She swore never to shed blood in violence, no matter how grave the danger. But when a faery war threatens her home, the price of peace may be higher than Rhosmari can pay... For a thousand years the faeries known as the Children of Rhys have lived in safety on their magical islands, protected from the evils of the outside world. Yet a deadly conflict is brewing on the mainland, as the evil faery Empress gathers an army to destroy the brave rebels known as the Oakenfolk. And when Rhosmari's betrothed Garan steals the sacred Stone of Naming and runs off to help the rebels, she realizes that the only way to keep the Children of Rhys out of the war is to go after him and get the Stone back. But the world beyond the Green Isles is stranger and more confusing than Rhosmari ever imagined, and Garan and his fellow rebels are not easy to find. Every step she takes leads her deeper into danger, testing her courage, trust, and even the beliefs she holds most dear. If she refuses to fight the Empress, she could end up dooming the whole rebel army... but if she breaks her oath of non–violence, she can never return to her beloved home and people again. Can her new faery and human allies help Rhosmari choose the right path, or will she only end up pointing them all toward destruction?
About the Author
Nebula Award-shortlisted, bestselling author R.J. Anderson writes novels about faeries, weird science, and the numinous in the modern world. She lives in Ontario, Canada. To learn more about her writing, visit www.rj-anderson.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Rhosmari! Look what we found!"
Rhosmari, daughter of Celyn, stood on the front steps of the House of Learning, smiling as the faery children pelted over the grass toward her. The sea wind blew loose spirals of hair about her face, and automatically she undid the clasp at the nape of her neck and twisted the clove-colored strands back into submission again.
She had only just finished when her students came panting up the steps and crowded around her, pressing shells and bits of sea-glass into her hands for her inspection. Fioled trailed after them, disheveled and looking exhausted. "Your turn," she said.
"Come inside," Rhosmari told the children. "It's time for a story."
Soon they were all settled in the Teaching Room, the students wriggling like seal pups on the carpet by her feet while Fioled arranged their newly gathered treasures on the shelves behind them. "I have exciting news to tell you," she whispered to Rhosmari, "but it can wait."
Rhosmari folded her hands together, assuming her most scholarly posture. "Today," she told her students, "we are going to learn about the Rhysian Games, and how they came to be. None of you are old enough to compete in them yet, but —" A small hand went up, surprising her; it was not like any of the children to interrupt. "Yes, Bleddyn?"
"Did Garan really steal the Stone of Naming and give it away to strangers?"
For a moment she was speechless at the question. She glanced back at Fioled, but the other girl was absorbed in picking seaweed off a piece of driftwood and did not meet her gaze.
"Yes," said Rhosmari at last. "But we aren't here to talk about that right now —"
"My father said he and the others left to join a war," said another boy. But before Rhosmari could intervene, the girl next to him demanded, "What's war?"
It was the wrong time to be discussing this, thought Rhosmari helplessly. They were too young for such dark subjects. But how could she blame them for being curious about what Garan had done, when half the population of the Green Isles was talking about it?
"It's when faeries disagree so strongly, they take up weapons against each other," she said.
"Like in the Games?" asked the smallest of the girls, her nose wrinkled in confusion.
"No, Merywen, not for sport." Rhosmari could hear the strain in her own voice now; it was an effort to keep it level. "To hurt, and to – to kill."
"Are Garan and the others going to be killed?"
Very likely, thought Rhosmari, but she could not bring herself to say it. "I hope not."
"Will we ever see them again?"
The soft voice belonged to Cudyll, the youngest of Garan's cousins. She wanted to change the subject, but this child at least deserved an answer. "If Garan repents and brings back the Stone before anyone is hurt," she told him, "then the Elders may give him another chance."
What she did not add was that if Garan or any of his men had shed blood, no penance would be enough: they would be barred from the Green Isles forever. And that after the harsh things he had said to the Elders, he might as well have committed murder in their eyes.
"But what if we don't get back the Stone? Will other faeries be able to see our islands? Will they come here and try to fight us too?" The questions flew at her from every side, so quickly that she could not tell which of the children had spoken. Had they been plaguing Fioled like this all morning? No wonder she looked tired.
"No," said Rhosmari with all the firmness she could muster, "the Gwerdonnau Llion is still safe. The Stone's power is only to give new names to faeries who have had theirs taken away, and no one is going to do that to us. The Elders keep watch over our people, and maintain the wards that protect us. And you all know about the herb we call Rhys's Blessing, which keeps our islands invisible to strangers. The Stone is very precious and we are sorry to lose it, but no enemy can hurt us here." She regarded them levelly. "Now, are you ready to get back to our lesson?"
The children nodded, but they did not look satisfied. And though they stayed quiet after that, Rhosmari could tell that they were not really paying attention to her stories about the Rhysian Games. At last she gave up and sent them outside to play.
