hand. “I will not let them hurt or embarrass you.” She looked at him and nodded. She didn’t want to relive her time with Hecate. “This won’t be the same as interrogating a prisoner, Adama,” he said gently. “If you feel a question is too personal you can simply refuse to answer.” He pulled her to him and she cuddled into his chest. “You are, after all, a queen.” She smiled and he continued. “Naturally it is out of the question that you would be taken anywhere. This is your home now, so don’t worry.” As she relaxed into him, he felt something was different about her, a softness he’d never noticed before, and he couldn’t tell if it was something physical or whether it was merely a mental image. “You’re going to have problems when they find out we are married,” she said, sniffling. She knew it; she’d seen it in his mind before this. He drew a long deep breath. He wouldn’t lie to her. “Yes, I am. However, that doesn’t mean much. I’ve done my service, and my commission was set to expire this year anyway. I had planned to return here and raise horses. If I’m reprimanded, so be it.” “But, Kesim, you’ve had years of distinguished service. You cannot have your reputation ruined,” she protested, sitting up. He didn’t say anything, merely looked at her. 314

Calthraca: Adamare She stood abruptly and walked to the window, tears standing in her eyes. Oh God, this is what I hoped for but why now? Her thought echoed through his head and he finally knew why she’d been acting so strangely. “How long?” he asked quietly. She sighed and drew her arms around herself. It was pointless to try and deny it. “Two months, maybe less, probably from the time we were snowbound or at Dakkar’s camp.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Because I wasn’t sure.” She turned to him. “Usually my courses are regular, but when Hecate held me captive, everything was wrong. I had one cycle before we were together, then nothing.” She let out a shuddery breath. “I’ve suspected for a while, but last night I dreamed of him,” she said. He got up and went behind her, holding her close to him. “I cannot believe how fortunate I am.” Everything made sense now. Her irritability, her emotional state, the softness and vulnerability he kept sensing. She was having his child. His heart soared. She was crying still. “Are you sure? I mean, everything is so unsettled now…” She floundered a little. “Do you want the child?” he asked her frankly. “Of course!” she said, appalled. “I cannot believe you’d ask me such a thing! All I want is to be your wife and have your children.” “What about Lyros?” She sighed. “Lyros will wait…or maybe that was not my destiny after all.” “But is this what you want?” he asked again. “Yes,” she said firmly. “I only want to be sure,” he soothed. He led her back to the sofa where they sat together. 315

Calthraca: Adamare He reached out to touch her still flat belly. “May I?” he asked, suddenly hesitant. She smiled. “Yes, of course.” He laid his big hand across her abdomen and closed his eyes. Deeply, from far away, he felt an incredible sensation. Wonderment, and joy, movement and a strange yet familiar feeling of someone else being there, someone he knew. He felt life. He gasped a little, then sat up with a small laugh. Happy tears stood in his eyes. “Oh my God, Adama!” he said in an astonished whisper. His heart beat excitedly in his chest, and he felt nearly dizzy with the joy of her pregnancy. She laughed too and smiled through her own tears. “I’m so glad you’re happy, Kesim!” She worried this would be a terrible time, and had been praying he wouldn’t guess. Now she felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from her. A thought occurred to him. “Let’s walk a little.” He took her by the hand and led her from the room, outside into the sunlight. “We’ll need a bigger house,” he said looking around. “There is plenty of room to build onto this house, at least two more rooms, possibly three.” He was thinking out loud now, tromping through the high grass on the western side of the house where the spare rooms were, pulling her by the hand. “We’ve got to get a nanny, more maids…” She laughed at the crazy jumble of thoughts running through his mind, all the things he wanted to do, his extreme happiness. “Kesim, you’re so excited. We have plenty of time for everything.” She stopped walking and he turned looking at her quizzically. “Just kiss me,” she said simply. He grinned her favorite grin, the one which always made her heart leap, and gathered her into his arms, kissing her with a 316

Calthraca: Adamare passion that left them both weak. He picked her up and twirled her around and she squealed in surprise. He set her down then threw his head back and shouted his happiness for the world to hear. “Tell me you’re as happy as I am,” he said finally. “You know I am.” She laughed. Kesim started walking again, this time not talking about the house, but merely pointing out his land to her. As he talked Adama thought about her dream and the beautiful child she carried. She knew his eyes were silvery green like his father’s. She closed her eyes and pictured the tiny perfect face. “…to the end of that field, do you see where the mountain comes up?” “Yes. All the way there?” she said in amazement. He laughed a little. “Yes, all the way there, and the mountain and the other side.” “You’re wealthy.” He shook his head. “We are wealthy. That is why it was ridiculous to me that my sister told everyone I’d married you to preserve my inheritance. Before my brother disappeared, I’d already become quite wealthy. I have more than I can spend in my lifetime. The inheritance wasn’t anything I ever wanted or expected. It wasn’t meant for me, so I made my own way.” They’d come to a stone bench and he helped her sit, then sat beside her. “I was fortunate in my investments and in my land purchases. This property sustains hundreds of farmer tenants who grow olives and grain. There is a vineyard just beyond that cluster of trees there. Sixty farmers lease my land to graze their goats and sheep, and there is a silver mine under that mountain,” he said proudly. In truth, his land supported the vast majority of the economy of Adjiban. No one knew exactly what he owned, or 317

Calthraca: Adamare how much wealth he’d accumulated, and he preferred it that way. “So you see, I did not marry you merely for your wealth or your title.” He grinned. She laughed. “That’s good, because it doesn’t exist anymore.” “My parents will be here soon. I should go and make sure Mrs. Walker has everything ready. Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?” “I’ll go with you.” Together they walked around the house, past the stable this time, then into the kitchen gardens and through to the kitchen. Mrs. Walker glanced up at their entry, then realizing who it was stood and began to fuss over them. “Neither of you have had anything to eat. Let me get something for you.” Adama once again sent her back to the realm of kindly grandmothers in her mind. She had them sit and put a plate of soft cheese and freshly baked bread before them, as well as cups of strong hot tea. She bustled about the kitchen and brought them peeled and sliced apple wedges and grapes as well. They both ate ravenously, then stopped and looked at each other, laughing. Mrs. Walker poured them more tea, she shook her head at their “foolishness” then announced she was going to check on the girl and left them alone again. They finished their tea, talking quietly about nothing in particular, then left the kitchen, walking slowly through the yard. Drawing her close, he bent his head to hers. “I can’t wait to get you in my bed, and start licking from the back of your knees all the way up to your thighs. Then I will spread your legs and worship you with my mouth. When you come, which you will 318

Calthraca: Adamare do numerous times,” he whispered in her ear and she giggled, “I will proceed to lick up your belly to those gorgeous tits, and I will suck upon each nipple until you beg me to drive my cock into you and you’re whimpering and begging to come again.” A horse galloped up the gravel road before their house and Kesim stopped, looking to see who the rider was. James Coleman dismounted and then turned to help his wife from the saddle where she’d sat behind him. He handed his reins to the boy Kesim had hired, then looked around searching for anyone who might be lurking. “James!” Kesim called happily. He pulled Adama by the hand over to where he stood. “Kesim, Adama.” He nodded. “I found Marla walking toward Adjiban. She refuses to tell me, so will you please explain what in hell my wife is doing walking alone down a dirt road?” “Walking? What happened to your coach?” “I do not have the funds to use a hired coach. I sent him away,” Marla bit out, glaring at her brother. “Must you always be the martyr?” Kesim fired back. “Apparently so!” she huffed. “James, take me home.” “Not until I get some answers. What is going on here?” Coleman nearly shouted. “Do you wish to tell him, or should I?” Kesim asked Marla. Adama moved to sit upon the rock wall under the shade of a tree while the three of them talked. She was out of hearing range and wished to give them some privacy, but Kesim left his thoughts open to her so she could hear the exchange. “All I wanted to do was find a suitable bride for Kesim,” Marla began. “It isn’t right he has no wife, and no heirs.” “Marla, I wrote to you months ago. Kesim is married,” Coleman interjected. His stomach sank, knowing his wife had been up to mischief and meddling in her brother’s life. 319

Calthraca: Adamare “Nonsense! That woman is hardly fit to be a member of our family. I mean, she’s much too old to bear any children.” Kesim closed his eyes and spoke slowly in a very restrained voice. “Even if that were true, it’s not your concern, Marla. Now because of your interference, you’ve ruined that poor girl’s chances of finding a decent husband in her own region. Furthermore, I shall be forced to explain to her father that the marriage contracts you made are void and the daughter he thought was to be wed to a prosperous lord is still unwed. All of that along with the loss of her dowry will probably send the man into a fit. At the very least, I have no doubt he will be less than pleased.” James stared open mouthed as his brother-in-law detailed his wife’s transgressions. “You did what? I cannot leave you alone for any length of time without you finding trouble! Honestly, Marla, how did you think this scheme was going to work? And what about this dowry? You took her money?” Marla looked down. “It wasn’t very much anyway, and it isn’t as though Kesim would miss it. We were in desperate need, the children—” “The children are spoiled and indulged and have everything they ask for handed to them,” he nearly growled. He was mortified that his wife had done such a thing. All three of them stood for a moment. Kesim, relaxed as always, crossed his arms over his wide chest, waiting for his sister’s next volley. James ran a hand through his hair, then in one quick movement, scooped Marla up and sat her upon his horse. She made a surprised noise then exclaimed, “James!” “You are going home. You will write the letters to the girl’s father explaining what you’ve done, and then you will choose which pieces from your abundant collection of jewelry you can sell to repay what you stole. You ought to consider yourself 320

Calthraca: Adamare lucky that I haven’t lain you across my knees and paddled your ass.” He turned to Kesim. “My most sincere apologies, Kesim, I cannot tell you how awful this makes me feel.” He handed his wife the reins and she looked down. “You’re not coming?” “No, I shall remain here until the troop arrives. It will give you time to start drafting your apology letters.” “What if I decide not to?” He looked up at his wife. “Then I promise to deliver that paddling.” He slapped the horse on the rump and it took off at a fast run for the bottom of the gravel hill, toward Adjiban and their home. “Why don’t you go to my study and have a drink, James? Adama and I will join you in a few moments.” Coleman nodded then looked at Adama and tipped his hat. He stalked into the cool darkness of the house. Kesim sauntered over to where Adama was sitting. He smiled, and she couldn’t help but smile back. “Would he really paddle her?” Adama was somewhat sickened at the thought. She recalled all too clearly what Tengri had done to her. “Oh I doubt it, although a good spanking might set her right.” He narrowed his eyes briefly at a thought that flickered within her mind, then was gone as suddenly as it appeared. Some painful memory she did not wish for him to see. He sat beside her now and she leaned into him. “James and Marla have battled their way through twenty years of marriage. I cannot imagine having such a cantankerous relationship.” He smiled as he felt her silently laugh against him. They sat for a moment quietly enjoying the lovely day. Adama suddenly heard something and looked around. “Do you hear that?” 321

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim listened. It sounded like weeping. He stood and began to look around, searching for whoever it was. At last he found Anna, sitting behind a hedgerow, sobbing into her apron. “Anna…” “Lord Kesim, I am so sorry to have caused all of this trouble!” she wailed. “It isn’t your fault. My sister is notorious for her troublemaking. Do not cry.” He helped her up and led her back to where Adama stood. “Would you take Anna to the kitchen? I’ll join you shortly,” he said, and Adama could hear the concern in his voice. She led the trembling girl to the kitchen and sat her down, then asked Mrs. Walker to brew strong tea for her while they sat at the heavy table. “Is Lord Kesim angry with me?” Anna asked. She was crying openly. “No, he’s not angry with you at all, Anna,” Adama soothed. “I’m sure he’s just trying to make some sense of all of this.” Adama stood and a wave of dizziness washed over her. She steadied herself upon the chair before she moved to the door. “I’ll be right back.” She entered the study and saw Kesim speaking to Coleman. When Coleman left the room, Adama nodded to him and entered. “When the militia arrives, James will be going home.” He signed the paper in front of him with a flourish, then began melting wax to seal it. “I’m sending the messenger back now.” Kesim looked up at Adama. “In any event, you shouldn’t be here; you are pale as a ghost.” “I’m fine.” “You don’t look fine,” he replied, looking closely at her. “You look…” 322

Calthraca: Adamare She opened her mouth to reply, and at that second, everything spun and she began to fall forward. “Faint,” he said as she fell. He caught her and swung her up into his arms. She hadn’t lost consciousness, but was very faint. He walked quickly from the study to their bedroom and laid her down. “Unh… I’m fine,” she said weakly. “No, you’re not, but you’re not very ill either.” He got a fresh cold cloth for her head. “You’re a newly pregnant woman, and it’s not uncommon for a woman to feel sick and faint at this stage. Add to all of the upset and unkind treatment you’ve received today… It might have some unpleasant side effects. I’m sorry I didn’t see them sooner.” As he spoke, he laid his hands upon her abdomen again. He concentrated and felt the child. All was well. “Do you feel nauseated?” he asked in his best doctor voice. “A little,” she admitted. “I think I just want to rest for a little while.” “I couldn’t agree more.” He bent down and kissed her. “I’m going to get you something to drink, and then I want you to lay and rest for at least the next hour.” “Yes, Doctor,” she said quietly. He could hear the smile in her voice. He left the room and walked to the kitchen where Anna and Mrs. Walker were sitting, both with a cup of tea. Anna was crying still. He was surprised to see Sanji there as well. “Sanji? When did you arrive?” “I rode in just after Captain Coleman, my lord. You were speaking in the courtyard, and I thought it best not to disturb you.” “I’m glad to see you,” Kesim replied. “I’ve guests arriving shortly.” 323

Calthraca: Adamare “Yes, Mrs. Walker told me.” Sanji shot the older woman a look. Apparently something had transpired between them, judging from the hard line the old woman’s lips made across her face. “Well, if you would be so kind as to start my bath?” Kesim suggested. “Certainly.” Sanji’s reply was aloof and dignified and he strode from the kitchen. Kesim guessed Sanji had taken offense to another servant in his domain and stifled a smile. Mrs. Walker stood up quickly. “My lord?” “Where is Lady Adama?” Anna asked, looking beyond Kesim. “She isn’t feeling well, and I had her lie down. I’m going to bring her some tea, then I’ll come back and we can talk for a few moments, Anna,” he said quietly. The girl nodded through her tears. Mrs. Walker poured a cup of tea for Adama, offering to take it herself. Kesim declined. “No thank you, Mrs. Walker, I’ll do it.” He carried it back to their room and opened the door soundlessly. Adama had taken off the silk shift and laid it at the foot of the bed. She lay asleep on their bed on her left side, and he could see goose bumps on her arm, which was bent modestly covering her breasts. He put the tea on the nightstand then lit a fire in the fireplace, warming the room. It wasn’t really cold, but he feared shock. He turned to bring the coverlet over her and stood a moment admiring her form. Barefooted, her legs were crossed together at the ankles and her right knee was slightly bent. Her sheer emerald silk trousers revealed her lovely legs and bottom, then gathered with a pull string around her waist, just below her 324

Calthraca: Adamare navel. Her hair was twisted into a braid that came over her shoulder and down onto the bed, only slightly concealing her face. She looked like a Raja’s dream—a harem beauty in his bed. Kesim laid the coverlet over her and shook his head. Just looking at her aroused him. He bent and kissed her mouth lightly, then left the room. He returned to the kitchen where Anna and Mrs. Walker were still at the table. Anna had stopped crying and had managed to get herself under control. He dismissed Mrs. Walker. “I think you’ll need to see to dinner?” His meaning was clear and she hustled out. Kesim reached into the cupboard near the table and took out a glass and a bottle. He poured himself an inch of liquor and drank it. He winced as it struck his belly, spreading its warmth through out him. Ignoring the burning, Kesim carried both the glass and the bottle back to the table. He sat down beside the girl. “Anna,” he said quietly. He poured another inch of whisky. She looked up at him, her eyes red-rimmed from tears and her nose swollen and red as well. She swiped at her face with a lacy handkerchief. “Yes, Lord Kesim?” she sniveled. He shifted uncomfortably. She wasn’t merely plain—she was very nearly unattractive. Immediately, he felt bad for thinking that. It wasn’t her fault she was plain, and not every woman could be as beautiful as his wife. He hated how shallow the thought was. “Anna, all I want you to know is that none of what has transpired is your fault. You are a victim.” She began crying harder now and leaned forward into his embrace, clutching him tightly. “Now I have to leave and I have nowhere to go. I cannot go home, as my family would be shamed,” she said as realization dawned on her. 325

