To whet your appetite, here are two excerpts from the book to whet your appetite.
She took a step back, poised for flight.
“A reading, please, seer.” His voice was deep like a slow-flowing river, smooth on top but dangerous beneath.
She allowed herself to meet his eyes, as if she had nothing to fear from his kind. Although his mouth smiled, his eyes were bitter-dark like olives. An aura of vibrant intelligence was enveloped in intense bitterness, and under his cheerful courtesy, pain radiated from him like heat searing from a fire.
Her instincts screamed at her to pull free from the dangerous power before it could burn her, but a genuine wandering seer would not panic at the sight of a palace official, and bolting would draw his suspicion.
She forced herself to stay in her role. “Your hands,” she demanded, careful to hide her accent.
The hands were wrong: Brown, with short dirty nails, calloused, rough and ridged with old scars, they did not belong to a courtier, nor even to a guard.
At the moment of touch, shock surged through her, sending tingles all over her body. Her stomach felt as if a pestle was running along the inside of a stone mortar. Several futures flashed by her vision, too fast to hold, then his past dragged her in. She heard screams of terror and pain, and smelled the stench of burning flesh. This man was burning in the fire of his own soul.
The tavern bustled with women - whiteseers hanging about in the hope of earning a copper, traders celebrating deals, bellydancers clinking finger cymbals - women who neither backed away from him nor screamed.
The youngest of the entertainers wound her way between the benches towards their table, the tassels on her slender hips bouncing, the rows of copper rings on her sash tinkling with every snaky twist. Since she seemed nervous, as if it was her first show, he sent her an encouraging smile. Ignoring him, she shimmied to Lord Govan.
The djinn slithered inside Dahoud, stirring a stream of fury, whipping his blood into a hot storm. Would she dare to disregard the Black Besieger? What lesson would he teach to punish her insolence?
Dahoud stared past her sweat-glistening torso, the urge to subdue her washing over him in a boiling wave. For three years, he had battled against the djinn's temptations. To indulge in fantasies would batter his defences and breach his resistance. He focused on the flavours on his tongue, the tart citron juice and the sage-spiced mutton, on the tender texture of the meat.
Govan clasped the dancer's wrist and drew her close. “Come, honey-flower, let's see your blossoms.”
She tried to pull herself from his grip. Panic painted her face. Against a lesser man's groping, she might defend herself with slaps and screams, but this was the lord-satrap. She was too young to know how to slip out of such a situation, and none of her older colleagues on the far side of the garden noticed her plight. The other clerks at the table laughed.
“My Lord,” Dahoud said. “She doesn't want your attentions.”
“She’s only a bellydancer.” Contempt oiled Govan's voice. Still, he released the girl’s hand, slapped her on the rump, and watched her scurry towards the safety of the musicians. ““These performers are advertised as genuine Darrians. I have a mind to have them arrested for fraud. I suspect ...” He ran the tip of his finger along his eating bowl. “They're mere Samilis.”
Dahoud, himself a Samili, refused to react to the jab. Govan was not only satrap of the province, but Dahoud's employer, as well as the father of the lovely Esha.
“Samilis are everywhere these days.” Peering down his nose, Govan swirled the wine in his beaker. “Not that I have anything against Samilis. Given the right kind of education, their race can develop remarkable intelligence, practically equal to that of Quislakis. They can make valuable contributions to society.” He stroked the purple fringe of his armband, insignia of his rank. “Provided they respect their betters.”
The other clerks at the table bobbed their chins in eager agreement.
Dahoud the Black Besieger would not have tolerated taunts from this pompous peacock, but Dahoud the council clerk had to bow. Submission was the price for guarding his secret.
At the entry arch, a short man in the yellow tunic and turban of a royal rider was consulting with the tavern keeper.
“Is that messenger looking for you, my Lord?” Dahoud asked.
Govan shifted into his official pose and summoned the man with a flick of his sandalwood fan. The courier walked on bowed legs as if he still had a mount between his thighs. Conversations halted, glances followed him, and whiteseers peered, anticipating business.
Lord Govan put on his official smile to receive the leather-wrapped parcel.
“Forgive me, my Lord,” the herald said. “The message I carry is for Dahoud, the clerk.”
Govan’s hand pulled back and his smile vanished.
