Authors: Lucy Varna
A Novel of the
© 2015 C.D.
Watson. All Rights Reserved
Cover design ©
C.D. Watson, Autumn’s End Designs.
Bone Diggers Press, Clayton, GA.
Ziri Mokuru has
lived her entire life in the rural village of Arden Hollow on the planet Tersi.
While her parents are off having adventures and being Very Important People,
she’s struggled simply to find a place where she belongs. One night, she
investigates a disturbance in her home and discovers an armor-clad man sorting
through her belongings. Her first thought is for her parents’ safety, not to
question why this man is in her home late at night without even the courtesy of
knocking. After all, no one among the trusting Tersii breaks into someone
else’s home without a good reason.
Ryn abid Alna
has an excellent reason for sneaking into Ziri’s home. After years spent
scraping together enough vud for the bride price, he’s finally ready to steal a
wife. One look at Ziri’s sweet smile and Ryn decides no other woman will do.
She can fix anything she touches, so why not the loneliness he’s lived with
since he was enslaved as a young boy?
longs for love, she’s not so sure she’s ready to settle down with the man who
kidnapped her, especially after he jumps her into a nest of Sweepers, a
sinister alien race bent on mayhem and destruction. As the day draws near when she
faces Ryn’s family on the Choosing field, Ziri ponders the hardest decision of
her life: Fight for Ryn and the place he’s made for her in his heart or choose
another man as a life mate and risk never knowing love.
The Daughters of the People Series
Daughters of the People Omnibuses
The Sons of the People Series
The Cullowhee Heritage Series
The Pruxnæ Series
Coming soon from Lucy Varna
the People, Book 5)
Get free, exclusive stories
This e-book is
licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away
to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,
please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this
book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please
return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you
for respecting the hard work of this author.
This story is a
work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is
purely a coincidence.
localities and entities are mentioned solely for the purpose of adding realism
to the story.
Table of Contents
A unit of
measure used by the Pruxnæ, roughly eighteen Terran inches.
One second or a
measurement. Approximately twelve.
monetary unit. At current exchange rates, one vud is equivalent to 1.245
customer of the day left as the sun sank behind the adobe building across the
cobblestone street. Ziri Mokuru called a cheerful goodbye to the mother and son
trudging down the rapidly darkening sidewalk. Another day bringing joy to the
residents of Arden Hollow. Ziri might not have figured out what she wanted out
of life, but at least she was helping others find their purpose.
the windows against the night and re-entered the shop, closing the solid wooden
door behind herself without bothering to lock it. Book Ends was located on
Arden Hollow’s main thoroughfare, tucked into a tiny nook between a bakery and
a toy store. The cluttered interior, protected by thick, brick walls, offered a
welcome respite from the warmth of the growing season’s sun. Ziri picked her
way through bookcases loaded with books of every kind, replacing knickknacks
and straightening shelves as she went.
It was honest
work, keeping shop, and a sight more pleasurable than some tasks she’d
performed growing up. She nudged a stuffed onka, a mythical bird, into the children’s
area with her toe and righted a brightly colored, child-sized chair. She could
be working on her uncle’s farm, mucking stalls or overseeing one of the huge
machines he used to plow, plant, and reap the foods he grew. Or she could be
digging clay out of the swampy banks of the Wyanata River on the other side of
town and turning it into stoneware under the watchful eyes of the master
potter. She could at that very moment be deep in the belly of the Wyanata’s dam,
repairing one of the turbines that helped power Arden Hollow.
She’d taken a
turn in all of those positions and others, some more than once, and none had
ever seemed quite right. Here, at least, among the books she loved so dearly,
she’d found a use for the skills she’d managed to cultivate under her parents’
careful tutelage. The love of a good story, a kind smile for every customer,
and the patience to stand by while old Ingir Cavan dug her peepers out of a
frayed pocket and studied the back of every book of poetry in Book Ends.
“What are you up
Ziri followed the
shopkeeper’s voice to the back room where Mag Efra sat at a rickety, metal
table, her fingers flashing across the glowing screen of her computer. Mag was
a small woman, thin and frail, with huge green eyes blinking out from behind
wire-rimmed peepers. Her hair was short and iron gray, and curled in a wild
halo around her wrinkled face.
Mag leveled a
stern gaze at Ziri over the top of her peepers. “Chasing off customers, are
Ziri grinned and
propped against the door’s frame. The cool plaster was smooth against her
shoulder. “Workday’s over, Mag. Did you get lost in the accounts again?”
