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Blutjagdfrau Lost

By Brenna Lyons



Description

Rajicorin's mate has gone beast and released the Stone to the traitors.

The only way she'll live to hold her son is if she leaves the Warrior village behind and keeps herself hidden from both sides.

The war refugees believe Raji is a great sorceress, and legends of her spread. But the Stone is playing one of Her twisted games. Raji is carrying not just a son but also a daughter.

Orphaned at birth and left to be raised by the barbarian refugees, Korji and Ahdia have no idea which dark giants are friends and which are foes. It is up to Taigh and his family to win their trust and bring the lost children of Ani home to the Warriors.


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Excerpt

Chapter One

Rajicorin ran, leaving the new Beasts far behind. A roar of her name sent her stumbling into the bushes at the bend in the trail. She pushed up and set off again, sobbing in the realization that Jotem’s voice had become something to fear.

“Raji! Come back to me!”

To a Beast? To the King of Beasts?

The sky before her lightened to bands of pink and orange, promising safety. Safe enough to find Goven. Beasts couldn’t walk the day. Goven had told her as much when he’d foreseen this day.

He hadn’t foreseen Jotem turning against us. He is the strongest. We are surely lost.

Not yet. There is still our young one. He will be his father’s downfall.

It was a meager consolation at best.

“Raji!”

Rajicorin. I will never use the name Raji again.

“Do not make me chase you, Raji,” he warned. Jotem was closer, clearly chasing her already. “Raji, do not do this!”

Under other circumstances, she’d say he was panicked, but not now. Why didn’t he refuse? True, the others had held a blade to her throat, but they hadn’t dared kill her.

Or had they? Stealing her from Jotem’s bed carried a sentence of death. Threatening her life certainly did. The rogues had nothing worse to fear by following through, she supposed.

“I will find you, Raji. I will find you.”

Tears burned at her eyes. Now that he was a Beast, nothing would stop Jotem.

If I stay here. Every word of her training said she should seek her brother Goven’s protection.

Something more insistent whispered to her. {Go. Run. As far as you can.}

Rajicorin blinked in the first rays of the rising sun, her lungs straining to keep up the pace, though Jotem couldn’t continue his pursuit until sundown. The fork in the trail was only moments away.

Right. A right turn would take her to the huts that made up their village and the safety of Goven’s arms.

{Left. If you wish to live to hold your son, go left.}

Right. Go to Goven and safety.

{Left, Rajicorin. Nowhere is safe that is within reach of the Beasts.}

Goven—

{Stay and you will be dead in less than two moons.}

Raji stroked a hand over her growing womb. If she left, she would have nothing but the clothing on her back.

{And your amulet.}

If the stories Goven told were correct—and Rajicorin didn’t doubt her bother—the amulet would keep the Beasts from tracking her.

The foreign voice continued. {You also have the sacred weapon you took from the ground.}

Jotem’s blade. Rajicorin clenched the hilt in her sweat-soaked hand. She’d nearly forgotten she’d taken it when she ran. Over the years, Rajicorin had learned more than a little about using it, but she didn’t doubt she was no match for what was coming for her.

{Left!}

That trail was less used, and she skidded on the loose stones. They drew blood on one knee. Rajicorin ignored it, scrambled to her feet, and forged on.

{The river. They cannot track you if you swim.}

Questioning the voice didn’t occur to her. It was reasonable, calming...

Rajicorin plunged in and paddled to the middle, where the water moved fast. There was no roughland for a quarter day’s walk. If she stayed in nearly that long, it would be unlikely anyone could track her.

In less than half the time it would have taken her to walk the distance, Rajicorin emerged far downstream and on the opposite bank. She rested there for only a moment. Then she hid the signs of her escape and headed into the thick trees.

****

People. Rajicorin watched the group from the safety of the trees.

She’d never seen such a mixture before. Some wore animal skins. Others wore wovens. Still others, like herself, wore a mixture of both, but none in the style she wore, of course. Her clothing alone would mark her village, if anyone in this group was familiar with her kind.

