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Dark Magic, Hidden Destiny
For three centuries a divine prophecy and a line of warrior queens protected Skala. But the people grew complacent and Erius, a usurper king, claimed his young half sister’s throne.
Now plague and drought stalk the land, war with Skala’s ancient rival Plenimar drains the country’s ...
Dark Magic, Hidden Destiny
For three centuries a divine prophecy and a line of warrior queens protected Skala. But the people grew complacent and Erius, a usurper king, claimed his young half sister’s throne.
Now plague and drought stalk the land, war with Skala’s ancient rival Plenimar drains the country’s lifeblood, and to be born female into the royal line has become a death sentence as the king fights to ensure the succession of his only heir, a son. For King Erius the greatest threat comes from his own line — and from Illior’s faithful, who spread the Oracle’s words to a doubting populace.
As noblewomen young and old perish mysteriously, the king’s nephew — his sister’s only child — grows toward manhood. But unbeknownst to the king or the boy, strange, haunted Tobin is the princess’s daughter, given male form by a dark magic to protect her until she can claim her rightful destiny.
Only Tobin’s noble father, two wizards of Illior, and an outlawed forest witch know the truth. Only they can protect young Tobin from a king’s wrath, a mother’s madness, and the terrifying rage of her brother’s demon spirit, determined to avenge his brutal murder....
Snow still glistened on the peaks overhead, however. Now and then a plume of wind-blown white gusted out against the stark blue of the sky, creating the tantalizing illusion of coolness, while down here in the narrow pass no breeze stirred. Anywhere else Iya might have conjured up a bit of wind, but no magic was allowed within a day’s ride of Afra.
Ahead of her, Arkoniel swayed in his saddle like a shabby, long-legged stork. The young wizard’s linen tunic was sweated through down the back and stained drab with a week’s worth of road dust. He never complained; his only concession to the heat was the sacrifice of the patchy black beard he’d cultivating since he turned one and twenty last Erain.
Poor boy, Iya thought fondly; the newly shaven skin was already badly sunburnt.
Their destination, the Oracle at Afra, lay at the very heart of Skala’s mountainous spine and was a grueling ride any time of year. Iya had made the long pilgrimage twice before, but never in summer.
The walls of the pass pressed close to the trail here, and centuries of seekers had left their names and supplications to Illior Lightbearer scratched into the dark stone. Some had simply scratched the god’s thin crescent moon; these lined the trail like countless tilting smiles. Arkoniel had left one of his own earlier that morning to commemorate his first visit.
Iya’s horse stumbled and the reason for their journey bumped hard against her thigh. Inside the worn leather bag slung from her saddle horn, smothered in elaborate wrappings and magic, was a lopsided bowl crudely fashioned of burnt clay. There was nothing remarkable about it, except for the fierce aura of malevolence it gave off when not hidden away. More than once over the years she’d imagined throwing it over a cliff or into a river; in reality, she could no more have done that than cut off her own arm. She was the Guardian; the contents of that bag had been her charge for over a century.
Unless the Oracle can tell me otherwise. Fixing her thin, greying hair into a knot on top of her head, she fanned again at her sweaty neck.
Arkoniel turned in the saddle and regarded her with concern. His unruly black curls dripped sweat beneath the wilted brim of his hat. “You’re red in the face. We should stop and rest again.”
“No, we’re nearly there.”
“Then have some more water, at least. And put your hat back on!”
“You make me feel old. I’m only two hundred and thirty, you know.”
“Two hundred and thirty-two,” he corrected with a wry grin. It was an old game between them.
She pulled a sour face. “Just wait until you’re in your third age, my boy. It gets harder to keep track.”
The truth was, hard riding did tire her more than it had back in her early hundreds, although she wasn’t about to admit it. She took a long pull from her waterskin and flexed her shoulders. “You’ve been quiet today. Do you have a query yet?”
“I think so. I hope the Oracle finds it worthy.”
Such earnestness made Iya smile. This journey was merely another lesson as far as Arkoniel knew. She’d told him nothing of her true quest.
The leather bag bumped against her thigh like a nagging child. Forgive me, Agazhar, she thought, knowing her long-dead teacher, the first Guardian, would not have approved.
The last stretch of trail was the most treacherous. The rock face to their right gave way to a chasm and in places they rode with their left knees brushing the cliff face.
Arkoniel disappeared around a sharp bend, then called back, “I can see Illior’s Keyhole, just as you described!”
Rounding the outcropping, Iya saw the painted archway glowing like a garish apparition where it straddled the trail. Stylized dragons glowed in red, blue, and gold around the narrow opening, which was just wide enough for a singe horseman to pass through. Afra lay less than a mile beyond.
