Brace knew nothing about any prophecies, and he hardly paid attention to the sky. He was, after all, usually out at night, when no one would notice him sneaking around. But the years he'd spent as a thief had made him careless. He'd been seen - caught in the act - and now he had to make a run for it. His plan was simple. Get out, and get out now! Little did Brace suspect that there was another plan at work, one that would involve him, in one of the greatest endeavors in the whole history of Dunya. The question he would need to ask himself now was, did he believe in any of it? Or did he even care?
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.71(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Tia Austin
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Tia Austin
All rights reserved.
Brace frantically unlatched the large wooden trunk and threw open the lid. Without a pause, he grabbed at the clothing inside and flung it to the floor, not caring where it landed. He pushed aside long, thick candles and wooden spoons and bowls until he saw the only thing he cared about at that moment—his small leather pouch, full of gold and silver coins. He stared warily over his shoulder toward the old cabin door as he hastily tied the pouch to his belt, where it would not be easily seen under the cover of his long, dark gray cloak.
No one had found him—yet. He dared not waste another moment, however, to think about what else he might possibly want to keep. Pulling himself to his feet and hurrying to the window, he peered out just long enough to be sure that it was safe to leave the cabin. Then he burst out through the door and headed straight for the wilderness.
He knew that he would be hunted after, and the wild lands were just as likely a place to be searched as were the surrounding cities and villas. But if he could cross over into Danferron, the keepers of the law here in Dunya would have no authority over him, and they would have no choice but to give up the chase.
Brace's heart thudded in his chest as he clambered up the hillside, his feet slipping in the loose, sandy soil. Grabbing at weeds, bushes, and roots of trees, he managed to pull himself to the top, stopping a moment to lean his back against a tree and take a few breaths before hurrying on.
Brace was in more trouble now than he had ever known in his life. How could he have allowed himself to be seen? Had he truly become so careless as that? He had been a rogue and a thief nearly all of his years, a skill that he had honed into what he had come to believe was perfection. Admittedly, there were times when he'd been caught in an outright lie, or found cheating at chips in a country ale house, but in Brace's eyes, those times had been minor inconveniences, forcing him to move from one province to another, to a place where no one knew his face.
Very few ever learned his name.
But now—he had been seen robbing a wealthy man's cottage on the outskirts of Bale, where he'd been living these past two years, for the most part unknown to the inhabitants of the villa. They knew him only as "the man living out in the old Polattis cabin." As far as Brace knew, none of them had ever thought to associate him with the little things that had gone missing here and there throughout the villa.
But as soon as Brace overheard talk that morning about there being a price on his head, he had hurried back to the run-down little cabin, grabbed his treasures, and fled.
He was angry with himself now for having been discovered, and for having let fear take over, and flying into a panic. Fear was one emotion that he had long been fighting to keep under control. It prevented him from being able to think clearly, to keep his head and worm his way out of unpleasant situations. But, when he'd heard tell of the large sum of money that was being offered to anyone who could hand him over to the law, he'd felt his heart miss a beat.
It was still pounding now, though he'd slowed his run to a steady, even pace through the trees, tall and sparse, looming over him as if they, too, were watching him. Using his sleeve, he wiped the sweat from his face, then ran his fingers through his shoulder-length brown hair, pushing it away from his eyes. Looking around for a place to hide himself and take stock of the situation, he spotted a slope in the ground. He hurried toward it, his long cloak flapping out behind him, its tattered lower edge brushing against the backs of his loose-fitting trousers.
Brace lay flat on the far side of the sloping ground, his back pressed up against the dry, sandy soil. Fully aware that he had been leaving tracks in the dirt, which a well-trained eye would easily be able to follow, he allowed himself only a moment to close his eyes and breathe. The sun was high overhead, warm on his face. The ground was warm as well, and the heat rising from it absorbed through his worn cottagers' clothing, soothing his tense muscles. The sounds of bird calls echoed high in the trees, but there were no other sounds indicating that anyone was close on his heels. Not yet.
Brace let out a breath and closed his eyes. So foolish! He scolded himself. Foolish for getting caught, foolish for being so afraid! He recalled how his heart stopped cold when he'd overheard that he was wanted by the law. His mind clouded over now with the possible outcomes of the situation. He could escape, yes—but he could just as likely be caught. If the law keepers knew how much he'd stolen during his lifetime, they would probably want him put to death publicly.
Brace couldn't picture himself begging for mercy. He'd grown too cold for that, hadn't he? He would remain hard and defiant to the end, and no one would mourn him. Brace swallowed and pictured himself the way he would want to go out—staring boldly into the eyes of the man who would put the rope around his neck. He wouldn't show any hint of fear. Fear. The thought of it—of being hanged—made Brace's throat close up. Staring boldly into his executioner's eyes? He questioned himself. Or would he crumble and stand trembling as much on the outside as he would on the inside?
