Gryphon has 23 days to ensure that the Zo, Joshua, and Tess are cared for before offering his life as ransom to Chief Barnabas in exchange for the lives of his best friend and mess brothers. He doesn’t have the nerve to break Zo’s heart with the truth and he spends his time inside the Allied Camp trying not to despise the very people he’s been raised to hate—the Wolves. But Gryphon is not the only one harboring secrets. To spare her own life, Zo has made a blood oath promising to help the Kodiak Clan free their families living as Nameless slaves. When Gryphon learns the truth—that the peaceful life he’d planned for Zo is not secure—he commits himself to cooperating with the Allies and divulges a secret that will give the Allies the upper hand against the Ram. The Ram are leaving the Gate. The Great Move is underway. New alliances form as Wolf, Raven, and Kodiak combine forces in a final battle that will determine the fate of the entire region.
About the Author
Jennifer Jenkins is the cofounder of the Teen Author Boot Camp and a proud member of Writers Cubed. She had every intention of teaching teens to love George Washington and appreciate the finer points of ancient battle stratagems (seriously, she's obsessed with ancient warfare). However, life had different plans in store when the writing began. She is the author of Clanless and Nameless. She lives in Sandy, Utah.
Read an Excerpt
The day after, twenty-one.
Gryphon shut his eyes to force away the unwelcome thought and placed his uninjured hand on his knee, doubling over while pulling air through his lungs. He did this less because he needed the air and more to reassure his body that it wasn't suffocating. Zo had led their eclectic company through a narrow slot canyon. The vertical mountain peaks dividing this remote camp from the rest of the region made access to the Allied Camp impossible. Zo claimed the slot canyon was the only way in and out of the Allied Camp, unless you wanted to loop around and approach it from the south. Gryphon might have admired the strategic location if his heart rate wasn't still beating in double-time.
Twenty-three short days. Every minute speeding by like fine sand between wide-spread fingers. Too fast. Too far beyond his control.
Her gentle hand rubbed small circles on his back as she whispered a blessing. The aftereffects of the claustrophobia caused his head to pound, but even with the high-pitched ringing in his ears, Zo's voice brought him comfort. It wasn't long before all dizziness left him.
"You going to make it, soldier?" asked Zo. Her smile reached her eyes, making them more clear and beautiful than ever. He'd give anything to see her smile like that every day, from now until fate took her from this world.
But he only had twenty-three days. And though he and Zo had spent the better part of a week together finishing their journey to the Allied Camp, no amount of pretending everything was fine could make him forget the promise he'd made to his best friend, Ajax.
The first time Ajax begged Gryphon to turn himself over to Chief Barnabas, Gryphon had refused. Gryphon had only just gotten Zo back and was already making plans to spend the rest of his life with her. He'd asked if he could claim her as his and by the grace of the stars, she'd said yes.
He didn't understand the traditions and customs of her people enough to make such a claim. But she'd said yes, and on that very night, as they fell asleep in each other's arms, Ajax had appeared.
Chief Barnabas, Gryphon's former leader, had banished Ajax and the rest of his mess brothers from the Ram Clan because of Gryphon's flagrant betrayal. Ajax had knelt at his feet on the soggy forest floor and wept, begging Gryphon to turn himself over to Barnabas for execution in only four weeks' time As ashamed as Gryphon was to admit it, he had been willing to sacrifice his brothers' lives to be with Zo. He'd already abandoned his dreams for advancement within the Ram Clan for that one chance. But when Ajax's begging had turned desperate, pleading for not just his own livelihood, but also the welfare of his wife and newborn son, Gryphon couldn't refuse his friend. Couldn't allow his own desires for a life with Zo to trump the welfare of so many.
When Gryphon finally agreed to turn himself over to Barnabas, he learned that the Ram Clan, including the Nameless slaves, was leaving the Gate once and for all. The fabled Great Move was under way.
