Beneath the Haunting Sea400
Beneath the Haunting Sea400
Can’t You Hear It, Talia? Can’t You Hear the Waves Singing?
Sixteen-year-old Talia was born to a life of certainty and luxury, destined to become Empress of half the world. But when an ambitious rival seizes power, she and her mother are banished to a nowhere province on the far edge of the Northern Sea.
It is here, in the drafty halls of the Ruen Dahr,that Talia discovers family secrets, a melancholy boy with a troubling vision of her future, and a relic that holds the power of an ancient Star. On these shores, the eerie melody of the sea is stronger than ever, revealing long forgotten tales of the Goddess Rahn. The more dark truths that Talia unravels about the gods’ historyand her ownthe more the waves call to her, and it's her destiny to answer.
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|Publisher:||Page Street Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
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Talia thundered across the plain, her head bent low over her mount's neck, the world a blur of dust and wind and exhilarating speed. The sun was just slipping above the peaks of the northern mountains, bathing the desert in liquid gold — already it burned blistering hot on her shoulders. She'd have to go back to Eddenahr soon, but she couldn't shake the feeling that if she rode just a little faster she could leap into the sky, race the goddess of the air herself, and win.
But her mare couldn't run forever. Talia pulled her to a walk and peered back toward Eddenahr, breathing hard. The city sprawled white and silver across the desert, a maze of blue-tiled roofs and white walls; the heat made it shimmer. Even from this distance the light refracted blindingly from the domes of the spired towers, and she had to squint, shading her eyes with one hand. Bells clamored in the dawn hush, calling up the sun.
She really needed to go back. Now.
Talia nudged her mare toward the city, wishing she could stay out here forever between the boundless earth and sky. Wind tugged her hair loose from its careless braid, whipping long black strands into her face. Sweat prickled at the back of her neck. She wouldn't have time for a bath if she didn't hurry, and appearing before the Emperor of half the world smelling of horse was probably not the best plan. Her stomach wrenched nervously as she touched her heels to the mare's flanks.
Halfway back to the city, she spotted another rider coming toward her across the plain. She gritted her teeth, afraid it might be a palace attendant sent out to collect her — or worse, her mother.
But as she and the other rider drew near each other and reined in their mounts, Talia was surprised to see a young woman, elegantly dressed in flowing gold silk trousers and a sleeveless top studded with sapphires. The top was cropped short to show off her midriff, brown skin gleaming with sandalwood oil. Her black hair was pinned elaborately on top of her head and woven through with strands of gold. Her lashes were lined with kohl, her eyelids dusted with shimmering gold powder. Her beauty was unmistakable, untouchable — like a goddess of old.
"Eda," said Talia at last, forcing herself to speak civilly, though everything in her wanted to wheel the mare around and gallop away. "What are you doing out here so early?"
Eda brushed a stray curl out of her face with one elegant hand, eyes narrowing. "Why has the Emperor asked you to breakfast?"
Talia's mare fidgeted beneath her, "That's none of your concern."
"Isn't it?" Danger lurked beneath her words, a thunderstorm about to break.
Talia couldn't help but remember the first time she'd met Eda, half a lifetime ago when Talia's parents had brought her to visit Eddenahr from their estate in mountainous Irsa. A peacock had gotten loose in the palace corridors and Talia had chased after it, laughing, losing one of her new silk slippers and tearing her too-long, brightly embroidered skirt. She'd bumped into Eda after an attendant scooped up the miscreant bird to return it to the garden. The other girl stood there frowning like an old lady, even though she was a gangly girl of eleven.
"It's unseemly to run in the Emperor's halls," Eda had told her. "You disrespect His Imperial Majesty."
Talia stammered an apology, but it didn't seem to be enough.
"Who are you?" Eda demanded.
"Talia Dahl-Saida of Irsa. Who are you?"
"I'm the Countess of Evalla," Eda said coldly.
"Didn't you ever learn to show deference to your superiors?"