Dahoud's stomach went cold: The Queen or her Consort would not write to an ordinary clerk. After three years of respite, his anonymity was breached. He stripped off the camel-skin wrap and broke the scroll's seal. The ends of the purple ribbon dropped into the mutton sauce.
“The High Lord Kirral, Consort to the Great Luminous Queen, greets Dahoud, council clerk in the satrapy of Idjlara: Present yourself at the palace without delay. The Queendom needs the Black Besieger. K.”
The expansive curves of the signature “K” claimed more space on the parchment than the message.
In his bowl, the uneaten mutton was going cold, whitish grease separating from the sauce. A large fly drifted belly-up in the liquid, its legs clawing for a hold in the air. The memories of siege warfare wrapped around Dahoud, those sour-sweet odours of fear and faeces, of disease and burning flesh.
At twenty-five, he had a conscience heavier than a brick-carrier’s tray and more curses on his head than a camel had fleas. He had left the legion to cut himself off temptation, to deprive the djinn of fodder. After a siege, rape was legal, a soldier's right, practically expected of him, part of the job. By returning to war, he would forfeit his victories over his craving. The djinn would again be his master.
Yet he ached to wear the general's cloak again, to silence sneering bureaucrats, to make women take notice. He lusted for that power the way a heavy drinker, deprived of his solace, ached for a sip of wine. The yearning to wield a sword ached in his arms, his chest throbbed with the urge to command, and his loins flamed with the dark desire. He felt the panting breaths of women and their hot resisting bodies, smelled the scent of female fright and sweating fury.
“Why is the Consort writing to you?” Govan leant forward to grab the document. “You’re out of your depth with royal matters. I'll read and explain.”
“Why should I want your counsel?” Dahoud tucked the rolled parchment into his belt.
“Don’t get pert, Samili!” Govan barked. “Give me that letter.”
“The Consort summons.” Dahoud rose. “Good afternoon, my Lord. Don't expect me back soon.”
He strode to the exit, his mind reeling like a spindle. Could he deny that he was the Black Besieger? Refuse a royal order? Lead an army without stimulating the djinn?
On a low stone wall near the entrance gate, a row of whiteseers perched like hungry birds. Whiteseers had glimpses of futures others could not even imagine. One of them slid off the wall and sauntered in his direction. A coating of pale clay covered her sharp-boned triangular face and her long hair, and painted black and blue rings adorned her clay-whitened arms.
“Your hands,” she demanded.
“I need to know what will happen if -”
“Give your copper to a soothsayer,” she snapped. “We white ones only give advice. We can see the future; we can see several futures for everyone, but we won’t tell you all we see.””
“Advice is all I want.”
“That’s what they all say. Yet everyone asks for more. I give one piece of advice, the best I can give to help a client. They always demand that I tell them what I see. Well, I won’t.” Nevertheless, she grabbed the copper ring from Dahoud’s fingers and threaded it on her neck-thong. Her tunic smelled of old sweat and mouldy wool.
She grasped his hands to pinch their flesh, her long nails tickling. Her white paint contrasted with Dahoud’s bronze tan. When she felt the pulse and lifted his hand to her face to listen and sniff, he could have sworn he saw her blanch under the white clay as her closed eyes stared into his past. She sagged forward and stayed in a silent slouch.
At last she straightened, her eyes wide, her mouth open, but no words burst forth. So she had seen what he had done, and worse, what he might do once more.
“I assure you, I'll never again...”
“I can’t read if you chatter.” She frowned at his hands. “My advice: Get stronger arms.”
He flexed his biceps, startled. “My arms are strong! I do trickriding, I wrestle, I lift weights.” Every night, Dahoud exercised until his muscles screamed, to block out his cravings and punish his body for its desires.
The seer’s mouth curled with contempt, making more clay crumble. “You’re not listening. I didn't say strong. I said stronger.” She pinched his biceps. ““Much stronger.”
“What difference can arm muscles make?”
“I told you to give your copper to a soothsayer.” She ambled off, leaving a cloud of unwashed stink and crumbles of clay.
Dahoud hurried to the stable to ready his horse. He had to persuade the Consort not to send the Black Besieger back to war.
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About the Author
Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2 and 3 (mild horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes, The World-Loss Diet and Writing Scary Scenes (instructions for authors).
She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more.
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