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The link between the world of man and Elfhame had sundered long ago, the elven people and their
magic fading to legend. Tall beings of extraordinary beauty, the fae preferred a world of peace. But
seven elves--considered mad by their own people--longed for power and war. They stole sacred
magical scepters, created their dragon-steeds, and opened the gate to the realm of man again and
flew through.
 Each elf carved a sovereign land within England, replacing the baronies that had so recently been
formed by William the Conqueror. They acquired willing and unwilling slaves to serve in their
palaces and till their lands. And fight their wars. Like mythical gods they set armies of humans
against each other, battling for the right to win the king, who'd become nothing more than a trophy.
They bred with their human slaves, producing children to become champions of their war games.
The elven lords maintained a unified pact, using the scepters in a united will to place a barrier
around England, with only a few guarded borders open to commerce. Elven magic provided unique
goods and the world turned a blind eye to the plight of the people, persuaded by greed to leave
England to its own, as long as the elven did not seek to expand their rule into neighboring lands.
 But many of the English people formed a secret rebellion to fight their oppressors. Some of the
elven's children considered themselves human despite their foreign blood and joined the cause. And
over the centuries these half-breeds became their only hope.

Devon, England 1734

Chapter 1
 Giles Beaumont heard the sound of battle coming from beyond the rocks in the direction of the
village at the same moment Cecily emerged from the waves of the English Channel. His magically
cursed sword flew from its scabbard, smacked the palm of his hand, and it took every ounce of Giles's
considerable strength to shove it back into the leather sheath. As much as his blade longed to be finally
used, the years of training to protect the young woman held firm and he ran away from the village to
the beach.
 He'd removed his stockings and half jackboots after the first hour of waiting for Cecily, and now his
toes dug through the hot sand while broken seashells stabbed his heels. But the elven blood that ran
through his veins allowed him to reach the tide line soon enough, his feet now slapping on wet sand,
the spray of the crashing waves cooling his face, the ocean breeze billowing open his half-buttoned
shirt with even more welcome relief.
 He kept his gaze fixed on naught but her.
 Cecily Sutton, half-breed daughter of the Imperial Lord Breden, elven lord of the sovereignty of
Dewhame, did not look like a direct descendant of the elven royal line. At least, not at the moment.
She had one arm wrapped around the fin of a dolphin, the creature propelling her through the water at
wicked speed. Her black hair gleamed in the sunlight, her luscious mouth hung wide open with
laughter, and she'd half-closed her eyes against the spray of flight.
 A wild magical woman, indeed. A mysterious creature that he'd been assigned to protect since she
was nine years old, and Giles himself only fifteen, in hopes that she would be of use to the Rebellion
some day. But a daughter of those cold, reserved elven lords? No, she did not fit that mold.
 She swam by herself the rest of the way to the shore, with a wave and a last caress for her
dolphin-steed. Her magical affinity for the water made her look one with it, her swimming near
effortless as she crossed the final distance to the beach.  Giles waited for her, waves lapping about his
ankles, watching as her eyes grew round with surprise when she recognized him. With those large
inhuman eyes, he could not deny her birthright to the elven lord. They glittered in the sunshine, twin
jewels of blue, with a crystalline depth that bespoke of the enormous power that the young woman
could summon.
 Although she'd managed to keep that power well hidden through the years.
 "What are you doing here?" she said, her eyes flicking away from him to stare at her abandoned
clothing on the beach. Cecily kept her body hidden in the water, but the motion of the waves
occasionally revealed the swell of her breasts. Giles made sure his gaze stayed fixed on her face, but
despite his efforts to appear unaffected by her nudity, the warmth of a flush crept over his cheeks.
 For he'd been ordered to protect her but keep his distance. Thomas had warned him that the girl was
destined to marry a great lord. And in more subtle terms, that Giles would never be good enough for
her. So by necessity he had spied upon her from a distance for years. Many times he had damned her
for her magical affinity to water, for scarcely a day went by without her sneaking off to this private
cove where she stripped and flung herself into the ocean. Perforce he'd watched her body develop
from skinny youth into the full curvature of womanhood.
 Now her curves rivaled those of any woman he'd bedded; indeed, once she'd matured, he would
often dream of those perfect features while he made love to one girl after another.
