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The Manhunter

Imagine being able to claim any man for three days just to have a child. He could be an Einstein, a Schwartzenegger, or the guy next door. What woman hasn't had that fantasy? Yet what happens if the man you choose loves you? Can you walk away with just the child? Can he? Synda of Datyl wants to do a Manhunt and Davyd Yorkson is hired to escort her. When they are separated from their ship, Davyd finds he must protect his charge from bees, wild pigs, raiders, and even himself. His greatest challenge comes when Synda chooses him for the Manhunt and he must accept--or lose her forever.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

Ellen Anthony     ELLEN ANTHONY has been writing and developing her science fiction world for more years than she cares to tell. Her first book, THE MANHUNTER, was an Eppie 2000 finalist and is still available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Hard Shell Word Factory. SEARCH FOR THE SUN is her second novel and winner of the 2001 Eppie Award for Best Mystery. A third book, TOO YOUNG A KING, continues the story of Syra and is also available from Hard Shell Word Factory. 
     A native of Wyoming, Ellen still lives there with some feline friends and a skeletal roommate named Harry Bones. Other rumors may or may not be true. For a free preview of Ellenís books go to www.sample-books.com

5 Stars!

"I highly recommend this story. The plot will immediately draw the reader into Davyd and Synda's world. A world that is rich in history, religion, and beauty as well as rapt in danger, suspense, and love. The author brings to life a wonderful world of wondrous things from its origins to the present setting. Kudos to you Ellen Anthony for a job well done!"

Sime-Gen Reviews

"Manhunter is a very well written novel by first time author Ellen Anthony, so much so, that I am awaiting the sequels with baited breath! This is my first experience with an E-Book and I was impressed to find the layout easy to read, and well planned. The plot of The Manhunter is well thought out and immediately draws the reader into this fast paced world where intrugues abound. I would highly recomend this book to anyone looking for a well plotted Science/Fantasy in the traditions of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McAffrey. This talented new author is a shining light on the horizion, and this reader is looking forward to more of her work!"

Alternate Realities Ezine

"The MAanhunter is one of the most compelling books to come my way in a very long time. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. Ellen Anthony builds internal and external tension in this tale with the ease of a master storyteller. Her characters come alive with all the strengths and foibles of their unique circumstances."

Mary Pinto -- Romance Communications

"The world in The Manhunter, a Renaissance-level fantasy society with remnants of an advanced star-faring technology, is extremely well drawn, and even the most minor of secondary characters is a fully realized individual. This bodes well for sequels, as there are many areas of the world alluded to but not explored, other conflicts hinted at, and a host of siblings and cousins to become future heroes. I would not hesitate to pick up any other books in this series."

Jennifer Dunne -- SF Romance and Knowbetter.com

Chapter 1
6 Galtos 850

The midday sun beat hotly down on the port of Datyl, leaving few shadows in which to escape the heat. The normal activity of the busy port was quiet now as sailors and dockworkers took shelter until the summer day cooled. At the dock, the ships stood alone at their moorings with not even a swell to keep them company during the hot part of the day.

One lone figure worked in the rigging of a tall ship that lay at anchor. After nearly a fortnight in port, The Seawind would sail soon and preparations were underway.

One of the oldest ships on Syra, The Seawind's hull shone bright white and still looked like new without the scarring of weather or mark of barnacles on its stark whiteness. Neither metal nor wood, the hull had stood the test of time and hard use since the days of the Colonists.

The upper works of The Seawind were a rich, contrasting black with only a wide red line around her unused stack to mark her from her sister ships. Her three masts scratched the sky with the furled sails looking like snow on her spars.

On the deck, Davyd Yorkson was watching the sailor up in the rigging, his lean, athletic body sprawled comfortably in a deck chair in a way that belied his alertness.

He could see the sailor wore his tie-off even from thirty feet below, but he didn't have as much faith in flimsy ropes as the sailors who trusted their lives to them. His brown eyes followed the trim sailor from spar to spar as he checked the lines.

