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January 19, 2018

The Valiant by Lesley Livingston Excerpt!






A richly-imagined, gripping historical fantasy for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Cinda Williams Chima, The Valiant recounts a seventeen-year-old's tumultuous journey from fierce Celtic princess to legendary female gladiator and darling of the Roman empire.

The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha's legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister's footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father's royal war band. She never gets the chance.

Instead Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators--and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon's worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats, and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena - and claim her place in history among the Valiant.


PURCHASE YOUR COPY








I.

The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog. Our chariot raced toward the far end of the Forgotten Vale, and Maelgwyn Ironhand—my charioteer, constant companion, and frequent adversary—pulled back on the reins.

“No!” I shouted. “Faster! Make them run faster!”

Mael didn’t bother to spare a glance over his shoulder at me. He knew any argument would be futile. Instead, he gave the ponies their head and let them run. We flew over the ground likes ravens diving over a battlefield. The horses snorted and strained, hooves drumming the grassy track and sending mist billowing in our wake.

I stood behind Mael with a spear gripped tight in my right fist and my feet braced against the swaying motion of the chariot’s suspended deck. The wind screeched in my ears, and the ground was a blur beneath our wheels. We’d never gone so fast before, and my heart hammered in my chest. I shifted and moved past Mael, stepping out in front of the chariot’s platform to balance on the square-sided draft pole that ran between the two horses.

“Fallon—be careful!” Mael called as one of my feet slipped on the wood.

I hissed through clenched teeth as I almost fell and nearly lost my hold on my spear. Switching up my grip on the weapon, I regained my balance and peered ahead at the far end of the vale, where the ground sloped sharply upward into the grave barrow of a long-forgotten occupant. A single, rough-hewn stone crowned the round summit, and at the base of the hill, we’d set up a man-high target—a tree stump padded with hay, wrapped in canvas, and painted with the image of a grimacing, snaggle-toothed Roman soldier.

I grinned, exhilaration prickling my skin. The wind whipped my hair back out of my eyes, and I saw everything with crystal clarity. It was as if time had stopped and was waiting just for me. Carefully, one foot in front of the other, I made my way forward on the draft pole as the horses thundered on. I held my breath until I could feel the rhythm of their matched strides in my bones. Then I hitched the spear up onto my shoulder and ran the length of the chariot pole until I stood perched between the shoulders of the galloping horses, my feet braced wide on the wooden yoke harnessing them to the chariot.

My goal that morning was as simple as it was impossible: successfully execute a chariot maneuver called the Morrigan’s Flight, named after the fearsome winged war goddess who flew over battlefields collecting the souls of the worthy dead. I’d watched my older sister, Sorcha, attempt it time after time. The idea was to run out along the narrow pole between the horses of a careening chariot, throw a spear, hit a target, balance for as long as it took for the spear to stay lodged, and then run back to the safety of the chariot deck. It was dangerous. It was thrilling.

It was the supreme act of a true Cantii warrior.

And I’d never seen anyone do it. Not even Sorcha.

The last time Mael and I had attempted it, I’d lost my footing completely and dropped between the horses, barely managing to catch onto the pole with one arm and my knees. If I’d fallen, there was a good chance I would have been killed—trampled by hooves or run over by the chariot’s wheels. But the goddess had not seen fit to take me that day, and Mael had managed to pull the horses to a stop before I lost my grip. The bruises had taken weeks to fade, and Mael had shouted at me for almost half an hour, his face flushed crimson, and swore we would never, ever try such a thing again.

He should have known I wouldn’t leave him in peace until we did. So here we were, racing at breakneck speed across the floor of the Forgotten Vale. Because at the break of dawn that morning, I, Fallon, youngest daughter of Virico the king, chief of the Cantii tribe of Prydain, would turn seventeen years old. Old enough to be made a member of my father’s war band, just like my sister before me. And I was determined that before that moment came, I would master the Morrigan’s Flight.

And Mael, with his clever, steady hands on the reins, would see me do it.

From somewhere in the Otherworld, I imagined Sorcha watched as well.

“On the field of battle, you’re either a warrior or you’re in the way,” my sister had scolded me one afternoon as my wooden practice sword missed its mark by a wide margin. She’d already proved herself to be one of the finest warriors of the Cantii tribe, and it was a lesson she had drilled into me over and over again until the day she died—killed in a skirmish defending the Island of the Mighty from Caesar’s invading legions.

“Are you a weapon or target?” Sorcha had asked. “Choose, Fallon!”

So I chose—that day and every day after.

The weight of the spear on my shoulder and the sword at my hip were as familiar to me now as my tunic and boots or my favorite cloak. As comforting as my father’s rough laugh or the roaring fire in his great hall. As heady as one of Mael’s slow smiles that, more and more often, seemed meant just for me . . .