 Many times he had fancied himself in love with one of the village maidens. For a time he would feel
relieved that he had been able to put the forbidden girl from his thoughts. But thoughts of Cecily would
always intrude yet again. He would find himself comparing those vivid blue eyes, that heart-shaped
brow, the lilt of her laughter, with whatever poor girl he tried to forget her with. And would find
himself dreaming of her once again, chiding himself for a fool.
 "There's something wrong in the village," he managed to say. "I want you to stay hidden in the water
until I return."
 As usual, she avoided looking into his eyes, her gaze fixed somewhere around his nose. "How did
you know I'd be here? How did you manage to climb the rocks? No one knows about my secret
place--" A more urgent question suddenly halted her flow of indignation. "Has Thomas returned?"
 He shook his head. "No, but I fear that your father may have something to do with it."
 "With what? What is happening?"
 "I'm not sure, and I don't have time for this. Just stay here!"
 Giles spun, raced back to his hiding place, struggling damp skin into woolen hose, sandy cloth into
leather boots. He pulled his sword from the scabbard, the greedy thing ringing with delight, eager for
the taste of the blood that Giles had denied it for so many years.
 A thrill went through him from hilt to hand and he fought it with a clench of his muscles.  "You
devil," he murmured. "If I could have gotten rid of you, I would have. Father's gift or no."
 The sword answered him with a tug in the direction of the village, where the sounds of battle had
grown louder. Giles took one last glance over his shoulder...
 The little hoyden had ignored him. Cecily stood next to her clothing, her net with her day's catch
abandoned in shallow water, flopping fish and scuttling crabs quickly making their way back to ocean.
Giles would have cursed if he'd had the wits to, but the sight of her bending over to pick up her
chemise near knocked the power of speech completely from his head.
 He sprinted back to the water, his sword resisting him all the way. Giles should have known she
wouldn't listen to him. She treated him like all the villagers did, as if he had nothing between his
muscled shoulders but his fine elven features. He'd carefully cultivated that impression of course,
assuming the quiet manner of a humble blacksmith, in spite of how much he despised the role. But
Cecily's  attitude had surpassed his assumed disguise. After the night she offered herself to him and he
had gallantly refused her, she'd avoided him with a disdain that bordered on contempt.
 By the time he reached her side Cecily had pulled on her chemise, struggled into her stays. Her
fingers fastened up the front-lacing stays that most workingwomen wore, and she pulled on her jacket
and skirt without benefit of her quilted petticoat.
 Giles found it easier to speak once she'd covered that glorious body. "I told you to stay in the water."
 She ignored him, pulling on stockings and shoes.
 Not for the first time, he mentally cursed the task of having to protect this young woman.
 "I cannot keep you safe while fighting."
 She straightened, her eyes widening at that. "Why would you care--what in heaven's name is wrong
with your sword?"
 The damned blade kept twisting his arm around, pointing at the village like a dog scenting a hare.    
Giles's boots began to slide across the sand, little furrows left in his wake. "It smells blood--"
 She flew past him in a blur of black hair and linsey-woolsey skirts. Giles blinked then followed. He'd
forgotten that she shared the speed elven blood could provide; indeed, it ran even stronger through her
veins than his. But his eager sword aided his flight and he managed to catch up with her at the top of
the rise. He threw an arm about her waist, managed to drag her and his sword behind an outcropping
of rock.
 Despite years of watching over her, he'd never dared touched her before and the shock of it took him
by surprise. A thrill ran through him, not unlike that which his sword often staggered him with, and for
a moment he could only stare speechlessly at her.
 Before he lost himself completely in the crystal blue of her eyes, she lowered her gaze. "Let me go."
 "Not until you promise me you that you'll stay here."
 The sound of gunfire drifted up to their perch and Giles fought against more than just his sword arm
to seek out the source.
 "I do not know why you have this sudden concern for me, sir, but I assure you--"
 "How many more will die while you argue with me?"
 Her mouth snapped shut, those eyes sparkling with uncanny brilliance. "I will stay."
 "This time you will promise."
 "I promise. Now go!"
 Giles leapt to his feet, racing down the other side of the rise toward the village. He kept his attention
on the scene before him, praying that he judged her rightly, that the lady would keep her word, for he
knew her life held more value than a village of peasants and leaving her alone to fend for herself went
against everything he'd been sworn to do. But the villagers had become his friends, and in good
conscience he could not forsake them.
