Heir Of Hope, Book 3 – Follower Of The Word
By Morgan Busse
The great city of Thyra has fallen and shadows spread across the land. Rowen Mar, the last Truthsayer, is taken before the Shadonae. But the Shadonae are not who she thought they were, and now they want to claim her as their own. Caleb Tala, former assassin and prince, is now a Guardian of mankind. Exiled from his country, Caleb wanders the desert in search of his mother’s past and clues to who he is. These are the last days of the Eldaran race. Rowen and Caleb must find their way along the dark path set before them by their ancestors: to heal what was wounded and love where hatred grows. But the road is narrow and the darkness beckons. If either of them fails, all will be lost… And the human race will be no more.
Book three of the Follower of the Word series.
All of it, gone.
Caleb staggered against the wall inside the dark back rooms of the tavern, the shock at last catching up to him. The air was hot and stuffy, but he welcomed the darkness. He needed a moment to gather himself before going back out to Nierne.
A couple chairs lined the wall across from him and a candle burned from one of the rooms down the hall. The sound of laughter drifted between the wooden beads separating the back rooms from the main tavern. It smelled like a tavern too: smoke, bodies, and a subtle hint of the wines Dena stored back here.
Caleb leaned against the wall and lifted his right hand. The mark across his palm barely glowed now. As he watched, it faded until it looked like a patch of light skin, shades lighter than his own brown tones. So normal looking, so . . . inconsequential. Yet just over an hour ago he had pulled a blazing sword from his palm and fought with a monster he’d thought only lived in stories.
Sands! He still say Velyni in his mind . . . her beautiful body, her long dark hair, her sensuous lips. And the way her skin had peeled back, revealing what she really was: a shadow-like wraith. A Mordra, Nierne said.
Velyni almost killed him. If it hadn’t been for the Word’s power—
He closed his hand into a fist and dropped it at his side. Enough. The battle was done. He had survived. But the fight . . .
Had cost him everything.
He leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes. Everything he had worked for, everything dear to him, gone. He could still hear Corin’s voice and the crazed look on his face when he discovered Caleb had banished Velyni from the Lands.
“You are no longer a Tala. I strip you of your title, your family, and your wealth.”
No longer a Tala. No family. No money. No title. Everything he desired from life, now gone.
All but a handful of gold coins in the pouch hanging around his neck and a little more hidden here in Dena’s tavern. Not enough to start a new life elsewhere. And he couldn’t go back to his family’s estate. He had to leave Temanin now, and never come back.
Caleb released a soft moan and turned his face toward the wall. He pressed his forehead against the cold, rough stone. How ironic. He’d become the hunted. An exile with a death mark on his name.
What would he do now?
Caleb Tala. What a pleasure to see you.”
He started and looked up.
A woman stood to his left, an empty platter held against her hip. Her deep purple silk shirt opened low, and her long dark skirt hugged her hips, flowing to the floor in liquid waves. Black kohl lined her eyes and her lips were painted a deep red. Hoops hung from her earlobes, and a matching silver comb held back the rich, dark hair piled on top of her head.
Caleb straightened. “Dena. You look . . . well.”
She threw her head back and laughed, a deep throaty guffaw. “Always the flatterer.” She winked. “Been a while since you visited my humble tavern.”
“It has.” The last time was a year ago, when he staked out Delshad’s estate. How much had changed since then?
“So what can I do for you?”
He blinked, bringing his mind back. “My usual room. Wait, no.” He shook his head. “I need another room as well. Just for tonight.”
Her eyes widened. “two rooms? Someone with you?”
“Yes. No.” He rubbed the area just above his right eye with two fingertips. “I have a woman with me.”
Dena raised one eyebrow. “And you need two rooms? That doesn’t sound like you.”
He dropped his hand. “It’s complicated.”
She laughed again. “It always is with you. All right then. Two rooms. I’ll put you both at the end of the hall. Anything else?”
“Dinner. Brought to my room.”
Caleb shook his head. He needed his mind clear, to be ready for anything. He waited for Dena to leave, but instead she stood there, studying him. Her smile ebbed, leaving behind a frown. “Something is going on, isn’t it?”
He didn’t respond.
Dena nodded. “Yes, I can see it on your face.” He opened his mouth, but Dena held up a hand. “Come now, Caleb. We’ve known each other for years. I’d say I know you better than most, if anyone can know you.” Her dark eyes searched his. “I can see there is something wrong.”
He sighed. She was right If anyone knew him, it was Dena. He had spent years here in her tavern, using her place as a stakeout for his missions. A foul taste filled his mouth. Missions done for that monster, Velyni. He seldom talked to Dena when he came. He did his business and she made sure he was taken care of . Her concern now . . . touched him. Perhaps she would be willing to help. “You have no idea.”
“Anything I can do?”
Caleb hesitated. She might hand him over to the Keepers. Then again, she had watched his back before . . . “The Keepers are after me. If they come—”
“I’ll keep them off your back. Not the first time I’ve done that for you.”
He let out a long breath. I don’t want to see you get hurt.
Her eyes went wide. “Caleb Tala, I’m shocked. Do you have a heart now?”
A small smile crept across his lips. “Maybe.”
Dena shook her head. “The world must be coming to an end. Now go.” She motioned to the doorway. “I’ll take care of everything. Dinner will be up shortly.”
“Thank you, Dena.” He pulled his pouch from beneath his tunic. “Here, for everything.”
Her lips turned up in a wry smile and she held out her hand. He placed two gold coins in her palm. Her fingers closed around the gold.
If he could trust anyone, it would be Dena. If nothing else, she hated the Keepers and would thwart them out of spite.
Caleb cinched up the pouch and turned. Time to get back to Nierne.
He passed through the beads strung across the doorway, sending them clattering behind him. Nierne stood a couple feet away, her hood back. Brilliant red curls cascaded past her shoulders, a bright contrast to the dark room. He stared at her hair. How in the Lands could a woman who looked like Nierne be a scribe?