Excerpt Gods of Rebellion

  
The pain was tolerable still, but if the dose had started to wear off then it wouldn’t be bearable for much longer. I made an effort to open my eyes again, but halted abruptly when Anner asked curtly, “And him?”

“He’ll be fine.” Wilden sounded angry. “When he comes down off the rage he’s in though, he will regret much of what has happened today.”

“I’ve never seen him like that.”

“Elves rarely experience rage so intense,” the centaur said in his quiet way. “Such emotions are alien to their nature. The repercussions of such an event can be as devastating in many ways as an injury such as the one dealt to Tamsen.”

“This is my fault,” Anner said wearily.

“How did it happen?”

“Perses tried to stop us from entering the pyramid, so Tamsen had to confront him so the rest of us could get in. I didn’t know it was even possible for a mortal mage to stand against the power of a god. As we were running for the arena in the tunnel, she said she’d used almost all her magic. Must have drained her strength too because I ended up having to carry her. While that mad thing was blasting through solid rock to get at her, she was using her power to pull down the tunnel.” Anner sighed. “We collided with the wall a couple of times—hard. And then all of a sudden, I was knocked senseless.”

“And then Adonios showed up.” Wilden took up the story. “He had her by the throat. Anner was in a heap on the floor. Brial put his sword to the apostate’s throat and was probably about to kill him, but was waiting until I got Tamsen to safety. But then—then she commanded him to run to the arena and he rose to the killing edge so fast I thought he was going to turn on her. Wasn’t until she mumbled that Perses was breaking through the collapsed tunnel that we understood what she was trying to say. We ran here as fast as we could and as soon as Brial was free of that tunnel she pulled the whole thing down. I’ve never seen anything like it. The entire pyramid shifted sideways and knocked everyone to the ground, but Tamsen flew into the stone edge of that wall and went instantly still. I thought she was dead.”

“She used all her magic,” Chironos murmured. “She must have had the power in her grip when she fell, because no normal fall could have caused this much damage. She should be—she should be dead.”

“Tamsen won’t die until she’s good and ready,” Wilden said dryly.

“Can’t say that about some others,” Anner muttered.  

“We must heal the fractures between us,” I mumbled. “If we don’t, the god said it would lead to our ruin.”

“Alanna? Where’s that cup?” Wilden asked.

I opened my eyes slowly. “It’s not that bad yet. Get Brial.”

“Tamsen, it’s not a good—”

“Now.” 

Wilden glanced at Chironos, then set his jaw. For some reason, he looked different but I  couldn’t quite figure out why.

“I’ll go.” Anner rose from where he’d been sitting at Chironos’s side and crossed out of my line of sight.

“Avunculus, you must listen to me,” I said. “Someone must go to fetch either Cetenne or Liliath. One of them must be here.”

“Why?”

“Ka’antira magic. The god told me I wouldn’t be able to wield my powers until I heal enough to have the strength. This injury is not an easy one to recover from. It may be weeks—or months. If it is known I cannot use my power, the apostates will risk the arena. There must be two Ka’antira here if we are to buy me the time I need.”

“All right. I’ll make sure it happens.”

“And forgive him.” I tried to give him a commanding glare, but a sharp pain scorched through my body and I bit my lip instead. “I knew what I was doing. I deliberately focused his anger on me so I could get him away.”

“I’ve never seen anyone burn so many bridges when they’re standing on them,” he commented.

Brial suddenly loomed above me. His face was pale, his eyes still flat with rage. He didn’t sit next to me. He didn’t say a word. He just waited.

And then I noticed the bruises.

“Who hit him?” I winced as another vicious flare of pain leapt when I tensed my neck.

“Who didn’t?” Wilden turned away slightly but not before I saw the huge contusion on his chin.

So that’s why he looks different. Men!

“It doesn’t matter. Brial will regain his temper, and when he does he will remember what I say now. Because of me, we are vulnerable. We cannot leave the arena, but we also cannot defend it. The tunnel may be gone, but the apostate could teleport mortal or undead warriors into the galleries. We will need warriors until I can move.”

I licked my dry lips. Chironos gently put a cup of juice to my lips and tilted some of it down until I could swallow it.

“When—and only when—Brial regains his senses, he will assume command of this and the Elven Realm. And perhaps then, he will realize why I spoke to him the way I did.”

