Dynasty of Ghosts

Chapter One


Illya sighted down the length of the arrow, his fingers rock steady on the bowstring as he followed the passage of four Guntharian soldiers through the leafy foliage. They were making little effort to be stealthy, three on foot and armored with thick leather, the last on horseback and wearing chainmail under a surcoat with a black lion on the breast. They were confident this territory was theirs, Guntharian forces having driven back the Prince Knight’s army two days past and taken this vital strip of forest for their own. The river ran through these woods and whoever controlled that, controlled the easy passage of supplies and men.

If the Guntharians had control of these lands, then the least the prince’s forces could do was make it unpleasant for them. His rangers, who were more adept at blending into the wilderness than any of his other forces, were given that task. This forest at the border of Seganny and Kroth was older and thicker than most. Its secrets were shrouded in thick-boled trees and creeping vines that spilled blooms and fragrance throughout the wood. It was a place where a man who knew woodcraft could easily camouflage himself.

Illya knew it. His fellow foresters knew it. The patrols that the Guntharians sent into these woods were crashing invaders within the quiet realm of woodland. There was the whistle of a thernlark. The only birdsong that broke the stunned silence had come over the forest at the passage of the men below. The signal to let arrows fly.

Illya released his shaft. It flew straight and true, lodging in the throat of the mounted knight. The man gurgled, half screaming, clutching ineffectually at the bolt that had killed him. His men hardly had time to register the attack before they too had bolts in them. Someone mis-aimed—an arrow grazed a man’s arm instead of a more vital part and the soldier ran screaming bloody murder into the foliage, right under the limb where Illya perched. Illya cursed under his breath, drew an arrow out of his quiver and tried to target the escaping foot soldier. There were too many branches between him and his mark.

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