“Vaughan’s brawny barbarian romance recreates the delicious feeling of adventure and the thrill of exploring mysterious cultures created by Robert E. Howard in his Conan books and makes for a satisfying escapist read with its enjoyable romance between a plucky, near-naked heroine and a truly heroic hero.”—Booklist
The daughter of a Warrior King, Lara was trained as a healer. With her father dead and her incompetent half-brother on the throne, the kingdom is in danger of falling to warring Firelanders. Unable to depose her sibling or negotiate peace, Lara serves her people by healing the warriors—on both sides of the conflict—who are injured in battle.
Lara finds herself educated in her enemy’s language and customs in return for her attention and compassion. She never expects that her deeds, done in good faith, would lead to the handsome and mysterious Firelander Warlord demanding her in exchange for a cease-fire. To save her land and her people, Lara trades her freedom to become the Warprize.
About the Author
Elizabeth A. Vaughan is the USA Today bestselling author of the Chronicles of the Warlands series. She believes that the only good movies are the ones with gratuitous magic, swords or lasers. Not to mention dragons. At the present, she is owned by incredibly spoiled cats and lives in the Northwest Territory, on the outskirts of the Black Swamp, along Mad Anthony’s Trail on the banks of the Maumee River.
Read an Excerpt
I pulled the shard out just as his wound began spurting blood.
“Goddess, no.” I dropped the knife, pressed my hands against his stomach, into the blood, and threw my full weight onto the wound. Biting my lip, I pressed harder still, desperate to stop the bleeding. “Hold him, boys.”
The apprentices gathered around the table grabbed tight to his arms and legs, all of them wide-eyed and pale as they tried to keep him from moving. The wooden table beneath my aged patient creaked and complained at the added weight as the room echoed with the sound of our leather shoes slapping against the stone floor and my patient’s frantic panting.
A quick glance around the large kitchen told me that there were no other healers in sight. They were all in the main hall, tending the others. Just the apprentices, clustered around the table. Blood bubbled up between my fingers, warm and thick. The metallic smell was strong and settled in my mouth. There was something wrong with the smell, but I was too busy to think on it. One of the lads frantically waved a fresh bandage before my eyes, and I snatched it, crammed it into the wound, and pressed down. I had to get it stopped. The bandage turned to scarlet before my eyes.
The man under my hands groaned and thrashed, trying to get away from the pain. One of the smaller lads was flung away. The patient’s freed arm swiped through the air, catching me on the cheek. Vision blurred for a precious instant as my head rocked back with the blow. My hair came loose, and one long brown curl floated down to lie in the blood that surrounded my hands. The felled boy scrambled up and threw himself back into the fray, grabbing the flailing arm and wrestling it down. “Sorry, Lara,” he told me.
“Hold him.” My voice was a croak. I was too harsh on the lads who were trying their best. Their bloodless faces were pale blurs. I heard the one next to me swallowing rapidly. Pray to the Goddess that he’d not spew on the wound. My shoulders tightened as I tried to increase the pressure, trying to staunch the red flow. “I need help here.” I raised my voice to carry into the main hall that was filled with wounded and other healers.
“Lara? What’s happened?” A quiet, calm voice came from behind me.
It was Eln, thank the Goddess.
The warrior surged up again, and the table squeaked in protest. We stayed with him, trying to keep him still, trying to keep the pressure on. He cried out suddenly, then sagged back, exhausted. I gulped in breath to answer. “The shard came out clean but he’s bleeding.”
A head popped in next to mine as Eln craned his scrawny neck to have a look. My teacher for years, he always moved like a gray lake-crane. He made a noncommittal noise, then pulled a deep breath in through his nose. I gritted my teeth. Sometimes he decides that I need a lesson in the midst of saving a life, even though I’ve held my mastery for years. Eln’s head pulled back, but I could feel him standing behind me.
“Not my patient, and not my place to say.” Eln’s voice was quiet, but cut through the moans of the warrior. “But what happens after you stop the bleeding?”
I slammed my eyes shut. My patient shifted again, and we moved with him, automatically.
“Stubborn child . . .” Eln’s voice was a whisper, but I heard it. “You may have gained your mastery but you haven’t truly learned, have you?”
I did not want to concede to his wisdom, did not want to face what the scent of waste in the blood meant, the scent I’d failed to identify a moment before. But experience had been a hard teacher, harder than Eln had ever been. With a nod, and a strangled sob, I released the pressure on the wound. The apprentices froze, not understanding.
“Come, boys.” Eln spoke quietly. “Come with me.”
I ignored them all as they filed out. One stopped, and looked at me.
“Why’d ya stop?”
Kneeling to wash my hands in a bucket on the floor, I looked up into his wide young eyes. “Eln will tell you, child. Go now.”
Eln would not miss a chance to give a lesson, a chance to explain the slow, painful death of a belly wound that stank of waste. Explain that a good healer knew when to let a patient go, that death wasn’t always an enemy. Explain that good healers didn’t stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their limits. I wished them the best of it, for it was a lesson I’d never learned.
