Fire Hawk

Fire Hawk

Justine Davis

June 2015 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-639-0

The Hawk Trilogy, Book 3

She’ll become the warrior’s woman to save her people.

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Blurb

The RITA Award winning final book in The Hawk Trilogy! (standalone novel)

In a time of legends, wizards, mists, and magic, the Hawk clan’s ancient spell of protection surrounding their secluded and peaceful forest is weakening. When a vicious warlord threatens the clan’s existence, their only hope lies in finding a great warrior with the skills to save them. The task falls to Jenna, but convincing a legendary warrior who has buried his sword to save her people will cost her everything.

Kane has a past filled with betrayal and a prophecy that warns him taking up the sword again will mean his death. Despite the danger, he’s unable to completely refuse Jenna’s plea for help. He agrees to train her in the arts of war in return for her innocence. All too late he realizes he’s made a fool’s bargain; he wants much more than her body. She owns his soul, and that may cost him his life.

Author of more than sixty books, 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 bestseller lists, including USA Today. Find out more at her website and blog at justinedavis.com, Facebook at JustineDareDavis, or Twitter @Justine_D_Davis.


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Excerpt

Chapter 1

Before Arthur was King, in a place out of time . . .

SHE’D NEVER WANTED to kill before.

Jenna stared down at the freshly turned earth, watching the rain turn it to mud, wishing she could cry as the sky did so freely. But she had no tears. She had had nothing left but anger for a very long time. There had been too many burials. And too many of those had ended, like this one, with a stone set at the head of the grave that bore the symbol of the Hawk. She had never wanted to kill, but she knew now that she could learn. With pleasure.

"Jenna—”

Jenna ignored the soft voice of Evelin the healer; the woman could say nothing she had not heard before. She turned away from the freshly turned earth. Justus had been her brother, and she had loved him. Idolized him, with his gentle good humor, his quiet ways, and the quick, sharp mind that had helped her hone her own to a sharp edge.

None of it had done him any good. The very things that had made the clan prize him had been his downfall; he was a man of peace, not war. He hadn’t known how to fight any more than any of them did. And now he was as dead as if he’d been a helpless child, not the pride of his people, the heir to the golden Hawk. And she was alone. Alone with her fears. Alone with her duties. Alone with the weight of generations of responsibility on her shoulders.

Alone with her anger.

It bubbled up in her again, fierce and relentless. She was soul-deep weary of feeling so utterly helpless. The last time the yearly rains had come, she’d had a family. She’d had a mother who, despite being the hereditary head of the clan since Jenna’s father’s death shortly after she was born, had always had time for her children. She’d had a sweet, loving brother, who had born the Hawk title with a solemn sadness after the death of their mother.

And now she had no one.

No one but an entire clan, all looking to her to do . . . something. To help them. To save them. And she didn’t know how.

Neither had her mother. Or her brother, in the short time he’d lived to hold the Hawk. They knew nothing of war, and she was as ignorant as they. The closest any of them had ever come to fighting was hearing of the exploits of Kane, the mythical warrior of the mountains, stories told to entertain children.

None of them knew how to fight, yet they expected her to acquire the knowledge that would save them.

"Jenna, it is time for the ceremony.”

"My brother is barely cold,” she snapped at Evelin, even though she knew it was tradition and not the kindly healer herself who demanded it.

"Which is why it is time,” Evelin said, ever reasonable even in the face of Jenna’s temper.

Yet moments from now, Jenna mused as she shoved the long mass of her hair back from her face and reluctantly followed the elderly woman, such a show of temper from her would cause much obsequious bowing and apologizing. She would be the same woman she was now; the people would be the same. The only difference would be she would have the precious golden Hawk, the emblem of her new and unwanted rank. The emblem she had never expected or desired to hold.

She stood miserably in the rain as the ragged clan of less than one hun­dred, all that was left now after months of a battle that was so one-sided as to be hardly deserving of the name, gathered around her in the clearing. Evelin, as the oldest clanswoman still living, began the me­lodic chant. Rising and falling, an evocative mix of mourning for the fallen leader and celebration of the new one, the chant had been a part of Hawk clan tradition for generations. She’d been too young to pay attention to it when the Hawk had passed from her father to her mother upon his death. But she remembered it far too well from the ceremony that had turned it over to her brother, remembered it because it had been mere months ago. Not even five cycles of the moon had passed since Justus had stood where she was now.