Wishing he could climb the rigging himself, he had to be content with watching. Six weeks on The Seawind hadn't dulled his fear of heights or made him more nimble. No, he could only help out on the deck and even then he deferred to the sailors assigned to this ship. He was just a passenger with time on his hands-a trader with a cargo below decks.

"Back aboard already?" the Captain asked, stopping beside his chair. "I thought you were still ashore."

"No, sir." Davyd rose to his feet with all the grace of a fighter and smoothed his curly black hair back in a habitual gesture. "The wine is stowed and my business is done." Picking up the sword and scabbard that lay beside his chair, he hooked it on his wide leather belt, the movement automatic after lifelong training.

"It's just as well," Captain Krayton replied with a faint smile. "There was a messenger from the Temple for you."

Davyd hesitated. "For me?" He tried to think what business he had with Datyl's Temple.

"Yes," Krayton told him. "They heard you were in port, I think, and they knew your name."

"Not my name," Davyd was puzzled. "I've not been here before. Maybe they want Wydon or my father." Being a younger son, he was used to the confusion.

"Could be," the Captain said, then dismissed the problem, "but it doesn't matter. They have another commission if you want it."

"Did they mention what it was?" Davyd was noncommittal. After all, he already had two commissions. A third would mean another profit, but he could afford to turn it down.

"Escorting a priestess to Gardon, I think," the Captain reported. "Hardly a problem since you'll have that wine to transport."

Davyd hesitated, then decided. "I'll listen to them at least. Where should I go?"

"The Temple-ask for Priestess Libet."

Davyd nodded and thanked him before going below to his cabin. As he readied himself for another trip into town, he tried to think of a suitable price for such a duty. He didn't worry about charging too much-they could always bargain with him-but he would hear about it if he charged too little. Mother Rayna would learn of it and he'd feel the rough edge of her tongue and get yet another lesson in the going rates for bodyguards. Changing his tunic for a yellow one, he nearly hid it beneath a russet brown surcoat save for where the tunic could be seen through his elaborately slashed sleeves. After pulling his knee high boots over brown hosen, Davyd adjusted his sword belt and brushed a bit of lint off. Brown and gold looked good on him and he was grateful they were the family colors. If he had to dress like a cock showing off his plumage, at least it wasn't red.

He had to make a good impression. After all, his family was known in three cities for their excellent wares and guaranteed protection.

Touching the padded pouch he wore under his surcoat, he debated stashing his most valuable cargo before leaving the ship, then decided against it. He had no wish to explain their loss when he returned to Gardon. Checking to make sure the pouch didn't show, he let it be.

The afternoon heat was beginning to fade when he finally left the ship and strode away from the docks and into the more orderly streets of Datyl. Here there were no horses to foul the streets or make it dangerous for passersby and the few oxen were prodded slowly along with their carts. Some people were abroad already and more appeared as the city bells rang the third hour of the afternoon and the stores reopened for the evening's business.

Striding quickly down the streets, he was no longer surprised when people noticed his sword and gave way for him. After nearly a fortnight of walking Datyl's streets, he was used to the glances he got and ignored them. Datyl was a city apart from the rest of Syra. Isolated by the seas surrounding it and low in population, the folk didn't worry about raiders and thieves. Instead, they cultivated the arts and manufactured goods unknown anywhere else-and they frowned on those who carried swords.

Davyd tried to take no notice of the older men who scowled at him or the women who shied away from his path. He wasn't welcome here-no swordsman was-but they liked his money well enough. Most even knew the name of York.

If the Temple hadn't sent for him, he wouldn't have bothered leaving the ship again. As much as he appreciated Datyl's beauty, he was tired of the stares. If it hadn't been for the pouch he wore, he would have been tempted to leave the sword behind.

It was his first royal commission. Like his father and brothers, he was pleased when Queen Fara sent for him on the eve of his trip and offered it to him. It was a simple task, but the goods were valuable and the sum of money large. He'd agreed, more concerned about the safety of the money than what he now carried. She had entrusted him with two hundred solari, all in gold coin.