 Smoke curled up from beyond the trees. The sound of steel ringing against steel grew louder until the
way opened up before him, revealing the village clearing. Soldiers wearing the blue livery of the
Imperial Lord fought against peasants in their coarse wool clothing. But Giles had made sure every
man had a blade from his forge, and despite their ragged appearance, the villager's weapons had a
quality that surpassed the common soldiers'. They held their own.
 The devil-blade sang in his hand and plunged him into the fray.
 For the next few moments Giles could do naught but concentrate on keeping the hilt in his fist. One
blue uniform went down, then another, warm blood splattering his face, gore dripping down the front
of his chest. Giles had always longed for battle but he did not relish death like his sword did. It thirstily
sought out one enemy after another until nothing but dead bodies surrounded him.
 Fortunately, the villagers stayed clear of his blade.
 It appeared that most of the soldiers had discharged their muskets and probably hadn't the time to
reload them before the villagers fell upon them, because no shots rang out as they had earlier. But the
back of his neck suddenly itched. Giles turned to meet the furious glare of a uniformed man across the
clearing. The soldier raised his gun and took aim at Giles--the village blacksmith that had taken down
so many of his fellows.
 He heard Old Man Hugh cry out a warning, saw the fisherman lunge for the soldier, but the shot rang
out before his friend could reach the musket. And time slowed. With a curse Giles wrested control of
his sword, which had now drunk enough blood to allow such impudence, and thrust the weapon in
front of him, catching the edge of the bullet with the slightly wider bottom of the blade, diverting it
away from him.
 If Giles had ever doubted the enchantment of his sword, the lack of any nick in the steel now
confirmed it. He did not credit his blade for saving his life--his elven blood gave him more than a
handsome face and pointed ears. His strength and speed rivaled that of a mere projectile.
 Hugh plunged his blade into the soldier who had fired his musket. The officer didn't even appear to
notice at first, his ruddy face frozen in sheer incredulity at Giles.
 But fall he did, joining the rest of his fellows. Giles regained his breath while he wiped his blade on
the uniform of the last enemy, and returned Hugh's sad smile of victory.
 A sudden quiet descended on the once pretty little village, broken only by the crackling of burning
thatch, the sobs of grieving women. Dead bodies defiled the town fountain; had turned the water a
sickly pinkish hue. Giles winced at the number of villagers that lay alongside the soldiers that littered
the clearing, but many more of them still stood. They had won. Blood-spattered and weary, the
fighters gathered together around Giles, slapping each other's backs. Celebrating the fact that they still
lived.
 But Giles suddenly hushed them, his pointed ears cocked toward a faint rumble of sound. Soon the
few other villagers who possessed a bit of elven blood--and therefore a keener sense of hearing--joined
him in quieting the rest.
 Up the road that led inland came a cloud of dust, the pounding of hooves. Giles did not need to see
their uniforms to know that more soldiers were coming. Hugh gave him a look of surprise while several
of the younger men cursed in dismay. He knew what they were thinking. For years upon years
Imperial Lord Breden of Dewhame had left this village alone. While other towns had lost their young
men to the raising of Breden's new army, they had been left in peace to farm, raise families, and grow
old.
 "Why have they suddenly come for us?" asked William the shepherd.
 Giles already knew the answer to that. Thomas had been gone too long. The Rebellion's most skilled
spy had crafted a spell about the village to hide it, and the enchantment must have faded in his
prolonged absence. Although the villagers had benefited from it, Thomas had cast it to protect his
adopted daughter, to hide her from her true father, Breden, the Imperial Lord of Dewhame. And Giles
could not speak of it. "What started this skirmish? You know what happens to villages that refuse the
draft--have you become so arrogant, then?"
 "Damn it, Giles!" sputtered William, his freckled face near purple. "Ye know I've been longing to join
the wars, as stupid as they be! 'Tis the only way a lad can gain some glory, leastways." Several of the
younger men grunted in agreement. "We woulda' gone with 'em with nary a fuss, but they took it upon
their brutish hides to feel up the skirts of our women. Are ye thinking we shoulda' let them?"
 "No, you did right," replied Giles, knowing that the soldiers had gotten much more than they'd
bargained for. Most villages had already been stripped of their fighting men for the wars; only children
or old men were usually left to protect their families. "But I'm thinking that when the rest of the troops
get here, we allow Old Hugh to explain what happened to avoid more bloodshed--"
 The fountain suddenly erupted, pink arcs of water splashing against the still smoldering thatch of the
roofs and the timbers of the cottages.
