Dragon Defense (Heirs to the Throne Book 3)
more than you three,” Bess scoffed.
    “Rabik was a scout.  His orders were to find the girl and report back, but he sought the glory of her capture.”
    Bess touched Mikla’s throat with sharp steel.  “If you lie, I’ll cut out your tongue and serve it to the wolves,” she hissed.
    “I don’t lie.  Peshal is dead, so I’ll live my life as a slave.” 
    “Slave?”  Shariel bandaged Mikla’s wound.
    “We planned to buy my freedom with the reward, but we bring shame to our father.”
    “Who is your father?” Bess asked.
    “I’m the eldest daughter of Pasha Terralt from Sudran province.  Peshal was my half brother.”
    Bess frowned.  “We killed the son of a pasha and brought more trouble on our heads.”
    “Who will know?”  Shariel asked.
    Mikla cringed.  “You mean to kill me?”
    Bess shook her head.  “You’ll come with us to the Samurai and they’ll decide your fate.”
    “Is it true Samurai women live as warriors and haters of men?”
    Bess chuckled.  “My sisters enjoy men well enough but treasure freedom more.  Some live as warriors, others tend the camp.”
    “A slave to men or a slave to women, what difference does it make?  I’d rather return to the desert.”
    “Samurai don’t take slaves!  If they judge you innocent, you’ll be free to choose your own life.”
    “And if I’m judged guilty?” the girl asked. 
    “You’ll die a swift death.” 
    Mikla studied the ground. “My freedom is out of my control.”
    Aunt Bess frowned and climbed onto a horse and the girls followed her lead. 
    Traveling was faster with horses for everyone. Mikla looked somber.  Her gray eyes and pale skin added a ghost-like demeanor to her mourning.  Shariel studied their companion critically, wondering how the girl could brandish a sword and act with defiance, yet meekly consign herself to slavery.  Could family honor be worth so much?
    Shariel wondered if Ronda would accept her as a grown woman.  Could she prove she wasn’t evil like her father and find safety among the Samurai?  As if summoned by her thoughts, three Samurai women emerged from the woods. 
    Bess shouted, “Ronda!  Bless my soul, I’ve been wishing you’d appear.  Have you taken up conjuring?”
    Ronda grinned.  “Not on my best day.”  She nodded at Chacka.  “The wolf sent a telepathic message along the wolf relay.  We were sent to take you safely to the camp at Bear Rock.” 
    Ronda and Bess slid off their mounts.  Afraid to draw attention, Shariel got off her horse and watched as the two old friends laughed and hugged.  Ronda looked as tall as Shariel, but the resemblance ended there.  Her mother possessed light skin, short brown hair liberally sprinkled with gray, and lively eyes the blue of a summer sky.               
    Shariel recognized Ronda from mental images Bess held dear, but this woman no longer resembled the vulnerable beauty of memory.  Her bearing and attitude conveyed strength, self confidence, and the skill of a warrior beneath lean muscles. 
    Ronda turned to study her daughter with a sad expression.  Ronda said, “Hello, Shariel.”
    Shariel nodded but couldn’t speak.
    Without averting her gaze Ronda said, “You’ve done a good job, Bess.  She looks fit.  The girl’s height and build reflect my lineage, but there’s much of her father in her looks.”
    Shariel’s throat felt tight and dry under Ronda’s scrutiny.  Ronda shifted her gaze to Mikla.  “Who’s this girl?”
    Bess said, “Mikla.  She and her brother ambushed us on the trail, planned to steal Shariel for a reward, but her brother died during the attack. Mikla must go before the Samurai Court for judgment.”
    Are you one of Jarrack’s faithful?” Ronda asked Mikla.
    “No.”  Mikla’s eyes flashed and she held her chin high.  “I answer to my father, Pasha Terralt from Sudran province.  He promised me as security for my brother’s debts, and we sought to pay those debts with
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