Coward that I was, I took a moment to rinse my tunic and trous of the worst of the blood. That might save me some abuse from Anna when I returned to the castle. She claimed that I didn’t own a piece of clothing that didn’t have blood on it at one time or another. The cool, wet cloth felt good against my hot and sweaty skin.
I took a fresh bowl of water and a clean cloth and bathed the man’s face. The bleeding had turned sluggish. It would not be long now. The man sighed and relaxed, muscles releasing their tension under my touch.
Aye, Eln would offer a lesson. But I would offer comfort to a dying man.
The water seemed to ease him, and I put the cloth down for a moment, and steadied myself. I forced myself to rinse my hands again, working the nails to get the blood off. I took a moment to clean the one stray lock of hair and tuck it up again. My hair was a constant irritation, the curls were never content to stay neat on top of my head.
The kitchen had cleared again. It was the best room in the old barracks to use for the worst of the wounded. The large tables served well, and every counter and cupboard was filled with jars and bowls of ointments and remedies. I stared at their bright colors and the false promise of the claims that they could cure all ails. But nothing lay there that could save this man.
A noise drew my attention down. His eyes fluttered open. Once again I took up the water and cloth. As I worked, he focused on me, a question in his stare. I smiled.
“You are in the healing house, warrior. You took a wound. Rest now.”
He licked his lips, narrowed his eyes. “Lance . . . tip broke off . . . belly.”
I nodded. No need to speak. He knew.
He closed his eyes, then opened them again and for the first time he seemed to really look at me. “Fought with your father, Lady.” He gasped as the effort cost him breath. His voice was soft and tight.
I paused. Few were left that could claim to have known my father. “I am sorry, but I don’t know you.”
He didn’t seem to hear me. One corner of his mouth turned up. “You’ve his eyes, child. All fey blue and wise.” His arm trembled as he tried to raise his hand. I caught it and held it in mine. His eyes got a strange light in them, perhaps an echo of his younger self. “Now there was a king, your father. What a warrior he was.” He looked over my shoulder, seeing into the mists of memory.
“I miss him,” I said quietly.
A wave of pain crossed his face. “Aye, Lady,” was the breathless response. “So do we all.” He seemed to gather strength somehow, and he squeezed my hand and gave a slight tug. I lowered my hand to his mouth. With a rasping breath, he spoke. “My hand to yours. Bless you, Xylara, Daughter of the House of Xy, Daughter of Xyron, Warrior King.” He pressed his dry lips to the back of my hand.
It had been long since I’d heard those old words. I kissed his forehead. “My hand to yours. Blessings upon you, Warrior of the House of Xy.”
He smiled, slipping into death even as his hand slipped from mine.
“YOU CARE TOO MUCH.” IT WAS ELN AGAIN.
His voice floated over the stone tubs that had been set aside to wash instruments. I ignored him for the moment, concentrating on getting things clean and ready for the next wave of wounded. Experience taught that the lulls in the fighting were to be used, not wasted.
“A good healer is dispassionate. Objective.”
The warrior’s body had been taken up for burial. He had been the last of the severely wounded. I had a small cluster of unhappy apprentices outside, boiling bandages and linens. Not their favorite chore, but a vital one.
Eln had started brewing more orchid root at the fire. The sweet scent was a comfort. Others were tending the large kettles of fever’s foe outside. Everyone, no matter how tired, worked and waited. For the sounds of more battle, more wounded. I closed my eyes, giving in to my exhaustion, and prayed for an end to the war that waged outside the city walls. Prayed that the Firelanders would stop using their lances. Prayed that I’d be skilled enough that no more of my patients would die.
Eln rattled the jars and bottles, and I opened my eyes and watched him. My old teacher, his long arms stretching out, putting them in some kind of order. Slow and steady, moving carefully on tall legs, considering each step. The straight, gray hair that flowed down his back only added to the image of a lake-crane. He gave me a look out of the corner of his eye, and shook his head. “How can one so slight be so stubborn?”
“Eln, how long was I your apprentice?”
He stared pointedly at my bruised cheek. “Long enough to learn.” He regarded me with a solemn look.
“And I have been a master for how long?” I rinsed more of the instruments and set them on a cloth to dry.
He pursed his lips, and pretended to study one of the jars. “Long enough to learn to talk back.”
I snorted. “During that period, how many times have you said that to me?”
“More than I can count, but that does not make it any less true.” He started to gather up the things we would need to check the wounded and tend them. “If you are so wise, Lara, then why do I see guilt in your eyes?”
I glanced out the kitchen window. The afternoon shadows were growing. “I should not have tried to cut it out. Should have left it alone. If I had . . .”
“If.” Eln came to stand next to me. “If you had left it in, was his death not as sure? You tried. That was all you could do. All any of us can do when we are overwhelmed like this.”
I dried my hands, and blinked back tears I didn’t have time for. “We’d better get to work.”