Charged by the Elders with saving the castle from attack, Tardon and Arianna risk the curse when they traverse the vast outer realm to retrieve serum from the Tree of Life. If successful, the Elders have promised Tardon the right to marry and Arianna the cure for her brother's death fever.
In a world where marriage is forbidden, sex is only granted to male warriors, and the outer realm is full of murderous creatures, Arianna fights to protect the life of her only living relative, her brother. Tardon, an elite warrior, is granted anything he desires by the Elders, but finds little joy in the voluptuous women presented to him. Born for the bloodlust found only in battle, complicated emotions emerge when he discovers his equal in the alluring warrior, Arianna.
Charged by the Elders with saving the castle from attack, Tardon and Arianna risk the curse when they traverse the vast outer realm to retrieve serum from the Tree of Life. If successful, the Elders have promised Tardon the right to marry and Arianna the cure for her brother's death fever. Will their love carry them through or will the discovery of a great deception be their ultimate demise?
Tardon choked down his grief. To stand as a criminal before the people he once protected was the only way to save Arianna. The people worshiped him, maybe even more than the Elders did.
Saldor narrowed his gaze. “I have assured the Elders that you will not make a spectacle. You will come without incident or Arianna will suffer the consequences.”
Tardon pushed from the floor. Once out of the cell, he straightened and stretched the stiffness from his back. Maybe death would bring peace. As he shuffled to the courtyard above he knew the transition to the next life would be painful, but the afterlife did not frighten him.
They exited the tunnels and, even with the overcast skies, he still shielded his eyes from the sun, the brightness a stark contrast to the darkness of the dungeon.
Voices echoed down the cobblestone path that led to center court. When he reached the opening, all the inhabitants of the kingdom’s eyes were on him.
Many chanted his name. A dirty-faced woman tried to touch him.
“Burn the woman!”
“She’s a witch!”
Hatred spread faster than death fever through the crowd. How quickly the people betrayed a woman who had protected their families from evil beyond the walls.
Shouts continued from the nameless, faceless crowd. Guards guided Tardon through the mass of people and he stepped onto the center block where most sentences were carried out. He opened his mouth and the crowd fell silent in respect. As he stood there, needing to speak, burning to speak, no words flowed.
The inhabitants of the castle looked at him, waiting for his declaration of Arianna’s magical seduction. Arianna needs you. With a cough, he cleared his throat and raised his chin. “I speak to you today to clarify events, to answer the charges against myself and my fellow warrior, Arianna.”
“She must burn!”
Tardon raised his bound hands to quiet the crowd, and he noticed fellow warriors lining the back wall. They stood with hard, blank stares as well-trained warriors should. His biceps strained as he pulled at the chains between his wrists. “I pray you, listen to my words. Arianna is a warrior and possesses no skills as a witch.”
“He lies,” a man’s voice carried from deep within the crowd.
“She still has him under her spell,” a woman shrieked.
“No! It was not Arianna who betrayed the Elders’ laws, but me.”
A hushed mumbling overtook the peasants, shopkeepers, and warriors. The ones Tardon had protected now stood in judgment over him.
“I…I confess to forcing myself on the innocent warrior Arianna.” Tardon choked on her name. The chains rattled but he steadied his shaking hands despite his longing to end this farce. Never had he witnessed so many faces contort in disgust at him. He’d been a person that others desired and idolized. Now he stood as a traitor to his people and a monstrous enemy to women.
Tardon sucked a welcomed breath into his stale lungs. It worked. They believed him, Arianna would be spared.
“Burn them both!”
“Yes, burn them both! Neither is innocent.”
“Bring the woman out!” one voice rang loud. Then the words spread like fleas on a donkey, and the crowd chanted, “Burn them both! Burn them both!”
His gut twisted with grief. “No! I am to blame. Why do you not listen?” The chains clanked as he pushed toward the crowd.
Arianna appeared at the edge of the court in torn and dirty clothes, but at least they’d clothed her decently in a peasant dress. The Enforcer that had discovered them grabbed her now short hair and dragged her to the front. Tardon spotted raw, red swelling on her cheek and temple. Someone had struck her.
