What price, honor? Ragged duty or inspired privilege?
The seven years since her return from the steppe to the fertile lands of Redwin had seen more battle than Siera Red would have liked. The first had been a reckless reclaiming--a hell-bent dash for Maytanea in the name of justice for wrongs so deep-seeded in her past that she had not cared to remember any details other than that they had made her who she was. Fast, quick, and bloody, her losses had been paltry.
Her reputation established, she settled into the life of the manor, only to find it not to her taste. Her father wasted in his chamber, slowly succumbing to the bottle that had characterized the latter half of his life; court she found superficial; the disputes of the vassals she found tedious. Despising the very way of life she had newly sworn to uphold for the tenants of Redwin, she left the manor in the care of her steward and rode south to the skirts of Rhydn.
Rhydn was, among other things, a place of chaos. She thrived there. The loud and bloodied arenas welcomed her skill as well as her temper. She wooed the rings with blade and word, drinking freely from the cellar barrels as she made claim to both the upper ranks and the esteem of her peers. But war threatened again as a new leader raised his force in answer to the outrage Siera herself had wreaked in western Maytanea. Gathering the remnant with which she had traveled, she returned to sound the war drum of Redwin's Talon upon the border, leaving behind her new-found friends.
The months of indecisive battle yielded only corpses. Never having experienced such devastating loss, a haunted warrioress hung up her sword, and determined that she would not battle again. But a year later, when Maytaen borders again encroached on Redwin soil, she took up the sword with new reluctance but solid determination to defend the vassals to whom she had given herself by oath.
When it was over, Redwin had fallen, her father lay dead, and the ranks of her officers had been cut to half. Bane, the sword known throughout the provinces by name, stayed at her hip, but war--as far as she was concerned--was done. In two years of fighting, the fields of Redwin had reaped nothing but blood.
Unwilling or unable to watch the painful recovery of her homeland, Siera returned to the arenas of Rhydn with a vengeance, challenged their champion, and won. A brooding Overlord, she ruled in controversy. As in the past, soldiers continued to seek her and what had become to her the bitter glory of Redwin's crimson and gold: landless younger sons and mercenaries alike--among them Darian, the son of Pridden, a petty lord to the south of her homeland. And so she went about the business of swordwork and training by day to return to her pavilion and the embrace of her swordbrother Feadur at night. It seemed she had found peace.
Then messages began to filter from the north: news of Antony Bruch, an ambitious leader in Baltir, word of mercenaries from farther north yet. When the messages became the calls of a Quorum fearing for its chief port, they went unanswered; the Baroness of Redwin would not be roused to arms. For her, challenges had their place only in the ring. But it could not last. In a decisive match, Siera passed the Overlordship to a local warlord. And the messages continued to come, more urgent. The Quorum itself, acting in the interest of the allied provinces of Cadonia, demanded the infamous army of Redwin.
That season, in her twenty-fifth year, the hauntings began again. These were not the terror-strewn images of before, but another ilk entirely. This time the darkness itself seemed to sound the dire drum of her own heart...