Brial opened his mouth and Wilden snarled, “Not a damn word.”

“Chironos, you must keep me mostly unconscious for the next four or five days,” I went on hurriedly. “Cetenne and Liliath both have worked with this kind of injury before, on both humans and Elves. There are physical differences between the two races. I would treat an Elf with a broken back differently than a man. But I am of both races, and that will make recovering from this injury more difficult. My cousins know this, and whichever one comes will advise you.”“We must heal the fractures between us,” I mumbled. “If we don’t, the god said it would lead to our ruin.”

I looked up at my husband. “Your rage is understandable. I spoke to you in a way I never thought I would. It was because of my fear for you that I did, because you didn’t know how close Perses was to killing us all. But Morpheos warned me that if we do not heal this breach between us, all we have struggled to do will fail. The mortal realm will fall, and take Olympos with it. Even though you will not care right now, in a few days you will understand.” I bit my lip. “I’ll take that dose now.”

Again, the slow-moving narcotic oozed down my throat, and I clenched my teeth against the instinct to gag. “Wilden, support Brial in my absence. Chironos, tell my cousin I suspect two breaks—one below my shoulder blades and one at the base of my spine. I was hurled into the pyramid outside and felt a bone snap before I ever even got into the temple. We must play a game now—one in which things must appear that I am uninjured and my power unchanged. I rely upon you all to make certain this happens.” I closed my eyes. “And quit beating each other up. For all we know, something sent Brial to the killing edge deliberately and we were all manipulated into the situation we are now in. Keep me asleep, Chironos.”

“I will, Tamsen, and there will be no more fights. On that, you have my word.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

There was a long silence.

“Months?” Anner’s voice was tight.

Wilden swore softly and his breath caught in this throat with a rasp.

“Were there any other orders for me?” Brial asked coldly.

“Just one more punch,” Anner said. “Tamsen would let me him one more time for that.”

“It would be your last punch ever,” Brial said softly, and everything around me began to fade away once more.
  ​​


Excerpt--Mage of Chaos

​  
“Tamsen!”

I winced. I recognized the call immediately—after all, how could I mistake Kaldarte’s voice? Or her tone, for that matter. Even from the self-decreed solitude of my locked and mage-shielded bedchambers, I caught the hard-edged note of the Seer in her worst temper.

Apparently, I was not going to be permitted to continue my isolation. The intricate lines of my extended family were usually a blessing, but not always. Brial, who was not a patient man even by human standards, would have found a way to get through to Kaldarte once he’d realized that my door was barred even against him for the tenth day straight. Although I’d shared my sorrows with him for years now, this newest grief was one I didn’t care to discuss—with anyone. My body had strengthened; I felt better physically. But the anguish I’d undergone and still struggled with was too new, too raw and infected, to share even with him.

My enforced solitude was all that protected me.

I had two choices. I could either open the door for her, or I could let her work that fire magic-fed temper to a higher level by permitting her to beat against my shields for a while first.

I was a prudent woman. I sent out a quick burst of energy and opened the door.

By the time the Seer stormed into the room, I lay once more upon the bed, staring at the fog-shrouded window. The world outside our house in Geochon was draped in its mourning veils still, weeping for the dead god Phobetor’s passing. The weather fit my mood perfectly.

“Tamsen, what in the name of the seven hells are you doing?”

Kaldarte was as furious as I’d ever seen her. Even her hair seemed to be sparking with rage, crackling with livid energy as she broke my fixed gaze at the rain-drenched garden. I stared at her without speaking, letting my apathy speak for itself.

“Are you happy now?” Her words dripped acid. “Your husband has gone literally berserk. Mariol is losing his mind. Even Wilden is furious! Why have you locked everyone out while you sit here and pout?”

“I’m not pouting.” My own voice was raspy with disuse, ravaged by the days of uncontrollable weeping alone in my bower. “I’m healing…and mourning.”

“I can see that.” Her eyes were glittering with jewel-like hardness as they met mine, and then her gaze shunted off to the fading bruises with professional efficiency.

“I don’t want to be disturbed right now, Kaldarte. I just want to be left alone.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, my girl. You get up from that bed right now and get dressed. This has gone on long enough.”

