Maiden's Wolf (In Deception's Shadow Book 3), page 1
In Deception’s Shadow
When unforeseen circumstances force natural enemies to become allies, something far more enduring than animosity is born—friendship.
Beatrice, a young healer living on the outskirts of the human port settlement of River’s Divide, simply wishes to hide herself from the searching eyes of the Priesthood of the Revealing Light. The last thing she wants ‘revealed’ is that she is host to a Larnkin—a spirit creature of vast and forbidden magic.
Her already complicated life grows more perilous when a lupwyn scout stumbles into a trap set by the priesthood. If she sits back and does nothing, the wolf-like shapeshifter will be drained dry by the priests until he is an empty, soulless slave. As a healer, that isn’t something she will allow. But lupwyns have no love for the newly arrived humans.
For the sake of mutual survival, Beatrice hopes this lupwyn can see beyond the hatred caused by two warring peoples. If not, she might die at the hands of the male she is trying to save.
Copyright © 2016 by Lisa Smeaton
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, and characters are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any print or electronic form without the author’s permission. Please purchase only authorized editions and do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
COVER ART BY: Rebecca Frank
EDITED BY: Perry Constantine
Table of Contents
All around him, the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest formed a picture in his mind as his Larnkin studied and catalogued everything in their immediate surroundings. Which was good, Silverblade supposed. In this form, with his normally formidable lupwyn senses dulled to the limited range of a human’s, he might as well have been half-blind.
Even in the moon cycles since he’d first taken this mission, he’d never really gotten used to playing at human. Strangely, the Larnkin he was host to seemed to enjoy this new human form, or perhaps there was something else about his present mission the spirit creature found fascinating. Even though he and his Larnkin had been partnered since Silverblade’s birth, he still couldn’t really say he knew the mind of the spirit creature. Or why it found this particular scouting mission so interesting.
Although he had a theory. If the Larnkin had been a mortal man, he’d have been tempted to say it was enamored of a certain healer Silverblade had discovered on this mission. He grinned to himself, finding humor in the thought of his ancient Larnkin infatuated with a human female.
“So, Old Man, if I find out you have me skulking around this forest in human form to court a girl, Queen Marsolwyn and the pack elders are going to be less than impressed.”
As expected, he didn’t get a response from the creature.
It wasn’t like the stubborn, close-minded Larnkin would have shared the information with his host anyway. Silverblade’s, like most Larnkins, seemed to want his host to grow and learn through life experiences.
Sometimes it would simply be nice to be told a piece of valuable information instead of accidentally stumbling upon it one’s self.
“Old Man, if she’s too young for me—which she certainly is—she’s far too young for you,” Silverblade muttered to himself. “Besides, I’m not hunting for a mate. The only thing I’m presently interested in is friendship and possibly mentoring her.”
His Larnkin didn’t so much as stir in response to Silverblade’s words.
Sighing dejectedly, he stared straight ahead through his mare’s pointed ears. The mare knew this path well. They’d ridden it enough times. Even the mare’s senses were greater than his in his present form.
She likely already knew if the human family who lived in the tiny homestead just ahead was within its four walls or out hunting in the forest. While he would travel faster on his own four feet and his senses were certainly sharper in that form, he couldn’t approach the humans in his true form.
And he wasn’t about to use his Larnkin’s magic to inquire about her location, either. Larnkins weren’t always subtle about things they were ‘interested’ in, and his simple inquiry about the human family might lead his Larnkin to transport Silverblade there.
That would cause a few tense moments, not to mention destroy his disguise.
One day soon he would reveal his true nature to these humans—just not until after he’d had a chance to explain a few details to them. That event would likely require some delicacy on his part.
They didn’t know he was a lupwyn scout spying on the humans of the Empire. They thought him a simple human trapper who frequented the same track of forest they lived in. In the guise of a trapper, he’d approached them, studying them to better understand the humans. He’d soon come to learn that Old Mother and her two grandchildren were not what he’d come to expect.
They were likable, not so different from his own people. They simply wanted to live in peace, unmolested by the human priesthood.
