Read an Excerpt
For the first time in her life Gypsy Theron was up at dawn, dressed and ready to accompany her father to the weapon master's shop to purchase a weapon for her to use. As a child she'd often gone there with him to pick up a custom sword he had ordered or just to see what was new on display. Sometimes they'd spend hours there as Gavin fussed at the weapon master over this detail or that and she'd wander the aisles imagining what it would be like if one of those magnificent weapons was actually hers.
After her father was done shopping, he'd drag her off to the bar where he'd have his soldiers watch her while he busied himself drinking and gossiping with the other officers. It was at that seedy old bar that Gypsy learned to play cards, dice and drink. Her mother would have been horrified if she knew. The memories of those times seemed ancient now but made her smile anyway.
She waited outside the villa she shared with her lover Caraculla. She sat on top of her hyperia as it shifted restlessly. The creature wanted to be on his way but his predatory instincts made it impossible for him to stand still. Instead of waiting calmly, he busied himself snatching small lizards off the ground and eating them. For her part, Gypsy just thought about the road ahead and picked at a broken nail.
Her relationship with Gavin was like a dark cave with twists, turns and dead ends and she was worried about him training her. She had misgivings about so many things. For one thing, she was afraid he was going to spend more time abusing her, than actually teaching her. It would be so like him to do something like that to make her quit. Well--she'd had enough of his treachery and wasnot going to stand for anymore of it. She'd give Gavin a chance to make good on his word but this alliance would be short-lived if he thought she was just going to stand there and be his punching bag until she gave up. The sound of another hyperia coming toward her pulled her from her thoughts and she looked to see him approaching.
General Gavin Theron was dressed in his trademark black battle armor and looked every inch the famous warlord he was. A lot of what he wore was for just for show, like his ornate black and gold muscle cuirass, thick leather gloves, and cloak. His mount was dressed up too in hand-painted body armor and a spiked faceplate, but everything added to the feeling of power that rose off her father like smoke. The man knew how to make an entrance. She had to give him that.
Spurring her animal, she cantered up alongside him and they rode in silence for a while. Then, just a few yards from the weapon master's shop, he said, "I've been hearing some snide remarks directed toward you, Gypsy and I'm telling you, you are not to stand for it. From now on, I need you to think like their commander because one day you will be. You must not allow any comment to go unchallenged. Do you understand me?"
Gypsy understood him. She just didn't much like what he was saying. Most of her life had been spent ignoring those snide comments. "Yes, Excellency," she replied.
The moment Gavin walked through the door, the weapon master was at his side, showing him the latest weapon designs and armor. But soon he realized Gavin wasn't shopping for himself, but for Gypsy. The old man stepped back to let her father browse and watched them puzzled.
Gavin stalked up to a weapon on the new designs display and pulled a long, thick saber off the wall. He handed it to Gypsy who frowned at how heavy and awkward it was. The damn thing must have weighed six pounds.
"This will be your new weapon," Gavin said. "You will fight with it, eat with it, and sleep with it. If I catch you without it, I'll have Master Sergeant Rakon give you the thrashing of your life. Do you understand those instructions?"
Gypsy so wanted to complain that no one could fight with this damn big thing. So she settled for, "It's kind of long and heavy."
Gavin turned on her in a flash and leaned in close. His one good eye seized hers and he said through gritted teeth, "Are you questioning me?"
She felt the hairs on her neck and arms prickle and she forced herself to look at the shop floor. "No, Excellency. It wasn't a question. It was just a statement."
Gavin seemed to relax. "The reason for the heavy blade is to build up your strength and increase your stamina. Once you become proficient with a bulky, graceless weapon such as this, every other sword will seem easy. Do you have any other statements to make?"
"No, Excellency," she said, attaching the scabbard to her belt.
"Good. Now hand over your other saber."
Gypsy scowled and hesitated for a moment. This was Caraculla's sword he'd given to her when she'd needed it most. It was so comfortable to fight with that it felt like an extension of her arm. It was tough parting with it. But before her father lost patience, she pulled it from the sheath and held it out to him. He took it and attached it to his belt opposite his sword. She examined her new saber and instantly decided she hated it.
"Shouldn't you be using an adolescent blade, Lady Theron?" a young warrior said from a few rows away. He was standing with two of his buddies and they chuckled at the comment. Gypsy could tell he was eager to impress his friends.
She could feel Gavin's eye boring into her with savage intensity. This is it. I have to call this guy out. Gypsy sheathed her new saber and walked up to the warrior. "Did you have something to say to me?" she said, fighting to keep her tone cool. "I couldn't hear you clearly while you were hiding behind your buddies."
The warrior stared at her shocked. He obviously hadn't expected her to call him out on an innocent comment like that. "What? You want to go outside and fight me?"
"Come on, little boy," she taunted over her shoulder while heading out into the street. "Let's see how impressed your friends will be when a girl kicks your ass."
The warrior came out after her looking even younger under the harsh AEssyrian suns. He emerged from the shop slowly, keeping his hand on the hilt of his saber but never actually drawing it. Gypsy pulled her weapon from its sheath with a long fluid motion. The saber was so heavy it felt like a battle axe in her grip. She wished Gavin hadn't ordered her to use it. Her usual weapon was much lighter and easier to use.
Confronted by the very real possibility of being killed, the youth took his hand away from his weapon. He bowed his head in respect. "I'm sorry if I offended you, lady," he said.
Gavin came out into the street his spurs jingling ominously. Gypsy moved to put up her weapon and Gavin held his hand out to stop her. "No," he said in a heavy growl. "Don't you accept this pathetic apology from him. If he won't kneel and apologize, then you mark him."
Gypsy glared at the warrior. "On your knees," she ordered.
The humiliation was too much for the youth. Pulling his own weapon, he lunged at her awkwardly and Gypsy easily sidestepped him. She toyed with him for a moment enjoying the feeling of being the one in control. "This is your last chance," she said when she'd grown tired of the game. "On your knees and apologize."
The warrior snarled and swung his saber, striking blow after blow against her blade with no real planning behind it. He got within inches of cutting her arm and Gypsy danced back delivering a deep cut to his forehead. Her opponent stumbled back falling on the ground. He ran his hand over the fresh wound. It came away soaked in blood and he got to his feet.
"Next time you won't be getting up," Gypsy said.
The warrior was about to make another foolhardy attack but one of his friends grabbed his arm and shook his head. After a brief pause, the youth went down on his knees and repeated his apology.
Gavin gave the young men a wicked smile as Gypsy replaced her weapon. "There, you see, gentlemen? Was that so hard?" he said in a mocking tone. "Now if you'll excuse us, we have a tournament to prepare for. Why don't you boys run along and play soldier?"
Gavin stalked toward his hyperia whistling a happy tune. Gypsy glanced at the warriors expecting them to glare at her with unbridled hatred. That was what she was used to. But they didn't. Instead they bowed their heads in respect as she mounted up. Who would have thought a little ass kicking would finally get me some respect?
It was one of the best feelings she'd ever had. As she climbed on her own mount she decided to enjoy her recent confidence boost before Gavin found some way to ruin it for her.