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Cross of Death


by

Larriane Wills

Previously published as The Knowing.


  The boy was a puzzle, abused by the priests of Oldspushner, trained with the Knowing by the Sisters of Treach. He was dying when the assassin found him. The boy grew into the man calling himself Garran of Lockmer, a soldier for hire with a well-known hatred of all things Ives.

  Garran knew an ancient prophecy had marked him as Atat Comm and turned him into the hunted by those who carried the Cross of Death. Still, he sought a normal life and became the Governor of Sheritan. Princess Fayahstella, future Queen of Ives, fled from Caslock, the conqueror of her nation, seeking sanctuary in Sheritan. She can be no more than a helpless pawn to Garran to use the time of negotiations with Caslock for her surrender to safely evacuate the people he governed. He cannot consider her freedom more important.

  When the sun dawns, the princess has disappeared, Garran is a prisoner on his way to Caslock’s torture chambers and fractions of ancient religions struggled to fulfill the prophecy, one to save him and another to kill. Which one will win?


Excerpt

#1

From the Book of All Faith

It will come to pass the harmony and balance of Arbet, Treach, and Charah will fail. The great structure will collapse in strife; the tribes will scattered to form new nations, new names of God created. In the land of home, greed and jealousy will rule. The priests, once speakers and holders of the word of He Who Is All will betray the trust, twist and rewrite the words. The true meanings will be confused, new words false and corrupted, the purpose distorted. The sisters, once protectors and shields, must become the holders of truth as well as the secrets of The Knowing. The brothers, once the avengers and welders of retribution, will fall to confusion, divide, and turn their once purpose. A darkness of misery will prevail until mercy is shown to the faithful. Through the darkness of time will come the light of hope, a leader as well as speaker to guide, a shield to protect, and a sword to avenge, Atat Comm. 6


#2

 While the rider pondered the mystery, he lifted his head to listen to the sound of horses driven hard for the conditions of the night. Now he was hunted. With a muttered curse he rose to leave. By his personal code, any kindness meant weakness. To help a dying child would be an act of mercy. He would not permit himself any such flaw until a self-serving reason occurred to him. He returned to heft the child to his shoulder.

  Who would suspect a man traveling with a sick child to be an assassin? Not the troops he met on the road later.

  "I am Lockmer. This be my son, Garran," he stated in a voice sounding as a rake dragging over gravel. In the saddle in front of him, he held the unconscious child, wrapped tightly in a blanket. "I go to the nearest village in search of a healer."

  The night was miserable, wet and cold. The small force of Ives troops had sought shelter under a canopy of trees. The leader did not wish to leave the partial dryness to ask questions, to the assassin's benefit.

  "A fever," the assassin continued. He knew even the bravest and strongest of men feared the deadliness of unknown fever. "Came upon him sudden last eve."

  As expected, the trooper backed away. "We search for a boy of twelve, with dark hair and eyes. Have you seen such?"

  Surprised the troopers searched for the boy, not him, the assassin did well to hide it. "I have seen many boys in my travel with dark hair and eyes. This be Ives. Otherwise would be not common."

  "He has a burn on his back shoulder."

  "I've seen none without a shirt to know this."

  "In cassock and alone?" the trooper retorted angrily.

  "Nay, none alone and none in skirt. Why do you search for him?"

  "For murder."

  "A child?" the assassin asked, disbelief clear in his voice.

  The trooper didn’t answer. "If you see such a child, report it to the nearest trooper. A reward is offered. Now pass and stay wide."

  In a night of surprises for the man, the next he did not care for. The boy stirred, having given no indication till then he was awake and aware. A child had fooled him to annoy the assassin.

  "Why did you not give me over?" the boy asked weakly.

  The assassin grunted and said gruffly, "It benefits me at current time to be a father with a son. When the time comes it does not, make no mistake, I will leave you quickly behind." 


#3

  He turned to gaze at Evemet with an intensity that would have made any man squirm. His gaze had held Evemet uncomfortably the first few times he found himself under the dark, stony stare till Evemet learned most often the thoughts behind those eyes were not for him.

  "Time is our need," Garran said finally, "and to discover how much time we have will be to our benefit. She is here. We will make use of her to gain both. Bid her welcome and keep a messenger at the ready. If Caslock believes—"

  "You would bargain with Caslock?" Evemet exclaimed. He immediately altered his tone. They had served together for fifteen years, friends as well as fellow soldiers, but Garran was still his superior despite being younger, though his exact age was unknown. "Forgive me, Commander, but you cannot mean this. 'Tis well known Caslock's bargains bind only as long as suits him."

  "Negotiations may well supply our need for time to make ready. For Caslock to gain genuine title to the throne of Ives, he must have the princess in marriage, though invasion of Amor to pursue her may not be yet in his plans. Choose two of our best scouts. I must know if Caslock's troops mass, only a small party follows, or if any follow at all. He may well name hisself king without the bother of being encumbered by an unwilling queen. If in truth he wants her to give himself true title of king, a promise of easy access to her in exchange for Caslock's quick retreat without causing any damage here may well serve us."

  "You would turn her over?"

  "I speak of maneuvering for time," Garran answered tartly. "But if a choice is to be made, my duty is to Sheritan."