“For whom?” I asked mildly. “For you? Brial? Perhaps so. But it hasn’t gone on long enough for me yet. I don’t want to act like nothing’s happened, and I’ll be damned if I pretend to just to make the rest of you happy.”

Her expression softened slightly. Perhaps she understood, at least a little, why I was so reluctant to play my part. I’d played many parts with my family over the years, parts designed to keep them comfortable and unconcerned about me. Usually they were screens to mask what I was really up to, but upon occasion I’d worried so much about what they thought that I neglected to see to my own needs.

“Tamsen, none of us are sure exactly what happened to you. It’s not that we don’t understand; it’s that we just don’t know. If you tell us, maybe we can help.”

“A god sacrificed himself to give me his power, Kaldarte. All of it.” I clipped the words off as if they stung. “He gave up his entire existence so that I would live. Forgive me if that’s a little hard to bear. I don’t want anyone’s sympathy. I just want to be left alone so I can look through all of the stupid things I’ve done in my life and wonder what was so important about me that a god killed himself for my sake.”

“That must be painful.” She didn’t try to sympathize. She just stated a fact.

“Look, I’m fine. I’m healing. I’m feeling better. Can’t you all just leave me alone until I feel ready to face the world again? Is that so hard?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, it is.”

And there it was—the killing ploy. The blow I’d expected for a week now. Your Majesty. The dual call to duty and responsibility, the one thing I could not ignore and must obey. My title hung between us like an accusation, which in a way it was. No matter how far away I was from Leselle, I was still the Queen of the Elven Realm and would be until I died.

Like in six months or so.

“What’s wrong?” I demanded. “Is Leselle being attacked again?”

“No, I don’t think so. You have had emissaries from both Tartarus and Hippolytos, and the Regent of Ansienne sent a messenger to urgently beg you to attend him at the Palace.”

I couldn’t even muster up the emotional energy to get angry. I just stared at her, waiting. She compressed her lips at my lack of response, and her eyes flashed again.

Finally, I capitulated. “Fine. Tell Colan to prepare my carriage. I’ll go to the Palace and see what Rontil wants and have the emissaries meet me here afterward. Do you know what the latest disaster to be laid at my door might be?”

“No, but it can’t be good.”

I rolled from the bed. “Colan! Get my carriage ready at once! Bryse!”

Looking back over my shoulder at my fuming foster mother as I stalked to the wardrobe, I asked, “Better?”

“Much.” Kaldarte made her way out, her skirts ominously silent as she went. Once in the doorway, she looked back over her shoulder.

I bit my lip against the stab of pain that surged from my damaged conscience and threw the wardrobe doors open. I pulled the gown I’d worn for Dantel’s funeral from the stack of clothes and laid it over my arm.

“I will be here for you when you need me, my daughter,” she said in a soft voice. “I’ll grant you the time to work this out for yourself, but I’ll be the only one who will do so. You should be prepared.”

“I am.” I flattened the words as soon as they left my mouth, having already stamped out the flare of emotion and resurfaced into my brittle calm.

Kaldarte didn’t say another word. She left the room quietly, just as the nervous servants of the Asphodel household clattered up the stairs for the first sight of their mistress in days.
 
***
*
I felt strange, in a way, traveling the streets of Geochon without either Brial or Wilden at my side. I’d brought two Elven scouts along to act as my guard for the trip, as neither my husband nor my uncle was in the house when I left. The manor was silent and on edge, tension running along every wall and floor like an electric current. Things were easier in the jouncing carriage, where a Queen was supposed to be lost in her thoughts and the guard was quite properly sitting outside on the box.

The Palace guards, accustomed to my carriage’s arrival at all times of the day or night, let us through without question. As we pulled up to the ornate entrance, I gathered my thoughts. It probably wouldn’t take long to settle whatever business was here.

I spared enough attention for the scouts to murmur, “Custodi vidite.”

As they snapped to attention with their swords flat on their palms, I strode down the immense hallways with my black skirts sweeping a rustling indignant path across the polished marble and tried to ignore the renewed flares of pain that hampered my every step.

As soon as the chamberlain saw me, he slammed his staff against the floor. The antechamber was curiously empty of its normal rabble of courtiers and politicians.

The Ansienne royal guard opened the doors. “Make way for Tamsen Ka’antira de Asphodel, Queen of the Elven Realm and Countess of Asphodel!”

