The Kingbird

The Kingbird

Justine Davis

January 2015 $0.00
ISBN: 978-1-61194-5-799

A Coalition Rebellion short

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy

The past offers a treasure they never imagined.

What was hidden is now found.

A treasure beyond dreams is waiting.

It has been a decade since King Dare and the flashbow warrior Dax reunited to protect their world. The Coalition has been driven out, but they have never given up on regaining the jewel that is Trios, and the battle is ongoing. The constant threat of the Coalition is a heavy load to carry, but it is made easier for King Dare and Dax by the presence of their mates, Queen Shaylah and Califa, and brightened immeasurably by their children, Lyon and Shaina.

At the urging of the queen, the families steal one single day away from the pressure, a day of rest spent at one of the few pristine spots left on their beloved planet, a place full of Dare's family history—a place where they find hope in a treasure thought lost forever, and their children unexpectedly discover what could well be the miracle to keep Trios safe.

"Some people call me a writer, some an author, some a novelist. I just say I’m a storyteller.”
—Justine Dare Davis

Author of more than sixty books (she sold her first ten in less than two years), Justine Dare Davis is a four-time winner of the coveted RWA RITA Award, and has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books have appeared on national best-seller lists, including USA Today. She has been featured on CNN, taught at several national and international conferences, and at the UCLA writer’s program.

Find out more at her website and blog at justinedavis.com, Facebook at JustineDareDavis, or Twitter @Justine_D_Davis.

 


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Excerpt

 

"THERE’S GOT TO be a way,” Dare said, reaching the far end of the common room and turning back to pace the other way.

"Paraclon’s working on it,” said Dax, lounging with every appearance of indolence on the couch.

Shaylah wasn’t fooled. She knew him well now, knew that he could—and would—erupt into swift, decisive action in a fraction of a second, given the need.

Sometimes she wished Dare would even pretend to relax like that. Perhaps some bit of it might become real. But he took his duties as king beyond seriously, and she knew that he was half the reason Trios was on her way to recovery. The other half of the reason for Trios’s survival was the indomitable spirit of her people. They may have slept too long, may have taken their freedom and safety for granted, but once awakened they were as fierce and courageous as their ancestors, who had founded this world that gave so much to all other worlds in the system.

"I’m weary of this balancing act,” Dare said as he turned once more on his seemingly endless crossings of the room.

"There just isn’t enough power to do all four at full strength,” Dax said reasonably. "We can have long range sensors, shields, winter heat on full, and no fusion canons, or we can have half shields, half the sensor range, no heat, and all fusion canons at the ready, or everything on at one quarter, or any other combination that adds up. The total never changes, you know that, Dare.”

"The winters are getting better as Trios heals,” Dare said, still pacing. "But we need more power, and we can’t get to enough nitron to refine for fuel. We have to do something, we can’t have people choosing between staying warm or staying safe.”

His people. He didn’t say it, but Shaylah knew he felt responsible for their welfare. His family had ruled Trios for generations, but always at the will of those people, who had the power to make a change at any time they didn’t feel well served. It had never happened.

And Trios herself was healing. The destruction the Coalition had wrought on this beautiful planet had changed everything, including the weather, but things were gradually righting. Still, twice in the last decade the winters had been exceptionally harsh. The first time they had still been in the caves, which were closed in and easier to heat. Dare had seen to it that sufficient stores of food had been prepared so no one went hungry, although the long season had shortened many tempers.

But last winter had been nearly as bad as that legendary one, and they were back in Triotia now, in buildings that required more to keep them livable. So they had opened this very room to all, because through a trick of clever design and use of a certain Triotian stone, it stayed warmer than most. It had become a shelter for nearly five weeks.

Toward the end tempers had again been a bit on edge until Dax—of course Dax—had managed to turn it into a party of sorts. He’d done something he rarely did publicly, and brought out the ancient dulcetpipe to play all the classic songs of Trios he could remember. Those who had never seen their rowdy, powerful Defense Minister—although he eschewed the title and called himself merely the flashbow warrior—play the delicate instrument were startled into silence. Those who had seen him play before broke into smiles the moment they saw him carrying it. And Califa had sung to the gathering, something rare enough—and beautiful enough—to calm them all.

"The shields draw a lot of power,” Califa said now. "But we daren’t let them lapse. Coalition sensors could pick it up if we lower them and if they happen to be close...”

"They could be here before we could re-engage them. You’re right,” Dare said.

