Will her nemesis become her ally?
The thrilling sequel to Nemesis from Anna Banks, the New York Times-bestselling author of the Syrena Legacy
Princess Sepora of Serubel and King Tarik of Theoria have formed an uneasy truce between their kingdoms since the deadly plague began to rip through Theoria. Since their feelings for each other are entangled in politics and power, they must use their own trusted resources to find common ground.
But when traitors with powerful allies arise from unexpected places, Tarik and Sepora face challenges that will change both of their kingdoms forever. Will they learn whom to trustincluding each otherin time to save their kingdoms, their relationship and even their lives?
About the Author
Anna Banks is the author of Nemesis, the stand-alone novel Joyride, as well as the New York Times-bestselling Syrena Legacy (Of Poseidon, Of Triton, Of Neptune). She lives in Crestview, on the Florida Panhandle, with her husband and their daughter.
Read an Excerpt
The tip of Sethos's sword almost catches the bridge of my nose. As I sweep back, I use the inside of my foot to kick dirt in his face for daring to come so close to me. These are, after all, only practice sessions, and if he's going to test me this way, I'm most certainly going to return the favor. He glides to his left, an effortless movement, avoiding not only the sand, but the cloud of dust left in its wake.
I'm left infuriated and thrilled all at once.
I can't imagine there could be anyone faster than Sethos, Tarik's younger brother. I haven't seen many of the Master Majai train, as the king's highly skilled army of warriors spend their days at the Lyceum when not on duty, but of these Favored Ones I have watched from the balcony overlooking this courtyard, none are faster than Sethos, who only just turned sixteen. Even his shadow cannot keep up with his movements. I wonder whether his father, the Warrior King Knosi, was as nimble on his feet.
Sethos laughs. "Your antics might work — on a lesser warrior. But I'm afraid you'll have to do better than that, Princess, if you're going to overtake me."
We both know I'll never overtake him, no matter how much we practice. And we both know these lessons are not strictly for my instruction. Our sessions together bring us both relief from the delusions we used to call lives. There was a time once when we were both free to make our own decisions, free to marry whom we chose — or, at least, the illusion of that choice — and free to leave the palace walls.
Freedom now is like the hinge of a door rusted in place from lack of use.
Sethos and Tarik's relationship has become strained. Where there used to be easy banter between them, it comes with sharper barbs and insincerity. Where there used to be shared opinions, Sethos takes the opposite side of Tarik, no matter the subject. It is difficult to watch sometimes, the deterioration of the affection these brothers once had for each other.
I shake my head, lowering my sword. Catching one's breath in the stifling Theorian heat seems almost as impossible as merely shaving Sethos with my sword. I want to graze him so badly, to at least nick him, anything to get that smug look wiped from his face. But other Majai cannot, and so when I get close, I know he is just toying with me. "Trust me when I say I'm doing my best," I tell him.
He makes a tsking sound with his tongue. I've come to abhor that sound, so mocking and condescending. "You know you're not. You know you could —" "Do not say it," I hiss, lifting my sword again. I'm growing tired of this, the same conversation we have each session. He's bent on seeing me Forge, bent on teaching me to use my ability to protect myself. He insists that if I could produce spectorium fast enough, I could use it to scald my opponent. I suppose he's right. But even if I wanted to Forge, I couldn't. Not here in the open. I know it. Sethos knows it.
Our two impervious kings, Tarik and my father, have decided that my Forging should be kept a secret from the kingdoms. That my power, as the only Forger of spectorium, puts me in danger. And that my well-being is of the utmost importance.
Indeed. Tarik's sense of duty makes my well-being his concern. But Father? His intentions strike the opposite direction entirely. Every day, he grows impatient of my "well-being," threatening to chain me in the dungeon (the palace in Anyar, the heart of Theoria, has no such dungeon) until I Forge spectorium for him. He has thrown outrageous fits in our moments of privacy, demanding that I Forge, and when we are in the company of the Falcon King, he finds many diplomatic ways to suggest the same to Tarik. But for some reason, Tarik is not willing — not yet, at least — to force my hand. The Falcon King must think I will acquiesce, that I will give in and eventually supply him with the spectorium needed for the plague.
He is wrong.
