The Warrior Returns

 
 

The Warrior Returns
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A Bit of Background

This is the fourth and final volume of the highly acclaimed Antero series, which is now available in paperback from Del Rey Books. Here I spin the tale of Rali Antero's final battle to rescue her homeland and family legacy.

The warrior sister of the great Amalric Antero had thought she'd paid the highest price in her previous fights (The Warrior's Tale) against the forces of darkness. Sorely wounded in body and spirit, Rali dwells in a dream world of eternal summer and love. Then one day the Goddess Maranonia appears to awaken her.

Roused from her tomb of ice after fifty years, Rali finds that the entire


 
  Antero clan has been assassinated - save one. A golden child named Emilie who carries the hopes of all Orissa on her small shoulders. The enemy - a primitive but powerful force in the guise of a beautiful succubus called Novari - has used sorcery, murder and seduction to seize Orissa. Only Emilie, who carries the magical seed of the Anteros, stands in Novari's way to ultimate power.

Rali must cross vast wastelands and frozen seas to confront the great army of soldiers and wizards that Novari commands. Her only allies are the criminals of Orissa's underworld. And a delicate child named Emilie.

Opening Few Pages of The Warrior Returns

Chapter One - Citadel of Ice


 

 

My sword is a pen
My ink the blood of men
My paper the hearts of my foes.
My words are your fate
If you stray past the gate
And my book is the sum of your woes.

You know me as Rali Emilie Antero. In my first life I was a warrior. In my second a wizard. And then I slept for fifty years until My Lady Maranonia came to awaken me from my lover's arms.

Though she is a goddess whom I revere above all others I did not awaken easily.

My tomb was ice. The castle that held that tomb was ice and it crouched in a realm of frigid stone washed by frozen seas. But in my dreams I dwelt in a land of eternal summer where my lover Salimar


 

 

was queen. We lived in a crystal palace with jetting fountains and gardens of roses, pink and red and yellow. It was a life of laughing days and sweet sighing nights and I was loathe to leave it.

But the goddess said leave I must.

I was angry. "This was my reward, O Lady," I said, "for all the suffering I've endured in your service."

Maranonia smiled and that smile lit the vast chamber with its brightness. My ship gleamed silver, my chests of jewels gave off a rainbow glow and my weapons racks were sharp glittering steel. I rubbed my good eye, disturbed by all that light. Beside me Salimar stirred in her down coverlets and whispered my name.

My left arm throbbed and I groaned from the ghost pain. The pain made me angrier still. I'd sacrificed an eye and a hand for my goddess and my people. A golden eyepatch covered the right socket and a


 

 

small scar cut that same cheek. I had a magical golden hand in place of the living one, which I'd lost in the mines of Koronos.

Although it worked much better than the one I was born with, it was a hurtful reminder of all I'd suffered to earn this sleep.

I dared to turn my back on the goddess, snuggling close to Salimar. I was determined to drift away to our land of summer dreams. There I was whole. There I was fresh. There I was free of all trials. There my only concern was the daily gift I'd choose for my lover. Would it be a bouquet of wild meadow flowers to grace her hair? Perhaps a song bird to enchant us that evening before we freed it to bless our embrace.

Maranonia's voice rang through: "Rise up, Rali," she commanded. "Your sisters have need of you."


 

 

The Guard in peril? I bolted up.

I hid my alarm with a snarl: "Tell them to seek another."

"There is no other," the goddess answered.

"I've done enough," I said. "Let me rest."

But I swung my bare legs over the lip of the coffin of clear blue ice that held our bed.

Behind me I heard a sob.

It was Salimar, weeping in her sleep.


 

 

Maranonia was tall, her peaked helmet nearly touching the vault's distant roof, black tresses tumbling to her shoulders. In one hand she held the torch of truth. In the other her spear of justice. Her boots were gold, her tunic shone white under her light mail. Her eyes glowed like an armorer's hearth. The air crackled with her power. But I did not fear her.

I have defied the gods before.

The goddess sighed, her breath filling the chamber with the scent of violets.

She laughed and it was the sound of distant bells tolling the news of war. "Why do I put up with you, Rali?" I touched the eyepatch with my false hand. "I could ask you the same question, My Lady," I said. "I've honored you all my life. I've permitted my body to be mutilated in your service."

I turned, gesturing at the restless form of Salimar. Silver teardrops fell from her closed eyes. Her lashes were dark fans against smooth olive cheeks. The coverlet came away, exposing her sweet breasts to the chill.

I covered her tenderly, saying, "Why can't you let us be?"

"Your sisters will die," the goddess answered.


 
 


My reply was an accusation. "Death is no stranger to the women of the Maranon Guard, My Lady.

"How many souls have I delivered to you myself? Thousands? Tens of thousands? When will you be satisfied?"