Talia didn't know what to say. She was the daughter of a countess — which made them equals as far as she could tell — and she hadn't known then that this girl, barely older than herself, was Governor of the entire province of Evalla. So she'd dropped a confused curtsy and run back to her parents as quick as she could, hoping her path would never again cross with the severe child Countess.
But it did, and far more frequently than Talia could have imagined. Her parents were on the Emperor's Council, and their visits to the capital of Enduena increased exponentially until they were in Eddenahr a vast deal more than they were in Irsa. Talia had to attend lessons with a dozen other courtiers' children, spending nearly every day shut up inside, working through mathematical equations or memorizing historical facts or learning to dance, sew, draw. Eda was at every lesson, as she was considered too young to live in Evalla and govern the province on her own without a proper education — a fact that she deeply resented. She'd become Countess at the age of nine, when both of her parents had died of a vicious fever, but had been living in the palace ever since.
She was also rumored to be the Emperor's bastard daughter. Talia had asked her father what that meant, and his answer both embarrassed and fascinated her; Eda's mother had grown up in the palace and was a favorite of the Emperor. Her hasty marriage to the Count of Evalla and Eda's birth barely nine months later had caused more than one raised brow. Whether it was true or not, Eda certainly considered herself royalty. And her opinion of Talia had never improved since that day with the peacock.
Out on the plain, the sun burning hotter and hotter with every degree it rose into the sky, Talia tried not to squirm under Eda's scrutiny. The other girl always made her feel so small. "What do you want, Eda?"
"I want to know what the Emperor could possibly have to say to you."
"Why do you care? Still waiting for him to admit he's your father so you can feel like you have some worth in the world?"
Eda's eyes burned with cold fire. "You will fall very low, Talia of Irsa. Then we will see how quick your tongue is."
A fierce wind whipped up between them, hot and stinging with dust, and Talia had the sudden, horrible feeling that Eda's threats were every bit as menacing. She shuddered; Eda smiled.
"I have to go," Talia snapped. "I'll be late."
Eda made a little mocking half bow from her saddle. "Then go, and gods keep you."
Talia nudged her mare on toward Eddenahr. But she couldn't quite shake her sense of foreboding as she rode through the gate and the white city swallowed her up.
Talia followed an attendant down the long white corridors to the royal wing of the palace, her bare feet slapping over the white-and-gold marble floor. She hadn't had time to call an attendant to fix her hair or line her eyes with kohl, but at least she'd managed a hasty bath.
She'd never been in the royal wing before. Pillars carved with lattice work soared to high domed ceilings, and the walls were covered in mosaics, the brightly colored pieces of glass depicting scenes from mythology. She glimpsed the god of the earth and the god of the sea holding two shining Stars; she saw the Immortal Tree laying on its side as all mankind wept over it.
Talia's heart belonged in Irsa on her parents' mountain estate, but she had grown to love Eddenahr too. Maybe it was because her father had always seen adventure around every corner, or because she could feel the weight of history whispering in the corridors of the two-thousand-year-old palace. The royal wing seemed even older than the rest of it.
"This way, Miss Dahl-Saida." The attendant opened a carved ivory door and ushered her into a small inner courtyard.
For a moment she stood there, blinking, as her eyes adjusted to the sunlight. And then she saw the Emperor of Enduena.
He was sitting at a low ebony table, propped up against a dozen pillows, his brown hand shaking as he raised a goblet of wine to his lips. He was not an old man, certainly not above sixty, but he looked as ancient as the earth itself. His eyes were sunken into his face, his skin sagging about him like an oversized shirt. He looked impossibly frail, vastly more ill than the last time Talia had seen him at a court dinner about a week ago.
Tamping down her anxiety, she stepped toward the table and curtsied very low.
It was only then she became aware of her mother, kneeling on a cushion to the Emperor's left. Her eyes pierced through Talia, instantly disapproving of her unkempt state but just as equally resigned to it. She wore a deep-green sleeveless top and matching mirror-embroidered skirt, with a gauzy blue sash draped over her shoulder and gold threads wound into her beautiful black hair.