A desire to kill whoever had hurt her burned to the surface of his skin. Cracks sounded as he strained against the iron shackles. The guard next to him stepped back to summon reinforcements.
“Burn ’em both! Burn the warriors! They take our food and live like Gods while we starve!”
“More food fer us,” a tangle-haired woman called from below.
Tardon’s shoulder burned as he continued to fight against the shackles. “Warriors, take notice. These are the people we die protecting.”
Warriors stepped forward in defense against flying insults, but the Elders stood on the tower, motioning the fighters to remain at their positions. Tardon observed the other warriors’ disgust, but all he cared about was Arianna being pushed and shoved like a disobedient servant.
Arianna smiled at him as she stumbled up the wooden steps. No time for remorse at defying the Elders’ laws, the people called for blood, and they would both burn in the fires now.
Tardon shuffled to Arianna, knocking a guard out of the way.
Arianna lifted her bound wrists over him and let the chains fall down his back. “If we are to burn, let us give them a reason.” Her eyebrows rose, and a soft smile curved her lips before she opened them and pressed herself against him, her sweet mouth opening against his.
Screams of shock rang out from below, but Tardon ceased to worry about being branded a traitor and gave in to his passion, hoping it would follow him to the next life. The world spun and the screams diminished into a distant lull, while the sweet, berry taste of Arianna urged the passion inside him. Every hair on his body stood to attention. His hands roamed down her hips and squeezed them close to his. Their heartbeat became one pounding rhythm, echoing through their souls.
Hands wrapped around his bicep and throat to rip him away. Her chains pulled hair from his scalp as they raked across his head.
“Burn ’em, burn ’em now!” The chanting shattered his dream state as they were dragged from the town square to the inner fires.
He fought as they maneuvered the tiny cobblestone walkways, leaving a line of disabled guards in his wake. Warriors were ordered by the Elders to subdue him.
The group rounded the corner, bringing the wooden post of the Fire Pit into view. At least Arianna and I will die together. Warriors, his former friends, bound him to the wood.
“May the Elders forgive you in the next life.” The mumble came from his comrades while they removed his chains and tied his wrists together behind him.
Arianna’s soft hand found his and they interlaced their fingers.
An Apprentice shouted from the tower, “May this be a lesson to all who defy the Elders.”
Tardon’s pulse thudded and he squeezed his sweaty palm against Arianna’s. Fear threatened to take hold as he imagined Arianna suffering. Desperate, he addressed the crowd one last time. “She is innocent. Her blood will be on your hands if you do this.”
A guard approached with torch in hand and held it in the air, waiting for the Apprentice to give the order. Heat radiated from the orange flames dancing at the end of the stick.
Tardon held his breath, hoping the Elders would spare Arianna, but the Apprentice’s arm lowered and the guard stepped up to light the fire.
Smoke attacked Tardon’s lungs. Unable to shout his protests any longer, he tried to turn his head to see Arianna behind him. Even over the smoldering debris, he detected her unique scent. “I am sorry I brought this upon you. Die knowing this was not of your doing.” His lungs seized with a cough as the debris below the wood smoked, and his head dropped to his chest. “I failed you.”
The orange and yellow glow spread and crept out from below the wood. Arianna moaned from behind, and he stomped his feet rapidly to find relief from the burning.
His mind reeled, searching for a way to save her. As the flames grew and danced against the wood, he realized he was unable to save the most important person in his life.
Today, they would both die.
only .99 for limited time
About the author:
Ciara Knight writes with a ‘Little Edge and a Lot of Heart’ with her contemporary and paranormal romance books.
Her most recent #1 Amazon bestselling series, Sweetwater County, has topped the charts and received acclaimed reviews.
Her international best-seller, Pendulum scored 4 stars from RT Book Reviews, accolades from InD’Tale Magazine and Night Owl Top Pick.
Her young adult paranormal series, Battle for Souls, received 5 stars from Paranormal Romance Guild and Night Owl’s Top Pick, among other praises.