The Last of Fion's Daughters
By Brenna Lyons
When Ro said Riella wasn't the woman her mother would have raised, he lied. When he told her she was the last of Fion's Daughters, he didn't know he was wrong. This is the saga that started it all.
Ro Ti fights to bring peace to Kegin. The Lengar have wiped Fion's Children from the face of the world, leaving Deliya a queen without a kingdom.
Juvia is dishonored, abandoned in the heat of the battle and captured by the Lengar. It is a gift! Their prince is a man who doesn't know her dishonor...or care.
Raised a Lengar slave, Voria has ceased to dream of more. Now, she stands accused of crimes against the Lengar, and only Juleron can clear her name.
A princess in disguise plays schente for her father's most trusted general. Tol's only change of escaping Ro's wrath is convincing Riella to give him more than the night.
Four women... Four loves that will change the face of Kegin, in the midst of the war to end all wars.
Wos 10th, Ti 10-449
The Mother’s Tower at Rintal, Fion’s Children’s Lands
“You have my instructions,” Mother Leiana of Fion’s Children said formally, stoically.
She was The Source, the latest in the line of Most Chosen. Tears were beneath her. The fury she wished to vent at the hopeless situation she’d been dealt was beneath her. Selfish wishes were beneath her. Only the future mattered now. That future stood before her, a boy. Dear Mother, let me have chosen well.
Loric bowed deeply. “With my life, Mother Leiana,” he promised.
At sixteen, Loric had already enjoyed the pleasures of training under the priestesses for more than a year. Syron had delivered a son of him only a week earlier, and Jolia carried a child of his loins, conceived on her challenge night. He had also managed to force Juvia to failure at challenge, the first male to do that in more than a decade. He was the perfect choice to send along.
Loric was close to Deliya’s age, and he was not a relation of either herself or Deliya’s father, Celdin, for at least four generations back. He would be able to train Deliya well and challenge her, if things went poorly in the villages.
Leiana suppressed a shiver. Things would go badly. Lengar troops under the command of that son of Len, Jurin, and his son, Jurel, prepared to attack Rintal even now. Leiana crumpled the missive in her hand distractedly.
She’d begged Sol Ti for Magden aid in repelling the Lengar and had been refused. Kor Hi, the heir apparent, and his son Ro Hi had delivered the aging leader’s answer personally. Kor, in confidence, had expressed his regrets and shame at his father’s stubborn refusal to ally with Leiana to crush the Lengar threat. He promised his aid when he ascended to his rightful place—the only vow he could make.
Sol was dying, but he would not die in time to save the village of Rintal. He might not die in time to save Fion’s Children, and so Leiana was forced to this mad scheme. She would send her true heir, her precious daughter Deliya, into hiding, in hopes that she might rebuild their people in the aftermath of Leiana’s defeat. She did not doubt that she would be defeated—if not this night then some other.
“Mother Leiana?” Loric asked uncertainly.
She nodded. “Prepare, Loric. You leave within the hour.”
He looked up at her, his eyes wild. Then he bolted down the two stories of stairs from her chamber and out of the tower.
The structure was nearly silent in his wake. The sanctuary on the first level had been abandoned when the protective oils and healing balms had been mixed, the circle scattered and the sacred fire fed. The study rooms on the floor just above were similarly empty. This was no time for study. This was the time to anoint loved ones and enjoy one final embrace as she had with Celdin. Above her was only the observatory. There was no need to use that; Jurin had doused his fires to hide his movements more than an hour earlier, and Leiana didn’t need the interpretations of the stars to foresee the end of this night.
Loric shouted orders for preparations; she heard it clearly through the silin drapes over the open window slits.
Yes. Loric was perfect, and he was very fertile. Perhaps her daughter would find him beautiful when she matured; he was a comely boy that turned many of the young priestess’s heads—and a few older ones’.
It was early for thoughts like that. To a girl Deliya’s age, he would still seem a playmate. That was one of the reasons Leiana chose him; he was one of her daughter’s playmates—when she indulged in play. Perhaps she was already working her way through fledgling feelings of attraction. No, that was too much to hope for.
