Pseudo-Native American myth blends with passion in the colorful conclusion to Smith-Ready's Aspect of Crow trilogy (after 2007's Voice of Crow). A brutal war rages between those who embrace Spirit, animal magic that grows stronger with each generation, and the Descendants, who shun it. Twelve years have passed since the bloodthirsty Ilion Army of the Descendants invaded the cities of Velekos and Asermos, and the hoped-for Raven leader has yet to emerge. Spirit mages Rhia and Marek follow their son after he joins his uncle's army to avenge his girlfriend's murder by Ilion soldiers, while Asermon refugee Sura, recently bestowed with her Snake aspect, falls in love with Dravek, a Snake betrothed to someone else. Newcomers will feel a little lost, but those familiar with the soap opera will enjoy the satisfying conclusion. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Reawakened (Aspect of Crow Trilogy #3)by Jeri Smith-Ready
She is Rhia, bound to the Spirit of Crow and gifted with vision. In a world besieged by escalating conflict, fate has marked her to deliver the Reawakened from oppression.Now, with a mighty army of Descendants threatening to crush what's left of her people's magic, she must trust an ancient prophecy and accept the power that is her birthrightthe power of life… See more details below
She is Rhia, bound to the Spirit of Crow and gifted with vision. In a world besieged by escalating conflict, fate has marked her to deliver the Reawakened from oppression.Now, with a mighty army of Descendants threatening to crush what's left of her people's magic, she must trust an ancient prophecy and accept the power that is her birthrightthe power of life and death itself.For while the storm of revolution rages, the legacy of the Reawakened is about to be rewritten in her family's blood.
The armies of Ilion, known to the people of the Spirits as the Descendants, have nearly conquered the land, forbidding the totem-based magic of the natives and enslaving or killing those who cause trouble. Rhia, whose totem Spirit is Crow, the deliverer of the spirits of the dead, has visions of death and destruction even as she hopes for the gift of Reawakening that can ultimately save her world. Concluding the trilogy begun in Eyes of the Crow and continued in Voice of the Crow, Smith-Ready brings to life a culture both vibrant and exotic, where forbidden love can ignite the flames of war and where finding the path to victory involves finding the road to one's true self. Along with its companion novels, this coming-of-age tale belongs in most fantasy collections, though graphic sexual scenes may limit its appeal to some audiences.
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Dust gritted between Rhia's teeth as she buried another dead soldier. She tugged the rough cloth covering her mouth and nose, securing its bottom edge inside her collar. As the hot wind changed direction, she shifted, keeping her back to the scouring gusts to protect her eyes.
A warm hand touched her elbow. "Rhia, let me finish."
She squinted up into the early evening light, at the ruddy face of her husband, Marek. "I need to occupy my mind as much as you do today. Besides, I'm the only one who can deliver them."
"But you're not the only one who can shovel." His blue-gray eyes smiled at her over his own cloth mask, crinkling the lines at their corners. "Save your strength for dancing."
She wiped the sweat from her temple and looked behind her at the road leading into Tiros. "It's hard to imagine celebrating in this place."
Trees had been razed for a mile outside the village's perimeter to avoid giving cover to the enemy. Their trunks and branches had been used to build watchtowers, two of which loomed behind her, one on either side of the road leading into town. Inside the towers, Eagle lookouts and Cougar archers kept guard.
Few people left Tiros unseen. Fewer entered Tiros unshot.
At Rhia's feet, the Ilion soldier lay in a hole deep enough to keep the vultures away but shallow enough that the Ilionsor "Descendants," as Rhia's people called themcould retrieve the bodies the next time they arrived on a "diplomatic mission."
In a line stretching to her right lay the soldier's five comradesdressed in plainclothes rather than their typical red-and-yellow uniformsalong with the spy who'd brought them. Other Tirons had dug the graves this morning; it was up to Marek and Rhia to fill them in and send the soldiers to the Other Side. No one joined them to pay respects to the dead, for the enemy and its spy had done nothing to earn it.
Marek tossed a shovelful of dust over the Descendant's face. "If Lycas were here, he'd want to put their heads on pikes on the road to Asermos."
She sighed at the reminder of her brother's brutality. "And give the Descendants an excuse for a full-scale invasion. At least with an honorable burial, we can claim our archers killed them defending the townwhich is the truth."
"Doesn't mean they didn't enjoy it." His shovel clanked against a rock hidden in the dust. "Gave them a chance to practice the unofficial village motto: 'Keep Outsiders Outside.'"
They shared a grim look at the rows of tents sitting on the edge of the village. Tiros, built to hold perhaps a thousand people, had swollen to three times its original size with refugees from the villages of Velekos and Asermos, as the Ilion army pressed northward. The same aspects that made Tiros easy to defendno immediate water access and flat, dry terrain surrounded on three sides by steep, rugged hillsalso made survival difficult. In the twelve years since the Descendant invasion, Tiros had suffered growing pains that threatened to tear it apart.
Marek tapped down the dust over the last soldier with the toe of his boot, then marked the grave with a makeshift Ilion flag a long stick with a red-and-yellow cloth attached.
