Series: The Great Wyrm Saga Book 2 Genre: Epic Fantasy Publisher: Azure Spider Publications Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Will the daughter of prophecy prevail?
The Daughter of Prophecy has joined with her Regalta. Jarvis’s ships have conquered the lands of men. Now the islands of men are enshrouded in darkness stunting the growth of plants and animals. Supplies flow from Jarvis’s islands, but are they safe? Monsters fill the villages and cities. Are they mutated cannibals of the once peaceful fishermen?
Meanwhile in the land of the syln, Jarvis launches an attack on their biggest food producing island. His new allies pour in, ones that are immune to syln magic. Jarvis struggles to deal with the implications of these supernatural beings.
Can Levet turn the tide against the dragons, or is she hampered by crippling headaches every time she has to defend herself?
Cindar lays eggs by the dozens and already the islands are filled with new terrors. Dragons are appearing on all islands, harassing their defenders or learning from the citizens.
Don’t miss the next exciting book in the Great Wyrm Saga.
Visit each tour stop daily and discover more features, excerpts, reviews, interviews, fun facts and more! To check the latest tour schedule, visit the Green Tunics of Noon Book Page at Book Unleashed.
About Victoria Lynn Osborne
Victoria Lynn Osborne lives in Southern Oregon with her muse that takes the form of a chubby little demanding house cat. This is her sixth book, she is currently enrolled to get her masters in creative writing.
1st Place Beverley Hills Book Award Finalist: Fantasy
2017 Best Book Awards Finalist: Fantasy
Trapped as a slave, facing an impossible decision, Aeden must choose between his friends and his soul…
The clock is ticking as the world descends into darkness.
He’s been called the Scourge of Bodig, the Bane of Verold, but most know him as the Kan Savasci. He’s one of the most feared men alive. Chaos and war have followed him like an angry shadow. The one problem, as the world faces the wrath of forgotten gods, Kan Savasci is nowhere to be found.
The annalist, a man trained in the ancient arts of the arkein, has been tasked to uncover the whereabouts of the Kan Savasci at any cost. In order to find the man, one must unmask the depths of his reclusive history.
Other Books in the Kan Savasci Cycle Fantasy Series:
Tears of a Heart
Kan Savasci Cycle, Book 0
Publisher: Plenary Fitness
Published: September 2014
Winner of John E Weaver Excellent Reads Award
He’s been called the Scourge of Bodig, the Bane of Verold, but most know him as the Kan Savasci. He’s one of the most feared men alive. Chaos and war have followed him like an angry shadow.
The one problem, as the world faces the wrath of forgotten gods, Kan Savasci is nowhere to be found.
The annalist, a man trained in the ancient arts of the arkein, has been tasked to uncover the whereabouts of the Kan Savasci at any cost. In order to find the man, one must unmask the depths of his reclusive history.
The clock is ticking as Verold descends into darkness.
“Decorum was created by nobility to boost their sense of worth in the eyes of other nobility.” Herlewin’s Letters of Apology
Late afternoon fell over the city in a coppery haze. Sunlight infused every corner with a golden warmth that only the season of Lenton could provide.
The kiss of the sun felt good on Aeden’s tanned skin. He had grown darker within the hot embrace of the A’sh. His white hair was only more apparent in contrast to his darkened tone. It had grown to a length requiring a tie to keep it tidy. He felt taller and stronger, but he also felt lonelier and angrier.
Aeden glanced about.
Kardal was to his left, walking on the other side of the Jal’s litter. Behind him Aeden could feel the cold, hateful stare of Yazid. It was like a pebble within a boot, grating slowly at his resolve. He did his best to ignore the man. He used a technique Ayleth the Widow had taught him some years before. “When faced with hate,” she once told him, “understand the root of their hatred by understanding their circumstance. Only then will their words fade to nothing but a distant whisper.”
Aeden did as he had been told. He soaked in Sha’ril the way dry cotton soaks in water. He studied the movement of the people. He observed the lines of the city. He thought on the words of the Jal. Last, he remembered the tiny irritants that Yazid had allowed Aeden to glimpse. Each sliver formed a tiny image of a greater whole.
About the Author
Welcome to Chase Blackwood’s author bio, where he’ll try to write something interesting about his life that captures your attention.
