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Ishtar’s Blade / Ishtar’s Legacy Book 1

Ishtar’s Blade / Ishtar’s Legacy Book 1

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Can a living weapon win a king's heart?

After four years preparing to become a living weapon, Iltani is ready to face anything or anyone as long as it isn’t the king of the gryphons—her childhood friend and biggest crush. Around him, she gets tongue-tied. 

But King Ditanu isn’t having any of that and summons her to his quarters to entertain him.

But she is a guard, not some noble lady of court. She doesn't have the first clue how to entertain a king.


“Our food grows cold,” King Ditanu said and gestured her over to where the servants had set out food next to the hearthstones of the fire.

Pillows and blankets were artfully arranged, allowing the diners to sit or recline, whichever they preferred.

Iltani swallowed hard as she took in the intimacy of the meal.

Maybe he normally had meals like this with his friends and advisors?

Ditanu knelt and poured two goblets of spiced wine and then selected a few choice bits of meat, cheese, and fruits. He then held the plate out toward her.

Iltani froze and stared at the offering.

He sighed and gave it a little wiggle without looking at her.

Court etiquette aside—as a king just did not serve others—Iltani found everything about the situation awkward.

Was it some kind of test?

“Iltani,” Ditanu sighed out her name. “Just take the plate. I have another rule you probably are not aware of. When I am in my personal chambers, I am not a king. I am just myself and can do whatever I want. You’ll get used to it.”

She took the plate. “Yes, my king.”

“Ditanu.” He drew his name out slowly as if he suspected she may have forgotten it.

“Yes, Ditanu.” Formal tones still edged her words.

He braced one arm behind him and tilted back his upper body in an exaggerated way to look up at her. “Fine. Don’t dispense with the formalities. But Iltani, if you don’t sit down, you’re going to give your king a terrible kink in his neck.”

She dropped to her knees so quickly, she bumped one of the plates of fruit and nearly sent it flying. With exaggerated care, she edged the dish a bit closer to the fire. 

Ditanu was sipping from his wine again, but she could still see the corners of his mouth turned up in a smile.

Well, she supposed, she was entertaining the king after a fashion.

If you like slow burn Fantasy Romances with Spice, don't miss this great bundle.

Main Tropes in this eBook bundle:.

  • Sinfully sexy gryphon king
  • Court Intrigue
  • Warrior-woman
  • Touch her and die
  • Sumerian Mythology
  • Touch him and die
  • Friends-to-lovers
  • Royalty
  • Sexy Shifters
  • Fated Mates
  • Slow-burn romance


The court of the gryphon king has ever been a dangerous and seductive place where Ishtar’s blessing is both the hot breath of passion and the cold kiss of steel.

Yet as the childhood companion of King Ditanu, Iltani never doubted her place in either his kingdom or his heart. Then duty called her away to complete her training.

Now, a woman grown and a sword-maiden to the goddess Ishtar, Iltani returns and takes up her sacred destiny to protect the royal line. But so much has changed.

Ditanu most of all.

The youth she knew is gone. A stoic, untouchable king now sits the throne.

Does anything of their once deep bond survive?

Iltani must swiftly find her place in a court where cunning governors plot treason, trusted advisors orchestrate deceptions, and noblewomen seek to beguile King Ditanu using methods both fair and foul.

But the greatest threat of all is no mortal adversary. Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld, desires to make Ditanu her consort and seize his kingdom for her own.

