Loyal Hawker, while working as a travelling seller, has joined an elite team of undercover agents run by the Khandarken military. On a trip south, he’s approached by Angel Banderos, only daughter among the many sons of Gerwal Banderos. Gerwal is a well-known strongman who seized much of the unclaimed territory north of Adar Silva at the end of the Last War. With Emperor Carlton invading in an attempt to reclaim his Empire, danger hovers over the Banderos land, and the brothers show they’re not as united as they first appear.
During the ensuing chaos, when the the Banderos compound is beseiged. Loyal must work in the midst of deceit and betrayal to protect what is left of Angel’s heritage. Can he survive long enough to find out who’s targeting Angel and save her from her treacherous brothers?
In the unclaimed territory south of the Jirani plains, Loyal Hawker steered his dusty transport to the side of the track. It was early spring, and the sun was pale in the morning sky. They’d been travelling for several days, following his sales route through this thinly populated area on the journey toward Sommerset, capital of Adar Silva. He scanned the irregular line of houses and shacks that made up the so-called village of Hafford. This was where he and Adoni were to meet up with Damian Stuke.
He glanced over at his assistant. Loyal hadn’t known Adoni long, but the young fellow was quick and clever, and in the past had proved surprisingly skillful in a firefight. He was from the northern regions of Legitamia, above Khandarken along the Catastrophic Ocean. His sallow skin and slanted eyes were an unusual sight here in the south.
“We stop in Hafford for the night,” Loyal said. “The bar has a couple of rooms in the back that are usually available for rent.”
They both turned to stare at the shabby building—walls made of stacked poles, roof of some kind of thatch and a muddy path leading to the half-door that stood open to the elements.
“And,” Loyal added, “Stuke shouldn’t have any trouble finding us.”
“Sounds good.” Adoni shrugged his hawker’s jacket over his shoulders. “Are the supplies safe?” He pointed to the sales goods stacked on the roof of the transport and in the small trailer behind.
Loyal shrugged. “As can be. There’s not much traffic around here.” As a travelling seller, he had managed to cover a lot of territory through the new countries that had sprung up out of the remains of the Old Empire. He was used to dealing with the constant exposure and risk of theft.
But he had recently expanded his route. Since his alliance with Major Dante Regiment and the Khandarken military, his main objective as he travelled had shifted from sales to the gathering of information. To his surprise, he’d become an undercover agent, working with his uncle Governor Frank Maude of the Southern Territory of Khandarken. There were persistent rumours about this area—talk of dispossessed gathering and organizing, of unrest and possible uprising. This was one of the reasons Damian Stuke was scheduled to meet them here.
Adoni opened the door and stepped out as Loyal shut down the transport engine and closed the holograph map on the frontboard. Ahead of them the village meandered in a slightly irregular pattern—shops, restaurants and houses intermingled with service barns and sheds on either side of the makeshift street.
Approaching the tavern, Loyal walked up a couple of stone steps and through the half-door. He glanced around. A long plank against the back wall served as a counter. The floor was made of bare boards, slightly dusty, and the one plexi window looking out on the strand was smudged and blurred. The barkeep looked up from behind the counter and gave him a nod of recognition.
Loyal had been here before. His singular appearance, pale blonde hair in tight curls on his head and down the long sideburns, along with a tall, broad-shouldered lean frame made him readily recognizable. There were tables loosely scattered around the space, two of which were already occupied.
Loyal moved up to the heavy plank to tap a coin on the surface. “Two ales, my good man.”
The attendant nodded, then his gaze sharpened as he caught sight of Adoni coming through the door. He glanced nervously about the interior at the occupied tables and focussed on a thin stooped fellow in the corner who seemed to be totally fascinated by the bottom of his probably empty tankard.
The barkeep quickly poured the ales and set them on the bar, taking the coin from Loyal’s hand. “There you go, gentlemen. No roughhousing in my bar,” he warned.
Loyal raised his eyebrows. Was this a signal of some sort? What roughhousing was the man talking about? He grabbed both tankards and made for a seat against the far wall.
Adoni dropped into his chair with a long sigh. “Looks good, boss,” he said and raised the tankard. “To your health.”
Loyal nodded and returned the greeting. “To your health,” he said and took a long draught. There was a sudden roar from behind. Alarmed, he set his drink down and swivelled on the bench to find the solitary drinker no longer staring into his tankard, but on his feet, glaring openly at their table.
“What is this, a joke?” the man blustered “By the graves, there ain’t no yellow faces allowed in here!”
The barkeep stopped what he was doing and swiftly jogged the length of the bar. “Down, boy,” he gritted. “No roughhousing allowed!”
The fellow was not deterred. “Where’d you come from, you dog,” he called. “Must be a Legi from up by the Catastrophic Ocean from the looks of you. How’d they let you get this far south all in one piece?”
Loyal felt the gorge rise in his throat. Often there had been comments about Adoni’s appearance as they travelled his seller’s route. His assistant was clearly not from around here, but never had there been such an outright attack. He glanced at Adoni who started to rise from his chair as he stared with hatred at the loudmouth behind them.
