Two years ago Kiara was a young untried Battle Maid. In those days her goals were simple: become a battle-tested warrior and wed her foster-brother, Ciaran. Then the Goddess Danu gave Ciaran the quest to find the legendary Sunspear to keep it from falling into the hands of the Shadow. Kiara follows him and is set on a path binding her to a destiny not of her choosing. She soon learns that being a Psi?an capable of using the vast psionic powers of her inner mind is anything but simple. Her life and that of her beloved foster brother have changed drastically. Ciaran has become the Warrior of the Three Moons and she is the captive of the Dark God?s most powerful Ring Lord. She has to escape before he sets her Darksoul free her conscious mind, turning her into a servant of the Shadow. Her every action becomes focused on escape, but she is alone and surrounded by powerful men who plan to use her for their own dark purposes. One Ring Lord plans to Turn her to the Shadow and make her High Queen of the Éireanni Celts. Another wants to use her as bait to draw Ciaran into a trap. A chance meeting with a Scythian Prince in the City of Kiriath sets him plotting to kidnap her and make her his concubine. Unable to use her psionic powers, she is forced to negotiate the treacherous waters of intrigue using only her wit and skills as a warrior. The conspiracies of mortal men, however, are not the only threat she must confront. The Gods of Shadow become aware of her and her relationship to the Warrior of the Three Moons and send deadly Shadowelf assassins and Uru?ket Bloodwarriors to bring her to the Stone of Tears.
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THE FADED LAND
T'rissvar Ixil Mae'urdith let Criilh pick his way through the night-darkened woods, guided by wan moonlight filtering through the still leafless trees of early spring. Black as a cave at midnight, the huge tarugái moved deftly over the leafy carpet, his great cleft hooves barely disturbing the tightly curled fronds of giant male ferns pushing up through the forest floor. In another month the ground would be covered with the waist-high ferns that thrived in the gloom beneath the thick canopy.
"A good campsite would be welcome, Bowmother," he murmured, using the warrior's name for the Goddess Leraje. My rump thinks it is wedded to the saddle." Criilh added a plaintive whicker to his grumbling. He could open a portal to Kul' jaeden, the ancient Human ruin high in the Tyan Shan. The long ride, however, was part of his ritual of submerging the Shapeself of the Sebukar Skullwarrior Nurqat he used while in the Outland and calling forth his Trueself. Most Humans thought that Sebukar were a separate race and were unaware that they were only shapings used by Ælfír to disguise themselves when they were outside of the L'Tu'an.
From a physical standpoint the task was complete. The skull-faced, white-haired Sebukar warrior Shapeself, Nurqat was gone and in its place rode the Ælfíren Trueshape of T'rissvar Ixil Mae'urdith.
Tall, broad shouldered, with a narrow waist and gleaming obsidian colored hair framing an alabaster face with ruby red eyes, he was dressed in the dappled green and brown forest garb of a Clan Ixil Farstrider, but he was no simple scout. Pulling the hood of his cloak tight against the air's biting chill, the powerful Ælfíren Shadowstrider took a deep breath, lifted his face to the sky, and gave thanks to the Goddess Leraje Shadowbow for his safe return to the Land of the Heart, the L'Tu'an.
He had been in the Human lands for two long years and he needed time for his Trueself to emerge from the deep recesses of his mind before he entered the Ga'ith Hu' jerren, the deadly Game of Houses that was the bedrock of Ælfíren society. Only when he was fully and truly again T'rissvar Ixil Mae'urdith, consort, master assassin, father and Clan Ixil's Warmaster could he safely enter the L'Tu'an.
A short time later he found a large, dark pool of snow-melt fed by a small stream gurgling softly over a fall of rocks. The moist air smelled of growing things mingled with the pungent tang of cedar and pine. It was as good a place as any to make camp. The mating songs of hidden wood frogs and spring peepers that had quieted with his arrival started up again as he unsaddled Criilh and quickly brushed him down with handfuls of leaves and straw. "I will give you a better grooming when we reach Kul' jaeden," he promised. He was answered by a grunting whicker, the click of teeth by his ear, and a head butt that staggered him. It was the big warbeast's way of telling him the promise had better be kept.
Chuckling, he went to the packhorse, pulling the panniers off and removing the pack-saddle. He decided to forego setting up his tent to ensure a quick departure in the morning. Wrapping himself in his cloak, he fell asleep serenaded by frog-song to which rain frogs had added their deeper voices. It would be raining by morning.