Shaylah stayed silent. There was nothing she could add that they didn’t know; there wasn’t enough power to do everything, not yet. So instead of speaking the obvious, she allowed herself a moment to appreciate the small miracle the exchange had reminded her of. Dare had truly and fully forgiven her dearest friend. Califa, who of all of them had journeyed the farthest to become what she was now, a loved and accepted Triotian. Accepted even by the man she had once, in Coalition eyes, owned.

The man she herself owned in truth. Her Wolf.

She smiled inwardly at the thought, and of how often he had told her she did indeed own him, in ways the Coalition had never thought of, could never in their cold-heartedness begin to imagine.

"Not forgotten,” Dare had told Califa on the day he had healed enough to do it, "but forgiven. It no longer matters.”

And Shaylah had never been prouder of her friend than in the moment she had stood tall and faced a king to say, "It shouldn’t be forgotten. It is what we’re fighting against.”

Dare, still pacing the room restlessly, looking for an answer they had yet to find, reached the far end. As he turned to start back, he stepped into the shaft of sunlight that shot through the arched window at the end of the room. It lit him up, made his Triotian hair and skin gleam golden. There, she thought. There, like that, is how he should pose for the official portrait he kept putting off. The master artist who had painted the royal family for a century had been killed in a Coalition attack, but there were others nearly as good. But still he had resisted having that portrait done. He insisted he did not have time for such things. Which was one of the reasons she persisted; to pose for a portrait he would at least have to stop moving.

It had taken her a while to realize he was resisting because he didn’t yet feel worthy, and would not until his people’s lives were once again made as whole as possible. Perhaps she could convince him that the ten year anniversary of his return, coming up soon, would be the time. On a sunny day like today, no hint of shadow still hovered other than the distant threat they all knew.

"The excavators are still trying,” Califa said. "But moving that debris is a massive undertaking.”

"And they tell me blowing it out of the way would fuse the nitron,” Dax added, sounding regretful.

Dare’s mouth quirked. Shaylah smiled inwardly. Of course that would be Dax’s first thought. "Itching to blow something up, are you?”

"Always,” Dax admitted with a grin.

"Like father like daughter,” Shaylah said.

Califa rolled her eyes in mock exasperation, her mouth twitching at the corners as Dax’s grin widened.

"That’s my girl,” he said.

She’d explained what had happened in Paraclon’s lab, smiled when Califa said she’d gone too easy on them, grinned at Dax’s ill-disguised laughter, and laughed in turn herself when Dare had dryly pointed out he would expect no less from the offspring of the man who had nearly destroyed half this very room as a boy.

"They seem to be in rare form of late,” Dare said.

"Yes,” Dax agreed. "More so than usual.”

"I’m not sure why,” Shaylah said. "We’re well into spring. They’ve had plenty of time to burn off what appetite for mischief they built up during the winter.”

"I’m not sure they ever burn that off,” Califa said, her tone wry. "Perhaps we should up their time with Denpar.”

"More gymnastics?” Dax lifted a brow. "They’re already climbing the walls.”

"They’re frustrated.”

All four of them turned to look at the young woman who had, until now, remained silent in a shadowy corner of the room. Only the gleam of her short cap of golden hair was clearly visible.

"What do you mean, Rina?” Shaylah asked, glad the girl had finally spoken. She’d been unusually somber lately, and unwilling to discuss whatever was bothering her.

"They know you’re trying to protect them, not just from what’s happening, but from even knowing about it.”

"They are but children,” Dare said softly.

"We are at war. They can’t be only children,” Rina said bluntly.

She rose, took a few steps toward them. She looked around at them all. She was part of this family, they had all made sure she knew that, but Shaylah wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t have faced them down as intrepidly had she been a stranger in front of the highest seat of power on Trios. In fact, she knew she would, for had the girl not done exactly that when Dax had first brought her home, and he had been on trial for his life? Rina Carbray was a lot of bold in a small package.

"They feel helpless to do anything about what’s happening to them and around them. They want to help, they want to do something. Anything. But they can’t. They just have to sit and watch those they love do battle and pray they come back.” She glanced at Dax. "Trust me. I know a lot about that feeling.”

"Rina,” Dax began, but then stopped. Everyone in this room knew the story, knew how Dax had rescued her from Coalition hands at no small risk to himself. And how, thinking Trios destroyed and her people dead, he had kept her with him on his forays as the most hailed and feared skypirate in the system. Shaylah could imagine how the child she’d been had felt as the one solid presence in her life, the one person she felt connected to, had risked his life time after time, leaving her behind to wonder if he would come back alive.

"This wasn’t just mischief,” Rina said. "Lyon’s a good talker, but he doesn’t lie. They wanted to strike a blow.”