Well, the money was all but gone now. Instead, he carried three precious crystals. Worth more than he could make in three years, he kept them safe and wore his sword to be certain they stayed that way. Rarely without it, he felt uneasy when he did lay the sword aside-it was a part of him.

Pausing at the gate of the Temple, he looked for a guide.

"Pardon, my lady," he said, giving one a courteous bow. "I was sent for. Is the Priestess Libet close?" "Libet?" the Temple guide looked blank for just a moment, then smiled her answer. "Let me help." With a gracious hand, she beckoned him to follow and led him through several courts to his destination.

"Your name is?" she asked as they paused before a door.

"Davyd Yorkson of Cam Gardon."

"Wait one moment," the priestess told him and slipped into a large gallery. She quickly returned and led him into a long, sunlit room and past several groups of Temple folk busy with their own affairs.

"This way." She led him to an older woman who sat by the window. "Priestess Libet."

He bowed again and got an impression of light brown hair sprinkled with grey and a pleasant smile. Standing with feet slightly apart, he waited for her to speak.

"You aren't the Yorkson I remember." The priestess looked him over with a little surprise. "Which one are you and what is the order of your birth?"

"Davyd Yorkson." Smiling to show he took no offense, he continued, "I'm the third son of six."

"Ah, I didn't know York was so busy," the priestess said. "I see I've yet to meet most of you-I've only met Monar and Wydon. Have you sisters, too?"

"Four of them," Davyd answered. "All of them still at home."

"I see." The priestess paused. "Well, I've no doubt of your skill or your family. Would you be willing to escort a lady and her companion to Gardon?"

"For the right price, my lady," Davyd replied. "Would you be one of them?"

"No, my traveling days are done." The priestess shook her head slightly. "No, the lady is named Synda and she's a very talented artist. This will be her first trip from Datyl and we all want to make sure she gets to Gardon safely."

"Captain Krayton assures me that you take your responsibilities very seriously. I assume you'll be hiring guards when you reach Sefron?"

"No, ma'am," Davyd reported and continued quickly. "My brothers have guards ready. Wydon will join me there with a caravan for Gardon."

"Better than I thought." She nodded, pleased with the arrangement. "I'm to offer you one hundred solaris for their delivery safe to Gardon."

"One hundred?" Davyd was stunned-it was more than twice the figure he had decided on. Trying not to accept too quickly, he delayed. "I would like to meet the ladies first."

"Of course."

The priestess held up her hand and he offered her his, helping her to her feet. She wasn't as frail as he expected, her grip firm on his hand. He didn't keep the contact long, mindful that some priestesses disliked touch and could even sense thoughts. She gave him an approving smile, then beckoned to two ladies waiting nearby.

Davyd glanced that way, then stopped and stared.

A Manhunter! He gawked at the red robes, the hooded face, and tensed, wondering wildly if she would choose him. She was hunting, looking for a man to father her child, and he reacted like any man, aroused and wary in the presence of a Hunter.

He could tell nothing of what she looked like-whether she was slender or fat, young or old. The robes hid her figure from view and not even her face could be seen.

Reason caught up with him in the next instant and he knew she was trouble. This woman was seeking a man and declaring it to the world. Every man who saw her would be panting after her, hoping she would choose him-and they wanted him to guard her!

"A Manhunter?" He frowned and turned back to the priestess. "You want me to escort someone on a Manhunt?" He would have to double the guard and even watch her closely on the ship. No, he wanted no part of a Manhunt!

"Yes," the priestess answered. "Lady Synda, come here and meet your escort."

The woman in the red robes drifted toward them, her face still shadowed by the red hood. Davyd hesitated, looking for a way to say no, when two shapely hands appeared from the depths of the robe and pushed the hood back and he was looking into the most beautiful face he'd ever seen.

Her hair was silky gold and drifted on to her shoulders as she lowered her hood, her eyes downcast with maidenly shyness. The static of the hood made strands float on the air in a magical way and gave her a halo of golden hair. Her skin was golden, too, and even the green eyes she raised to his had flecks of gold in their depths.