Rhia knelt beside the grave, closed her eyes and raised her palms. In the span of one deep breath, she drew a shroud between herself and this world of vigilance. The next breath brought an awareness of Crow, her Guardian Spirit Animal, whose presence had hovered close to her for nearly all of her thirty-seven years. Now He waited to take what was His.
With her third breath, she called the crows.
The chant rumbled low in her throat, and as soon as it left her mouth it was swept away by the wind. No matter, for in this song her voice traveled to the Other Side, where all places were one. She could have whispered it or even sung it inside her mind. They would hear. They would come.
Within moments they approached, their caws riding the wind, whose roar obscured the rush of their heavy wings. Seven birds, one for each death.
Rhia wondered how the Descendants felt about being carried off by Crow, a Spirit they didn't believe in. Did they search for Xenia, their goddess of Death, lament her absence and finally her nonexistence?
The souls of these soldiers passed quickly, without reluctance. Though their deaths had been violent, they believed they had died for the greater glory of Ilios, just as they'd desired.
The young Asermon spy, on the other hand, resisted. The ache of his regret skewered her as he tried to escape Crow's embrace. The man, whose name she didn't know, had betrayed his own people.
His own people. Generations ago, the citizens of the four villagesAsermos, Velekos, Kalindos and Tiroshad divided themselves, focusing on their differences and long-standing tribal rivalries. The disunity had made them easy prey for the Ilions. But now, with their common oppression by the Spirit-shunning Descendants, they stood as one people.
Crow took the spy, completing His passage to the Other Side. Rhia worried the Asermon would linger, full of bitterness and sorrow, in the gloomy Gray Valley between here and there.
The cries of the crows faded, and Rhia lowered her hands. Marek's fingers under her elbow steadied her as she stood, her knees aching and heart thumping from the last soul's perilous journey.
He brushed the dust off the crow feather around her neck, then did the same for his own fox- and wolf-tail fetishes. Then he unbuckled the waterskin from his belt and offered it to her. As usual, it was nearly empty.
She squinted at the angle of the sun. "It's almost time."
"Nilik could come back tomorrow, or the next day. A Bestowing might take longer if Raven claims him."
"Hush." She rubbed the back of her neck, which always prickled at the mention of the greatest Spirit. "Don't assume anything. It shows arrogance."
"No." He put an arm around her shoulders. "It shows faith."
Rhia clamped her lips tight. She couldn't blame Marek for wanting to believe that Raven would deliver them from occupation. Raven was the only Spirit who had never bestowed a human with an Aspecta combination of power and wisdom reflecting traits of that animal. An ancient legend said that Raven would one day bestow Her Aspect when the Spirit-people faced their most harrowing hour. Rhia hated to imagine an hour more harrowing than those they lived in now.
Before her son Nilik's birth eighteen years ago, a deluge of dreams foretold that the Raven child would be born to a Crow like Rhia. Most of her people believed it. Some even hoped this event would spark another Reawakening, when the Spirits would all appear together in this world, to save the people who had served Them for thousands of years.
Some days, the only alternative to faith was despair.
As Rhia and Marek walked hand in hand into the village, a shout came from the watchtower above.
They stopped and looked up. Sani the Eagle woman pointed to their left. All five Cougars in her watchtower scrambled into position. Rhia saw the silhouettes of their bows against the azure sky.
"Someone's coming." Marek dropped the shovels and ran in the direction Sani was pointing.
"Wait!" Rhia rushed to keep up with him, and only succeeded because he waited for her at the foot of the watchtower. "It could be more Descendants."
She stood on tiptoe and strained to see what had provoked the alert. The only sign was a rising cloud of dust, small enough that she could block it with her outstretched thumb. It created a tan puff against the darker browns and greens of the background hills.
"It can't be Nilik." Marek shaded his right temple against the glare of the setting sun. "Near as I can tell, this person's on horseback."
"And it's the wrong direction from the Bestowing." The site for this sacred three-day quest lay to the west of Tirosfar from Descendant-occupied territories. Despite the Ilions' best effortsnegotiations, bribes and escalating shows of force Tiros remained a free village, as did Kalindos, Marek's birthplace in the high mountain forest two weeks' travel away.
How long this freedom would last, no one knew.
Another shout came from the tower. Rhia looked up to see Sani leaning over the rough wooden railing.
Rhia yelped with joy and bounced on her toes. Her brother's continued survival amazed her. As the leader of the guerrilla fighting forces, Lycas was the Ilions' favorite target. She feared it was only a matter of time before they found a way to counteract his Wolverine savagery, wiliness and inhuman strength.
"Nilik will be glad," Marek said in typical understated fashion.
Rhia smiled, imagining her son's face when he came back from his Bestowing to see his uncle waiting. During Lycas's sporadic visits to Tiros, he treated Nilik like his own son.
Small wonder. Rhia had named him in memory of their brother Nilo, Lycas's twin who had died in the first battle against the Ilions nearly twenty years ago.
She rubbed her breastbone, as if she could feel the wound herself. No death before or since had carved such a gouge in her and Lycas.