First Chapter

Dawn’s light caressed the mountain peaks of Nineveh and shimmered upon the reef-strewn waters surrounding New Sumer’s greatest city-state. The ocean, still restless from the previous night’s storm, tossed white-capped waves toward the vast island’s rocky cliffs and rocked Iltani’s small skiff.
The snap of the sail, the sound of the waves slapping the small boat’s sides, and the stomach-dropping dips and rises of the bow all added to the excitement churning in her blood. Iltani hardly dared to believe that she was returning home for the first time after four long years of brutal, continuous training.
In truth, she’d dedicated her entire life to her training, but four years ago, she’d taken the final steps down that path, when Burrukan, the Leader of the King’s Shadows, had taken her on as his apprentice.
Now, almost four years to the day, Burrukan was returning her to her childhood home, Nineveh, the ruling seat of the Gryphon King. She’d left her island home a girl of seventeen and was returning a woman of twenty-one summers. While she couldn’t guess if she could be considered wiser, she was much changed.
Four years was a long time. She sincerely hoped King Ditanu would be pleased with her progress and be happy to have her back at his side.
If he isn’t? The small doubtful voice of her conscience questioned.
Her mind shied away from that thought.
She supposed she’d find out later this day.
Not wanting to think more on the dark possibility of an indifferent king or worse, she turned from the sight of her childhood home and glanced back at her mentor where he worked the boat’s rudder, guiding them safely past a reef. The wind shifted and two of the ropes tangled.
With a grumble about needing to replace the fraying rope, Burrukan tied the rudder to maintain course. That done, he stepped over the bench where Iltani sat and started to work on the sail’s tangled rigging.
She knew better than to offer her help. No one touched Burrukan’s boat. He’d designed and built the swift little boat during the first year of her training, saying he wanted to shave time off the twice-daily trips between the training island and Nineveh.
When she’d asked why he didn’t just shift into gryphon form and fly, he’d rolled his eyes and said if he did that day after day, he’d be in no condition to beat her into shape and make a proper warrior out of her. Then he’d told her one of a Shadow’s greatest strengths was their ability to remain silent, saying people with loose lips gave far too much away to their enemies.
When she’d frowned at his sharp reprimand, he’d given her a fatherly pat on one shoulder and told her to go run a circuit around the island. She’d quickly learned not to question him about unimportant things.
As for herself, it was probably for the best she didn’t possess a set of wings. If she had, she’d have been tempted to fly back to Nineveh in the early days of her training when her yearning to hear the sound of Ditanu’s voice, catch a whiff of his sandalwood-and-spice scent, or see the hint of a smile hovering on his lips grew too much to bear.
Sighing, she pushed away her internal musings and watched Burrukan work. That the ropes were in less than perfect condition could only mean the king had kept him busier than usual of late.
Iltani worried at her bottom lip as she stared at Burrukan’s back. Today, the questions circling her mind were far from unimportant or frivolous. Dare she ask him what to expect? All she knew was that her mentor planned to present her to King Ditanu this day so he could perform the blooding ceremony, thereby honoring the ancient pact between gryphons and humans.
To most citizens of New Sumer, Iltani was just a human woman training to become one of the King’s Shadows—a group of elite gryphon and human warriors oath-sworn to serve and protect the king from all danger. She would have been content with that lot in life, but the Goddess Ishtar had chosen Iltani for another role, that of her avenging blade. Only a select few people knew Iltani was Ishtar’s Blade, the embodiment of the eight-thousand-year-old pact between the Queen of Heaven and the line of the gryphon kings.
Iltani had spent the last four years preparing to become a living weapon forged by the Goddess Ishtar herself. One of flesh and blood and magic, but a weapon none the less.
At least, that’s what Burrukan and High Priestess Kammani had drilled into Iltani from a young age.
Years upon frustrating years, Iltani had waited for Ishtar to rouse her magic. Even with Burrukan’s reassuring words, she would have given up hope long ago had it not been for the deep indigo and gold birthmark marching down her spine, growing each year, and declaring that she was Ishtar’s chosen weapon.