She glanced at the gathered clan. They were all gazing respectfully at Evelin, as was expected. Only Cara, her dear friend Cara, looked at Jenna. There was such warm sympathy and understanding in the young woman’s eyes that Jenna felt the fierce anger inside her ebb ever so slightly. But still, when Evelin held the precious statue out to her, she wanted to scream her refusal, wanted to cry to the weeping heavens that this was not right. But she had no time now; grief was a luxury she could not allow herself. She had had to keep going after her mother’s death, and she had to keep going now, after Justus’s death. She had to, for the sake of the clan. She had to, and she would.

She took the heavy golden bird. A lifetime of inculcated traditions were not set aside so easily.

The chant went on, the low words in the ancient language no one spoke any longer, the words that gave to Jenna the power she’d never wanted, the power she’d thought herself saved from ever having to wield by the good fortune of having an older brother.

A movement on the edge of her vision caught her attention. She looked toward it. Cara was not the only one who was breaking with tradi­tion and looking at Jenna rather than the healer conducting the ceremony. The old man who had come to them out of the forest, a refugee from the brutal attacks, was watching her intently. His eyes, sometimes the green of the misty wood, sometimes nearly as gold as the Hawk whose weight was already tiring her arms, were fierce with an intelligence tempered by an unerring wisdom. Despite his intimidating demeanor, Jenna had often gone to him to hear the amazing stories he could tell, of times and places never imagined, of things that could not be, yet came alive in his telling in a way that never failed to fascinate her.

And now, the old, silver-haired man with the dark brows, known only as the storyteller, sent her a look not of sympathy and understanding as Cara had, but of strength, and a support so strong it was almost tangible. So powerful was the surge of it within her that Jenna blinked, startled. As if her involuntary reaction had been a sign of a message received, the old man looked away, glancing up at the clouds that had been pelting them for nearly a full night and day.

Evelin began to walk around Jenna in the traditional way, tossing hand­fuls of her precious herbs down onto the muddy earth, herbs mixed in a way known only to the clan’s healer, and handed down by each healer to the next.

As if responding to the ancient invocation, the rain began to slow. Jenna saw the people glancing skyward, much as the storyteller had, as the ominously dark gray skies began to lighten.

Evelin drew out the traditional dagger, with its hilt carved in a replica of the Hawk, at last beginning the final chorus of the chant, the words meant to call blessings down on the new Hawk, the holder of the golden symbol of the rank of leader of the clan. The rank had been in Jenna’s family for generations, since the only reason for change was misuse of the power it bestowed.

She wondered idly if not using the power at all fell under that dictum.

Evelin’s last words echoed, and silence fell upon the group. From the corner of her eye, Jenna saw the storyteller nod sharply, as if in approval of Evelin’s performance. You’d think the old man wrote the chant himself, she thought, as pleased as he’s looking. A gust of wind blew rain into her eyes, and her vision blurred for a moment. When she blinked them clear again, the rain had stopped and the old man was gone. Another one of his eerie disappearances that brought on the rumors among the children that the man was a warlock, or worse.

Evelin reached out and slid the ceremonial dagger into the sheath at Jenna’s waist. Then the healer turned to the gathered clan. "I give you the new Hawk.”

A cheer arose, with more enthusiasm that Jenna ever would have ex­pected; she didn’t think they had that much left in them. She wondered what it was for, that enthusiasm. She wondered what difference they thought a new Hawk would make. She wondered what lies they were tell­ing themselves.

She wondered what in the name of the heavens they expected her to do.

"I’VE BEEN expecting you.”

Jenna’s breath caught as the low voice came out of the shadows. She should be used to it by now, she thought; no one ever surprised the story­teller.

Involuntarily Jenna shivered. The fire in the center of the small hut had gone out, and she wondered that the old man’s bones could tolerate the damp and cold.

"Sit down, Jenna.”

She saw only the swirl of his robe in the dim light as he stepped for­ward. And then she saw his face, wide jaw, dark, heavy brows beneath silver hair, and always those eyes, fierce, penetrating, the fire from within burning as brightly as the fire reflected in them—

Fire?

She glanced downward, only now realizing that the fire she’d thought lacking even any lingering embers was burning steadily, providing the light she’d needed to see him, and warmth enough to take away the chill of the damp air.

"Or perhaps I’m being too familiar? You are, after all, the Hawk now.”

Jenna wrinkled her nose. "Mercy, not you, too.”

The man’s mouth quirked upward at one corner. "Had enough of it so soon? Most would enjoy the fealty of an entire clan.”

"The fealty is fine,” Jenna said wryly. " ’Tis the expectations I find diffi­cult.”

The storyteller chuckled. Jenna smiled despite her worries; she alone had always managed to make the mysterious man smile. He had come to them weighed down by a darkness she sensed was deep and long-standing, and it had given her a special sort of pleasure to be the one who could brighten it for him. And it seemed a small price to pay for the wondrous tales he spun, holding adults and children alike enthralled.

