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RAGIS by Donna Migliaccio

Excerpt from chapter one

Were they gaining? He leaned into the wind, as if by sheer will he could make the ship go even faster, although he did not know what would happen if they did catch up to the Northmen. They shot past a cluster of small islands fringed with trees. By the Stone, they were gaining. They were close enough he could see the Northmen laboring at their oars as well as their sails, close enough to make out Sigurd at the helm of the warship.

“We steal their wind!” Astéria shouted from her oar. Indeed, the Northern sails were sagging slightly as the centaur vessel came between it and the brisk westerly wind. The centaurs at the oars cheered, and Torrin let out a roar of triumph that made Kristan jump.

And just as suddenly, they lost speed. Torrin’s jubilant cry spiraled into a groan as the sails fluttered and drooped. Kristan looked astern, where a second Norwinn warship had swung from behind the islands, diverting the wind into their own sails. The centaurs bellowed their fury as they lost way. Ahead, the Northmen’s flotilla fled toward the horizon.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Torrin shouted, as the Norwinn warship heaved to near them.

“What do you think you’re doing?” someone on board yelled back.

I know that voice, Kristan thought.

A moment later, his suspicions were confirmed as a rangy, red-haired man pushed his way past the staring seamen lining the rail. Sir Nigel Demitt, First Advisor of Norwinn, squinted at the centaur ship and suddenly grinned. “Well, you’re a long way from home, Torrin,” he called. “And in pursuit of our Northern friends as well. Surely they weren’t poaching on O Tópos too.”

Torrin flicked a glance at Kristan, then cupped his hands around his mouth. “No,” he shouted back. “Bring your ship closer, so we can talk.”

“But they’re getting away!” Chári wailed. The other centaurs raised their voices in outraged agreement.

“They won’t go far,” Kristan said, so sharply that everyone turned to look at him.

Nigel’s mouth dropped open. “Kristan, what are you – ”

“Look,” Kristan went on, ignoring him. He pointed toward the Northern ships. “Why do you think they waited for us last night? Why do you think they’re waiting for us now? They want us to follow them, right around the southeastern shoreline, then north into Stratheden waters.”

“What for?” Nigel asked. “What’s going on?”

“I might ask you the same, First Advisor.”

Nigel drew himself upright, his easy grin hardening into tight-lipped sullenness. “I’m following your Reach’s orders, my lord.”

“Is that so? Are you aware that my Reach abandoned her post in Norwinn to find you?”

He was not prepared for the sudden, joyous light that brightened Nigel’s face. “She did? Where is she now?”

Silently, Kristan pointed toward the Northern ships. To his annoyance, Nigel gaped again. “She’s with Olaf? But how – ”

“I’m in no mood for explanations now, First Advisor. This Kentávron ship isn’t suited for a sea voyage. I want yours.”

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