As their chattering voices faded, the House of Learning settled back into its usual tranquility. Even Fioled had disappeared for the moment, and Rhosmari was alone in her favorite place: a low-ceilinged rectangle of weathered beams and plastered stone, open windows brimming with sunlight, curtains rippling in the ocean breeze. All around her, on shelves and pedestals, were the marvelous objects that the Children of Rhys had brought back from their visits to the human world: a jellyfish sculpted from iridescent glass, a slim book of poetry bound in tooled leather, a silken scarf dyed all the colors of flame. And on the far wall, just beside the doorway to the Archive, hung a harp, light and elegant as a gull's wing.
Her father had brought back that harp from Milford Haven when Rhosmari was a small child, and for a few glorious hours he had remembered how to play it. She had sat beside him all the while, entranced by the notes rippling like magic from her father's fingertips–and when the music ended, she had wept. It seemed so cruel to her then that faeries had no creativity of their own, and that the talents they absorbed from their visits to the human world could not last once they returned to the Green Isles. But her father had cupped her chin in his hand and brushed away her tears, and told her that he had put all those songs into a loreseed for her, so she could listen to them again as often as she liked ...
The floorboards creaked behind her, and Rhosmari turned. Fioled had come back, in fresh clothes and with hair still damp from her bath. "Are you all right?" the other girl asked. "That can't have been easy for you."
"I'm fine," said Rhosmari. "But if the children are talking like this, then their parents must be as well. Have our people become so ignorant about what the Stone of Naming is? Do they really think we're in danger without it?"
"I don't know." Fioled wrung out the end of one pale braid and tossed it back over her shoulder. "But everyone's been shaken up by what Garan did. Taking the Stone was bad enough, but flying off to the mainland and taking half the single males in the Gwerdonnau Llion with him? It's the biggest shock we've had since ..."
She stopped before she could say the words, but to Rhosmari she might as well have shouted them. Since your father died.
"So of course people are upset," Fioled continued, reddening a little, "and afraid that something even worse is going to happen next. That's only natural. What I don't understand"–she gave Rhosmari a sidelong look — "is how you can be so calm about it. Especially after what Garan did to you."
Rhosmari pressed her lips together in annoyance. Why did everyone want to talk about that? He was gone, and there was nothing she could do about it. "You said you have exciting news?" she asked.
"Oh, yes!" Fioled was instantly transfigured. "Lady Arianllys told me this morning that I've been chosen!"
There was no need to ask what the other girl meant. Every month the Children of Rhys cast lots for the privilege of going to the Welsh mainland, to buy goods from the humans and witness their amazing powers of creativity. Only five or six Rhysians were sent each time, and they never stayed longer than a day, but even a brief visit to the human world was said to be an unforgettable experience.
"I'm happy for you," Rhosmari said, and meant it, because if someone had to take her place she would rather it be Fioled than anyone else. But it was hard to hide the bitter knowledge that her name had been drawn first, and then for some reason the Elders had forbidden her to go.
Or at least, her mother had.
"Oh, Rhosmari." Fioled's face softened with pity. "I'm sorry. But your turn will come soon, I'm sure of it. And I promise I'll tell you all about it when I get back."
Rhosmari nodded. "Did Lady Arianllys say anything else, when you talked?" she asked. "I haven't seen her today, and she didn't leave any instructions."
"She was called away to a meeting with the Elders," Fioled told her. "But she did ask if we would recopy a few of the older loreseeds, because they're beginning to wear out. Here." She led Rhosmari into the Archive and pulled out a tray of sleek oval pods, worn smooth and dark by the touch of many hands. "These top ones were cast by your father. Maybe you should do those, so the quality will be better."
From a scholarly viewpoint, Fioled was right. Loreseeds were magical recordings of important events, but they tended to weaken with repeated viewings and had to be renewed. Rhosmari's father had been a great lorecaster, saving many of their people's most ancient records from destruction–but his specialty had been the history of the Children of Rhys before the Green Isles, and the loreseeds he had spent his life preserving were records of battle and war. Once as a young child Rhosmari had sneaked into his workshop and touched one of those seeds, and the images that exploded in her mind had given her nightmares for weeks.
She had witnessed death already. She did not care to see it again.
"I can't," she said. "Not those ones. Give them to someone else. Maybe Broch —" She caught Fioled's eye and stopped, embarrassment flooding her as she remembered that Broch had left with Garan and would not be coming back. "Well, one of the others anyway. I'll take these."
She pulled out another tray, this one full of proceedings from the Hall of Judgment, and sat down at the table with it. Watching the Elders settle disputes between neighboring farmers or announce the winners of the two hundred and forty-eighth Rhysian Games might be dull, but at least she would sleep tonight.
Long after Fioled had left for the day, Rhosmari remained in the Archive with her tray of loreseeds, copying one after another. But when the last of the sunlight on the waters of Cardigan Bay flickered and went out, she realized that she could not avoid her mother any longer. The evening meal would be served at any moment, and it was her duty to be there.
Reluctantly she slid the tray back onto its shelf, closed up the building, and walked out into the night. Waves surged and hissed against the nearby shore, while the lonely cry of a seabird echoed from the other side of the strait. Rhosmari closed her eyes and inhaled, drawing deep of the salt-spiced air. Then she Leaped.
In an eye-blink the meadow vanished and her ancestral home rose up before her, an airy-looking cottage with sandstone walls and generous windows overlooking the sea. She went in, to find Lady Celyn waiting for her in the dining room.
