Continuing the struggle she began in Into the Dark Lands, Erinnewly dubbed Sarais forcefully put to sleep for 300 years while her Lord finishes overtaking his enemiesand Sara's kinsmen.
After conquering and slaughtering the last of the Bright Heart lines, he awakens an amnesia-ridden Sara and assigns one of his slaves, a fellow "child of the blood," to comfort her. As Sara's memory slowly returns and her rage intensifies, the Servants of the Dark Heart and the Dark Heart itself become increasingly dangerous to both her and her caretaker.
About the Author
Michelle Sagara West is a novelist who has eight published novels as Michelle West and four novels originally published as Michelle Sagara.
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Nobody can just do what they want to do, son. That isn't the way the line works.
Darin glared at the closed door of his small room.
Easy for them to say. When they wanted to send him to his room, they sent him to his room. But when he wanted to leave, he couldn't. It was very clear to him.
"The king," he murmured to the bare walls, "is stupid. And that's that." He walked over to his desk and dragged the chair across the floor loudly.
History. History was the other thing that was stupid. The boy sat down, thunking his feet loudly against the floor and hoping it irritated his father.
It's already happened. He pulled out his new slate, which had replaced the third one he'd dropped, and picked up a wedge of chalk. And everyone's dead.
"Why," he said aloud, "can't we talk about what we're going to do instead of what everyone else's already done?"
No one answered, which was better than what usually happened when he asked this perfectly reasonable question. Very dutifully he began to inscribe seven names. Seven lines. And only Culverne remained.
Doesn't that tell you something?
He frowned as the Grandmother's question reverberated in the near-empty room. His mother had once told him that not all of the Line Culverne patriarchs or matriarchs had chosen to teach, and further, that he should be honored to sit in a class given by the line's leader herself. Hah. He couldn't understand why the Grandmother was always so grouchy — his own grandmother never was.
Unbidden, her words sounded again in his mind. The Ladyof Elliath was the greatest power that the lines possessed. With her loss, much of our defense was lost also. But worse still was the loss of the Gifting. The Bright Heart was weakened, and we cannot now recover what was taken. Darin!
Great, he thought, as he shoved the slate away. I can't even be alone in peace.
Bright Heart's blood, boy! Can you not pay attention for even a minute? Corvas, shutter those windows.
Darin stood and began to pace the room, wearing tracks in the wood, as his mother often said. He knew that history was important. But why must he spend so many hours studying things that had gone before? Why couldn't they do something instead of just talking?
His eyes lighted upon the large window that was centered in the outer wall. Smooth, old wood framed two worn shutters. Flecks of gray paint had peeled away with Darin's impatient help, and the latch had been twice broken. A third time, and his father promised the latch would be strung with something other than metal.
Yes, the king was stupid for disowning Darin's hero — everyone knew it, except maybe teachers and parents. Darin thought of the prince of thieves and smiled. Renar was not a tall man, at least not according to the stories. Remembering this, Darin stood up on his toes almost proudly and undid the latch. He took some care with it, even though he knew his hero wouldn't have. Renar wouldn't be sent to his rooms to study, either, and that was probably as much of the Bright Heart's blessing as anyone was likely to get in this life.
The shutters creaked open an inch at a time as Darin held his breath. His heart was thumping loudly in his chest as he spun around to look suspiciously at the closed door.
They hadn't noticed. He smiled, every inch the noble thief, and then tried to pull himself up onto the window ledge. Of course Renar could probably do it more smoothly, but he had years of practice. Trembling slightly, Darin gripped the window's frame and hoped that it wouldn't give out.
Hooks, he thought, as he stared down at the darkened grass. And grappling irons. And ropes. That's what I need.
Just how had the window gotten so high up?
Darin managed a strained giggle that the gentle breeze blew away. With a high little whoop he cast off from the window ledge. Dark blades of grass rushed up to meet him. His slippered feet hit the ground first, quickly followed by his knees, his hands, and his left cheek. Dirt clung to his tangled, pale hair as he got unsteadily to his feet.
Where to now? he thought, glancing furtively over his shoulder at the lights of the fire-room. The orange glow flickering through the shutter cracks told him clearly that his parents were still awake. Probably talking about something boring or silly, too.
Under cover of night, the house looked somehow larger, a squat, flat rectangle that covered the small horizon he could see. A momentary pang caught him. How am I going to get back in?
Easy, he lied. I'll just wait until the fire's gone out and I'll sneak past them. He had a vague idea that it wouldn't work, but he could worry about it later. Right now he had something more important to do. He had made his escape, but in order fully to redeem himself, there was still a small business matter to take care of. He got quickly to his feet and began to crouch in the shadows as he loped toward the scum of the Empire, his sometimes — former — best friend, Kerren. If it weren't for Kerren tackling him just when the lesson bells had gone off, he wouldn't have been late for the Grandmother's class. She wouldn't have been angry, and he wouldn't have been sent to his room to "make up" for lessons he'd missed. Kerren was going to pay for that.
The winding pathway that had been built between the houses of the line's settlement was a lot less smooth and flat than it seemed during daylight. Longer, too. He stumbled several times, but managed not to curse too loudly. He passed the houses of the priests and initiates, counting them off one by one. Numbers and counting were something he had always been good at when they were worth the bother.
