Chapter 1

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"Not many women choose this life." The mounted warrior pulled off his gauntlets while watching Adovana Lassuni clean the blade of her sword. It was no common sword. The steel was smooth as glass, not a ripple in the metal. He'd never seen such a beautifully crafted blade.

She knelt on one knee in the mud by the body of the man she had just cut down in battle. "I'd hardly call it a choice."

He dismounted from the enormous black horse. "Like so many of us. Sometimes the gods choose for us."

"The gods and a bastard of a father who beat his children. He was my first kill." She stood up, taller than he'd expected, broad-shouldered for a woman.

He smiled. "Self-defense is a basic skill for a warrior. The gods started training you early."

"What is it with you and the gods, old man?"

"They've brought me victorious through many a battle."

"And you don't think that was any credit to your own skill?"

"Oh assuredly. But they set me on the path to learn what I'd need."

She snorted. "All right, old man, if it gives you comfort at night."

It was his turn to smile. "Old man? My hair may show many winters, but my arm will yet match yours in battle."

She looked him up and down. His arms were as thick as oak branches, taut and strong, hardly flagging into old age. And then she saw the rank insignia riveted to his armor. He was the highest ranking general she'd come across since the war began. "No disrespect intended, General...?"

"Vercingetor."

Her smile faded. He was more than a general: Vercingetor was the legendary commander of all the armies. And here she was sassing him. She laughed self-consciously. How could she not have recognized him? One didn't expect to see the prime commander wandering around a battlefield unescorted. She bowed, wondering if it was already too late to salvage her army career. "My deepest apologies, General. Your presence here is a surprise. How may I serve you?"

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