Her brother waved one of his immense arms as he approached at an easy trot. His long black hair streamed in the wind despite the tie binding it at his nape. Even at a distance, his size and strength were intimidating. She didn't envy the Descendants whose last living sight was Lycas's face.
He slowed the horse to a cooling walk, and the cloud of dust around him diminished. Unable to wait any longer, Rhia ran to greet him.
Lycas dismounted, his posture showing no symptoms of a long ride or a long life. He gave a casual wave, as if he'd been gone eight hours instead of eight months.
"You made it!" Rhia hurtled into her brother's arms, dwarfing herself in his enormous embrace. His dark bay mare snorted and danced at the end of the reins, startled by the sudden movement.
"Good, I'm not too late, then." Lycas let go of Rhia and picked up the wide-brimmed hat that had toppled from her head. He tugged her auburn braid, then tossed it back over her shoulder, as if to confirm that it hadn't been cut in mourning for anyone in her immediate family.
Marek stepped forward and embraced Lycas, thumping him on the back. Lycas returned the gestureless heartily, of course, to avoid cracking his brother-in-law's ribs.
"Nilik should be back tonight," Marek said. "Big party, all of Tiros is coming."
Lycas merely nodded and clucked to his horse to lead her into the village. Rhia studied his black-and-gray-stubbled face, which looked unusually drawn and somber.
She stopped in her tracks. "You have bad news."
He took a deep breath, wrinkling his nose. No doubt his Wolverine sense of smell was assaulted by the stench of Tiros, of too many people and not enough latrines.
"Jula's at home?" he asked.
"Yes." Rhia's voice filled with caution. "Why?"
"I'll wait until we get there to tell you. I don't want to have to repeat it twice."
They passed the watchtower, collected the shovels and set off for the center of the village. A gust of wind blew up, and Rhia raised the cloth around her neck to cover her mouth and nose.
Dust danced in small tornados over the street, which was empty of life except for a few wandering dogs. Most Tirons were at the other end of the village, dragging tables, benches and lantern posts to the center of the westernmost intersection for Nilik's feast.
Lycas jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "What are the red-and-yellow flags for?"
Marek held up the shovels. "Descendant grave markers. Six men last night, with pitch-soaked rags in bottles."
"Fire starters." Lycas hissed in a breath. "A place this dry, with the homes so close together, they could burn the whole village."
"Vara's working on that," Rhia said. "She's having the Tirons add brick and stone to the walls between the houses to slow the spread of fire."
"Vara the Snake is here? Why?"
"She had to leave Asermos about seven months ago, just after you were here last." She shook her head in disgust. "The new grandparent laws."
The older she got, the more Rhia questioned the progression of her people's magic powers. They moved from first to second phase of their Aspects by conceiving a child, which caused many painful social and personal complications.
Third-phase Aspects, bestowed when a person became a grandparent, included such formidable powers as shapeshifting, long-distance telepathyand in Rhia's caseresurrecting the dead. She was in no hurry to take on that ultimate burden.
Because the Ilions rejected the Spirits and created gods in their own image, they possessed no magic. To protect themselves, they required all third-phase Asermons to be registered. Last year, registration had turned to exile.
Lycas's voice returned her mind to the present. "How did the soldiers get so close to the village?"
"The lookouts recognized the man with them," Marek said, "someone from Asermos."
"A spy." Lycas let out a harsh breath. "Was he killed?"
"They shot him," Rhia said. Some said it was in defense of the village, but others claimed it was in cold blood. Either way, his soul had drowned in regret.
"He might have had information we could use," Lycas said.
They left the horse at a ramshackle stable where a gruff old man refused Lycas's Ilion coins. Rhia had to barter her stall-mucking services in exchange for the boarding.
A short trudge later, they reached Rhia and Marek's home. She opened the gate to a waist-high wooden fence, which led to a small yard. White and brown chickens scattered as they passed. Rhia nudged one aside before pushing open the front door.
Her daughter Jula sat at the table in the center of the main room, brown hair veiling her face as she bent over a piece of parchment. She looked up as Lycas ducked his head to enter the house.
"Uncle!" She popped out of her chair and ran in three strides to give him a leaping embrace. At sixteen, she was still tiny, like Rhia herself, and Lycas lifted her as if she weighed no more than a bird.
When he set her down, she grasped his hands. "Did Papa tell you my news?"
Marek grinned at her on his way to the stove. "Thought we'd let you surprise him."
"I had my Bestowing!"
Lycas looked at Rhia, his eyes filled with sudden hope.
Jula grabbed his arm. "No, I'm not Raven, but we always knew that, since the prophecy said it would be a hard labor, and my birth was easy."
Rhia grunted. "That was the last day you gave me no trouble." As she moved to shut the door behind her, a brown chicken slipped through. A sharp bark shot from under the table, and the chicken scampered outside.
Jula turned back to Lycas. "So guess what I am? And no looking at the fetish hanging by the door."
Lycas sighed, heightening Rhia's fear. Usually he indulged his niece in all her teasing and tricks. Instead he pointed at the two parchment sheets on the table. "What's that?"
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