I will no longer supply any of the five kingdoms with spectorium. Not Theoria for its plague nor Tarik's leverage, not Serubel for its economy nor Father's ambitions. The ice kingdom of Hemut will have to make do without the element, as will Wachuk and Pelusia, which I'm thankful have shown no interest in it in the past. The age of spectorium has ended.
I will no longer be used as a pawn in a game of power. And I will no longer trust anyone to decide what is and is not for my well-being.
Which, sadly, must include Sethos. How am I to know whether Sethos is secretly siding with Tarik, planning to bring him the fresh spectorium I Forge during our training sessions? Sethos, though one of my favorite people at the moment, is conniving and cunning enough to pull off such an act of betrayal. Perhaps that is why he constantly pesters me to Forge — Tarik has put him up to it. Though, the thought is truly unlikely. Sethos barely speaks to Tarik anymore, and while I'm not a Lingot as Tarik is, having the ability to discern the truth from a lie, I'm not a fool, either. It is plain that Sethos considers his older brother a tyrant — and the fact that Tarik has ordered him to wed the Princess Tulle of Hemut is irrefutable proof of that accusation. It came down as a royal order, one that the entire kingdom of Theoria knows about and one that Sethos cannot forgive his brother. No, Sethos is not trying to betray me. Not for Tarik.
Truth told, our practices together are the only time Sethos resembles himself anymore. Something happens to him after we finish — after we are sapped of energy and of sweat, after we've returned to our lot in life. When he arrives for the evening meal in the palace — another one of Tarik's requirements — he is sullen and quiet and bereft of charm.
He is no longer Sethos.
I know that it is his imminent marriage to Tulle that has him so depleted of his usual charm and so filled to the brim with ill temper. I cannot fault him there, for a marriage without love is what we are both facing, and the prospect of it makes most of my food lose its taste. But Sethos's circumstances are unique in that he actually despises his betrothed, whereas I have resolved to simply remain aloof. Any love Tarik and I once felt for each other has been twisted into something that resembles manners and diplomacy.
With Sethos, manners and diplomacy have never come easily.
"Why do you loathe Princess Tulle?" I immediately regret the question, which was blurted as an afterthought. I watch the moment he closes himself off to me. Our lesson is all but over now; I can see it in his eyes. Disappointment makes my sword even heavier.
He gives me an odd smirk when he says, "Don't worry, Princess. Tulle harbors no love for me, either. You're fortunate to be able to marry for love."
All at once, my face is full of warmth, a flush I know cannot be concealed. I should not have this reaction to Tarik, not after everything he's done. There was a time when I would have married him for love. But our time for loving each other has passed. And so has my willingness to marry him.
Yet Sethos grins wickedly. "You and my brother assume I'm blind, then? Did you know that you do not steal glances of each other no fewer than a dozen times at the evening meal alone?" I lift my chin. I'd been working on that, not looking at Tarik. Not giving attention to his presence at all. And I've been failing, apparently. "I'm merely striving to be attentive. Perhaps you could set aside a portion of your busy day to reflect upon good manners." It is a blow, suggesting that Sethos is busy. He has been assigned to the security of the palace, and according to him, the place runs by itself. The only distraction he finds is when he feels of the mood to round up a group of guards, portraying himself as an intruder and tasking them with finding him, how he got in, and what he was after. This only serves to irritate him in the end; his ego does not allow him to be captured, and so the guards must resign themselves to another session resulting in failure with a Master Majai berating them incessantly. It is not good for anyone involved.
"Attentive?" Sethos is saying. "Your execution of 'attentiveness' is flawless, Princess. Coincidentally, so is my brother's."
I slide my sword into its sheath strapped across my back, as is the Theorian way. "If you are so proficient about judging everyone's apparent feelings, how is it that you could not secure the affection of Tulle?"
Sethos spits on the ground beside him. "Why are you so bent on seeing me tethered to someone as vile as Tulle? What have I ever done to you?" "Aside from purchasing me for your brother's harem? Nothing. Why are you so bent on avoiding this discussion?" If I cannot beat him with a sword, I shall best him with words.
Or, perhaps not.
He closes the distance between us quickly, grabbing my arms before I can squirm — before I can even think of squirming. "Run away with me, Sepora. Run away with me tonight."
I try to step away, try to wriggle out of his grasp, but to no avail. His hands are large and my arms are small, and he has his shins and groin protected with platelets of copper. So much for learning to defend myself.