Had he not been under strict orders forbidding him from sharing knowledge with humans, he might have confided in this strange, human family sooner. But even with the infant peace treaty in effect, Marsolwyn, Queen of the Lupwyns, had judged all humans to be destructive and untrustworthy as of yet. They’d proven themselves the enemy too many times in the past for it to be otherwise.
Still, an internal debate he’d had many times before rose up in his soul. While there might still be a war brewing on the not-too-distant horizon, and the humans were guilty of invading his people’s territory, he couldn’t label all humans as the enemy.
Against orders, and probably his own better judgement, he’d struck up a friendship with the healer Beatrice. She lived with her grandmother—a wise woman known only as Old Mother—and a younger brother by the name of Roan. All three humans had proven levelheaded and trustworthy. He’d seen from the first days of his study that these humans did not possess the prejud
In truth it was impossible to think of them as the enemy and lump them in with the rest of the magic-fearing humans. For Beatrice and her family were hiding out in the forest as far from the settlement of River’s Divide as they could get and still technically be on human lands.
The first time he had met them, the reason for their own subterfuge became evident. Old Mother was rich with magic. So too were her grandchildren, Beatrice and Roan. Each was host to a Larnkin.
Beatrice, the most powerful of the three, was a healer just coming into her full power as her Larnkin started to rouse.
Therein lay the crux of his present problem and likely the true reason for his Larnkin’s newfound interest in the girl.
Healers were protected above all else. So even though his mission demanded one thing of him, every other speck of his being demanded he offer protection to this small family and see where his fledgling friendship with the young healer would lead. He loved his life as a scout, and he loved his pack as well, but his mother’s blood still called him to become more than he was now.
He frowned in thought. Once his present mission was finished, there might be a way to offer the human woman and her family protection without him violating one of his Queen’s edicts. An apprentice could be of any species and would fall under their mentor’s cloak of protection.
While he’d never really entertained the idea in the past, he was certainly old enough to take on an apprentice. His mother had been nagging him about it for the last century. She would certainly be thrilled if he was to return to Grey Spires with a new apprentice to train.
Power woke in his chest and Silverblade’s heart lurched, then began to pound in surprise as his Larnkin continued to stir within him. It unfurled from where it slept in a tight knot under his heart, stretching and flooding his body with power. Amid the mad rampage of emotions rushing through his mind and body, two became discernable over all others—excitement and happiness.
Well, then. Apparently his Larnkin agreed with his plan to mentor the young healer. That would make his plan easier to justify to his elders.
Once his current mission was finished, he had planned to tell the three humans the truth—orders be damned—and offer them a home among his family pack, where they would be safe. Any punishment would then have landed on his shoulders, not theirs.
He’d only made his decision a few days past, but his Larnkin’s clear wish to make the human his apprentice gave Silverblade an even more sound reason for bringing the humans into his pack.
But just this morning, before he had time to act upon his plan, his orders had changed.
Instead of continuing to spy upon the human soldiers patrolling the disputed lands, he was to meet with a delegation of elders sent to the human lands to study the acolytes—priests that reportedly possess some dark power none of the elders understood.
Seemingly, Lord Master Trensler—the leader of the acolytes—possessed some power that had a draining effect on other magic-wielders. What exactly his power was, no one knew. The delegation was sent to find out that information. And since Silverblade was the closest scout in the area, and was already familiar with the humans and the port city of River’s Divide, he had been given the assignment of leading the delegation of elders into the humans’ port settlement in secret.
There the elders would study the acolytes from a distance, disguised as humans.
That was the one reason Silverblade still held onto his human form. While it would’ve been faster to run on his own four feet instead of riding the placid mare he used as part of his trapper’s disguise, he was not so skilled at shapeshifting that he could switch between forms too many times in the same day.
From the mental tone that had accompanied his orders, he imagined the Elementals would want to infiltrate River’s Divide this day. Hence his human form and the placid mare.
He would soon rendezvous with the elders, but his present course led right past Old Mother’s hut. He could not stay long and didn’t have time to explain himself, or even reveal that he was lupwyn, but he would warn them that he had heard rumors the priests were on the hunt—that they were even now on their way.
From what he knew of Old Mother, it wouldn’t take much to convince her. She was a shrewd woman and had been avoiding the acolytes all her life.