Rajicorin shook away the shaft of fear that thought engendered and focused on them again.

There were babes carried in slings, in backpacks, and in parents’ arms. Some of the young were clothed in bits of cloth or fur. Others were naked. Likewise, the adults wore varying amounts of clothing from women with only waist wraps to women clothed to their ankles and wrists.

There were a few hide shelters like the Warriors would use when traveling. Only body-lengths away, there were stick shelters. Then simple tarp roofs over open camp sites. Behind them, she spied people moving in and out of caves.

Refugees from the battles. There was no other explanation for such a diverse mixture.

A twinge of regret settled in her chest. Somewhere, more than a moon of walking behind her, Goven and the other Warriors were fighting those battles. And fighting the Beasts.

When Rajicorin had followed the voice of her protector, she hadn’t considered what Goven would think. How long had it taken her to lament leaving without word to her brother? A quarter moon? Half?

By now, Goven probably believed her dead. Did he believe she’d been killed by the new Beasts? Perhaps drowned in the river?

There was no way to know unless she went back, and since the voice had not led her astray yet, Rajicorin trusted that going back to her village would be disastrous.

{Go to them.}

To the Warriors? Why now? Why bring her all this way to

{Go to the group below.}

Her heart pounded in terror. These people had seen battle, and she was a stranger. They might kill her on sight.

{Go, Rajicorin. Go to them.}

She rose on shaking legs. She has never caused me harm, never led me astray. Rajicorin repeated it to herself as she picked her way down the hillside.

A child sighted her first and ran for a group of adults, shouting in the language those to the south of the village used. The adults turned in her direction. The men rushed toward her, drawing their weapons. One of the women snatched up the child and retreated further into the group.

Rajicorin drew the sacred weapon, her opposite hand going to her son. They stopped short, and she backed away. If she could make it to the trees, she could disappear.

“Wait. Please, do not go.” An ancient, stooped woman rushed toward her, waving the men back. She halted an arm’s length away, and her gaze went to Rajicorin’s womb.

“Zasha, come away,” one of the men urged her.

She ignored him. “You fled the battles?”

Rajicorin nodded. She’d fled battles, but not the ones Zasha was referring to.

“You carry?” she continued.

“Yes. I do.” Would they see that as a burden? Rajicorin prayed the worst she faced was being turned out. She’d lived alone for a moon, but that would be much more difficult as her son grew larger.

Zasha approached. She stared at the weapon Rajicorin held. At last, she held out her hand. “Come. Warm yourself. Our goddess ensures your safety here.”

Rajicorin hesitated and then lowered her weapon. “My thanks,” she managed.

The men parted and let them pass. By their expressions, Rajicorin guessed they wished to offend their goddess rather than let her into their camp, but Zasha obviously had some measure of power in this society.

At the fire, Zasha offered a bowl of soup and flat bread. Rajicorin took them with a word of thanks. It was difficult to eat slowly, but she forced herself to do so. If she ate at the pace her stomach demanded, the others would surely know how weak she was.

And I would sick up all I manage to eat. Her son needed sustenance, not empty promises.

“Your weapon,” Zasha began. “I have heard of such blades.”

Rajicorin looked around, fearing an attack in the making. Her grip on the bread eased at the sincere interest. The men crouched, seemingly waiting for a story. She went back to the food. The old woman would get to her point in time.

“The blade is the type carried by a dark giant,” Zasha informed her people. “I saw one when I was a child. He was tall as a hut and strong as a horse.”

“You must be a great sorceress to have killed a dark giant and stolen his blade,” another woman said.

Rajicorin swallowed a mouthful of bread and shook her head slowly. “The blade was my mate’s. He is...was the strongest of the Warriors.”

One of the men gaped at her. “You were the mate of a dark giant?”

The term aptly described Warriors. “Yes. He was a dark giant.” Darker now than he was before.

Zasha reached out as if to touch Rajicorin’s womb, then snatched her hand away. “You carry a dark giant’s young one?”