Calthraca: Adamare He patted her back and comforted her. “You don’t have to leave. We’ll contact your parents, and let them know the wedding has been cancelled. I personally will let them know this is not your fault, Anna.” She looked up at him with a small glimmer of hope. “Everything will be fine. I promise,” he said kindly. “I cannot apologize enough, Anna. I’m so sorry.” She nodded. “I know. This was not your fault either, Lord Kesim, but thank you.” He looked out the window and realized it had gotten quite late. It was already early evening and the sun had begun to set behind the mountains. “I must go,” he said and sat her upright. “Mrs. Walker?” he called a little more loudly. The old woman came out of the laundry where she’d been eavesdropping. “Yes, my lord?” “Will you please see to Anna? I must get ready for my parents’ arrival, as well as Princess Oma, and Admiral Tandus,” he said, shaking his head at the enormous amount he had to do in such a short time. On his way to his room, there was a pounding on the door, and Kesim guessed it must be the soldiers or perhaps his father. He pulled the large door open and revealed Morgan and Sarah standing before him. Behind them were several soldiers. “Morgan!” Kesim said, happy to see his friend. “Come in, please.” They entered but the soldiers remained outside. Cyril stood at their head. “Uncle Kesim. Morgan has told me everything. Is there anything I can do to assist you at this time?” Cyril asked. “Cyril, no… I think maybe you ought to go home though. Your mother is having a bad day. Your father will explain. He is in the barn, I believe.” 326

Calthraca: Adamare Cyril nodded, confused. Morgan and Sarah stood back, waiting for Kesim. Cyril had led them here and they looked tired and ready to find a place to sleep themselves. Sarah looked around. “My Lord Kesim?” she said quietly. “Where is the queen?” Kesim started. “Oh…yes, follow me.” He led her to their room and opened the door. Adama was still dozing lightly on the bed. “Darling?” he said and she opened her eyes. “Sarah and Morgan have arrived.” She smiled, looked over his shoulder and saw Sarah behind him. He helped her sit up and she pulled the coverlet with her. He had her take a sip of tea, and she told him she felt better. “Good. Now, I have one more thing to do before I bathe and get ready for my parents,” he said tiredly, then turned and left the room, gesturing for Morgan to follow. Kesim and Morgan entered his study, and Kesim closed the door behind them. Before he could speak, Morgan turned. “Kesim, I must tell you, one of your assailants was captured in Daskad yesterday. Unfortunately the other one escaped. The constable wished for me to tell you the man, Hugo, would stand trial.” Kesim nodded. That meant Hecate was still free and they weren’t out of danger yet. “Thank you, Morgan.” He moved to the windows and looked out. “Morgan, I know the purpose of your leaving the mountain was so you might see the world outside of your village,” Kesim began. “However, I would very much like it if you would consider taking the position of steward here.” Morgan looked closely at Kesim. “I would be honored, Lord Kesim,” he said after a few moments. “You don’t wish to take some time to consider the offer?” 327

Calthraca: Adamare “No, sir. I was hoping to ask you for a position here anyway, and I know Sarah won’t wish to leave Queen Adama. Therefore, to have Sarah, I must be near you and your wife,” he said practically. Kesim laughed and clapped Morgan on the back. “It’s settled then. The carriage house at the end of the road belongs to the steward and his family. Take some time later and see if it will suit you. If it needs anything, let me know and we’ll have it taken care of. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss your salary, then you and I will ride to town and introduce you to the people you’ll need to know, I can start teaching you about my holdings, my ledgers, and my tenants the day after tomorrow. I warn you, there is a lot to worry about. You are my right-hand here, my friend.” He laughed again. Morgan looked apprehensive. “I shall do my best not to disappoint you, Kesim. I’m truly honored.” “You’ll be fine Morgan. I know,” Kesim assured him. **** Anna knocked softly on the door to Adama’s room. She was surprised to see Sarah there with her. “Oh, I’m sorry, my lady, I didn’t know you had a guest. I just wanted to thank you for your kindness.” “Thank you, Anna,” Adama replied. “This is my…closest friend, Lady Sarah Small. Sarah, meet Anna De Pasce.” Sarah stared gape-jawed at Adama who smiled brilliantly back at her. Anna looked at Sarah’s simple dress and apron, then curtsied prettily. “Sarah is my personal lady-in-waiting. That means she is my companion. She helps me dress, and organize my day,” Adama continued while Sarah composed herself.

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Calthraca: Adamare Finally, remembering her manners, Sarah found her voice. “It’s very nice to meet you, Anna.” Her cheeks were flaming as she moved to the other side of the room and composed herself. “Mrs. Walker asked me to let you know everything is ready for your guests,” Anna said. “I’ll be in my room.” “I’d like you to join us for dinner if you feel up to it,” Adama requested. Anna looked startled. “I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “It is Lord Kesim’s family. It would be humiliating.” She looked down. “Anna, have you met Kesim’s parents?” “No, my lady, Marla said she would reveal me to them after, um…after,” she finished lamely. She didn’t want to say ‘after Lord Kesim and I were married’. Adama nodded. “I would never shame you before Kesim’s parents. I simply want you to know you are welcome to join us should you choose to do so.” “Thank you,” Anna said in a low whisper, then turned and left the room. Adama watched her go. There is something strange about that girl, then she dismissed the thought for the time being. “Lady Sarah Small?” Sarah said to her incredulously. Adama turned her attention back to her friend, smiling. “Yes. You’re more than just a maid to me, Sarah. You’re my friend, you’ve been there to help me through more than I care to think about; and this is the very least I can do to reward your loyalty and friendship. When we return to Lyros…if we ever regain Lyros, I shall settle some land upon you as well.” She held her hand out to Sarah and embraced her awkwardly, one hand still clutching the coverlet to her breast. “Thank you, my lady,” Sarah choked out. “Now, let’s get me dressed.” 329

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Chapter 11 Kesim slid into a hot bath with a grateful sigh. He’d spoken to Morgan once again, asking him to see to things around the house, to be sure everything was ready for his parents’ arrival, then told him to check the carriage house so he and Sarah wouldn’t have to sleep in the servants’ quarters tonight. Morgan had promised to do the things he’d asked without reservation. Kesim hated to enlist him into service so quickly, but he had no other choice. He had every confidence Morgan would thrive as steward here. Kesim’s plan was to eventually raise horses on this land, and he would need someone who knew horses as well as he did. Morgan was his man. He sank lower, submerging himself to the shoulders. He closed his eyes and pictured Adama, as she was this afternoon. Beautiful and confident. Looking every inch the queen she was born to be, without even trying. He almost felt bad for Marla. She had no chance against a force like Adama. His thoughts leapt around, finally pausing on the baby she carried. A slow smile lit his handsome face as he thought about their baby, and how eager he was to finally have a child of his own. He thought about Adama and how she would look, lush and ripe. As though he’d summoned her, Adama entered the room. She had replaced her brocaded coat, appearing none the worse for wear. 330

Calthraca: Adamare She smiled, seeing him grin lustfully at her. “What?” “Nothing, I’m just admiring the view.” He dipped below the water to rinse himself. When he came back up, she was standing closer, smiling sweetly at him. “I see Sanji has arrived. He is laying out your clothes now. I’m a little disappointed, I was going to help you.” He sighed and used both hands to brush his hair from his face. “So am I. You know, I am perfectly capable of dressing myself.” “I know. But maybe I enjoy helping you dress,” she said in a sultry voice. “God, you’re beautiful. I want you.” She was arousing him powerfully, and he needed to change the subject or they were going to end up making love right there in the bath. “Ah… I’ve given Morgan the position of steward. That is, he accepted the offer,” he said shifting slightly. “Steward?” she asked, blushing furiously, ignoring his mental comment. “Yes, the man responsible for overseeing the household, my accounts, my men-at-arms, the servants. Someone who would be available to me should I have questions about any of my holdings or my tenants.” “Oh yes! That’s perfect!” He grinned, happy that she agreed. “I’ve made Sarah my lady-in-waiting,” she told him. “She told me Morgan had proposed and they had wed.” “Yes, Morgan told me as well. We’ll have to give them a suitable gift,” Kesim said, considering. He stood up and began to climb out of the tub, and Adama handed him a towel. He took it with thanks then wrapped it around his hips. He stepped behind her and kissed her neck. “Right now, I’ve got to get dressed. Without help…unless you want that shift ruined?” he asked with an evil grin. 331

Calthraca: Adamare “No!” She kissed him back then laughed and left the bath. Finished drying off, he entered their bedroom and found his clothing laid out on the bed exactly as she’d said. A pair of high black boots stood on the floor beside the bed, polished to an impossible gloss. His father would notice that. Kesim smiled. His white pants and a white linen shirt lay beside an emerald kurta coat with golden embroidery on the sleeves and the neck. Golden buttons ran down the length of the coat, and gold piping covered the hems. Sanji stood by, happy at being home. “Thank you, Sanji, you’ve done well as always,” Kesim commented. “If you will excuse me, my lord, I will go and see if Mrs. Walker requires my assistance?” Kesim nodded. Sarah popped her head in just as he’d finished dressing. “Would you like me to help you with your braid, my lord?” “Thank you, Sarah.” He sat on a stool while Sarah stood behind him brushing out his hair. Adama liked it long, and he hadn’t bothered to cut it since they’d left the mountain. It had grown all the way to his collar. His father would notice that as well. Sarah braided it into a clubbed queue as he preferred it and tied it off with a black leather thong. “You shouldn’t be doing this,” Kesim said, though glad that she was. “It is beneath your rank.” “Who would do it then, my lord?” Sarah replied tartly. “Perhaps tomorrow you and my steward can travel to Adjiban and hire new help for my house?” “Your steward, sir? I don’t believe I’ve met him yet.” She finished his braid and he turned to face her. “Yes, you have, and from what I understand, you’re quite fond of him.” Kesim smiled. 332

Calthraca: Adamare “Morgan? Morgan is your steward?” “Well I hope so,” Kesim answered. “He’s a married man now, and he’ll need a good position if he’s to start a family. This would be an excellent opportunity. Besides, I need a man I can trust.” Sarah took his hands in hers. “Oh, thank you!” He smiled once again. “Thank you, Sarah, for being such a good friend to Adama, and caring for her so well.” There was a loud banging from the entryway and Kesim looked up. Sarah stepped back and let him pass. Just as Kesim entered the hall, he saw Morgan had reached the door ahead of him. He pulled it open to reveal a tall severe-looking man. His hair and beard were liberally peppered with white, yet his ramrod-straight spine belied his years. He was dressed in a black suit with a cream-colored shirt. He wore a kurta coat like Kesim’s but not nearly as elaborate, and his boots were shined to a gleaming spit polish that defied dirt to sully them. He walked with a firm steady gait and entered the house, piercing Morgan with an icy glare. He had olive skin like Kesim, and his eyes were dark brown. He had a serious demeanor and a profound dignity that radiated from him. Kesim stepped forward. “Father,” he said and bowed respectfully. Lord Thomas Trasain smiled, looking remarkably like his son. “Kesim! It is good to see you.” He clasped Kesim’s hand and drew him into an embrace. Confused, Kesim tentatively embraced him back. “Thank you, Father.” Just a few steps behind him, Lady Sitia entered, ushering a young girl with her. Kesim’s father released him and crouched low holding his arms open, and the little girl rushed to him, giggling. He swept her up and she laughed merrily. 333

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim’s mother was small in comparison to her husband and son. She was a lovely woman with sparkling blue eyes that shifted and moved like mercury. She had soft skin of a medium complexion, and a smile that suffused her entire face and crinkled her eyes into happy triangles. “Kesim!” she said, overjoyed to see her son. “Mother!” He picked her up in a crushing bear hug. She allowed him to hold her this way for a moment then commanded, “Put me down so I can look at you!” He gently lowered her to the floor, kissing her cheek as he did so. “It’s good to see you, Mother.” She stepped back and held him at arm’s length. “You look too thin,” she proclaimed. “I can see all of your bones!” “All of them?!” he asked in mock surprise. She took a half-hearted swing at him. “No, you great fool.” He ducked back laughing and caught sight of his father beaming at them. Kesim wasn’t sure what this small child had done but whatever it was his normally stern father now seemed milder and happy. “Who is this fairy tale princess?” he said, smiling charmingly at the girl. Shyly she buried her head in Lord Thomas’ shoulder. “She is the Princess Omakara Elizabeth Fawkes of Lyros,” Adama said with tears in her voice as she came slowly down the hallway. She held the wall to steady herself. Kesim turned his head quickly at her voice. “This is your daughter?” “Who is this?” Lord Thomas asked Kesim. “Mama!” Oma screeched and began kicking to get down. Lord Thomas put her down and she scurried to her mother’s embrace. Wordlessly Adama picked her daughter up, crushing her to her breast, then sat down on the floor hard as her legs gave way. 334

Calthraca: Adamare She hugged Oma and kissed her the way she had dreamed during all the months in captivity. She inhaled the scent of her child, and her heart finally found peace. Realizing everyone must be completely shocked by her behavior, she managed to pull herself together and regain her composure somewhat. She wiped the tears from her cheeks, and Kesim helped her up from the floor while she clutched Oma close. Oma had her little arms entwined around her neck quite tightly and she had to loosen the child’s grip in order to draw a breath. “Mother, Father, I would like to introduce you to Queen Adama Fawkes of Lyros. Adama, these are my parents, Lord Thomas and Lady Sitia Trasain,” Kesim said formally. Adama inclined her head to them as much as she could. They in turn made polite bows. Adama looked at Kesim, who began to speak but his father interrupted him. “This is the queen you told us was missing?” his father asked. “You found her?” Kesim nodded. “How ironic. Admiral Tandus came to us about eight months ago. He asked us to care for the girl. He said her mother was a political figure who had disappeared and she needed a safe home. Naturally, we agreed to foster the girl. She is delightful, madam,” he said to Adama. “Thank you, I cannot thank you enough,” Adama said in barely a whisper. Lady Sitia stepped forward and offered to take Oma from Adama. The little girl smiled and said, “Hello, Grandmama,” then fell forward into her outstretched arms, certain of being safely caught. Adama smiled. “Grandmama?” 335

Calthraca: Adamare Lady Sitia looked at her husband then said, “She began addressing us that way almost from the beginning. I hope you don’t mind. You see, we have grandchildren, but we do not see them very often…” “Never,” Lord Thomas said tersely. “And we just enjoyed having her with us so much. She has given us such joy. We didn’t really want to correct her.” “No, I don’t mind at all.” Adama smiled at the small friendly woman. She could see where Kesim got his warm heart. She turned and looked at Lord Thomas and she could see where Kesim got his stern, handsome face, as well as his demeanor. “Father, Mother?” Kesim said. They looked at their son. “I must also tell you, Adama and I have wed.” Lady Sitia’s face bloomed into a brilliant smile. “Married!?” she exclaimed and enthusiastically embraced Adama. Kesim smiled at his mother, but it was his father he looked to. Lord Thomas looked at Adama then at his son. “When?” “We’ve been wed for more than two months,” Kesim replied. Kesim’s father took another look at Adama. “Do you love him?” Without hesitation Adama gazed back at her father-in-law and said, “With all of my heart.” He nodded. Kesim made no sound, and had kept his face carefully neutral, but Adama could tell he was very intent upon his father’s opinion. How strange that a man as strong as Kesim still feels the need to gain his father’s approval. Sitia glanced sharply at her and then at Kesim who had also caught the thought from her as well. He cleared his throat loudly. “Let’s go to the study, shall we?” 336