Shaylah listened intently. Rina knew their children better than almost anyone, since she was their chosen companion whenever a third was allowed to share their amazing bond. She was closer to them in age than the rest of their extended family, and she still had a spark—well, more than a spark—of her old troublemaking skills herself.

"What would you suggest?” Califa asked.

Her voice was quietly encouraging. She was as close to a mother as Rina had ever known since her own had been killed by the Coalition long before Dax had found her. For all that Shaylah had found it unlikely, becoming both an adoptive and biological mother had softened the very core of the woman who had once been the coolest, most calculating officer in the Coalition forces.

"Give them a job, a real job, that’s more than just freeing Paraclon to work,” Rina said.

"Such as?” Dax asked, one brow arching upward but his tone mild.

"There must be some annoying little thing you or the king must do that’s crucial but simple and you’d be glad to be rid of it.”

"There are countless things that fit that description,” Dare said dryly, making them all laugh. "But I’m at a loss to think of one this moment that would be... safe enough.”

"I think she’s right, and we shall have to think of something,” Shaylah said. "Thank you, Rina.”

The girl—young woman now—smiled. And Shaylah realized it had been a while since she’d seen that charming, impish smile.

Shaylah brought it up in a quiet aside to Califa as Rina went to refill her glass with the lingberry juice she loved.

"Is it my imagination, or is Rina a bit glum of late?”

"It’s that time of year. It always takes her that way.”

Shaylah felt remiss for forgetting, no matter how busy her days had been since the last attack.

"I had forgotten how close the anniversary was,” she said.

Califa nodded, glanced at the girl who was like a daughter to her. "Hard to believe how long it’s been since he held Galatin against all odds.”

"And since he went into the mountains and never came back.”

"Yes. Fifty to one odds and it still took them six days to kill him and the men he led.”

"I wish I had known him rather than of him,” Shaylah said.

Califa shook her head. "Be thankful.” She glanced at her mate, who was deep in conversation with Dare. "The loss is hard enough for those who did.”

"Dax,” Shaylah said.

"I think he’d begun to think of him as a younger brother. They were much alike. But for Rina, who adored him as only a girl turning into a woman can, it is a wound that never heals.”

Shaylah sighed. This long, constant battle against the Coalition had taken much from them. Family, friends, and peace for their children.

"I think we need to take a day off,” she announced abruptly to the room.

Dax and Dare turned, startled. Rina cocked her head thoughtfully, looking more like one of the legendary pixies of the Triotian woodlands than ever despite the fact that she was an adult now. In truth, she’d grown up harder and faster than any of them. She’d had to.

"You have been working very hard,” Dare said, walking toward her.

"And accomplishing a lot,” Califa put in. "I saw that the school is nearly finished.”

Shaylah nodded but waved aside the compliments. Administering the rebuilding after Coalition attacks had become sadly routine. But it seemed too small a price to pay for the esteem and respect and position these people had given her. They had accepted her at first for Dare’s sake, but soon had warmed to the outworlder who had become their queen. She’d vowed never to take that for granted, and so far she thought she had succeeded.

"Don’t underestimate the importance,” Dax said as he joined them. "I can’t tell you what the sight of their queen down in the rubble working alongside them means to the people.”

"Throwing rocks seems to help my temper,” she said.

"And that, my queen,” Dare added, "seeing that you are as angry as they are, means even more to them.”

"But you, alive, strong, and returned to lead them means the most,” she said, slipping her arm around him. "I still think we need to take a day. Just for us, all of us, as a family.”

"Shaylah,” Dare began, and she could see he was going to say he couldn’t.

"Our children have never known peace,” she said before he could go on. "And while they have visited most of Trios as part of their education, they have never gone anywhere, to any of the beautiful places that survive, to simply enjoy being there.”

"It has not been safe enough,” Dax said.

"I know. But if they hold true to form—and that’s something the Coalition excels at—they won’t be back for another attack for at least ten days. The seven of us could slip out for just a day, unnoticed, if we went alone.”

Rina made a small sound, but when Shaylah looked at her she was studying the floor. The girl never seemed to get over being amazed at how they all considered her one of their joined family. It was, Shaylah thought, part of her considerable charm.

"It could be done,” Dare agreed, but he still sounded reluctant. Duty claimed this man like no other she had ever known. He was a leader in the finest sense, and she admired him nearly as much as she adored him.

And worried about him.

"Think of it, Dare. Just the people you love most, twenty-four hours with no demands, no decisions.”

He let out a breath and looked at the ceiling of the room. Shaylah knew it was to keep her from seeing just how much the idea appealed. She pressed her advantage, determined to see this man she so loved free of the burden for at least this short time.