Her apathetic magic had finally roused for the first time this morning. Long before dawn, she’d jerked awake from a dream to find the mark throbbing with heat. After a good deal of twisting and turning, she’d gotten a look at it in her small handheld mirror. The mark had glittered with soft gold and indigo power.
She’d bolted from her bed, pulled on yesterday’s clothing, and ran to the dock where she usually met Burrukan each morning. Her mentor had already been waiting with the skiff, his expression as calm and devoid of worry as always.
It hadn’t come as a surprise. Burrukan, like any good gryphon parent, missed nothing, always knowing what his brood was thinking, feeling, and doing. Unfortunately, Iltani was the only ‘cub’ in his brood, and as such, she had all his attention. There had been a time or two in her youth when she’d very much wanted less of his eagle-eyed attention, but this morning she’d been more than happy for her adopted father’s all-knowingness.
Otherwise, she would have paced a hole in the dock if she’d had to wait the two hours for his usual arrival.
If she was truthful with herself, it wasn’t becoming Ishtar’s Blade which scared her, it was meeting Ditanu again. Her four years on the training island had changed her. How much had those same four years changed the young king? He’d been new to his throne when she’d left. Would there be anything left of their unusual friendship?
Oh, Great Goddess Ishtar, I know it is impossible, but please let there still be room in his heart for me.
The thought had barely formed before making Iltani scowl at her own feeble-willed yearning.
Oh, curse it. Just stop thinking about him like that, she scolded herself.
It was easy enough to say, but how could she stop thinking about the person who owned her heart?
Once, she and Ditanu had been the closest of companions, running wild as children. One never to be found without the other until that fateful morning after Ditanu’s coronation, when she was sent from his side for the first time in seventeen years to finish her training.
The agony of the separation still burned deep in her soul, but she’d grown used to the ache over time until she could almost tolerate it.
Until now. With Nineveh in her line of sight again, the old ache had awoken fully born, and Iltani could no longer pretend she’d mastered her unruly emotions during the four years of her training.
Her sense of duty hadn’t diminished, only grown—as had the strong emotional need which linked them, that sacred bond between Blade and Monarch. That emotional tie had never weakened or wavered in the intervening years since she’d last set eyes on him. Even when that horrible letter arrived, telling her he’d taken a mate, her stubborn heart wouldn’t relinquish its devotion to him.
It went beyond all common sense, logic, or reason. More than once, Iltani had wondered if her goddess had made a mistake in her choice of Blade.
Yes, it might be sacrilegious, but she still wanted to know just what Ishtar, the great Queen of the Heavens, Goddess of love, fertility, and battle had been thinking when she created her Blade to love the gryphon king so devotedly and then let him take another as mate.
Well, curse it! It wasn’t like she hadn’t had this particular internal debate a hundred times before, each one as ugly and painful as the first time. She sighed out the breath she’d been holding and stared down at her pack, her mind going back to the king’s letters, the only thing that comforted her during moments of melancholy.
Surely something of the bond they shared still remained buried in the king who now sat on the throne? It was too powerful to simply be gone. Iltani and Ditanu had been together for seventeen years. His consort had known him less than three.
Mentally acknowledging she’d wallowed in self-pity long enough, Iltani finally looked up from her pack, and its stack of hidden letters, in time to catch Burrukan glancing over his shoulder at her. He held her gaze a moment, and then with a clear evasion, his eyes slid away again.
There was something in that look, a hint of guilt. Iltani’s gaze narrowed, and her mind sharpened, shaking off the internal musings like drops of sea spray. All her senses focused on her mentor as she realized something.
He’d been unduly silent on the short voyage, not speaking more than ten words since they’d left the training island of New Assur while the sky was still dark.
She might have thought his silence was brought about by the need to concentrate on navigating the dangerous waters, had he not sailed to New Assur each morning to continue her training and returned to Nineveh each evening to dine with the king and give his report. Burrukan had already mapped and memorized these waters so well, he could probably write his report while sailing the skiff at the same time.
No, it was as he’d always said. Talk betrayed things to one’s enemies. While she wasn’t an enemy, Burrukan’s silence spoke volumes. There was something he didn’t want her to know. His absolute silence was Burrukan’s version of nervousness.
