The Talented Buy The Talented on Amazon now, or read my ode to The Talented and the first few pages free below.
Of all of the stories that I have written over the years, The Talented is the one that I hold closest to my heart. And for that reason, it is the one that I worry most about.
Sharing "The Kingdom of the Light" with the world wasn't scary. Yes, it was my own creation, but it was a work of an afternoon, the creation of a story that came from an awesome first line that popped into my head and needed a story to go with it.
The Bodyguard I hold closer, and I will continue to work on it. It was born (is continuing to be born?) of NaNoWriMo, so it was fast and quick and fun. I like it, but it wasn't the labor of years.
Not like The Talented.
I feel like a champion right now. First book officially published!
The Talented was the labor of years. It is my labor, my editors', my cover designer's, and my proof-readers. And it is a first in a series, which is nerve wracking in itself. If The Talented is lacking, does that doom the rest of the series?
Thankfully, I don't think The Talented is lacking. But there's still that worry. Probably the same sort of worry that parents feel before sending their kids off to kindergarten for the first time. Will little Johnny be okay?, they wonder. I don't have kids, but I have my books, and that's kind of the same thing. When The Talented hits bookshelves (or Amazon, at any rate), I'll be pulling this excerpt. But for those of you who have stuck with me this far, here is what you can expect from The Talented when it goes on sale.
Update: Johnny is off to school AKA you can now go to Amazon and buy your very own copy of The Talented. Only the Kindle version is currently available, but expect to see the paperback join it in a couple of weeks.
An excerpt from Chapter One of The Talented
Adrienne wound her way through the back streets and alleys of Kyrog, taking a shortcut to the captain’s office. Her leather boots kicked up the dust that even hundreds of feet could not pack down as the drought scorching the plains stretched late into the season. Some of the alleys smelled of refuse that had yet to be cleared, but they were quicker and less crowded than the main streets. Adrienne was more worried about running late for her meeting with Captain Garrett than unpleasant smells.
She turned right, in the direction that would take her back to the main street and the captain’s quarters, and was surprised to find Lieutenant Nissen coming toward her.
“Lieutenant,” Adrienne said, snapping to attention with her left hand resting on the hilt of her sword.
“Adrienne.” The smooth voice would have been pleasant had it not been accompanied by those cold green eyes. His gaze ran over Adrienne’s leather-clad body, lingering on her breasts and the flare of her hips. “What are you doing, sneaking around the back of the officers’ hall?”
“I’m on my way to meet with the captain,” she said.
Nissen smirked. His combination of light skin and green eyes was rare this far south of the Almetian border. The man should have been attractive, but whenever Adrienne saw him she got a creeping feeling along her skin and wanted nothing more than to get away.
“I need to go, Lieutenant. I’m running late.” She tried to duck around him, but Nissen moved to block her.
“Surely you can spare a few minutes,” he said. “I want to talk to you.”
“Perhaps later.” Adrienne tried once again to get around Nissen, and was once again blocked.
“Join me for dinner,” he said, moving closer to her, crowding her against the back wall of one of the buildings. “We can talk then.” His hand traveled to her waist, resting on the flare of her hip. “Or we can do...other things.”
Adrienne reached reflexively for her sword, but his body was blocking the move, and it stopped her just long enough for her to come to her senses and remind herself that he was a superior officer.
“No,” Adrienne said, slipping to the right. “I can’t.”
Nissen’s other hand came up to block her escape, and he moved closer so that his body was pressed against her. He bent and put his mouth next to her ear. “I think you can.”
Adrienne froze. Over the years, other soldiers had made occasional passes at her, but never had an officer done so. With another soldier, Adrienne would have blown him off or forcibly ended the encounter. Once, when she had been in her early teens, a soldier had followed her to the river where she was bathing. She had left him gasping on the banks, clawing at the windpipe she had very nearly ruined. Despite being the only female soldier currently serving in the camp of over two thousand, she had never worried that she would start a fight she couldn’t finish.
But she wouldn’t fight Lieutenant Nissen and risk being expelled from Kyrog.
“Lieutenant Nissen, please,” Adrienne said, careful to make her voice sound respectful rather than pleading, “I’m supposed to meet with Captain Garrett.”
“You’ll have more fun with me,” Nissen promised, nuzzling her neck. When she tried to break free, his hand on her waist tightened painfully and he gripped the arm that tried to push him away. “Now, now, Adrienne, don’t fight me.” His mouth moved to hers, and she brought her knee up reflexively. Experience had Nissen twisting so that her knee connected with his muscular thigh instead of the more vulnerable area she had been aiming for. He made a tutting sound against her lips. “Bad girl,” he said. “I’ll have to teach you some respect.”He grabbed her other arm when she began to struggle in earnest, pinning it above her head, but pulled back abruptly at the sound of feet hitting the dusty ground behind him.