 Cecily.
 She walked toward them, her blue eyes gazing about the ruined village with a fury that Giles had
never seen the likes of before. The men surrounding him muttered a prayer under their breath at the
power she so casually wielded, her fingers but flicking at the water to divert it until the fires were
completely extinguished. Even the few villagers who had enough elven blood to possess a bit of magic
crossed themselves. For they only had a little, since the elven lords destroyed all half-breed offspring
who might possess enough power to be a threat to their rule.
 Like Giles's younger brother, John, who commanded enough magic at the age of six to help their
father craft the devil-sword, a weapon more powerful than the sovereignty of Bladehame had
produced in centuries.
 And like Cecily.
 She had never displayed such power before, indeed, Giles had thought Thomas might have found a
way to suppress it in her. To better hide her. But he had never seen her this furious before, either.
She'd never had a reason to be, in the idyllic little village life they'd led, safe from the horrors of the
rest of their enslaved England.
 And the full import of what had happened struck Giles. The soldiers could find her now.
 When Giles had been assigned the task of protecting the girl he'd been but fifteen years old, and
determined to join the Rebellion that would free England of the elven lords that had invaded their
land...and killed his father and brother. But after years of working the forge and feeling like nothing
more than a glorified bodyguard--even if he enjoyed watching Cecily more than he should--when he
longed to fight for freedom...
 Ah, but Thomas had insisted that Cecily could be the Rebellion's greatest weapon, that Giles's task
held more importance than he knew. That Thomas himself could not leave the girl and do his
important work for the Rebellion without knowing that someone would protect her in his absence.
 Giles had pleaded with Thomas to be assigned another mission. A small task even, just so he would
be able to shed this disguise of a thickheaded village blacksmith, if only for a few days. But Thomas
denied him, and each time Giles grew more restless and frustrated, suppressing his feelings as surely as
Cecily hid her magic. For Thomas insisted that one day Giles would be needed to protect his adopted
daughter. That Giles was the only man Thomas would trust in that task.
 This must have been the moment Thomas feared. When he would be unable to return to watch over
Cecily.
 Thomas must be dead, or he would have come home. And now, Giles had full responsibility for the
Rebellion's treasured weapon. And a part of him did not regret that the day for action had finally come.
 "I did not break my promise," said Cecily. "I did not come until the fighting stopped."
 Giles nodded. He thought she would keep her word--that's why he'd forced her to give it. Fie, he
probably knew more about the lady than she knew about herself, after constantly keeping her in his
sight for the past nine years.
 He prided himself on the fact that she hadn't been aware of his scrutiny.
 "There are more soldiers coming." Giles glanced over his shoulder at the rapidly approaching dust
cloud. "Go back to the water and stay beneath it until I come for you."
 Her raven brows rose at that. "Your sudden concern for me is...mystifying, but there are others
here--"
He grabbed her arm. The second time he'd touched her. And that same shock of excitement went
through him. "No one is more important than you are, do you understand?"
 Old Man Hugh made a choking sound and William, who'd been sweet on Cecily since they were
children, took a step forward. "Now see here, Giles, if anyone be protecting Cecily, it'll be me. Don't
think the number of men ye killed here today gives ye any rights to be bossing around--"
 Giles grabbed the smaller man by his dirty collar and lifted him off his feet. In addition to his elven
strength, he'd been pumping bellows for years to work off his frustration and had the muscles to prove
it. "She's not meant for the likes of you, William, so let it be."
 The younger man's face paled until his freckles stood out in stark relief. Giles carefully set him back
on his feet. He'd watched William moon after Cecily for years and for some reason it had irritated the
hell out of him. With the aftermath of battle and the threat of another, Giles had allowed his hidden
feelings to surface. He needed to rein in his control.
 Cecily stood there, with her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open, staring at Giles as if she'd never
seen him before, rather than almost every day of her young life. For a change, she looked straight into
his eyes.
 The world suddenly appeared to come to a stop, and Giles could no more tear his eyes from hers
than he could tear out his own heart. Cecily appeared equally transfixed. They might have stood there
enthralled with each other, if not for Eleanor Sutton.
 The frail woman staggered into the clearing, clutching at her chest, her face black with soot. "Cecily!"