At first glance this room could have been part of the House of Learning, with its age-darkened timbers and creamy walls. But in other ways the two places could not have been more different. The brass and pottery artifacts displayed upon the shelves had been in the family for centuries, but all were surrounded by spells that rendered them untouchable, so that not even a fingerprint or a speck of dust could mar their appearance. The dishes and cutlery were arranged at precise intervals, and even the fireplace glowed more steadily than any natural flame ought to burn. It was a place of order, and even beauty–but not of comfort.
"You look tired," her mother remarked as she gathered her silken robes and sat down. "Was it a teaching day?" "Yes," said Rhosmari, taking her own seat at the other end of the table. She waited as the servant girl dished out the first course, a creamy fish soup delicately threaded with saffron, then joined her mother in spreading out her hands in gratitude to Rhys and the Great Gardener before picking up her spoon and beginning to eat.
As always, they dined in silence, for it was Lady Celyn's belief that each dish should be savored without distraction, to show respect for the hands that had prepared it. Which was why Rhosmari's mother had no difficulty keeping servants, despite her exacting standards; they all knew she took notice of good work, and rewarded it accordingly.
If only Rhosmari could find her so easy to please.
What did I do wrong? she wanted to ask. How did I fail you, that you would punish me this way? But her courage failed when she looked up and met Lady Celyn's eyes, cool as jet in the smooth chestnut mask of her face. Rhosmari and her mother resembled each other closely, with the same warm skin, full lips and rippling abundance of hair. But at this moment they might as well have been strangers.
"Now," said her mother when the last crumb of berry tart had been consumed and the golden plates whisked away. "I have been considering what we are to do now that Garan is gone."
"Do?" asked Rhosmari.
"I believe it would be hasty to try and arrange another betrothal for you straightaway," her mother said, "but perhaps in a few months ..."
Rhosmari's hand closed hard around her napkin, crumpling it. "That is what you want to talk about?" she said. "Another marriage contract? You think I am old enough to be betrothed, but not old enough to go to the mainland when my name is drawn?"
"It is not a matter of age," Lady Celyn told her. "It is simply not the right time for you to go. The next time you are chosen, perhaps."
Which sounded reasonable on the surface, but they both knew that it might be years, or even decades, before her name was drawn again. "I don't understand," said Rhosmari. "Why is it the right time for Fioled, but not for me?"
"Because Fioled is not my daughter." Celyn spoke mildly, but her tone was edged with warning. "There are evils in the human world that you know nothing about."
"I am sixteen years old," said Rhosmari, "and I am being trained as a scholar. I am not ignorant of —"
"Of some things," Lady Celyn cut in, "you are indeed ignorant, and I hope you always will be. But this matter is not under debate. I am your Elder as well as your mother, and it is your duty to accept my judgment."
Rhosmari knew better than to press the matter further. She lowered her gaze.
"Besides," her mother continued, "the situation here is unstable, and we Elders have many decisions to make. It may be that we must delay our visits to the human world for a time, in order to concentrate on more urgent matters."
"Such as?" Rhosmari asked, not really expecting an answer.
"Such as how to recover the Stone of Naming," replied Lady Celyn.
Rhosmari's surprise overcame her resentment. "You think we can?"
"I think we must. The loss of the Stone has thrown our people into chaos. There are all kinds of superstitions about its powers, and many consider its disappearance to be a bad sign. It has even been claimed that Rhys is angry with us and that we are under a curse." Lady Celyn leaned back in her chair, the amber pendant at her throat glowing in the firelight. "The Elders have been blamed for not guarding the Stone more closely, and for allowing Garan and his followers to escape. There has been talk of a conspiracy to protect Garan, and suspicion has fallen on everyone who was close to him ... including you."
A cold stone dropped into Rhosmari's stomach. "Me? Why?" "You were seen speaking privately with Garan, only a short time before he declared his treachery to the Council and disappeared."
"He was asking me to release him from our vows of betrothal! Everyone knows that!"
"Perhaps, but they also think you must have known why he was asking. To break his pledge to you so soon after Timothy and Linden came to us for help in their war against the Empress? Surely you suspected something was wrong?"
She had, but not in the way her fellow faeries seemed to think. I cannot love you as a husband should, Garan had told her, and it would be wrong to pledge myself to you when my heart lies elsewhere. What could Rhosmari make of that, except that he had been enchanted by Linden's wide-eyed prettiness, and wanted to be with her instead?
But when Garan admitted to stealing the Stone of Naming and flew off to help the Oakenfolk, Rhosmari realized she had been mistaken. Being attracted to someone you'd just met, even strongly, was not enough to make you betray your own people, disgrace your family, and leave the only homeland you'd ever known. And it certainly wouldn't be enough to talk thirty-seven other faeries into coming with you.
"I did not help Garan ap Gwylan or support him in any way," said Rhosmari, willing her voice not to shake. "I will swear that in the Hall of Judgment, if you like."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Arrow"
Copyright © 2016 R.J. Anderson.
Excerpted by permission of Third Day Books, LLC.
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