“What in the flaming Abyss is going on here?”
Adrienne looked to her left and saw Ricco standing there. He was built like a pago tree, not much taller than Adrienne but with a thick body and limbs. He could move deceptively fast despite his apparent bulk, and the rage on his dark face made him look every bit as lethal as she knew him to be. Adrienne was very glad that the savage expression that flashed across Ricco’s dark face was not directed at her.
“Rydaeg and I were having a discussion. A private discussion.” Nissen’s smile was tight, and he moved slowly away from Adrienne. “We’ll continue this later,” he told Adrienne before leaving the alley.
“Are you all right?” Ricco asked. She could see the effort it took for him not to yell or go after Nissen.
“I’m fine,” she snapped, but her voice wavered, and she realized that her hands were shaking.
Adrienne crossed her arms in a move meant to hide her traitorous hands. Ricco’s anger came back as he caught what she was doing. “What did he do?”
“Nothing,” she said, but the look in his eyes, so unexpectedly gentle and concerned, was too much for her to resist. She couldn’t help the words that spilled from her as she told Ricco about everything Lieutenant Nissen had said and done.
She had barely reached the end of her story when Ricco started heading in the direction the lieutenant had gone. “I’ll kill him,” Ricco growled. Adrienne quickly stepped in front of her friend, blocking his way. “Ricco, no.”
“I can make you move,” Ricco said, reaching out to grab her by the arms.
“Try it,” Adrienne said, but her voice lacked heat, and it wasn’t the customary bad temper that he saw in her eyes.
She was more than merely shaken by the encounter with Nissen, and Ricco’s hands moved up to rest on her shoulders. The weight was comforting, not threatening as Nissen’s touch had been. “If I can’t kill him, at least report this to Captain Garrett. He would never stand for what Nissen did.”
Adrienne knew that was true, just as she knew that she could never go to the captain. She had worked hard to build up a reputation that she could take care of herself, and she couldn’t have a man—even the captain—solving her problems. “You know I can’t do that.”
Ricco looked pained. “Ade, you can’t expect me to just let this go.”
“I can handle it,” Adrienne said, lifting a reassuring hand to his forearm. The nickname Ricco had given her soon after he had come to the camp reminded her of everything they had shared in their years of friendship, and some of the tension left her.
Finally he nodded and let his hands fall back to his sides. “I came looking for you because Captain Garrett was wondering where you were.” Adrienne had almost forgotten about her meeting with the captain. “I have to go see him,” Adrienne said.
Ricco forced a smile. “Go.”
Adrienne turned to leave, then looked back over her shoulder at her closest friend, the only real friend she could remember having. “Thank you.” Adrienne took a breath before entering the building that housed the captain’s office. She announced herself to the page, who turned and knocked sharply on the captain’s door. “Adrienne Rydaeg has arrived, sir.”
“Send her in.”
The captain was sitting behind his desk when Adrienne entered. His stern face, weathered and marred by a thick scar just under his right eye, was not smiling. “You’re late.”
“I’m sorry,” Adrienne said.
Captain Garrett glanced down at the pile of paperwork on his desk, then back up at Adrienne. “Now that you’re here, I have an assignment for you.”
Adrienne stood straight and alert, her hands folded behind her back, and Captain Garrett studied her carefully with his gray eyes, as if considering her uncharacteristic lack of curiosity about the assignment.
“Is everything okay?” he asked.
Adrienne nodded again. “Everything is fine,” she assured him. “What was it you wanted?”
Adrienne noticed the captain’s doubtful look, but whatever his thoughts he put them aside and continued. “There’s a new recruit here, from Roua,” he told her.
“I spoke with the soldier from Roua earlier,” Adrienne said.
“Not Freder,” Captain Garrett said. “A young recruit. Jeral Rosch. I want you to test him and ascertain his skill level.”
“Will he be in the Pen?” Adrienne asked.
“I expect he is. I want you to spar with him, then report back to me on his performance. He’s come to Kyrog because we train the best, and the captain at Roua thought he showed promise. We need to know where to start with him.”
Adrienne saluted and left in pursuit of Jeral Rosch, forcing herself to block out what had happened with Nissen so that she could focus her full attention where it belonged. On her job.