I stalked into the room. The men below the royal dais instantly bowed, their courtly posture and elegant clothing bringing me back into the full rush of the Court. Rontil rose from his seat beside the throne and hurried to intercept me before the royal dais. I took one more measuring look around the room and halted abruptly.

Brial stood in our accustomed place with Wilden at his back. My husband’s eyes met mine with a click that was nearly audible. He gestured to the scouts behind me, who sheathed their swords and left without a word, while Wilden crossed the throne room and took their place as my custos.

“My friend, we are so worried—” Rontil was saying.

I paused uncertainly. Some terrible thing was going on here that I didn’t understand. Instinctively, I turned back to Brial even as Wilden grasped my elbow. Brial bowed his head as I stood in front of him, but not in the courteous greeting of an Elf to his monarch. Brial was ducking his head so he could think, something he never did unless the news was particularly dire. When he lifted his face, I caught the tight shuttered glaze over his black eyes, and my apathy moved aside with a jerk.

“What is going on?” I asked him in a low voice.

“Your Majesty”—his voice was raggedly calm—“we have a serious problem.”

A contingent of Hippolytes stood near the throne, and a single man in Tartaran garb near the daunting female warriors of my friend Antiope’s island nation. Premonition moved through me, shoving all other concerns out of the way.

“Brial?”

His beautiful face betrayed no emotion but I, who loved him so well, felt the edge of fear singing along his skin.
“The young King of Ansienne has vanished from his nursery, Tamsen, as has the King of Tartarus.”

“And on Hippolytos?” My mouth was suddenly dry. I sensed the men around us move back, as if they were afraid of what would happen next.

“And so has our daughter,” he finished, his face paler than I had ever seen it.

Shock kept me speechless for a moment. I half-turned to Wilden for confirmation, and the sheen of tears in his eyes told me all I needed to know. I ignored the roaring in my ears as the world tumbled from its rightful place. Without thinking, I extended my hands to Brial, who took them in a painful grip as I staggered against him.

Little Tamarisk is growing close to the age of consent. It will not be long before her human blood enables her to bear children.

But the age of consent wasn’t something Spesialle had been concerned with in the past.

“Where?”

My uncle’s insinuating laugh echoed in my head.

“Your Majesty, we are unaware—”

I ignored the pompous voice of the Ansienne courtier who’d spoken and looked into Brial’s eyes. “Where?”

“We don’t know.” Pain lacerated his voice. “They all vanished this morning without a trace. There were no warriors or strange mages around any of them. They just disappeared.”

I felt the grief pulsing within him, the lingering anger about my distance, and the thin strand of anger that was growing even as my breath was knocked from my body. I forgot that I was a Queen and threw myself into his arms for just a moment of shared terror. His arms closed around me without their normal ferocity, but his body against mine was still as sturdy as it had ever been. I closed my eyes for a split-second of weak-kneed anguish.

And then the rage hit me.
  

Excerpt--Prisoner of Death



I AWAKENED slowly.

My eyelids fluttered open, and I squinted against the bright light that turned my sight red for a moment. Hands that did not look familiar at all came up to shade them from the glare. Even that small movement made my head swim with a sharp, piercing pain penetrating behind my left ear, but I forced myself to sit up and look around me. 

The room was completely white: the walls, floor, ceiling, and furniture were all pristine, sharply white. The one window that let long cruel rays of light fall upon the snowy bed upon which I lay was shrouded in white, filmy fabric, flowing in a scarcely-felt breeze. 

What is all this? 

I lifted my hands once more, staring at the long, slender fingers and slim wrists in amazement, noting the extreme pallor of the skin stretched over the delicate bones.

Are these my hands? Those hands went to my face, and the fingers felt oddly rough against my cheek, the fingers and thumb callused. 

Cautiously, I set my hands on either side of my body in the bed, scooting myself to the edge and swinging my feet to the floor. Then, I stopped again, fascinated and confused by the sight of my legs clad in long fitted leather trousers tucked into scarred high-topped leather boots. I looked down at my body. 

The leather tunic was fitted to me over a tan-colored shirt that stretched over the bones of my wrists. An intricate sash of leather belted both garments around a slender waist. No frills or furbelows about these clothes, and their tight fit didn’t disguise the feminine shape beneath them. 