 She wrenched her gaze away from Giles and turned. "Mother!" Cecily ran to the older woman's side,
clasping the thin hands in hers. "Are you all right?"
 Eleanor coughed, an affliction that she'd had for years, but which seemed to have worsened since her
husband's disappearance. "The smoke--the fire destroyed half of our little cottage, Cecily. The one
Thomas built with his own two hands."
 "Mother, I'm so sorry." Cecily turned back to Giles, the expression on her face now completely
altered. "You shouldn't have made me promise! She needed my help."
 The older woman collapsed at her daughter's feet, Giles took a step toward them, but Hugh spat and
said, "Stand firm, boys."
 Giles spun back around to face Breden of Dewhame's soldiers. Hundreds of them. He wondered
what had brought them out in such force. Thomas had been his only source of information to the
outside world, and he'd been gone for nearly a year. But he'd gone on assignments for months before,
and Giles had expected him to return any day.
 It suddenly occurred to Giles that he might be wrong about the failure of the spell surrounding the
village. Perhaps Thomas had been found out. Interrogated with elven magic. Perhaps he'd given away
Cecily's location to Breden of Dewhame. And his army had been sent here to capture her.
 To hell with Hugh trying to reason with the soldiersarmy. Giles couldn't risk it.
 With a roar he leaped forward, sword aloft and singing with glee, decapitating the mounted officer
before the man's body realized it, swinging around to kill another while the first slowly slid off his
horse. The rest of the villagers had apparently forgotten his suggestion as well, for without hesitation
they joined the melee, destroying the mounted officers before the soldiers on foot behind them could
even get a shot off.
 But the enemy rallied soon enough, firing at the villagers with abandon.
 Giles took a bullet in the shoulder. He barely noticed. He had complete control of his devil-sword this
time, and it flew in dizzying arcs, slicing through anyone foolish enough to get close enough.
 They kept coming anyway.
 Until he walked on bodies to reach the next group of fighters, saving his fellow villagers time and
again.
 But it would not be enough.
 There were too many soldiers this time.
 Screams of fury and agony surrounded him. The sharp scent of blood filled his nostrils. Betimes a
red haze covered his eyes until he could barely see. Battle was not all he had dreamed of. The reality
of it twisted his gut, brought a bitter taste to his mouth. Giles's blade hummed with happiness while he
regretted the death of each man he killed, trying not to think of the widows he created today.
 Magic bit at him more than once; a pool of water threatening to trip him up, a liquid flail that sliced
across his chest like a knife, ripping through linen and skin.
 There must have been a few soldiers from other sovereignties as well, for fire magic from Firehame
licked at his breeches. Giles fought an illusion of a Cyclops using gifts from Dreamhame, and he even
met the steel of another enchanted sword crafted in Bladehame. But none of the paltry spells could
overcome his devil of a sword. It dissolved the flail, quenched the fire, cut through the illusion, and
shattered the other blade.
 Through it all, Giles knew he fought a losing battle. But he would not allow despair or regret to make
him falter, for not once did he forget the reason he fought. And after nine years of his life revolving
around one slip of a woman, he did not allow his awareness of her to waver.
 And so. When she approached the circle of fighting he felt her. He cursed, took one dangerous glance
behind him, cursed again. That quick glance revealed Eleanor's lifeless body behind her, Cecily's
furious blue eyes sparkling like sentient jewels as she strode toward the fray. Giles gathered all the
elven strength he possessed and jumped, landing lithely in front of her, effectively stopping her
advance. His sword danced a pattern around her, warning anyone foolish enough to approach the
woman to stay clear.
 "Get out of my way," she growled.
 "The hell I will."
 "You cannot defeat them all. I can."
 She could. Giles could hear it in her voice. She might even be the villagers' only hope of surviving
this battle. But then what? For the past nine years she'd hidden the true strength of her magic. And
Giles had to consider every possibility. If he was wrong about Thomas being captured, and the elven
lord didn't know about Cecily's existence...word of this battle would spread quickly to Dewhame
Palace. Breden would know that one of his elven bastards had enough magic to threaten his rule.
They would hunt her down like a rabid fox. He wouldn't be able to keep her safe.
 "No," he finally said. "When I say the word, you will run. Find a horse. Ride away from here as fast
as you can. Go to Firehame palace--ask for the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole--tell him you are
Thomas's daughter."
 "The hell I will."
