Blaze and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality.
Blaze, a hawk, had done many things in her immortal life. Now, making toys was a pastime she enjoyed. However, the owner of the print shop that made the blueprints for her designs had not only ripped her off but several other companies by giving them faulty blueprints and keeping the correct ones for himself to profit from. Blaze had caught the defect before she had put her project into production, the other firms hadn’t been so lucky and had lost millions. Given the opportunity, Blaze purchased the print shop.
Bryson had worked for the print shop for ten years. However, he had no knowledge of the owner’s dirty dealings. When the new owner stepped in, he was happy to still have a job and was eager to help in any way he could. What he hadn’t expected was the jolt he received when he shook the new owner’s hand. In that moment he knew two things, she wasn’t human, and she was his mate.
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Mercy and her warrior sisters had been around for several millennia, their time of fighting in wars and conquering kingdoms now a distant memory. Before Queen Dante passed, she’d graced her prized warriors—the falcon, hawk, eagle, phoenix, vulture, and owl—with humanity as well as immortality. A gift that Mercy, to this day, was having difficulty coming to terms with. Living as a human was not what she was born to do, nor what she wanted to do. Being an immortal in a life she didn’t want left Mercy feeling angry at the world and turned her into a workaholic.
As an intervention, Blaze arranged an extended vacation and guilted her into taking it. She made all the arrangements and wouldn’t tell Mercy where she was going, just to be at the airport and do as she was told.
Joel Oliver needed this job. Finances were tight, and Blaze said all he had to do was chauffer a rich woman around town. What he would receive would catch him up on the mound of bills piling up and keep the roof over his—and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Miley’s—head for a few months longer. Miley was in a wheelchair—and as a result, had a lot of medical bills—but he loved her more than his own life. However, Joel was about to bite off more than he could chew.
The woman was gorgeous, and he found her snarky, hateful, attitude amusing until she interfered with how he was raising his daughter. Now, all bets were off.
Mercy would normally laugh in the man’s face for his hurtful remarks, but for some reason, her heart shattered instead. After a night of the most mind-blowing sex she could’ve imagined, he was treating her like it all meant nothing…. She had just realized he was her mate, and he hated her….
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The castle was going down, thanks wholly to her birds. Queen Dante sat upon her horse and watched as stone after stone crumbled to the ground. In a matter of moments, not only were the walls to the fort destroyed, but the king inside his castle was dead as well. Turning her mount, she headed back to the encampment to ready herself for the long ride home. The birds joined her not a half-hour later, their large bodies covered in dust and blood. “You have done well, my darlings.” They could understand her and she them, but no one else could. She had made them what they were, and she would be the only one to control them. “Have you fed well on his dying cattle? How does it serve a man to have his food dying? His people, they were fed no better, I saw.” The falcon—she had never named them—told her that the people were headed west. In a few months, maybe less, they would all be dead too. It bothered them when the people suffered because of the king or queen of the castle, but it was to be. Dante could not care for any more in her own keep. No one would attack her keep. If they tried, she knew them to be too stupid or too drunk on their own mead. She had her birds, all of them bigger than life, made large by the magic that she gave them. Looking at them as they landed around her, forever keeping her safe, she wondered why she had not thought of it sooner when her king was still alive.
“I would have set you upon him. You could have eaten him for your dinner. Though I suspect that it would have given you a great deal of belly pains.” The hawk told her that she was lucky he had died the way he had. That she would have killed him the first time he’d drawn back. No one would harm her again. “Yes, I guess that you would have. But I suffered greatly when he was living. No children to give me comfort in my old age. Though they might have been just like him, and that would have been too much to bear.” She would never marry again. Love wasn’t something she searched for. Not that she didn’t have someone to warm her bed on occasion, but it was nice to be able to send them on their way when she had finished with them. Her heart belonged to no one, and she would not submit to another man taking to her bed by force. All would be well—no one would threaten to come and take over her home. It was a safe place for all. The hawk used her beak to put delicate things upon the backs of the others. There was aplenty this time—barrels of smoked meats; pottery that they would use like it wasn’t worth a king’s gold. They raided the castle each time they conquered. Hawk was the best at getting in and out before they took the place to the grounds.
The eagle took off toward home. She would let the people know that Dante was returning simply by showing up. They would have a feast this night. The food upon the eagle’s back would feed them for many days. The barrels of spices found hoarded in the lower levels of the castle, would go a long way toward helping them trade for what they did not grow.