I got to my feet, swaying as I rose to my full height. A sudden motion caught my eye as a very long silver-white plait swung against the top of my right thigh. Amazed, I lifted it in my hands, noting the fine silky texture of it. 

Is this my hair? 

I tugged on it and was rewarded with another vicious twinge of pain behind my left ear. I examined my head with cautious fingers and located a tender swelling on my temple. I moved as if I’d been asleep for a long time and stiffly made my way to the ewer standing on a white washstand nearby. I splashed water onto my face, hoping it would jar some memory loose. 

Everything about me was strangely familiar, yet I didn’t recognize anything. The clothes and hair were obviously mine, but why didn’t I… 

The water in the bowl stilled into a flat reflective sheet. I stared in absolute confusion at the reflection. The young woman with the puzzled frown, was that me? My mouth opened slightly, as did hers, and I realized I had no idea who I was. 

Faces, images flew past my inner eye, yet I found myself unable to grasp them. Too many discrepancies. I grasped the edges of the washstand with blanching fingers. 

Hands pale and slender, but callused. A young woman’s face, but the hair of an elder. Everything seemed like it should have been familiar, but wasn’t. I half-fell half-staggered back to the snowy bed and collapsed against the deep softness of the blankets and pillows. 

Who am I? 

I closed my eyes. Hopefully, when I woke up, I could put all of these pieces together. Hopefully, I would know who I was. 

* * *  

“TIME FER ye to be wakin’ up, milady.” 

My eyes flew open. A corpulent woman with a broad face peered down at me. 

“Are ye feelin’ all right, milady?” 

`“I—I’m not sure,” I stammered, sitting up. A wave  of nausea and dizziness overwhelmed me. Instantly, my companion’s strong, beefy arms came around me, lowering me back to the pillows. 

“Well, now, ye don’t want to be doin’ that, milady,” she chided me good-naturedly. “’Tis quite a knock on the head ye took, and that’s a fact. Jest lay there, and I’ll mix ye sommat to make ye feel better, all right?” 

“Who are you?” 

She placed a cool, damp cloth across my brow. “Ye don’t remember me?” 

“I don’t remember me,” I replied with a hint of dryness in my voice. 

“Gods above—the master said ye’d taken a hard knock, but I never thought it was that bad. I’m Graisen, yer maid, an’ ye’re the Lady Solange de Spesialle.” 

“Spesialle?” I asked blankly, disliking the name for some reason. “What is that?” 

The woman clucked her tongue. “It’s yer husband’s dukedom, milady. Yer the Duchess of Spesialle and married to Lord Gabril these past ten years or more. Don’t ye remember him?” 

A fleeting image of long golden hair and flashing black eyes raced across my mind and then vanished into the clouds that fogged my mind. 

“Is he blond?” I asked, trying to regain the sight. 

“Aye,” she replied, with a note of relief. “Lord Gabril’s as blond as they come, milady. Ye’re a right striking couple, ’im with ’is blond hair and handsome face, and ye, milady, as perty as a picture with yer silver hair and eyes and sech a tiny little figger. The Duke’s been right worried about ye, milady, and ’e won’t like it atall that yer memory’s been taken. Shall I tell ’im to come in and see ye?” 

I hesitated. Obviously, this woman knew me, which meant I was probably this Solange person, but I felt that it wasn’t quite right, somehow. Another name was just beyond the borders of my consciousness, hanging tantalizingly out of reach. Finally, I nodded, and the big woman bustled across the room to the door. 

“Ye kin come in, milord,” Griasen said. 

I lifted the cloth from my brow as a man entered the room. He was tall and fair, but his eyes were a piercing light blue instead of black. He came immediately to my bedside and took my hand in his. 

“How do you feel, my dear?” he asked. 

“You aren’t the face I remember,” I murmured, screwing up my eyes in an effort to recognize him. “I don’t remember you at all.” 

“It’s all right, Solange.” He brought my hand to his lips. “That was quite a fall you took. The physicians warned me that this might affect your memory but assured me your memory would return in time. Griasen and I are going to take good care of you, my sweet, until you’re all better.” 

 “How did I fall?” 

“Your horse threw you,” Gabril replied, a worried frown creasing his brow. “You hit your head on the garden wall.” 

“It hurts.” I withdrew my hand and closed my eyes. I didn’t remember this man, and I wanted to be left alone with my troubled blank thoughts. 