He soon reached the bit of cleared land that grew crops and the herbal plants Old Mother used for her healing. It had been some days since he’d last been this way, but the fertile land looked as it should, the small young plants forming green rows against the dark loam. He studied the land, trying and failing to find what disturbed him.
His Larnkin roused again, stirring with interest. Silverblade felt his magic flare as it studied the area. Still he sensed no danger and allowed the mare to continue toward the hut. As they drew closer, his Larnkin pinpointed what was bothering him.
The scents of habitation were fading; he could detect that much in his human form. There’d been no cooking fire for at least three days and even his dull human senses could tell him the place had been abandoned.
He halted the mare in front of the hut and swiftly dismounted. Inside, he spotted signs that the occupants had packed quickly. His Larnkin stirred worriedly within his chest, the spirit creature making its unhappiness known, something it rarely did.
Silverblade rubbed his chest in a half-conscious manner, as if that would soothe it.
Thankfully, there were no signs of struggle, nor had the place been ransacked. They had left voluntarily. Perhaps Old Mother had sensed danger and she’d packed up and relocated before it could find her grandchildren.
He left the hut and his Larnkin expanded his senses, seeking the direction the humans had gone. It took the Larnkin some moments to find the trail. It had been expertly hidden from view by both mundane and magic means.
His Larnkin stirred again, and the urge to follow the healer’s trail doubled. Silverblade grinned at his Larnkin’s less-than-subtle showing of interest.
“Yes, yes, Old Man. We will follow the young healer later and make her our apprentice. But first, we have another mission to complete.” His Larnkin stirred excitedly for a moment more before settling down to wait. It was somewhat disconcerting to have a Larnkin come to consciousness so clearly. They usually didn’t show such an interest in the mortal world. But he was secretly pleased. It was always beneficial when both host and Larnkin agreed upon a chosen path.
Once his new mission was over, he would seek out Beatrice and her family’s back trail and follow them to be sure they were safe. If his elders reassigned him again, or his mother had another quest for him, he would instruct a few of his pack members to seek out Beatrice and her family and see them safely to Elemental lands.
But for now he had another task to perform. With one more glance around the small homestead, he mounted his mare and sent her on down the trail they’d been following since morning. In the wordless way of Larnkins, his communicated the location of the delegation members in a series of emotional sensations and physical sights and sounds, forming a vision in his mind’s eye. They were less than two candlemarks ahead.
Beatrice propped her longbow against a tree trunk and surveyed her work. Even studying the forest trail where the wagon had recently been over with a critical eye, the signs of its passage weren’t obvious. But then again, they shouldn’t be. She’d just spent the better part of three candlemarks hiding all signs of her family’s passage.
The absolute last thing her family needed was for a patrol from River’s Divide to pick up their back trail. Or worse—acolytes. She’d been diligently hiding the wagon’s trail for the past three days since the Stonemantle sisters had first warned her grandmother about the newly arrived ship carrying Lord Master Trensler and his acolytes.
Beatrice didn’t know the oldest sister as well as Sorsha, who was of an age with her. Yet Ashayna was a scout in General Stonemantle’s army an
The offer itself was… unusual.
It wasn’t every day that one was invited to go live among the ‘enemy’ because it was safer.
Beatrice wondered if her grandmother might have had a vision. Whatever the case, Beatrice and her family were now on their way to live with Sorsha’s santhyrian allies.
It didn’t surprise Beatrice that the youngest Stonemantle sister would align herself with the horse-like santhyrians. Sorsha had always had a way with horses—and for all their magic, santhyrians did resemble large horses. When the Stonemantle sisters had visited last, they’d been accompanied by three santhyrians and the Crown Prince of the Phoenix.
It had been an odd experience.
All her life, she’d been conditioned to hide her magic or risk being caught by an acolyte. To trust someone outside her immediate family with the knowledge was to court betrayal and a horrible death by fire.
But the santhyrians and the phoenix prince had known that she was a healer at first glance, and they hadn’t cared. They’d seemed to consider her one of them, as if it didn’t matter that she was one of the ‘enemy’. It had been a novel sensation to not need to hide a part of herself.
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