Calthraca: Adamare Lord Thomas knew the way and strode ahead followed closely by Oma and Sitia who looked back at them. As Adama passed Kesim, he took her arm and held her back a step. “Please do not forget, my mother is blessed with the same gifts we are.” He pitched his voice low so only she could hear him, and grazed his lips across her neck and ear lovingly as he spoke. To anyone observing, they looked like an affectionate couple. She drew in a sharp breath realizing what she had done. “I’m so sorry,” she said, mortified. He could tell she was sincere. “Do not worry. I know you did not mean anything by it.” His lips continued to travel across her neck and she shivered deliciously. “Mmm… Kesim, please don’t,” she breathed. He chuckled low. “I cannot wait to get you alone.” Then he turned her ahead of himself and gave her a gentle pat on the backside. She turned and gave him a mock glare before heading toward the study. Adama entered and crossed quickly to the sofa where Lady Sitia sat holding Oma on her lap, reaching immediately for her daughter. She couldn’t believe how much her daughter had grown since she last saw Oma. She was shocked to realize she was nearly four years old. She swallowed hard around the lump that had sprung up in her throat. Sensing her emotions, Sitia said, “Tell us, dear, how did you come to be married?” She didn’t wish to be rude, but she was extremely curious. Adama smiled at her bold question. “Nearly a year ago, I was abducted from Lyros and sent to BasSalaam along with the imperial seal. I didn’t know the plot to kidnap me was a plan to hand my throne over to Eleana as well. When I arrived in Eleana’s court, my sister decided I must be wed and sent away to keep me from causing problems and attempting to regain my 337

Calthraca: Adamare throne.” Adama took a deep breath. “Kesim revealed himself to me as an operative of Minalos shortly after I arrived. Together we contrived a way to convince Eleana to force us to wed and send us here.” “So you were not in love with my son before you wed?” Lord Thomas demanded. Adama glanced at Kesim who was looking at her strangely, as though anticipating her reply. Without taking her eyes from Kesim’s, she replied, “I was in love with Kesim from the beginning. So, yes I would say I was in love with him when we married.” Lord Thomas made a derisive sound. “You’ll forgive me, madam, but I do not believe in love at first sight.” “How unfortunate for you.” Adama smiled. “Thomas, why are you badgering her?” Lady Sitia was mortified. “Sitia, I’m merely venturing the observation that this woman, while certainly lovely and undoubtedly well-bred, is a deposed queen who comes to Kesim with little more than the clothes on her back, and a child who is not his. She cannot reclaim her throne. She is entirely dependent upon Kesim. How convenient he is wealthy.” His eyes bore deeply into Adama’s as though daring her to deny his accusations. Outraged, she opened her mouth to speak. “I—” “Father,” Kesim interrupted quietly. Lord Thomas turned and looked closely at Kesim. “Yes?” “The idea to wed was mine, but we both knew it was right. She had no way of knowing anything about my wealth or my position prior to arriving here. She only found out today the extent of my holdings.” He took a deep breath. “It is exceedingly poor manners to say such things to my wife and I demand you apologize immediately.” Kesim’s jaw was set firmly and his glorious eyes flashed. 338

Calthraca: Adamare Adama was relieved that he had defended her so strongly. The two men stood facing each other, both refusing to budge an inch. Then Lord Thomas smiled a long, slow, honest smile. “I’m overjoyed that you are so much in love with your wife, Kesim. I know you will both be happy for many years.” He looked at Adama. “Please forgive my rudeness, my dear, but I want him to be married to someone he truly loves and, Adama, it is abundantly clear he loves you.” Adama realized he was testing them. She wasn’t sure if she should be happy or angry. She saw Kesim visibly relax and said, “I’m pleased you approve.” He grinned like a wolf at her and his eyes sparkled. “I know you are angry, madam, but I did have to know.” Deciding she could live with his apology, she smiled at him. “Thank you, Lord Thomas, it is very obvious you love Kesim as well.” “Father, if I could, I should like to speak to you alone for a moment?” “Certainly, Kesim, let’s walk. Ladies, excuse us please,” he said then turned to leave. Oma who had been sitting with her mother now wiggled down to the floor. She ran to Lord Thomas who bent and picked her up. “Grandpapa, who is this man?” She pointed at Kesim. Lord Thomas looked at Adama then at Kesim. “This is your papa, my little dolly. Can you say good evening to him?” “Good evening, Papa,” the little girl said, and Kesim’s heart melted. “Good evening, Oma, it is very good to meet you at last.” Oma smiled shyly. Lord Thomas set her down on the floor and she looked up at Kesim, then wordlessly held her arms up to him. He bent and picked her up. 339

Calthraca: Adamare “It is good to meet you as well, Papa,” she said then kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you, Oma,” he said huskily. Adama reached up and wiped at a tear on her cheek, then glanced at Lady Sitia and noticed her eyes were glistening as well. Kesim’s mother felt Adama looking at her and they laughed together. “Why don’t you go and see Mama and Grandmama,” Kesim said, making Oma giggle as he rolled his R’s and wiggled his eyebrows. He walked over to Adama and his mother and put Oma on the floor where she promptly ran to his chessboard. Looking at it closely she reached up and took two pieces and examined them. Then proceeded to gather all of the chessmen in her hands and carry them to the stone ledge before the fireplace. She set them up in a long black and white column, carefully playing “Army” with them. Kesim watched her for a moment, then leaned down and kissed Adama tenderly. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” “All right. I’ll have a talk with your mother, and she can tell me all your boyhood embarrassments. Shall we meet you in the dining room?” He nodded, laughing, then smiled at his mother and turned and left. “He loves you,” Lady Sitia said. She was overjoyed. “You’re the second person to say that to me.” Adama laughed. “Oh, it’s abundantly clear, my dear. Just the fact that he defended you so strongly to Thomas shows his devotion to you. It radiates from him in waves,” she said. “You feel it too, Adama, I can see it coming from you as well. You’re truly his soul mate.” She leaned forward and touched Adama’s hand. 340

Calthraca: Adamare “Oh!” Adama pulled back slightly, thoroughly amazed at the power concealed within the small woman beside her. “You’re a very powerful sorceress yourself,” Lady Sitia answered her as though she’d spoken out loud. “How long have you known you were with child?” she asked, touching Adama’s hand again and holding it. “Not long,” Adama answered truthfully. It would be pointless to lie even if she had a reason to. “I only told Kesim today. I dreamed of the babe last night.” Lady Sitia continued holding her hand and Adama wished she would stop. She was feeling vulnerable and exposed. “I’m very sorry, Adama. Sometimes I forget it can be uncomfortable to be examined so.” She released Adama’s hand. “You’ve lived an interesting life. I wonder how much you might want to share with Kesim?” She looked closely at Adama. “He knows almost everything,” Adama replied quietly. “Except about your first husband?” Adama looked up, surprised. She hadn’t told him about Tengri-Khan yet. “No, he doesn’t know. No one knows.” “You loved him,” Sitia said. “Yet…he took you as a captive when you were still a girl?” Adama put her hand into Sitia’s once again. “Look deeply and see the truth.” She squeezed her eyes shut as Sitia looked deeply into her mind, examining her memories. “He was cruel,” she said. “His heart was broken and you healed him. You fell in love, both of you…then…” Adama sat back. She gently removed her hand from her mother-in-law’s. “Then he died,” she finished. She raised her hand and wiped a tear. “And I was returned to Lyros, and I learned to be a good soldier and a good sorceress and then I lost everything, again. Now I will make a happy life for my husband, myself and my children. And no one will take it from me.” 341

Calthraca: Adamare “You love Kesim more than you ever loved your first husband,” Sitia said seriously. “I saw it in your heart.” She looked at Adama, who was wiping tears still. “I’m sorry to have brought it up, Adama. I’m less than tactful at times.” “It’s no matter. I shall have to tell Kesim eventually,” she said. “I would rather have honesty between us. I have nothing to hide. I loved him. Tengri was a complicated man, very much like Kesim. He’d been hurt deeply and I was fortunate enough to have been part of his life. I helped him to heal after his own pain. He was a prince. He was my first real lover, my husband. I sometimes miss him still, but fate had other plans for me. Kesim has helped me to finally heal my broken heart. He’s shown me I can love again, and love better than I did with Tengri. You know because you saw it. I love Kesim more than I ever loved TengriKhan.” Sitia nodded. She was crying as well. “I will never hurt Kesim,” Adama said, then looked away. She looked at Oma playing, then got up and walked to the table by the window. She poured herself a glass of wine, then one for Sitia. She gave her the glass but did not sit beside her again. “You never bore his child?” Sitia asked. “Oh, no. Tengri was dead more than ten years before I had Oma. My time with him produced no children,” she said sadly. “Though not from lack of trying on our part. I sometimes wish I had though.” Adama looked out the windows at the dark mountain. “Kesim was also wed before,” Sitia said quietly. Adama turned. “He was?” “Yes. It was a loveless union, a horrible mistake. Simply an arranged marriage that never should have been,” Lady Sitia said in a near whisper. Adama returned to the sofa. “What happened?” 342

Calthraca: Adamare “Her name was Kaz and she was unfaithful to Kesim. Naturally when he found out he divorced her, and like you there were no children. They were only married for a year,” Sitia spoke bitterly. “But perhaps, I should let Kesim tell you this.” Adama nodded and took her hand. “Thank you for telling me what you have, and I shall keep your confidence, but I would ask that you keep my secret a bit longer as well. I will tell Kesim, but I must do it when the time is right.” Sitia smiled. “Of course. I know you’re a wonderful woman, and Kesim will finally be happy. Now, perhaps we should go and see if dinner is ready?” Sitia suggested. “That sounds wonderful, but first…” Adama bent and picked up Oma from where she’d fallen asleep on the floor. “I’ll help the young princess find her bed.” As she passed Sitia, she paused. “Thank you for taking such good care of Oma. I cannot ever repay you.” Sitia stroked Oma’s head lovingly. “Give me lots of grandchildren to enjoy,” she said, then laughed. Adama smiled and carried her sleeping daughter to the nursery that adjoined their bedroom. Sitia watched her leave. She wondered if Adama knew she still had many miles to travel before she found the peace she so desired. **** They all enjoyed a quiet dinner talking about Kesim’s plans as well as sharing the happy news of her pregnancy. Morgan and Sarah were perfect helping Mrs. Walker serve the dinner. Anna chose not to join them. Late in the evening Morgan graciously offered the use of the carriage house to Kesim’s parents who tipsily accepted and made their way to their bed, led by Morgan carrying a lamp. He and Sarah decided to sleep in the cozy servants’ quarters over the kitchen for the night. 343

Calthraca: Adamare **** Adama and Kesim finally made it to their own bed. “This day felt like it would never end,” Kesim said quietly. He lay with his knee bent and his arm under his head, looking up. Adama finished undressing and climbed into bed. She cuddled close to him and he brought his arm down around her shoulder, tracing lazy circles on her soft skin. “Mmmm.” She sighed. He turned and kissed her mouth softly. She kissed him back with a bit more force, subtly letting him know she wasn’t opposed to more. “You were so beautiful tonight. All I could think of was making love to you.” He chuckled low and rolled over her, nuzzling her neck and throat, making her shiver deliciously as he ran his tongue around her ear then took her mouth in a passionate kiss. She inhaled deeply at the electric thrill that shot through them. He kissed her breasts rolling her nipples between his finger and thumb gently, then circled them with his tongue leaving hot and cold tingles along her extremely sensitive skin. “Tell me what you were thinking,” she whispered in his mind. She was panting as he ran his hands down her body, and she was delighted to find him naked and hardening against her leg as he lay over her. “I was thinking of how soft your lips are when we kiss, how wonderfully hot your mouth is, and how I love how wet you get when I kiss you and stroke your little clit. Those soft sounds you make drive me mad.” She groaned then brought her hands up to stroke his face and ran her fingers through his long hair, holding his head while he kissed her. He flicked her lip with his tongue as he broke the kiss. He felt her hands caressing him, gently stroking him, and he 344

Calthraca: Adamare inhaled quietly. One of her hands left him and he felt it between their bodies as she began to stroke herself. “Oh, it’s like that?” He grinned. “Mmm,” she replied. She brought her fingers up and he licked them, drawing them in to suck on them, arousing her even more. He slid his own hand down her belly and replaced her fingers with his. She made a low moan and shuddered slightly. He looked at her and her eyes were closed, her tongue poked out and licked her lips just a little and her teeth caught her bottom lip. He grinned, she was very aroused. He removed his hand and slid down the bed pushing her up and sliding her legs over his shoulders, fastening his mouth upon her and holding both of her wrists tightly by her sides. She gasped as his tongue touched her and began its erotic torture. Circling her clit over and over, drawing in to suckle hard upon it then releasing. The flat plane of his tongue ran up the inside of her folds, up and down and she groaned. She could feel his teeth and his lips and the bristle of his beard upon her. He could hear her thoughts racing through her mind. When they made love, she was so engrossed in pleasure that often there would be no conscious thought at all, simply feelings, and he especially loved those times. “Oh God, Kesim… I’m…” Her body was totally attuned to him. Every move he made sent a thrill of pure pleasure through her and she shuddered through her first climax. As she came down, she tried to pull away from him, but he held her fast, lapping at her juices as they came to his mouth. She struggled a bit but could not free herself, and he maintained his methodical pace, ignoring her struggles, stroking her with his tongue, nibbling at her, forcing her higher. Her senses were so 345

Calthraca: Adamare enflamed that in only a few moments she gasped and peaked even more powerfully than the first time, crying out his name. He felt her resistance fade and her arms relaxed. He let go of her wrists and drew himself up the length of her body. He slid himself within her abruptly and her eyes opened wide as she inhaled sharply. “Oh!” “Shh,” he whispered. He began to move upon her and her legs came up around him grasping his waist tightly. She pulled his face to hers and took his mouth in a passionate kiss. She could taste herself upon him, and the intensity of her kiss enflamed them both. “I love you,” he breathed as he took her mouth in a deep kiss. He took her slowly, enjoying her soft moans and her nails upon his back, patiently waiting for her to let him know she was very close. He would bring her up to the edge of a climax and then stop, building her frustration. He moved back and drew her leg up and over his shoulder as he kneeled, turning her to her side. He fondled her breasts as he thrust into her with a leisurely rhythm, occasionally licking his fingers and then tracing them along the folds of her labia and around her rigid clit. At length, her breathing shortened and she made a low humming sound which he loved and he withdrew completely. “Oh God, don’t stop!” she moaned. He rolled her to her belly and lay upon her taking her from behind thrusting even harder making her cry out; she stifled her cries into the pillows. Kesim pulled her to her hands and knees and cupped her, sliding his long fingers within to tease at her. She arched her back once more, pressing her body into his and she peaked at the same time as he found release. They flew together then tumbled back, breathing heavily. He moved only far enough away from her to keep from crushing her and she lay with her head upon his breast, listening to his heart beating rapidly in his chest, then 346

Calthraca: Adamare hearing it slow to a normal rhythm. She sighed deeply and brought her hand up to caress his head softly. “I love you,” she whispered. “Mmmm…” She grinned. They slept entwined, exhausted, sated. **** The next morning found their room bathed in sunlight. Kesim awoke to a small body lying atop their blanket between them. Slightly surprised at the young interloper, he opened his eyes and stared at the girl, a small smile on his face. “Papa, you have nice eyes,” she said in a loud whisper. She had dragged the blanket from her bed along with her onto theirs and she snuggled down comfortably. He smiled wider and said, “Thank you.” She closed her eyes and went to sleep in the space of a few minutes, and Kesim, thus introduced to parenthood, joined her. Approximately an hour later, Oma was once more awake. “I smell food. I’m going to the kitchen!” She jumped up and ran for the door, throwing it wide and rushing out. Sarah passed their doorway shortly afterward and glanced in. Her eyes widened slightly, surprised at the sight of Kesim sleeping. The blanket covered his waist but revealed his long thigh. She stopped and quietly pulled their door closed. Kesim heard her and chuffed out a quiet laugh as he sat up. It was strange for him to have so many people in his house. He was used to being alone. Strangely he didn’t find it awkward or uncomfortable. He liked it. He stood up and walked to the bathroom. Adama sat up slowly and slid her long legs over the side of the bed. A wave of nausea washed over her and she swallowed sickly. He came out of the bathroom wearing his robe and saw her. 347

