Many of Earth's people have already been evacuated to other worlds, but to save those who remain another place is desperately needed. Earth's laws require that the local ruling system approve the request for evacuation.
But on Enseha the Hierarchy has been illegally instituted by Earth people, and patriarchal laws still prevail among the natives . . . well, most of them. Duncan MacEnzie, Lord of the South Land, against all laws and traditions, has trained his daughter, Belinda, as a warrior and raised her to rule.
No one expects the Hierarchy to sanction the union between Belinda and Stuart, son of Enseha's most powerful lord, but when it is approved, Stuart must obey his father's orders and reluctantly weds Belinda. Stuart soon discovers that there is much more to his bride than anyone has told him. He gradually becomes aware of a scheme beyond his wildest imagination, one that will benefit Enseha and offer refuge for the Earth's people, that is, if nothing goes wrong . . .
The blow landed slightly off from what Belinda expected, but she still deflected it with the ease acquired through long hours of practice. The other soldier, a strong young man, had trouble keeping his ground. There wasn't one man on the premises that wasn't taller and heavier than she, yet she was better than most of them. While men relied on pure force, she used her speed, agility, and almost perfect technique to keep her edge.
With a full rotation of her wrist, she performed her counter-attack. Her mentor had noted, twice already, how she tended to remain unprotected just a little too long with this particular parry, so she kept her mind focused; she didn't allow her instincts to take over.
The shift of her weight to her back leg remained unnoticed until the last moment, allowing her to move faster. Her opponent's blacd met empty air where her arm should have been. Satisfied that the feint had worked exactly as she had anticipated, Belinda repressed a smile. One more move and her opponent would be at the precise location where she wanted him - cornered into an undefendable position.
"Break it!" Captain O'Sea ordered.
Because of where she had driven him, the other soldier didn't lower his weapons until she complied first. Obeying her superiors was something that had been taught to her since she was a child, and it should have come automatically, but she was finding it more difficult every time. Each victory over her father's men won her an additional shred of respect from the people, her people. And today, that victory, so close, had evaded her.
"Lieutenant," the Captain called, "report to Lord Mac Enzie immediately."
Belinda sheathed her two blades with a slow, deliberate move. This wasn't the time to unleash her temper, not when her next stop was her father.
"Lieutenant Mac Enzie," said her father, his tone alarmingly solemn and formal, "you are to give all your weapons with your chainmail and your armor to your captain. Then you are to report to the Tower and take quarters there."
She had been training with the other guards when her father's aide had given her the message, and even with sweat still dripping, her blood chilled. What had she done wrong this time?
"The Tower, Father? Why?" Her mouth went dry, and she felt her shirt stick to her back.
"You are to wed Lord Matthew O'Connor's son. This will unify our two families and form a stronger clan."
Who in the Gods' name was the old man's son, and why should she be the instrument of that unification? She understood war needs, after all, she was a soldier, but that?
"But the Tower?" she repeated stubbornly. She wasn't a servant or worse - a criminal - to be treated like that.
"Something could happen to you out there. I can't risk compromising the alliance."
Belinda felt the kernel of panic in the pit of her stomach quickly spread throughout her entire body. The realization that she knew nothing about being a wife terrified her. She had earned the right to the battlefield. She was a warrior, damn it, not a court damsel!
"I understand the need for an alliance, Father, but a wedding? Can't we just put our resources together and fight side by side?"
Duncan repressed a smile. "Led by whom, my lass? You?"
Oh, how she hated that look of his. Of course, her. Was there anyone else? She took a deep breath and tried the diplomatic card.
"By you, Father. Who else?"
"I am not eternal, Belinda, and I want you and your sister taken care of before I die."
"You are younger than the old Duke, why are you speaking of death?" she said, taking a step toward him.
"Matthew and I are about the same age, but he's not sick like I. Now, lay down your weapons, and get yourself settled in the Tower. I will visit you soon."
Belinda wrestled her temper for a moment, and when she formally saluted her father, it was with a totally controlled voice and expression.
Pelican Pond (an imprint of Blue Dolphin Publishing), 2001
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