“My son is a Warrior, as was his father before him.” What his father is now is of no concern to these simple people.

“But a giant?” she pressed.

“Yes. A dark giant.” Rajicorin hoped their silence was a good sign.

“Then you must be a sorceress,” one of the women attested. “Everyone knows only a sorceress can bear a dark giant’s young.”

What? Before Rajicorin could question that belief, a man interrupted her.

He pointed to her. “She is. See there? She wears a magic amulet.”

Rajicorin faltered, uncertain how to answer that. Proclaiming herself a magical creature could have unexpected results.

“Is the amulet magic?” Zasha asked.

{Tell them. What else would they believe the power to hide you from Beasts is?}

“Yes.” A niggling fear worked its way up her spine. “In my hands, it is magic.” It wasn’t a lie. The amulet alone wasn’t enough, and if they believed it only worked for Rajicorin, they might not try to kill her for it.

“My daughter suffers a fever, sorceress,” one woman called out. She waved a half-grown girl toward Rajicorin. “Can you do something? Can you save her?”

Rajicorin set the nearly-empty bowl down and reached for the child. There was no question the cut on her arm was infected, causing the fever. Luckily, it could be treated.

“I must lower the fever and draw out the poison.” She considered her words carefully. “I believe she can be saved without loss of her arm.” But it might come to that.

The mother clasped her hands before her mouth, tears pooling in her eyes. One of the men wrapped an arm around her.

“I need someone with knowledge of plants,” Rajicorin continued.

“I have such knowledge,” Zasha offered. “I am Zasha, the healer of Mantagi tribe. What should we call you, sorceress?”

All of her titles and names stuck in Rajicorin’s throat. Jotem and the other Beasts were searching for her. She had to leave all she could of her former life behind as quickly as possible.

“Sorceress?” Zasha prompted.

“I have enemies, Zasha.” It was only right to tell them. “They will be searching for my name on the wind, spread by careless lips. For your own safety and that of my son, I must ask you to call me ‘sorceress’ and nothing more.”

The stillness around her was so complete, Rajicorin felt certain they would cast her out without even letting her heal the young one.

Zasha nodded. “Names have the power to track and bind. I understand, sorceress. It will be as you wish.”

“I must hide myself completely,” Rajicorin admitted. “I will trade my services for a change of clothing to aid in that.”

A gray-haired woman stepped toward Rajicorin from the crowd. “If you save my daughter’s daughter, you will have all you require to hide yourself and protection within our tribe. As leader of Mantagi tribe, you have my solemn word in binding, sorceress.”

“I will do all I can,” Rajicorin promised. She turned to Zasha. “I will tell you which plants I need. In the meantime, I will need strips of leather, ash, honeycomb, and fresh water boiled.”

“Now,” the leader snapped.

Men scrambled to comply.

****

“It is a boy,” Zasha confirmed.

Rajicorin groaned in pain, weary from hours of labor. “What is his aspect? Show me.”

Zasha placed her son in Rajicorin’s hands, then eased the wrap from his chest, baring the blood mark.

“Kor.” Ah, my young cub.

“Sorceress?” Zasha asked.

“His name is Korji, Zasha. The Goddess has decreed it. It means...the bear’s paw.”

She touched the blood mark with unsteady fingers. “You read the marks left by the gods.”

The pain tore through Rajicorin, and she curled around her son. Zasha took Korji and laid him on a stack of furs she’d prepared for him while Rajicorin labored. The healer returned to check her progress.

It is simply the afterbirth. Just that. By the gods, Rajicorin had never realized it would hurt so much to pass that bit of nothing.

Zasha’s gasp brought her head up, and Rajicorin started at the old healer. Her heart stammered at the pale face so intent on the waning labor.

Another pain belied that, and Rajicorin cried out in shock. “What is this, Zasha?” she pleaded.

“Another babe is descending.”

Her heart stuttered at that pronouncement. Another? Was the second male or female?

Her protector was silent.