But it was not stories she’d come for now. She wasn’t certain why she had come, really. Perhaps she had some crazy idea that because the man sometimes told tales of faraway battles he at least knew somethingabout fighting. More than she did, in any case.

She took the seat he indicated, a low stool that bore the marks of Latham, the clan’s woodworker. The storyteller dropped to sit cross- legged on the ground before the fire, his only cushion the bear pelt that passed from storyteller to storyteller. It had lain unused, this hut unoccupied, since Gillan had died in one of the first attacks.

Jenna noticed, not for the first time, that the storyteller moved with a limberness that belied the gray of his hair. It was odd, she thought, also not for the first time, that no one had ever discovered much about the man’s past; the clan was generally a curious lot when it came to newcomers. Odder still that she, the most curious of them all, hadn’t tried to pry his own story out of him, hadn’t even charmed his proper name out of him. But he had come here and taken Gillan’s place almost without question; his skill at storytelling had rendered questions seemingly needless. And no one had really felt up to the task of asking, not when it meant looking into those fiercely intelligent eyes.

"Why did you expect me?” she asked.

"Because it is time.”

Jenna sighed. "Must you always be so mysterious?”

A delighted expression crossed his face. "Have I succeeded, then? Good.”

Jenna found herself smiling despite her worries; it was difficult not to when that rare grin lit up the storyteller’s expression. For an instant she thought she saw something change in his eyes, some flicker of a reality hidden behind a mask, but it was gone so swiftly she could not be sure.

"That’s what I was hoping to see,” he said. "You smile too little of late.”

"There is little to smile about,” she retorted. "You know that better than anyone. You must know that I—”

She broke off. Did she dare confide her fears, even to him? Did she dare admit how frightened she was, how helpless she felt, how terrified she was that she would not be able to save the people who depended on her?

"You will not let them down, Jenna.”

The uncanny accuracy of his guess, and the unshakable certainty in his voice, sent a shiver down her spine. Who was this man?

Her fears, pressing now, churning, overcame her doubts, and the words came from her in a rush. "How can you say that? We’ve had no fighting here for generations. How can I help? How can I save my people, when I know no more than they do?”

"You will find the way.” His eyes had gone distant, unfocused. His voice had changed, taken on the softly compelling note it held when he was telling one of his wondrous tales. "You will go far from here, from your home. Face dark trials. The serpent’s tongue, the lion’s roar . . .”

Jenna stared, holding her breath as his voice trailed off. The silence spun out, as taut as the strings of Cara’s harp. The storyteller continued to stare, as if at something only he could see. Finally the strain was too much for Jenna, and she had to break the stillness.

"But why? Where am I to go? What am I to do? I know nothing of war!”

He sucked in a short breath, and that quickly was back with her, his eyes again focused and intent.

"Then you must find someone who does.”

Her mouth twisted at one corner, and she looked at him pointedly; de­spite the oddness of his ways and the fact that many of the clan were intimidated by him, Jenna was not.

"I did. I came to you.”

The storyteller blinked. "Me?”

It was the first time she’d ever seen him startled, but she couldn’t spare time to dwell on her small victory. "You at least speak of battles. It is more than anyone else.”

He smiled, but shook his head. "You flatter me, child. They are only sto­ries.”

"But the battles were real, were they not?”

"Yes. But still—”

"Your stories are as detailed as if you were there yourself.”

"They are very good stories,” he allowed, his smile widening.

"But you have known such things, or known of them,” she insisted. "Surely there must be some plan to be drawn from those tales, some method by which such things are done, such battles are fought? Surely you must have one tale, amid all your tales, of a small force who defeated a more powerful one? Or at least held them at bay?”

"I have many,” the storyteller said. "Some that will ring in history for­ever, some yet to come.”

Jenna grimaced; she’d lost patience with his enigmatic allusions to other times and places. "I will be content with one that will help us here and now,” she said a little sharply.

The storyteller laughed. "Ah, Jenna, you are truly fit to be the Hawk.”

His approval warmed her, but she felt it was undeserved. "I don’t feel fit. And unless you can help me, I shall be proven right.”

The weight of responsibility seemed crushing now as she thought of the inevitable end if things continued as they were. Those few who had survived until now would be slaughtered like so many pigs. Her friends, and the children, would end with throats cut, sightless eyes staring at the heavens, up to the gods who had apparently forsaken them and left them to the bloody hands of a warlord who had set his evil sights on their quiet glade.

"I cannot,” he said.

