Cultures clash and sister betrays sister against the backdrop of a rich, fully realized world in this epic fantasy debut.
About the Author
EVIE MANIERI has a degree in Medieval History and Theatre from Wesleyan University. Blood's Pride is her first novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.
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Shattered Kingdoms Book 1
By Evie Manieri
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2012 Evie Manieri
All rights reserved.
"There he is," she told Jachad, in her ageless, sexless, expressionless voice.
Jachad stopped beside her and dropped his pack down onto the desert sand. He followed the gaze of her eye across the gray sweep of the dunes and isolated clusters of rocks and on up to the mountains in the east, where he saw a black shape winging its way toward them from the great square shape of the temple. Each majestic sweep of the creature's wings etched an arc against the silvery pre-dawn sky. Its long tail snaked out, piloting like a ship's rudder, while the needle-sharp claws on its hind feet raked the air. Mounted on its back on a broad leather saddle was a figure draped in a shimmering white cloak.
"Well, I certainly hope that's him," Jachad replied, "because if it's not, we're in real trouble." With a practiced flourish he unwound the gauzy scarf from around his head and ran a freckled hand through his shock of bright red hair. Then he turned to his companion, frowning. "You're sure you want to do it this way?"
In place of an answer, she reached into a hidden pouch inside her grimy multicolored robe and brought out a small bundle swaddled in a scrap of red cloth.
He said, "You can't even be sure he remembers—"
She tossed the bundle to him.
"Careful!" he cried, snatching the object out of the air and clutching it to his chest. He held it there for a moment, pressing it against his heart. Then he unwrapped the package with nervous fingers and held the contents up in front of his eyes. The cork of the little glass bottle was still sealed up tightly under a thick layer of wax, and the bottle was half-full of a syrupy dark-red liquid. Jachad sighed with relief.
"You could at least tell me if it works," he said, looking over at her. She wore her cowl low over her face, but he could see the faint glow of her silver-green eye. "If he's fool enough to try it himself, I'd feel better if I knew it wasn't going to poison him."
"You'll both have to take your chances." She turned away and left him behind without a backward look, resuming their eastward trek toward the Shadar alone.
"This won't take long. Don't get too far ahead," he called after her. But the stillness of the desert deadened his words and if she heard him, she made no sign.
Jachad called up an oily film on the palm of his right hand and flicked his fingers over it to spark up a little fireball, not much bigger than a marble. He worried it between his fingers. He knew it was in his own best interests to avoid a confrontation now, but he still felt a little cheated. It was sure to come sometime, and when it did, he wanted to be there.
Her long strides had already carried her some distance away by the time the beast dropped to a graceful landing among the rippling dunes and its rider extricated himself from the complicated harness. Jachad forced himself to turn his attention to his Norlander client. The tall man wore the cowl of his white cloak down around his neck and his gloves tucked into his sleeve; he wouldn't need them until the sun crested the horizon. True to form, his long white hair was pulled back and bound with a leather cord and the hilt of an enormous broadsword rose from behind his right shoulder. But Jachad also noticed that his pale skin lacked the slight iridescence—like a fish's scales—that his people, the Nomas, had always admired in the Norlanders, and that the flesh under his luminous silver-gray eyes sagged as if he'd been losing sleep.
"King Jachad?" rasped the Norlander.
"Lord Eofar," he answered, smiling. He opened his right hand and the little fireball snuffed itself out in a wisp of black smoke. "It's good to see you. You got my message, I see."
"I did. Thank you," said Eofar. His features remained so still, his face so rigid, that Jachad found it hard to believe his lips could move at all. The words he spoke fell to the sand like lead weights, devoid of any life or expression. It was no mystery why the Shadari still referred to them as "the Dead Ones" even after all these years. "I didn't expect you to come personally."
"Oh, but this is a very special commission. Plus, I had some other business out this way."
"Don't your people need you?"
Jachad laughed. "I would have thought you knew by now not to take my title too seriously. We Nomas need a king about as much as a snake needs a pair of boots."
The Norlander took a moment to unhook a waterskin from his belt and take a long drink, then he put his hand to his throat and massaged it. "It's very dry out here."
Jachad knew what Eofar expected, but even though this transaction would earn more than his tribe had seen in the last half-year, he still hesitated. "We can speak Norlander, if you prefer," he forced himself to say.