The thrumming of the chariot ponies’ hooves raced through my limbs like the pulsing of my blood. In another moment, Mael would have to steer the chariot into a sharp turn to avoid running up against the steep sides of the Forgotten Vale’s barrow.

Now or never . . .

My fingers tightened on the spear shaft, and the target loomed large in front of me. I leaned forward over my bent knee, felt the spear tilt into a moment of perfect balance . . . and threw. The slender missile arced through the air like a deadly bird of prey, black against the dawn-pink sky.

I held my breath.

“A hit!”

Not perfect—the spear struck the target a hand’s breadth to the left of where a flesh-and-blood man’s heart would have beat—but still, it was a good, clean blow. Mael’s elated shout confirmed that. I punched my fists skyward in victory before sweeping my arms out to either side, stretched wide as wings. I felt for that fleeting instant as if I really were the goddess Morrigan in flight, swooping low over a battlefield to collect the souls of the glorious dead.

Then, as Mael eased the chariot into the turn, one of the ponies stumbled.

The animal scrambled to regain its stride, and the yoke I was balancing on bobbled with it. My gesture of triumph turned into a frantic flailing as I lost my balance and grabbed at the air to try to right myself. I heard Mael’s jubilant shout distort into a cry of warning as I pitched sideways over the shoulder of the horse and cartwheeled helplessly through the air. My head hit something hard, and the world spiraled into darkness.

Dull silence muffled the first strains of a lark’s song.

“Fallon!”

The warmth on my cheek was either the kiss of the sun or the spill of my tears. Or was it blood? That was probably it, I thought dimly. I’d hit my head and split my skull open, and now I was going to die. On the morning of my seventeenth year.

“Fallon!” Mael cried again.

His voice sounded very near and very far away at the same time.

“I must be dead,” I murmured. “Or else I’m dreaming . . .”

If this was a dream, it was a vivid one. One as clear as the dream that often haunted my nights, when the Morrigan, goddess of death and battle, would appear, terrible and magnificent in a cloak of raven feathers. In a voice like smoke and ashes, she would call me “daughter.”

My eyes fluttered open, and I found myself staring up into Mael’s face, his nose only inches from mine. I realized that the warmth I’d felt on my cheek had been his breath.

“You’re not dreaming, Fallon,” Mael said, his eyes wide with worry.

I grinned up at him.

Who cares for merely dreaming about the Morrigan, I thought, when you can fly like her?

Like I just had. The thrill of that moment still tingled in my blood.

“Well, if I’m not dreaming,” I teased, “then I suppose I must be dead.”

The dread vanished from Mael’s face, chased away by a look of hot fury. “You’re not dead either,” he snapped, the anger in his voice barely leashed. “Though damned well not for lack of trying.”

“Why are you so angry?” I asked irritably, grunting with the effort of raising myself up on one elbow. In the near distance, I could see my spear where it still quivered in the practice dummy’s torso. “Look!” I pointed over his shoulder. “We did it—”

“You did it.” Mael said. “And then I almost killed you!”

“That wasn’t your faul—”

“It was!” He glared down at me fiercely. “And if you ever make me do something as stupid and reckless as that again, I just might kill you, and it won’t be by accident!”

“Mael—”

“Are you trying to fulfill Olun’s prophecy?” he asked. “Is that what you’re trying to do?” I rolled my eyes. It was true my father’s chief druid, Olun, had divined that I would one day follow in my sister Sorcha’s footsteps. But she had been killed on the field of battle. The Forgotten Vale was nothing more than a placid meadow.

“I was a fool to let you talk me into this,” Mael shook his head. “You seem determined to test the will of the Morrigan.”

I opened my mouth, but for once no sharp-tongued retort was forthcoming. It wasn’t as if I weren’t used to him scolding me—we’d grown up together, since I was five and he was six, and we had spent most of those years enthusiastically arguing. Mael was the youngest son of Mannuetios, king of the Trinovantes to the north, and as young boys, he and his brother, Aeddan, had been sent to foster with our tribe—to grow to manhood as one of us, ensuring peace between the two kingdoms. One of the first things Mael had done upon meeting me was break my baby finger with a wooden practice sword in a play fight.

Ever since that moment, he’d harbored an annoying streak of overprotectiveness that was at constant odds with his natural inclination to fight with me at every opportunity. It drove me mad. The two of us together were like flint and iron, forever sparking off each other. Most of the time I was hard-pressed to decide if I couldn’t stand Mael . . . or if I’d be lost without him. But as I looked up at him, I saw genuine worry in his eyes. I realized he really had thought I was hurt.