“Of course. I’ll come back later, my love, when you’re feeling better.” 

He rose with seeming reluctance and went to leave. Once at the door, he murmured in a low voice, “Clean her up, get her into something more comfortable, and then let her sleep. It’s the best thing for her.” 

Did I imagine the smug satisfaction in his voice? If Griasen was right, this man was my husband. Why would he be satisfied with an injury to his wife? Before I could think about it, Griasen was back at my bedside. 

“Come now, milady,” she coaxed me. “I’ve rung fer a bath, and I’ll wager that once ye’re washed up and in clean clothes ye’ll feel worlds better!” 

“Griasen.” I opened my eyes to look at her. “I do not remember the Duke as my husband.” 

“Don’t worry, milady,” she said, her eyes glistening. “Ye will…in time.”


Excerpt--Servant of Dis


Your Majesty?”

I looked up from the pile of parchment that had been baffling me for hours. Bryse hovered in the doorway.

“Yes? What is it?”

“The scouts have sent word that a visitor is approaching Leselle,” she said.

“Who is it?”

“They didn’t say. They said that whoever it is, he is human and riding his horse hard for the city.”

“That can’t be good.” I sighed. “Are the children in bed?”

“Barely,” she replied, her eyes twinkling.

I grimaced. Although the twins were reasonably obedient for eight-year-old boys, Tamarisk was a handful.

“I’d best go down and see who it is.” I stood from my mother’s writing desk and reaching for my cloak.

“Of course.” Bryse curtseyed.

I pulled the hood over my head as I descended the stairs from my little study to the warm central room of our house. As I donned my gloves, I passed the nursery where our children slept, the telltale sounds of regular breathing reassured me that they were truly asleep. I laid a hand on the guardians who warded our home. Instantly, they slid aside, rearranging the disguising trunk of the colossal tree, and I ducked outside into the swirling whiteness of the storm.

The streets of Leselle were silent and empty, due not only to the lateness of the hour but also to the bitter wind that accompanied this early winter storm. I kept my head low as I negotiated the broad snow-covered branches that served as streets in this ancient city. Only in the Elven forest could trees grow to such a size as to support an entire city.

Leselle was built within the protective limbs of six towering oaks, trees so ancient their origins were lost in the dim beginnings of myth. Once, this lovely city had been leveled—razed by Elven mages to prevent its despoiling by my so-not-mourned uncle, the Duke de Spesialle. At my crowning, the Virgin Huntress had resurrected Leselle to stand as the jewel of the Elven Realm once more.

The only bad thing about it was trying to descend icy tree branches at night.

I slid the final few feet to the city gates where Malvern, one of our most experienced scouts, saluted. Behind him, a shadowed form stood next to a steaming horse whose head was lowered.

“What is it?” A tingle of premonition suddenly raced across my mouth.

The cloaked man lifted his head. I looked into the tired face of Mylan de Phoclydies. Although we were nearly the same age, his face had aged. He wasn’t much older than thirty-five, but deep creases lined his stern face, creases, I knew, that were placed there by the death of Anner de Ceolliune on the Ilian flood plain over a decade earlier.

“Mylan!” I rushed forward to embrace my old friend. I threw my arms around his neck and hugged him hard. He was smiling when I pulled back, but shadows lingered behind his eyes.

“We’ll go up to the house,” I said quietly. “Malvern, find Prince Ka’breona and my uncle. I think they’re down here somewhere. Send them up immediately.”

“At once, your Majesty.”

I linked my arm through Mylan’s, and we began the climb through the thoroughfares of Leselle. “It’s good to see you, old friend,” I said.

The young scouts behind us led Mylan’s exhausted horse to the stables Brial had built on the lower outskirts of the city.

“What in the world possessed you to come to Leselle in this weather, and nearly riding a horse to death in the process?”

“We’ll wait,” he said.

His voice was much deeper and more resonant than I remembered. I hadn’t seen Mylan for three years, not since the funeral of Hyagrem de Silenos in Geochon.

We hurried through the snowy streets, and I opened the guardians to escort my guest into the warmth of our home.