No! Brace told himself, so firmly that he almost spoke the word aloud. He pushed himself up and looked back over the sloping ground in the direction he'd come, then glanced around, noticing the position of the sun. South-southwest, that was the direction he needed to go in order to get to Danferron. They won't be hanging me any time soon, he thought. I'm getting out of here for good.
It would be a long walk, to say the least, across desertlike terrain. Brace knew how completely unprepared he was to make such a journey. He had no supplies—not even a flask to carry water in.
How ironic, Brace thought. He would have to steal what he needed to survive his way through the wilderness.
He stood, brushing the dirt from his palms. There was a small encampment of goat herders, he knew, about two miles east. He was sure that there he could manage to lift a canteen or a flask—maybe both.
With a quick glance over his shoulder, he hurried off, weaving his way through brush, rocks, and trees. Despite the heat, he continued wearing his heavy cloak, as it provided him cover, keeping out of sight his heavy coin pouch and the dagger he kept tucked away inside the boot on his right leg.
It was not long before Brace's hair began to stick to the sweat beading on his forehead. His eyes stung, and he glared up at the blazing sun, mentally scolding it for throwing so much heat down upon the earth.
Brace's mind was cluttered with unanswered questions, which he had begun to ask himself for the first time in his life. What would he do when he reached Danferron? During the eighteen years he'd been living as a thief, he had run from city to city, villa to villa, province to province. He had learned that the only person he could count on was himself. Stealing, conniving, hiding, running—these were the things he knew, the things he excelled at. Now he found himself filled with doubt. He had been all but caught in the act of theft, and his confidence was beginning to crumble.
How could he possibly give it all up? If he thought he would be able to make a new start in a new country, what honest work would he find? He was not skilled in any arts; he knew nothing of metal works or farming. He was twenty-six years old. Who in Danferron would believe that he had no training, had never apprenticed in anything?
He would likely end up shoveling out mule stables.
The ground was now quite overgrown with shoulder-high bramble bushes, and Brace pushed his way through them, straining to see over them and find the clearest possible path. His frustration grew as every turn he made led him into another sharp branch, jabbing into his arms and legs, even scratching at his face. He began snapping the brittle branches with his bare hands, pushing his way through toward what he hoped would soon become a clearing.
He growled in pain and anger when another sharp twig dug into his cheek. He snapped it off and threw it to the ground in front of him as he at last broke free of the brambles and stumbled into the open—face-to-face with trouble.
The snarling creature was knee-high to Brace, its four legs tight, ready either to run or attack. Brace jumped backward in alarm when he heard the ferocious growling and saw the sharp teeth, but what shocked him most was that the color of the fur on the animal's slender body was a vivid blue, like pure, deep lake water. The creature's large ears were pressed back against its head, and its black eyes flashed.
Brace collected his wits and quickly bent forward, just enough to pull out his concealed dagger. He gripped it firmly, holding it out in front of himself in a threatening manner.
"What are you going to do?" he spoke loudly. "I am armed as well as you are. Come at me, you, and I'll have you for dinner!"
The animal hissed and snarled, the hair along its back standing on end. Brace took a step toward it.
"Don't do that!" A female voice rang out through the trees, startling Brace so that he nearly dropped his blade. He looked around quickly from left to right until he spotted a tall, blonde woman standing nearby, in an authoritative posture.
Brace could see at once that she was no simple cottager. Her long, loose-fitting breeches, tucked into the tops of her dark brown leather boots, just below her knees, along with the heavy, embroidered cloth jerkin, a soft gray-green in color, which she wore over a long-sleeved tunic, it all spoke of a higher class, almost nobility.
"Leave him alone, please!"
"Do you mean me?" Brace asked. "Or that ... thing?"
The woman stepped closer, her azure eyes meeting Brace's dark brown ones with a piercing gaze.
"You only frightened him," she answered. "He isn't out to kill you. Leave him alone and he will do the same, I promise you."
The creature stared at Brace, less aggressively, but still bristling.
"Is it yours?" Brace asked, incredulous.
The fair-haired woman hesitated. She seemed unsure how to answer.
"He stays with me," she finally replied. "He is not a pet."
Brace blinked, and slowly lowered his dagger.
The woman moved through the brush toward him, keeping a wary gaze fixed in his direction. She seemed to be reading him—his face, his clothing, his body language.
"Who are you?" she asked, her voice heavy with suspicion.
"I'm no one," Brace replied. "Only a traveler."
"The wild lands are no place for travelers."
The blue-furred creature apparently no longer felt that Brace was a threat to him, and it moved away, toward the woman, who stood boldly nearby.
"You're here," Brace pointed out.
The woman's eyes registered a flicker of amusement, acknowledging Brace's remark.
"True, that," she replied. "Where are you headed?"
Brace chewed on the inside of his cheek as he debated whether to answer truthfully. "No place of consequence," he finally spoke.
The woman crossed her arms over her chest and squinted at him harshly.
"Look," he said, "I don't know you, and you don't know me. I have my business, and I'm sure that you have yours, so let us keep to ourselves. No harm was done here. Let me go on my way, and I promise you I'll let you go on yours. I don't want any trouble."