As the frogs had predicted, he awoke with the patter of rain on his cloak and a distant rumble of thunder. Quickly loading the pack horse and saddling Criilh, he ate a cold breakfast of hard biscuit and dried venison as he rode. The skies looked as though they were going to open in a downpour as they often did this time of year. But before he was through eating, the sun was shining through the trees, dappling the forest floor in patterns of light and shadow. He kept his hood up as water spattered down from the newly-leaved trees at every breath of wind.
The birds were singing their morning songs as he rode out of his camp, but fell silent as he entered an ancient forest. He guided Criilh along what, at best, was a memory of a road, bordered by thick-trunked black oaks. Sapped by mistletoe, they crowded together, gnarled branches weaving a dense canopy that turned the day dark and primal. A thousand years of leaf-fall lay thick upon the forest floor, swallowing the foot-falls of horse and tarugái. He shivered. It was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows.
The wind had dried his clothing by mid-morning and, with his hood back, his horse-tail of glistening black hair blew lightly in the breeze. An hour later he crossed the invisible line where oak, birch, and maple gave way to the more open forests of hemlock, spruce and pine of the high mountains.
Ahead the road plunged over the brink of a hill, and he was soon working his way down the steep slope to a tumbled-down bridge crossing a boisterous mountain stream. He paused on the bank and studied the decrepit structure with opaque, ruby-red eyes set in an ethereally handsome alabaster face framed by obsidian black hair. He was tempted to open a mind-gate to the other side, but driven by his desire to remain unnoticed by anyone who could detect his use of the Psi, he decided against it.
"Over we go, lad," he said, patting his war beast's neck, and urging him onto the cracked, pitted roadway. Criilh turned his head, gave his rider a disbelieving look from a red pupiless eye voiced his objection to setting foot on the rickety bridge with a deep whicker. "So you think I am foolish to risk using the bridge, eh?" Light glinted off the steel sheathing the tip of Criilh's two-span unicorn-like horn as he tossed his head in an affirmative motion and whickered again.
"Objection noted, but the sooner we reach Kul' jaeden, the sooner you will get a proper currying." His heels thudded into Criilh's sides again and this time the warbeast did not balk. "I told you it was safe," he said smugly when they were safely across.
After the bridge crossing, the remainder of the journey was boringly uneventful. It was well past mid-afternoon when he realized that the forest was thinning. Another hour's ride brought him to the edge of a broad plain too large to be called a meadow. The road no longer twisted and turned, but ran straight to Kul' jaeden's gray ruins as though anxious to reach its end. A Human stronghold built to watch the Shadow realm after the Godwars; it had met a violent end in the Skull Wars three thousand years ago. Now its towers rose jagged and uneven, like broken sticks, from shattered battlements.
He left the road, riding through knee-high grass to the edge of a sheer-walled massif. For a few moments, he let his gaze wander over the land below. Mist was already beginning to gather in the valleys running down to the great marshland of the Naga-ur. A warm wind touched his face as he looked out over vast forests broken here and there by verdant meadows of rich green, colored with bright splashes of red foxfire, blue flax and golden strawflower. Born over the Lake of Shadows, shimmering in the distance, the wind swept over the Naga-ur and up the long green knees of the Hills of Kuzahn Shem bringing with it the life giving warmth of summer.
Beyond the marsh, far out in the Lake of Shadows, the column of smoke and ash that marked Shadow Mount rose into the sky. Beneath it the hazy outline of Núrh Serágh, the grim island that was home to Harod Sheól, City of Darkness was just visible. The L'Tu'an, and home lay behind a line of storms in the northeast. Immense fortresses of cloud, with lightning flickering in dark rain-laden bellies, marched inexorably toward him.
I will be spending the night with Kul' jaeden's ghosts whether I will it or not. He frowned at the thought. He was not pleased with having to spend the night in the forbidding ruins, but only a fool would get caught in one of the violent storms created by the Goddess Leraje and Her consort, Vuall Hammerer, with nothing but a thin-walled tent for protection. He turned Criilh from the cliff and heeled him into a trot toward the grim ruins. He had chores to complete if he was going to sleep warm and have a hot meal before the storms arrived.
Slowing to a walk, he rode across a stone bridge and through the broken gates. The tumbled walls of the ancient ruins stretched upward, basking in the setting sun's golden light. In spite of the chill in the air, the walls were warm, their stone surfaces, worn smooth from centuries of wind and rain, radiated a faint heat. Overgrown grasses hugged the gatehouse's stone feet while early blooming dandelions and cornflowers nodded in the gentle breeze. Weeds and tufts of coarse grass sprouted from every crack in the roadway, and shards of stone crunched beneath Criilh's steel-shod hooves.