Calthraca: Adamare “Are you all right?” “Sick,” she said and lurched to her feet running for the bathroom. Sarah knocked twice on the bedroom door and waited to be invited in. “Come!” he said loudly. “Princess Oma said you were awake,” she began. Loud retching came from the direction of the bath. Sarah looked at Kesim. “My lord?” A slow grin crossed his handsome face. “Morning sickness,” he explained. “Oh…” Sarah nodded knowingly. “She’ll want tea and ginger.” She left to get the things she knew Adama would need. Kesim entered the bathroom, still grinning madly. Adama was sitting on the floor before the commode with her head down. She looked up as he entered. “I fail to see the humor in this,” she said weakly. He crouched beside her. “Not humor. Pure joy.” She vomited again, then sat trembling. “I’m overwhelmed,” she managed finally. She began to get her feet underneath her, he took her elbow and helped her to lean on the sink to rinse her mouth. Her skin felt warm to him. “Ugh,” she groaned as her stomach lurched once more. She closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. “This is perfectly normal. Women in the first trimester will often experience morning sickness. Some women experience it throughout their pregnancy.” “Kesim, are you trying to make me feel better?” She swallowed back her nausea. “Well, yes,” he said surprised. “Darling, it isn’t working.” She had finished and he pulled her robe from the hook. 348

Calthraca: Adamare He smiled and helped her with it. “You look better.” She sighed and kissed him. “I feel a little better.” She left the bathroom, tying the belt around herself. Sarah had returned with a tray and was pouring tea into a cup when Adama entered. “Oh, thank God,” she said gratefully. She carefully took the cup and sat on the window seat near the little table where Sarah stood. She could hear Kesim bathing in the bathroom. She managed to get half a cup into her without feeling the need to vomit again, and took a few small bites of soda cracker. Her stomach apparently had decided to calm itself for the time being. Unfortunately it felt as though it could turn traitor on her at any time. Kesim returned to their bedroom wrapped in a towel below the waist, looked at her sitting in the window seat and felt a lustful twitch. He ignored it and went to his dresser. Sarah left to run her bath. He returned dressed in dark blue riding pants with a gold stripe down the leg, an ivory shirt with black laces, carrying a short military jacket with stripes on the sleeve, which buttoned in a large flap across his chest. He carried his boots. Adama was rather surprised to see him in uniform. He stood beside the bed and tucked in his shirt and buckled on his belt, checking his dagger on his side, then sat to pull his high boots on. He tucked the pant leg in, and bent to do the buckles near his knee. He looked up and saw her cool emerald gaze over the cup. He locked eyes with her and felt the heat of her radiating towards him. “Handsome man,” she said quietly. “Beautiful woman,” he replied, matching her tone. She smiled. 349

Calthraca: Adamare He crossed to her, sat beside her on the bench and kissed her neck. “It would please me to take you right here upon this bench, hard and fast.” “You find me attractive like this?” “I find you attractive always. You enchant me.” “Let me braid your hair,” she said and he turned handing her the rawhide thong he held. She brushed it out slowly and gathered it into a braid, then clubbed it for him and wrapped the thong around it tightly. He turned to her and she brushed an errant lock from his forehead. He kissed her mouth, then deepened the kiss, tasting ginger. Finally, with a regretful sigh he stood up and began buttoning his jacket. He looked down at her. “Much as I would love to spend the day indulging my deepest fantasies with you, we cannot. Admiral Tandus and his entourage will be here shortly.” He looked at her second cup of tea. “Drink that.” He pointed at it and smiled. She lifted the cup and drank, and he kissed the top of her head. “I love you.” He left her to bathe and get dressed herself. Sarah came out of the bath and grinned at her. “Feeling better?” Adama nodded and set the cup down. “Good, let’s get you in the bath.” Adama followed her maid to the bathroom, dropped her robe and stepped down into the marble tub. It wasn’t as hot as she liked it and she looked at Sarah who knew exactly what she was going to say. “Lord Kesim said it shouldn’t be too hot, it’s not good for the babe.” Adama rolled her eyes. She should have known pregnancy as a doctor’s wife would be a trial. She relaxed somewhat and sat back. Her nerves were raw and jangled and she knew she was overreacting to the upcoming interview. 350

Calthraca: Adamare Once she was finished bathing, Sarah helped her from the tub. Kesim had also asked her to watch Adama closely; she could lose her balance easily, especially in the mornings when she’d been sick. She wrapped Adama in a warm towel and had her sit in the window seat once more. When her hair was dry, they walked to the large empty closet that would eventually hold all of Adama’s clothing. “You have only three options for clothing,” Sarah commented. Adama sat on a small cushioned stool in the center of the room. “I know,” she replied. “Your riding gear, which is rather…worn,” Sarah enumerated. “Your sari, from BasSalaam, or your gown.” “You mean the suit from last night?” “Oh, no I forgot that, but no. The gown I purchased when we were in BasSalaam, in the Lyrosian style,” Sarah said. “I think it will be suitable, I asked Mrs. Walker to press it.” “Let’s see it.” Sarah went to the laundry and returned with a simple dress. It had a full skirt and several petticoats, cut very low and square on the bust, with full sleeves that puffed at the shoulders and tightened at the wrist. The outer skirt was light blue sheer silk over the same color satin underskirt. The upper bodice was sky blue velvet with gold embroidery brocade, and the same silk covering the puffed sleeves. Adama smiled. “I think it will be fine. Thank you, Sarah, you always take care of me.” She stood. “Do we have all the undergarments as well?” “Oh yes.” Sarah went to a drawer and pulled out a lightlyboned corset that she laced Adama into carefully then bent to help her with the sheer silk stockings. Adama bent and hooked the garters herself. 351

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah helped pull the gown over Adama’s head then laced the ribbons on the sides. She then helped Adama into the golden brocaded slippers she’d worn last night. Sarah did her long hair into a soft gathered bun, low on her neck. The collar of the gown was a shell that enclosed the back of her neck but opened to a wide square on her chest. She put her eclipse pendant over her head and let it rest on the swell of her breast. She looked magnificent. Standing, Adama exhaled. “Let’s go.” **** Kesim had made his way to the kitchen and found his parents sitting at the heavy wooden table with Oma, eating fruit and cereal. He was rather startled to see them behaving so casually. He didn’t think they knew where the kitchen was in his house, let alone to sit there and have breakfast. He smiled as he saw them draw together and kiss. He cleared his throat. “Good morning, Mother.” He kissed her cheek. “Father.” He put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “I hope you slept well?” His mother smiled up at him. “Yes, dear, thank you.” She looked closely at him. “You look very handsome. I had forgotten how good you look in uniform.” “You need a haircut,” his father commented. “Thomas. Really,” his wife said and smiled. They looked at each other with love and Kesim realized there had been probably more going on than sleep in the carriage house. He grinned. His father spoke. “You said last night Tandus would be here this morning, Kesim?” Lord Thomas was pleased to see his son had at least dressed appropriately. 352

Calthraca: Adamare “Yes, sir, along with the adjutant general.” He always addressed his father as either “sir” or “Father.” Years of ingrained discipline made it a habit. Kesim reached over Oma and picked up a warm muffin from the bowl on the table then kissed her on top of her head on the way back. She giggled. “Are you finished, dear?” Sitia asked her. She knew Thomas wanted to speak with Kesim alone. “Yes, Grandmama.” “Let’s see if we can find something fun to do. Maybe we’ll take a walk in the garden.” She helped Oma down from the chair. “She is a lovely girl, Kesim,” Lord Thomas commented watching his wife and Oma leave. “I know, Father.” Lord Thomas Trasain was a well-respected politician and military leader. He’d spent many years in the service achieving the rank of premier general, then received a title from his grateful government, making him a lord. He’d served that government as a senator and had only retired two years ago. His wife Lady Sitia was an interpreter, and she worked in the office of the ambassador to Silania. Her mother, Sophia, came from a wealthy Silanian family, and her father was the famous sorcerer Lord Sebastian Vara. They had met and married within the year. He knew she was the daughter of a famous sorcerer and he had tolerated his share of derision from his own family, listening to their ranting about ‘witch children’ and how they would be born soulless. He’d ignored it and stayed by the woman he loved. The only one of their children to be born with any magic had been Kesim, their youngest. 353

Calthraca: Adamare Lord Thomas was a strict disciplinarian. Lady Sitia was a nurturer. Kesim, the baby, naturally received the lion’s share from both. His father sat back and sipped coffee from his cup while Kesim found another muffin and drank a glass of juice. Kesim had always been a good son, and Thomas was proud of him. Marla just distressed him, and he’d been enormously relieved when she’d married Coleman. At least he was able to keep her in line most of the time. “You do have some plan of how you’re going to inform Admiral Tandus that you’ve not only married your subject, but she’s also carrying your child, I assume?” he said without preamble. Kesim swallowed the bite he’d just taken. “Aside from offering to make him the godfather, no,” he said grimly. “Dammit, Kesim.” His father sat forward and banged his hand down on the table hard enough to make his son jump. “This is not a joke.” “No,” Kesim said quietly. “I know.” Lord Thomas nodded. “You realize your career is over.” “Yes, sir,” Kesim said. He stood up and got himself a cup of coffee then returned to the table and sat. He looked at his father. “Father, my commission was set to expire this year. I had planned to return here and raise horses. Now I’ll raise horses, and sons.” He grinned at his father. “What about your reputation?” Thomas demanded. “My reputation should not be damaged, Father, after all, I did complete my assignment.” “You’ve thrown away twenty years of service, Kesim, for a woman.” The woman in question entered the room. Lord Thomas and Kesim both stood. 354

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim looked his father directly in the eye. “What would you have done? I have no regrets.” He put his hand out and Adama took it, and he brought hers to his lips and kissed it. “You look lovely. Are you feeling any better?” He pulled out a chair and let her sit. “Let me get you a cup of tea.” She sat and smiled at Lord Thomas who raised his eyebrows at Kesim’s behavior. “You’ve certainly turned his head.” “He’s such a good man,” she said in an exaggerated whisper. Kesim brought her hot tea with a slice of ginger. “Yes he is,” he said, grinning as he set down her cup. Lord Thomas looked at them as she brought her hand up to Kesim’s face and realized they were indeed a perfect match for each other. “Madam, have you given any thought to reclaiming your throne?” he asked. She turned to face her father-in-law. “I would need an army, Lord Thomas,” she said quietly. “More importantly, there haven’t been any overtures indicating my people want that. Kesim has sent messages with no reply. Therefore, my only conclusion is they prefer Eleana’s rule to mine. As that is the case, I think it wiser to remain here in Minalos, as Kesim’s wife, and raise my children in safety.” Adama picked up her teacup and took a sip, trying to calm her once again rolling stomach. Lord Thomas nodded. “I would say that is indeed a much wiser decision.” Kesim said nothing. He knew it was a subject that was difficult for her. Giving up her legacy and birthright to become what basically amounted to a farmer’s wife was obviously a heart-wrenching choice. Yet, she had not complained and insisted she had what she wanted. A clatter of hooves in the courtyard brought Kesim to his feet. He leaned down and kissed his wife. “I’ll be back.” With a nod to his father, he strode from the sunny kitchen. 355

Calthraca: Adamare Lord Thomas looked at the lovely woman before him. His thoughts were very similar to Kesim’s. How difficult her choice must be. “You make him very happy. I don’t recall ever seeing him act so,” he commented quietly. “He makes me happy,” she replied. “I wonder how happy you will be when your duties include diapers and babies, and pleasant conversation with the good wives in the village; rather than diplomats, and generals and war councils?” “I’ve lived an eventful life. I think I’m looking forward to settling down. Lord Thomas, do you dislike me?” she asked him bluntly. “No, Adama, I do not dislike you. I simply want Kesim to be happy. I owe him that much.” “You must take my word that I do too.” He nodded. “I do. Excuse me, please.” He stood and left the room. Adama sat alone for a few moments sipping her tea. She did not feel terribly hungry and decided to eat later. She left the kitchen as well. **** Admiral Tandus arrived along with the adjutant general and several outriders. Kesim opened the door and exited to the courtyard. He waited for the admiral and the adjutant to dismount then saluted smartly. “Sir.” He addressed them both. Tandus saluted. “Commander. It is good to see you.” “Thank you, sir,” Kesim replied. Orrin Tandus genuinely liked Kesim. He was a good soldier, he’d known Kesim since he was fifteen when his father had insisted he attend military academy. Personally, he never thought Kesim should be in the military; he should have gone to 356

Calthraca: Adamare study with his grandfather as he wanted. However, Kesim had surprised them all and gone on to become an excellent doctor as well as an accomplished operative. He did outstanding work and had been highly decorated for valor and service, never turning down an assignment regardless of the danger involved. He had known Kesim’s brother Kaden and knew their father Lord Thomas, and respected him enormously. Kesim invited them into the house and asked Mrs. Walker to bring coffee and refreshments to his study. The adjutant general got right to the point. “Where is Queen Adama?” “She is having breakfast at the moment, I believe,” Kesim replied. The adjutant pursed his thin lips. He was a fussy, prim little man who greatly disliked having to travel this distance. He felt Trasain should have brought the woman to the capital, Morinal, instead of this godforsaken burg, so they could question her properly. He disliked this rural town and even disliked Kesim, although he’d never met him before today. He’d heard about Trasain. That he was an excellent soldier and doctor, and also that he was a sorcerer. A witch. He looked at Kesim with distaste. He knew such creatures lived among them, but he couldn’t understand why they were tolerated and allowed to act like normal mortals. “Well, do you think you could go get her?” he said nastily. Kesim stood at parade rest with his hands behind his back. He opened his mouth to reply. “Of—” The study door opened and his father entered. Kesim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Lord Thomas!” Admiral Tandus said. “What a pleasant surprise.” He stood and shook Thomas’s hand. “Orrin. It is good to see you as well.” 357

Calthraca: Adamare “Please let me introduce you. This is the Adjutant General Costas Miras.” Lord Thomas took the much smaller man’s hand and shook it, nearly crushing it in his grasp. He released the bony man and smiled. The adjutant swallowed and tried to unfold his crumpled hand. He turned back to Kesim and cleared his throat. “Commander Trasain, you were going to bring the queen here?” he said shortly. “Yes, sir.” Kesim turned to leave. The man was irritating, and he desperately wished his father hadn’t come in. He walked to the door and pulled it open, revealing Adama approaching them already. She smiled nervously at him and he looked at her with love. She passed him and he turned and bowed. The other men bowed as well. “It is very good to see you, Your Majesty,” Admiral Tandus said. He proceeded to introduce himself and the adjutant. “I trust your journey was not too difficult.” He offered her a seat and she lowered herself gracefully to the sofa. “Thank you, Admiral,” she said graciously. “If you are prepared, Your Majesty, we can leave now,” the adjutant said, eager to finally be on their way. “I’m afraid you will have to speak to her here, sir,” Kesim said quietly. “What? Why?” Admiral Tandus asked. “Yes, why commander?” the adjutant said stiffly. Kesim looked at Adama and smiled slightly. “Because she is my wife, and I do not wish for her to leave with you. Sir,” he added. Tandus looked at Kesim, then at Adama. She was looking at him as though expecting him to speak to her. He cleared his throat. “This is most…unusual,” he finally managed. 358