"We could settle ourselves in Wachuk. Make a life together there," he practically yells. "Say yes, and I'll see to it that you can bring Nuna, your glorious Defender Serpen. I'll never make you Forge. Not a drop."
I feel my eyes grow wide, darting frantically about the courtyard partly for help and partly to make sure no one is hearing this madness. "Sethos, has the heat gotten to you?" I hiss. "Let me go!" "We'll make beautiful babies," he bellows, pulling me closer. I swear his shouting would wake the dead entombed in the pyramids on the other side of Anyar. "I want a girl with eyes just like yours."
Babies! If I kicked hard enough, surely the copper couldn't protect — "If you ever wish to sire children at all, you'll unhand her directly," a familiar voice calls from behind. We both face Tarik, whose fury cannot be hidden by the golden body paint forced upon him by royal obligation.
Sethos releases me and laughs heartily. It's no wonder he was yelling. From his vantage point, he knew the moment Tarik arrived. Scoundrel.
"I'm going to kill you," I decide as I say it, reaching for the sword at my back.
But Sethos is already walking away and is, decidedly, not concerned. "You really must sport with my brother more often, Princess. As you can see, it's great fun," he says over his shoulder. When he passes Tarik, he doesn't deign to acknowledge him. But Tarik wouldn't have noticed anyway. He's staring at me now, as if I'm the one who'd planned to raise heathen children with his heathen brother in a heathen kingdom.
I cross my arms. "What are you doing here?" I nod to the bronze sundial situated in front of the courtyard wall, though I can't readily tell what it reads. "My lesson is not over."
Tarik raises a brow, making it a point to eye my sheathed sword. "Your tutor seems to think it is."
"You're early," I insist, nearly stomping my foot. The one liberty I do have is that I may practice self-defense with Sethos daily in the courtyard, though Tarik is not elated about extending this courtesy. Still, he does, and so I take full advantage of escaping the goings-on of the palace and my new place in it. When my lessons are cut short, I make it a point to be difficult.
"Your mother is early as well," he drawls. He is good at keeping his emotions to himself of late. His expressions, his body language. The Master Lingot Saen taught me how to learn like a Lingot to watch for these things, that there is more to what a person says than their words. But Tarik shows me nothing. If he is excited to meet my mother, or if he dreads it, I couldn't know. "Queen Hanlyn arrived moments ago by Serpen in the far courtyard. I thought you'd like to visit with her before the evening meal."
Queen Hanlyn. My mother. She wasn't scheduled to arrive until tomorrow; she'll be joining my father to attend the royal engagement procession, as is the custom in Theoria. In the procession, Tarik and I will lead by chariot what I'm told is a rather ostentatious exhibition of the throne's wealth and integrity, bestowing gifts on all of the citizens and, in effect, sealing my fate with Tarik. The thought of it brings shivers to me despite the heat. Or perhaps it is the look Tarik gives me now, one filled with curiosity — and something else I can't quite name. Against my will, I hold his gaze. To back down now would be too telling.
To calm the sensations swirling in my gut, I try to focus not on his face, but on his words. It will be the first time I've seen my mother since she sent me on the journey to Theoria months ago. Her short visit to Theoria will reveal whether I have failed, and I'm more than curious to see whether she holds praise or wrath for me, with the outcome such as it is. Surely sacrificing myself in marriage will count for something. And it will be a relief to burden Mother with the task of keeping Father at bay where my Forging is concerned. She alone can handle him best, even at his worst, and if she cannot, she can at least manage to distract him long enough from his endeavors until she can handle him. But before we discuss the matter of my father, we must discuss the matter of Tarik.
That the great Falcon King is a Lingot, able to discern the truth from a lie.
And that as such, he cannot be handled.
Tarik rolls and unrolls the scroll set before him, wrapping the small message around his finger tightly and unwinding it rapidly so that it spins. He is more than a little preoccupied with the thought that at this very moment, Sepora is visiting with her mother, the queen of Serubel. What must Sepora be saying to her? What impression is Sepora giving to the queen before Tarik has a chance to prove he is worthy of her daughter? And why does he care so much what Queen Hanlyn thinks of him?
Rashidi, who has been sitting patiently across from Tarik's day-chamber desk, clears his throat gently. As his father's most loyal adviser, and now Tarik's closest friend, he has every right to show some impatience at his king's apparent detachment. Yet he is longsuffering, as though he understands to where Tarik's thoughts have strayed.