Distant thunder rumbled ominously as he came out of the inner gate into Kul' jaeden's vast interior. The hackles on his neck rose suddenly and it had nothing to do with the cold air. The land had become still, watchful. Even the wind ceased its whispering, leaving only the muted thunder of the distant storms to break the silence. Unease crept into him. He expanded his senses into the ruins and deep into the brooding forest, searching for unshielded surface thoughts of Trollien or, more importantly, the presence of other Ælfíren. The only creatures he found close-by, however, were small animals, birds and a distant foraging bear.
"You jump at nothing." He snorted softly, gazing around the fortresses interior. Where companies of warriors had once formed and paraded and gone to war, pine, spruce, and hemlock now pushed up the stones. Bracken-choked doorways yawned darkly, and mountain sumac and blackberry climbed roofless walls. In places where the massive curtain wall had been breached, mounds of rubble rose like small hills. The even more colossal walls of the inner Keep were intact, but the gatehouse was a tumbled-down ruin.
Kul' jaeden had been a major fortress manned by a large garrison. Unglamorous and thick-walled, the barracks, warriors' hall, kitchens, and stables were enormous, gray stone buildings built to survive the harsh winters of the high mountains. The barracks where ten thousand warriors had slept, and the kitchens that had fed them, were roofless shells, with darkened doors and windows. All that remained of the warriors' hall was a pile of stone. He knew from past visits that the great octagonal Keep and the buildings in its inner court were in better condition, but he chose to stay in the smithy.
"Too many ghosts in the Keep for our liking, eh lad?" he said to Criilh, who tossed his head and rumbled a deep whicker. "Aye, I agree. Being closer to the gate is better."
Dismounting, he led them into the smithy. Its slate roof was intact, but there was nothing left of the door, not even the metal hinges. In the gloom he saw the forge's huge firebrick furnace with its firepot and long hearth for forging swords. Nothing was left of the bellows and tuyere used to provide air to the furnace. Two large anvils sat a few spans from the forge, along with stone slack-tubs used by the smiths to quench hot metal. Little remained of tools and other implements used by the blacksmiths when the fortress had been overrun by an army of Humans and Trollien led by the Ring Lord Gámeth Sul.
Surprisingly, there was still some charcoal and coke in the storage bins. He preferred to cook with wood, but it would do until he could lay-in enough wood to last the week that he would be here.
He cleaned off a stone work table built into one wall and then unsaddled Criilh, placing it and his saddle bags on the table. Going to the packhorse, he removed the panniers and put them and the packsaddle beside the rest of his tack.
Taking the stiff-bristled currying brush from his saddlebag, he began grooming Criilh, who sighed and rumbled contentedly. His back was aching by the time he finished brushing the mare. Having kept his promise, it was time to take care of his own needs, the main one being a hot meal of fresh-killed meat. He pulled his sling and a pack of river stones from his saddlebags. He led the two animals back out into the meadow to graze. After instructing Criilh to watch over the mare, he set off in search of his dinner.
Gray twilight was fading into night by the time he had two plump hares skinned, spitted and dripping savory juices into the coals glowing in the ancient forge. The sound of Criil and the mare contentedly munching the oats in their feedbags reminded him of his own hunger. Taking one of the spits from over the fire, he went outside to eat and listen to the storm's rumbling approach. Leaning back against the smithy's wall, he sliced a piece from the hare and blew on it to cool it before popping it into his mouth. As he ate, he luxuriated in the solitude of not having another sentient being within a hundred leagues.
A frown furrowed his brow. Solitude and peace would become nonexistent, of course, when he returned to Tuan Ixil and the Hold of Phaerhys Ixil Mae'urdith, his wife and High Matriarch of Clan Ixil. Tall and lithe, Phaerhys marched unbidden into his mind. Desire's smoldering embers, stoked by his two-year absence, burst into flame at the thought of their impending love-making. He longed to caress her flawless alabaster skin, not the stark white of new snow but a warm, rich cream. Her face, with its fine straight nose, wide-set almond shape eyes the color of the purest rubies, and delicate lipped mouth framed by silky midnight-black hair would make Bowmother jealous.