Chase Blackwood’s life has been defined by struggle the way a moth battles an insect zapping light. He’s studied martial arts since childhood in an effort to overcome fear. He’s lived in a half dozen countries in an effort to “find himself,” traveled to over 50 countries in an effort to “find humanity,” lived in nine states just for the hell of it, oh… and the military has had something to do with that too. Chase has enjoyed combating terrorism, working as a federal agent, and also really likes puppies.
His most recent passion, puppies aside, has been working on the Kan Savasci Cycle, a series of fantasy novels that pulls from his life experiences to make the most vivid world imaginable. Stay tuned for a more romantic side…for the ladies, and guys, really for anyone who enjoys the genre.
The Provinces are falling. From the south, the immortal Knights of Galessern raid. From the north, the trees of the Kalen Woods have awoken, and are hungry for their second city. And from the east, Haydren Loren flees a childhood bully whose hate is now fully grown, and capable of murdering his way to becoming the Earl.
Haydren might find safety in the west. Or, he may find himself suddenly forced on a suicidal mission: face and defeat Lasserain, the strongest mage history has ever seen.
His quest is joined by a medley of friends foolish enough to think they might succeed: Geoffrey, a former knight of Rinc Na who betrayed his country and friends, and now seeks forgiveness through this final, desperate act; Sarah, a sorceress who will do anything to prove she is worthy; and Pladt, the famed archer whose only wish is to travel as far and wide as his name.
The God of All only knows the ways they must go – He, and a voice in Haydren’s head that is constantly growing louder.
Insanity. Capture. Death. All roads seem doomed for failure. But they must quickly choose a path, for Lasserain’s full fury is descending, and no one else has been able to stop it.
Haydren sighed; he needed to play. The two greatest gifts he had received since enrolling in the School were a small harp and the lessons to be able to play. Often, when frustration overwhelmed him, the music would calm him. He sat up, reaching under the bed to retrieve the instrument. After pulling it out, he leaned back and rested his fingers on the strings. He closed his eyes, and began with a familiar slow tune as he allowed his thoughts to drift.
The song took him back to a broad plain, with the wind sweeping through the grasses. He was sitting on a newly bundled sheaf, the smell of fresh-cut hay in his nostrils. A few broken bits of straw drifted on the breeze. In his mind, beside him, a man of nearly thirty worked with a scythe; a man with bright chestnut hair, and dark black eyebrows.
Haydren opened his eyes, stilling the strings. Something was tugging at him, something about the notes he had just played. Still without looking at the harp, and as he tried to return in his mind to the images he had just seen, he played tentatively.
The notes that followed were notes he had never been taught, but that rang in him with a familiarity that brought tears to his eyes. He knew there were lyrics attached to the song, lyrics about war and grief – but he could not remember them. He played the song over and over, the notes purging him of all thoughts yet leaving him with a sense of fullness that welled in his eyes. He played until exhaustion tripped his fingers upon the strings; he stopped before the discordant notes shattered the delicate construction within him. The notes continued ringing in his ears long after he stopped playing, and they continued to echo through his dreams that night.
About the Author
Daniel Dydek was born in Raccoon Township, PA, where he dreamed of living out west. So far, he’s made it to Ohio, where he lives with his wife. He began writing at age 8, and never really stopped. After three years with the US Army, he went to get his Bachelor’s degree in English Writing from Geneva College of Beaver Falls PA, and is currently finishing up a Master’s degree in Natural Resources from Virginia Tech. Besides writing, he also enjoys mountain biking, reading, coffee shops, book stores, and Durango Colorado.
In a world where the corrupt church hides the truth about magic, the fate of the joined kingdom falls on the shoulders of two young people from opposite ends of the social hierarchy.
Crown Princess Samantha’s life begins to fall apart when she starts seeing strange colors around her potential suitors. She fears that she’s going insane–or worse that she’s defying the Goddess’s will. Robrek is a lowly farm boy with incredible magical powers. He has been biding his time waiting to get revenge on those who call him a demon.
Thrown together by chance, they must overcome their differences to fight their common enemy Duke Argblutal, who, with dark magic, is slowly poisoning the king’s mind and turning him against his own daughter. Time is running out for those chosen by the Goddess to prevent the power mad duke from usurping the throne and plunging the joined kingdoms into civil war.
