The second novel in this gripping historical fantasy series, set in an alternate first-century Britain, follows Orla Paorach, freedom fighter and daughter of a Boudica-like warrior.
"Orla! Hurry, girl! You must come with me!"
Orla Paorach's life was overturned for the first time when her mother Voada was beaten senseless, and Orla was taken by Bakir, a minor Mundoan army officer, as his second wife. Now her world is shattered a second time: Bakir has died in battle, and so has her mother, now known as the Mad Draoi of the Cateni.
Orla flees northward to Onglse, the island home of the draoi that is the center of the Cateni rebellion against the Mundoa. She becomes quickly embroiled in battle as well as deceptions from both sides of the conflict, as everyone expects that she's come to take up her mother's mantle. Those who knew her mother offer their help, but can she trust any of them? Can she avoid becoming the Mad Draoi herself, lost in the magic her mother once tried to wield?
An intense, fast-paced novel, A Rising Moon explores trust, courage, and the deep seduction of power.
About the Author
Stephen Leigh is a Cincinnati-based, award-winning author with nineteen science fiction novels and over forty short stories published. He has been a frequent contributor to the Hugo-nominated shared world series Wild Cards, edited by George R. R. Martin. He teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University. Stephen Leigh has written Immortal Muse, The Crow of Connemara, and the fantasy trilogy Assassin's Dawn.
Read an Excerpt
Often enough, Orla wondered why she'd ever bothered to come to Onglse.
The opportunity to go to the island home of the draoi was the culmination of an impossible dream, a path she'd been destined to take from the moment back in Pencraig when she'd realized that-like her mother Voada-she could see the ghosts of the dead. The soldiers' wives in the Mundoan army encampments had spoken of how Voada was an awful monster, how she'd been trained on Onglse before she'd taken on (or stolen, depending on who was telling the story) the title of ceanndraoi, joining with Ceannˆrd Maol Iosa to lead the rebellion against the Mundoa. Together, Voada and Maol had laid waste to the Mundoan settlements south of the River Meadham.
The camp wives had hated Voada-even those, like Azru, who had some sympathy for the Cateni. They hated that she had killed so many of their husbands and sons. In turn, most of them also hated Orla simply for being Voada's daughter. Still, like all the Cateni attempts to throw off the yoke of Mundoan rule south of the River Meadham, Voada's war was ultimately a blood-drenched failure.
It had been close to a year since Orla and Sorcha had crossed the River Meadham into Albann Brˆghad. Orla's eighteenth birthday had passed unremarked. Orla had heard the tales of Ceanndraoi Voada whispered everywhere: in stories, in poems, in songs. She'd listened to the wondrous, contradictory, and still-growing legend of her mother hands upon hands of times, from hand upon hands of mouths, in every clan house she'd visited. Orla was hardly able to reconcile the fierce, vengeful, and merciless Voada they described with the woman she'd once called Mother.
Her mother was now famous, if not universally beloved, while Orla was a burnished copper mirror reflecting a warped image of that maternal fame. The northern Cateni passed her carefully from clan ˆrd to clan ˆrd, pretending to be pleased to meet the famous Voada's daughter but heaving a sigh of relief when they sent her on her way again, as if they'd somehow escaped contagion or attack.
For nearly half a year, Orla and Sorcha passed from village to village, always hearing the words, "Oh, you must go on to Onglse. You need to speak with Ceanndraoi Greum. He'll be able to help you. We wish we could, but we can't." What exactly Ceanndraoi Greum could help her with was never quite voiced.
When she and Sorcha finally reached Onglse, the Isle of the Draoi, Ceanndraoi Greum made little effort to mask his feelings toward Orla. The Red-Hand, as Greum was also known, remembered Orla's mother all too well, and that was the problem. Yes, he had helped train Voada, and he had commanded the forces defending Onglse when Commander Savas of the Mundoa had attacked the island.
But Voada had stolen away Greum's military chief, Ceannˆrd Maol Iosa, when she abandoned Onglse to organize the rebellion in the south. And it was Greum's title of ceanndraoi that Voada had claimed as well.
Greum was obviously less than happy to find that Voada's daughter had arrived on the island asking for training. His voice was a deep, rich baritone that lent authority to his words, and he leaned on a wooden staff he always carried for support, as his leg had never quite healed from a wound he'd taken in the battle for Onglse.