As if sensing her regard, his fingers twitched on the ropes, the sail shivering in response to his tightening grip. His shoulders rose, betraying a slight tension in his body.
Someone less familiar with her mentor would likely have missed those small involuntary tells.
Iltani continued her silent study. She could wait. Patience wasn’t a natural talent she’d been born with, but a skill she’d been forced to learn and master along with everything else.
Pushing her pack aside, she stretched her legs out in front of her, shifting her position just enough to ease the stiff muscles of her lower back. Then waited. And waited some more.
Burrukan remained with his legs braced for balance, attention fixed firmly forward. His right hand reached up and rubbed the stubble on his shaved head. He’d always said a King’s Shadow didn’t have time to fuss with all the tiny braids and hair ornamentation the rest of the court favored. Secretly, she knew it had more to do with Burrukan’s receding hairline than lack of patience. Not that she would ever mention that.
His hand reached out and rubbed at the stubble a second time. A clear tell.
Burrukan was very nervous about something. Iltani smiled. She’d get him to tell her what was on his mind eventually.
With that knowledge a certainty, she allowed her attention to momentarily drift from her mentor back to Nineveh, which had grown in size to swallow the horizon.
After a final unneeded tweak of the sail, Burrukan returned to the rear to take up the rudder again, smoothly guiding the small boat around the last dangerous patches of water.
The imposing wall of cliffs gave way to a large harbor. Its calmer waters looked dark and mysterious in the shadow of the stone magnificence of Ishtar’s Gate. Burrukan had told her this one was far grander than the one built long ago in their ancestral desert home of Sumer.
Just how Burrukan knew that was up for question since he was nowhere near old enough to have witnessed that first gate’s splendor.
Befitting the Queen of the Heaven, this newer version of Ishtar’s Gate glittered blue in the early dawn light, bulls and dragons inlaid in gold catching the light and winking it back.
Closer now, Iltani could pick out the artistic details she’d loved to study as a child, those intricately engraved dragon scales and the proudly curving horns of the bulls.
Iltani dragged in a deep, shaking breath, surprised at the tightness in her throat.
High overhead, the blue and gold design continued all the way up to the peaks of the towering turrets. Ishtar’s Gate was the most imposing of the eight gates leading into the interior of the largest and most beautiful of the island city-states.
She had missed the beauty of Nineveh.
As the small boat sailed under the high, graceful arch of the gate and continued into the smoother waters of the harbor, Iltani knew this journey home was as much spiritual as physical.
Burrukan held his silence as he guided the boat toward a small wooden dock just inside the gate. Rugged stairs carved from the stone of the island led up from the water line to a gatehouse where three of the King’s Shadows waited for Burrukan to disembark from his boat.
Iltani watched her mentor tie off the boat to the moorings. She would have offered her aid if Burrukan was less of a stubborn old goat. Instead, she held her silence but allowed her gaze to narrow upon him.
The boat secured, Burrukan came to stand at the bow, his back still to her as he stared at the stone stairs, unmoving.
Iltani remained seated, her pack resting between her knees.
Burrukan dragged in a deep breath and then let it out on a chuckle. “There is something I promised to give you. I must do it now before we set foot back upon Nineveh or I will be guilty of treason. Wouldn’t that give Ditanu’s enemies on the council something to gorge upon?”
Iltani’s breath stilled in her lungs.
“King Ditanu gave me some items,” Burrukan explained. “Items I was supposed to deliver to you.”
Iltani dragged in a breath and released it just as quickly.
What an interesting turn of events.
Yet she did not doubt Burrukan’s loyalty to his king. Not for a moment. A King’s Shadow never betrayed their king. They could not. The magic binding king and guard together prevented such.
A Shadow saw to the king’s safety first. That sacred vow even took precedence over some of the king’s orders and most certainly his wishes. Besides, Burrukan had practically raised both her and Ditanu.
If Burrukan had defied Ditanu’s wishes, it was for the king’s own protection.
Her mentor turned to her with his own pack in one hand and started rooting around inside.
After a moment, Burrukan’s searching hand stopped fumbling in the pack’s deep recesses. He closed his eyes and tilted his face to the sky. She caught a few soft snippets of a prayer.