Those eyes locked innocently on his and held his gaze. Her lips parted and he found himself wondering how she kissed. Heat filled his loins and he wondered what she looked like beneath those red robes. He swallowed hard.

"My lady, I can't imagine you need to go on a Manhunt!" he declared and was fascinated when she blushed, her skin turning a light pink. She lowered her eyes with sudden shyness.

"Synda, I think he approves," the priestess told her with a smile. "Now go doff those robes and prepare to leave. The Seawind sails tomorrow."

"Priestess, I've not said I'll take the commission." Davyd turned back to her and hardened his heart, refusing to look at the Hunter again. "As lovely as Lady Synda is, I'm leery of taking a Manhunter. She'll distract the sailors and the problems of guarding a Hunter are more than my brothers are prepared for. Surely she can find a man to father her child here."

"I won't!" The girl glared at him, her eyes suddenly full of fire. "It's my right to choose. If you don't want to escort me, I'll find another."

"Children!" the priestess interrupted. "Synda, he's right. You've already agreed not to wear the red robes again until you reach Gardon-and you won't tell anyone else you Hunt. Do you give your word on that?"

"I do." The young lady set her full lips in a determined line. "I have no intention of telling every man I meet what I want."

Davyd stared at her, wondering how he could get out of this commission. Thinking of the hundred solaris, he knew it would be hard to explain to his mothers.

A Manhunt? Surely that was reason enough! A custom left over from the Ancients allowed a young woman of means to hunt a father for her child if she were too closely related to those available. She could choose almost anyone she wanted and demand his services for three days and nights before leaving him forever.

The problem lay in the Hunt itself. Shrouded in red from head to foot, the woman remained a mystery to all but the man she chose-and every man dreamed of being the one to receive her favor. A Manhunter could cross marriage lines in her quest or Hunt her family's enemy and nothing would be said. It was her right to have a child and her right to Hunt.

He didn't want the commission. He especially didn't want it with this beautiful temptation.

"Have you decided?" The priestess saw his hesitation and quickly added. "The price is one hundred twenty solaris-half in advance and the other half credited to you here in Datyl."

Davyd had to think again, torn by the new price. He could hire more guards-and she wouldn't hunt him. She was still forbidden to hunt someone in her employ. That law was strictly enforced, especially among the Sunborn and this lady was most definitely Sunborn!

"She'll not wear those robes until Gardon?" he asked, nodding toward the shapeless red robes. "If she'll abide by that, I'll take the commission."

"I'll abide by it," the girl spoke quickly, her face as happy as a child's, "and thank you! I'm so looking forward to seeing Gardon!"

"We're a long way from there," Davyd observed, but his warning didn't seem to dash her spirits.

Making her goodbyes quickly, she even curtsied low to him before dashing off to her packing. Her companion followed at a more stately pace.

"She's a bit young," the priestess told him with a smile, "but Lady Alva will keep her in check. You won't have to worry about her."

"I will, though." Davyd watched her disappear. "She's too pretty for a Manhunt."

"Too pretty?" The priestess laughed. "You think all the ladies who chose to Hunt are ugly?"

Davyd kept quiet, realizing he must look like a fool.

"Let me assure you, guardsman, that Synda is no prettier than most," the priestess gently rebuked him. "It's only the robes that make you think so."

"Yes, priestess," he stiffly responded. "I must return to The Seawind. Will Lady Synda require my escort here?"

"No, I'm sure she'll be fine." The priestess got back to business. "You'll find fifty solaris in here," she produced a small pouch and handed it to him, "and here is another ten. I'll see Synda writes a draft for the rest before she boards the ship."

"Thank you, my lady." Davyd took the pouch and added the ten gold coins she handed to him. Knowing how much value the Sunborn put on honor, he didn't count it. "May your wine be sweet and all your friends healthy." He bowed before following the guide back out of the Temple.