The fourth time he stubbed his toe, he decided that he would need to sneak leathers into his room for such secret excursions as this; slippers were too painful.
Then even that trivial thought was pushed aside; he'd passed the last of the priest's houses and was entering the more modest dwellings of the line servers. There, flat, squat, and small, was the house that he sought.
Fire ebbed low in the room nearest him; Kerren's parents were also probably awake. A bad sign, this, but if he was very careful and quiet, he wouldn't attract their attention. His hand touched the dry, solid wood of the outer wall, and he began to creep along it.
He couldn't wait to see Kerren's face.
The shutters of Kerren's window were just within reach. Darin pushed at them experimentally. They were latched. No one was there to see his face fall in the shadows.
He frowned, pushed a little harder, and got the same results.
Lock picks. I need lock picks. Renar would have lock picks. Of course, he would also have a plan on the rare occasion that he was caught unprepared. I need a plan.
He sat down heavily beneath the closed window. His small brow furrowed as he put his face in his hands in an unconscious mimicry of his mother. He sat that way for a few minutes and then suddenly looked up. With a gleeful smile, he made his way back to the path and began to scrounge around for the rocks that had troubled his toes. It wasn't hard to find one, and in the darkness he didn't notice the dust and dirt that attached itself to his nightdress.
He scrambled around the house, stopped outside of Kerren's window, and launched the rock. It gave a loud, dull thud against the shutter and fell to the ground. After a few minutes of disgusted waiting, Darin picked the rock up again and gripped its rough edges firmly. He threw it, it hit, and it bounced.
Come on, Kerren — can you sleep through anything?
He bent to retrieve the rock again and dropped it suddenly as the creak of a shutter alerted him to the presence of his intended victim.
With an impish smile, he crouched beneath the window as the shutters passed outward over his upturned face.
"Hah!" Darin sprung up and grabbed the hand that Kerren was resting against the window frame. "Got you at last, vile fiend of the Empire!"
Kerren let out a shriek of surprise and pulled back.
"You idiot!" Darin hissed, his own shock grounding him suddenly in the real world.
"Is that you, Darin?" The words were faint and trembling, with just a hint of annoyance.
"Who else? Did you have to scream? Your parents'll probably be here any minute. Quick, give me hand up — I'll hide under the bed."
"What are you doing here?"
"Catching you — and paying you back for this afternoon."
"Cheat, nothing! You waited for the lesson bells on purpose!" Darin grabbed the window ledge firmly and tried to pull himself up. Unfortunately, his strength was matched well by his size, and he slid down again. "Now quick, help me up."
"I don't see why I should."
"Kerren?" A third voice entered the conversation, older and feminine.
"Dark Heart, Darin, look what you've done!" The smaller argument was forgotten as Kerren, larger and stronger, grabbed Darin's hands. "Hurry up!" He gave a hard yank, and Darin muffled a squeal as his chest was dragged across the window ledge.
"Quick, get under the bed!"
Darin nodded, gulped, and began to crawl along the floor. "Kerren?"
"It was nothing, Mother," Kerren shouted loudly. "I just — I had a nightmare, that's all. Go back to sleep, everything's fine. Really. Nothing's wrong."
You idiot, Darin thought; he had almost made the bed. You couldn't just keep quiet and act normal.
"Kerren." The door swung open. Kerren's mother stood framed by wood as she held a flickering lamp high. It shone down on the peppered length of her hair, bringing her cheeks and the lines around her mouth into gentle relief. "Just what is going on here?"
Darin would have had a hard time imagining the plump, friendly woman he knew so well wearing such a frown. He tried to make himself smaller as he looked at the distance between himself and the safety of the underside of Kerren's bed.
He wilted visibly as Kerren threw a guilty look in his direction. The light that suddenly flooded his back might have been magical given the effect that it had.
He got slowly to his feet as Helna approached him, swinging the lamp gently to and fro.
"Or should I have known?"
"Hi, Helna." Darin kept his voice as meek and friendly as possible.
"I should have known." She shook her head, the frown fading just a touch around the comers of her mouth. Darin knew he wasn't safe yet. "Do you have any idea what time it is, young man?"
"Yes, you do, Darin. You don't normally wear a nightdress early in the evening. And what's that you've got on your feet? Slippers?"
Why are you asking if you already know the answer? Darin thought. He was wise enough not to say it out loud, for though it was a perfectly reasonable question, it always had the worst possible effect on adults.
"And don't think," Helna said to her son as he sidled toward the wall, "that I've finished with you yet, either. Darin's a troublemaker, all right, but he's his mother's problem. I wish I could say the same of you."
Oh, great. Darin thought. Just what we need. Another one of them.
It was just one of those evenings. Jerrald rambled into view, wearing a night robe that his broad shoulders strained against. He was carpenter and blacksmith to the small enclave, but given his size, Darin was always certain that he'd have made a better warrior.
Helna turned to face her husband with a sigh. "More of the same."
