WarDance (Chronicles of the Warlands #5)

WarDance (Chronicles of the Warlands #5)

Elizabeth Vaughan

Chapter One

It took everything Simus had not to plunge his sword into the chest of the arrogant warrior-priest who barred his way.

But that had been the exact mistake that Keir of the Cat had made when he had conquered Xy, hadn’t it. Simus wasn’t about to do the same.

Instead, he eased back in his saddle, took a long, deep breath of the sweet air of the Plains, and let his glare sweep down over the bragnect before him.

The warrior-priest stood, unimpressed. His hair hung in long, matted braids; his face, neck, and chest were covered with swirling red, green, black, and brown tattoos. Nothing marked him from his fellows except a long scar that ran along the side of his face, puckering the corner of his lip. He’d offered no name, no token, no courtesy.

Simus seethed, holding his temper in check. His warriors, gathered behind him, shifted in their saddles, muttering darkly, no doubt fingering the hilts of their swords. They’d no love for the warrior-priests, either.

“I say again,” the warrior-priest said, his eyes as dark as Simus’s own skin. His lip curled with disdain. “The Eldest Elder Hail Storm has decreed that all shall pull back, out of sight and sound of the Heart.”

Simus focused behind the man, trying to let his anger go with the wind. Behind the warrior-priest, the Plains stretched out with the splendor of new, green grasses and the flowers that danced in their midst. They’d only to ride a few more miles, over a few more rises, and they would be at the Heart of the Plains.

Simus took another breath, letting the man wait. The spring air, the flowering grasses crushed under their horses’ hooves, made every breath a pleasure. Especially after a long winter spent in the dark lodges, with naught to do but sharpen weapons, and talk and plan with Keir of the Cat as Xylara, his Warprize, grew heavy with their child.

Keir and Lara had left for Xy at the earliest hint of fair weather. For reasons Simus didn’t fully understand the birth of the babe must occur in Xy, under the eyes of the nobles. Since that time, Simus had spent countless hours training and preparing for the Spring Trials, conducted each year at the Heart of the Plains.

Keir’s plans required a weaving of new patters between Xy and the Plains, binding the lands together. No longer would Xy be subject to raids from the “dreaded Firelanders”. No longer would those of the Plains be dependent on the raids for survival. But for those plans to come to pass; for Keir and him to hunt this prey successfully, Simus needed to enter the Spring Trials, face all challengers, and become Warlord.

Nothing would stop him from earning that status in his own right, with warriors sworn to his service.

Nothing stood between him and that goal except his survival of the Trials and this arrogant bragnect standing there with his curled lip and vivid tattoos.

Simus tightened his legs, and his horse shifted under him, sensing battle. Simus’s fingers twitched toward the hilt of his own weapon—

“Isn’t Wild Winds the Eldest Elder of the Warrior-Priests of the Plains?” Joden spoke up from behind Simus, his voice calm and understanding. Far more understanding than Simus was prepared to be. “Who is this Hail Storm, to turn us from our traditional ways?”

Simus stilled his hand, glad for his friend at his shoulder, gladder still for his support. But he didn’t ease up his scowl, since he’d missed what Joden had plucked from the warrior-priest’s words. Who was this Hail Storm?

“Is it not the season?” Joden continued. Simus flicked a glance back to see Joden tilt his head to look at the sun. Joden’s broad, brown face was deceptively pleasant as his dark eyes considered the sky. “Perhaps we now reckon time as a city-dweller and have missed the day?”

There was a ripple of laughter from the warriors gathered behind Simus, an easing of tension clear in their voices. Ah, Joden, soon-to-be-Singer, whose reasonable tongue had the sharpest of edges.

The tattooed man bristled, probably from Joden’s insult, but maybe for his mistake in naming another warrior-priest. Certainly, this one had not so much as offered his name, appearing out of the tall grass to bar their path.

“It is the season,” the warrior-priest acknowledged, his scar rucking up as he snarled. He tightened his grip on his staff. “But the Heart is needed for our purpose. Take yourselves off.”

Simus’s loathing boiled over. Skies, he hated the warrior-priests of the Plains, who had no truth, who claimed false powers, and worked not for the People, but to preserve their own status.

Mistake it might be, but the insult was not to be borne. Simus snarled and went for his sword.

But the snarl was still in his throat, and his blade not clear of its scabbard when other warrior-priests appeared.

The hair on the back of Simus’s neck rose, and a feeling of dread washed over him.

They wisped up like fog from the grasses, their tattoos bright, some holding naked blades, others with staves adorned with bleached human skulls. They stood in silence, their disdain a pressure on his skin. They made no move, no sound, but the threat was clear.

Simus stilled his hand. He felt his warriors behind him, waiting for him to unleash their fury.

“It would be best,” Joden said softly, in perfect Xyian, “to put this off for another time.”

“Bastards,” Simus cursed in Xyian, and thrust his sword back into its sheath. He turned his horse’s head away with no further word. His warriors waited and watched, covering his back, and then turned to follow his lead. Silently, he led them directly away from the Heart.

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