Jenna’s heart sank. She hadn’t realized how greatly she had counted on his help until now, when he denied he could provide it. But something else he’d said prodded at her, and she lifted her head, marveling anew at how much effort it took to simply meet his gaze.

"You said I must find someone who does.”

He nodded, and she saw that light of approval still lingering in his changeable eyes, eyes so different from her own, which were always, ever blue.

"Who?” she asked.

He shrugged, as if it were common knowledge. "There is only one who can help you.”

"Who?” she repeated.

"Kane.”

Jenna’s arched brows shot upward. "Kane? He’s a myth! A legend, a story told to children—”

"So they say.”

"But everyone knows he’s not real, any more than the beast of the lake.”

The storyteller shrugged again.

"You’re saying he is real? That he lives?”

"He exists.”

Jenna wondered at the choice of words in the storyteller’s quiet confir­mation, but the entire idea was so absurd she could only shake her head.

"But everyone—”

"Before I came here,” he interrupted, in such a mild tone it took her a moment to realize he might truly be imparting some hint of his hidden past, "I passed through a land where there was a legend of a distant place, a glade in a magical forest that provided safety for all the souls that resided there, where all wants were met, peace had reigned unbroken year after year, and where the leader was marked by the possession of a golden hawk. All knew it was merely legend; all laughed at the idea of ever setting out to find such a place, for it was only a myth. Everyone knew that.”

Jenna opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her mouth quirked; she’d been through this before with this puzzling, very curious man. "An­other lesson hidden in allegory, sir?”

He smiled, that gentle, approving smile that seemed to lighten even her heavy burden. " ’Tis often easier that way, is it not?”

"Especially for those too stubborn to see?”

"You are never too stubborn,” he said. "But sometimes you are too close.”

For a long time, Jenna sat there looking at the storyteller. She won­dered if she had sensed from the beginning that he would somehow hold the key to their survival, wondered if that was perhaps why she had never questioned his sudden appearance, or his right to the position of storyteller to the clan.

He merely endured her scrutiny, as if he’d said what he had to say, and it was now up to her.

As, she supposed, it was.

At last, her fears still present but quieted somewhat at the prospect of doing something—anything, no matter how preposterous—she let out a long, compressed breath.

"What must I do?” she asked simply.

The storyteller smiled.

THE MAN WHO was only a myth sat by the fire, staring into the dark­ness. It would be more natural to stare into the dancing flames, but old habits died hard, and the warrior buried deep within him could not relax enough, even after all this time, to let his night vision be destroyed by staring into the light.

He wondered if he would ever relax that much. If, perhaps, after a dec­ade or so of peace in these high mountains, the warrior might truly give way to the man of peace he’d fought so hard to become. A man who did not see the potential for ambush in every narrow pass, a man who did not hear the approach of an enemy in every footfall, a man who did not wake every morning and search anew for any sign of treachery in his small do­main.

He wondered if he would ever be as other men, then laughed at his own foolish fancy; Kane was Kane, and such would he always be. He had done it to himself, with his own blindness, and it was only right that he pay for it with the rest of his life.

Almost absently his hand stole upward, to trace the scar that ran from his right temple down to his jaw. He’d heard many versions of how he’d received the mark, from a heroic battle against a dozen men to the clash with the fierce lion whose skin now warmed his shoulders against the mountain cold. Only he knew the truth behind the slash that had left him carrying the narrow, oddly straight line of whitened flesh. He didn’t dwell on it, was merely thankful it hadn’t taken his eye as well as disfigured his face.

He pushed raven dark hair back from his forehead. The unaccus­tomed length of it, falling past his shoulders now, was a constant reminder of the vow he’d made never to don a battle helm again. He would never again shear it short for that purpose. He would never—

His thoughts ended abruptly as the faintest of sounds, a mere whisper, like that of a feather pushing against the still air, gave him warning. A moment later a glistening shape came out of the darkness, the sheen of its body the only difference between it and the black of the night.

The raven landed on the log across from him, cocking its head as it looked at him. A wry smile curved his mouth.

" ’Tis as well you sent your emissary ahead, Tal,” he said into the dark­ness. "I’m a bit edgy tonight.”

The laugh that came back at him seemed too sweeping to have come from any human, but Kane had always had his doubts about Tal on that score anyway.

A second shape emerged from the blackness, with even less noise than the bird had made. Kane looked up at the one man he called, if not friend, at least not enemy. Although Tal was slightly shorter, Kane knew he had a wiry strength and quickness—and some unique talents Kane hadn’t quite figured out yet—that rendered the difference unimportant. Tal’s hair was almost as dark as his own, but the flash of silver at the temples—at odds with the young face—and its slightly shorter length, just above his shoulders, ended the similarities. He wore a simple tunic and leggings of soft leather much like Kane’s own, and moved like a man utterly at home in his body.