Calthraca: Adamare “Your wife?” Miras said incredulously. Adama closed her eyes. Her father-in-law sat listening but said nothing. “You’ve become physically involved with a mission subject?” he demanded. “Yes, sir,” Kesim answered. Adama saw him swallow but he didn’t lower his eyes. “You are aware that there are regulations governing such things?” “Yes, sir.” “Would you mind explaining yourself, Kesim?” Tandus addressed him now. Kesim outlined the entire story, omitting the attack in Daskad. When he finished, Adama sat with her forehead in her hand, looking down. Tandus said, “Then it can be annulled.” She looked up, face flushed, but determined. “No,” she said. “This is what I wanted, Admiral.” The adjutant looked at Kesim. “So, are you a king now? Or is it a prince?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. Kesim didn’t reply, and the adjutant turned his attention to Adama. “How do you know he hasn’t bewitched you and forced you to his will?” Lord Thomas cleared his throat loudly as Adama made an outraged sound. Kesim stepped forward angrily. “That is completely ridiculous.” “How dare you say such a thing to me!” Adama stood. “What a disgusting accusation! He most certainly did not use sorcery to force me to wed him. Are you suggesting I do not know my own mind, sir? That I would not or could not make a decision whether or not to marry?” 359

Calthraca: Adamare “What I’m suggesting is you were a vulnerable woman in a difficult position, and he—” “Took advantage of a woman in danger?” Lord Thomas said angrily. “Is that what you’re implying?” He looked at the admiral. “Admiral Tandus, I’ve heard enough gross accusations against my son.” “This interview is over,” Kesim said. “Perhaps you enjoyed his attentions, madam? There have certainly always been rumors about you.” Miras sneered. “Is that how it was? Do tell us.” Adama’s mouth fell open, shocked. Kesim lost his composure entirely. He took two steps and punched the adjutant directly in the face, knocking him to the floor and breaking his nose. “Kesim!” His father pulled him back as he lurched forward for another blow. “You have an ugly mind,” Kesim nearly shouted. “I will not have her humiliated to satisfy your prurient curiosity.” “That will cost you, Trasain,” Miras said from the floor, his voice nasal and wet. “You’re under arrest. It may have cost me a broken nose, but at least you’ll be in jail.” He struggled to his feet and lurched for the door. Admiral Tandus ordered, “Miras, stop.” The adjutant stopped, stanching the bleeding with his coat sleeve, fumbling for his handkerchief. “You are not going to arrest him. You are going to apologize to this highly respected family immediately.” The adjutant was nearly apoplectic. “You just witnessed him striking a superior officer!” “You insulted his wife and questioned her virtue, not to mention his honor in their own home. Frankly, Miras, I’m surprised he did not demand you meet him at dawn.” Tandus’s voice was calm and even. Lord Thomas nodded. 360

Calthraca: Adamare “Well then by all means, please accept my apologies,” Miras said sarcastically. He opened the study door and left, slamming it hard behind him. Tandus watched him. “Insufferable…” He stopped, realizing he’d spoken aloud, then turned to Kesim. Lord Thomas had released him and he stood straightening his jacket somewhat. “As for you, Kesim, this is an enormous dereliction of duty. You know you are not to become involved with a subject; that is a fundamental rule. You’ve invited these questions regarding your motives and methods.” Kesim refused to look down. It was a dereliction of duty. But it was right, it was fate, he knew it was. “Nevertheless, you are both adults, and you obviously love each other. I must consider that Queen Adama has stated she wished to be wed as well. Therefore the only way I can see to defuse this situation is for you to resign, Commander. I shall expect your resignation before I leave.” Kesim looked down as the admiral continued. “Count your blessings I did not allow him to arrest you as well. I doubt your very lovely wife would like seeing you in the stockade and court-martialed for assaulting an officer. Wrong as he was, he is still your superior.” Kesim nodded wordlessly. “I shall submit my report to the senate based upon what you’ve told me. Should there be any further questions, I will refer them to you.” “Thank you, sir,” Kesim said quietly. “Kesim? I’m not feeling very well.” Kesim looked up and caught Adama’s gaze, and her eyes began to slide shut. The admiral continued, “Now then, I met Captain Coleman outside, and he mentioned Daskad. Perhaps you would like to share that information with me?” 361

Calthraca: Adamare “I should tend to my wife first,” Kesim said quickly. He moved with incredible speed, leaped over a small table and stopped directly in front of Adama who had begun to lean forward dangerously. He caught her and sat her back. Lord Thomas and Admiral Tandus looked at her. She was flushed and shaken. “Are you unwell, Your Majesty?” Tandus asked. “Yes.” She swallowed hard and laid her head upon Kesim’s chest. Kesim bent his head to look at her. “Can you walk?” She nodded and he drew her forward, helping her stand. She gained her feet and realized her knees were too weak to support her. She fell into him with a small surprised sound. She looked up at him and her eyes were shiny with frightened tears. “It’s all right, don’t worry,” Kesim soothed. He swept her up into his arms. His father opened the door as Kesim left the room. Tandus watched them go and Lord Thomas looked back at him. “She’s pregnant,” he said proudly, and grinned. Tandus smiled and nodded. Kesim carried Adama to their room. As he went, he shouted to Sarah, making Adama jump slightly. “Forgive me,” he apologized. “What have you eaten today?” “Just some soda crackers this morning,” she moaned. Sarah rushed in as he laid her down. “Stay with her please,” he said, then turned and went to their bathroom and brought back a basin, which he set on the floor. He sat beside her on the bed. “Adama, did you have this sort of nausea and fainting when you carried Oma?” “No,” she said weakly. She sat up quickly and vomited into the basin. He stroked her back as she cried and gasped through it. 362

Calthraca: Adamare “She was sick, but not like this,” Sarah added, then bent and took the basin. He thought for a moment. When he examined her, he didn’t feel any sort of defect with their child, but she was burning with fever and he could feel her weakening. He wasn’t exactly sure why she was experiencing so much more illness this time. Sarah returned with the now clean basin. “Adama, I can get you some more ginger tea, which will help somewhat, or I can make you an herbal remedy and that will help a bit more…” He took a deep breath; after what had been said in the study, he hesitated to suggest this. “…or I can use my magic to help you through the nausea. The spell will eliminate the nausea and weakness, it may cut the fever, but it will not harm our child. I would not attempt it without your consent.” She knew what it took for him to suggest it. She picked up his hand and said, “The magic is simply part of who you are, not all of you. Please do it, Kesim.” He smiled at her, touched that she had remembered his words. “There is some pain at first.” “All right.” “Lay back.” He looked around. “Sarah, please close the blinds.” She hurried to the windows and pulled them closed. “Thank you.” He smiled at Sarah. “Are you ready?” Adama nodded and smiled wanly. He placed a hand on her forehead very gently; after a moment she inhaled sharply, drawing her eyebrows together slightly, then moaned quietly. “Shhh,” he soothed. He sat with her for a few moments, holding her until their breathing and pulses had fallen in time with one another. 363

Calthraca: Adamare Her eyes slipped shut and her body relaxed as she fell asleep. He sighed, relieved, then took his hand from her forehead, pausing to cup her face and caress her cheek with his thumb. He could handle great pain on his own, but her pain wounded him to the core. “Let’s get her out of these clothes,” he said to Sarah. They undid her laces, and he lifted her slightly so Sarah could get her gown off. The corset came next and Sarah put a simple white cotton nightgown over her head. Kesim looked at her garters, stockings and slippers. “Uh…you’d better do that.” He chuckled. Sarah stifled a smile and pulled her slippers from her feet, then undid the garter, and rolled the silk stocking down her leg, then moved to the other one. She pulled the nightgown down over her legs, then stepped back. Once they had her comfortably settled, he drew the blankets over her. Kesim motioned to Sarah then drew her outside of the bedroom door, leaving it open. “She said she did not eat today,” he said. “She must eat, therefore both of us need to see to it she does.” Sarah nodded. “Oh, and please see she doesn’t wear that again.” He pointed at the corset. “I’m not sure if that is the cause, but it’s too tight in any event.” Sarah nodded, hiding a smile at his protectiveness. “You won’t need to stay beside her, but please check on her occasionally. I doubt she’ll vomit, I think she merely needs to sleep, and then eat a decent meal.” “Yes, my lord,” Sarah said, looking up at him. “I must go, but I’ll be back as soon as possible.” He turned and left the room. 364

Calthraca: Adamare Sarah looked at Adama sleeping and shook her head. She had no idea why Adama was so ill either. **** After attending to matters with the admiral and filing reports, Kesim sent Sanji to town along with Morgan and Sarah to introduce them to the local merchants and businessmen. Now that everything was tended to, Kesim entered their room and removed his uniform coat. He hung it from the back of a nearby chair, then sat on the bed beside Adama. He was really starting to worry about her. She woke up and smiled at him tiredly. “Hello, darling,” she said. He kissed her. “Hello. How are you feeling?” “Better,” she lied. “Now the truth?” “Not very good,” she admitted. He examined her and told her that their baby was fine. He didn’t tell her he felt her body weakening and the fever remained, as though she had some serious illness, something he could not detect. What he told her instead was that she needed to remain in bed at least a day or two. Then he’d lain with her for a little while, talking quietly about the day, and gently rubbing her neck and back. She fell asleep and he arose, making his way back to his study. Mrs. Walker had told him his mother had arranged dinner for his guests, Oma was with Sarah and Morgan, and he wasn’t to concern himself with it at all. Kesim was absurdly grateful. He entered his dark study and lit a lamp. He went to the small table by the windows and poured himself an inch of whiskey, and drank it, then poured another and carried it back to the desk. 365

Calthraca: Adamare Sitting down he reached into the drawer and drew out a few pages, a pen and ink. He looked out at the dusky mountains in front of him, then picked up the pen and began to write. He wrote for a long time, finally rereading what he’d put down on the page. Satisfied, he signed it using his former title of commander, and his preferred title of lord, then folded the letter and sealed it with wax and his own signet. He set it aside then simply sat for a few moments, thinking. At length, he stood up and looked at the bookshelf that took up the wall behind him, after a few more moments considering, he pulled a few medical texts from the shelves. He spent the next several hours sitting at his desk, paging through them, searching for anything that sounded remotely like Adama’s condition. It made no sense. The babe was healthy, yet Adama was considerably unwell, and the nausea and vomiting persisted. The fainting and dizziness concerned him, but the fever worried him the most. “Why is it happening?” he asked aloud. A light tap upon the door broke into his thoughts. “Come in,” he said quietly without looking up. His mother opened the door and entered. She was carrying a plate and crossed to his desk where she set it down, then stood for a moment. “I brought you something to eat, dear.” “Thank you, Mother,” Kesim sat back and sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with the heel of his hand. “I’m not terribly hungry.” He picked up the cut crystal glass he had near his left hand, and finished the whiskey he’d been drinking. “What are you doing up so late reading, Kesim?” She crossed her arms and leaned against the desk on his right. He smiled. She used to ask him that when he was a boy. He looked up at her and told her about his day, his resignation, 366

Calthraca: Adamare Adama’s strange symptoms and finally that his father wished to discuss something with him. She listened, concerned. “Kesim, leaving the service isn’t that difficult for you, I know. I doubt you’ve forgotten the horrendous fights you and Thomas had over your joining in the first place.” He laughed ruefully. When he was fifteen, his father had insisted he attend military academy. He had wanted to study with his grandfather Sebastian Vara, the sorcerer. His father forbade him to do so. It was the first, and also the last time he and his father had come to blows. His father, quick, strong and hard as stone, had thoroughly beaten Kesim, who at least had the sense to know it. He ended up going to military academy. He spent the next twenty years as a soldier, earning his medical degree during a six-year retreat and learning magic as well. Sitia could not openly defy her husband, but if Kesim’s grandfather wished to visit his grandson often while he was at school, she could hardly stop him. Lord Thomas had been pacified and Kesim seemed happy. At least as happy as he ever seemed. Kesim was more like his father than he knew. “You are still a young man, with many years before you, Kesim. This is merely a new chapter in your life. Still, I know this hurts your father very much. Please try to remember that?” “Mother, it’s the only option I have,” he said tiredly. She moved away from him and looked out the huge window opposite him. “Kesim, when are you going to tell Adama about Kaz?” He dropped his head into his hands with a groan. “Oh God, Mother. Must you bring that up now?” “Kesim, she deserves to know,” Sitia said quietly. 367

Calthraca: Adamare He sighed. “Yes, I know.” The topic of his ex-wife was one he steadfastly avoided, but he knew she was right. He’d have to tell Adama eventually. Kazmira was a lying whore who’d humiliated him, sleeping regularly with several important men of the town while he was away. He began building her this house after he’d married her but she had never lived here. The marriage was a disaster that he had ended as soon as he found out about her deceit. He’d shipped her back to Silania where her family lived, then stopped work on the house. He ripped up the plans they’d drawn together, then torn down the completed parts and rebuilt the house the way he wanted it. “I shall tell her, Mother. I only fear she may not understand.” “You might be surprised what she understands, Kesim,” his mother said kindly, then changed the subject. “Tell me more about her illness.” He told her about the extreme nausea, the fainting, the fever weakening her, and even his powerful magic couldn’t stop it. He was worried. Lady Sitia stood thinking for a moment. She examined the books piled on his desk briefly, then looked at him. “You’re reading the wrong books, dear,” she said and straightened. He moved as she went behind him and looked at the leather bound collection her father had written. She pulled one of the heavy books down and handed it to him, then leaned down and kissed his cheek. “Please eat?” she asked and he nodded. “Good night, Kesim.” “Thank you, Mother, goodnight,” he said, slightly surprised at how thoroughly she’d remedied his problems. She smiled and left the room. 368

Calthraca: Adamare Kesim opened the book, paging through it slowly. As he read, he pulled the plate toward himself, and ate what she’d brought for him. **** Adama awoke alone. She sat up and looked around. “Kesim?” She got no answer and slid her legs over the side of their bed and tried to stand. She was dizzy and sat down quickly. “What is wrong with me?” she said sadly. She’d never been so sick carrying Oma, so she couldn’t understand it. Kesim’s magic hadn’t worked to keep the nausea away, and she was so weak and dizzy it made her feel helpless, something she hated. She sighed, then decided to try again. She slowly stood up and only experienced a little dizziness this time. She began looking for her robe when their bedroom door opened. Kesim entered quietly and closed the door behind him, then turned and looked at the bed, startled to see her standing. “Where are you going?” he asked and smiled at her. “I woke up alone. I was going to look for you,” she replied. “I’m sorry, I was reading and I didn’t realize how late it was.” She sat down tiredly, and he came to the bed sitting beside her. He was holding a vial in his hands and turned it over and over. It glowed with a strange luminescence. “What is that?” she asked. He continued looking at it. “It is an elixir that will cure your symptoms,” he said quietly. She lay down with a tired sigh. “You’ll forgive me, Kesim, but I’ve heard that before.” She smiled at him. He grinned back. “I know you have, but what we did not know earlier was there is a special significance to the fact that both of us are sorcerers.” “Why?” she asked, now interested. 369

Calthraca: Adamare “You’ll recall my grandfather’s books?” “Yes, Prima Librum Magica,” she replied. “According to him, when two sorcerers have a child together, their child will be a sorcerer without fail. Now, when a sorcerer and a normal mortal make a child together there is a fifty percent chance of producing another sorcerer, and occasionally, two normal mortal parents can create a sorcerer child as well.” He paused. “We’ve seen both situations; your parents were both normal mortals, and mine are a normal mortal man with a sorcerer woman. Even you and Dakkar did not produce a sorcerer child.” She nodded, following his logic. “Both of us are sorcerers, and we’ve created a magical child, Adama.” His voice was hoarse and tired. “All of our children will be gifted.” She looked at him. “I understand. The child within me is a sorcerer, but I’m unsure why that is a problem.” He laughed a little. “It isn’t a problem exactly, we simply need to treat you a bit differently.” Kesim held up the vial and looked at it closely. “He made this for my grandmother,” he said quietly. “Sebastian?” she asked. “Yes.” She heard the pride in his voice. He turned to her. “You do not have to take this. We can continue as we have been. My primary concern is your health. I don’t know if you can withstand much more.” She swallowed hard. “Will it hurt the baby?” “It will not harm our child in any way.” “What will happen?” She sounded worried. “You will feel it infuse within your body, then you will begin to feel sleepy. You’ll sleep soundly for some length of time, and awaken, hopefully, well.” 370

