#SampleSunday - The Healer

#SampleSundaychampagne booksDani Collinsepic fantasyexcerptfantasy romanceThe Healer

After freeing Athadia from the Shotes and discovering she's Alvian, not Kerf like him, Vaun realizes they need a healer if they want to survive the long march home. Over night, he holds her to keep her from escaping. She allows it because she needed the deep healing of contact with her kind. This is the next morning:

Vaun woke to an unpleasant peeling sensation on his front, as if his skin was pulling away with the removal of a bandage adhered to a wound. He opened his eyes to find Athadia trying to ease herself from his embrace and reflexively tightened his hold. “Where are you going?”

“I’m thirsty.”

He glanced at the slumbering men, the dead fire, the fading stars. They’d only slept a few hours, but he felt ready to march for hours. He was thirsty too, though.

Relaxing his hold, Vaun winced at the chill as Athadia moved away. Odd. The cold didn’t usually bother him, certainly not to the point where he would consider dragging a woman back into his arms when he had men’s lives on the line.

Motioning her to wait, he shook Chador awake. “Ready the men. I want to move.”
Chador sat up while Vaun followed Athadia to the stream below the slope of the bank that edged the camp. They cracked ice that curled in jagged teeth over boulders and drank deeply. Then Athadia harvested algae, letting it hang in black strings from her fingers as she offered it.

“To eat?” he asked, askance. “No.”

“It tastes better stewed, but it’s nourishing.” she said, eating it herself.

Since she hadn’t touched the Shote food, he waited patiently while she ate her fill, watching her gather small pebbles and arrange them into a marker while she did.

“For your people?” he asked, debating the danger of Alvians tracking them versus Athadia’s need to rejoin her people. “Do you have a family to return to? A husband?”

“Family, yes.” In the climbing light he thought he saw sorrow flicker over her face. Stark doubt was disciplined into a mask of determination to hope before she looked up with inquiry. “Husband? That means life-mate?” She shook her head then asked with interest,

“You?”

“No,” he said, relieved there’d been no transgression last night, holding another man’s wife. “I have sons, but my wife is gone.”

As she nodded thoughtfully and turned to wash her hands and face, he told himself he had simply wanted to ensure she didn’t escape last night and offer reassurance she was in no danger from the other men. But the men wouldn’t touch her and he could have tied her up to keep her from running. No, his motive for holding her hadn’t been so innocent. He wanted her, this unusual woman. The desire to steal a kiss now, without his men nearby to witness it, engulfed him.

But he only had to recollect the dread in her eyes when she had thought he’d make her whore for their entire party and he found the will to restrain himself. Besides, they were merely fellow travelers. She had people to return to. Parents, it sounded like, who deserved to know she lived.

Nevertheless, as she led him back to camp, he hung back and kicked over her marker. He’d already lost men. The challenge of this march motivated him to keep her as long as possible.

Back in camp, however, that fool Gunar questioned her use even as he sat with his boot off, his sole gray and pocked with running blisters. Obviously he had dodged Vaun’s order last night for all the men to present for healing as necessary.

He looked at Athadia and jerked his head toward Gunar.

“No,” Gunar said with a stubborn scowl in her direction.

Athadia held up splayed hands, saying in Shote, “I can’t help him if he refuses.”

Vaun set his hands on his hips, regarding Gunar. “You refuse my orders?”

It was a transgression grave enough for the rest of the men to slow their movements, quieting so they could hear without appearing to.

“I refuse to be disloyal to my Ducetta. Isolda would not approve of my consorting with the instrument of her brother’s death.” He aimed a filthy look at Athadia.

Anger and culpability were twisting Gunar’s view of the situation. Vaun saw it and knew this ripple was only the first of the swamping waves of repercussions that would eventually roll from this folly of a march. However, he had a party of men to hold together and bring home safely. He wouldn’t let Gunar jeopardize that.

“You won’t survive if you don’t accept healing and I assure you, if you die from refusing the orders of a Kerf general, your loyalty will forever remain in question.”

Gunar snorted, and his mouth twisted in a sneer behind his stubbled beard. “My dying would work in your favor, wouldn’t it, General? Then your actions wouldn’t be questioned at all.” He cast a contemptuous look around the group of northerners, plainly dismissing them as Vaun’s co-conspirators.

The men shifted, glancing between Gunar and Vaun, no longer pretending they weren’t listening, anxious to see how he would react to Gunar’s insults.

“I shall answer to my king for my actions,” Vaun said. “Whether I also answer for using my sword to silence a seditionist is up to you.”

You can pick up The Healer through Champagne Books, Amazon US, Amazon CA, Kobo, or ARe.

You can also download a map of Kerfdom along with a Reading Guide and Character Guide from The Healer's book page.