Maranonia ignored this. "Orissa is in danger, Rali."

I shrugged. "So get my brother. Amalric never seems to weary of his civic duty."

We both knew my harsh words were lies. There was no one - even Salimar - whom I adored more than Amalric. Our mother died when he was very young and I'd heaped all my love on that red-headed child. That thought made my lips curl into a wry smile. No matter his age, no matter his accomplishments, Amalric would always be a child to me.


 
 
"Your brother is dead," the goddess answered.

Her reminder gashed open a wound I'd thought long healed.

I'd seen my brother and Janela Greycloak take their own lives in a vision. Although their death pact was joyous and its purpose was to gain another life in a world of splendors beyond, my heart still bled for him.

I tried to hide my pain from the goddess.

"Get another Antero, then," I said. "There's plenty to choose from. I come from a family of breeders."

Except for myself, I thought. I like children well enough. As long as they are the children of others. My own maternal stirrings are meager.


 
 


But I was standing by the tomb now, naked and shivering in that vast chamber of ice.

"All the Anteros are dead," Maranonia said. "Save you...

"... And one other."

I stumbled back from that bleak news. What catastrophe could have overtaken my family?

The goddess gestured and I was suddenly warm. I glanced down and saw I was dressed in the cloak and tunic and leggings of the Maranon Guard. My captain's badge was pinned to my shoulder. I felt earrings dangling from my lobes. I didn't have to investigate to know what baubles my goddess had chosen. There would be a miniature of Maranonia's golden torch in one ear, her spear in the other.

I sighed. "Show me," I said.

The goddess gestured again.

A cloud of purple smoke swirled up, then parted like a curtain. I was peering into a chamber. A child cowered in a bed. Two armed women in the uniform of the Guard were posted on either side.

They were gray-haired women - soldiers well past their prime.

I could hear shouts and the clash of weapons nearby. The child had Amalric's red hair. It was long and framed a delicate face with porcelain skin and eyes the color of sun kissed seas.

"She is your murdered nephew's child," Maranonia said, voice gentle.

"They've named her Emilie - for your mother."

I shivered, this time not from the cold.

There was a crash of magical thunder and the child cried out, holding up a small trembling hand as if to ward off a blow.

Instinctively I took a step forward to confront whatever it was that threatened her.

Smoke swirled and the image vanished.

Questions flooded my mind. Who would harm such a child. And why?

The goddess, as if reading my thoughts, said: "Emilie carries the seeds of great power, Rali.

"Power even greater than your own.

"With her rests all of the hopes of Orissa.

"If she is slain, all that you and your brother sacrificed so much for will be lost. Perhaps forever. For where will I find another Antero when you and she are gone?"

"Who has done this thing?" I asked.

As I waited for the answer my eyes flickered over the weapons rack, picking over the tools of my old warrior's trade.

"You know her," the goddess said, " as the Lyre Bird."

The shock was like the collision of two mailed giants.

"Novari? But I killed her!"

The goddess ignored this. "When next the snow falls in Orissa," she said, "the child Emilie will reach the first level of her powers.

"Our enemies are determined to prevent this."

I was aghast. "I have one year?" I said. "That's all?"

Then I babbled, testing my goddess's patience, no doubt, for it was obvious my decision had been made. "Why, it might take that long just to reach home!"

"Nevertheless," Maranonia said, "that is all the time I'm permitted to give you."

"Who sets these limits?" I bellowed. "What fool commands the heavens these days? Show me his holy face so I can spit in it!"

But my wrath hammered on emptiness.

The goddess was gone.

I conjured stores and loaded my ship. She was a fleet-footed little thing, single-masted and easy for one person to manage in any seas. The sails were silver, like the body of the ship itself. I called her my Ilumna.

I chose my weapons carefully, wrapped them in oil cloth, cast a spell to further protect them from rust and locked them in a trunk in the cramped cabin that did double duty as my quarters and a sail locker.

When I was done I approached the ice tomb. It was clear, like blue-tinted glass. Salimar looked small in the vast down bed that had contained us both only a short time before. Her auburn hair was spread out on the pillow and I ached to tangle my fingers in it. We'd twine our legs and arms and I'd be cast into that dream world again where we'd play forever and a day. A frown marred her beautiful face and I kissed the wrinkles to smooth them away. She said my name and opened her long slender arms.

But I couldn't stay.

I whispered a promise I wasn't certain I could keep. Then I kissed her again and closed the curved ice lid to lock her away from all harm.

I mounted the deck of my ship, grasped the tiller and cast the spell.

Lightning crashed and thunder drummed, drowning out my final whispered farewell.

Then I was sailing on seas of ice, the wind at my back and hate in my view.

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Copyright 1995 - 2017 Allan Cole . All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

Last Revised: January 29, 2011