A kingdom will fall, a new ruler will rise, and all will burn…
We’re pleased to share an excerpt from The Archer at Dawn, book two of Swati Teerdhala’s epic fantasy trilogy, publishing May 26th with Katherine Tegen Books.
A stolen throne. A lost princess. A rescue mission to take back what’s theirs.
For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebels, the upcoming Sun Mela provides the perfect guise for infiltrating King Vardaan’s vicious court. Kunal returns to his role as dedicated soldier, while Esha uses her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to seek allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the throne.
But amidst the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel’s entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their countries and to each other.
Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives.
Kunal sneaked into the small tent, looking around before darting inside.
Esha was lying on her side, facing away from him, but he heard her soft snores and tread lightly inside the tent. In a flash, she sat up, her body twisting in what must have been a familiar way, the knife in her hand threatening. But instead of a knife flying past his head, he saw Esha double over, groaning in pain. Her knife fell to the ground.
Kunal rushed to her side and she swatted at him. “Don’t sneak in like that, I might’ve carved a hole into your chest.”
“I noticed,” he said. “Though it doesn’t look like you’ll be carving holes into anyone anytime soon.”
Esha gave him a look. “Injury or no injury, you know I could cause my fair share of pain.”
“Indeed,” he said mildly. “But maybe now you should focus on resting and healing. Then you can threaten me standing up.”
“You sound like Harun,” she said. She pulled herself to an upright, sitting position with a grimace.
Kunal could tell she didn’t mean that as a compliment, so he said nothing. Instead, he helped her, using his hands to steady her. Her skin was soft and warm under his touch, and despite her state, he could feel the heat in his belly rising. It had been a while since they were alone together.
He knew he should drop his hands, let her sit back and keep resting, but his hands stayed on her waist, trailing up her arms and shoulders.
When he looked up, Esha was staring back, an eyebrow slightly raised. Color was slowly rising into her cheeks.
“Just checking to see how you’re healing,” he said.
Esha was lucky the knife wound had been clean and that Kunal had been able to get her to a healer quickly. By the time he had flown them close to camp, her wound had been sewn shut.
“Then you’ll see I’m healing quite well. So well, that you should really let me get some fresh air. Walk around camp, that sort of thing,” she said.
“Arpiya already warned me that you’d say something like that. Apparently, last time you got wounded you sneaked out and managed to run half a training session with the squads until she caught you.”
“And my injury then was much worse.” Esha tried to move up, but Kunal’s arms around her proved an obstacle. “So you should really let me go.”
He chuckled. “Arpiya also mentioned that when she found you, you had undone a quarter of the stitches, earning you a tongue-lashing from the healer.”
Esha sunk back against the cot frame. “Also true.”
“Look, the more you rest now, the more useful you can be once we’re all in Gwali.”
“Are you leaving?”
“Tonight,” he said. “I told them it was so I could arrive by evening tomorrow but . . .”
“You mean to arrive in the morning,” she said, her voice quieting. “I’m not too fond of the idea of you leaving. Again.” A hint of something shy crept into her voice, and Kunal felt his conviction soften.
“I’ll find you,” he said.
Esha chuckled low. “Just like old times? But I’ll be in the Dharkan royal retinue.”
“I know,” he said. “But would it really be so strange for a young, beautiful Dharkan girl to catch the eye of a Senap guard?”
Esha leaned into him, before wincing in pain at the movement. “We can’t be obvious. Perhaps I’ll catch your eye, but nothing more.”
“At least not in public,” she said softly, the hint in her voice enough to set a low simmer to Kunal’s blood.
Esha noticed the way Kunal’s eyes flashed; his body tensed, and she held back a little smile.
“We’ll have to set rules,” she said, lowering her voice.
“Harun already gave me a list—”
“Not for your communication with the team. For us,” Esha said. “We can’t tell the others.”
Kunal’s lips momentarily pursed, but he nodded. “I’ve just gained their trust. Plus, I have no interest in facing down an angry Bhandu.”
“How will we communicate? You and I?” He traced little circles over the skin of her knuckles. Esha shivered.
“I’ll leave you notes,” she said.
A quick glance around told her that no one was outside the tent. She leaned forward to cup his face, fighting back a groan of pain. She drew a thumb over his lips, her eyes flickering to them.
He took the hint and kissed her, slowly, gently, taking care not to put pressure on her left side. Her frustration and annoyance faded to the background. She could live in these moments, bathe in them, wear them like armor.
She might need to for this upcoming fight.
Esha tensed up again, and Kunal pulled back, looking at her. “Are you okay? Did I push into your wound? I knew I shouldn’t have—”
She shushed him with another kiss, a quick one. “I’m fine. I just started thinking about the task we have ahead of us. Do you remember being at court?”
“Understanding the politics, making alliances will be important. Tensions will be high with the Sun Mela now open to Dharkans. Not to mention, the peace treaty looming over everything.”
“You’re really making me look forward to this mission,” he said.
“What’s not to like? Subterfuge and schemes. You’ve dealt with vicious vipers and snapping turtles. It’ll be fun,” she said. “Your first mission as a rebel.”
He shook his head.
“I’m not a rebel, Esha. I’m not sure I can do this,” he said softly, revealing the fear that had begun prickling at his chest.
“You’re not. You’re a soldier. And that’s why you’re perfect for this role. Just be yourself.”
Kunal chuckled, but she could still see a flicker of worry in his eyes. Esha felt it too, a needling thorn under her ribs.
Excerpted from The Archer at Dawn, copyright © 2020 by Swati Teerdhala.