The Ram wouldn't survive another season inside the Gate. Depleted soil and minimal game had been their plight for decades, forcing them to rely on plundering the other clans for food. The legendary grain stores of the Raven had been the Ram's last hope, but when those were destroyed by fire — the work of Gryphon's own hand — it left the Ram with no other option. The Ram would have to migrate south.
And in twenty-three short days, Gryphon would meet his people where the rivers Iiná and Totoom converged, just outside the entrance to the Valley of Wolves.
Gryphon took hold of Zo's hand that had been rubbing his back. He brought it to his lips and kissed it before pressing her palm to his cheek.
Serenity. The peaceful feeling emanated from her hand. Another healing blessing.
It seeped from her fingertips, healing all of the dark and broken places inside him. It also seemed to numb the lingering pain of his arm — an injury sustained when he had used his forearm to block a killing blow from his ex-unit commander.
Had Zo always been so powerful? The gift of healing was very rare and usually passed down the maternal line. Healers, with their potions and herbs, worked miracles on dying men, alleviating their suffering and speeding the healing process. While fighting the Clanless, Zo had tapped into a new kind of healing power. A power she promised to explain to Gryphon once she was ready — whatever that meant.
Joshua stood in line with a small band of Kodiak a few yards away. The redheaded boy bounced on the balls of his feet as he looked down past the flowered, sloping meadow into the valley below. The sun illuminated their left sides while casting harsh shadows on their right as they looked down at their futures.
Not my future. Zo's and Joshua's future.
Zo tugged Gryphon's hand and led them to stand with the rest of their company. A different kind of panic inched throughout Gryphon's body as he surveyed the land before him. Judging by the hundreds of tents and fires burning across the small valley, there had to be over a thousand men camped inside the refuge of the mountain.
All his life, Gryphon had been taught that no army of men could defeat the Ram. And to his knowledge, no two clans could. But this ... He surveyed the lands and swallowed. This was something Ram officials had not expected.
And it frightened him.
Zo walked a few paces ahead of the group. As she moved, the lines of her body danced in graceful waves. "What's wrong?" she asked, looking back when he didn't follow.
Gryphon struggled to find words.
Retracing her steps, Zo walked back to meet him. A chill shot up Gryphon's arm as Zo placed her hands around the bend of his elbow. She looked up at him expecting a response, but he couldn't remember the question.
"Still sick from the slot canyon?" Her head tilted to the side with the question.
Gryphon regained his senses and gestured to the massive throng below. "I didn't realize there were so many."
Her fingers slid down his arm to grasp his hand. "I know you're worried about your people, Gryph. We'll figure something out."
Worried about his people? Yes, but more worried about Zo. About Joshua and Tess and leaving them all to fulfill a deadly promise.
Worried about saying goodbye.
Before Gryphon had a chance to respond, two-dozen men bearing spears and drawn bows descended upon them from behind. They wore armor of boiled leather and carried rudimentary round shields, similar to the Ram, though inferior in make. Joshua pulled out his knife and Ikatou, their Kodiak companion, shouted an order that had all of his men pressing their backs to one another. Gryphon joined their ranks and yanked Zo into the middle of their protective circle.
"Let me through!" she ordered.
To Gryphon's great annoyance, Ikatou made room for Zo to step outside the circle and address their attackers. She looked as calm as the sea, her piercing blue eyes surveying every man without fear.
It did not matter to Gryphon that these were Zo's people. He didn't want spears aimed in her direction.
"I bear the mark of the Allies." She raised her hands to show they were empty and pulled the tie of her cape loose. The heavy wool fabric cascaded to the ground. Gryphon didn't appreciate the stunned expressions of the soldiers, the way their eyes ran the length of her body.
Zo pulled her collar down over her shoulder just enough to expose the crescent moon tattooed on her back — the mark of the Allies.
The leader of the small group nodded in Gryphon's direction. "Who are they?"
"These men are Kodiak refugees whose families have been taken as Nameless slaves by the Ram." She hesitated for a moment then gestured to Gryphon and Joshua. "This is Striker Gryphon and his apprentice, Joshua, both sons of the Ram."