Other Books in The Kronicles of Korthlundia Series:
The Kronicles of Korthlundia: Book II
Publisher: Bewitching Fables Press
A match made by the goddess is threatened by an Ancient Evil.
As Samantha and Robrek prepare for their marriage and coronation, they are met with opposition on all sides. Not all believe that the peasant sorcerer is worthy to be king, and the young couple must perform delicate political maneuvers to prevent the joined kingdoms from breaking apart.
As the church splits over opposition to their union, an unseen force is poised to release an ancient evil that was last defeated a thousand years ago. When the Soul Stone is broken free of its bonds, all life in its path succumbs to its power. How much will the new royal couple have to sacrifice to free the joined kingdoms of its evil?
The Ghost is going to hell. Not even the goddess can forgive his sins: assassin, oath-breaker, traitor (an affair with the queen earned him that title). No one can ever learn the princess is his daughter. To keep this secret, he flees to the land that turned him from a simple stable groom into an infamous killer.
His mission now? To find evildoers and take them to hell with him. But when an impulsive act of heroism saddles him with a damsel who refuses to be distressed, her resilience forces him to questions why he really ran from his daughter.
The Princess Samantha sat at her dressing table and glowered at her reflection as her maids dressed her hair. She detested balls and loathed the hundreds of suitors who flocked around her: “I have never seen a lovelier flower, Your Highness!” or “Your eyes rival the brilliance of the stars, Your Highness!” If I hear that one again, I’ll vomit. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if even one of them meant it. Sometimes she wished . . . She pushed the thought away. As the heir to the throne, she couldn’t expect romance.
“Let us be painting your face tonight, Your Highness!” Ardra begged. Samantha’s maid was as small and slight as the princess herself and had hair so blonde it was almost white. The princess smiled at the quaintness of her speech. Although both Ardra and Malvina had been in Murtaghan for over ten years, they still hadn’t lost the peculiarities of their western Lundian accents.
“Yes, Your Highness,” Malvina chimed in. “Lady Shela’s maids said just yesterday we couldn’t possibly be knowing our business ’cause you never be wearing paint.” Malvina, more of a typical Korthlundian woman, was tall and broad and not nearly as pretty as Ardra.
“Lady Shela,” Samantha snorted in disgust. Shela wore so much paint she resembled some ghastly sea creature. Samantha knew she wasn’t pretty, but she was fond of the freckles that speckled her nose and thought the emerald green brilliance of her gown set off her white skin and auburn hair beautifully. Besides being appallingly uncomfortable, paint would absolutely spoil the effect. The princess gestured toward the huge portrait that covered one wall of her bedchamber. “Do you think Danu wore paint?”
Malvina shrugged. “The Princess Danu was said to be a powerful sorceress, Your Highness. She probably didn’t need to wear paint to attract men.”
Samantha laughed bitterly, as she thought of the army of men waiting below. “I wish not wearing paint was all it took to scare them off. They say Danu never married, and see how happy she is.”
Samantha yearned for Danu’s freedom. The long-dead princess was laughing as she galloped across the fields with her auburn hair flying out behind her in the wind. The stars on the forehead and chest of her horse shone against its gorgeous coat. Samantha loved this painting, which was just as well because it was bolted to the wall and couldn’t be removed without tearing her chambers apart. She’d decorated the rest of her bedroom to match. Tapestries of horses covered the walls. Her dressing table, armoire, and large four-poster bed had horses carved into the woodwork. A quilt, embroidered with horses and stars, was spread over the bed. The mantle over her fireplace sported figurines of horses in gold, silver, jade, crystal, and precious stones. Every new ambassador added to her collection.
“Your Highness, you’ll be having to marry one of them eventually,” Ardra persisted. “The king won’t be letting you hold out forever. You are seventeen, after all. Your mother was only thirteen when she married the king.”
“You needn’t remind me, Ardra.” Samantha picked up her silver-backed brush from the dressing table, a gift from the Neasarian ambassador that was inlaid with an amber Horsetad; diamonds marked the stars at its forehead and chest. She fingered it lovingly. “Do you think it’s true Danu rode a Horsetad?”
“So the bards sing of her,” Ardra said.
Malvina made an impatient noise in her throat. “And they also be singing she turned suitors into toads with her kiss! You don’t really believe such nonsense, do you, Your Highness? Nobody can tame a Horsetad.”
