The Turncoat King (The Rising Wave #1) - Michelle Diener
She was being hunted.
Ava stood still, at the very edge of the forest, and looked back among the trees as she'd done over and over since the attack the night before.
Last evening, as she’d slid off her horse to make camp, an arrow had just missed her, embedding itself in the bark above her head with a hard thud. She had leaped back onto her mount and ridden away as fast as she could.
Now she would have to move out of the protection the trees had given her and onto the steppes—into the open.
It would be a lot easier to aim an arrow at her out on the plain.
That's what worried her.
And yet, she had to move forward. There was certainly no going back.
It worked both ways, though.
The people chasing her had so far not been willing to reveal themselves, only attacking from a distance—if she counted last night as being the first attack.
There had been another—much more personal—attack on her at her grandmother’s estate. And she had wondered since last night if the two men responsible for that attempted kidnapping were the same men chasing her now.
No way to know until she caught sight of them.
She peered around the tree she was hiding behind again and saw no movement through the trees.
They were out there, though. She could sense them.
Perhaps they would wait until she was out of the woods to get a good shot.
She could make sure they never did.
She pulled a sewing kit from her pocket, removed her cloak, and began to embroider along the back of it, high up where it fell across her shoulder blades.
The horse moved restlessly beneath her, and her heart beat in rapid, bird-like hops. She was the most vulnerable she had been since the attack last night.
She had removed the only thing protecting her.
The thick wool was already decorated, but now she stitched in bows and flying arrows, grateful they were not difficult to create. Like everything else she'd woven into the cloak, she kept the color the same as the cloak itself, dark brown, making it difficult to see what she had done.
No sense proclaiming her protections if she didn't need to. Most people, she knew, wouldn’t understand what they were looking at, even if she’d done it all in gold silk.
A twig snapped underfoot a little way away, and her hand trembled as she tied off the thread.
She fumbled as she pulled the cloak on again, her breath speeding up as she secured it around her throat.
“Just be calm,” she told herself, and patted her horse's neck before urging her forward.
The mare leaped from the trees into the open as if she had been waiting for the chance. After the slow stop-start of the steep hills and the thick forest, the speed felt glorious.
Ava bent over her horse's neck and an arrow flew past her, the feathered fletching brushing her cheek, almost in a caress.
She laughed—she couldn't help herself—and urged the horse on, turning to see if she could catch sight of her hunter.
He stayed hidden in the gloom of the trees, and all she saw was the line of the forest edge behind her and the mountain rising above it.
She was out of Grimwalt at last, and into Venyatu, and she whooped as the mare plunged down the first hill and got her out of arrow range.
She had only escaped from the prison where her cousin had held her four weeks ago, and years of confinement meant she did not take the open space, the blue sky above, and the cut of the wind on her face, for granted.
The wide-open vista lifted her spirits, and she realized the dark gloom of the forest and the feeling of being prey had weighed her down these last few days.
The hill leveled out and then dropped away again, and the sight below forced a gasp from her.
An army was moving, horses and foot soldiers, wagons pulled by the ungainly but ground-eating yakkuna so beloved and entwined in Venyatux culture. Trailing behind them were the camp supporters, from cooks to engineers.
She let the mare have her head, not slowing or trying to hide as she headed for the column.
This was a good thing.
A place to hide. A place where she wouldn't have to worry about her dwindling food supply, and a place where she could sleep at night, instead of being in a permanent state of watchfulness.
Her hunters could hide here, too, she conceded, and it would be harder, amongst so many