#4

  Garran and Evemet had received only a few hastily spoken words from the messenger as guidance in what protocol they were to follow. They had been told not to approach her and not to speak till she gave them leave to do so. Garran with Evemet slightly behind him, did not move or speak. Likewise, the princess did not speak or move, nor did the ladies behind her.

  As the seconds passed, Evemet said from the side of his mouth, "Mayhap something is expected of us."

  "You will forgive me, my Princess," a male voice said from behind the women, and a dark shape slithered through the door. Wearing a black, heavy silk cassock, he moved forward. His movements, controlled in mincing little steps beneath the folds of his garment, disturbed not the gold link chain around his waist with a cross of Oldspushner hanging from it. The skirt of his garment didn't move at all, giving the impression he glided to where he stopped a few feet from Garran. His hooded eyes flickered over the governor's plain, gray uniform in distaste.

  Garran stiffened at the sight of him and set his jaw firmly. Beside him, Evemet, who knew well the signs of Garran's anger, drew a breath and held it.

  "You will kneel," the priest ordered.

  "I will not," Garran returned coldly.

  A collective gasp came from the ladies. Garran, stone-faced and rigid, ignored it.

The priest, his height considerably less than Garran's, jerked up straight and slid closer. "I am High Priest Bashsay, Consular to the King, Guardian to Princess Fayahstella, future Queen of Ives. You will kneel to her."

  Garran responded tersely, "She is not my sovereign, and you are not in Ives."


#5

​  Garran went straight behind his desk from his short conference and sat down. He wanted to either scream in outrage or laugh at the absurdity of the list given to him of what was permissible to speak of in her presence and what was not, as well as how he must conduct himself.

  "What matter did you wish to see me on?" he asked gruffly and braced for her shrill answer.

  "The climate of your area is pleasant! 'Tis so the full of the year?"

  He blinked once, half-shook his head in disbelief over the question and answered. "Nay."

  In a soft voice she told him, "They cannot explain without imparting information. Knowledge destroys innocence."

  He said what came to mind. "It's ignorant to believe knowledge is a sin. Do you even know what that was all about?"

  Back to shrill, she told him, "The climate is similar in Copa! The winters are quite uncomfortable!" Softly she added, "If ignorance is truly innocence, we are in the extreme."

  "You and the Supreme Spirit?" he asked sarcastically, though he fell easily into her deception. Those listening on the other side of the door heard only her royal voice to believe they spoke of safe trivia.

  "The summers," she shrilled, "are quite mild!" Her voice dropped, not to answer but to ask. "Your rumors say we flee. Do they say if we are followed?"

  "It's expected," he told her and braced for the next attack on his ears.

  She did not disappoint him. "We are told mining is the commerce of Sheritan! We have mining in Ives! Are they the same?"

  He waited for the real question only none came immediately. She sat not with her hands folded primly but clenched tightly together. Looking from her hands to her shroud, he said, "Not all knowledge serves a sinful purpose."

  "Truth…" she whispered, "…is to be cherished for 'tis so rare."

  "Not in our world."

  "Will you be so truthful when we ask why you have granted sanctuary?"

  She might be ignorant of many facts, but she was intelligent. Frightened by what little she had learned, she didn't back away. Because of that he recklessly told her the truth.

  "I use false negotiations of your peaceful surrender to Caslock to provide time for a safe evacuation of the people of Sheritan, information I have no wish for Bashsay to be aware of."

  She shifted back to Royal. "We will leave in two days’ time!"

  "This is what Bashsay has said?"

  Still shrill, she answered, "This is what we order!"

  "I will not attempt to stop you if that is what you ask, but do not trust Bashsay. If he commands your guard, do not trust them."

  "We do not," she said softly, sighed slightly, and shifted back to Royal. "We would have our guards replace those of the mansion!"

  Garran scoffed. "Bashsay's order?"

  "How do you refuse?"

  With a slight smile he asked, "Interview over?"

  "You will call our ladies!" She added softly, "To tarry would bring suspicion." She waited until after he rang for Vasglow before saying, "The blue complements you much more than the gray."


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Reviews

These reviews are under its previous title, The Knowing 

 Nancy E. Merrill

4.0 out of 5 stars engaging characters        

I found the characters engaging and the world was well built. The plot needed some tightening but I would love a sequel.


Lucille

4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Romance with a Fantasy Twist

Great story. Surprisingly interesting. A young boy is displaced from his home to grow up riding with an assassin. A young princess is reared in seclusion, not allowed to learn anything, forced to talk in an unnatural voice, and watched constantly by the priesthood so she doesn't hear or see or feel any emotions. Ms. Wills brings the two of them together as adults, while their country is in conflict, and we watch as each of them change over time to become all they should be: he--as a man member of the Knowing group and she--as...Well, read the book and let the story draw you into itself. You won't be disappointed.


F. R. Robinson

4.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Put it Down!

The Knowing by Larriane Wills is a compelling historical fantasy novel. Ms. Wills draws a richly detailed picture of a culture and a society, and has created a memorable and admirable character in Garran of Lockmer. The Princess Fayahstella is also an interesting character and it is a real treat to watch her develop and grow throughout the course of the book. It is easy to see why Garran of Lockmer inspires so much loyalty from the people who serve him. I found the book hard to put down and read it straight through in one evening. I hope to see more from this new author!


EEagle

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars

Starts of and keeps going. Each page keeps you in suspense