by Kim Headlee


by Kim Headlee


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Gyanhumara "Gyan" nic Hymar is a Caledonian chieftainess by birth, a warrior and leader of warriors by training, and she is betrothed to Urien map Dumarec, a son of her clan's deadliest enemy, by right of Arthur the Pendragon's conquest of her people. For the sake of peace, Gyan is willing to sacrifice everything...perhaps even her very life, if her foreboding about Urien proves true.

Arthur map Uther is the bastard son of two worlds, Roman by his father and Brytoni by his mother. Denied hereditary rulership by the elders of Chieftainess Ygraine's clan, Arthur has followed Uther's path to become Dux Britanniarum, the Pendragon: supreme commander of the northern Brytoni army. The Caledonians, Scots, Saxons, and Angles keep him too busy to dwell upon his loneliness...most of the time.

When Gyan and Arthur meet, each recognize within the other their soul's mate. The treaty has preserved Gyan's ancient right to marry any man, providing he is a Brytoni nobleman-but Arthur does not qualify. And the ambitious Urien, Arthur's greatest political rival, shall not be so easily denied. If Gyan and Arthur cannot prevent Urien from plunging the Caledonians and Brytons back into war, their love will be doomed to remain unfulfilled forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781939051134
Publisher: Lucky Bat Books
Publication date: 02/26/2013
Series: Dragon's Dove Chronicles , #1
Pages: 414
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.85(d)

About the Author

Kim Headlee lives on a farm in the mountains of southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, fish, goats & assorted wildlife. People and creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins-the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-twentieth century-seem to be sticking around for a while yet.

Other published works by Kim Headlee:
Dawnflight, first edition, paperback, Sonnet Books, Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Liberty, writing as Kimberly Iverson, paperback, HQN Books, Harlequin, 2006.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 The combatants circled warily in the churned mud of the practice field, blind to the swelling audience and the chilling autumn rain. One, a giant of a figure, was the teacher. The student was neither as tall nor as well muscled but moved with the speed and agility of youth. The mud splattered on both bodies was mute evidence to the length of the session.

"Keep up your intensity!" Ogryvan swiped at his opponent's midsection. "Always! Lose your battle-frenzy, and you're dead!"

Though neither was fighting in true battle-frenzy, the younger warrior understood. Smiling grimly through the rivulets of sweat, the student danced out of reach, whirled, and made a cut at Ogryvan's thigh. The blunted practice sword could not penetrate the hard leather leggings but was sure to leave a bruise. Precisely over the wound he had taken at Aber-Glein two months before.

Although the swordmaster gritted his teeth against the pain, his opponent sensed satisfaction in the accompanying nod. The reason for the sign of approval was clear: the student had made an excellent choice of moves. Exploitation of the enemy's weaknesses was a basic tenet of the warrior's art. Mastery of this principle would serve Ogryvan's pupil well in the years to come.

"Strive to outthink your foe. Stay one move ahead," he advised between feints. The clatter adopted a dancelike rhythm as the opposing blade deftly met each thrust. The onlookers shouted their approval. The youth answered with a powerful counterattack, silent but for the creak of leather and the hollow thunks as sword met shield. The swordmaster staggered backward. His disciple quickened the attack.

And grew careless. The shield sagged. Ogryvan landed a blow to the unguarded left shoulder. Startled, the youth lost footing in the treacherous mud and fell. The laughter sparked by the mishap, from teacher and audience alike, was not unkind. Yet it did not comfort the mud-painted student.

The Chieftainess of Clan Argyll hated to lose.

And the reason rankled like that awful brew Cynda called spring tonic: she'd not done her best. She didn't need her father to tell her that carelessness had caused the fall.The loss.

In battle, such a mistake was often fatal.

She began to pick herself up, seething, only to be unceremoniously shoved face-first into the mud again. Before she could twitch, her father's foot pinned her down. His sword at the base of her neck chilled her to the core of her being. It was too easy to imagine what might happen next.

Ogryvan whispered, "Pay attention now, Gyan. This is my favorite part." His rumbling voice poised on the brink of a chuckle. "All hear and beware! The Ogre takes no prisoners!"

Had this been actual combat, her head would have become the newest addition to Ogryvan's private collection. Such was the Caledonian way. For in this manner, not only was the foe defeated in death, but to the victor went possession of the soul. Well honored was the warrior who boasted the largest array.

Long years of training had hardened Gyan to this aspect of warfare. Yet the prospect of someday ending up on display in an enemy's feast-hall was grisly at best.

By the shifting of his foot on her back, she knew her father was posturing for the crowd. They rewarded his performance with gleeful claps and shouts. The official practice session was over, of course. But Gyan wasn't quite finished.