Eofar's eyes shone more brightly as he examined the merchandise.
<I'm asking thirty-five.>
Jachad shook his head apologetically.
Jachad scratched his head and desperately tried to conceal the fact that he had been prepared to take twenty-five. Finally he said,
Eofar's surge of relief nearly knocked Jachad backward. He wrapped the little bottle back up in the scrap of cloth and held it out with a smile. Instinctively Eofar reached for it. His hand came close enough for Jachad to feel the chill radiating from his skin before they both remembered themselves and pulled back.
He began walking casually toward Eofar's triffon, hoping Eofar would follow.
said Eofar, following Jachad to his mount. She lifted her massive head from between her front paws and sat up as they approached. Jachad patted her coarse fur, examining the small, round ears protruding from tufts of longer fur, the deep eye-ridges and long snout. With the ashas' secret passage in and out of the temple lost to history, the triffons were the only way to come and go, and Jachad was forced to ride on one of the creatures each time he came to negotiate with the governor for the garrison's supplies and sell trinkets to the soldiers. He had grown accustomed to it over the years; the last few times, he had even opened his eyes.
Jachad turned and pretended to look where he was pointing. There was no sense in denying that they were together: Eofar's sharp Norlander eyes could easily spot her smeary footprints leading away, even in the tricky half-light. Jachad reminded himself that the best lie was simply an edited version of the truth. >Oh, she's just a business associate. I'm escorting her to the Shadar. She has some scars on her face, so I sent her on ahead. I know how you Norlanders feel about that sort of thing. I didn't want to upset you.>
<Should I ask what her business might be?>
<Only if you want to know,> said Jachad.
<No, I suppose not,> Eofar answered. <"Let all so afflicted ..."> He trailed off.
<What? Oh, nothing. It's from The Book of the Hall. Norlander scripture.> Eofar stared thoughtfully across the sands at the dwindling figure. <Did you know that in Norland they take deformed babies and injured soldiers and people like that out into the forest and leave them there to freeze to death? It's said that if Onfar—our god of life and death—decides that a person is worthy, he heals their affliction and sends them home again.>
<Yes, I had heard that,> Jachad said, clamping down on the anger this unexpected disclosure elicited. <And how many has he judged worthy so far?>
Eofar answered without looking away from Jachad's associate.
Jachad tapped his fingers together to disguise the little sparks sizzling between them and stepped back, out of the way of Aeda's enormous wings.
Eofar whistled to his mount and she crouched low, then sprang into the air. A moment later the Norlander and the triffon were winging their way back to the temple. Jachad watched until their shadowy figures blended into the temple's stark façade.
Then he scooped up his pack and ran after his companion.
He tracked her easily, though her footprints had shifted away from their original easterly direction. He began to see gaps here and there, as if she were stumbling, then the trail veered even further from due east and Jachad, looking round, saw the reason why. She was heading toward a low circle of sand-smoothed boulders a little to the north. He stopped and watched as she stumbled and fell to her knees a dozen paces from the stones. Reflexively he started toward her, but before he had gone very far she was on her feet again and a moment later, she had disappeared behind the rocks.
The dawn breeze whisked across the desert and rustled through Jachad's brilliant silk robes, offering him a greeting, a whispered welcome to the new day. The sand at his feet swirled and shifted, and the sun's first rays glowed behind the smudgy mountains. Jachad Nisharan, king of the Nomas, dropped his pack into the sand and knelt down to pray to his father, the sun god, Shof.
Absolute privacy, every day, at dawn and dusk, without fail: that was the condition she had imposed on him, the same condition she set for anyone who desired her services, and in the two weeks she and Jachad had been traveling together he had scrupulously honored his promise.
The wind began to gather strength, blowing westward from the sea.
He looked at the rocks and wet his lips. Dire warnings echoed in his mind. He had been putting off this moment, but they would reach the Shadar before sunset and he might never have another opportunity. He had to see for himself; if he let this chance slip by, he might as well have stayed with his tribe on the other side of the desert.
He stood up, and as he edged toward the rocks, the wind died down and the sand hissed back to the desert floor. Jachad dropped his pack and silently slid through a narrow space between two of the boulders.
Excerpted from Blood's Pride by Evie Manieri. Copyright © 2012 Evie Manieri. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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