Still, Leiana realized the danger in this plan. There was the slim possibility that he would die without producing heirs by Deliya, yet she could not send two men with her daughter. If she were correct and both men survived until her daughter’s eighteenth year, they would likely kill each other—or Deliya—in pursuit of the last remaining priestess, as men often will. No. It was safer to send only one.
If the Mother were kind, Loric and Deliya would be the last hope for their race. If She showed not that tender mercy, Deliya had a much different path in store, a path that Vela would fight with the last breath in her body.
As if her thoughts summoned the old woman, Vela cleared her throat, reminding Leiana that she was wasting valuable time when Deliya should be away. Leiana didn’t have to look at her to know that her face was set in the grim line that announced her displeasure, her hands held stiffly at her sides, her back straight as it had been when she was The Source, despite the years that had withered her body to a frail shadow of what she once was.
“I know, Grandmother. It is hard to send your heir away, the daughter you carried and suckled, taught and protected.”
“She will be safe with us and far from harm. I have chosen a place deep in Magden lands, the range of the Garesh Mountains, where they dare not live. You know the valley I mean.”
Leiana nodded. The name of the place would never be spoken aloud. “I do. Continue her training. If that Len-be-damned Magden king dies soon, Deliya may yet lead our people.”
“You do not hold out hope of that,” Vela breathed.
Leiana pulled back the drape and observed her daughter by the light of one of the bonfires set around Fion’s circle. At nearly thirteen years, Deliya matched her mother in height, and she would grow more. She was beautiful. Leiana smiled at that. It was a foolish bit of mother’s pride. If asked, she could not have said what made Deliya’s looks so remarkable, what Leiana found so endearing but that it was her child she watched.
Deliya was one of Fion’s Daughters, snow white hair braided down her back, the Mother’s green eyes, bold, responsible, sure—She strapped on her Vambrace, looking serious and focused. It was right that Deliya would be The Source, but had Leiana bought her only a generation of reprieve?
“No. I do not believe Deliya will have a people to lead when she reaches the spring celebration of her eighteenth year,” Leiana admitted.
“We should take more,” Vela urged, careful not to instruct Fion’s Source openly. “Even a few more couples—”
Leiana smiled a wry smile and moved her attention to Jolia and the two dozen who traveled with her. “Who, Vela? No priestess will accept the dishonor of fleeing the battle. No priestess will send her heirs off without her. Deliya only goes, because she has not faced her challenge and is mine to order away. It is all I can do to send Jolia and the others who carry or have nursing young to Gidlore. I may demand that much of them but no more.”
Vela bowed her head in acceptance of the truth.
“Deliya will be tall like her father—and you. Will you give her your armor, when she is a woman?” Leiana requested.
“You know I will. I am old, Leiana. I was old when I passed the honor to your mother. All those years without a true heir; I feared I would have only sons.” Vela brushed her hand through Leiana’s hair. “I was overjoyed that Turila conceived you less than a year after her challenge.”
“And died less than a year after mine,” Leiana reminded her sadly.
“Long enough to pass on the leadership in an appropriate manner. She died in the knowledge that you had conceived an heir and committed to share your life with Celdin.”
“I will not live to see my daughter meet her challenge. I will not pass my blade into her hand that night, but she will be Fion’s Source.” Leiana pulled the abinatine from her belt, stroking her fingers over the dagger that proclaimed her place, willing her hand not to shake. “When the time is right, give Deliya my blade.”
Vela gasped. “You cannot lead the battle without this.”
“They are Lengar soldiers, Grandmother. There is not a soul among them worth the honor of dying by my abinatine.”
“Is a beast,” she spat. “No better than the foulest geela. Take this before that beast takes it as spoils and wears it on his filthy Lengar belt. I will make it as hard for him as I can, but unless Sol dies—”
Vela nodded and took the blade, kissing the symbol of Fion reverently and tucking it into her pack.
“Go now. Leave me. I need to center myself before I take leave of my child.”
Leiana continued watching Deliya for a long moment after Vela left her, releasing the drape at last with a sigh. It was a foolhardy move, sending her daughter away with this ragged trio, but what other choice had she?
She went to her worktable at the North Point of the room, emptied now of the crocks and flasks that had been stashed for her flight from the battle in kittle holes along the deep forest trail to Gidlore. Only the oil lamp, a few writing supplies and empty vessels and the Great Book graced the engraved Aster Wood surface now. It was too uncluttered—too barren for her tastes.