 She'd thrown his words right back at him. Damn if he couldn't stop the smile that cracked his face.
 "If you don't get out of my way," she continued, "I shall have to go through you."
 And she would.
 He'd admired her growing beauty for years, but this was the first time he admired her strength of
character.
 Giles stepped out of her path but stayed near, protecting her back. For even the most powerful
sorceress could be felled by a bullet or a blade.
 A pile of bodies lay between them and the remaining fighters. Cecily's uncannily brilliant eyes
narrowed at the sight, her lips tightening with resolve. Giles could feel her call to the magic in her
blood, could hear the distant sound of the waves which constantly crashed against the shore grow
more furious by the second, could sense the multitude of ponds and lakes that surrounded the village
rise up into pillars of whirling dervishes.
 Giles had known of Cecily's command of water but he'd never felt the complete force of it until now.
Thomas had once told him she also commanded the more dangerous elements of the sky, that he'd
seen her use a storm to defend them long ago. But the consequences of her actions had made Cecily
turn her back on most of her magic, and Thomas had allowed it for his own reasons. If she called
down her sky magic now, Breden of Dewhame would know that he dealt with more than an ordinary
half-breed. That the daughter he'd let slip through his grasp still survived.
 For only Breden could command the power of sky. Even his general, Owen Fletcher, reputed for his
magical abilities-- and more quietly--his perversions of that power, could not summon the tiniest of
rainstorms.
 Giles glanced up at the sky, still blue and soft with clouds, and breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps
Cecily's aversion to using that gift still ruled her.
 But the power she commanded from earth-bound water was impressive enough. The young woman
that stood next to him radiated enough magical resonance to make the hair on the back of his neck
stand up. And her head barely topped his shoulders.
 Spears of liquid raced from ocean and pond, swirling in columns of water to create a density strong
enough to wrap around the soldiers of Breden's army. Saltwater tangled about their boots, pond water
circled their arms and muskets. At first it soaked their clothing, the bloody dirt at their feet, but more
water arced toward them until it surrounded them in a cyclone that had the strength to lift them off
their feet. Their screams were muffled behind the silvery sheen of liquid.
 Two of the officers possessed magical abilities and they managed to break free of their watery traps.
Five other soldiers wielded swords that must have been crafted in Bladehame, for they sliced through
their cyclones, trying to cut the tendrils that led to their fellows. But they did not wield a devil-blade
like Giles's, and Cecily's power overwhelmed such puny strength. Soon they were trapped like most of
their fellows.
 The villagers gaped at the maelstrom around them for a few moments but soon began a retreat
toward Cecily. The officers who remained free followed them with a yell of defiance. Giles resisted the
impulse to leap forward and engage them in combat, his mission to protect Cecily keeping him by the
half-breed's side.
 Her hands moved in a pattern that followed the swirling motion of the water. Those faceted elven
eyes barely blinked, the blue irises glazed with some emotion that Giles could only guess at. What
would it feel like to wield such power?
 His devil of a sword thrummed in his hand; reminding him that he did indeed possess a similar gift,
although not one he would have chosen. Unlike the inferior swords of the officers, Giles's blade could
withstand almost any magical spell. Cecily would find it nearly impossible to entrap him with her
powers. Giles suspected that his sword might even surprise an elven lord bereft of a scepter.
 The villagers ran past Cecily. Giles cursed. They had brought the officers right to them. He swung his
blade in a warning pass and the closest soldier came to an abrupt stop. Seemingly unaware of the
danger, Cecily continued to weave her magic with her hands. She lifted her palms to the sky, raised
them above her head. The cyclones surrounding the trapped officers rose in unison, drifted toward the
ocean. Cecily turned to watch her creations, and as each one reached a point that Giles judged to be
over deep water, she made a fist, then quickly splayed her fingers. The cyclone disintegrated into
thousands of droplets, releasing the man trapped inside to plunge downward with a scream of terror
that Giles heard even from this distance.
 He could not determine if they would survive the fall.
 The officer who had halted a few paces beyond where they stood narrowed his eyes at Cecily's
hands, suddenly threw back his head and screamed, "To me, men! To me!"
 Giles did not wait for anyone to answer that cry. He lunged forward, forcing the other man to raise
his sword in defense, and with a spin of his wrist and a twist, he quickly disarmed the officer and ran
him through. Giles risked a brief glance around as the man fell to his knees, but none of his troops
remained to answer his call.