What could be so bad he prayed for the gods’ protection and forgiveness?
Iltani folded her hands in her lap and fought for greater patience. She even smoothed her frown into a more peaceful expression, fearing Burrukan would change his mind.
At last, he pulled his hand from his pack. He held two small bundles of letters.
Iltani’s eyebrows shot up. Those looked like…but no. It was impossible. She’d packed those letters in her own satchel just before she left the training island.
She suppressed the urge to tear open her pack just to see if Burrukan had somehow removed them from hers without her knowing.
He held out the letters. “What I did, I did for the good of our king.”
Mystified, Iltani took the first bundle he offered. It was only then she realized these ones were pristine, not her much read and tattered, but still beloved, letters. Those were still in her pack, apparently.
The royal seal and the handwriting, Ditanu’s elegant scrawl, were the same, though. She glanced down at them and shuffled through the bundle with growing unease and the first spark of anger.
The oldest of the letters dated back four years, with the majority of them from the first year of Ditanu’s reign. There were far fewer from the second year of his rule. The newest letters being written almost a year ago by the date.
Every last one had been addressed to her.
Burrukan had been censoring the king’s correspondence. She’d half expected that some of her own letters might have gone astray.
But the king’s?
The facts were clear before her. Burrukan had withheld the king’s letters. That would be considered treasonous by some.
“I merely promised that I would deliver our king’s letters to you. I did not specify when.”
Iltani snapped her mouth closed. So, these letters were the ‘treason’ he spoke of. She wasn’t sure if it wasn’t treason after all. For what harm could have come to the king had Burrukan delivered them as he was supposed to? She didn’t see how this fell into the gray area that allowed a Shadow to do whatever he must to oversee the king’s protection.
“Don’t give me that look,” Burrukan scolded her. “I live to protect the king. Even from his own foolishness.”
Frowning, she glanced between her mentor and the letters in her hand. “If whatever is written in these letters offers a threat to my king, why give them to me? Why not burn them?”
“Because,” Burrukan said with conviction, “You need to find, acknowledge, and destroy anything that is a threat to our king. Even if it is something within yourself, an essential part of your very soul. If it is a danger to the line of the gryphon kings, you must grind it beneath your boot. If it goes against the king’s wishes, then so be it. One day you’ll learn the delicate balance between protecting the king and serving him. Until then, follow my teachings and my lead. Surely between the Head Shadow and Ishtar’s Blade, we can keep Ditanu safe.”
Iltani’s grip tightened on the letters.
“I understand.” And she did, but that didn’t mean she was happy about it. Keeping something from Ditanu just didn’t sit well with Iltani.
For seventeen years before their separation, they’d been constant companions. She couldn’t remember one time—not even one event—where she had done something that would constitute going against Ditanu’s wishes. How strange that was. Stranger still, she had never noticed that oddity. Yet it wasn’t that Ditanu intentionally dictated what they did as children. It was more like they merely thought with one mind.
“Take these ones too,” Burrukan said and handed her another smaller bundle of letters. “You can give them to the king at some point should you wish—there is nothing in them that can harm the king now that you are finished your training.”
She eyed the new letters—they were a selection she’d written to Ditanu over the years. “What, by the great Goddess Ishtar, could I possibly have written that was dangerous for my king to read?”
Burrukan started to laugh. “Ditanu has always been protective of you, and he has missed you terribly. In those early years, all he would have needed was one hint of your unhappiness and he would have made an idiot of himself. The crown has mellowed him a bit, and he is growing into a wise and capable king, but in the first years, he would have acted before the first rational thought had a chance to catch up.”
“But Burrukan…why now?” When there was no time to read through all the letters before she was to meet with the king.
“You will not read them this day. As you have probably guessed, there is no time. Later you will read them. Only then will you understand and uphold the reason for the deception.”
Iltani wasn’t so sure. The betrayal was a bitter taste in her mouth. How could she lie to her king, even if duty demanded it?

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