“If you wish to live to hold your son, go left.”

Son. Singular. She would have said sons. The second is female. And I will not live to hold her.

Silence persisted between herself and what Rajicorin had always believed was the Stone. Have I been misled all this time?

“Sorceress? What ails you?”

“Prepare to leave here, Zasha.” Either way, it is the only safe course to take.

“What are you saying?”

{Instruct her. Do it now. Hold nothing back.}

The contraction nearly doubled Rajicorin. She panted, pushing her daughter toward an unkind world stalking her already. When the pain eased, Rajicorin started talking.

“You must heed my words, Zasha. There is little time.” A contraction silenced her. In the waning waves of agony, Rajicorin blurted out more. “I am dying, and you must be well away before that happens.”

The old woman chuckled. “You are not dying, young one. Many women believe they are dying in the throes of the worst.”

“And some do,” Rajicorin snapped back at her. There was no time for arguments. Why couldn’t Zasha see that?

Another pain ripped through her. There was no mistaking the warm flow of blood coursing down her thighs. I will not live to hold her.

Zasha faltered, her smile disappearing. “You know this to be true? It is certain?”

The words stuck in her throat, and Rajicorin ejected them with more than a little bitterness. “I was promised only time enough to hold my son. Not my daughter.”

“It may be another boy,” she dismissed the idea.

The pain was crippling, and Rajicorin struggled to talk through it. “The second young one is a girl. Her name is Ahdia.”

Zasha started to protest, and Rajicorin waved her off.

“Pack quickly, and then I will tell you what you need to know.”

Pain after pain crested and retreated, while Zasha gathered everything she could fit in her small cart together. At last she returned to Rajicorin’s side.

“Time is short,” she wheezed. “Listen closely. You must take the young toward the setting sun until you reach the river. Follow it upstream to the crossing place by the great forest.”

“She is coming, sorceress. Please, attend to

“There is no time! Cross the forest to the village of the dark giants and seek one named Goven. He is leader of the village. If he does not live, find the one called Stone lord.”

The next push widened the tears, and Rajicorin groaned, too tired to scream. “Say it,” she begged. Breathing became difficult, and Rajicorin licked her dry lips.

“To the river, through the great forest...the cursed lands.” She shuddered and then continued. “Find one named Goven or Stone lord. She is nearly here.”

“I know. Hide the marks the young ones bear...especially my daughter’s mark. At all costs, hide Ahdia’s mark, until she is returned to my village. Let no one but Goven or the Stone lord see them. Tell him that the young ones need his protection now, show him the blade and amulet...and tell him my name.”

Zasha looked up from between her spread legs, blood coating her to the elbows. “But, sorceress. I do not know your name. You cannot speak it.”

“It may draw my enemies to me, I know. When the amulet leaves my body and goes to Ahdia, they will come anyway. That is why you must be far away tonight...before they come for my children.”

“Tonight? But...the young ones

“Are safer moved tonight than here when the Beasts arrive. They are Warriors. They will survive the flight to Goven. My amulet will hide Ahdia from the traitors of my people; the amulet must never leave Ahdia’s body. Never, or they find her.

“You must find my people, Zasha. The dark giants. Without me...” She screamed at the tearing sapping the last of her energy. “Korji will need them—the Warriors—to teach him. Ahdia will need them more. To protect

She screamed, feeling as if she was being cleaved in two by a sacred weapon. Or a Beast’s claws. “Pro-pro-tect her. Ahdia is most important. She must be protected, at all costs. At all times.”

Zasha didn’t question that. “One more push, sorceress.”

“Rajicorin,” she breathed. “My name is Rajicorin, Zasha. If they ask it as a test, my mate called me Raji.” Please, let that be enough to convince them.

The pain came again, and Rajicorin bore down with a scream of agony. Silence fell, then shattered to the scream of one babe and then a second.

Rajicorin stared at the blood-soaked infant in Zasha’s hands. “The amulet,” she breathed. “Leave me...quickly now. Remember what I taught you.”