Did you miss me, Wife? He shrugged. I doubt it. Just as I have no doubt that Alurrh-dril, Dur-afae, and Vierz-ar occupied your bed and tried to undermine my power. It would do them no good of course. Phaerhys would not let their plotting against him succeed, especially since it was his plan and its execution that had enabled her to depose High Matriarch Naz'dri Ixil Arath'mtor and become the ninth High Matriarch of Clan Ixil, thus elevating House Mae-urdith to First House.
He briefly wondered which of the Hall First Matrons had ascended to the Jhaelreth Mir Sept Matriarch's chair after Phaerhys' virtually bloodless coup had made her High Matriarch. He had departed on his quest into Outre'mirh before the turbulence created by High Noble House Mae'urdith's seizure of Clan Ixil's High Matriarchy had quieted.
His latest venture into the Outland had been to find and take possession of the Sunspear, a mythical weapon forged by the Elven Smith God, Goivmáel, during the War of the Gods. Th at he had received the quest directly from Goliath Jal'ilhar Do'virrh, Arch Matriarch of the Ælfíren people, had made no difference to Phaerhys. He stared at the darkening sky but did not see it as the memories of their parting two years ago played before his mind's eye.
He knelt in the center of the golden pentagram inscribed in the polished black tile floor, watching Phaerhys pace around the Presence Chamber like one of the great white panthers of the high mountains. She never wore a robe or long dress as was proper for a Clan High Matriarch. As always, she was dressed in tunic and trousers, sleek, tight, and black. A thin-bladed sword hung at her hip instead of a whip, another divergence from the norm.
The chamber was usually filled with plush furnishings, but this was a penitent's session. The only furniture was a single high-backed chair placed before the pentagram. There would be no punishment or penance. This was merely her way of telling him she was displeased with him.
"How dare Goliath send you Outre'mirh?" Phaerhys voice crackled with anger.
"She dares because she is Arch Matriarch," T'rissvar said in a deep, calm voice that belied his submissive posture. It was dangerous being Warmaster to a woman as beautiful as Phaerhys, with her long hair worn free and hanging down to her waist, and those large, almond-shaped eyes that could make a man forget how very dangerous she was, especially when they sparkled with anger as they did now.
"You should be pleased at the respect she showed House Mae-urdith. She sent four Shadowstriders and a file of Bladereaves to fetch me."
That brought a loud sniff. "And you agreed to go with them like ... like a leashed reavehound."
"I am superior to most Shadowstriders, and few can rival my skill with a kindjhal, but even I cannot be expected to overcome that many blades." He gave her a haughty smile. "Better to treat them as an escort of honor and go on my two feet than to be beaten senseless and carried to the Arch Matriarch tied to a carrying pole like a runaway thrall."
"It is Goliath's way of weakening me before I am secure in my ascension to High Matriarch. I need you here, not tramping around the Outlands." She paused in her pacing and jabbed a finger at him. "Do you think I was the only Sept Matriarch to have aspirations to overthrow Naz'dri? You should have refused."
Excerpted from "Daughter of the Spear"
Copyright © 2017 J. Michael Robertson.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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 The Faded Land, 1,
Chapter 2 A Trivial Task, 25,
Chapter 3 Reprieve, 49,
Chapter 4 An Unexpected Offer, 69,
Chapter 5 Hurried Plans, 91,
Chapter 6 A Few Pieces Of Gold, 117,
Chapter 7 The Sea Wraith, 145,
Chapter 8 Corsair Dawn, 169,
Chapter 9 Shield Covenant, 193,
Chapter 10 To Bury An Axe, 215,
Chapter 11 Plans Within Plans, 237,
Chapter 12 Night Of The Faceless, 261,
Chapter 13 A Woman's Place, 283,
Chapter 14 War Is Coming, 305,
Chapter 15 Hel's Quarry, 333,
Chapter 16 The Cimmerians, 349,
Chapter 17 Are You Saer'en?, 371,
Chapter 18 A Night In Vorke's Rift, 389,
Chapter 19 The Hunt, 411,
Chapter 20 Disguised Minds, 437,
Chapter 21 The Children Of Hel, 457,
Chapter 22 Circles Within Circles, 477,
Chapter 23 Shadows In The Mist, 499,
Chapter 24 The Blades Of Midnight, 523,
Chapter 25 The Runes Of Destiny, 549,
Characters in Daughter of the Spear, 615,
Translations from the Ælfíren Tongue, 649,
Translations from the Elfárhiin Tongue, 649,
Translations from the God Tongue, 650,