“No, I suppose not,” the princess sighed wistfully, then smiled at the toads that hopped around the feet of Danu’s horse. How I wish my kiss could do that!
Finally, her maids were finished weaving the jewels through her hair and had attached the simple gold circlet of the heir. Samantha tried to take a deep breath, but was prevented by the tightness of her corset. “That’s it. This is the last time I wear a corset. Have my dresses altered to fit without one. And don’t lecture me about fashion. I’d rather be able to breathe.”
Before her maids could protest that without a corset she was almost as flat as a boy, she left the room. She passed through her reception room, which was decorated in a similar style to her bedroom and contained more ambassadorial gifts. Pausing in front of her favorite tapestry—a white mare at the edge of the forest, helping her newborn foal stand, she wished she were heading for the stables instead of the ballroom. She forced her face into a court smile and left her chambers.
Her two bodyguards bowed and fell in behind her. The princess couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been followed by two heavily armed men. She’d grown so used to them she often forgot they were there.
A full crowd tonight, of course. While the possibility of wearing a crown still exists, not even a deadly plague would keep the hordes away.
Behind the dais at the top of the ballroom was the king’s standard—a brilliant yellow sun on a field of red. Next to it was a smaller standard in her own colors—the head of a white horse on a field of emerald green. The walls were lined with the standards of all the noble houses of Korthlundia; most sported images of ferocious beasts or weapons of war. If I’m supposed to be maintaining the peace, why do I have to dance in a room that celebrates war? Her father claimed they couldn’t redecorate the ballroom without the risk of offending one or more of the Korthlundian noble houses. But Samantha doubted she’d like balls any better no matter how the room was decorated.
As she moved through the crowd, the courtiers parted and bowed. All the men attempted to catch her eye, and the smiles of the women failed to mask their jealousy.
As she mounted the dais where her father and members of the royal council awaited, King Solar beamed at her. His long white hair and beard flowed around his head, giving him the appearance of the wise old man from the bards’ tales. She bowed to him, and he quickly extended his hand, raised her, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Despite his insistence that she marry, her father did love her. The princess knew she should consider herself lucky. Most royal children had no choice in a spouse, but her father had left her free to choose among the men of appropriate rank. But as she looked over the sea of hungry male eyes, the thought of marrying any of them nauseated her. If only marrying them didn’t mean I had to bed them.
Beside the king, Uncle Caedmon smiled at her. Caedmon, Duke of Tuath and Boirche, was her mother’s uncle and had been her father’s chancellor since she was two years old. He had very bushy eyebrows that gave the impression he was always looking down on people. But he was one of the few members of her father’s council she liked, and he was the only one who exhibited no designs on the throne. His only son had married before she was born.
Immediately after the king announced the opening of the ball, Argblutal, the Duke of Handgriff, stepped forward to claim the first dance. No one else ever dared ask her until the duke had had his turn. Like every Korthlundian man, Argblutal was tall, broad-shouldered, and blue-eyed. Many of the girls found him handsome, but she wasn’t sure why. He was nearly twice her age. He was dressed in a surcoat of black leather with long black velvet sleeves, trimmed in gold and crimson braiding. He had several thick gold chains around his neck. From the largest of these hung a pendant of a panther, the symbol of his house. In defiance of court fashion, he wore his blond beard and hair cropped short. He and Duke Sheen were her closest living relatives on her father’s side, not that they were very close—third cousins or something. Both had thought to inherit the throne until her birth gave Solar a direct heir.
Argblutal bowed. “May I have the first dance, Your Highness?”
“I’d be honored, Your Grace.” Father would throw a fit if I refused. She smiled her fakest smile and accepted his hand.
As the dance began, the duke bowed low over her hand, sliming it with a kiss. “Your Highness, you are the brightest star in a shining crowd tonight.” It’s only the first dance, and I get the star thing already. Is there some book they all read? Fifty-two Compliments for Ladies. The duke danced stiffly, as if he disapproved of frivolity. “Your dress, it’s Saloynan silk, is it not, Your Highness?”
“No, it’s Neasarian. I find the weave so much finer. Don’t you?” The silk did feel delightful against her skin, but she found talk of fashion and fabric tedious. She’d never understood the other girls’ obsession with it, just as she never understood why they giggled so much.