"You deserve this. We all do. The children most of all. Especially if we’re going to put them to work when we return,” she added with a smile.

"Where were you thinking of going?” Califa asked, and something in her old friend’s voice told her she had her support in this. She felt a spark of relief; together, she and this premier tactician could get this done. She focused on Dare.

"I had in mind someplace that has escaped damage, despite it all, and continues to. And stands ready, with a dwelling built by your father’s own hand.”

Dare’s gaze snapped back to her. "Lake Geron.”

"Yes.”

"It’s only escaped damage because it’s bedamned hard to get to,” Dax pointed out.

Shaylah turned on the man who had become as a brother to her. "Are you saying you can’t do it, skypirate?”

Dare burst out laughing at Dax’s expression. "Oh, you know him too well, my love.”

"I’m just saying I could do it,” Shaylah retorted, hiding her joy at the rare sound of his laughter.

"As I well know,” Dare agreed.

For a moment their eyes locked, memories flowing between them. Their connection grew stronger with every passing year, until now, they barely had to speak if they were alone. They sensed each other’s every mood, and communicated on some level Shaylah had never known. She assumed it was part of bonding, and had been surprised to realize the old Triotian tradition, mocked in the halls of Coalition power, went much deeper than she’d ever realized. It was more than a physical and emotional connection; it was a joining of spirits as much as bodies.

And now she sensed the full strength of that duty pulling at him.

"I can’t leave the city,” he said. "If something should happen, if the Coalition returned—”

"Perhaps,” Califa said, her tone deceptively neutral as she interrupted the king without qualm, another measure of how far they’d come, "it might be a good test run for a certain new ship?”

Dax’s head snapped around as he focused on his mate. "The Star?”

Shaylah stifled a laugh; Califa, too, knew her own mate well. Nothing could have brought him more swiftly to their side than the temptation of a run in his new flagship, the latest incarnation of the Evening Star.

"It is nearly ready, is it not? Surely a small jaunt would be useful, for fine tuning.”

"Please, both of you,” Shaylah said. "Lay down the crown, and the flashbow, for just this one day. For all of us.”

"Let’s do it, Dax,” Rina chimed in. "I’ve barely had a chance to be aboard her, I’ve been stuck in Freylan’s classes so long.”

"And doing wonderfully,” Califa said. The girl had had a lot of catching up to do. Her life with the sector’s most infamous skypirate had been wild and dangerous and no doubt exciting, but it hadn’t run to basic education. Dax had done his best for the situation, making her read what tomes he had available, and had assigned her to a sort of apprenticeship to every crew member to learn their skills, but he was no teacher.

As much as she complained, Shaylah had a feeling she was soaking it all up eagerly still, years after Dax had brought her home. Freylan had reported her to be a quick, smart learner, although he had protested mightily when, in the middle of her lessons on Triotian history Rina had insisted on accompanying Dax to Arellia when the rebellion had broken out there and Dare had sent the flashbow warrior and his mate to help.

"The Evening Star is not flying without me,” she’d said flatly. And given she had a unique talent that made her one of the best weapons aboard any ship, she’d won that battle.

"It would be a good chance to see how she handles,” Dax said now. "And to test out Paraclon’s water landing system.”

"Well, that ought to drown us all,” Dare said. "You know how his first try at anything never works quite as expected.”

"But his next try is always amazing. And I’ll let you all off on dry land first,” Dax added generously.

"Kind of you,” Dare said.

"Dare, listen,” Dax said. "Heating’s not an issue now, so we can leave the long range sensors working with the shields at half strength, and one cannon at the ready. If we take the Star and something happens, I can get us back here before they’re within firing range.”

Shaylah felt the moment when the tide shifted. This man was Dare’s most trusted friend—the brother he’d never had—and his voice was the weight needed.

"All right,” Dare said at last. "If we go now. In the morning.”

Bless you, Dax Silverbrake.

"Let’s tell the children,” Califa said.

"Rina, why don’t you tell them?” Shaylah suggested.

The girl grinned widely. "My pleasure, your highness.”

That quickly, she darted out of the room. Califa looked at Shaylah. "Thank you for that.”

"None needed. It was worth it to see her perk up.”

"Now let’s go pack.”

"Pack?” Dax looked puzzled. "We’re only going overnight.”

"With two children,” Califa pointed out.

"Four, if you count them,” Shaylah gestured at their mates.

Dax scowled, but Dare smiled. "Yes, Captain,” he said softly. "You just may have four on your hands. I hope you don’t regret this.”


 

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