"Sit down, my dear," came the Emperor's voice, wispy and small and sounding far away.
Talia sank onto a cushion opposite the Emperor, glancing to her mother. Her mother gave her an encouraging smile, but Talia didn't miss the way she was fidgeting with her glass. Talia had never known her mother to be nervous.
Sunlight poured into the open courtyard, and a pair of attendants pulled an awning from wall to wall, tying the ends onto waiting hooks. A fountain burbled in the back corner and jasmine vines crawled up the stones, their white star-shaped flowers closed tight until the evening. Talia glimpsed a peacock pecking for bugs by the fountain and wondered idly if it was a descendant of the one she'd chased around the palace.
Attendants poured cardamom tea and spread breakfast onto the table: mangoes and flatbread drizzled with honey, rice cakes and fried bananas, poached duck eggs and spicy lentils. Talia heaped everything onto her plate. She was ravenous from her long ride, but it was disconcerting to be stared at by the Emperor at such a close range, and her anxiety quickly smothered her hunger. She found she could barely touch her food and just sipped her tea, the spicy sweetness sparking on her tongue.
"Well," said Talia's mother after a few minutes of agonizing silence, "I suppose it's time to discuss why we asked you here. Your Imperial Majesty?"
The Emperor blinked at her mother and then turned his gaze to Talia. Spittle clung to the corner of his mouth and dripped in his patchy beard. His hand shook as he set his goblet back on the table, red wine sloshing over the edge. "My health is failing," he said in that far-away voice. "I must choose an heir."
He was seized by a coughing fit. He couldn't seem to stop. An attendant appeared with an etched metal cup and put it to his lips. The Emperor drank, slowly, and his coughing subsided.
Tears leaked from his eyes, and Talia bowed her head, ashamed for him. Once, this man had been young and strong — a war hero, a fearless leader. He'd been the one to abolish the slave trade and unite the mainland provinces, to claim the island of Ryn for the Enduenan Empire, to strengthen relations with the colonies on Od, to demand tribute from Halda, and to establish trade with Ita. He'd defended Enduena from the warriors of Denlahn and driven them back across the sea to their own land. He'd launched countless ships after the Denlahn, determined to absorb them too into the Empire, but the long voyage weakened his soldiers and the Denlahn slaughtered them. It was considered his only failure.
But that was decades ago, long before Talia was born. Now the Emperor was a wasted shell. The Empress had died ten years ago, her health never recovered from bringing a son into the world. The teenage prince had been killed last year in a hunting accident, and the Emperor fell ill shortly afterward. The court pinned silver mourning tokens to their sleeves, whispering that their heartbroken Emperor would never be the same. And they were right.
"You come of age next week," said her mother, causing Talia to look up again. "His Imperial Majesty will make the announcement at your party."
Talia glanced from the Emperor to her mother and back again, a confused suspicion darting into her mind. "What announcement?"
The Emperor's watery eyes focused on Talia's. "The gods saw fit to give me a daughter," he whispered, "to keep her safe when my son was gone. An heir to the Empire."
Talia's heart raced, thinking of her encounter on the plain. "Do you mean Eda, Your Imperial Majesty?"
A frown pressed between his eyes, and he slowly shook his head. "I mean you, Talia Dahl-Saida. You are my daughter. My heir. A gift from the gods. You will be Empress of Enduena when I am gone."
Talia started shaking violently, her body understanding the Emperor's words before her mind did. Before her heart did. A hot wind curled under the awning and whispered across her neck. She sucked in a sharp breath and jerked up from her seat, knocking over her tea. Milky-brown liquid leaked across the ebony table and dripped onto the ground. Her head spun. She forced herself to focus on the Emperor, on her mother, forced the words past her lips: "I don't understand."
Her mother's hand trembled where she gripped her own cup; but for that, she was still. "The Emperor is your father, Talia. You will be the next Empress of Enduena, and at your party he will announce it to the court."