“So I have heard, Your Highness, but it’s very difficult to come by. The Neasarians are more interested in trading spices than silk.”
This was true, but equally boring, so she smiled and made some inane comment. When the dance finally ended, Argblutal slimed her hand again. “Perhaps we can share another dance before the evening’s end, Your Highness.” Surreptitiously wiping her hand on her gown, Samantha merely smiled. Only if all seven of the hells freeze over.
The next suitor in line was Lord Devyn, Duke Sheen’s oldest son. Devyn was only a couple of years older than the princess, but he looked younger. His chin was covered with only the lightest and most delicate of fuzz. The princess thought he’d look better if he shaved. But, of course, he couldn’t do that; only the clergy shaved. “May I . . . may I have this dance, Y-y-your Highness?”
As the dance began, Lord Devyn turned a dozen shades of red. “Y-y-your Highness looks just like a-a-a flower tonight.” It was obvious he didn’t want to dance any more than she did, but Duke Sheen was bent on controlling Korthlundia through his son. She’d heard the duke had threatened Devyn with the lash to force him to court her. Devyn was only comfortable among his paints and canvases. Besides, he was in love with Count Morfran’s daughter, Lady Aislinn. She wished just once some man would look at her the way she’d seen Devyn look at Aislinn.
Samantha noticed blue under his fingernails. “And how is your latest creation coming? Working in blues, I see.”
Devyn gaped. “I’m doing a seascape, Your Highness, but how could you know?” When she glanced at his fingers, he curled his fingernails into his fists. “Your Highness, how could I have been so neglectful? My father will kill me.” Devyn was a nice boy, but she wished his father would leave him to his art and his lover.
After Devyn, the princess worked her way through her father’s council—Count Kayne, Duke Torin, Count Weylin, Baron Arawn’s son, Baron Teague, and a host of other nobles of varying degrees of importance. Nola, Count of Meillid, looked on wistfully. The count was nearly as round as he was tall, and it was rumored he’d do away with his wife if he thought he stood a chance of capturing the princess’s hand. He had a five-year-old son, and Samantha thought it a wonder Nola didn’t send the toddler to court her.
After the majority of the king’s council had had their turn, ambassadors and foreign envoys began to present themselves. She knew each one was eager to negotiate the most important treaty between their two countries—one that would give them power over the Korthlundian throne. The princess enjoyed the variety of their appearance, but at heart, they seemed little different than the Korthlundian nobles. The vast majority were nearly twice her age, and the talk of stars and flowers sounded little different in a Mintarian accent than in a Korthlundian one. However, the princess smiled when Phomello, the son of the Neasarian ambassador, took her hand. As with all Neasarians, everything from his hair to his skin to his eyes was a deep rich ebony. It was he who’d given her the silver brush and the silk for her gown, and she’d seen him several times in the stables. He seemed to share her love of horses, but the best thing about him was that he could barely speak Korthlundian, so he couldn’t bombard her with mindless chatter.
* * *
The king went to bed at midnight, but Samantha was forced to stay and dance with suitor after suitor.
“Might I dance with the stars of heaven tonight?” Count Pandaran, the only member of her father’s council with whom she hadn’t yet danced, asked. He always danced with her late in the balls; maybe he felt he was saving the best for last. He wore a surcoat of bright turquoise, edged with yards and yards of delicate lace. His hair and beard hung in long, blond ringlets. When the princess took his hand, she cringed at the smoothness of his palms. The damned fool doesn’t even know how to wield a sword. The hands of most of the men at court were like hers—rough and calloused from weapons training. Knowing she would rule after him, her father had always treated her more like a son than a daughter. Despite what other members of the court might think of it, he had insisted she receive weapons training since she was strong enough to hold a sword.
As they whirled around the ballroom floor, a soft glow of rotten orange erupted around Pandaran. A steaming heat seeped from the orange and poured over her, coating her body with a slime so thick a dozen baths wouldn’t cleanse her. The princess nearly cried out in despair. Not the colors again! I thought I’d gotten rid of them! It had been several months since she’d spent all night kneeling at the altar in the palace chapel, praying for the goddess’s help. She’d felt the goddess’s peace and thought the terrifying colors gone forever. But again she’d been wrong. When she’d first seen the colors, she’d gone in disguise to the Temple of the Mother’s Love. It was the only time she’d ever given her bodyguards the slip. She’d told a priest about the colors. He’d insisted she was under the influences of the denizens of darkness and that her soul was in great peril and performed an exorcism. It hadn’t worked. Nothing had. Maybe it’s not demons; maybe I’m insane.
