Mirdua no longer has men capable of breeding . . .until now.
Rebelling the moment she discovers the stranger has nothing but contempt for the 'honor' they have in mind for him, and every intention of fighting them to keep his seed, Mali is given two unpalatable choices--she can either take the man's seed, or she will be banished from the village. Since banishment is tantamount to a death sentence, it isn't much of a choice....
Word Count: 39,559
Genre: Science Fiction/Futuristic Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, 2013
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
Mali identified the lead man at once as Sala, captain of the huntsmen.
It was their men, but fifteen had gone out and only nine were returning.
And the nine were battered and bleeding and had obviously been in a furious battle with something, or someone.
The tenth, the captive, was the most battered of all, but she was positive he was a stranger, despite the long black hair that obscured his face from her view. It wasn’t one of their own men who had done something that had earned him the bindings.
She was so stunned when she realized that nigh half the men who’d gone out would not be returning that disbelief made it difficult to fully assimilate what she was watching at first.
Why a man? And what had happened to the others?
“Are you witless, girl? There’s been trouble! Sound the horn!”
Startled by the harsh feminine voice behind her, Mali nearly dropped the precious looking glass that had been entrusted to her. Whirling, she gaped at the captain of the guard for a moment before setting the glass quickly in its holder and stepping over to the small horn. Dragging in a deep breath, she sounded the ‘alert’--three short blasts on the horn. Pausing for a space of five count, she blew them again, and then paused for a space of ten and blew the three short blasts a third time.
The high pitched sound that emerged from the alert horn scratched along her nerve endings, lifting the fine hairs on her nape.
She hated the sound.
Still, it was effective. The notes of the horn penetrated the thickest walls and within moments of the last blast, armed villagers began to pour from their domes to see what was wrong.
Resentful at being reprimanded, Mali returned to her post.
She saw no threat herself. The men were battered, for certain, but they were in no rush to reach the gate as they would have been if they were being pursued. Whatever had happened was finished. She was no idiot. It was clear that there was no current threat.
They were six men shorter than they had been before, though.
It was a severe blow to their community and not just because it was six of their hunters. The women of the village already outnumbered the men three to one. The six dead would have to be replaced with women, twice as many, because the women were not as strong and it would take more of them to carry the meat back to the village.
Elfrida moved to stand beside Mali as the group neared the gate. “Who goes there?” she demanded.
“Sala!” the captain of the huntsman yelled.
One by one the others identified themselves by name.
“Give me the glass.”
Belatedly remembering proper militia protocol, Mali saluted and handed it over.
Elfrida surveyed the men carefully to make certain that each was whom he claimed to be and there were no imposters among them. “Who is the stranger?”
Sala shrugged. “We’ve no name. A poacher.”
Elfrida frowned. “Where are the others?”
Sala’s voice was grim. “We have injured. Allow us to pass.”
“You know the procedure,” Elfrida responded coldly, lifting the glass and carefully surveying the landscape all around them for any sign that their appearance was a ruse to get the gate open. “Open it slowly, Mali, and only enough for them to pass single file,” she said finally.
Moving to the wheel, Mali struggled to remove the locking ‘pin’, a heavy bolt of metal nearly two inches thick and as long as her leg. Leaning it against the wheel housing close to hand when she’d finally wrestled it free, she caught the hand grip on the wheel, braced her legs firmly against the stone floor of the observation walk and threw all of her weight into rotating the horizontal wheel in a quarter turn. “That’s good!”
Sweating with the effort, Mali relaxed her grip, straining up on her tiptoes so that she could peer down at the men as they moved to the opening and began to slip through one by one.
She caught a glimpse of the stranger’s upturned face as he surveyed the wall where they stood. Her heart executed a strange, unidentifiable little leap as she met his gaze briefly--or at least seemed to.
They’d underestimated their captive. As docile as he’d appeared before the gate was opened, the instant the sixth man in the line disappeared through the opening, the stranger burst into a blur of motion, seizing control of the choke chain. Leaping straight up, he looped a leg around it and jerked Buel, the man holding the chain, off his feet. Letting out a hoarse cry as he hit the hard ground, Buel lost his grip. Everyone was still gaping in shock when the stranger hit the ground flat of his back, looped the chain around one ankle and sent it swinging in a wide, deadly arch. The heavy chain caught Tomas across the temple, felling him, and cracked against Felan’s jaw, so that he lost his grip on the rope.
“Open the gate!” Elfrida shouted, recovering her wits first. “To the gate! To the gate!” she bellowed to the soldiers below them.
Mali leapt to the wheel, bracing to give it another push. Adrenaline lent her extra strength that time, but even so when she dashed to look down again, she saw that the stranger had taken the moment’s distraction to his advantage. Working his hips through the loop his arms formed behind him, he had just managed to bring his arms forward when men and women poured from the gate and piled upon him from every direction.
Mali felt as if her heart would bound out of her chest as she watched the brief battle. Fear was a part of it, but it was only a small part. She was awed by the speed, strength, and agility of the man. It wasn’t until their soldiers had pulled away and lifted the stranger, who appeared unconscious now, from the ground that she realized she had hoped that he would win free.
She couldn’t begin to fathom why that was so.
Except that he had fought so magnificently, against such odds, that exhilaration and admiration had filled her and the feeling had taken hold of her that he deserved freedom.
She watched as they carried the man inside. When the last of the group had passed through the gate, she moved back to the wheel and pushed it closed again, lifted the pin and locked it.
It was as well, she thought wryly, that it hadn’t been a trick. If it had been, they would’ve been in serious trouble, because all of them had been distracted the moment the man had attacked his captors.
Elfrida climbed down the ladder as the group stopped just beyond the gate.
Mali knew very well she was supposed to keep her attention focused beyond the wall, but she couldn’t resist moving to a place where she could look down and see what was going on.
The stranger stirred and the men who’d brought him in instantly braced off with the restraints again.
“Why did you bring him here?” Elfrida demanded before she even reached them. “If he was poaching on our hunting grounds you should’ve just dispatched him.”
Sala gave her a look. “Maybe you wasn’t payin’ attention, Captain?”
Elfrida glared at him. “Aside from the fact that he beat the shit out of all of you and killed six of our men, what should I have noticed?”
Sala reddened, but he didn’t back down. “He took out six of our men like they was younglings! I figured he owed us compensation for the loss. Anyway, a man as powerful strong as this one’s bound to be fertile,” he said pointedly.
Elfrida’s brows rose in surprise. She turned to survey the man with new interest. After a moment, though, she frowned. “No way to tell that from his fighting ability--or his size for that matter. Though he’s a healthy looking specimen. He could be a raider.”
“He doesn’t have any of the markings. And he was alone. He’s a rogue hunter.”
Elfrida’s lips tightened. “Then he’s less likely to be virile, not more. Probably crazed from wandering the Barrenlands and that’s why he’s so strong.”
Sala obviously didn’t agree. “I guess the council needs to be called on it, then.”
Elfrida didn’t like that, but she knew as well as everybody present that it wasn’t her decision to make. After a moment, she jerked her head toward the second gate, indicating for them to proceed.
Mali felt coldness wash over her as she watched them drag the now fully conscious rogue through the second gate and disappear from her sight.
It hadn’t occurred to her that they’d brought the prisoner in as a breeder.