She opened the Great Book at the marker. Her tears fell on the page. “Lead my daughter well, Mother Fion,” Leiana pleaded. She read the passage again, hopelessness making her nearly ill. “Vela will never see this possibility for Deliya. She will train my daughter in the old traditions, not prepare her for the world that waits to devour her.”
To Vela, the passage was a sign of weakness, not one of hope. It was one of the few philosophical differences between Leiana and her grandmother, but what other priestess would agree to accompany her daughter? “None,” she reminded herself.
She ripped the page from the book, circled her intended message and penned a missive to Deliya in the margin. She folded it carefully and inserted it into an empty wide-mouthed flask, sealing it with the wax of a deep green used only for the highest matters of state.
Leiana wiped her tears and held her head high, walking into the fire-lit darkness. It was well past middle-night, the darkest time before the dawn, the safest time for the small band to travel. She passed the Great Book to Jolia with a nod that sent the young priestess on her way with the others in her care.
Deliya looked up from her hottel pack, as Leiana approached. “All is ready, Mother.” She would make a fine leader, if Fion were gracious enough to grant her a people to lead.
Leiana forced a smile to her face, feeling as if the strain of it would make her composure crack. “I would expect no less from my true heir,” she said proudly.
Deliya blushed. It was not their way to give idle praise. “Only because I was trained so well.”
Leiana placed the flask in her hand. “There are hard days ahead, Deliya. There will be times you believe you will not be able to go on. When you feel you cannot live another day without my guidance, you must open this flask. You should not do so until you feel you have nothing left—until you have no hope.”
Deliya swallowed hard. “Will it come to that?”
Her daughter raised her chin and held the flask to her heart. “When there is no hope,” she promised.
Leiana kissed her cheek, holding back sobs. “Then put on your helm, young warrior. Your battle will come in time.”
Deliya stored the flask in her pack and swung onto her war-buck, pulling her helm over her bound hair.
Celdin wrapped his arms around Leiana, and the scent of their farewell teased her senses. “I could not leave without touching you again,” he breathed into her ear.
Leiana swallowed another sob. She would lose her daughter and her mate this night. “My heart cannot take the grief,” she apologized.
“One kiss and I take my leave,” he begged. “Do not make me leave you without that much.”
She resisted the urge to point out that she’d already gifted him with much more than a simple kiss. Leiana wanted that kiss too much, and sending away her mate was nearly as difficult as sending away her daughter. She turned into his arms, kissing him passionately. She wound her hands in his tunic as if she would hold him forever.
But her daughter needed him more. And, he will be safe with Deliya. How would you go on, if you saw him fall beside you in battle? A priestess will give her life for her family.
Leiana eased her grip and backed away, touching his face, probably for the last time. She looked from Celdin to Vela and finally to Deliya. This is my family, and I die before my time that they might live to die a natural death.
She looked back to Celdin again, smiling weakly. “I entrust my daughter into your care,” she informed him. Placing a child in her grandmother’s, while the mother lived—or in her father’s care, ever—was an odd thing to do, unnatural. Children were of their mothers, hers alone until they faced their challenge, but Leiana had to put her duty to their people first.
Celdin kissed her forehead. “I have always loved her, Leiana. I will protect Deliya until she takes her place.”
“I know you will. Go, before I disgrace myself with tears.”
He mounted his hottel without a backward glance. Leiana wished she could spare a buck for him, but the priestesses would need them in battle. If Celdin were to stay and fight, he’d ride a buck in battle as her mate. And that would make him Jurel’s target, here in battle or while traveling. A male of our race on buck could only be my mate. Still, she winced that she had to send him off on a mare.
“Go now,” she ordered hoarsely. “Be far from here before the sun begins its journey.”
Deliya bowed her head and urged her war-buck to a run, the three mares at point.
“Guard them well,” Leiana prayed. She blinked back tears, stiffening her spine before she turned to the older priestesses who would command groups in battle. “They will attack with the dawn to use the sun against us. We have three hours to plan.”
She resisted the urge to take one last look into the darkness closing around her family. Losing my mate is just as hard as losing my child, she admitted. Then she squatted to the map in the center of the circle and laid out their plan of defense.