Daughter of the Wolf-head
Daughter of the Wolf-head is the sequel to Agata, Princess of Iberia. In the 5th century AD, the tumultuous Kingdom of Iberia is invaded by an army of steppe warriors loosely aligned with the powerful Byzantine empire.
The royal family is slaughtered except for one 16 year old princess, Agata de Bagration. Alone in the forest with a young half-brother and wholly without shelter or protection, Agata must adapt or perish.
In a tale of trust, courage, betrayal and adventure, she becomes the leader of other female survivors but no one is perfect, least of all an inexperienced young princess. Agata's women pay the ultimate price. In this sequel, Agata must choose to start again or leave her kingdom in the hands of barbarians.
Daughter of the Wolf-head Episode 1
General Kazan stood on the stone wall above Narikala's gates. Beyond the formidable defences, lines of marching warriors descended from the hillsides and poured into the small plain.
"High King Odzun approaches, lord."
Shin'ja stood at Kazan's side, gazing fixedly in the direction of the approaching horde.
"It seems he comes in peace," Kazan slanted a gleaming look at his chief warrior.
Shin'ja snorted and the leather layers of his armour creaked, "He comes for a piece of you, General."
"Then he shall pay for it with a pound of his own flesh," the humour vanished from General Kazan's face, "he owes me a life already."
Shin'ja's expression reflected the hardness of his master's.
"Let him try to harm you. The men won't allow him to lay a finger on you."
General Kazan clapped a hand on Shin'ja's shoulder without taking his eyes off the approaching army. At the rear of the foot soldiers, the cavalry appeared, a puff of dust kicking up and throwing a haze in the air. Winter was past and spring had passed into high summer.
The news was out that Princess Agata of Bagration was alive. It was Kazan's secret, and Shin'ja's also, that Princess Agata's cunning spy had stolen away her royal young half-brother from inside the palace. From Shin'ja's own room. Now the High King was here for a reckoning. Well, he wouldn't hear that truth from Kazan or the most lethal man under his command.
"Tell the men at the gates to keep them sealed until they have my direct order."
Shin'ja nodded and strode away.
"He made me wait a full year. Now he can wait," Kazan muttered and stared down the plain. The royal pennant of the Marauders fluttered in the breeze. The great king approached.
1. Princess Agata
A nightjar creaked in the cold darkness. Perching on the stone wall many feet thick, it peered through a clear, glass window into a softly lit room.
Lying alone and gripped in the arms of a savage sleep, Princess Agata Primavera cried out.
"No! No! Please..."
The battlefield lay before her. Women lay broken and dying. Jutta, Veriko and many others lifted their arms to her, pleading.
"Save us. Primavera, save us."
Voices familiar and dear called out to her, begging for help, weeping in sorrow and pain.
Heavy, leaden dread weighed in her heart. She gazed about in disbelief.
It's all my fault. They trusted me. They followed me.
"I can't. I tried for Iberia but I can't do it. I never wanted this," she groaned aloud.
Pertinax's face blotted out the sun, hiding the wounded from view.
"Sister, why did you leave me?" he looked about and terror lit his eye, "I'm afraid."
"I'll come. I'll find you!" Tears filled her eyes, "Pertinax!"
Something grasped her shoulder, digging deep. Was she dead too? General Kazan had her at last.
A voice sounded faint and far away.
I must find another army. The thought wisped through her sleep.
The pressure on her shoulder increased. The voice came closer.
"Princess Agata. Wake up!"
Agata blinked and gasped. Her vision cleared. She was in her bed in A..... Fortress. She recognised the high, stone walls of her room, visible through the gaps in her sweeping blue drapes. Her henchwoman, Kait, peered down at her anxiously.
"Princess, you're weeping."
Agata pushed herself up into a sitting position, another shuddering breath lifting her chest.
She looked at Kait with damp eyes and cheeks.
"It was terrible," she whispered, "I was back there again."
Sympathy warmed Kait's face and she dropped to one knee.
"You'll never forget them, Princess. It wasn't your fault."
Agata's eyebrows drew together, a crease deepening between and her lips drooped.
"Their blood is on my hands. Theirs and my brother's."
The softness left Kait's face in a flash.
"That one is not on your shoulders. I swore I would keep Pertinax safe and I failed."
"Like I failed my warriors."
Their eyes met. Troubled grey and sombre black.
Agata threw back the covers and swung her legs out to dangle over the edge of the high bed.
"My uncle still refuses to tell me of Pertinax's fate and yet he insists that the Artsruni princes are on their way to bring me an army."
Agata pushed off the edge of the high bed and landed on the soft floor like a cat. She caught sight of the nightjar still perched on the sill outside.
She gasped softly, "Oh Kait, look!"
"Ughh," Kait shuddered, "shoo it away. It is a sign of death."
Agata gave her a quizzical look.
"No, Kait. It is a symbol of wisdom and truth."
She turned back to the beautiful, still creature.
"This is a sign that we must stop waiting on my uncle's false assurances that he will raise an army for me."
The nightjar spotted a flicker of movement far below. It dropped from the ledge like a stone.
The two women heard a faint squeak.
Agata drew a deep breath. When she turned to Kait there was a flame in her face.
"I will discover the truth about Pertinax. I must know if he lives and find him."
It was Kait's turn to look sceptical. She raised an eyebrow.
"Still dreaming of putting him on Iberia's throne, Princess?"
"He's my brother! My only living relative," Agata replied fiercely but Kait had a knowing expression that made Agata squirm.
"He's the child of a slave girl but you are the daughter of a queen. The legitimate heir. So, tell me what you plan to do?"
Kait sat on the end of the bed and after a moment Agata sighed and sat beside her.
There she was. Veriko raised a trembling hand to lift the ragged edges of her dusty hood. Yes, it was the Abbess. There was no mistaking that skinny figure, the mannish stride and crow-like profile. How she knew this, Veriko couldn't remember. Fury scalded at her heart, propelling her forward. She was beside the Abbess, twitching at the sleeve of her coat with frenetic fingers.
Rough hands pulled at Veriko's elbows, wrenching her back.
"Away, varlet. Keep your filthy hands from her Eminence, Abbess Shingli."
With the small cry of a wounded animal, Veriko gazed around wildly.
A voice spoke. The dry rasp of it sounded far away and dreamlike.
Veriko's eyes met the heavy-lidded gaze of the Abbess.
The pressure on her elbows eased. Veriko shook her sleeves down.
"Thank you, Abbess," she said humbly and then words ceased. The teaming thoughts in her mind jammed and found no release through her tongue.
"What is it, child?" The Abbess's tone was not unkind and her face registered a mild curiosity.
Veriko passed a shaking hand across her forehead. What had she wanted to say? The desperate need rose in her but still she had no words. It was important. Very important. The wisps of shattered memory flashed; a woman, half-slumped on the ground, her life's blood pumping from her side.
"Find the Princess, Veriko. You must."
The image faded. Veriko knew the woman. But her name...she couldn't remember her name. All she remembered was the Princess. She served the princess and the princess had left her female warriors to die. The woman in her jagged memory had died because of the princess and she had bidden Veriko find the princess.
Well, she would find her and Princess Agata would pay for her treachery.
The memory vanished leaving Veriko frustrated and bereft.
"Princess Agata," she whispered, staring hard after the faded vision, "Princess Agata..."
An expression of pure venom crossed Veriko's face.
"Where is Princess Agata?"
A firm grip on her arm lifted her from the mists of her own mind.
"Come with me," Abbess Shingli stared hard into Veriko's confused eyes, "General Kazan will ride past soon. He must not know you survived his massacre."