"Perhaps we could discuss this another time, Highness," Rashidi says. "We have a few days yet to sort out the details of the engagement procession." He lifts the kohl chalk from the map of Anyar. Obviously, he'd been tracing a pathway for the procession. Tarik can see that from the Half Bridge, the course is set to return to the palace. Normally this would go without question.
But nothing in his life is normal anymore.
Tarik shakes his head, tensing for the disagreement he knows will come with his next words. "We must include the Baseborn Quarters in our procession, Rashidi."
The old adviser groans but does not appear surprised. "I had a notion you might say that."
Tarik smirks. "You knew that I would. The Baseborn Quarters are made up of the descendants of the freed Serubelan slaves. I must include my future queen's own people."
"That is not the point of the procession, Highness. Nor the custom."
"Do enlighten me, then, Rashidi." Though he's well acquainted with the tradition of the procession and the custom. Rashidi had tutored him on both months ago, the moment he'd decided that Tarik should wed Princess Tulle. And if he had married Princess Tulle, this would not be a discussion.
Ah, but so many things become a discussion where Sepora is concerned.
His friend leans back in his seat, resting his silver walking staff against his chest. Tarik can tell Rashidi is deciding how to choose his words. With words, Rashidi has conjured up peace when there was no peace, arranged marriage when there was no affection, and assuaged pride when pride was the only thing that was left. Rashidi and his words are powerful. But Tarik will not bend on this point, no matter the sway of Rashidi's diplomacy. "The point of any royal engagement procession is to display the wealth and power of Theoria," the adviser begins, "to impress upon the one marrying into our kingdom that they are by far on the receiving end of the most advantage. If they do not believe that to be the case, they are free to incorporate their own customs to display their superior wealth, Highness." To Tarik's knowledge, this has not happened before in the history of Theoria, for a kingdom to try to outshine Theoria. And Tarik doubts Serubel has the ability to do so. Yet, Rashidi's eyes light up. "Perhaps King Eron and Queen Hanlyn could host a Serubelan feast for all the kingdom and include their own people. Surely that would appease the Baseborn Quarters and, of course, your queen."
"That would do nothing to make the Baseborn citizens loyal to me. And to Sepora. It is not simply a matter of pleasing Sepora. I want to be able to count those people among those willing to fight for Theoria, if the time comes."
Rashidi scowls. Tarik knows his thoughts are drawn to the kingdom of Hemut, where the possibility of war may already loom. "A wise thought, of course." The adviser grimaces, a sign that Tarik will not like what he has to say. "Forgive me, Highness, but it would be difficult for any in our kingdom to remain loyal to Princess Sepora after what she has done. I think even the Baseborn class would take exception, since it was the work of those citizens she destroyed."
Excerpted from "Ally"
Copyright © 2017 Anna Banks.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Sepora,
Chapter 2: Tarik,
Chapter 3: Sepora,
Chapter 4: Tarik,
Chapter 5: Sepora,
Chapter 6: Tarik,
Chapter 7: Sepora,
Chapter 8: Tarik,
Chapter 9: Sepora,
Chapter 10: Tarik,
Chapter 11: Sepora,
Chapter 12: Tarik,
Chapter 13: Sepora,
Chapter 14: Tarik,
Chapter 15: Sepora,
Chapter 16: Tarik,
Chapter 17: Sepora,
Chapter 18: Tarik,
Chapter 19: Sepora,
Chapter 20: Tarik,
Chapter 21: Sepora,
Chapter 22: Tarik,
Chapter 23: Sepora,
Chapter 24: Tarik,
Chapter 25: Sepora,
Chapter 26: Tarik,
Chapter 27: Sepora,
Chapter 28: Tarik,
Chapter 29: Sepora,
Chapter 30: Tarik,
Chapter 31: Sepora,
Chapter 32: Tarik,
Chapter 33: Sepora,
Chapter 34: Tarik,
Chapter 35: Sepora,
Chapter 36: Tarik,
Chapter 37: Sepora,
Chapter 38: Tarik,
Chapter 39: Sepora,
Chapter 40: Tarik,
Chapter 41: Tarik,
Chapter 42: Sepora,
Chapter 43: Tarik,
About the Author,