“Hold it, man,” Loyal muttered. “We don’t want to start anything if we can avoid it. This is where we’re meant to hook up with Damian. We need to stay calm.”
Just then the fellow shook his floppy hair out of his eyes and charged.
From the corner of his eye, Loyal saw the two other men in the bar slowly get to their feet from the bench at their table across the room, their attention pinned to the anticipated action. He didn’t know if they intended to join the fight or simply watch, but he dared not wait to find out.
He jumped to his feet. As the first man approached at a run, he stepped into position, the fighting arts training with his cousin Abe Farmer a decided advantage in this type of situation. But he was too late. As he swiftly threw a kick and nailed their attacker in the chest with the heel of his boot, Adoni was knocked sideways in his chair and ended up on the floor, panting for breath and face florid. The attacker went down like a rock and lay still.
The barkeep stood frozen for a moment, then waving his other customers away he knelt to see if the guy was still breathing. Apparently he was, because he gave a nod, grabbed the body by the heels and dragged it across the grimy floor into the back room. He reappeared shortly. “It looks like he’ll live,” he said curtly, “But I told you, no roughhousing.”
“I didn’t start a thing.” Loyal grinned, heaving a breath as the adrenaline roared through his body. “Just took care of the problem for you.”
The barkeep gave a resigned shake of his head and stepped back behind the bar as Loyal turned to find Adoni struggling to his feet. Offering his hand, he yanked him up. “There you go. Luckily the ale didn’t spill.”
Adoni gave a grunt and brushed dust off his jacket. “I wanted to give him a good whacking.”
“Yeah.” Loyal settled onto the bench and took a fortifying swallow of ale. “I know, but you’re not ready. Won’t be long though. I saw your last training session with Abe’s men. You’ve gained a lot of ground.”
His assistant gave him a crooked grin.
Just then the barkeep thumped his fist heavily on the plank in front of him as he stared at the doorway to the bar. “By the dogs of hell, what now?” he demanded hoarsely, his face a dull red.
Loyal glanced up, expecting Damian Stuke had arrived. Instead, three figures came through the door.
They stood in silhouette, the filtering sunlight falling obliquely across their forms. The first was a woman, slender, no more than twenty, with pale skin. Her dark blonde, slightly curly hair lay on her shoulders like a soft shawl. One side was pinned back with a jewelled comb, and an amethyst earring of rare abalone swung on a gold link from her delicate earlobe. Her robe was old-fashioned, of a style Loyal had often seen around Adar Silva showing the lingering influence of the Old Empire. The stand-up collar was clipped closed at the throat, and embroidery and glitters decorated the sleeves and down the front panels—a very formal and expensive garment.
Emperor Aqatain had his headquarters just south of here before the Last War sent him into retreat through the northern hills. Empire clothing was distinctive and many still clung to the old styles
But even more startling, the woman wore trousers beneath the robe. He’d seen women in trousers before, loose three-quarter length garments worn as they toiled in the fields of some farm, but never pants tailored to fit a female shape and paired with a dress robe. Certainly never in public. Loyal stared, then belatedly glanced toward the barkeep whose face had turned a strange shade of puce.
The two young men who accompanied her stopped near the door as if to stand guard. There was a rising murmur of voices as the men at the far table took in the strange sight.
The barkeep blanched. “What are you doing? You can’t come in here,” he stuttered, waving his hand at her as if to shoo a chicken back through the doorway.
Ignoring him, she raised her head and pasted an imperious, if nervous, smile on her face as she glanced around the room. “I’m looking for Loyal the Hawker,” she said.
Adoni gawked openly as Loyal rose slowly from his chair, confusion churning in his chest. Was this a trick? He’d never seen the girl before, was sure he would remember that arresting face. He had certainly never seen a woman in clothes like these. In addition, he had no contacts in the village. This place was only a waypoint, a dwelling to stay the night on his travels through the back country. How would she know his name?
He stalked forward. “I’m Loyal Hawker,” he said, his throat tight. “What can I do for you?”
The colour high in her cheeks, she reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled out a folded onionskin. “My father sends his regards,” she said in a low, modulated voice. “And he asks that you meet with him. I am come to take you there.”
Author Bio –
Sylvie Grayson has lived most of her life in British Columbia, Canada in spots ranging from Vancouver Island on the Pacific coast to the wilds of the North Peace River country and the Kootenays in the beautiful interior. She spent a one year sojourn in Tokyo, Japan.
She has been an English language instructor, a nightclub manager, an auto shop bookkeeper and a lawyer. Now she works part time as the owner of a small company, and writes when she finds the time.
She is a wife and mother and lives on the Pacific coast with her husband on a small patch of land near the ocean that they call home. She prefers her stories to be full of tension and attraction and writes romantic suspense and fantasy. Her novels include Suspended Animation, Legal Obstruction, and The Lies He Told Me —about a woman whose husband has disappeared leaving no clues to his whereabouts.
Note to Reader –
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