What was he doing? That lady even looked like trouble! If it wasn't for the gold...He hefted the pouch in his hand, then tucked it into his tunic and out of sight. It lay heavy against his stomach.

If anyone discovered what she was, what she wanted, it would make the voyage damned difficult. There wasn't much room on the ship. Thinking of those green eyes, those sweet lips, he wished he didn't know what she was after. At least he was safe from her choosing. Having agreed to escort her, he was now in her employ and there were heavy penalties for anyone violating that trust-not that he would invite that kind of temptation. No, he served her until she was safe in Gardon and then he could walk away and forget the Hunter.

If only he had time to put those solaris into a cargo. Maybe when he reached Sefron, he could buy one. Knowing his parents would be more pleased with solaris used than the coins themselves, he planned to do the best he could. When they found out he escorted a Manhunter-he brushed that thought quickly away and strode back to The Seawind.

* * *

"Did you see him?" Synda shed her robes quickly and turned happily back to her companion. Standing in her short white shift, every soft curve of her slender body could be seen. "Goddess, I want to sketch him! Such muscles and those colors!"

Grabbing the pale green dress that lay waiting, she slipped it quickly over her head as she talked. "Did you see his eyes?" She sighed, happy with the man who was to guard her.

"Synda, you'll have all the time you need if you make that ship," Alva hushed her, "and I'm sure he'll agree to be sketched or even painted. Let's get you ready."

"I nearly am," Synda protested, "-just the skirt." She picked up a skirt of darker green and slid it over her head, settling it quickly on her hips. It was the height of summer in Datyl and she followed practical custom in wearing a lightweight dress over her shift and a thicker skirt over it. During the winter, she'd return to heavier clothes.

Slipping her feet into low-cut boots, she brushed her hair quickly and was ready to go.

"Synda, no." Her companion stopped her. "Wear your hair braided. By the looks he gave you, I think that guardsman finds loose hair offensive. I've heard women wear it bound in Gardon."

"Oh, dolfyns! I'm not going to wear it up every day!"

"No, just until we leave port," her companion said, unperturbed. "Then he can live with it until we reach Sefron and see the styles there."

"All right," Synda accepted the compromise. Letting her companion braid her golden locks, she dreamed of the adventure ahead.

* * *

"Here she comes." Davyd spied the girl first and pointed her out to the Captain. "The one in green." His jaw set and his lips tightened as he saw she was just a wee thing, barely five feet tall and slender as a sapling.

"I see." The Captain studied her and then waved to some of his crew. "You there! Help with those trunks."

Davyd's eyes went over the baggage loaded on the ox cart and he nearly groaned. Five, no, six trunks. He would have to add those to the caravan in Gardon. Why did she need so many? Didn't she know Gardon had dressmakers?

"Lady Synda? I'm Krayton, Captain of The Seawind." Krayton met her as she set a dainty foot on his deck. "Welcome aboard."

"Thank you, Captain." She smiled and curtsied. "It looks like a wonderful ship! May I paint her?"

"We would be honored," the Captain responded. "My crew will see your trunks get stowed. Which ones do you need in your quarters?"

She turned and looked. "Only the blue one. The others are for Gardon. Alva, do you need yours?"

"No, my things are also in the blue one." Her companion smiled at the Captain. "I remember how tight some ships are."

The Captain laughed. "You'll find The Seawind's cabins are larger than most. A closet instead of a cupboard."

Davyd listened quietly, relieved her companion had sailed before.

"Tell me, lady, have you sailed on one of the exploration ships before?" The Captain rolled the ancient word off his tongue easily. "If not, I must ask you to take the tour."

"Tour?" The girl brightened and Davyd knew exactly what she was thinking. Like most girls, she had an insatiable curiosity to see where men lived and worked.

"Yes, lady," the Captain solemnly replied. "There is something I must show you. Every person who boards this ship for a night must be shown its greatest danger."

Synda sobered at the Captain's seriousness.