"And when are you not on edge, my friend?” he asked.

"When I’m asleep?” Kane suggested wryly.

The laugh came again. "Not even then, Kane. Not even then.” He sat on the log beside the bird, who looked at him expectantly. "Be off with you. Make your hunt. You’ve been patient enough.”

The raven squawked something that sounded remarkably like "At last,” and took flight, making no more noise in departure than it had arriv­ing.

"You keep strange friends,” Kane observed.

Tal lifted a dark brow. "This from you?”

"Precisely,” Kane agreed dryly, not missing the implication that he was among those strange friends.

Tal chuckled, and Kane found himself smiling. Somehow the man al­ways did that to him, lightened a burden carried so long he’d become almost numb to it. He’d been more than wary when he’d first encountered Tal; he was wary of any stranger, and more so one who seemed to material­ize out of the mist with no more warning than the bird that seemed to be his constant companion. And in recollection, it was nothing short of astounding that he’d come to trust the man as quickly as he had, but he had to admit the man had a way about him. Even the animals trusted him, merely glancing at him when they would have slipped away from Kane’s approach.

It was something in his eyes, Kane had once decided. Something in those changeable, intense eyes.

"You are feeling a bit edgy tonight, aren’t you? Why?”

Kane shrugged. He had no answer for that. It was just an odd feeling that had overtaken him today, a feeling of . . . anticipation. As if something were about to happen. It was not quite like the feeling he used to get on the eve of a battle, knowing what the morrow would bring, but that was the only thing in his experience he could liken it to.

Tal glanced around as if he’d heard something. Or as if the woods held the answer. And for him, Kane had often observed, they did.

"Is it the feeling of waiting?”

Kane stiffened. Really, sometimes the man’s uncanny guesses were too much to be borne. If Tal hadn’t denied it while steadily meeting his gaze, Kane would have believed him a mind reader, a diviner of the sort careful men looked askance at. As it was, his observations were enough like prophecy—and came true often enough—to be thoroughly unsettling.

"The forest is rife with it tonight, is it not?” Tal said, as if he hadn’t no­ticed Kane’s reaction, when Kane knew the man never missed such things. Tal looked back at him once more, holding his gaze levelly. "After all this time, you still don’t trust me? Do you think I cannot feel what you feel? I lived in this forest long before you came here, and I’ll be here long after you’re gone.”

"I will die here,” Kane said. "Will it be that soon? Or are you that much younger than I, then, that you will be here so long after?”

"No,” Tal said, with no clarification of which question he was answer­ing. Kane knew better than to ask; Tal wasn’t in the habit of explaining himself, and Kane had too many secrets of his own to pry into another man’s.

"Where have you been hiding these last weeks?” he asked instead.

Tal gestured vaguely, a motion that took in far too much area with only one common characteristic, which he then spoke in a tone as vague as the gesture.

"Down there.”

Kane’s mouth quirked. "Oh.”

That got Tal’s attention. "It’s getting . . . quite ugly down off the moun­tain.”

Kane went still. "It has always been ugly down there.”

"But it is worse now. The warlords are slaughtering innocents as well as each other. People who have lived in peace for countless years. Who know nothing of fighting.”

"What the warlords—all of them—do,” Kane said, enunciating care­fully, "means nothing to me.”

"And why should it?” Tal said easily.

"Precisely.” It was flat, unequivocal.

"Nothing happening down there means anything to you.”

"No.”

"What happens here on your mountain is the only thing you care about.”

"Yes,” Kane agreed, but he was looking at Tal suspiciously; he had learned to recognize when he was being led by the too-clever man. "Why?”

Tal shrugged. "No reason,” was what he said. But Kane distinctly heard You’ll find out. He stared at the unlikely man who had become, even more unlikely, his friend. He supposed he had to admit that. Tal was not merely not an enemy, somewhere along the way he had indeed become a friend.

But Tal’s barely disguised smile did little to reassure him. In fact, it made him more edgy than he already was.

So edgy that when he heard the rustling sound behind him, he whirled and reached for a sword he’d quit carrying years ago. And straightened up as the maker of the sound staggered out of the dark and collapsed at his feet. He stared down at the woman crumpled in the dirt, strands of fiery hair escaping from the cloth that tied it back.

"Damnation,” he muttered. "Who are you?”

He looked over his shoulder at Tal.

He was gone.

But Kane could swear he heard laughter from out of the darkness.


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