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Authors: Angela Knight

Master of Swords

Praise for Angela Knight's paranormal romances

“A terrific paranormal romantic suspense thriller that never slows down…The action-packed story line moves at a fast clip.”

—
Midwest Book Review

“Nicely written, quickly paced, and definitely on the erotic side.”

—
Library Journal

“Suspense and erotic romance…intense and compelling.”

—
The Romance Reader

“Lots of imagination and plenty of sensual moments…one of the hottest books out [there].”

—
The Romance Reader's Connection

“A powerful romantic suspense and sensuous tale all rolled into one alluring and explosive package…Twists and turns, fairies, vampires, and sex hot enough to burn,
Master of the Night
delivers them all.”

—
Romance Reviews Today

Berkley Sensation books by Angela Knight

JANE'S WARLORD

MASTER OF THE NIGHT

MASTER OF THE MOON

MASTER OF WOLVES

MASTER OF SWORDS

M
ASTER of
S
WORDS
A
NGELA
K
NIGHT

BERKLEY SENSATION, NEW YORK

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

MASTER OF SWORDS

A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2006 by Angela Knight.
Excerpt from
Master of Dragons
by Angela Knight copyright © 2006 by Angela Knight.
Cover art by Franco Accornero.
Cover design by George Long.

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ISBN: 1-1011-5813-1

BERKLEY SENSATION
®
Berkley Sensation Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The “B” design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

This book is dedicated to my grandmother, Naomi Williams. All her life, Grandmother has been a gracious southern lady whose kindness and purity of spirit has been an example to her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Master of Swords
is also dedicated to my mother, Gayle Lee, who has cared for my grandmother with such unstinting love; and for my father, Paul Lee, who has been so generous in seeing to his mother-in-law's care. You both have provided a beautiful example of love, patience, and faithfulness in the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

I would like to also dedicate this book to all the families struggling with Alzheimer's disease. I wish there really was a Sanctuary where those suffering from the disease could regain themselves. It's my most sincere prayer that one day there will be.

AUTHOR'S NOTE

The Black Grail destroyed in chapter two of this book is the same as the one seen destroyed at the end of the previous book,
Master of Wolves
. The incident is related from another point of view.

M
ASTER of
S
WORDS
PROLOGUE

Camelot
402
A.D.

Through a haze
of red exhaustion, Gawain watched his rival reel and fall from his sword stroke. The last of his five opponents.

Thank Jesu
.

He turned, his broken ribs screaming, and blinked hard, trying to free his eyelashes from the blood that tacked them together. Taking a step forward, he almost fell over one of the knights he'd defeated. Agony shafted up his thigh as he fought to regain his footing. His leather leggings hung heavy and wet, and he knew the wound in his thigh was responsible.

Cold. It was June, but he felt like the depths of winter. He'd lost too much blood.

A blurred ring of faces surrounded him. As he crossed the combat circle, their applause and cheers came to him as if from a great distance. A robed woman hurried past—one of Merlin's newly created witches, intent on healing the men he'd bested.

No, not a witch, a Maja. They were called Majae now. He had to remember that.

Just as he was about to become a Magus.
If
the boy wizard found him worthy. Merlin had refused three other winners so far, though no one knew why.

He looked across the combat grounds to the two slender figures standing next to Arthur. Merlin and his lover, Nimue. To look at him, you'd think the wizard too young to shave, what with that narrow, thin face and stripling's body. At least until you looked into his eyes.

Something powerful and ancient looked out of Merlin's eyes, something far more god than boy.

Gawain took a step toward the wizard, but the world revolved around him, forcing him to stop in his tracks and grit his teeth.
I will not fall in front of him
. He'd endured too much to ruin it with weakness now.

Locking his gaze on the boy who was no boy, he dragged his right leg forward another step. And then his left.

Plop
.
Plop
.
Plop
. The crowd had gone silent as they watched his struggle. Gawain could hear the slow, steady drip of his own blood hitting the sand.

Another step. And another. He seemed to be looking at Merlin through a long gray tunnel.

At last, thank Jesu, he reached his destination. From the corner of one eye, he saw King Arthur gravely watching. Arthur, whose dark hair had once been shot through with gray, yet who now looked younger than Gawain.

But it was Merlin whose gaze held him. He thought he saw stars shoot across those black irises.

I should kneel,
Gawain thought distantly. He tried to bend his knee, only to sway, almost pitching onto his face.
Perhaps not
.

For lack of a better alternative, he braced his legs apart like a horse run until it was all but dead. Next to Merlin's elegant delicacy, he felt like a horse in truth, all towering dumb muscle. “My King,” he rasped to Arthur. Then, in a careful bow of the head to Merlin, “My lord.”