She found Rosch in the small training yard dubbed the Pen due to its tight position between three neighboring buildings. Rosch was leaning up against one of those buildings, talking to another Yearling whom Adrienne vaguely recognized. Their swords were propped up against the wall beside them, and both seemed completely unaware of her presence.
“Rosch.” Her voice cut through their quiet conversation like a knife and caused the young man to jump and spin around.
“You’re Adrienne Rydaeg.” Though her reputation preceded her, the young soldier seemed more eager than nervous to face her.
“I’ve heard about you from others who have come to Kyrog to train. They say you’re good.”
“I am,” she said simply. “I’m here to determine your skill level.”
Rosch grinned. “I’ve been training at Roua for two years. One of the lieutenants recommended that I come here, and my captain—”
“We’ll spar. No weapons.”
He looked over to where his sword rested. “I guess I’m ready, then.”
Adrienne unbelted her own sword and set it on the ground. She moved into the center of the pen, feeling the crunch of dried grass beneath her feet, and Rosch followed. He had a height advantage of more than a foot, and his fighting stance was confident as he faced her.
Adrienne had no doubt who would win.
They circled each other for only a minute before the Yearling made a move, lunging for Adrienne. She could see evidence of training in that move, but also a lack of finesse, and she sidestepped it easily. They repeated the maneuver again and again until Adrienne tired of the game. She ducked under a wild swing from Rosch and landed a hard punch to his gut. He doubled over and barely avoided catching her knee on his chin.
He staggered upright and back a few steps, and Adrienne kicked out high, her foot stopping a bare six inches from the Yearling’s throat. Rosch stood frozen, the arm he had moved instinctively to block her kick only halfway raised.
Adrienne lowered her leg, planting both feet firmly on the ground with her weight balanced on the balls of her feet in a fighter’s stance that was as natural to her as breathing. “That kick would have crushed your windpipe,” Adrienne told the boy, her brown eyes hard and a little mean as she studied him.
Rosch was breathing heavily from the short match, and his eyes were wide with shock. Maybe he was surprised that he had lost so quickly, but Adrienne suspected the surprise had more to do with the fact that he had lost to her, a young woman who stood only as high as his shoulders. A session with her taught new soldiers not to make assumptions about their opponent based on such trivial factors as size and gender, and that was one of the reasons Captain Garrett used her to test out the new recruits.
“I realize that,” the young soldier said stiffly, struggling to maintain some dignity despite the sweat dripping down his dark face. “Maybe you’re just slow, then,” Adrienne said bitingly. “Or maybe you are too damned naive to realize that female soldiers can be as great a threat as men.” He moved toward her again, apparently intending to take her down through sheer size. She allowed it, falling so that even as she hit the ground she was building momentum to roll. It took Rosch a moment to realize that she was not pinned, and then she was on top of his back, holding his shoulders down with her legs and locking his head with her arms. She held him a few painful seconds longer than necessary before letting go and getting up in disgust.
She took a deep breathe in an attempt to calm herself. She wasn’t angry with the boy. It was the lieutenants and captains that had handed him a sword and deemed him fit to fight that disgusted her. “You need to learn to control your body. If you don’t, you’re likely to end up with an Almetian knife where your throat used to be.”
Adrienne turned on her heel and left the recruit and the crowd that had gathered to watch her work. She moved with the sleek, predatory moves of a panther, her thick black braid swishing behind her like the tail of an angry cat. She was distantly aware of the bustle of soldiers and working civilians around her. Kyrog was always full of people, but she paid them no mind as she made her way once more to the captain’s quarters.
She welcomed the anger she felt over the soldier’s ineptitude. It helped to push away memories of what Lieutenant Nissen had tried to do earlier, before Ricco had chanced upon them.
Her anger at the Yearling’s lack of skill was very real. With the constant threat from Almet to the north and groups of bandits roaming the plains of Samaro looking for travelers or defenseless villages to plunder, it was up to men like Rosch to see that the land did not devolve into lawlessness. Although there had been little more than skirmishes with Almet in the last decade, everyone in Kyrog knew that Almet would soon bring its large military force against Samaro. Not only would Rosch and soldiers like him be useless against the soldiers from Almet, he would be a liability to the men fighting alongside of him.
Her anger carried her back to Captain Garrett’s office. The captain looked up from the stack of paperwork on his sturdy wooden desk and nodded to her.
“I finished sparring with Rosch.” He raised an eyebrow. “And?” Adrienne began to stalk around the small space, and Captain Garrett’s lips twitched with humor in response to the temper rolling off her. She cut a figure with the sword at her hip slapping against her thigh with each turn. Her swa’il, the snug fitting leather outfit designed for fighting, was dirty and stained with sweat, dirt, and what was likely blood.