“Mael,” I said, reaching up to brush back the strands of dark hair that fell in his face. “I’m sorry. I—”

His lips on mine silenced my apology, muffling my words with his sudden, hungry kiss. My eyes went wide . . . then drifted shut, plunging me into a red-lit darkness. My heart was a glowing ember bursting into flame, and all I could think was that this was what joy felt like. Fierce and demanding. I gazed up at Mael, at the flecks of dark silver in his eyes. They glinted like the raw iron our blacksmith melted down to forge swords and daggers and all manner of dangerous and beautiful things. Suddenly, I knew the answer.

Lost.

I would be completely lost without Mael.

My pulse surged loudly in my ears, and my fingers tangled in his long hair as I drew him down to me again. Mael’s full weight pressed me back into the damp grass, and his broad hands slipped beneath me, fingertips slowly sliding from my shoulders all the way down to the small of my back. My spine arched as he lifted me up off the mossy ground, wrapping his arms around my torso and pulling me close to his chest. His mouth traveled from my lips to the side of my throat, beneath my ear—and then I heard myself gasp, first with surprise and then in protest, as he suddenly tore himself away from me.

The breeze that now flowed between us prickled my skin as Mael threw himself onto his back with a sigh. He lay there for a moment, chest heaving and face flushed, and I wondered if we’d done something horribly wrong. It was the first time I’d ever kissed anyone like that.

But then he rolled his head toward me. His gray eyes flashed dangerously.

“Today,” he said in a ragged voice.

“Mael?” My head spun dizzily.

“This morning.” He sat up and rolled back onto his knees in front of me, grasping me by the shoulders and pulling me toward him. “This very morning, Fallon.”

I gazed at him in wary confusion. “What about it?”

“I’m going to go to Virico, and I’m going to ask him for your hand.” The words tumbled from him in a rush. “Now. So that he can announce it tonight at the feast of the Four Tribes. In front of everyone and—”

“No!”

“What?” Mael said, faltering. “Fallon—”

I shook my head a little wildly. “My heart . . . it’s already yours, Mael,” I said. “You don’t need to ask for my hand—”

“Yes,” he said, adamant. “I do.”

“You can’t have it!” I felt a tiny shiver of panic in my chest. “Not yet.”

“I thought . . .” He groped for words as his cheeks reddened. “I thought you—”

“I do.”

How could I explain it to him? It wasn’t that I didn’t want him. I did, even if I’d only just begun to realize how much. But there was something I wanted . . . neededfirst.

I needed the chance to earn my own name.

I bit my lip. “It’s just that tonight my father is going to make me a member of his royal war band. I know he is.”

I watched as Mael’s face clouded over. The feverish moment of our kiss was slipping away.

“Please, Mael.” I reached up a hand and pressed it to his cheek. “You have to wait for me. I can’t let anything stand in the way of this. I’ve worked too hard. I don’t want to give Virico any reason not to give me that honor.”

Mael pulled away from my touch. “Sometimes I wonder if you care more for your sword than for me,” he said.

“How can you even say that?” I snapped, ignoring the small voice in my head that hissed the very same thing. “You’re already a member of the war band! You would deny me the honor and glory of fighting at your side?”

That stung. I could see it in his eyes. “No,” he said. “I would never deny you that, Fallon.”

I reached for his hands. “Just wait a little while, Mael, until I’m a true warrior. We can go to my father then, and we can have everything we ever wanted—together.”

“All right,” Mael said finally, his familiar grin returning. “I’ll wait, Fallon, as long as it takes. But maybe we can make the wait feel shorter.”

Then he kissed me again, and for once, I forgot all about arguing with him.






Book two releases in a couple of days! Don't miss out!




The darling of the Roman Empire is in for the fight of her life in this lush sequel to the acclaimed historical fantasy The Valiant.

     Be brave, gladiatrix... And be wary. Once you win Caesar's love, you'll earn his enemies' hate.

Fallon was warned.

Now she is about to pay the price for winning the love of the Roman people as Caesar's victorious gladiatrix.

In this highly anticipated sequel to THE VALIANT, Fallon and her warrior sisters find themselves thrust into a vicious conflict with a rival gladiator academy, one that will threaten not only Fallon's heart - and her love for Roman soldier Cai - but the very heart of the ancient Roman Empire.

When dark treachery and vicious power struggles threaten her hard-won freedom, the only thing that might help the girl known as Victrix save herself and her sisters is a tribe of long-forgotten mythic Amazon warriors.

The only trouble is, they might just kill her themselves first.

Available on






ABOUT THE AUTHOR



Lesley Livingston is an award-winning author of teen fiction, best known for her Wondrous Strange trilogy. She holds a master's degree in English from the University of Toronto and was a principal performer in a Shakespearean theater company, specializing in performances for teen audiences, for more than a decade.







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