Calthraca: Adamare “Good Lord, Kesim, all I’ve done for days is sleep.” She laughed. “Your body is perceiving the child as a threat, Adama. Which explains the fever and why you are weakening. Eventually it will impact the child. You need to rest and heal.” “Is it painful?” she asked. She wasn’t afraid of pain, but she worried for the baby. He smiled. “Actually no. Grandfather wrote it was quite pleasurable and euphoric.” She looked at the vial. “Kesim, it looks evil.” He laughed. “I agree.” “I trust you. I’ll take it.” “Lie back,” he said and moved to support her so she could drink. After she’d gotten comfortable, he leaned down and kissed her. “You are very brave and I love you.” She smiled but he could see she was scared. He handed her the vial. “Try to drink it all.” Adama looked up at him and nodded, then tilted the vial to her lips and began to drink. It wasn’t unpleasant. Actually it was sweet like honey. She swallowed the last of it, and licked the corner of her mouth. “It was good.” She laughed a little, and as he took the vial from her, she lay back. She could feel it working quickly within her and she sighed. “I can feel it,” she said softly. Her eyes slid shut and she lay still. After a moment, he spoke to her. “Adama?” She heard him, but couldn’t reply. She felt languid and heavy and somewhat aroused. A slow burning pleasure began gathering within her and she made a small moaning sound, shifting slightly. A wave of pleasure swept over her. She cried out and immediately peaked. 371

Calthraca: Adamare “Oh!” She gripped the bed sheets beside her. “Oh God… Yes,” she moaned passionately. Kesim sat beside his wife blinking, completely astonished. He could see the flush of passion on her body and the hammering pulse in her throat as she strained with the passion she felt. Perspiration dotted her forehead and the valley between her breasts. He swallowed hard as a strange jealousy leaped into him. Jealousy that it was not him bringing her this pleasure. She gripped his hand as another wave crashed through her and she gasped sharply. Her body arched as though being taken roughly by a powerful but invisible lover. She moaned sweetly through it, then peaked immediately once again. Tears sprang from her tightly closed eyes. The waves receded and left her breathing heavily, senseless. Her crushing grip on his hand loosened and she began to slide toward oblivion. “Kesim, you are incredible. I love you.” Surprised, he realized it was not an invisible lover. It was him. He grinned stupidly. He could almost hear his grandfather’s amused laugh. “Pleasantly euphoric…” Kesim muttered. Still holding her, he leaned down and kissed her lips softly. “I love you too.” Satisfied she was deeply asleep, he placed his hands upon her abdomen and searched for the child. “Where are you?” He felt the baby, and for the next hour he sat with them, his small family. He sent thoughts to the baby and remarkably felt the rudiments of knowledge in the tiny being. Kesim cried, but didn’t realize it until he finished and felt the tears upon his cheeks. Satisfied she would now be well and the child was fine, he realized he was thoroughly exhausted. He lay down and 372

Calthraca: Adamare curled around her protectively, he slept deeply, dreaming they made love, long and slow. She smiled in her sleep. **** Sarah knocked upon their bedroom door the next morning. She opened the door and entered quietly with a tray of tea and biscuits. The drapes were still closed and the room was cool and dark. She could see Kesim and Adama were still soundly asleep, and set the tray down then turned and exited. She caught Oma with one arm as she ran for her parents’ room, and swept the giggling little girl out.

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Chapter 12 Lord Thomas had spoken with his wife at length and knew of Kesim’s situation. He therefore took it upon himself to see the admiral off, first going to the study and finding his son’s resignation letter on the desk, then explained Kesim’s absence. He handed the letter to Tandus. “Orrin, I cannot tell you how much this pains me,” he said to the admiral. “I trust you will not allow my son’s good name or reputation to be tarnished in any way?” Admiral Tandus tucked the letter into his jacket and looked at Lord Thomas. “Thomas, my friend, I swear to you, upon my honor, your son’s reputation and record will remain as pristine as ever. Miras will not say or do anything to impugn you or your family.” Lord Thomas nodded. “Thank you.” Privately Admiral Tandus admired Kesim. He had put his family first, a skill most professional soldiers never learned. “Let me know whether it’s a boy or a girl?” Orrin requested. “Kesim offered to make you the godfather.” Thomas grinned, looking very much like his son. “I shall take him up on that offer.” The admiral laughed, then spurred his horse to catch up with the adjutant and the other soldiers who’d ridden ahead. **** After noon, Kesim emerged from their bedroom freshly bathed and looking rested. Adama still slept soundly and 374

Calthraca: Adamare comfortably. They wouldn’t know if she was well until she woke up, but he was confident she would be. Her fever was gone. He found his father standing outside the barn looking at the stables. “Father? You wished to speak with me earlier. I’m sorry I overslept.” “Don’t worry about it, Kesim,” he replied. “Your mother told me you’d been up late. Is Adama feeling better?” “She’s still asleep.” Thomas nodded and gestured at the stables. “I’ll have your horses shipped back this week.” “Thank you. Father, is there something you wanted to say to me?” he asked. Thomas looked at his son. “Yes.” Kesim raised an eyebrow. “Your mother… That is, your mother and I… We want to move here, with you and Adama and Oma. If you’ll have us.” Kesim was speechless. He’d never considered it before. He could see it took an enormous amount of courage for his proud father to ask. “Naturally we would build our own house,” he continued. “I wouldn’t wish to intrude on your family.” “Father, I think it would be a wonderful idea and I would be honored to have you live nearer to me,” Kesim said quietly. Lord Thomas embraced his son. “Thank you.” They pulled away somewhat awkwardly, and Kesim said, “Let’s look for a good site for your house.” “Yes. A fine idea.” Lord Thomas turned and strode ahead of his son. **** Adama slept.

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Calthraca: Adamare She awoke four days later and sat up slowly. She was enormously thirsty. Looking around she saw someone had placed a decanter and a cup on the table beside her. She lifted the decanter; it was full of cold water. Sarah had been here recently. She poured a cup and drank slowly, afraid to turn her stomach over. She drained the cup and realized it was staying down and she’d been upright for more than five minutes and didn’t feel like falling over or throwing up. She smiled. Kesim’s elixir had worked. She looked about the room. It was dark and the drapes were pulled closed. “I wonder what time it is,” she said quietly, surprising herself with her own voice, then she laughed. “I wonder what day it is.” She slowly got up from the bed and stood beside it, ready to sit once more if she had to. No dizziness. No nausea. She made her way to the bath and used the commode, hating the weakness that forced her to go slow, but knew she must have been sleeping for quite a long time and she would need to take the time to regain her strength. She picked up her robe from the foot of the bed and slid it on, realizing it felt strange. She looked down at her body and noticed subtle changes. Her breasts felt fuller, and her lower abdomen seemed rounder, softer. She smiled to herself, wondering if Kesim would notice. Walking slowly to the door of their room, she opened it and looked out. She could hear voices coming from the kitchen. Kesim’s parents. She heard Oma’s high-pitched voice and Lady Sitia’s reply. Lord Thomas came out of the kitchen and saw her standing in the doorway of the bedroom. Her hair was a big messy cloud around her face and she looked slight and ghostly to him. He 376

Calthraca: Adamare smiled and stopped before her. She looked up at her father-inlaw. “Good morning, Lazarus,” he said and kissed her on the cheek, then continued on his way. She touched her face where he’d kissed her, surprised, then made her way to the kitchen. Oma spied her first. “Mama!” she cried. She launched herself at Adama’s legs, and embraced her tightly. Adama bent and kissed her head. “Hello, darling dolly.” “Dear lord, why are you not in bed?” Mrs. Walker fussed. “I’ve been sleeping for ages,” Adama replied. “I think I’ll just sit up for a while.” “How do you feel, dear?” Lady Sitia asked. “Remarkably well.” She reached for a cup. “No nausea or dizziness?” Adama shook her head in the negative. “Let me get you that,” Mrs. Walker said. “Thank you, Pansy,” Adama said quietly. Anna sat at the counter snapping a large basket of beans, silently. Sarah came into the house holding another basket and made a startled, “Oh!” sound when she saw Adama sitting at the table. Adama smiled at her friend. “Um, how long have I been sleeping?” “Four whole days, Mama!” Oma exclaimed. Adama looked agape at her then at Sitia. “Is that right?” Sitia nodded. “From what I understand, my mother actually slept for six days.” She laughed. “I slept for four myself with Kesim.” “Where is Kesim?” Adama asked quietly. She had the most pleasant dream to share… “I’ll go get him,” Oma volunteered and ran from the kitchen. 377

Calthraca: Adamare Mrs. Walker was fussing around her, placing a shawl over her shoulders as though she were an invalid. She tolerated the woman’s attention good-naturedly. She next set a plate of poached eggs in front of Adama, along with a small muffin and some sliced melon. Adama picked up a slice of melon and took a bite. She was surprised to see her hand tremble slightly. She laughed a bit at herself. She realized the room was very quiet as everyone was looking at her. “I’m fine. Really,” she assured them and they all went about their business, embarrassed at her noticing them. She finished her melon and picked up the spoon and ate some of the eggs. Sarah leaned down. “Do you want me to start your bath?” “Please, Sarah.” Adama smiled and her friend laid a loving hand on her shoulder, then pointed at her plate. “Eat, and don’t rush,” Sarah said then turned and left to prepare her bath. Oma, nearly bubbling over with excitement, burst through the door. “Come on, Papa! She might fall asleep again!” Kesim entered the kitchen through the garden door behind her. He looked at Adama anxiously. “How do you feel?” Oma danced around them. “See I told you she looked funny,” she said. Adama looked up at him and his heart nearly stopped. Her green eyes were filled with love. “I feel well.” She smiled. He sat in the chair beside her and kissed her softly. “I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t wake up.” “Your father called me Lazarus.” She laughed. “Mama, I told Papa to kiss you like they do in the stories,” Oma said dramatically. “What a nice idea!” Adama smiled at her. “He tried it, but it didn’t work. I’m going to ride my pony with Grandpapa,” Oma announced. 378

Calthraca: Adamare “Not until you change your clothes, you’re not,” Sitia corrected and Oma charged off to her room, followed closely by her grandmother. Adama looked rather overwhelmed at all the activity around her and felt a bit lost. She looked helplessly at Kesim, who was grinning after his mother and daughter. He smelled of horses and sunlight and hay. He was wearing buff-colored pants, high riding boots and a white shirt that laced up the front with a rawhide thong. She appraised him openly. “You look…very good,” she said quietly. He was holding her hands and looked down. “You look good too.” “Oh, no I don’t. I look like hell, but I love you for saying it.” She smiled at him. They leaned together and kissed. The glass bowl Anna was throwing her snapped beans into fell onto the floor with a huge crash, startling them both. “Oh I’m so sorry!” she said in a rush, bending to pick up the pieces. Kesim jumped up. “Let me help.” Mrs. Walker hurried over. “Oh no, my lord, you see to your wife. I’ll take care of this mess.” Anna looked blankly at Mrs. Walker for a moment, then resumed picking up the pieces. Kesim smiled at them and returned to Adama. “I’ll send your breakfast to your bedroom, my lady,” Mrs. Walker said. “Thank you again, Pansy. You’re a gift.” Adama stood up slowly, supported by her husband. Entering their bedroom, Adama said, “Who will she send?” “We’ve hired a few new maids,” Kesim answered. “New maids? Not a new personal maid though!” 379

Calthraca: Adamare “No, Sarah has made it perfectly clear that she will remain in her duties, and tend you as a lady-in-waiting. Perfectly clear.” She exhaled, relieved. At that moment, Sarah stepped out of the bath. “Did you eat?” “Some, but Mrs. Walker is sending the rest,” Adama replied. “Good. Come along then.” She came out to herd Adama to her bath. Adama looked up at Kesim. “Are you all going to treat me like an invalid until I have this baby?” “No. Just until you’re feeling a bit stronger.” She nodded resignedly and let Sarah take her hand. “I’m going back to the stable,” Kesim said. “I’ll come and check on you soon.” “Kesim.” She stopped him. “Yes?” “Can I stay out of bed?” She smiled. “If you feel up to it, yes.” He grinned back at her. “Thank you, Doctor.” **** Kesim returned to the stables where they were checking the shoes on the horses that had arrived this morning. These were three breeding pairs Kesim had purchased two days before. Another six mares were due today. Stator would be happy. Lord Thomas was helping, and Kesim found him bent slightly lifting the rear hooves of a white mare. He had a small farrier’s hammer and was tapping nails into the horse’s hoof. He picked up a pair of clinchers and clinched the ends of the nail down, tightening the shoe, then looked up and saw his son staring at him. 380

Calthraca: Adamare “Well, I did shoe my own horses when I was in the cavalry,” he said. He set the clinchers aside and picked up a rasp. Kesim merely raised his eyebrows and shook his head. His father laughed and continued his work. Morgan was standing with a man talking. He had a sheaf of papers in his hand and he shook his head angrily. “No, these are not the horses he bought and you know it. Take them back and bring the ones Lord Kesim purchased, or I’ll come down there and get them myself.” He didn’t raise his voice above a normal conversational tone, but the man blanched at the giant threatening him and nodded vigorously. He took the six animals his master had told him to bring and went back for the ones he knew Lord Kesim had actually paid for. “Problems, Morgan?” Kesim asked. Morgan turned and looked at his friend. “Not for me, but him…probably.” He chuckled. “How is Adama?” he asked, looking at the next page in his sheaf. “She is feeling much better. She’s awake with no nausea or fainting.” Kesim grinned looking back at the house. Morgan smiled. He’d never seen a man who loved his wife more. “Why aren’t you in there with her?” “You need my help,” Kesim replied. Still looking back at the house. “No, Lord Thomas and I can manage here. It will be several hours before that one returns with the right animals.” He nodded toward the man leading the six horses. “Go back to your wife, Kesim,” Lord Thomas said as he walked to where they stood. Kesim looked at them, uncertain. “Are you sure? I thought you were riding with Oma.” “Sitia decided to go instead. Kesim, go.”