“You fought well,” Merlin said in that surprisingly lilting voice. “You showed courage, yes, but then, all of Arthur's knights are courageous. But you also fought with intelligence, and most importantly, with honor. You have won the right to my Gift.” He extended a hand, and Gawain looked down. For a moment, those long, pale fingers were empty.

Then light flashed, and the Grail filled them.

Gawain caught his breath. It resembled no other cup he'd ever seen with its elegant, impossible lines. Within it, sparks danced on the surface of a glowing blue liquid. Alien as it looked, the potion smelled delicious, like honey and sunlight and a woman's kiss, impossibly seductive.

Yet gazing down into those sparkling blue depths, he felt a sudden shaft of fear.

“The final test is this,” Merlin said softly. “If you drink of my cup, you will become immortal, but you will also watch your mother and your father and your brothers die, and then your brother's children, and their children, and theirs, and so on through time. Your life will be a thing of blood and struggle as you fight to save your fellow humans from themselves. You may eventually guide them to freedom, but you will never know it yourself.”

Gawain stared at him. The combat ground suddenly dipped and revolved around him, and he hastily stiffened his legs again.

“There will be no peaceful fireside for you, no circle of grandchildren around your knees,” Merlin continued in that soft, implacable voice. “Instead of good meat and a goblet of mead, you will drink blood to live. And your children, when you sire them, will be born mortal, though with the potential to become what you are. If they are too weak or too greedy or too mad, you must stand by and watch them die, one by one. But if they're found worthy, they will inherit the same yoke you'll wear. And they, too, will know no peace. So choose well, my young friend. And choose knowing there is no going back.”

Gawain swallowed against the great cold knot that had grown in his chest with every word the wizard had spoken. Such a choice. He'd fought for the chance to drink from Merlin's Grail, had bled for it, and yet—it wasn't until this moment that he'd realized just what winning would mean.

Unable to hold Merlin's infinite, pitiless gaze, he looked away.

Into the warm, dark eyes of Arthur Pendragon. Arthur, who'd accepted him into his court, who'd made him a knight, who'd gotten drunk with him and told him bawdy jokes, who'd led him into battle against the Saxon invaders.

Arthur, who'd drunk from Merlin's Grail.

Gawain turned to Merlin. “I would follow Arthur Pendragon through the yawning gates of hell. I will not leave him to this battle alone.”

And he took the cup, aware of Arthur's grim smile.

It felt far heavier than it should have, but he didn't let himself think of that. Instead, he turned the goblet up and drank it down in one hard slug, like a man taking some noxious potion.

At first, it tasted like springtime—light and foaming on the tongue. Gawain started to smile as it rolled down his throat in a sweet stream….

Then it hit his gut, and the world exploded. He reeled, distantly aware of Arthur catching him with strong hands. Fire engulfed his belly and raced into his veins in a savage blaze of heat. Gritting his teeth, he fought not to scream as he writhed in the king's arms, clutching at Arthur's embroidered robes with desperate hands. It seemed his very eyeballs were afire in his skull, his tongue blazing, as if he were burning from the inside out. His muscles knotted and twisted under his flaming skin, his bones shifting and crackling like kindling.

And then the fire just…vanished. Winked out, leaving him cold and hollow.

Panting, Gawain clung weakly to Arthur, who supported his weight with no effort at all. Finally, he pulled away and forced himself to stand on his own feet. Licking his dry lips, he felt the twin sharp edges of fangs against his tongue.

A Magus. He was a Magus now.

Dazed, he looked around into Arthur's face.

The king gave him a slight smile. “Thank you.”

Avalon 510
A.D.

Gawain rode the
great warhorse up the grassy hillside, enjoying the whip of wind in his face and the thundering beat of his stallion's hooves. Reaching the top, he drew rein, bringing his mount to a dancing halt.

Overhead, the moon rode the cloudless sky, serene as a goddess against the stars. Behind him, Avalon lay sprawled like a woman sleeping in the dark, the pale marble of its villas gleaming and graceful.

For a moment, Gawain allowed himself to think about the century since Merlin had left them. Just as the alien wizard had warned, he'd spent decades at war, first against the invading barbarians, then fighting the traitor Modred and his rebels. He'd come to crave the frenzy of battle, the knife-edged elation of defeating death.

Then Queen Guinevere's vision had told her it was time to leave. They'd been among the humans for a century, after all, and their failure to age was beginning to raise questions they had no intention of answering. They needed a haven where they'd be safe from their mortal charges.

So as Merlin had taught them, the Majae created magical doorways and brought the Magekind here. Here, to this twin Earth.

He'd been told it was located in something called the Mageverse—the home of Merlin, and the source of the Magekind's power. One could draw magic here as easily as drawing breath.

And the Magekind weren't the only ones doing so, either. Though this version of Earth was oddly empty of humans, there were plenty of magical creatures here—unicorns, dragons, even pointy-eared immortals called the Sidhe, humanity's cousins.