We preferred to live simply in Leselle. Nothing really indicated that this home was the residence of the royal family, save perhaps the shelves full of books that few Elves would own. I removed Mylan’s heavy fur cloak and pushed him onto a couch before the heaped Elfstones glowing on the hearth. I added cinnamon and nutmeg to a tankard of wine and heated it with a thought. One of our servitors appeared with a tray of cheese, bread, and fruit as I handed the hot drink to him. I dismissed her for the evening and served the Earl myself.

His green eyes were dulled with fatigue as he thanked me. I sat on the couch opposite after pouring myself a glass of wine. The guardians slid aside, and Brial strode into the room. A wide grin split his face as he walked toward his friend, arms outstretched. Mylan rose and the two men embraced, Brial almost dwarfed by the greater bulk of the human knight. Behind them, Wilden Ka’antira, my uncle and the last male of the Ka’antira line, smiled. When Brial pulled away with a hearty slap on Mylan’s back, Wilden stepped in and clapped Mylan’s shoulder.

Brial came to my side, and his smile faded as he looked into my face. “What is it, cariad?”

“I’m waiting for Mylan to tell us.” I turned my attention back to the man who had fallen back into the cushions of the couch.

“I came to fetch you two,” Mylan said gruffly. “You are needed in Geochon.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“There’s trouble over the Spesialle succession.”

“Why didn’t Mariol come to tell us, then?” I asked, puzzled.

“Mariol sent me to you. Dantel de Tizand is doing everything he possibly can, but—” Mylan spread his hands.

“There are complications. If Dantel knew I was here, he’d probably throw me into a dungeon. The Council is divided.” Mylan’s voice hoarsened. “I have come, not for the Elven Queen, but for the Countess of Asphodel. Dantel needs friends, and you are probably the only two that can help.”

“Naturally, we’ll come,” I said. “But what could be the problem with the Spesialle succession? Rontil has held the duchy for over ten years.”

“Rontil has finally chosen a wife.” Mylan spoke carefully, as he always had when he was concerned about my reaction.

Of all the dear friends I’d made while on the Huntress’s game, he was the one whose good humor and high spirits had remained intact. Whatever he’d come to tell me, he was worried about how I’d take it.

“Well, that’s good isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily,” he said. “The wife he’s chosen is Alcmene, the sister of Queen Antiope.”

I sat back in my seat, thinking quickly. Thirteen years ago, Alcmene and her sister, Admete, had been sweet-faced little girls. They would be fully-grown warriors now who stood in line to the Hippolyte crown behind their older sister, Antiope. Antiope was still without an heir; the only child she’d borne was the posthumous son of Anner de Ceolliune who could not inherit the throne of a fabled race of female warriors. The political ramifications were obvious—and threatening to those who didn’t understand the terms of the Geochon accords as well as I did.

Brial let out a long whistle. “That’s an awfully big army for an Ansienne Prince to lay claim to. At least, that’s what the courtiers probably think, isn’t it?”

“You’ve got it,” Mylan said. “It doesn’t matter how many times we tell them that men are just a convenience to Hippolytes, the stupid Council doesn’t listen. All they can think of is Rontil sitting in Spesialle and his wife’s sister controlling the legendary legions of Hippolytos and what a huge military power that alliance forges.”

“How did they meet?” I asked.

“They met when Antiope paid a visit to her son,” Mylan wrapped his big hands around the tankard, as if he was trying to warm himself. “She and Mariol agreed to meet in Spesialle, so Mariol took Anteros down to Rontil’s palace. Antiope brought her sisters along and, well, you know Rontil. One thing led to another, and the two became betrothed.”

“How did Antiope take it?” Brial asked.

“She seemed to be all for it at first, but when word of the Council’s uproar reached her, I guess she forbade the whole thing. As a result, the girl took off and now is lodged firmly in Geochon while the whole thing plays out.”

That premonition was back again. I rubbed the back of my newly tense neck. “Where?”

I was afraid I already knew the answer.

“Alcmene is staying with your cousin,” Mylan said blandly. “For some reason, Cetenne thinks this whole thing is funny.”

So without my knowledge, Cetenne has involved the Elven Realm. No wonder Mylan is being so cautious.

I rolled my eyes to the heavens and let out a long-drawn sigh. “By the gods! Why didn’t Mariol come to tell us sooner? We could have headed this whole thing off weeks ago.”

Mylan’s expression darkened. “Mariol couldn’t come, Tamsen. He’s dying.”