The Harvest King - Paula Quinn
Once upon a time in a land on the brink of death…
The land was parched and cracked in thick, creviced zigzags, reminding the commander Caleb Desai, leader of the Warriors of the mirror his sister had thrown at him back home in Shondravar. The steady clatter of horses’ hooves against the hard, dead earth was almost soothing in its rhythm, lulling his heart like a sweet song composed to help him forget what used to be. But nothing could ease the anguish that overwhelmed him when he scanned his gaze over the scorched, sunburned expanse of Predaria, a place once rich with life and vibrant color.
It had stopped raining over a decade ago. He could barely remember the beautiful old oaks, with their deep greens, golden yellows, and rich russet crowns that had painted the now barren plains. He’d been a boy when he saw them, before the usurper King Baltrasard had them all chopped down and brought to a distant land.
The Warrior longed for a cool, refreshing breeze. The kind that made the leaves sing and dance against the downy blue horizon. Or a stream where he could let his horse drink from the thin rivulets of current dappled in sparkling sunshine. Such had once existed. The memory was nothing more now than something like a dream. Or perhaps a nightmare.
He lifted his gaze to the blistering sun and almost cursed it. But the sun was not at fault for this once fertile land’s terrible demise. No, Predaria had been destroyed by one man’s greed.
That man was finally going to pay.
Like a wolf sensing danger, the commander tilted his head to the right; listening to a thunder from the ground so silent only his snowy white steed could sense it and bucked nervously beneath him. He lifted his hand to the small army of men behind him, halting their advance. He dismounted with animal-like grace, sending tiny tendrils of chalky dust up the thick hide of his boots when they touched the ground.
Squatting to meet the land that cried out to him, he rested his palm on the fissured ground and waited.
He wore a black mask around his eyes, painted in charcoal and ash to deflect the sunlight. When he lifted his gaze to study the distant plains beneath the glaring sun, his eyes were the color of a long forgotten turquoise sea. His nose was straight yet ruggedly sculpted. His jaw was square and strong and shadowed in dark golden hair almost matching his sun-bronzed skin. His sun-streaked hair flowed to his shoulders, held away from his eyes by a thin crimson and green bandana.
He squinted under the burning fire of the heavens and could just make out the tiny distant castle shimmering in the heat like a mirage, an oasis of wealth amid the blistering hunger of the commoners. He hated the sight of it. He hated everyone in it.
“What are we waiting for, Caleb?” Mounted high on a black stallion behind him, Jonas, his second in command adjusted the thick, black leather straps that decorated his bare chest like war paint. The movement tilted the heavy broadsword further to the right against his back. He shifted uncomfortably in his saddle, his deep scowl making his red mustache droop over his upper lip. “Are we taking the castle or not? The skin atop my head is beginning to blister even through my bandana.”
Caleb replied indifferently, “There are worse things than having your head fried.” He kept his eyes on the cloud of dust rising from the road a long way off. His voice lowered to the resonating echo of a primitive drum. “They’re coming.”
He turned to Jonas and nodded. His second grinned and then wheeled his horse to the men behind them.
Lifting his face to the merciless sky, Caleb’s second began a blood-curdling battle cry that must have chilled the blood of King Baltrasard’s most resolved soldiers across the Great Plains as they advanced. And, as the others joined Jonas, the sound rose up as high as the cloud of dust swiftly approaching from the castle.
Listening to the ancient cry of his men, the Warrior’s heart grew hard, but his expression remained calm, unchanged.
With a single leap he gained his saddle and lifted his face toward heaven, blending his voice with the voices of the others.
Pale moonlight splashed across the plains, giving the illusion of a cool, nightly breeze by the time the Warriors reached Castle Silvergard.
The Lord had been with them, for they hadn’t lost a