Excerpt from LUCIEN

Unable to lie there any longer and not do anything, Lucien gradually raised himself up on his elbows to peer over the physician, to where the one fire on this side of the stream was almost reduced to embers. The pit still put out heat, but the flames were mostly gone. The moon had returned, giving him ample light to see by.

Two figures moved to the right. Immediately he could tell there was a third figure between them. A figure that looked to be struggling, albeit weakly.

The hair on his head rose. Someone was being dragged away, and his senses told him the instigators weren’t soldiers.

A copse of trees sat less than a dozen feet away. Rising onto the balls of his feet, he scuttled sideways into the shadows, using the bodies of those sleeping to cover his movement. When he reached the trees, he advanced toward the silent commotion. As he drew nearer, he could hear more whispering, although the words were still too soft to make out. There was another whimper, this time answered by a flat thud that sounded like a fist hitting something solid. A moment of silence followed, forcing Lucien to pause.

A grunt. He strained to listen, calling silently on his Mutah half to expand his senses enough to make out what was being said. The wind answered by becoming totally silent. That was the break he’d hoped for.

“How are we going to get her up to the top of the embankment?”

“We don’t, we’ll take her downstream and drown her there. The water will carry her away.”

Lucien froze. One voice he recognized. It was a voice burned in his memory. The same voice that had growled at him earlier that evening.

“Do you think this is funny, pup?”

At the same time, he remembered Johna’s apprehension and fear. Her worry had increased after they’d eaten, and he’d had to excuse himself to set up his bedroll within the battle lord’s protective circle. She hadn’t wanted them to be separated, but neither of them had a choice.

The two figures began walking away from the encampment. He could tell they were following the stream, and in the moonlight a slight figure lay slung over the big Mutah’s shoulder. A figure he immediately recognized.

Put her down!

He dashed toward the opening, sword raised, and aimed directly for the man carrying Johna. The two Mutah whirled around in surprise. That couple of seconds gave him the opportunity to get closer, until the big man took off, leaving his companion behind to face Lucien. Holding Johna’s unconscious body secure over his shoulder, the man raised his spear with his other hand and pointed it at him.

Code Yellow!” Lucien yelled, warning the others who’d been roused by his initial shout. The code meant there was a serious problem, but not life-threatening. At the same time, he swung his sword, hitting the spear behind the tip. The blade sliced through the wood, making the weapon useless.

The Mutah tossed the wood and pulled Johna from his shoulder, holding her up and out like a shield. Realizing he couldn’t use his sword again for fear of hitting her, Lucien did the one thing he’d been taught never to do.

Pivoting around, he squatted and threw his sword at the man. The Mutah stepped away, believing Lucien was aiming for his legs. But he was totally unprepared for the battle prince to let go.

The razor-sharp blade winked in the moonlight as it twirled toward the big man. At the last second the Mutah realized he needed to jump, but Johna’s body was an added weight his body couldn’t compensate for.

The sword struck the man below the knees, embedding itself sideways into both legs. The man screamed and dropped the young woman onto the rocks. Lucien glanced at her, then at the rapidly departing figure in the distance as the big man collapsed.

“Who?” Atty’s voice whispered beside him. Simultaneously, the tip of an arrow appeared at the corner of his eye.

Lucien pointed to the runner. “Him.”

She didn’t question why. The arrow softly sang as it whizzed through the air, and the figure pitched forward, face down, into the water.