The woman tipped her head, considering Brace's words. She looked down at the blue animal sitting at her feet, and it looked up toward her. Finally, she turned her attention back to Brace.
"Well enough. But you're bleeding."
Brace frowned. Bleeding?
Ever stoic, the woman pointed to her cheek, then toward Brace. He reached up instinctively to touch the side of his face, and when he looked at his hand, there was a bright red smear across his fingers.
He looked up in surprise.
"Let me help you," the fair-haired, blue-eyed stranger offered. "That wound needs tending to, from the look of it."
"Why would you do that?" Brace asked her abruptly.
The creature at the woman's feet growled deep in its throat, but she scolded it with a click of her tongue, turning away, gesturing for Brace to follow her.
Brace had mixed feelings. How could he be sure that this wasn't some sort of clever trap set by the authorities to ensnare him?
"You don't need to do anything for me," he called after her.
"Nonsense," she replied, without turning around. "We'll fix you up and send you on your way."
Brace tucked his dagger away, slipping it into the hidden sleeve inside his boot.
The woman turned abruptly to face him.
"I am not alone out here." Her tone was heavy with a warning.
She looked him up and down once more, as though she still wasn't sure what to make of him, as though she suspected the same of Brace that he did of her—that he was hiding something.
"But you are alone," she continued. "I can't in good judgment allow you to go on like that. The smell of your blood will draw curious beasts. Let us help you."
Brace hesitated, but knew she spoke the truth. He nodded in consent, and the woman turned once again, heading off through the trees. The blue creature walked by her side, the fur puffed up along the spine of its long, twitching tail. It turned its head several times to glare at Brace distastefully.
"What's the problem with your animal?" Brace finally asked.
"He doesn't trust you," the woman replied.
"Did he tell you that?" Brace asked in a snide tone.
The woman looked over at him as they walked. "You don't know much about lorrens, do you?"
"I don't know anything about them," Brace admitted.
"He can sense what others are feeling. You fear that I know something of your secrets."
Brace looked down at the blue animal, at its long tail and high, pointed ears. "It can't speak," he said. "How can it tell you what it's thinking?"
"He and I are bonded."
"We share one another's thoughts, feelings."
"How can it do that?"
"Stop calling him 'it'. His name is Zorix."
"My apologies." Brace's tone of voice did not match his words, but the woman shrugged it off, leading the way on in silence.
Brace was watchful, and fighting his conflicting feelings. On one hand, he wanted to get away from this uncomfortable encounter with this unusual woman and her strange creature. On the other hand, he knew that she was right about him drawing unwanted attention due to the bleeding wound on his face. He was well aware that the wild lands were home to all sorts of large, often hungry creatures, and he was in no mind to become anything's dinner.
Brace followed the woman down a long, gentle slope, and looked ahead as four people came into view, sitting or standing around a small camp. The blonde woman called out a greeting, and Brace felt everyone's eyes turn on him in surprise. A tall, well-muscled man stepped forward, looking quite forbidding with the scowl on his face, and the heavy brown leather jerkin he wore over his pale-colored woven shirt.
"Leandra, what is this?" he asked.
The woman gestured toward Brace. "He had a run-in with Zorix," she explained. "The wound on his face is bleeding. I offered him our help."
Brace immediately took note of this man's appearance—his hair was cut extremely short on the sides, and the top was kept long, reaching to halfway down his back, and tied securely at the base of his neck. By this Brace knew he was an archer. Trained archers in these parts always kept their hair in such a manner. It was even likely that this man worked for the law keepers.
"Did Zorix scratch him?" The man asked, turning an accusing stare on the blue-furred animal, who wrinkled his muzzle in a snarl.
"No," Leandra answered. "Zorix never touched him." She stood at the archer's side, mere inches shorter than her companion.
Brace stood twitching inwardly under their scrutiny. Glancing past them, he realized that the others in the camp were watching him as well, from a safe distance.
"What was it, then?" The archer demanded.
Brace met his gaze. "Brambles," he answered. "Sharp twigs on bramble bushes."
"Who are you?" This was the same question that the woman, evidently named Leandra, had asked him only moments ago. Brace swallowed and gave no answer.
Excerpted from Haven's Key by Tia Austin. Copyright © 2013 Tia Austin. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this book! I have been reading fantasies for years and I would rate this one at the top of that list. The story grabbed my attention right at the start and held it until the end. The author has created a new world with mystery, danger, trials and suspense. It didn’t take long before I found myself relating with the characters and their struggles to achieve their goals. Six characters with extremely different personalities have been thrown together. Two questions that continued to run through my mind while reading the story were; will they learn how to cope with each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to survive or will they allow suspicion and mistrust to tear them apart? I wondered how long it would take for each person to grow to realize their own hidden strengths or would they ever begin to realize? I found this book very easy to read and it brought out a wide range of emotions in me.