Sweat stung Iya’s eyes, making her blink. It had been snowing the first time Agazhar brought her here.
Iya had come later than most to the wizardly arts. She’d grown up on a tenant farm on the border of Skala’s mainland territory. The closest market town lay across the Keela River in Mycena, and it was here that Iya’s family traded. Like many bordermen, her father had taken a Mycenian wife and made his offerings to Dalna the Maker, rather than Illior or Sakor.
So it was, when she first showed signs of magic, that she was sent across the river to study with an old Dalnan priest who’d tried to make a drysian healer of her. She earned praise for her herb craft, but as soon as the ignorant old fellow discovered that she could make fire with a thought, he bound a witch charm to her wrist and sent her home in disgrace.
With this taint on her, she’d found little welcome in her village and no prospect of a husband.
She was a spinster of twenty-four when Agazhar happened across her in the market square. He told her later that it was the witch charm that had caught his eye as she stood haggling with a trader over the price of her goats.
She’d taken no notice of him, thinking he was just another old soldier finding his way home from the wars. Agazhar had been as ragged and hollow-cheeked as any of them, and the left sleeve of his tunic hung empty.
Iya was forced to take a second look when he walked up to her, clasped her hand, and broke into a sweet smile of recognition. After a brief conversation, she sold off her goats and followed the old wizard down the south road without a backward glance. All anyone would have found of her, had they bothered to search, was the witch charm lying in the weeds by the market gate.
Agazhar hadn’t scoffed at her fire making. Instead, he explained that it was the first sign that she was one of the god-touched of Illior. Then he taught her to harness the unknown power she possessed into the potent magic of the Oreska wizards.
Agazhar was a free wizard, beholden to no one. Eschewing the comforts of a single patron, he wandered as he liked, finding welcome in noble houses and humble ones alike. Together he and Iya traveled the Three Lands and beyond, sailing west to Aurenen, where even the common folk were as long-lived as wizards and possessed magic. Here she learned that the Aurenfaie were the First Oreska; it was their blood, mingled with that of Iya’s race, that had given magic to the chosen ones of Skala and Plenimar.
This gift came with a price. Human wizards could neither bear nor sire children, but Iya considered herself well repaid, both in magic and, later, with students as gifted and companionable as Arkoniel.
Agazhar had also taught her more about the Great War than any of her father’s ballads or legends, for he’d been among the wizards who’d fought for Skala under Queen Gherilain’s banner.
“There’s never been another such war as that, and pray Sakor there never shall be again,” he’d say, staring into the campfire at night as if he saw his fallen comrades there. “For one shining span of time wizards stood shoulder to shoulder with warriors, battling the black necromancers of Plenimar.”
The tales Agazhar told of those days gave Iya nightmares. A necromancer’s demon — a dyrmagnos, he called it — had torn off his left arm.
But gruesome as these tales were, Iya still clung to them, for only there had Agazhar given her any glimpse of where the strange bowl had come from.
Agazhar had carried it then; never in all the years she’d known him had he ever let it out of his possession. “Spoils of war,” he’d said with a dark laugh, the first time he’d opened the bag to show it to her.
But beyond that, he would tell her nothing except that the bowl could not be destroyed and that its existence could not be revealed to anyone but the next Guardian. Instead, he’d schooled her rigorously in the complex web of spells that protected it, making her weave and unweave them until she could do it in the blink of an eye.
“You’ll be the Guardian after me,” he reminded her when she grew impatient with the secrecy. “Then you’ll understand. Be certain you choose your successor wisely.”
“But how will I know who to choose?”
He’d smiled and taken her hand as he had when they’d first met in the marketplace. “Trust in the Lightbearer. You’ll know.”
And she had.
At first she couldn’t help pressing to know more about it — where he’d found it, who had made it and why, but Agazhar had remained obdurate. “Not until the time comes for you to take on the full care of it. Then I will tell you all there is to know.”
Sadly, that day had taken them both unaware. Agazhar had dropped dead in the streets of Ero one fine spring day soon after her first century. One moment he was holding forth on the beauty of a new transformation spell he’d just created; the next, he slipped to the ground with a hand pressed to his chest and a look of mild surprise in his fixed, dead eyes.
Scarcely into her second age, Iya suddenly found herself Guardian without knowing what she guarded or why. She kept the oath she’d sworn to him and waited for Illior to reveal her successor. She’d waited two lifetimes, as promising students came and went, and said nothing to them of the bag and its secrets.