“He was horrible,” Adrienne said when she finally came to a stop before the captain’s desk. Her dark complexion showcased her expressive brown eyes, and those eyes were burning. “We were sparring without weapons, and I had him beat almost before the match began. If this is the best we can expect from the east—”
“Rydaeg,” Captain Garrett interrupted, holding up a hand. “He is young. He only recently reached his majority. Roua does not offer the same experience to its soldiers that Kyrog does.” He smiled slightly. “And he was probably surprised by your talent.”
“I understand that, sir, but—”
“I don’t think you do fully understand,” Captain Garrett interrupted. “You are an exceptional soldier, and I rely on you as a teaching aid and for your exceptional skills. Part of the reason you are so exceptional is natural talent, but that is not what sets you apart. You have been a soldier nearly your entire life, and that is why you cannot fully understand soldiers like the one from Roua. You have never been where they are. It is possible that the soldier you sparred with this morning can spend the rest of his life training and never reach your level, but that does not make him a bad soldier. Any man brave enough to pick up the sword has my respect.”
“That was not a slight,” Captain Garrett said. “I do not fault you because the choice to become a soldier was not yours.” He studied her for a moment. “How long have you been training?”
“Sixteen years, sir.” “And how many of those years have you trained at Kyrog?” “Twelve,” Adrienne said, reluctantly following his line of logic. “Twelve years. Over half of your life has been spent at Kyrog being trained by some of the best soldiers in Samaro, yet you expect a soldier who has trained for less than a handful of years, and spent only a few days at Kyrog, to present a challenge for you?” Captain Garrett’s eyes bored into hers, and Adrienne had to force herself not to look away.
“Some of the Yearling recruits have been better,” Adrienne said, though she knew it was a weak argument.
“And others have been worse,” Garrett said. “Would you rather no one came to train at Kyrog?”
“Of course not,” Adrienne said. “Kyrog has produced some of the finest soldiers in Samaro, and it should continue to do so.”
Captain Garrett smiled. “You are worried that recruits such as this latest one will hurt Kyrog’s reputation. That our standards will be lowered if we allow soldiers such as Jeral Rosch to train here.”
Adrienne struggled with that truth, then sighed. “Yes,” she said, her tone taking on a distinctly defensive note. “I am not an elitist, but if we continue to accept soldiers such as this one, how can Kyrog maintain its reputation?”
“Rydaeg, I have no intention of letting Rosch become an instructor here,” Captain Garrett told her, his lips twitching slightly. “He, like others before him, will receive a year or two of intensive training at Kyrog before returning to Roua.” Adrienne looked about to say something more, but the captain held up a finger to stop her. “Kyrog breeds elite soldiers, but not everyone can train here. To help the larger war effort, we train some soldiers for a short time before they leave to share their increased knowledge and skills with others.”
Enough of Adrienne’s mad had worn off for the captain’s words to sink in. “Is it enough?” Adrienne asked.
There was no hint of a smile on Captain Garrett’s lips now. His dark face looked even more tired, his scar more apparent as his mouth hardened. “Every year, men from Kyrog go to the borders of Almet to support the soldiers already stationed there. They fight and die despite their superior skills, and we send more in their place. Almet is large and prosperous; it can summon vast armies. I don’t know if our efforts are enough.”
It was not what Adrienne had wanted to hear. She had hoped to have her doubts dispelled, not to hear them from her commanding officer. “Do we keep doing what we’re doing?” Adrienne asked when the tight feeling in her chest was too much to bear. What they were doing seemed too small, the task too enormous, to make a difference.
“Highly skilled soldiers like yourself are important, but numbers matter. A hundred Jeral Roschs would make a bigger difference on the border than one Adrienne Rydaeg, if your task was to fight. You have spent your life training and learning to be the best. Do you wish to simply leave Samaro to its fate?”
“No.” Adrienne didn’t need to think about it. “I will fight to my last breath to defend our country.”
Captain Garrett looked as though he had expected no less from her. Following her mother’s death, Adrienne had been enlisted into one of the private armies by her father, who hadn’t been able to afford four children. Soldiers had become her new family, and Samaro was the cornerstone of that family. Losing one meant losing the other, and Garrett would know that giving up soldiering was not an option for her.
“Then we continue on and hope that something turns the tide in our favor.”
I hope you enjoyed and download the full book when it goes on sale Friday, Feb. 12th!
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