Her sword hilt nestled in the palm of her outflung hand. She carefully tightened her grip. In a burst of movement, she writhed and scissored with her legs, twisted free, rolled to her feet, and brought the sword up in both hands. Ogryvan toppled into the mud. The resounding wet thud of his landing was chorused by the guffaws of the audience.

Gyan grinned, holding the point of her sword to Ogryvan's throat. "And neither does the Ogre's daughter!"

No nectar was as sweet as the joy of winning. And winning before an audience of her clansmen tasted even sweeter. One day, she would lead them into battle; events like today's added another brick onto the foundation of trust. Their heartfelt adoration warmed her like the summer sun.

She sheathed the sword and offered a hand to her father. "Even?" Her voice was huskier than usual from the exertion of the morning.

Ogryvan took the proffered hand to regain his footing. "Even."

Now that the match was over, the crowd drifted back to their various duties around the settlement. One man remained at the edge of the field. Gyan strode toward him, swatting mud from her thighs and chest.

"Well, Per, how did I look?"

"Like the baobhan-sith Cynda used to try to frighten us with." Her half-brother reached for a glob of mud lodged in her braid.

"A fen-spirit? Ha!" Gyan playfully slapped his hand away. "You know what I mean."

Peredur beamed at her. "You did well, Gyan. I don't think I could have fooled Father like that. Or held him off for so long."

She didn't believe him for an instant. They had sparred with each other often enough to know who was the better swordsman. But she rewarded his flattery with a brilliant smile and a challenge: "Race you to the house!"

Without waiting for his reply, she launched herself down the path, bruises forgotten in the autumn mist.

The Chieftain of Clan Argyll stood alone on the practice field. Pride pulsed anew for the two promising young warriors, now racing like colts toward the family's living compound. Per, Ogryvan observed with critical interest, was gaining. Arms pumping, Per drew abreast. Too close: Gyan's scabbard bounced into Per's leg. His stride faltered. With a whoop of triumph, startling a cloud of pigeons from their perches on the timbered roof, Gyan flashed past him into the long, low stone building.

Ogryvan shook his head in amusement. She was so like her mother. Winning at any cost was one of his late wife's dearest passions. How often had Hymar played some mischief like that? When they galloped their horses beside summer-slim streams, Hymar's favorite move had been to drive her mare at full speed into the shimmering water. He could still hear her bright laughter as he spluttered his protest at the unexpected dousing.

Time had finally managed to ease the pain of his loss. Mercifully, his most cherished memories remained intact.

With a glance at the leaden skies, he hoped Hymar was somehow watching. If so, certainly she ought to be sharing his pride.

He began shambling down the path after the youths when his boot crunched against something hard. All but invisible to the casual eye, Gyan's rectangular oak shield nestled in a muddy bed. Stooping to retrieve it, he resolved to chide her about neglecting her gear.

Gyan ought to hearken well to his words if she had a mote of sense, her father mused. Per, too. They would be far beyond the reach of his guidance soon enough. The sorrow of this knowledge clutched his heart like a merlin's claw over a mouse.

To honor the treaty made after the Battle of Aber-Glein with Arthur the Pendragon of Brydein, Per and hundreds of other Caledonian warriors would be riding south after spring planting to join the Brytoni army at Caer Lugubalion. Gyan was finished with her basic martial training; the rest she would have to learn through constant practice, and in battle. But she would not be joining her brother. Her part in fulfilling the treaty terms would take her elsewhere, beginning with the Brytoni school on the Isle of Maun.

The problem was, she didn't know this yet.

Telling her wasn't going to be easy, Ogryvan realized as he resumed his course for the building. He had dodged the issue for two turnings of the moon. Now time was his enemy.

Caledonian children born into the warrior caste were raised on the heroic stories of clan lore. Battles and wars, victories and defeats, incredible acts of strength and bravery: tales as sweet as mother's milk. Gyan had devoured the teachings more eagerly than any child Ogryvan had ever known, especially the hard lessons learned from the Roman War. And, most recently, Aber-Glein.

That Gyan seemed willing to swallow her inborn hatred of the Eagle of Rome was an eloquent measure of how much she wanted to fight beside Per and her clansmen. Even though they would be wielding their weapons on behalf of the Roman warlord, Arthur.

Behind Gyan, the thudding of Per's booted feet on the corridor's flagstones announced that he had recovered his stride -- and hadn't given up. Yet this time, the victory was hers! And she savored every moment.

Their laughs no more than breathless gasps, Gyan and Per clattered to a halt before his chambers. He leaned on the door to step inside. She caught his tunic sleeve. "Wait, Per. Aren't you forgetting something?"

"Oh, aye." Per bent double in an elaborate bow. "You have bested me in a fair race, my Lady. I am yours to command forever."

"Ha! Begone, rogue!" She smiled her delight. "Save your charm for the ladies."