Gryphon closed his eyes and cursed. Was she trying to get them killed?
Spears rattled against metal and wooden armor as murmurs passed over the rank of Allies. The leader said, "They are not welcome here, Wolf, as you well know."
Gryphon noticed Zo's hands lock into fists. Her words darkened to flat command. "These men have risked everything to save me and my sister. Escort us to Commander Laden and let him be their judge." The leader stared at her for a long moment then turned to his men. "Take their weapons and do as she says. The commander will want to question them either way."
Gryphon released a long breath and made eye contact with Joshua, nodding the "all clear." Joshua handed over his knife. The soldiers approached Gryphon with more caution, flinching as he unsheathed his short sword with his unbandaged hand before he took it by the blade and offered them the hilt. He kept his dagger concealed at his back. If they wanted it, they'd have to come and find it.
"Let's move," the leader called.
Fools, Gryphon thought. He'd never let an enemy enter his home without searching him for weapons. And no matter how much he tried to look past their differences — for Zo's sake — these men, this entire camp, was the enemy.
At the base of the wooded foothills, the soldiers led them in a careful straight line in-between rows of young maize. Each plant stood only six inches high, but the soil looked rich and provided a slight spring beneath his step. There was no doubt this would be a good, healthy crop. His hungry clan would literally kill for this ground.
Beyond the fields, the group wove around tents filled with men who stood gawking at Zo and her strange new companions as they passed. Their frank stares faltered when they saw Gryphon. He thought of his dagger, ready to carve out a few eyes if necessity demanded.
As far as he could tell, there were no women in the camp. Many men looked a lot like Gabe, with his square jaw and light eyes and hair. Some, like Zo, had darker features — the brownish black hair common inside Ram's Gate. Overall, from what he could tell, the Wolves' skin was fairer than the Ram, less olive and more peach in hue.
Wolves. In all his life, he'd only ever seen a handful of the Ram's sworn enemy, but today he strode through their camp, surrounded. The towering buttes protecting the valley seemed to bend over him on all sides, minimizing the already narrow strip of land. Old hatred as sharp as the long swords Wolves loved tore through his consciousness. What was he doing here?
This was a mistake.
Near the center of the camp they came to a tent twice as wide as it was tall. A bright blue banner flew from a spire at the top. Two guards were stationed outside in full armor with spears in hand and swords belted at their waists.
"State your business," the shorter guard ordered.
Zo leaned in to whisper into Gryphon's ear. "You and Joshua keep to the back of the group." She didn't give Gryphon a chance to protest before working her way to the front. When the guards at the tent spotted her, their eyes widened in recognition.
"Tell him I'm back," she said softly. "Tell him I survived."
The flaps of the large tent opened and Zo led the Kodiak, Gryphon, and Joshua inside.
Low-burning oil lanterns cut through the darkness, casting fierce shadows along the planes of Commander Laden's face. It had only been a few months, but Zo noticed an obvious change in her friend and commander. Gray hair invaded his dark sideburns and hairline while heavy shadows lingered beneath his deep brown eyes. Despite his evident exhaustion, his jaw still cut a firm line and his shoulders were piled with taut muscle.
His most notable feature — a jagged scar running from his brow, down his notched and repeatedly broken nose, to his chin — was still as prominent as ever. Though the men in camp would never admit it, Zo knew it intimidated them. Laden appeared to be a beast of a man, but Zo knew a different side of him, and no matter his scarring, she had no trouble seeing the handsome man of his youth beneath the frightening lines.
He leaned over his pine desk, his body propped up by his fists, giving orders to a man wearing animal teeth strung in a necklace. "If you and the other lieutenants can't fix the problem, I will." The Commander leaned toward the man and growled, "And believe me, no one wants that."
The soldier offered a curt nod and marched out of the tent while Commander Laden bent over to pick up a document on his desk. At their approach, he inhaled a long-suffering breath, and reluctantly pulled his gaze from the paper before him.
