Home > The Turncoat King (The Rising Wave #1)

The Turncoat King (The Rising Wave #1)
Author: Michelle Diener

 


Chapter 1

 

 

She was being hunted.

Ava stood still, at the very edge of the forest, and looked back among the trees as she'd done over and over since the attack the night before.

Last evening, as she’d slid off her horse to make camp, an arrow had just missed her, embedding itself in the bark above her head with a hard thud. She had leaped back onto her mount and ridden away as fast as she could.

Now she would have to move out of the protection the trees had given her and onto the steppes—into the open.

It would be a lot easier to aim an arrow at her out on the plain.

That's what worried her.

And yet, she had to move forward. There was certainly no going back.

It worked both ways, though.

The people chasing her had so far not been willing to reveal themselves, only attacking from a distance—if she counted last night as being the first attack.

There had been another—much more personal—attack on her at her grandmother’s estate. And she had wondered since last night if the two men responsible for that attempted kidnapping were the same men chasing her now.

No way to know until she caught sight of them.

She peered around the tree she was hiding behind again and saw no movement through the trees.

They were out there, though. She could sense them.

Perhaps they would wait until she was out of the woods to get a good shot.

She could make sure they never did.

She pulled a sewing kit from her pocket, removed her cloak, and began to embroider along the back of it, high up where it fell across her shoulder blades.

The horse moved restlessly beneath her, and her heart beat in rapid, bird-like hops. She was the most vulnerable she had been since the attack last night.

She had removed the only thing protecting her.

The thick wool was already decorated, but now she stitched in bows and flying arrows, grateful they were not difficult to create. Like everything else she'd woven into the cloak, she kept the color the same as the cloak itself, dark brown, making it difficult to see what she had done.

No sense proclaiming her protections if she didn't need to. Most people, she knew, wouldn’t understand what they were looking at, even if she’d done it all in gold silk.

A twig snapped underfoot a little way away, and her hand trembled as she tied off the thread.

She fumbled as she pulled the cloak on again, her breath speeding up as she secured it around her throat.

“Just be calm,” she told herself, and patted her horse's neck before urging her forward.

The mare leaped from the trees into the open as if she had been waiting for the chance. After the slow stop-start of the steep hills and the thick forest, the speed felt glorious.

Ava bent over her horse's neck and an arrow flew past her, the feathered fletching brushing her cheek, almost in a caress.

She laughed—she couldn't help herself—and urged the horse on, turning to see if she could catch sight of her hunter.

He stayed hidden in the gloom of the trees, and all she saw was the line of the forest edge behind her and the mountain rising above it.

She was out of Grimwalt at last, and into Venyatu, and she whooped as the mare plunged down the first hill and got her out of arrow range.

She had only escaped from the prison where her cousin had held her four weeks ago, and years of confinement meant she did not take the open space, the blue sky above, and the cut of the wind on her face, for granted.

The wide-open vista lifted her spirits, and she realized the dark gloom of the forest and the feeling of being prey had weighed her down these last few days.

The hill leveled out and then dropped away again, and the sight below forced a gasp from her.

An army was moving, horses and foot soldiers, wagons pulled by the ungainly but ground-eating yakkuna so beloved and entwined in Venyatux culture. Trailing behind them were the camp supporters, from cooks to engineers.

She let the mare have her head, not slowing or trying to hide as she headed for the column.

This was a good thing.

A place to hide. A place where she wouldn't have to worry about her dwindling food supply, and a place where she could sleep at night, instead of being in a permanent state of watchfulness.

Her hunters could hide here, too, she conceded, and it would be harder, amongst so many people, to see them coming if they snuck up on her. But avoiding the army was impossible. She would rather be with them than try to skirt around them.

Anyway, the column of soldiers was surely headed for the same place she was. The thought made her heart leap in her chest and her eyes tear up.

She blinked the tears away.

She had a lot going for her here.

She could pretend to be a convincing Venyatux. She sorely doubted whoever followed her could do the same. They would be outsiders.

She would not.

“Halt.”

The shout was snatched away by the wind, so it took Ava a moment to hear it, even though the soldier who'd called out seemed to rise up in front of her like an apparition. By the time she had reined her horse in, the guard had his arrow notched and pointed at her.

He was massive, wearing his hair high in a ponytail on the crown of his head. It fell in a thick, twisted rope down his back.

“Sorry.” She smiled at him winningly while her mare danced beneath her, and wondered if the working she had embroidered into her cloak would protect her from an arrow shot at this close distance. “The wind made it hard to hear you.”

She had been taught official court Venyatux by Carila, her weapons and defense master, but she used the thick, regional accent from his home town which he had spoken in casual moments.

Her fluent use of his language had the guard lowering his arrow. “What are you doing away from the column?”

“I am joining it.” Ava kept her smile bright. “I missed the call to arms. My aunt didn't want me to leave and I think she kept it from me, but I heard about it in the end, and here I am.” She hit her chest with a closed fist in the Venyatux salute and bowed her head. “I am ready to serve in the name of the Whispering Grasses.”

The guard groaned, as if in pain. “Where are you from?”

“The border.” She nudged her horse closer to his, and with a sigh he slid his arrow back into its sheath and slung his bow over his shoulder.

“The border with Skäddar?”

“Yes.” She tilted her head. “Near Grai.” Carila had been from Grai. She knew more about it than anywhere else in Venyatu.

“So why are you coming from the direction of Grimwalt?” He eyed her suspiciously as he turned his horse back toward the column.

“It's the quickest route,” she said with a shrug. “Although I did keep out of sight when I cut through there. Didn't know if I needed some kind of permission.”

The guard snorted. “I don't either, but I'm guessing you do.”

She laughed. “Good thing I wasn't caught then.”

He grinned back at her.

They were close enough to the column now that Ava could smell the dust being kicked up by thousands of hooves. She gave a happy sigh, and it truly was heartfelt. People, excitement, movement. Everything she hadn't had for two years. “I can't wait to fight.”

The guard chuckled. “Don't get too excited. I'm not sure what position they'll give you. We need competent fighters.”

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