 Old Man Hugh stood over the other officer's body, one bare foot of gnarly toes placed firmly on the
back of the blue uniform. He gave Giles a crooked grin as Giles yanked his sword free of the fallen
man and half-turned toward Cecily. But Hugh's eyes widened and Giles turned back just in time to see
a pistol pointed at her. He had no time to consider if it had already been discharged or gotten water
soaked. He removed the arm from the hand that pointed the barrel at the Rebellion's coveted treasure.
Despite the horrors that Cecily had witnessed already, or perhaps because of it, a sob of dismay ripped
from her throat as the severed hand flew through the air. Giles turned, his chest contracting for a
moment at the expression on Cecily's face. The dreamy haze had faded from those blue eyes and now
each individual facet sparkled with hypnotizing flashes.
 "How could you do that?" she demanded.
 "I had to." Giles bent down and cleaned his blade on a blue coat. "He would have shot you."
 Cecily waved her hands wildly about her. "I cannot believe this is happening." With a sudden slash of
her hands, a curve of water arced over their heads to crash onto the bloody battle site, washing it clean
before curling upwards and returning to wherever it had come from. The surviving villagers released a
gasp of terror despite the cyclones that she'd already conjured, and as one, they backed away from her.
 Giles stood, shoved his sword back into his scabbard. Or at least, he tried to. The damn blade
resisted and nudged the tip away from the opening, causing Giles to nearly impale his own boot. Faith,
not only did he have to endure the hysterics of the battle-scarred young woman, but he couldn't even
manage to sheath his own weapon.
 "Get in there you bastard or I swear I'll melt you down for horseshoes," muttered Giles as he
slammed the blade into the scabbard again. This time it settled into the leather with a satisfied hum.
If he had not vowed to avenge the deaths of his father and brother, Giles would have abandoned the
magical sword long ago. But the enchanted blade had the power to aid him in his revenge against the
elven lords, in his goal to one day become an important leader in the Rebellion. He hated the necessity
of its thirst for blood--and needed it, all at the same time.
 "You talk to it--you are mad," hissed Cecily.
 "Me? Aren't you the one who just dropped a troop of Breden's soldiers into the ocean?"
 "They killed my mother."
 Giles wiped his bloody palm down his breeches, took a deep breath of patience and strode forward,
placing his fingers on her cheek, as if now that he'd touched her, he could not stop from doing so
again. "I'm sorry. Many more would have died if you had not called your magic to defend us, and I am
grateful. But we have no time for your fit of vapors. If any soldiers survive, they will tell the story of
what happened here and the elven lord will come with an even larger army. You must leave the
village."
 "Now I know you're demented," she said. But she did not pull away from his touch. "I do not
understand your sudden concern for me. You...you do not know that I am alive. And I...I despise you.
That's the way it has always been."
 "Has it?" Giles found this revelation of her inner thoughts startling, but he didn't have time to dwell
upon it. "Listen. I promised your father that I would look out for you while he was gone, and since he
has not returned, that makes you my responsibility."
 "You? You would be the last person I would ever want to watch over me."
 "Apparently Thomas did not care what you thought." Giles noticed that the women had emerged
from their hiding places, had started to tend to the wounds of the injured. His own bullet wound
suddenly began to ache and his vision swam for a moment as his hand dropped to Cecily's shoulder to
steady himself. He didn't have the patience to reason with her, but he would have to try. "You are no
longer safe here. Even if word of this scuffle does not reach Breden of Dewhame's ears, more soldiers
will come. Thomas has been gone too long and the spell that has hidden this village has faded. The
Rebellion cannot let you fall into enemy hands."
 Cecily's enormous eyes glittered. "Now I understand. You aren't just a friend of my father's. You are
part of this Rebellion--how long have you been spying on me? No, no, don't answer. I'm sure it will be
a lie. Fie, you almost had me believing...never mind. Your concern is for me as a tool, not a person."
She stepped away from him, dislodging his hand. Giles swayed.
 "I'm not going anywhere with you, Giles Beaumont...if that's even your real name."
 His vision developed odd black specks and he blinked to try to clear it. "I assure you, lady, that is my
name. And after nine years of protecting you I think you could at least trust me for the next few..."
The ground suddenly flew up to meet his face, but before he felt the impact the black specks exploded
and the world disappeared.
The Lady of the Storm
           excerpt