The phoenix, by far the most deadly of her birds, shed her feathers in anticipation of getting new ones. After a battle she would begin anew, each time getting stronger, and her feathers, brilliant now, would be brighter still. She could flame a fire so hot that stone would crumble under a man’s feet. The ground would no longer hold a seed within its belly to produce food, and she could kill a man with a single breath so that there would be nothing left of his body. Dante loaded the last of her things onto the back of the owl. She might be small, she had always thought, but she could carry more than her own weight. And she could pick up her horse, used to flying through the sky like a bird himself, and take him back to the castle as well. He would be fed and groomed before Dante ever landed on the ground. The vulture squawked at her and she turned to look at the two men there. They looked as if they might have been about to kill her, but the sight of such large birds had thrown them off their duty. In no time at all the vulture snapped both of them up and ate them down. A gruesome sight, but one that filled her heart with joy. She was safe again. The vulture took off too once she was loaded up. “Well, my falcon, it is just you and I left.” She told her that she was still armed. “Yes, well, probably not too bad of an idea seeing that they nearly shot us.” The falcon laid her body to the ground. She was the only one that was fitted with a seat, one that Dante rode on. Scouring the area, Dante, as always, made sure that the place she’d camped in was as neat and clean as she’d found it—sometimes in better shape. As she climbed on the back of her bird, she held her breath. “I do hate the height. I should have thought this through when I turned you into my warriors.
” Her laughter, should there has been someone around to hear it, might have caused them to think her insane. “Homeward, my love, and we shall eat well tonight.” She took no one with her on her battles except the birds. That was why she believed, her people were so loyal to her—she protected them, fed them better than she did herself, and made sure that there was plenty for them to trade and share for things that she did not provide for them. The soil was rich and would give forth a bounty like no other gardens. Flowers grew that were woven into pretty things and traded. There was a smithy available, as well as a doctor who doubled as a dentist. They had even acquired a gravedigger, who also made markers. A single merchant came by often, and his wagon, filled when he arrived, would be nearly empty when he left. With him came the latest news, and any posts that he had been asked to bring to the people. He would also, for a small coin, take out letters for the next time he was in the keep of a relative or friend. And today, there was such a missive. But it was for her, from someone that she’d hoped never to hear from again— the king of all the lands, who ruled the area around the seas, including where she lived. He was the only man that she answered to, though it wasn’t with any kind of happiness on her part.
After the others were settled down and the food that had been brought put into storage, she sat down and wasn’t surprised that the falcon came to see her. The room that she was in—the throne room, for lack of a better term—had no roof, and six perches for the birds when they wished to see her. Otherwise, they sat upon the top of the castle turrets, watching for anything that might befall them. “I am to wed. The king of all the lands, he has decided that my castle is the best there is, and he will marry me himself.” The falcon asked about his castle. “He says that it will be his son’s, which he does not have as yet. His last five wives only gave him daughters, from what I have heard, and they did not last long afterward.” The falcon asked her what she would do. Dante knew what would happen to her should he come here—he would kill her. Being in her fortieth summer, she was much too old to bear any children, and he would do better with a younger bride. One that could birth him the sons that he wanted. “He will kill me. We both know that. And you six will kill him or be killed. I worry so much for the people here too.” Dante thought of several plans and threw them out. It was in her head that if she should die, then she would do so on her own terms. “I will need a day to think about this. In the meantime, he says that he will be here in the new year. That will give us a month to provide for the people and make sure that they are not harmed.” ~*~ Dante worked as hard as the rest of her people. With her hair up in a rag, she didn’t look any different than any of the other men and women that toiled with her.
There was much to be done in the little time that they’d been allotted. Today they were drying all the beef and goat meat they had. It would last them for several months—where she was sending them for safety, they’d need that extra time. Long enough for them to breed more of their cattle and goats so there would always be food for them to eat. “What of the dried herbs that are left, my lady? There are barrels of it packed away for the trip. Shall we put them in bags to go?” She shook her head. “There will be no more barrels to use until the morn. What shall we do?” “Leave them. There is very little, correct?” The man said that there wasn’t enough for a good strong stew. “Good. They will think that you all died off from lack of planning, and that will keep you safe for a longer time. Leave it for them so that when the keep and castle are in ruin, the king will understand why.” Not that anyone was going to be coming to the castle to live, she thought. There were things in motion that would make sure that everything here was gone well before the lands were walked upon again. She looked to the sky when a dark shadow fell over her. Her hawk was making her way to the village that Dante had set up. Long ago, Dante had purchased lands far from where she was now and put them in the name of Mercy Dante. She knew so much about all their futures that it made her so sad to know that she’d never been there to see it happen. “My lady?” She looked at her man of arms, a man that had very little work to do but was brave and true to her. “We have plenty of things to go on the next load if you have a desire to send it on. Do you still wish for some of the armed men to go with them this time?
I’m to understand that we’re to fell trees for homes.” “Yes, that would be good. How many men can you spare today?” He told her all that she had. “Then send them on. I know that some of you are frightened to ride the birds, but you should have no fear. They would no more harm you than they would me.” He nodded and looked at her hawk. “I shall send you all on her. She is the most gentle of the six of them.” The carrier had been fashioned a week ago. It had upset her that it had taken so long to get it right, but it was safe now, and that was all she wanted. There were only a few short weeks to get the people gone from here with all that would keep them safe. Now all she had to do was make sure that the birds didn’t know the last of her plans. The platform had been made from several drawbridges from castles that they’d taken over. She had known that saving them would be helpful, but it had taken a great deal more work than she’d expected to put them together and have her fishermen weave a netting to carry it with. After several trials and failures, the carrier worked. Loading up the men on the first run of people, she noticed that they had put the several men that were afraid of the ride in the middle. One of them, a hardy man otherwise, had been knocked out with much wine. It had been funny to all around that it had taken so little of the wine to do that to him. But they didn’t know that she’d given him a bit of magic to help him travel. All was well when her hawk took off with the several dozen men to start on the homes that would be needed. Barrels would be next.
