Rebel's Honor

By: Gwynn White
A Steampunk Fantasy in the Crown of Blood Series

Chapter 1

Lynx crouched in the tawny grass, her eyes fixed on a nest scraped out of the gray sand. A dozen white eggs gleamed in the weak autumn sunshine. Unguarded now, it would not be long before a parent returned to watch the precious hoard. She grinned at her younger brother, Clay, who squatted next to her. His freckled face beamed back. His blue eyes, so like her own, glistened with excitement.

Movement on the plain caught her attention. She brushed his arm, clad in a worn leather tunic similar to hers, and nodded toward an ostrich striding in their direction. “It’s the male,” she whispered. “Just as we planned.”

They had chosen dusk for this egg raid because that was when the males took over nest duty from the hens. More dangerous than females, ostrich cocks increased the risk, making the ultimate prize so much more valuable.

Clay’s grin broadened, but his throat bobbed.

Lynx tried but failed to ignore the shimmy of doubt rippling through her. She liked to believe her bravery was tempered by intelligence—most of the time, at least—but people outside of her tribe would call her and Clay insane for what they were planning.

They’d be right.

The next few minutes would decide the course of her little brother’s life. And destroy hers, too, if anything went wrong.

A determined frown settled on her face. After all our planning, nothing will go wrong. She swept her blond hair, braided with black ostrich feathers and eggshell beads, away from her face and focused on the ostrich.

Black wings flapping, it bayed a warning, a thrilling sound that always reminded her of the distant call of hunting lions. It was appropriate. An angry ostrich was every bit as vicious as any lion. She had seen friends disemboweled by ostrich kicks; as much as she loved the sound, she didn’t take the threat lightly. She reached back and pulled out a machete—one of two stored in leather sheaths strapped across her back. She held it ready in case the bird attacked.

Clay clenched his own machete. “He’s seen us.”

“Smelled us, more like it,” Lynx whispered.

Clay licked his lip nervously. “Of course. The wind’s behind us. I forgot.”

Uncertainty again assailed Lynx, and her frown deepened. She had told Clay countless times that alerting the ostrich to their presence was part of the challenge of an egg raid. This once-off rite of passage strove to push him to the limit of his courage. Only the very bravest in the Norin tribe stole from a breeding ostrich.

Despite being only fifteen, if Clay returned home today with an egg, he would pass into adulthood. With that, he’d earn the right to braid ostrich feathers and beads made from the eggshell in his hair. Best of all, he’d join Lynx in the raiders. Revered above all in Norin, raiders rode on the outskirts of the caravan, defending their people and their flock of ostriches from Chenayan soldiers and other predators.

But if Clay failed—and survived the encounter—he would be nothing more than a server, performing the menial tasks needed to keep the Norin caravan moving.

Her brother had accepted the risk. Lynx had one last chance to ensure he was truly committed. She leaned closer and stared at him.

“You don’t have to do this. You’re not yet sixteen. I won’t judge you if you say you’re not ready.”

Clay scowled at her. “I’ve been ready for months. Only he stopped me.”

He: their father, King Thorn, leader of the Norin.

Lynx understood her brother’s resentment; she had been thirteen when she sneaked off to raid her egg. At the time, if anyone had known she planned to raid, she would have been chained to a post to stop her risking her life. But, as silent as an owl’s wing, she had slipped away from camp to face her ostrich. Now, at twenty, her father was training her to take over leadership of the raiders when he died and her oldest brother became king.

Who was she to deprive Clay of his chance to raid?

She squeezed his leg, encased in black leather trousers. “Then let’s focus on that ostrich. It’s not going to hand you its egg, you know.”

A smile quirked Clay’s lips, filling Lynx with pleasure.

The ostrich gave them the full treatment, trying to lure them away from the nest with a display of piteous limping. His one wing drooped at his side, skimming the dusty ground as he lumbered away from them. The invitation was clear: I’m wounded, easy prey. Come and get me rather than my eggs.

But Lynx understood ostriches too well to be conned. The bird would stagger away, leading them on if they fell for the trick. Then, a safe distance from the clutch, he would rear up, slashing out his lethal talons. Surviving the attack would tax Clay’s fighting skills.