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Calthraca: Adamare “Thank you,” he said simply then turned back to the house at a jog. His mind really had not been on his horses since Oma came for him earlier. He had decided it was time to talk to Adama about Kaz. **** Adama sat down slowly in the tub Sarah had drawn for her. It felt divine to her dry skin, and she could almost hear her body sighing with relief at the oily feel of the hot water. Once Sarah had made sure Adama was settled, she stepped from the room and instructed the maid waiting in the bedroom. She told the maid to strip the bed and put fresh linen on it, then clean the room. After that to check the closet and make sure the laundry made its way to the laundry room, then see Mrs. Walker about getting Adama’s breakfast. “Yes, Lady Sarah,” the maid said quietly. Sarah had chosen this girl specifically out of the six new maids they’d hired. To her, she seemed the most honest and willing to learn. Adama had overheard Sarah giving instructions to the girl and smiled. Her friend was a good administrator and ran the house the way she knew Adama and Kesim would want it; still it was good to see Sarah accept some help. She heard Sarah reenter the bath and without looking Adama handed the sponge over her shoulder. Sarah took it wordlessly and began to wash her lady’s back. Adama leaned forward so Sarah could reach down farther and she did just that, anticipating Adama’s needs. The sponge traced slow warm circles on her long back and she sighed. “Shall I wash your hair for you now?” Kesim asked quietly and she nearly leaped from the tub. “Oh my God, Kesim, you scared me to death!” She turned and looked at him. 382

Calthraca: Adamare He was grinning. “You were almost asleep again!” he teased. She blushed hotly. “I was relaxing.” He smiled at her protests. “Would you like me to wash your hair for you?” She looked at his handsome face and realized he had missed her terribly. “Yes,” she whispered. He’d seen Sarah do this enough times, and he knew what to do. He asked Sarah to let them have some time alone when he’d entered and she’d left with a knowing smile upon her lips. Kesim took several pitchers of clean water and poured them over her head to wet her long hair. He then took her favorite soap, scented with freesia oil and worked it into her scalp, drawing her hair up and making it lather, massaging it in to her hair and washing it thoroughly. She closed her eyes and let him work. He was exceedingly gentle, much more so than Sarah was, careful not to pull her hair at all. He finished with the soap and then began to rinse it using more warm water. Pitcher after pitcher sluiced the soap from her tresses, leaving it squeaky clean and gleaming with mellow copper fire. He finished rinsing her hair then took a dry towel and blotted most of the water off for her. “Mmm… That was wonderful. I may have you do my hair all the time, Kesim.” He stood and began removing his clothes, leaving them in a pile on the floor. She gazed up at him slowly, letting her gaze travel up his body finally catching his and he was lost. He stepped into the marble tub and sat behind her, legs splayed around her body. She laid her damp head back into the 383

Calthraca: Adamare pocket of his left shoulder and closed her eyes. “I cannot believe I haven’t touched you for four days,” she whispered in his mind. “It has been torture. Dear God, how I’ve missed you.” He pulled her closer, caressing her breasts. Silently she wondered if he would notice. “Yes, I noticed,” he said quietly, picking up her thought. “They are fuller,” he breathed and kissed her neck. She smiled and drew one of his hands down below the water. She laid it carefully upon her abdomen, letting him feel the tiny bulge growing within her. She didn’t need to look at his face to know he was smiling. Wordlessly she let go of his hand and he slid it lower, caressing her mons and she squirmed with anticipation. She needed him to make love to her. She desperately craved his touch. He slid his graceful fingers along her cleft teasingly, and she could feel her body responding, growing warm and moist, the all-consuming ache swelling within her once more. She sighed again and relaxed completely in his arms, letting him have his way. He swallowed hard at her sigh. The way she surrendered to him made his mouth dry and his heart pound in anticipation. His skillful fingers pushed gently within her and she arched a little. “Shh,” he quieted her as she made a small moan. He found her center and began to stroke her gently, bending his head to nuzzle her neck, loving the racing pulse and longing sighs he received in return for his attentions. She brought her hand up to caress his face and his hair as he took his time pleasuring her. He was patient and totally attuned to her body, and at last that patience was rewarded when he heard her breathing pick up speed. He moved his loving fingers lower into her depths and she moaned low at the sensation. Soon her body tightened around 384

Calthraca: Adamare his fingers as she began to climax and he used his thumb to continue stroking her. She gasped leaning back into him forcefully and he gripped her body tightly. He grabbed her chin, turning her head and taking her mouth in a passionate kiss. She breathed hard as she leaned weakly against him, floating down from her peak, and she could feel his rock-hard length against her back. “Your cock is so hard. I think it needs my attention, Kesim,” her voice purred in his head. “Do you want to go to our bed?” she whispered. He nodded, not trusting his voice. He stood and stepped out of the tub, then helped her out. “I think I’m the one who’s weak now.” He sent her the thought making her smile wickedly. Kesim led her to their bed and laid her back upon it, laying his big body lightly over hers, stroking her. Her hands caressed his broad shoulders and back, and he kissed her, dueling with her tongue as she returned the kiss just as passionately. He moved down her throat, nibbling at her and biting her softly, running series of hot kisses across her breast, finally stopping to suckle upon one of her dusky nipples, then the other, making her squirm deliciously. Once more her hands stroked his head softly and she closed her eyes, enjoying his attentions. He moved back to kiss her mouth and her nipples ached pleasantly as they rubbed against his hairy chest. She moved her legs apart and let him lay comfortably between them, and he laced his fingers through hers, bringing their hands up over her head and taking her mouth again. “Love me.” She sighed. He moved just slightly, knowing exactly where he was and it took no more than a brief nudge to penetrate her. 385

Calthraca: Adamare Her sheath contracted along his length and he heard her sharp intake of breath. “You feel like silk,” he breathed. “Mmm…” she moaned softly, and whispered, “You feel so good.” Slowly he began to move upon her, pressing within her deeply then pulling back almost all the way out again, over and over until she was whimpering with need. She opened her eyes and looked up into his mercurial green gaze. She could see tempests, storms raging through him, still he held her with infinite gentleness, resisting the urge to simply take his pleasure. He bent his head and traced her upper lip with his tongue. “You are perfect, there has never been a woman like you,” he whispered and her heart swelled with love. This complicated man loved her entirely and trusted her completely and he had missed her with a desperation which was heartbreakingly honest. A flush of passion swept over her, intense and sweet, and she recalled the elixir and how it affected her. She’d dreamed he was making love to her, but she knew he couldn’t have been. As he moved slow and steady upon her, she met his measured thrusts, aching to reach paradise. Her climax approached and she peaked, moaning through another wave, arching into him as he kissed the hammering pulse in her throat. “That was beautiful, Adama,” he whispered. “Let me see it again?” He loved making slow love to her, bringing her to such heights. He unlaced his fingers from hers and moved his hand between them, circling her clit lazily with his thumb. She gasped and moaned, “Oh no… I don’t think…” “Oh yes.” He grinned showing his white teeth. “Come for me,” he said softly. His other hand moved underneath her. He pulled her body down the bed suddenly and slid his cock deeper 386

Calthraca: Adamare within her, touching some extraordinarily sensitive part of her. Her whole body jerked and she peaked just that fast. “Yes, Kesim,” she whimpered. Everything went gray for a moment and she trembled as she climaxed. “Ah, God!” he growled and he let himself go, shuddering hard, rocking her body, feeling her fingers digging into his shoulders. She felt his hot seed spurting within her, loving the heat, the total maleness of him. His lips found hers and he kissed her deeply as she shook against him, and he gathered her into his strong embrace. Exhausted, they slept tangled together, senseless and oblivious for the next few hours. Sarah came in and left twice, smiling to herself. She was happy for them. She’d known Adama since she was sixteen years old, and had never seen her as happy as she’d been since she married Kesim. It was a different love than she’d ever had for Tengri-Khan. Adama had loved Tengri, but not in the selfless and total way she did Kesim. Theirs had been a love based upon fear and survival. Now there was a sense of peace about her that Sarah had never noticed before. A completeness that came only when she met Kesim and her devotion was echoed by him. It was something the Tiger could never have achieved. She drained the bath they’d vacated and ran a fresh hot one, knowing they’d awaken soon, then instructed her new assistant to have Mrs. Walker prepare a late lunch for them. Lady Sitia and Lord Thomas had ridden to the town and were not expected back until later. Supper would be late at nine o’clock; therefore they would have to eat something soon. She went into the deep closet to lay out some clothing. Lord Kesim, with her advice and help, had purchased many new clothes for Adama. They were beautiful. She chose a long 387

Calthraca: Adamare sky blue silk tunic, and sheer silk trousers in a darker blue, edged in gold piping. For Lord Kesim, she pulled out a white linen shirt and dark blue trousers, in the same shade as Adama’s. She then went and touched her mistress’sshoulder. Slowly Adama awoke and drew a deep breath. “It is after four, my lady,” she said quietly and Adama nodded. “Your bath is ready.” She waited as Adama got up then walked with her to the bath. Once she was satisfied Adama was settled, she went back and touched Kesim on the foot. “My lord?” He came awake instantly. “It is after four, sir,” she said. He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Sarah.” He sat up and put his feet on the floor and Sarah turned away quickly. He noticed and smiled wickedly then walked to his closet and took out his robe. “It’s safe now, Sarah.” He chuckled. She turned giving him an impatient look as he sat on the bed. “I’ve ordered a late lunch for you and milady,” she said. “I had Mrs. Walker instruct the maid to set it up in your study. I thought perhaps you would like to dine privately.” He looked at her closely. “Thank you. I do.” Sometimes Sarah’s intuition surprised him. “Your parents will be back after eight. They wished for me to tell you.” Adama came out of the bath wrapped in a towel. Sarah continued. “They took Princess Oma with them.” Kesim stood. “Thank you, Sarah,” he said then stopped Adama by standing in front of her. He put his hand on her hip then bent to kiss her softly and wordlessly. He moved past her to take his own bath. “Did they say where they were going?” Adama asked. 388

Calthraca: Adamare “Yes, they were riding to see Lord Kesim’s sister, Lady Marla,” Sarah replied. “They took Oma?” “Yes,” she answered, then moved to get Adama’s clothes. Adama was annoyed. A sense of danger continued to plague her but she dismissed it and sighed, resigned. She knew Lord Thomas and Lady Sitia would keep Oma safe. Like it or not, Marla was Kesim’s sister and she’d have to make the best of it. She finished drying herself and took the silk camisole top from Sarah, sliding it over her head, then stepped into the drawers that matched it. Sarah handed her the long tunic and she put it over her head. “Where did this come from?” she asked, looking down at it. “Lord Kesim purchased an entire wardrobe of new clothing for you, my lady.” “The seamstress will be available to you at any time,” Kesim commented as he exited the bath. “You mean, when I’m fat?” She smiled at him. “I did not say that,” he protested, grinning. “You will be beautiful regardless.” Kesim continued on to his closet and they heard him humming to himself. “Humph.” She slid the pajama pants on and tied the string around her still trim waist. Adama sat down at her vanity while Sarah brushed out her hair and gathered it into a soft bun on the back of her neck. Sarah excused herself and left the room to check on their meal. Adama sat forward slightly and lined her eyes with kohl just as Kesim exited the large closet carrying his boots and looking handsome as usual. She looked at him behind her in the mirror and caught his smile.

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Calthraca: Adamare She bent down and picked up her sandals, sliding them onto her feet. As always, her eyes paused on the small tattoos on the outside of her left ankle. The words that marked her as a possession, the closed door of another life. She must tell Kesim. He surprised her, taking her hand and pulling gently her to her feet. “We need to talk,” he said looking into her eyes. She swallowed and nodded. “Yes, we do.” He took her elbow and walked with her to the study, saying nothing. She knew he must be very angry with her for not telling him about Tengri. He had to have finally read her tiny tattoos while she slept and figured it out. She swallowed hard around thick tears that burned her throat. She really hadn’t meant to keep things from him, but how could she make him see that? It wasn’t something one simply forgot about. She sniffled. Ashamed, she blocked her thoughts. He heard her sniffle and he hung his head. He should have known she’d learn about Kaz from someone. He should have told her himself, and he couldn’t imagine what she must think of him. She wasn’t reading his thoughts and she had raised the wall in her mind to him. He couldn’t help but think she was so disappointed in him that she blocked him. They reached the study and he stepped in front of her, opening the door. Sarah had seen to it their lunch was laid out in the corner near the terrace where the late afternoon sun was still quite nice. It was nearly summer and the days were getting warmer and warmer. 390

Calthraca: Adamare He closed the study door behind them and then took her hand, walking to the table. He pulled out her chair and she sat then he did the same. He picked up a bottle of white wine chilling on the table, and poured them both a glass. Sarah had opened it earlier. He marveled at Sarah once more. “Just one,” he said and smiled slightly. She took it from him. “Thank you.” She was miserable. He took a sip of his own and set down his glass, then looked at her intently. “Adama…I…” he began “Kesim…” They both spoke at once. She stopped. “Please go on.” “No. You go,” he insisted. She took a deep breath. “I meant to tell you, but the time just never felt right.” She spoke quickly. “I wasn’t trying to keep anything from you, but…” She stopped. “I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner. I can’t imagine what you must think.” She lowered her head and he saw tears fall into her lap. He sat regarding her for another moment. She said she was sorry? He didn’t understand, and tried once more to read her thoughts. Leaning forward, a confused look on his face he said, “Adama? What are you talking about?” “I’m trying to tell you about my first husband. Isn’t that why you’re so upset?” she asked quietly. “Your first husband?” He ran a hand across his face. “No, I was trying to tell you about my ex-wife. I thought that was why you were so upset.” She looked up at him and a large tear slipped down her cheek as she blinked. She began to speak. “Kesim…” “Wait,” he said. “Let me go first.” 391

Calthraca: Adamare “No, you’d better hear my story before you say anything more,” she said softly. “But please, maybe we ought to agree not to judge until we’ve both spoken. I think we’ve both got history we’re not proud of.” She searched his eyes, and he nodded agreeing. Then she did something that he didn’t expect. She picked up his hand and finally dropped the wall in her mind, allowing him to examine her thoughts freely. Adama took a deep breath. “The summer I turned eighteen, I traveled to Novata in Andalos with my mother. It was a diplomatic conference. While we were there, we attended a ball honoring the dignitaries. Unfortunately, I was seen by TengriKhan, the Tiger.” Kesim nodded, letting her speak. “He was looking for a wife, and I was the one he chose. My feelings on the topic were immaterial. Like the raider he was, he abducted me, and brought me to Tartak.” She looked down at her hands. “He took my virginity, and made me his first wife. I was the Sehzada of Tartak.” She stopped and swallowed. “I suppose I loved him somewhat, although I doubt I knew what love really was at that age. I think I feared him more than anything else.” Kesim whispered, “He abused you?” “Occasionally, yes. It is a different culture, Kesim. Women aren’t valued as anything more than possessions, they belong to their husbands. So yes, he abused me. Knowing what I know now, I’d say he altered my way of thinking. My life depended upon his feelings for me, and that is no exaggeration. Therefore, I loved him. At the time, I saw nothing wrong with it.” Kesim nodded. “I lived in bondage for two years. Do not misunderstand,” she added hastily, “I was not kept in chains.” She paused laughing ruefully. “But I could not leave either; although by then, I did 392

Calthraca: Adamare not want to. Two months after the second anniversary of my marriage, Tengri was killed, precipitating the war with Andalos.” “I remember,” Kesim said quietly. “We got news of his death when I was a captain in the cavalry. We were unsure if we would be ordered to the border to hold off the Andalosians as well. I think I was around twenty-one or twenty-two.” She nodded and continued. “After they brought his body back to me, it was expected that I would follow him into paradise.” She looked up and he slowly sat back in his chair, stunned. He still held her hand, but he hadn’t taken the offer to examine her thoughts. She knew he believed what she was telling him and did not need to check her mind to see for himself. “As his acknowledged favorite, I cut off my hair, gave away my jewels, and I had this done.” She raised her foot and set it on his knee, letting him get a clear look at her tattoos. “They say…” she started. “Sehzada Adama, beloved wife of Tengri, gives herself to Heaven, together for eternity,” he finished. His voice broke on the last word and he cleared his throat. He couldn’t believe he’d never read them before now. He held her ankle and ran his thumb gently along the faded writing. She nodded sadly. “I was expected to commit ritual suicide, and I looked forward to dying. I had no reason to live without him. His mother, Tehlar, gave me what I thought was poison, but was in fact only a powerful drug that put me into a deathlike sleep. I awoke on a Lyrosian ship, four days off the coast of Lyros. She had given me back my life.” Adama swallowed again and picked up her glass taking a small sip. “I tried to kill myself many times before my mother arrived and begged me to live.” She looked into his eyes. “You know what happened after that. I went to live with Miranda Altrop for the next two years, then went to the military 393

Calthraca: Adamare academy. I grieved my husband, but I also let him go, because I knew there was someone else who would love me unconditionally, Kesim. To Tengri, I was simply a prize. He was not my fate. You were.” She sat for a long time and he saw another tear roll down her face. “Are you crying because this is painful for you?” he asked quietly. “No,” she wiped her cheek, “I’m crying because I’m sorry I did not tell you sooner. Can you forgive me?” He leaned forward and embraced her then cupped her chin in his hand. “I forgive you, Adama, for keeping your secret. What happened to you was not your fault. I can see where it would be painful for you to relive it. Is there anything else you want to tell me?” “Did you have his child?” He hated himself for the thought, but he had to know. “No, we never had children. I wasn’t able to get pregnant with him.” She looked at him. “Would you like to tell me your story now?” He nodded. “I was also married before. Her name was Kazmira Al Basra. She was a Silanian girl, an arranged marriage that was a disaster from the beginning.” He looked down. “I did not love her, but I remained married out of obligation and duty. I was away much of the time, and she did not like to be lonely.” He inhaled deeply. “She spent that time with the men of the village, and when I found out, I was humiliated. She mocked me and made me a laughingstock. When I confronted her, she said she was pregnant and it was my child. I looked into her heart and I realized she didn’t know whose child it was, but it was not mine. I divorced her and sent her back to her family. They tried to pressure me into paying her maintenance, but I refused. She 394

Calthraca: Adamare was a lying whore. I do not know what happened to her after that. Frankly I don’t care.” He looked up at Adama. “So you see, we both have our painful secrets and our broken hearts. I’m sorry I did not tell you sooner. I should have.” They sat and held hands and talked through the afternoon, and when they emerged near dark, they both seemed happier and if it was possible even more in love.