“I did not,
young missy,” Mag retorted tartly. “And I know very well what time it is, too.
Scamper home, now, and don’t be late on the morrow.”
Ziri rolled her
eyes as she turned around. “I never am. Go home soon yourself, Mag, and no
pints on the way there.”
echoed in the small room. Ziri smiled to herself and gathered her bag from
under the front counter. Mag could be a tough mistress, but she was always a
fair one. The day Ziri had applied for the assistant’s job, Mag’s green eyes
had peered out from behind her peepers as if she could see right through Ziri.
“Haven’t found your place yet, have you, missy?” she’d asked, and Ziri had said
the only thing she could’ve. “No, mistress, but it might be here.” Mag had
hired her on the spot, and Ziri had found a quiet contentment in the elderly
She slipped out
the front door, locked it behind herself, and set off at a brisk pace down the
sidewalk, her linen skirt swishing with each step. Everyone she passed smiled
and greeted her, and she returned their greetings in kind. Arden Hollow was a
small town on the edge of the Brula Mountains, a jagged chain dividing Tersi’s
western continent neatly in half. Her father was an advisor to Tersi’s premier
and her mother a respected advocate. Ziri had grown up in the winding streets
of the Hollow among kinfolk and friends, and because of that and her parents, nearly
every resident in the cozy little town knew her.
The sky was full
dark by the time she made it to the snug cottage she called home, her path lit
by softly glowing streetlamps. It was located on her parents’ estate, close
enough to the main house for frequent visits, far enough away to maintain a
semblance of privacy. A small yard crammed with a colorful assortment of
flowers, vegetables, and dwarf fruit trees separated the cottage from the street.
Ziri strode along the rock-lined walkway through lush greenery and paused on
the stoop. She glanced up at the first stars winking into the night sky. No
moons dotted the black expanse, though shadows drifted across the stars,
obscuring their light in brief spurts. Rain later, if they were lucky.
She went inside
and prepared an evening meal, the shadows dancing across the stars already
* * *
Ryn abid Alna
flicked through streams of incoming data, his fingers light along the screen of
his ship’s main control console. From here, he could plot courses, manage his
ship’s systems, and communicate with the ships around his. If the primary AI
weren’t broken, he could do more than that, but the kraden hardware was fried,
had been since he’d picked the
up for a song two Galactic
A smile softened
his mouth. It wouldn’t be long before he could claim a flesh and blood yarinska
for himself. The urge to check on the one he’d chosen tugged at him. She’d be
home by now and, if she followed the pattern she did every night, she’d be
sitting on cushions around a low-lying table, eating her last meal of the day.
He tamped down his curiosity and fine-tuned the calculations needed for a clear
transport between the
’s cargo bay and the woman’s home, made
harder by his ship’s temperamental secondary AI.
studying the woman for weeks through vids taken by small satellites placed unobtrusively
among debris orbiting the planet below. Her oval face was lovely, saved from perfect
beauty by her nose, a shade too large. Her eyes tilted at the corners and her narrow
mouth twitched into a friendly smile as often as not. Her limbs were strong and
supple, her body slender, kept that way by long walks between her home and the
nearby village. She was intelligent, judging by the printed documents she
carried with her wherever she went, and good with her hands. He’d watched her
braid her long, red-gold hair out of the way and tuck it under a straw hat as
she worked in the garden in front of her home, knew she could repair the
features of that home as easily as she could smile, and had envied her for
would make a fitting wife for the adopted son of a minor clan leader among the
Pruxnæ, and Ryn would cherish her for the home she’d help him make among the
convince her to remain with him once he’d stolen her.
A flashing light
in the lower corner of the console caught his eye. He tapped it, compared the
countdown for the raid against his own, and pushed himself out of the pilot’s
chair, satisfied that his plans were right on schedule. They’d been years in
the making, years of gathering his patience and scraping together enough vud to
buy the ship and a small plot of land on Abyw, capped by months bargaining and
wheedling his way into a spot on a semicentenniel raiding season, the only time
the Pruxnæ were allowed, by custom, to steal a husband or wife.
The planet his
yarinska lived on hadn’t been raided by Ryn’s people for more than fifty years.
Its residents had likely forgotten all about the Pruxnæ’s last raid, and if
they hadn’t, they still wouldn’t expect this one. The Hall of Records planned
them too carefully, spacing them out at unpredictable, irregular intervals.
All the better.