The princess was so upset after her dance that she fled the room without giving an explanation. She ignored the questions from her bodyguards and her maids, but she was shaking by the time Ardra and Malvina had finished undressing her and taking down her hair. When she was finally alone, she curled up into a ball on her bed. The colors had to mean something, but after the exorcism had failed, she’d never dared tell anyone else about them. Tonight she again prayed to the goddess for help. At last, she fell into a troubled sleep, her dreams full of people who glowed as brightly as the jeweled horses on her mantelpiece.
About the Author
Jamie Marchant began writing stories about the man from Mars when she was six, and she never remembers wanting to be anything other than a writer. Everyone told her she needed a backup plan, so she pursued a Ph.D. in American literature, which she received in 1998. She started teaching writing and literature at Auburn University. One day in the midst of writing a piece of literary criticism, she realized she’d put her true passion on the backburner and neglected her muse. The literary article went in the trash, and she began the book that was to become The Goddess’s Choice, which was published in April 2012. She claims she writes about the fantastic . . . and the tortured soul. Her poor characters have hard lives. She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband and four cats, which (or so she’s been told) officially makes her a cat lady. She still teaches writing and literature at Auburn University. She is the mother of a grown son.
All the Left Hand of Death wants is something to call her own, but is the price too high?
Ellaeva, the fated avatar of the death goddess, is desperate to track down her missing family but the trail is decades old. Instead, she discovers her battered and bloodied sister priestesses driven across the Jerreki border on pain of death. Ellaeva must turn aside from her personal quest to investigate the murders, only to find her parents have been taken into the heart of the conflict.
Lyram Aharris, favoured son of the royal line of Ahlleyn, is the only living person she trusts to help her infiltrate the enemy stronghold and uproot the horror they find there, but their chequered past threatens the mission. Accompanying him is his crown prince, the one man Lyram wants dead above all others.
Now Ellaeva must face down the darkness in her soul before a dark god is brought into the world.
At the boundary of life and death, all oaths will be tested.
Lyram leaned on the window casement, scouring the bustling courtyard of the royal palace of Ahlleyn below. Servants in the black and purple livery of the clan Gaylbrath strode confidently about their tasks, and his gaze skipped over them, looking for someone obviously out of place—looking for the crow amongst the sparrows. From this high, picking individual faces out of the crowd was impossible, but that didn’t stop him searching. He didn’t need a face to find the person he sought.
Despite his failure to note anyone out of place, he knew there was at least one person in the palace who shouldn’t be there. He could feel it in his bones.
“Lyram, you’re not listening to me.”
Sighing, he turned, leaning back against the wall with his arms folded over his plaid. He regarded the duchess. “No, Narrawen, I’m not. I do apologise. What were you saying?”
The Duchess of Kinrothen narrowed pale-blue eyes at him. She stood in the centre of his sitting room, an inner sanctum furnished by his late wife, and a place of solitude and reflection where he’d usually not permit the duchess. But, short of his bedchamber, this was the only room in his suite with a window. He needed to see the courtyard, and she’d insisted on speaking with him.
“Never mind. You clearly have something else on your mind.” Then her voice grew teasing. “Perhaps something I could help with?“
Lyram swallowed a long-suffering sigh. Narrawen, standing with her head cocked and one hand on a hip, was a fine figure of a woman, but she was also a schemer. Her kirtle, though made of expensive linen, was woven in the red, yellow and green tartan of her clan; she took every opportunity to wear it, as though reminding everyone she was their clan leader. Though women were accepted as equals in Ahlleyn, a woman heading a large warrior clan could experience certain… troublesome elements, and she carried a bow slung over her shoulder. A woman who would lead warriors must be a warrior, and she had the temperament to match the flaming red hair tumbling down her shoulders in unruly curls. Everything she did was calculated and planned, and there was no way he’d be sharing what was on his mind.
“It’s nothing to trouble yourself over,” he said.
“Oh, it would be no trouble to take a burden from your shoulders.” She stepped forward, closing the distance between them to place a hand on his arm.