"You say you can see the taibhsean, the ghosts of the dead, and I'll accept that," Ceanndraoi Greum declared when she was presented to him at Bˆn Cill, the sacred temple set at the center of Onglse. Greum Red-Hand had the build of a warrior, with dark hair now well-laced with gray, a long braid down his back, and a thick, oiled beard. His eyebrows, like fat caterpillars perched on the ledge of his brow, were already more white than dark, though the eyes beneath them were the black of a moonless night. As ceanndraoi, he wore an outer cloak of deep red, sewn at the hems with silver threads in a knotted pattern. Orla immediately saw why he was called "Red-Hand"-not for the blood he'd shed in battle, but because the hands emerging from the sleeves of his léine were mottled with orange-red splotches, as if the Goddess Elia had splashed pigment on them as he was born. An older woman draoi, whom he introduced as Ceiteag, stood alongside him. The woman stared at Orla with an intensity that unnerved her.
"Given your lineage," Greum continued, glaring at Orla, "I've no reason to doubt your word. But seeing taibhse doesn't make you a draoi, only a potential menach-a cleric of Elia." Greum bowed his head slightly as he spoke the goddess' name.
"She sees the anamacha as well," Ceiteag broke in. "Go on, girl-point to the Ceanndraoi's anamacha or to mine. I know you see them, even if your friend is entirely blind to them."
Greum scowled as Orla pointed to Greum's right side, where a ghostly figure stood, its head flickering as several visages came and vanished, the faces of dozens of the former draoi caught within it. "Draoi Ceiteag is correct; I can see the anamacha too, not just the taibhse," Orla told Greum. "I know now that back in my old home of Pencraig, both my mother and I saw Leagsaidh Moonshadow's anamacha, and we all know what my mother became when she bonded with the Moonshadow."
Greum's scowl deepened at the mention, irritation knitting together bushy eyebrows. "And where is the Moonshadow's anamacha now?" he scoffed. "Lost again, as it was for so long before it found your mam. I don't see the Moonshadow's anamacha or any other standing alongside you, girl. Do you think I need another menach or another servant to clean the temple? What use are you and your unsighted friend to me or to Onglse?"
Sorcha, who had been Orla's constant companion since they'd fled the Mundoan army encampment, took a sudden step back at the ceanndraoi's evident rage, as if afraid the man might strike them or cast a spell. Since their arrival on Onglse, Sorcha had become increasingly reluctant to speak out and more reserved, despite being the older of the two. Orla forced herself to stand erect, lifting her chin and staring silently at Greum, her lips pressed together tightly.
"Here's what I will do," Greum spat at last. "It's two moons until the next solstice. You and your friend may stay until then. I'll have Menach Moire see if you've any potential at all, and if you don't, you'll both be asked to leave."
Ceiteag touched the arm of his robe. "Ceanndraoi, perhaps I should-"
"No," Greum said loudly before Ceiteag could finish. "Not you, Ceiteag. Menach Moire will be in charge of the girl's training."
And with that he stalked away with a swirl of his red cloak. With a final glance back toward Orla, Ceiteag followed him.
Orla had little contact with Ceanndraoi Greum after that first day, though his red-clad presence was often in the periphery of her vision and the sound of his brass-tipped staff on the temple's tiled floors in her ears. Menach Moire undertook teaching Orla the duties and responsibilities of a menach. Sorcha, unable to see the taibhse at all, was taken on as a lowly temple servant-mostly, Orla suspected, because Orla had insisted that if Sorcha were sent away, Orla would go with her.
That was what little power she had from being Voada's daughter. No one wanted her, but no one wanted to cast her away either.
Menach Moire was one of the staff members always hovering around Greum-nearly all of them women, Orla noted. She had a thin face and body that reminded Orla of a human-sized weasel, and her darker complexion along with the shape of her cheeks and nose made Orla wonder if she wasn't part Mundoan. The woman treated Orla and especially Sorcha with a cold disdain that Orla suspected was simply a reflection of Greum's attitude. Menach Moire was both menach and draoi, though the acolytes whispered that her anamacha was extremely weak and that she could barely control it. She was never referred to as "Draoi Moire," and she refused to give any draoi training to Orla.
"If an anamacha comes to you, then Ceanndraoi Greum may change his mind," she told Orla when questioned. "Until then, young woman, be content with your lot in life. You should be grateful that you're suffered to be here at Bˆn Cill at all, after what your mother did to us."
She waved a gaunt, wrinkled hand that was meant to encompass all of the temple grounds and Onglse itself. She'd kept Orla at her side the entire day, something that Orla was certain made the woman as irritable as it made Orla. "Most of the draoi here would tell you that your mother couldn't handle the Moonshadow's power and that it eventually drove her mad. She wasted Elia's gift. It's my task to see that you don't do the same. Now tell me again the three ways to direct a taibhse to the sun-path that will lead them on to Tirnanog."