"I've not traveled on any of the ancient ships, Captain, and Synda is new to sailing," Lady Alva smoothly replied. "Please lead on."

The Captain nodded and offered her his hand. "Davyd?" He looked at him and Davyd stepped up, offering his own to his charge. He wanted to see her reaction to the room.

Most folks knew The Seawind was a very old ship and a few knew the unused stack near the stern of the ship was a sign of ancient power, but only those who traveled on her and her sister ships knew about the ancient room beneath her decks-a room full of death.

It was there the Captain took them. Located in the middle of the aft hold, there were narrow walkways around the white cube and a ridge behind it that extended to the very end of the ship, splitting the hold beyond it.

Krayton paused before the room and let them take a long look at the metal bands that crossed its door and encircled the cube and the ancient warning signs on top of those. He said nothing as Synda curiously walked around the cube-shaped structure, her hand finally coming to rest on the sealed door.

Davyd stayed with her, resisting the urge to sweep her hand away. Finally the girl turned back to the Captain.

"What is it?" she asked. "And why is it sealed so tightly?"

"It's death, Lady Synda," Krayton stressed and she jerked her hand away from the barred door. "And I can only tell you what was told me when I first came aboard The Seawind. Do you see the radiation sign?" he pointed to a triangle as he said the ancient word. "Do you know what it means?"

"Yes." Synda stared at it, stepping back nervously. "We were told to beware and report this sign. It warns of a sickness the Temple can't cure." She looked uneasily at him. "Why is there one here?"

"These ships were powered by something which that sign guards," the Captain patiently explained. "They could move faster than the wind and come into dock with no help from oars. The technology which built this ship was mighty beyond any we have today."

"But there was an accident aboard the largest of our ancestor's ships. The death that powered the ship got loose and killed many before they found out it was no longer captive. They had to catch it all up again and seal the room, but it was too late. Everyone on board the ship died."

"I remember that tale," Synda murmured with eyes wide.

"The ship was taken to a barren place and left to rot," Captain Krayton continued, "by order of King Arden. The last order he gave before he died of the sickness, too, was that all the power sources be silenced and the rooms sealed. So they've been for nearly five hundred years."

"And no one?" Synda looked at the door again, "-no one has been in one since?"

"Only once. The Harmony's room was breached and the ship had to be destroyed. The man who did it died before a fortnight was gone-so did its captain," he grimly reported that. "I show you this room and tell you this story so you know what could happen. If you were to enter that room, within a day your bowels would be weak and then your hair would start falling out. You wouldn't be able to eat or drink more than water and the pain is something the Temple can't ease. No one would be able to touch you or help you in any way. You couldn't even be given cremation. The whole ship would have to be sailed to the northern ice and left for your tomb. That's what happened to The Harmony."

"Gods!" she breathed the word and backed quickly away from the door. The grisly tale had its effect on her companion, too. She looked pale and uncomfortable.

"No one comes down to this hold alone," the Captain warned them. "And your trunks will be in the forward hold. I'll show you where in a moment, but first I need your word that you'll not touch that door again."

"You have it," Lady Alva quickly replied. "I've no wish to see that kind of death, much less have it."

He turned to Synda. "And you, Lady Synda? I should warn you that you'll not leave port on this ship if you don't give your word."

"Never!" Synda stared at the door, then at him. "I'll never come down here again." Her face was pale even in the torch light and eyes wide. "I want to leave."

Davyd was surprised at her reaction. He'd shared the same telling of the story when he boarded The Seawind in Sefron, but it had only reinforced his decision to obey the rules aboard ship. There were always secrets he wasn't supposed to know and this was just another. He hadn't thought about it since except to wonder if all The Seawind's crew were trustworthy. It was just another rule to obey and he'd given his word to do so.

Wondering if the girl's curiosity was stronger than her word, he followed her back on deck.

Tomorrow The Seawind would sail and he would be on his way to Gardon. He looked at the spires of Datyl and smiled. He had always wanted to see Datyl and he knew he would come back again, but right now he was happy to let it go. Gardon was home.