The heady aroma of eastern tuberose assaulted his nostrils, rich and sensual. She was tall, the top of her head on a level with his nose, and her breath tickled his clean-shaven chin. Her gaze held the resolute intensity of a woman accustomed to getting her way, sooner or later. She was beautiful, and in a way that went beyond her face and figure: she was fierce, determined, and intelligent.
But when he looked at her, he saw only Ellaeva.
Her brow pinched, as if reading something in his face, and he smoothed his expression.
“You’ve been too long a widower,” she said.
He started. “Eighteen months! That’s hardly too long.”
She met his gaze with an intense expression, ignoring his protest. “And I’ve never married. We both need heirs.”
He shook his head and tried to draw away, but she had him pinned between her wide skirts and the window. “You would merge two of the kingdom’s most powerful and influential duchies into one? The aristocracy will never stand for it. You already know my answer, Narrawen. I’m not interested in marrying—you or anyone else. It’s not personal, you understand?”
She snorted in a most unladylike fashion and tossed her hair, like a wild horse tossing its mane. “You pay too little attention, Lyram. You’d be surprised what the aristocracy will allow now, after the fall of Traeburhn. Everyone’s been made nervous by his treason, especially the stripping of lands and titles. Besides, we need not merge the duchies. We could agree on a division of heirs.”
“The risk of civil war—”
She leaned closer, until only inches separated their faces. The heady smell of her perfume was almost intoxicating.
“There are any number of men in this kingdom, and without, who would marry me,” she said. “Most for the wrong reasons. Few of them have my respect and admiration, but you do. What I need is a husband. What I want is you.”
The door burst open, thumping against the wall.
Narrawen jumped back, her bow clattering against the side table. A faint blush stained her cheeks.
Lyram’s pulse quickened. This was it, the moment he’d been waiting for.
Everard stood framed by the sitting room’s doorway, his posture perfectly erect as he folded his hands neatly in front of his sporran. As always, he was clad in scrupulous court attire, his rank pinned to the shoulder of his white shirt and his kilt falling in perfect pleats. His thinning grey hair had been meticulously combed, and his wire-framed glasses perched precariously on his nose. He kept his face blank, but a small twitch beside his eye betrayed his displeasure at the duchess’s presence. “Sir.”
Though Everard’s tone was even, Lyram read the tension and urgency in him. “I know, Everard. I’ll come.”
“A prior engagement, Lyram?” Narrawen said. “Whatever it is, reschedule it. We’re not done.”
Lyram opened his mouth to countermand the order—though she outranked him, how dare she presume to order his aide-de-camp?
But Everard’s gaze flickered to her with that same inscrutability, and in his perfectly deadpan aide’s voice he said, “Is Your Grace still chasing a husband? Perchance I can suggest a better hunting ground.”
Narrawen grew rigid, and Lyram suppressed a grin.
“The duchess and I can finish our conversation later,” Lyram said. “I’ll come, Everard.”
“No, sir—” Everard blinked, jerking aside as though pinched, and Ellaeva stepped into the room.
The shock of seeing her thrilled through him, like the mixed pleasure of an unexpectedly warm spring day, tainted by fording a stream running with snowmelt. Though he’d felt her jump suddenly from the far east to well within Ahlleyn borders several days ago, though he’d felt her drawing nearer by the day, he hadn’t realised she was here, outside the room. And no amount of time could have prepared him for this moment.
Their gazes locked. Her black eyes were flat and cold. In his head, the sense of her abruptly clenched into the hard glass ball that said she was trying to control or hide her feelings. That connection was the unintended legacy of his resurrection at her hand, but she’d grown better at controlling it. Then her gaze flickered to Narrawen, standing so close alongside him, and the glass ball shattered into a thousand shards with an impact so visceral he gasped and sat down. The chill in the air deepened.
She switched her stare back to Lyram. Finally, she spoke, in a voice cold as iron. “I have come to see Alagondar.”
About the Author
Ciara Ballintyne grew up on a steady diet of adult epic fantasy from the age of nine, leaving her with a rather confused outlook on life – she believes the good guys should always win, but knows they often don’t. She is an oxymoron; an idealistic cynic. Her debut work is Confronting the Demon, and In the Company of the Dead is her first book to be published with Evolved Publishing. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and is a practising financial services lawyer. In her spare time, she speculates about taking over the world.