Surprise left most unprepared for the devastating swiftness of the raids,
making it easy for the Pruxnæ to take what they’d come for without bloodshed. The
price of bloodshed could be measured not only in the lives destroyed and the
resentment such actions garnered, but in a loss of future opportunities for
trade and the occasional good-natured raid. Nobody wanted either of those,
least of all Ryn. He’d seen enough bloodshed to last him a lifetime.
He ran through
his calculations a final time, then slid the pad of his index finger along the
console, shutting the main viewscreen off. His armor and weapons were at the
ready, along with a bag of transport chips and a handful of sturdy cargo boxes.
The rooms he’d set aside for her were clean and empty, his bed was freshly
made, and the
was as orderly as he could make it. Everything
was in place, awaiting her presence.
Ryn closed his
eyes and brought the woman’s face to mind, her wide-set eyes, the slight upturn
of her long nose, the ever-present smile, and excitement thrummed through him.
At last, he’d have a wife. With her by his side, he could take his rightful place
among the clan that had given him a home. With her, he’d no longer be the
orphaned slave his second father had rescued from a Sweeper’s derelict junker,
half-starved and mostly wild. With her, the loneliness etched into his heart
would ease and he could be whole again. She’d see to that, and he’d never
through the narrow corridors of his ship toward the cargo bay and the life he’d
been dreaming of for seventeen Galactic Standards.
* * *
onto the thin mattress of her sleeping pallet, book in hand.
was a collection of myths and legends written for pre-pubescent children.
Several would make good story-time readings. She had to narrow the possibilities
down to a handful and discuss them with Mag first, but Ziri could already
envision the children’s faces as they heard the age-old tales for the first
time during Book Ends’ regular story time.
came from the outer room, startling her into fumbling the book and losing her
place. By all that was holy, what was that? She glanced through the open
doorway of her bedroom into the living area, a one-room space containing a tidy
kitchen, her eating table, and shelving crammed with plants, books, and framed
vids. Had she forgotten to turn the burner off after cooking her meal? She
mentally retraced her steps since coming home from Book Ends and frowned. No,
she’d turned it off, she was sure, but what else could’ve made that noise?
A scuffed footfall
sounded on the floor outside her bedroom and her heart froze in her chest, more
from shock than fear. Who in Arden Hollow would enter her home without calling
out first? She never locked the door, had no need to unless she was visiting
her parents, and then only did so to keep wild animals out. Visitors were
always welcome, but nobody entered without a greeting.
A series of low
clicks, evenly spaced several moments apart, spurred her curiosity. Whoever it
was, or more likely
, was up to something. Probably a garri, and
that’s what she got for leaving her windows open to the night sky. A smile
curved her mouth as she knelt and pushed herself into a stand. The agile
creatures usually kept to the groves of fruit trees scattered in and around Arden
Hollow, chattering at one another as they swung from limb to limb.
Occasionally, they became a nuisance, particularly when they threw fruit at
innocent passersby. Usually, though, the mischievous garri kept their distance
from people. This one must be lost. She sighed and tugged on a short robe over
the shift she’d worn to bed. Best to catch it now before its mischief destroyed
She stepped into
the living area and placed her palm over the glowbulb. It warmed under her
skin, shedding light in gradual increments as it brightened to full power.
Her gaze was
drawn to a man standing with his back to her in front of the shelving on the
far wall. He was dressed completely in black, from the unfamiliar matte armor
covering his torso and limbs to the odd apparatus around his head to the
blasters holstered at his hips. She eyed the broad shoulders and firm bottom,
and bit back another sigh. This wasn’t the garri she’d expected, but who was
he? Not the capital police, surely. It was rare for them to leave the city
unless the premier had business in the provinces.
had happened to her parents and the premier had sent word via this man. Worry
twisted into a knot in her stomach. Surely her parents were fine or she
would’ve heard already.
“Can I help
you?” she asked, but he was already turning, his head swiveling to the light
growing under her hand. The apparatus covering his head obscured his face, hiding
his eyes behind a thin, softly glowing, green strip and his mouth behind a
jutting section with tiny holes cut into it. The man gestured to the light and
said something, and his soft words were distorted by the mask.
through her. That wasn’t a Tersi language. She was familiar with all four and
most of their dialects, too. Not a one sounded like that, guttural and terse,
just shy of harsh. She clutched the doorframe and stared at the man, her heart
pounding, her mind scrambling to place him. What was he doing in her home?