With a barely suppressed sigh, Orla recited back to Moire the lesson she'd been given-one she knew from experience-stroking between her fingertips the silver oak leaf pendant that was her only legacy from her mother. She saw Moire's gaze following her fingers' movements, though the woman said nothing.
There had been taibhse enough in the army encampments Orla had endured after Bakir had taken her forcibly from her parents to be his wife. The Mundoa permitted no worship of the Goddess Elia in their camps, but there were Cateni wives among the men who still clung to the old beliefs and who celebrated on the solstices cautiously, silently, and in private. When it became apparent that Orla could not only see the ghosts of the Cateni dead but could direct them toward the afterlife that was Tirnanog, Orla became their unspoken and untrained menach.
Moire sniffed when Orla was done. "Adequate," she said. "But only that. Go on and eat your supper, if Cook has anything left at this point. You have the night watch. And this time make certain the watchers don't find you asleep."
Bowing with relief, Orla left Menach Moire and returned to the acolytes' dormitory on the periphery of the temple grounds, where both she and Sorcha slept when they weren't expected to be at the temple. Sorcha was there already on the straw-stuffed bedding next to Orla's. She was holding a crudely carved wooden soldier painted in the colors of the Mundoan army and no longer than her little finger, staring at it cupped in her hands.
"Difficult day?" Orla asked her, and the woman started at the sound of her voice, then tentatively smiled up at her, closing her fingers around the carving.
"It's that obvious?" Sorcha's smile vanished like thin frost under a spring sun, and she looked up at Orla with eyes shimmering with moisture. When she blinked, twin tracks slid down the slopes of her cheeks. "This is all I have left of Erdem and Esra: a silly, stupid toy they used to play with, and one I hated seeing them with. They wanted to be just like their father and go into battle. Now I can't bear to throw it away because it's all I have left of them." Her fingers tightened around the carving, her knuckles turning white with the pressure. "I miss my children, Orla. It hurts. I thought . . . I thought that because Azru promised to watch over them for me, I wouldn't grieve about losing them. I thought the pain would go away in time, but it hasn't. It still hurts just as much as it did the day I left them."
"Sorcha . . ." Orla felt her own tears emerge in sympathy. She sank down next to Sorcha and pulled the woman to her; as she did, Sorcha began to sob, clutching at Orla's shoulders. Orla simply held her without speaking, feeling the woman's deep sorrow as she stroked Sorcha's hair and rocked the woman as she might a child. After several breaths, Sorcha sniffed loudly and lifted her head. She wiped at her eyes and nose with the back of her sleeve.
"Sorry," she said. "Sometimes . . . sometimes I just start thinking about it, and . . ." Her voice wavered and broke.
"You don't have to apologize. I understand."
Sorcha gave a short laugh freighted with self-deprecation. "I know you think that, but you don't really understand. It's not your fault-you never had a child, so . . ." Her voice trailed off, and one shoulder lifted in a shrug. "But I love you for the lie," Sorcha added.
"Then I'll keep lying to you," Orla told her. "And you can keep telling me how Onglse is where I'm supposed to be."
Sorcha placed a hand over Orla's. "Menach Moire acting the bear again?"
"The bear, the wolf, the ogre. All of them at once. She hates me, and so does Ceanndraoi Greum. They'll be sending me away soon enough." She grinned at Sorcha. "And when they do, maybe you and I will just go back across the Meadham, find Azru, and check up on your children."
Sorcha's smile returned for a moment before fading. "If Elia wills it."
"Even if She doesn't," Orla answered. "I don't care if She wills it or not."
"Hush," Sorcha told her. "You shouldn't be saying such things, especially here. Sometimes I think that Menach Moire can use the walls for ears."
They both laughed at that. Orla gave Sorcha another hug and stood up. "I have to be at the temple for night watch in three stripes of the candle. I'm going to try to get some sleep so Menach Moire doesn't catch me dozing again. I didn't hear the end of that for days. I still haven't heard the end of it."
"Have you eaten?" Sorcha asked her, and Orla shook her head.
"Then get to your bed and try to sleep," Sorcha told her. "I'll go to the kitchens and see what I can find and bring it back to you. Go on now."
Orla smiled, sighed, and did as Sorcha requested. She fell asleep quickly, and when the evening watch's acolyte came to wake her, she found that Sorcha had left a tray of bread, cheese, and an apple on the floor between their beds.