The document fluttered to the desk, forgotten. "Zo?" He blinked. "Dear girl," he whispered under his breath, his intelligent eyes searching her face as though he were trying to solve a riddle.
He crossed the distance between them and pulled her into a familiar hug, planting a fatherly kiss on the top of her head. "Stone gave me your letter. When Tess arrived to find you weren't here ... let's just say the poor girl has had a rough few days."
Zo could only imagine. She'd lied to her eight-year-old sister when they last parted, telling Tess she was going on ahead with a group of scouts when really she'd offered herself up in a trade to the leader of the Clanless. She hadn't wanted to betray her sister's trust, but there hadn't been another viable option. Tess was like the wind. She went wherever she pleased, no matter the threat of punishment and without thought of the danger involved. This was evident when she secretly followed Zo across the wilderness to infiltrate Ram's Gate as a spy a few months ago.
"How are the Nameless refugees?" asked Zo, smiling sadly at the thought of her sister's distress.
Laden grumbled and released her from his embrace. "Hungry." He sighed. "When I finally allowed you to take on the mission inside Ram's Gate, I prayed for your survival. I never expected you to bring two hundred Nameless back to camp with you. Our resources are dwindling. And unless Chief Naat and the rest of the Raven Clan arrive with provisions, we will have a lean few months until first crop."
Zo scoffed. "Since when has the leader of the Allied Clans refused able-bodied refugees? Of all the people in the region, Ram slaves have more right than anyone to fight." She knew Laden didn't really resent the Nameless, but she still couldn't help rising to their defense. "You can train them, Commander. Just like you have the rest."
"Speaking of guests." He gestured to the other men in the tent. Zo had nearly forgotten they weren't alone. "Now would be a great time to explain the presence of these men."
"These are the Kodiak who helped me escape the Clanless."
The Kodiak, with their shaved heads, full beards, and large bodies seemed to fill the whole tent. Ikatou stepped forward and offered the Commander a clipped bow. "I am Ikatou Apirana Turupa, son of the claw and the tooth."
Laden returned the bow. "Welcome, Ikatou. What brings you to my camp?"
"We left our clan to retrieve our family members taken as Nameless slaves a few months ago in a Ram raid." Ikatou glanced over at Zo. "We banded with the Clanless leader, Boar, when he promised us access into Ram's Gate. After he traded the Nameless safe passage over the mountain for Zo, she convinced us of his treachery."
Laden frowned. "You seem to be a man of shifting allegiance. I'm not sure what you want from me, Bear, but I can promise you that no man is welcome in my camp unless he agrees to fight for our cause."
Ikatou's ears reddened. "Our allegiance is to our families." He ground out the words and his hands flexed. His posture poised to throw his fist into Laden's face. "We have no love for you or your camp. But we share the same enemy and will fight for you so long as you help us get our families back."
Laden crossed his arms in front of his chest, regarding Ikatou with quiet authority. "One thing I will say for your people, you certainly don't mince words." He put out his hand, and after only a brief pause, Ikatou closed the handshake. "You are welcome here, Kodiak. We will do our best to help your families, but I can make you no promises."
Ikatou met eyes with Zo then turned his attention back to Laden. It was only a short glance, but its message seemed to sear the partially healed cuts on the backs of Zo's hands. The cuts were meant to remind her of her promise to help Ikatou and his men free their families. They'd killed the Clanless leader, Boar, when he'd broken his promise, and she had no doubt they would carry out the terms of her blood oath if she failed them too.
She hadn't told Gryphon about the pact she'd made with the passionate Kodiak leader, just as she hadn't bothered to explain the frightening new depths of her healing abilities. She and Gryphon had endured so much, a part of her wanted to forget about the future. To close her eyes, like a child playing hide-and- seek, and hope her problems couldn't see her if she refused to see them.
Excerpted from "Fearless"
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Jenkins.
Excerpted by permission of Month9Books.
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