Unfortunately, there were also the beasts the knights had christened Hellhounds. Long-legged and reptilian, with a mouthful of huge teeth and entirely too much cunning, they resembled a cross between a wolf and a crocodile, with the personality to match. Packs of them roamed the forests, killing unicorns, griffins, and even Sidhe, if they could take one unawares. Gawain, like the rest of the knights, had come to view killing them as a service to the rest of the planet's magical inhabitants.

He was almost bored enough to go Hellhound hunting now. But he'd have to be suicidal as well to take on a pack alone, so he paused, trying to decide whether to return to Avalon. Mayhap he'd hunt some comely Maja instead…

Rooooarrrrrr!

The sound rolled over the trees, deep and throaty, ringing with rage. It was answered by a dozen high-pitched barks Gawain knew all too well.

A pack of Hellhounds had cornered something.

Frowning, he set his heels to his horse's ribs and sent the beast thundering down the hill toward the source of the combat. It wasn't hard to follow. Between those furious roars and the Hellhounds' shrill baying, the noise was deafening. He rounded a stand of trees and drew rein in surprise.

As he'd thought, a pack of the vicious reptiles had cornered a victim, but it was not one Gawain would ever have expected.

It was a dragon.

Blue scales shimmering in the moonlight, the great beast breathed a plume of glowing magic at the nearest of the Hellhounds. The monster fell back, yelping as it burned in magical fire. The dragon tried to move in for the kill, but two more of the Hellhounds darted forward to sink their crocodile teeth in its haunches. With a roar, the dragon reared, swiped at them, and tried to throw itself skyward. A ripped and bleeding left wing flopped, broken, and the dragon fell back to earth.

Gawain winced in involuntary pity. Powerful as the dragon was, it wouldn't have a chance against a pack of Hellhounds, especially maimed.

The Hellhounds—hunched, massive, covered in great armored plates—surged forward, howling. Blood flew as their teeth scored the dragon's gleaming hide.

Before he had time to think better of it, Gawain drew his sword and dug his blunted spurs into his warhorse's side. Screaming its challenge, the well-trained stallion bounded into a full charge.

One of the Hellhounds saw them coming and tried to leap away, but Gawain swung his blade in a furious overhand chop. The creature's head went flying.

Another Hellhound snapped at Gawain's warhorse, but he twisted in his saddle and drove the bloody sword into its chest. The monster choked and tumbled backward, twitching in death.

The dragon's long tail caught another Hellhound in the ribs and batted it off into the dark like a child's ball. As the dragon struck at a forth with flashing teeth, Gawain hacked a fifth in two.

Apparently that was too much for the surviving Hellhounds. With a mass yowl, the survivors broke in all directions and fled.

Leaving Gawain alone with the dragon.

Panting, bloody, the creature turned and looked down at him, plainly puzzled. Its head was the size of his entire body, and its handlike forepaws were tipped with claws the length of his belt knife.

It could swallow him in one bite.

Well, that was stupid,
Gawain realized. Like an idiot, he'd gone and saved something that could eat him.

Spurring his stallion, he tried to rein aside as the dragon opened its great jaws.

Too late.

A tide of shimmering magic rolled over him. The horse reared with a scream of equine terror, and Gawain cursed as magic burned across his skin.

The dragon hissed. Halfway through, the hiss became words. “…spell should translate our words for each other.”

Gawain's fear drained away into astonishment. His jaw gaped as he stared up at the great beast studying him with such interest. Nobody had told him dragons were intelligent.

He retained just enough wit not to say so, however. Clearing his throat, he managed, “Your spell worked.”

“Good,” the dragon said, examining him with lively interest. “My name is Kel. And it seems you just saved my life.”

A year later


Come, Kel,” Gawain
muttered under his breath. “Where are you? I want to fly.”

As if hearing his complaint, a point of light flashed like a star in the heart of Avalon's central square. An eye-blink later, the light expanded into a vertical shimmer the height of a man. Gawain grinned in anticipation.

He and the dragon had become fast friends over the past months, hunting Hellhounds together or exploring the Magekind's new world. Since learning to assume human form, the dragon loved seducing Majae almost as much as Gawain did. Tonight, however, Kel had promised him a flight. If the dragon would ever show up…

A huge, blue-scaled head thrust through the glowing opening, which rippled around it like water. Horns topped the massive skull, and crimson eyes gleamed with intelligence from below bony brow ridges. Knife-length teeth flashed as the creature spoke. “What are you waiting for?” Kel demanded in a voice so deep, Gawain felt it in his bones. “Step on through. I have a few friends I'd like you to meet.” His head withdrew through the magical gate, which rippled and bounced in reaction.

“What friends?” Frowning, Gawain strode over to cross through the gate himself. Magic slid across his skin with his passage, tingling and foaming, but he'd grown used to the sensation by now. “Kel, I thought we were going to fly…”

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