He raised an eyebrow, which was difficult considering he only really had one dark line of hair across the upper ridge of his eyes. "Kerren, have you been troubling your poor mother?"
Kerren gazed awkwardly down at the ground. After a moment he murmured a word of assent and hung his head.
Helna looked at him. "Aye, that he has." Her lips gentled again, this time into a smile. "But not near as much as young Darin here's troubling his."
"Darin?" Jerrald's broad grin was much less reluctant than his wife's. "That'd explain a whole lot. What're you doing here at this time of night, boy?"
"Pretending to be Renar," Kerren said, with just a hint of spite in his voice.
Darin shot him a dirty look. "Was not. And anyway, I'm better at it than you."
"Yeah? Well, I didn't notice you escaping when the bells rang!"
"Well, if you had to learn anything, maybe you would've!"
"Boys!" Helna's voice rang out.
"Pretending to be Renar, eh?" Jerrald said. "Ah, well. Helna?"
She frowned. "Jerrald, I swear you're getting far too lenient in your old age. If Hanset had ever done anything like this, you'd have had him in stocks."
Jerrald shrugged ruefully. "Aye, lass. But maybe at that age, I was little more than a boy myself, and you little more than a slip of girl. Come, love. They're boys, they'll be what they are. And there's worse to imitate in the world than the thieving prince."
Kerren relaxed. When his father called his mother "lass," things usually went for the better.
Nor was tonight to be any exception. Helna shook her head, a soft blush warming the lines of her face. "Lass, is it?" Jerrald held out one arm, and she walked slowly into his embrace, her eyes on his face alone. "I swear, Jerrald, there's a reason why Kerren's more of a handful than any of the rest of his brothers or sisters."
"Maybe he has more of youth in him than we can remember." He kissed his wife gently on the forehead, then turned back to the boys. "But still, that doesn't mean you're to stay here, Darin. Your folks are like to worry."
The relief that Darin felt faded instantly when he thought of his own parents. They weren't likely to be nearly as forgiving or understanding. Then again, he might just be able to sneak past them and back to his room. After all, they couldn't worry over something they didn't know about.
He nodded. "Thank you, sir, ma'am."
He started to walk toward the window, and Jerrald's harrumph made him stop.
"The door, Darin."
"Oh." Darkness hid his blush as he made his way round Kerren's parents.
That was when the earth started to shake.
Darin reached for the door frame as Helna was thrown against her husband. He heard clearly her sharp exclamation as she endeavored to cling to the lamp; in a wooden house, accidents with flame could be fatal.
"Heart's blood!" Jerrald stormed to the window. "What was that?"
Kerren scurried over to his mother's still figure, and Darin found himself doing the same. Neither of them could see the window that Jerrald all but blocked; neither cared. Helna put an arm around her son's shoulder; both of them were shaking. Such sounds never came to the enclave, either by day or night. And the fact that it was night made it more ominous.
Silent, the three watched Jerrald's back as he pulled away from the window.
"Bright Heart," he said, each word so soft it barely carried at all. He could not tear his eyes away from the outside world.
"Jerrald? Jerrald, what is it?"
Kerren had never heard his mother's voice sound like that. "Dad," he whispered, "what's out there?"
"Fire." There was no comfort or warmth in the single word the large man uttered.
Darin could not even speak. Something was wrong; something worse than fire. He could feel it slicing into his skin — a cold, clear danger.
The screaming started, the high, thin sound streaming in the open window to shrill past even Jerrald's wide chest. The fire, if fire it was, crackled loudly. Darin was certain he heard thunder's voice, but it was close, too close.
Helna looked down at him, the lamp beginning to falter. She touched the deathly chill of his skin, and she paled herself. For Darin was of the lines, and the blood of the Bright Heart shuddered within him. Only now did she fully realize this.
"Bright Heart," she said, a dearth of hope in her voice.
Jerrald turned away from the window, blanching. He offered no explanation as he straightened out. "Quick now, Helna. We've got to leave — I think I see soldiers!'
She closed her eyes, shook herself, and nodded. "Get your boots, Kerren. Darin, you'll have to make do with what you're wearing. Darin!"
Shaking, he looked up to see a terrible knowledge writ large in the lines of her face. She shoved him out of the room; he felt Kerren jostle against him.
Jerrald squeezed past them in the narrow hall.
"Jerr, where are you going?"
The smith wheeled back to his wife. "Take the boys, lass," he murmured. His eyes were as flat as hers. "I've — I've things to do here."
She shook her head, dazed, and he kissed her once, fiercely. Her hands reached for the front of his night robe. "Jerrald ..."
He pressed one large finger against her near-white lips, and a smile touched the corner of his mouth. "The Bridge of the Beyond, dear heart. Go, and quickly."
Still she hesitated.
"Helna ..." He looked down at Kerren and Darin, both too confused and too frightened even to speak. "They need you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Children of the Blood"
Copyright © 1992 Michelle Sagara West.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I first found this book in 1992 when in Canada, and enjoyed it very much. It seems the series was not widely available back in the UK because I never found the follow on books, although I looked often.Recently the series has been republished and I filled in my gaps. This book is the best of the series I think, as the following two books could probably have been compressed into one. Still, well worth reading.