Shield of the Sky [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Susan Krinard
eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: Ever since witnessing a sacred ritual, Rhenna of the Free People has been isolated. Not outcast, yet not part of her tribe, she walks alone, guarding the land's borders. And growing more troubled by the changes in the wind. Anger and war are rising. The mountain-dwelling shapeshifters ... partners to the Free People ... are disappearing, and word has come of an evil new god: The Stone God, whose followers are known by the red stones they hold and the chaos that accompanies them. So when Rhenna hears that a shapeshifter has been captured by the Stone God's servants, she must rescue him. Now Rhenna is embroiled in a dangerous game as the forces of evil and nature fight to control humanity's future. Together with a growing band ... the enigmatic shaman Tahvo, the panther shapechanger Cian and the rebel Quintus of conquered Tiberia ... she must travel the world, seeking to prevent its destruction. Whatever danger lies ahead, the downfall of the Stone God has begun.....
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/LUNA
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2007
11 Reader Ratings:
Rhenna's scar was throbbing.
She touched it with absent fingers and scanned the horizon. The horses were quiet. Mares grazed contentedly, heads buried in the rich fodder of oat, rye and feather grass that stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see. Each foal tested its newfound strength and speed against that of the others. Ears quivered and tails twitched, but none raised the alarm.
Far to the east and west lay the well-guarded borders of the Shield's Shadow, the land of the Free People. To the north stood the snow-capped peaks of the Shield itself, and to the south…
Rhenna frowned, shifting her weight on Chaimon's broad back. To the south were the Skudat tribesmen, Hellenish merchants and the empire—barbarians who entered the Shield's Shadow at their peril. No, there was no danger in the south.
Chaimon stamped and snorted, jingling the tiny bells on his bridle. "Forgive me, my friend," Rhenna murmured, scratching the gelding between his ears. "I'm restless today."
Rhenna echoed Chaimon's snort. For nine years she had watched the herds, far too long to begin starting at shadows. Too wise to regard the dubious warnings of phantoms and memory.
Chaimon jingled his bells again. The mares paused in their grazing, and Rhenna heard the muffled drum of hoofbeats.
A horse and rider galloped out of the tall grass. The girl's pale hair was bound in the tail of a novice, and her ears were bare of the double-axe studs worn by every initiated Sister.
Rhenna wound her fists in Chaimon's mane. The Elders had sent someone at last: an apprentice to take under her wing and prepare in the ways of the Sisterhood. The long exile was over.
She swallowed her eagerness and assumed the cool reserve that befitted one of her age and experience. She expected the girl to bring her mount to a decorous halt, but the rider—surely no more than fourteen or fifteen years—charged headlong at Rhenna. Her gelding's flanks were mottled with sweat. The girl sawed on the reins and fell back into her saddle with an ungainly thump as the horse skidded to a stop.
Rhenna dismounted and took up a warrior's stance. "What can be worthy of such great haste, Little Sister, that you ignore the good health of your mount?"
The girl braced her hands on her knees and looked down on Rhenna as if she were the Elder. Her dark eyes settled firmly, inevitably, on Rhenna's disfigurement.
"I am Rhenna of the Sisterhood," Rhenna corrected, the bright spark of hope dying in her breast. "Dismount at once."
With a scowl the girl obeyed. Rhenna moved past her and examined the exhausted horse, running her hands up and down the legs to check for swelling. "You pushed him hard," she said, "but he should recover if he's given enough rest."
"You—" the girl sputtered. "I—"
Rhenna slipped the bit from the gelding's mouth and unfastened the bridle, tossing it to the girl. "You will care for your mount before you take rest, food or drink. Then we'll talk about the proper use of horses."
The girl caught the bridle and glared at Rhenna, thrusting out her narrow chest. Her iron-studded leather coat was at least a size too big. "I have come…" she began, and let out a short, sharp breath. "I was sent to deliver a message from the Elders. You are summoned to Heart of Oaks with your herd, as quickly as you can move it."
Rhenna stopped halfway to the small tent where she stored her supplies. No apprentice, she thought. Not her task, after all, to break this filly of her bad habits and teach her the folly of arrogance.
"You are summoned to Heart of Oaks," the girl repeated. "Didn't you hear?"
Rhenna continued on to the tent here she collected a brush, a waterskin and a shallow bronze vessel. "What is your name?"
"I heard you well enough, Derinoe. You may begin by watering your horse—lightly—and walking him until he cools. Then you may rub him down and tell me why the Elders have called in the herd."
Rhenna's quiet words seemed to diminish a little of the girl's self-importance, but her lips remained twisted in contempt. She snatched the waterskin and vessel from Rhenna's hands as if the merest shared touch might corrupt her.
Rhenna left the girl to her work, mounted Chaimon and rode a circuit of the herd, turning Derinoe's message about in her mind. Never had she been ordered to deliver a herd to Heart of Oaks. When yearling foals were ready to leave their dams, warriors came to take them away for first training. Healers journeyed across the steppe from pasture to pasture, caring for ill or injured beasts. Once a year the animals were tallied, stallions exchanged, bloodlines recorded. The herds remained free except in the harshest winters or in times of severe drought.
Rhenna's scar ached with renewed urgency. She completed her ride and loosed Chaimon, who trotted to the new gelding and nuzzled his damp neck. Derinoe had rubbed the animal's coat until it shone like a bronze mirror.
Rhenna nodded approval and provided Derinoe with fresh springwater and salted meat preserved from her last hunt. She and the girl crouched beside Rhenna's fire pit, where last night's ashes still shed some lingering warmth. Derinoe's eyes sought Rhenna's scar with unconcealed fascination.
"The stories you've heard are undoubtedly true," Rhenna said softly, "but dishonor is not an illness to be passed by a touch. Eat."
The girl shivered. Her haughty mask crumpled. "You…you truly saw the Ailuri?"
Copyright © 2004 by Susan Krinard.