They had been sealed by the magic that would keep them well preserved. The other birds, her warriors for all time, had been taking jewels and other items to a cave that she had also covered in magic. It would help the people of the new village for as long as they lived, well beyond her body being anything but dust. Dante watched as several more people were taken to the new village. She would allow them to name their new place, so long as it would never be attached to the name of the castle. That would be bad for them and would bring much trouble onto their heads. When her hawk landed, she went to ask how things were progressing. “Well, my lady. They were no more off the platform for seconds when they started to work. I believe that you were good to get them started on this. ‘Tis only late winter, so they should be able to have a few of the buildings up before the rest are moved.” Dante agreed with her. No one else could understand the birds but her. It had, she knew, kept everyone safe all these years. “I can only make two trips there and back, my lady. ‘Tis not a long way by the way we fly, but the pack is heavy. Please forgive me for that.” “You have nothing to be sorry for, my bird of prey. You have done one more than I had hoped for this day. And when the others have finished their tasks for me in carrying away the riches and other things that they will need, then it will take no time at all to move the rest. Nay, you have done well this day in taking the men, and then the food to feed them while there.” Her hawk, who would someday be called Blaze, bowed before her.
Stacking up the loads that would be going on the platforms, she could see that they’d be taking away the last of it only the day before the king was to arrive. Dante was glad now that she had such good people working for her. They had asked nothing as to why they were doing this but had done it for her when in reality, it was all for them and her birds. Dante knew that the king would never make it to her keep. His ship and all his bounty would be deep in the waters he would try to cross to kill her and take her castle. The man was a fool to think that she would easily do what he wanted. But her plan still needed to be carried out…there would be other kings who thought to claim her land. Wiping at a tear, she looked around the keep she’d worked so hard to keep everyone safe in. It was then that she saw her son. Duncan was everything that she was and more. Each time she saw her son she would give him a little more of herself, teach him something of running a castle. He knew what he was to her, and that Mary was doing her a great favor in keeping him safe. Duncan would be a greater king than she ever was a queen, which was how it should be. She was glad now that she’d told him that he was to be mated to one of her birds. Leaving him to his work, she entered the castle to see what else was there that she could easily live without. There was very little left as it was, but she moved from room to room to make sure that nothing was left behind of any value. The only thing that she could see in the great room was the painting of herself. Dante wished so many times that she could have put her son’s portrait there with hers, but it was not to be. It would have been foolhardy to think that she’d be able to keep him safe if she was to let it be known that he’d been born to her.
Other kingdoms would have done a great many things to have captured him to bring her to heel. Dante would do anything to keep him safe, including submitting to a man again—a thing that she never wanted to do again in her lifetime. “I shall give this to our falcon.” She turned her head enough to find Duncan behind her and the doors closed to anyone walking around. “She will be a great person, I think. Sour to many except the one that she will love.” “You have seen this?” Duncan said that he’d seen a great many things. “Well, you know as well as I that it might not turn out the way we see it. There can be changes, you know.” “This I am aware of. As well as you not living past when the last person is taken from here.” She turned to look at him then, trying to see just what he was seeing. “I shall forever miss you, Mother.” It was the first time he’d called her that. Her heart, so tender of late, felt like it would burst into tears at all that would be gone in so short a time. Hugging him to her, she could feel that his body was getting stronger daily. He knew how to work, and did it without complaint. “I have been writing a book. It is just for you, my son. You will know things that I have known for some time. It will replenish the riches that I have put aside for you. Also how to keep the birds safe should they need it.” He nodded. “I will give it to Mary on the day that you travel.. I do not want the others to know that you are my son, even after all is finished here.”
“They will only know me as a man that you trusted. But I will need to tell them at some point. This you know as well as I. I will be their king when they need me.” She nodded, tears flowing quickly now. “Mother, you do know that I will take care that they are as safe as you made them here?” “I do, my son. I know that better than you could. You are not anything like your father, a cruel and terrible man. When you marry, and you will, I want you to know that she will only love you if you give her your heart. It’s important that you do that for her.” He said that he would. “Let her strength help you when you know that you are not armed to do it on your own. She will love you more and respect you forever for that.” “Will she be stronger than me, Mother?” Dante told him that she was sure of it. “Then I will be for her what you have been for these people—a person of worth. I promise you I will also protect her forever.” “That is all that anyone can do for their mate, my child.” He hugged her, something that neither of them were able to do often. “I shall miss you, Duncan, much more than I could ever explain to you. Go forth, protect all the people of your kingdom, and do what I say. Love your mate more than anyone, including yourself, and the two of you will be able to move mountains.”