She couldn't breathe, couldn't think. A rift opened inside of her, a chasm spiraling into yawning dark. Everything narrowed to the Emperor, his sagging face and hollow frame. "I have a father," she whispered, voice cracking.
Her mother rose from her cushion and attempted to lay a hand on Talia's arm.
Talia shook her off, seizing onto the one emotion she understood: anger. "I. Have.
But she was already gone, bolting from the courtyard and back down the corridors the way she had come.
She ran until her lungs burned and sharp pains shot through her sides. She ran until she reached her rooms, dashing out onto her balcony and hoisting herself onto the roof. She curled up underneath an overhang of blue tiles, jasmine and honeysuckle twining up to meet her, and allowed the sun to sear her toes, the scent of hot stone to overwhelm her.
Talia had always divided her life into two halves: before her father died, and after.
Almost everything she dearly loved belonged to the first half: long winter nights on her parents' estate in Irsa; learning to ride; learning to read outside on a grassy hill with the wildflowers dancing and the bees keeping time. Every summer she traveled with her parents to Eddenahr, and her father was the one who taught her to love the ancient city, its white walls and tiled roofs, its gleaming spired towers. The two of them went on adventures in the Emperor's gardens when Talia didn't have lessons to attend. Together, they explored the stables and the hound runs and the aviary. He held her hand as they visited the tiger pits, and would climb up with her onto the palace roof. They'd sit there with their legs dangling and eat sherbet that melted rapidly into colorful sweet soup in the hot sun.
But the year she turned eleven, he died in an accident on the road and the second half of her life began.
His scent faded from the book room in Irsa, and her mother packed their bags and moved them to Eddenahr for good. Talia was left with a raw, aching emptiness where her father had been. Her days were consumed with countless lessons and Eda's never-ending derision. She lived for the moments she could steal to herself: riding on the plain or climbing about on the maze of palace roofs like a monkey escaped from the Emperor's menagerie.
She thought about her father as she sat tucked under the roof tiles, hugging her knees to her chin and trying to understand what her mother had told her. What the Emperor had told her.
Talia wasn't like Eda, desperate for any sign of affection from the Emperor, straining to see echoes of her own features in that wasted man. The thought that Talia might be the Emperor's illegitimate daughter had never even entered her head.
It wasn't possible. It couldn't be.
And yet —
She jerked her head up to see her mother hauling herself onto the roof, then coming gingerly toward her across the slippery tiles. Her mother sat down beside her and peered at her with dark eyes.
Talia turned away, rubbing her thumb over the jagged edge of a broken roof tile. The tile cut into her skin and she flinched. "I don't have anything to say to you."
"Let me explain."
"What is there to explain?" Talia wiped her bleeding thumb on her skirt and faced her mother. "You couldn't have spared even a second of your time in the last sixteen years to tell me that my father was the Emperor of Enduena?" Her shout echoed among the roof tiles, and her mother winced.
"I didn't want to hurt you. Especially after Celdahn died. And I didn't think it mattered. Not when the prince was alive and well."
Bile burned in the back of Talia's throat. "And now that he's dead you find you have use for me."
"I loved my father! How can you take that away from me?" Tears nearly choked her.
Her mother bit her lip, moisture gleaming in her own eyes. "Celdahn loved you dearly. But he wasn't your father."
"How could you do this to me? To my father? Were you the Emperor's mistress?"
The fierceness in her mother's tone refocused her, and Talia angrily scrubbed the tears from her eyes. "What then?"
Her mother squared her jaw, and for the first time in her life Talia realized her mother might not be the impenetrable marble queen Talia had always thought she was.
"The Emperor is not to be denied. What he asks for ... he receives." Her mother lifted her shoulders and let them drop again, the careless gesture belied by the shake in her voice.
Excerpted from "Beneath The Haunting Sea"
Copyright © 2018 Joanna Ruth Meyer.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
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
Part One: Gods and Men,
Part Two: Star and Tree,
Part Three: Song and Waves,
Part Four: Ship and Sea,
About the Author,
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