If the gods were protecting them, they could be in the village and under Goven’s protection within the season. If Zasha remembered and followed Rajicorin’s directions, all would be well.

A tear slid down the healer’s face. “No. You have labored the child alone while I prepared to flee. Let me care for you,” Zasha pleaded.

“Take the amulet and weapon and go. Quickly, Zasha. They are coming. I feel them.”

Zasha nodded and laid a kiss on Rajicorin’s forehead. “As you wish. May your gods protect you and see you home to their shelter.”

With that, Zasha was gone and the last vestiges of Rajicorin’s Warrior life with her. She would be well away before the Beasts arrived to seek the child Rajicorin had delivered into the world.

Rajicorin pressed her hand to the empty space where her amulet had so recently lain. It isn’t mine anymore. Ahdia needs it now.

The single horse moved away, and Rajicorin let her eyes slip shut to the waning fire. She dozed lightly, chilled. Though the night cold was biting, she hadn’t asked for something to warm her. Zasha would need all the wraps she could carry for the task ahead.

Rajicorin woke once, noting the fire burning low.

Again...in near darkness and silence. She let her eyes slide shut, wondering why she was still alive after all this time.

“Raji?”

It was a dream. It had to be a dream. Or a nightmare.

“Raji, by the gods, answer me.”

It was Jotem’s voice, but she knew the Beast was no longer her beloved husband. She’d known it when he chased her to the river in the attempt to kill her.

Opening her eyes was too difficult. She slurred out her answer without doing so. “The gods have abandoned you.” And me. Why did I not die before he arrived? Perhaps I was meant to waste his time, so Zasha may escape him.

“Yes, they have.” There was something that sounded of defeat in that. After a moment of silence, he spoke again. “Where is our son, Raji?”

“My son,” she insisted.

His Blutjagd flared high at her challenge. “Let me protect him. I will take him safely to Goven and let your brother raise him. He will be safer there than with me.”

Her heart pounded at the offer, false as it was. “As you would have protected me?”

“I would have, had you let me. I am not like the other Beasts.”

She used much of her waning strength to lever her eyelids up. “You threatened me.”

“I did no such thing. I was my frustration and fear for you speaking. You must believe me.” He certainly sounded frustrated now.

Frustrated by his failure to track Zasha. If he knew how to find them, he wouldn’t be wasting time questioning her about their route.

Ask questions. Keep him talking while Zasha escapes.

Realization that she was making this decision without the Stone’s interference—for once—made her heart sink. The gods really had deserted her. Rajicorin prayed they’d abandoned her to shield another...the only one truly in need of their protection. “Why should I?”

Jotem crouched beside her, holding a cup in his hands. He offered it to her, and Rajicorin shook her head in refusal. He paled another notch, his expression pained at her refusal.

“Where is he, Raji? Please, I must know where our son is.”

She shook her head again, abruptly glad she didn’t know for certain.

“Raji, please.”

“I do not know,” she gasped out. Rajicorin let her eyes slide shut again.

“I would do anything for you, Raji. Surely, you must know that.”

“Then hold me while I die.” One part of her cried out in horror at such a thought. Another argued it would delay his pursuit of Zasha and prayed it would take hours for her to die. Days, perhaps.

“You wish that of me?” There was a soft note at odds with the Beast she knew him to be.

For once, Rajicorin didn’t try to hide the longing for the husband she’d lost. If he refused her, it would break what was left of her failing heart. “Yes. I do.”

“I would deny you nothing. Nothing that I have the power to give.”

Jotem crawled onto the sleeping roll with her, drawing Rajicorin into his arms. She’d wondered many times what the skin of a Beast would feel like...Jotem’s skin. He wasn’t cold. His skin was warm as a summer night, chasing away a bit of the chill the blood loss had brought upon her.

His touch was tender, and his body fit hers as it always had. With her head on his shoulder, sleep started to embrace her. Rajicorin just hoped she wouldn’t wake cold and alone.

“Never,” he breathed. “I will not let you die alone.”