"Aye, but I have." As he reached for her hand, the mockery in his grin yielded to true affection. "The best lady in all the land."

He gave her braid a quick tug and fled into the room. The oaken door thumped shut behind him.

"Beast!" she hurled at the ironbound timbers. His only reply was a burst of muted laughter.

Brothers! What to do with them?

Or without them?

Chuckling softly, she set o toward her chambers at the far end of the corridor.

Normally, the afternoon would be devoted to horsemanship and mounted javelin throwing. Gyan could sit a horse better than most men could, but flinging a slim barbed shaft at a target from a bobbing back was another matter entirely. She didn't relish the idea of missing even one chance to practice this basic Caledonian battle tactic. And today marked the third day of departure from her routine.

The reason was a hard lump to swallow. A Brytoni chieftain, Dumarec of Clan Moray, was due to arrive soon. Perhaps even this day. Chieftain Dumarec was bringing his son, and Gyan was expected to look her best. Her feminine best.

Illness or injury would have been better. Without question. Let the other women strut about, Gyan thought scornfully, prettied up like overgrown dolls to snag a mate. Such was not her way.

But these days following the devastating loss at Aber-Glein could scarcely be called normal.

"Cynda," she called upon entering the antechamber.

The short, plump, dark-haired woman emerged from the bedchamber with an armload of Gyan's soiled clothes. Sighing, she rolled her eyes in a familiar gesture of long-suffering patience.

"By the gods, Gyan, you get dirtier than anyone I know! Peredur included." The accusation was delivered with a merry laugh.

"You should see Father." Gyan giggled.

Cynda, who had nursed the infant Gyan after the death of her mother and had seen her through the bumps and scrapes of an active childhood, dropped her burden near the door.

"Very well. Strip off that leather and set it aside to be cleaned. I'll get the basin and towels. And put your linens onto the pile, there."

As Cynda left the room, Gyan moved to obey.

Standing naked in the privacy of her bedchamber, she regarded herself in the shield-sized polished bronze mirror. All her life, folks had crowed about how much she resembled Chieftainess Hymar. Yet it had always made her wonder...

Was she as tall as her mother had been? Or as slim? Was her hair as lustrous? Were her eyes as deeply green?

Most important, would she prove to be as wise and just a ruler as Hymar was said to have been?

She squeezed her eyes against the stinging threat of tears. These were questions she had lived with for as long as she could remember, questions destined to remain forever unanswered.

Her vision as she gazed into the mirror blurred with the remnants of her sorrow. For a moment, she saw not a lovely young woman in the bloom of adulthood but a child scampering gleefully through spring meadows, stopping now and again to climb a tree or toss stones into a chuckling brook. Her brother was never far behind; Cynda always gasped and grumbled about the pace.

Those were the special days, just after spring planting each year. Duties were light, and spirits soared high, and the sun and breeze and wildowers conspired to lure the unwary into realms of carefree delight.

Now those days resided in the forsaken chambers of her mind. Other matters competed for her attention. Politics. And marriage. Matters that promised to alter the path of her life forever.

There was no mystery to the timing of the Brytons' visit. To show support for the new alliance, Ogryvan wanted Gyan to select a Brytoni lord for a consort. Dumarec's lands adjoined her people's to the west, and that border had been violently disputed for generations. So his son was a logical choice.

Yet she was under no obligation to accept the suggested match. Such was the privilege of the clan's ard-banoigin, the woman through whom the line of succession was determined. Caledonian Law also dictated that whoever shared the bed of an ard-banoigin was entitled to the woman's lands. Gyan controlled more land than any of her peers. Thus, she'd been trained from the first day of womanhood to be selective in her choice of consort.

This son of Dumarec would have to prove himself her equal with sword and horse. No easy task for any man.

But Gyan was also learning there was more to life than battles and bloodshed. The serving lasses were always happy to fill her ears with stories of their bedchamber exploits. Usually, the answers to her questions came in blunt, vivid detail. Something stirred within Gyan during those times, no louder than a breeze whiffling through a pile of leaves. Soft yet persistent.

Remembering those stories, she closed her eyes and ran tentative fingers over her breasts, wondering how a man's touch would feel.

But would she ever know the true caress of love, if her consort were chosen purely for political reasons?

The sound of someone bustling into the anteroom shattered Gyan's reverie. She wrapped herself in a sleeping fur and opened the door.

Mardha, the prettiest of the serving lasses, was bearing the water and washing linens. She greeted Gyan with a saucy smile and a wink. Cynda followed with towels and a gown.

Gyan would much rather have seen Cynda carrying a fresh tunic and breeches. And said so.

"You know your father's orders, young lady." Cynda organized the bathing implements with a practiced hand.

Gyan sighed.

The wolfskin slid to the floor at her feet as Cynda and Mardha each grabbed a wet washcloth and set to work.

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