But as Agazhar had promised, she’d recognized Arkoniel the moment she first spied him playing in his father’s orchard fifteen years earlier. He could already keep a pippin spinning in midair and could put out a candle flame with a thought.
Young as he was, she’d taught him what little she knew of the bowl as soon as he was bound over to her. Later, when he was strong enough, she taught him how to weave the protections. Even so, she kept the burden of it on her own shoulders as Agazhar had instructed.
Over the years Iya had come to regard the bowl as little more than a sacred nuisance, but that had all changed a month ago when the wretched thing had taken over her dreams. The ghastly interwoven nightmares, more vivid than any she’d ever known, had finally driven her here, for she saw the bowl in all of them, carried high above a battlefield by a monstrous black figure for which she knew no name.
“Iya? Iya, are you well?” asked Arkoniel.
Iya shook off the reverie that had claimed her and gave him a reassuring smile. “Ah, we’re here at last, I see.”
Pinched in a deep cleft of rock, Afra was scarcely large enough to be called a village and existed solely to serve the Oracle and the pilgrims who journeyed here. A wayfarer’s inn and the chambers of the priests were carved like bank swallow nests into the cliff faces on either side of the small paved square. Their doorways and deep-set windows were framed with carved fretwork and pillars of ancient design. The square was deserted now, but a few people waved to them from the shadowy windows.
At the center of the square stood a red jasper stele as tall as Arkoniel. A spring bubbled up at its base and flowed away into a stone basin and on to a trough beyond.
“By the Light!” Dismounting, Arkoniel turned his horse loose at the trough and went to examine the stele. Running his palm over the inscription carved in four languages, he read the words that had changed the course of Skalan history three centuries earlier. “‘So long as a daughter of Thelatimos’ line defends and rules, Skala shall never be subjugated.’” He shook his head in wonder. “This is the original, isn’t it?”
Iya nodded sadly. “Queen Gherilain placed this here herself as a thank offering right after the war. The Oracle’s Queen, they called her then.”
In the darkest days of the war, when it seemed that Plenimar would devour the lands of Skala and Mycena, the Skalan king, Thelatimos, had left the battlefields and journeyed here to consult the Oracle. When he returned to battle, he brought with him his daughter, Gherilain, then a maiden of sixteen. Obeying the Oracle’s words, he anointed her before his exhausted army and passed his crown and sword to her.
According to Agazhar, the generals had not thought much of the king’s decision. Yet from the start the girl proved god-touched as a warrior and led the allies to victory in a year’s time, killing the Plenimaran Overlord single-handedly at the Battle of Isil. She’d been a fine queen in peace, as well, and ruled for over fifty years. Agazhar had been among her mourners.
“These markers used to stand all over Skala, didn’t they?” asked Arkoniel.
“Yes, at every major crossroads in the land. You were just a babe when King Erius tore them all down.” Iya dismounted and touched the stone reverently. It was hot under her palm, and still as smooth as he day it had left the stonecutter’s shop. “Even Erius didn’t dare touch this one.”
“When he sent word for it to be removed, the priests refused. To force the issue meant invading Afra itself, the most sacred ground in Skala. So Erius graciously relented and contented himself with having all the others dumped into the sea. There was also a golden tablet bearing the inscription in the throne room at the Old Palace. I wonder what happened to that?”
But the younger wizard had more immediate concerns. Shading his eyes, he studied the cliff face. “Where’s the Oracle’s shrine?”
“Further up the valley. Drink deeply here. We must walk the rest of the way.”
Leaving their mounts at the inn, they followed a well-worn path deeper into the cleft. The way became steeper and more difficult as they went. There were no trees to shade them, no moisture to lay the white dust that hung on the hot midday air. Soon the way dwindled to a faint track winding up between boulders and over rock faces worn smooth and treacherous by centuries of pilgrim’s feet.
They met two other groups of seekers coming in the opposite direction. Several young soldiers were laughing and talking bravely, all but one young man who hung back from his fellows with the fear of death clear in his eyes. The second group clustered around an elderly merchant woman who wept silently as the younger members of her party helped her along.
Posted January 31, 2012
I gave up reading fantasy awhile ago; it was becoming predictable and juvenile. Then I discovered this book and my faith in the genre was restored. I bought the next book in the series before finishing this one and that is not something I usually do.