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Chapter 13 Kesim rode out upon Stator early one morning several days later, crossing the field beyond the house, letting the horse have his head to run. Together they startled pheasant from the brush and deer from their beds. They were riding to the lower pasture, there were several new tenants here and he wanted to meet them. Adama awoke after he left and rolled to his side of the bed; it was still slightly warm and she realized he had not been gone for very long. She arose and dressed in leggings and a long tunic. She thought she would cross the lower pasture and meet him. She sat and pulled on her boots and put her belts on, checking her knives. She quietly entered the stable. It was warm and dimly lit and she was immediately struck by the atmosphere. It was deeply peaceful here. She passed several of the new mares, stopping occasionally to stroke a curious face. She opened Minerva’s stall and the horse recognizing her, nickered and moved closer. She kissed the mare’s velvet nose and spoke to her softly, then went to the back of the stall to bring out her tack. She had no more than thrown the blanket over the horses back when a sound behind her made her turn. Hecate Bosha once again stood before her. Adama gasped in horror as she saw that the mercenary held her daughter clutched to her, her hand firmly over Oma’s mouth. Her other hand 396

Calthraca: Adamare stroked the girl’s head lovingly. Oma’s eyes were huge and frightened behind the hand that held her and she stood trembling in her long white nightgown. Hecate had bound Oma’s hands before her with a strap of leather. “Look what I found,” she cooed, brushing Oma’s black hair away from her eyes. “So pretty.” Adama’s heart froze like a chunk of ice in her chest. An involuntary whimper escaped her and she hated the sound, but finally found her voice. “Please, don’t hurt her.” “Oh, I won’t hurt her, she’s too lovely. Just like her mother.” She leaned down to speak into Oma’s ear. “Aren’t you, princess?” Adama was nauseated seeing Hecate touch her child and a fierce wave of protectiveness shot through her. “Let her go. You’re here for me, don’t hurt the girl.” “Perhaps we can come to an agreement, Adama?” Hecate looked up. “Yes, anything just let her go.” “I knew you would see things my way.” She moved closer to Adama, dragging the terrified child with her. “I saw the sorcerer leave, where has he gone?” “I…I don’t know where.” “Then we won’t be disturbed.” “Please, let my daughter go.” “All in good time.” She moved the child aside and pushed her to the floor. “Sit there like a good girl and don’t make a sound.” Oma looked at her mother, her chin trembling. “Do as she says, darling,” Adama soothed her, wishing death to rain down upon the monster before her. “Now then, we have unfinished business, don’t we?” Hecate took a step toward Adama who stood stock still. 397

Calthraca: Adamare Adama glanced hastily about the stall, looking for any way to defend herself. Suddenly Hecate was upon her holding her fast, and Adama brought her hands up in surprise, trying to ward the other woman off. “Don’t resist me, I’d hate to harm that beautiful raven child.” Adama moaned helplessly at the thought. Hecate embraced her once more and began to nuzzle her neck. Repulsed, Adama pushed her away. “No.” Hecate grabbed her by the hair and pulled her close, “Go ahead, fight me. I like that.” “Oma, run!” Adama shouted, and the girl bolted to her feet. “Find Papa!” She was gone before Hecate had a chance to turn. “That was a stupid mistake!” she growled, jerking Adama’s head back painfully and slapping her hard. Without warning Hecate threw her against the wall of the stall and Adama fell to the hay-strewn floor. She pushed herself up on her hands, shook her head, and was immediately grabbed by the hair and hauled to her feet. A short grunt of pain came from her slightly parted lips and she brought her hands up to shield herself from the boards of the stall as she was thrown again. She slammed into them and then bounced off, ending upon her back. Hecate leapt upon her and bared her teeth, then narrowed her eyes and licked her lips slowly. “This will be more enjoyable than I thought.” Galvanized to action, Adama brought her hands together in one fist and hit Hecate hard in the chest, knocking her backward then scrambled to her feet and moved in on her. She would finish this here and now.

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Calthraca: Adamare Adama thought of the child she carried and of her poor, terrified daughter. She knew if Hecate escaped, they would never be safe. “I will not live in fear of you any longer,” she growled through gritted teeth. Hecate smiled wickedly, then pulled a long knife from her hip and like a snake, she struck. Adama turned quickly and the knife drove into the beam of the stall. Adama brought her knee up and her arms down across Hecate’s forearm, feeling the elbow snap and finally hearing the mercenary cry out as she fell to her knees. Standing before her, Adama then backhanded Hecate with all of her strength. Hecate fell onto her back. Adama turned and opened the stall and then slapped Minerva hard on the rump. The horse screeched and ran from the barn. Adama turned back to Hecate and kicked her hard on the broken elbow. “You bitch!” Hecate cried, her voice gravelly and raw. “I have not begun to hurt you as badly as I want to, Hecate,” Adama nearly growled. “You touched my child. How could you think I would not repay that?” She bent at the waist and pulled Hecate up by the neck. Adama was taller by a few inches although Hecate outweighed her. Adama felt infused with strength. She flung Hecate across the stall and into the door, which cracked and broke, spilling her out onto the main floor of the barn. The mercenary staggered to her feet only to be driven into another stall by Adama’s renewed attack. Instead Hecate sidestepped and swung Adama into the stall door, shoving her hard between her shoulder blades and letting her own momentum carry her forward. 399

Calthraca: Adamare Adama hit the door face on and crumpled to the floor, stunned. Hecate, unsure of how badly hurt Adama was, moved away to the other side of the corridor. She leaned against the stall they had just left and slid down. Adama staggered to her feet and looked around wildly, finally spotting Hecate sitting on the barn floor. She was cradling her wounded arm with her other, breathing harshly. Blood flowed from a cut on Adama’s forehead stinging her eye. “How did you find me here?” she demanded, wiping the blood away angrily. “I followed the sorcerer’s parents here when they were out three days ago. Your Kesim looks like his father.” “Why can’t you leave me alone?” Hecate shook her head. “Because you are mine.” “I should have killed you months ago. Get up,” Adama ordered, sickened by the mercenary’s words. “No. I surrender,” Hecate gasped. “I cannot fight anymore, my arm…” Adama stood looking at her for a moment and then sighed, knowing she could not kill a wounded foe in cold blood. She bent to tear a piece of her tunic to make a sling for the other woman’s arm and took a step forward. In that instant, Hecate leaped from the floor directly at her. She drove Adama back into the barn wall with her wounded arm against Adama’s throat, choking a frightened sound from her and pinning her with her superior weight. “You are far too soft-hearted for your own good.” Adama gasped slightly struggling to move. “I told you I’d marked you,” Hecate growled. “You will be mine.” She raised her good hand and took Adama’s long hair in a tight grasp, relishing the terror she saw on her face. She ground 400

Calthraca: Adamare her lips down upon Adama’s, forcing her tongue into her mouth, kissing her. Adama gagged and struggled, unable to budge Hecate. Small gray dots began to form at the edge of her vision and she blinked hard. She was losing consciousness, and knew she had only one chance left. Feeling her weakening, Hecate eased the pressure on Adama’s throat and took a step back in order to pull her forward. Things moved very slowly then. The look in Adama’s eyes changed from terror to fury and she moved very deliberately. She placed one arm around Hecate’s back and drew her in, close and tight, until they were nose to nose. She then used her free hand to draw one of her knives from her waist. Then drove it to the hilt into the other woman’s abdomen. “My father was the Draga,” she said, her voice low and deadly. “I survived for two years with Tengri-Khan!” She twisted the knife and her voice rose. “You stole my legacy, but not my life, and not you, not Eleana, nor Christian or anyone else shall own me!” she cried. She did not stop, but ripped further upwards, cutting through anything that gave resistance. A long, drawn-out gasp of shock and pain came from Hecate’s mouth, followed by a surprising gush of blood which soaked Adama’s tunic front. She brought her leg up and pushed Hecate back with one booted foot and the dying woman’s grip upon her hair released. Hecate stumbled back and looked down. She placed her hands over the appalling gash in her abdomen, trying to hold in the vitals that insisted on sliding from her body. She backed to the wall and sat heavily, looking up at Adama who stood over her now. 401

Calthraca: Adamare “Not ever,” Adama said. Hecate looked down again then slid over onto her side, dead. Adama stood and looked at her hand, still holding the knife. She raised it over her head and screamed a primal scream of triumph, making all of the horses start and kick. They began to whinny loudly, upset by the smell of blood and violence. Loud thumps came from the stalls. She was not sure how long she stood there before she heard a shout. “Adama!” Morgan threw open the door, which had blown shut in the wind and let in long shafts of sunlight. He ran across the barn and looked at her and then down at Hecate. “My God! What happened? Are you hurt?” He took her by the arm, turning her toward him. He couldn’t tell whose blood it was and he was immediately scared for her. He could feel her body shaking under his hands. “I’m fine,” she insisted, shrugging him off. She threw the knife across the barn then moved to the doors and walked into the stable yard. She looked up and saw Kesim riding hard across the pasture toward her. Oma was seated before him, and he held her close to his chest. He’d found her running through the pasture and she had told him Adama was in danger. His long hair and coat flew out behind him, and his face, intent at first, softened when he saw her. He reined up before her and was on the ground before Stator stopped. He set Oma down and she ran to Morgan. Adama walked toward Kesim but stumbled and he caught her in his arms as she fell. He turned her and looked in her eyes. He saw her light familiar blazing above her and gasped. Kesim lifted the hair from 402

Calthraca: Adamare the back of her neck and saw that her brand had vanished. The catena had been broken. Her magic had returned. She raised her head and Kesim looked into her eyes. “Adama, what…” he began. “Now, Kesim, now my life is my own.”

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Epilogue The day was warm and Adama sat upon the green grass reading a book under the shade of a willow. Lady Sitia sat upon a bench beside her husband. Nearby Oma played with Sarah, chasing a ball, and laughing. Kesim sauntered down the path, catching glimpses of them as he moved along, listening to bits of conversation. Now was the chance he’d been waiting for, and everything was perfectly arranged. He sat beside her and she set the book aside, smiling at him. “Marry me.” He grinned. “Kesim, we are married.” She laughed. “No, I mean marry me here, now.” “But it’s not necessary. I mean, we married in BasSalaam.” He moved to his knees before her, holding her hands. “Would it make a difference to you if I told you I’ve never met anyone like you?” He stopped, and then began again. “Would you believe I’ve lived a life alone because I’ve never loved anyone as I love you? When I left on my assignment, I had no idea what was ahead, I never knew what my assignment would be until I got my orders. Then I met you.” He looked into her eyes, drowning in their depths. “So I ask you, will you be my wife? Will you marry me out of love, rather than need or fear? I want you and I cannot live without you. I want to help you raise our children, and I want to give you more. I want to hold you every night as I go to sleep and when I 404

Calthraca: Adamare wake in the morning, the only thing I want to see is your face. I want to grow old with you and I will die a happy man knowing you’ve allowed me to be part of your life.” He took a shaky breath. “Please. I love you. I want to marry you in love, not obligation or coercion, here before our family. Will you say yes?” Adama was crying, but nodded yes. He swiped an arm across his face. “Good… Wait here!” he said, then stood and hurried back up the path at a jog. He returned with a middle-aged man, obviously a holy man of some sort. Kesim was carrying flowers and he handed them to her. “Lovely day for a wedding, isn’t it?” He grinned. Lady Sitia and Lord Thomas looked on, both smiling at their son’s display of affection. Sarah and Oma joined them watching the activity. Surprised, Adama took the bouquet and he placed a ring of fresh flowers over her head, resting on top of her hair like a crown. He took her hand and quickly pulled Eleana’s ring from her finger, then threw it into the bushes. She was speechless. “Kesim… What… How?” She laughed. “I don’t want there to be any question ever about our union.” “I don’t care what anyone…” “Shhh, enjoy your wedding day.” Smiling at her confusion, he offered her his arm and she took it. He introduced her to the holy man, Brother Michael. Adama said, “It’s so very nice to meet you.” Kesim asked them to step over to where his parents sat then reached into his coat and pulled out a sheaf of papers and a pen and ink. “Are you ready?” “Yes, I am,” she said. 405

Calthraca: Adamare Brother Michael began the ceremony with a short blessing then continued on. Kesim and Adama held hands and faced the priest. “May you both be able to give and be able to forgive, to experience more and more joy with each passing day and with each passing year. Kesim and Adama, you will now begin your married life together, with our hope that you may have a long life with good health and everlasting love for each other.” He paused, then addressed the others there, as though he were talking to his congregation. “In so much as Kesim and Adama have consented to live forever together in wedlock, and have witnessed the same before myself and those present, having given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and having declared so by the giving and receiving of a ring, under the eyes of God and before these witnesses, I pronounce that they are now husband and wife. You may now seal the promises you have made to each other with a kiss.” He smiled at them. Kesim leaned down and kissed Adama softly on the lips. “Adamare.” Adama smiled. “Redamare.”

Turn the page to read an exciting excerpt from the continuation of Adama’s story in the next thrilling book of the Calthraca Series, Surrender Love. Available August 2007 from Whiskey Creek Press Torrid.

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Kesim let his caress go lower, sliding down under the coverlet, fondling her lovingly. She sighed as he leaned over and kissed her. Sated, he soon fell into a deep sleep and Adama stood up and stretched. She wasn’t tired and decided to take a walk around the garden. Leaving the villa through her terrace doors, she pulled a light robe over herself, and made her way down the quiet path to their walled garden. The path meandered about the property, around a large deep pond, and circled back to the villa. It was private and quiet and cool in the heat of the day. The sun wasn’t high yet, but it was warm and Adama decided to cool her feet in the pond. She walked down to the shore enjoying the quiet sounds of dawn, and as always the incredible view of the rising sun. She kilted her silk robe into her belt, then waded into the cool water. She looked down and smiled as a group of three or four small fish circled her ankles curiously. The fish suddenly zipped off to the deeper darkness of the pool as a booted foot appeared near hers. She started to turn and was stopped by a large body. A huge hairy hand came down over her mouth and his other arm came around her middle, lifting her easily out of the water. Unable to scream, she kicked and flailed madly, trying to force him to drop her. He managed to drag her to shore where he flung her face down and then drove a heavy knee into her back, knocking her breathless. She gasped air and 407

Calthraca: Adamare tried to scream and felt a heavy blow to the back of her neck, and she fell still. When Adama awoke, it was dark. Her head ached terribly and she thought it might be easier to simply go back to sleep, except she was so thirsty. “Devrim eftek kadi.” She moaned low and swallowed. Why would Kesim speak Tarkir? She moaned again and tried to raise her hand to her face. “Dammit, Kesim,” she sent the thought. “Why are you speaking Tarkir?” “Oh, my head is killing me,” she said aloud. She opened her eyes and looked around. She didn’t recognize her surroundings and fear ran through her. Kesim still had not answered her. “Kesim?” She was about to repeat herself, and he spoke again. “It is not Kesim, Seref’behar.” Adama turned her head quickly, ignoring the pain. “Oh my God!”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Camryn Cutler was born and raised in Maine. A true Yankee, she lives on the southern coast near the ocean, along with her husband of more than fifteen years. They have three children, two cats, Toby and Samhain, and George, the Dachshund.

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