I won't give the story away but I will say that if you like adventure, magic, sword fighting, and an author who doesn't write like her audience has the intelligence of a mothball-you know, all the things that make up the best sort of fantasy-then you will like this.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 17, 2013
This story isn't very traditional fantasy, but it combines some traditional elements to make something completely different and new. This book is a little creepier than the other two, but completely worth the read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 11, 2009
I Also Recommend:
The books I tend to keep are the ones that are different from the usual fantasy fare...this fits well. It is a great combination of horror and fantasy that grabs you from the start and keeps you. I enjoyed the characters and the world explored in this story. The entire series is very good, but I must admit the first in the series was not surpassed. Good read and a keeper.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2008
This story is richly woven, with complex magic, politics, and religions. The characters are realistic with a full spectrum of emotions - love, hatred, hope, fear, jealousy, and ambition, yet each character has a distinct personality. The story encompasses the royal succession, wars and allies, court intrigues, a deity's prophecy, two different factions with regards to that prophecy, and all the innocent people who get pulled into this conflict. While having such a complex and deep scenario, this novel also contains effortless humor. As the main characters grow up over the trilogy, this is also a coming-of-age story. The story is entertaining as well as reflective of social issues. Highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 7, 2007
In one of the books of the Wizard of Oz Series, the story reaches a happy conclusion when it is discovered that the male protagonist is in fact the much sought Princess Ozma, and we never wonder what it might be like to spend one's whole youth forming a masculine identity only to discover that it has been a lie- let alone how one might react to the necessary physical changes of a reverse transformation..... This book is a masterpiece of well-developed characters, creepy magic, youthful adventure, and grown up battles.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2006
Posted August 9, 2006
I picked this book up per the recommendation of George R Martins and was disappointed. The whole book moves really slowly and basically just builds up the main character. Kinda reminds me of Robin Hobbs first books in her trilogy except even less happens. The ending was a real let down, not much happened other than what we already knew per the book. The next books could be better but just as a heads up this one moves very slowly.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2005
I loved this book! I would recommend to all my friends who are into fantansy. I just picked up because of it's color. . . and I got carried aways with story and the characters. I love it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 14, 2005
I am glad to add another favorite author to my list! This book is creative, well crafted, and the story takes my breath away! I don't know where this will go (although thankfully she does give clues to assure us that everything will work out somehow eventually) but oh, what a ride! I don't know if I can wait for the third book to come out, but I'm rushing to pick up the next one as soon as I finish this review!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 21, 2004
I loved this book so much. I read it a month or so ago, and now it's my favorite series. It's different, but maybe that's why I like it so much. I reccomended it to all my friends.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2004
the book had a much different 'feel to it' then most fantasy books, especially when Tobin was a child. it was so origional. deffinitly one of the best books i've read in awhile.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 18, 2004
This book seems to start out a little slow...but don't be fooled. It becomes amazingly engrossing in a very short time. The characters are interesting, complex and detailed. The scenery is so clearly described it's easy to find yourself transported to that place and that time. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next one!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 4, 2003
Wow!! Just got done reading this and immediately went on-line to order the next!! Woe and alas, I have to wait, but not for very long! I've been reading fantasy for a long, long, time (I'm well over 40!) and this is one of the best! Very compelling and vivid characters pull you into the story. Hope this continues for at least 2 more books, if not more!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 23, 2003
Posted December 20, 2002
I absolutely loved this book! Lynn Flewelling did a great job bringing the characters to life! I thought how she pulled off the gender-bender was absolutely seamless! I have read this book seven times and am now on my eigth!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 16, 2002
Posted June 28, 2002
Although some of the book seems to be a repetition of the same themes found in many a sci-fi series, this book actually managed to give them a new twist. Yes, we have the bad wizards vs the good ones, the god of light vs an as of yet unnamed and most likely evil god, a 'Bad' civilization across the water and a usurper king which can be found in many series and tend, frankly, to be the same ole, same ole. HOWEVER, hats off to Lynn Flewelling for giving a bright new spin on things. I love the gender bending in this book. It is done with great subtlety and finesse. The use of magic is handled quite well, too and each character comes to life. THough the background may be seen by some to slow the book down, I actually enjoyed the background information that will be needed for the next books in the series (I do hope there are at least two more in the wings). I thought the book was a stand alone at first and was both chagrinned (needing the next book NOW) and delighted at the same time. It's a wonder I don't badger the author to find out about the cliffhanger ending! Thank you for a good read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2002
I read almost all SF/F and this is one of the best. Eager for the next installment. Read the Nightrunner series and will read anything by this author happily. A new twist on old themes, the mark of a GREAT imagination. I love it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2002
I loved this book. I couldn't put it down!All I read is Science Fiction/Fantasy and this is by far one of the best books I have read this year.I can't want to find out what will happen next.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.