Magic, danger, and adventure abound for messenger Karigan G'ladheon in the sixth book in Kristen Britain's New York Times-bestselling Green Rider epic fantasy series.
Zachary Davriel Hillander, High King of Sacoridia, rues how much he has had to give up to lead his realm, including the freedom to live and love as he chooses. When an embassy from Eletia arrives to propose a joint venture between their realms to seek out an old ally in the north, he is dismayed to learn that the one Sacoridian they have in mind to accompany their guide is the woman he truly loves but cannot have: Green Rider Karigan G’ladheon.
Karigan has only just returned from a dark future where Sacoridia has been conquered and is ruled by a despotic emperor, and she has not recovered in heart or mind. As if that is not enough, the castle ghosts won’t leave her alone. Though Zachary is loath to part from her so soon after her return, he knows she is the best choice to undertake the mission to the north.
Each step on their journey places Karigan and her companions closer to enemy territory and danger, for northward lie the forces of Second Empire, Sacoridia’s longtime foe, and Grandmother, the necromantic leader of Second Empire, has not been idle. She uses her magic to summon a wild elemental spirit to wreak havoc upon Zachary and his wife, Queen Estora.
At first the Sacoridians succeed in fending off the creature, but it so covets Estora that it can’t stay away. It abducts Zachary, assuming his form and his place at Estora’s side—but when it is finally ousted, Zachary is still missing. Estora, alone and heavy with twins, must prepare her realm for the coming conflict from the confines of her bedchamber.
Meanwhile, the danger only deepens for Karigan and her companions as they journey north. When she finds herself caught in the midst of a clash between forces, Karigan must rescue and protect her king before she falls into a trap set by Grandmother—a trap that could give Second Empire the power to control the dead and all the demons of the hells.
About the Author
Kristen Britain is the author of the New York Times bestselling Green Rider series. Deep within the spruce-fir forest of coastal Maine, down a rambling mossy vale, and far beneath the inkwell of the sky, you will find her woodland home, where she crafts her tales and consorts with a pair of furry, tuft-eared sprites.
Read an Excerpt
“I know you can do it.” Mara placed her hands on Karigan’s shoulders and squeezed.
“You survived Blackveil and Mornhavon the Black. You’ve even been through time!”
“I don’t know . . .” Karigan glanced uncertainly toward the open doors of the throne room. The guards posted there watched her with interest.
“I know.” Mara turned her around and marched her toward the entrance.
This had to happen sooner or later, Karigan thought, but still she resisted. Mara just pushed harder until they stood on the threshold.
“Now be a good Green Rider and go on in there,” Mara said.
“Easy for you to say. Aren’t you coming?”
“Heavens no! You couldn’t drag me.”
“Coward.” Karigan knew her friend meant well, but a little more support would not have been asking too much.
Mara simply smiled and gave her a gentle push. Karigan took a shaky breath and stepped across the threshold into the throne room.
“KARIGAN HELGADORF G’LADHEON!”
It thundered like a pronouncement of doom from the gods, and she pivoted as if to run back the way she had come, but Mara, arms crossed and shaking her head, blocked her escape.
“Helgadorf?” asked an amused voice. King Zachary.
Karigan winced, and warmth crept into her cheeks. Mara grinned at her.
“Named after her great grand aunt, Your Majesty,” came a crusty reply. “A prickly old banshee no one particularly liked. Why Stevic would name her after—”
“Brini!” came a sharp warning.
Karigan slowly turned back around. There arrayed before the king’s throne, with a frazzled-looking Captain Mapstone in their midst, were her aunts, all four of them, and standing aloof just off to the side, her father. When Mara had informed her of their arrival, she’d been caught off guard, for they’d sent no forewarning, and it was winter, when travel was difficult. Karigan, still struggling to adjust to ordinary life after her all-too-recent adventures, coupled with the accompanying darkness and sorrow, now faced a huge dose of “ordinary” in the form of her family, and it threatened to overwhelm her.
Her aunts could exasperate even the stoutest of souls at the best of times, and she was so very tired . . .
“Helgadorf was more a leader than anyone else on Black Island during her day,” Aunt Stace said with a sniff. “She organized the island to repel pirates and raids from the Under Kingdoms.”
“She was still a banshee,” Aunt Brini muttered, and then whispered loud enough for all to hear, “and she still is.”
Great Grand Aunt Helgadorf had been dead for forty years.
Ignoring her sister, Aunt Stace, with her hands on her hips, said, “Don’t just stand there like a post without a fence, Kari girl, come here.”
Karigan glanced over her shoulder. Mara had not lingered to witness the reunion. She considered making a run for it, but doing so would only prolong the inevitable. Best to face them now. She took a deep breath and started walking slowly down the runner like a swimmer reluctant to dive into icy water. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see her family— she loved them more than anything— but she didn’t want to face their questions about the expedition into Blackveil, about how she’d gone missing and was presumed dead. She didn’t want to speak of the future and her experiences there because to do so was to relive the dark. And her memories of Cade? Those were hers, and hers alone, and not a casual topic of conversation. Knowing her aunts, however, they would pick and pry until they stripped the carcass to the bone.
When she had written them after her return just over a month ago, she’d been characteristically terse, reassuring them she was alive and well, but avoiding the painful details. Captain Mapstone had also written her father, but she had no idea what had been said. Her aunts’ questions would come, she knew, from a place of love and concern, but she was not ready or willing to encourage them with additional fodder.
And then there was the subject of her eye, about which she had said nothing, and about which they were bound to make an issue. She touched the leather patch that covered it, her right eye, and took another determined breath and picked up her pace. When she reached her aunts, they swarmed her with crushing hugs and kisses and complaints.
“You are too skinny!”
“We were told you were dead!”
“Thank the gods you came back to us.”
Aunt Gretta stared at her critically, her head canted to the side. “What is wrong with your eye?”
“Got something in it, is all,” Karigan replied.
“Let me see.” Aunt Gretta reached for her eyepatch.
“No!” Karigan backed away.
“I just want to see what’s wrong with your eye,” Aunt Gretta said in a stung voice.
Karigan covered it with her hand. “No.”
“Removing the patch,” Captain Mapstone said, “causes her eye pain.”
That was very true, but it was so much more than that.
Because the captain had spoken up, all four aunts now turned on her demanding explanations. The captain must have known this would happen, and Karigan made a mental note to thank her at the next opportunity.
Her father, who had stood remote, used the distraction to finally reach for her, his arms wide open. She stepped into his embrace and hugged him hard. “We had to come and see you,” he murmured. “Nothing could stop us. We thought we had lost you.”
“I know,” she said, “but I came back. I am too stubborn to be lost. Stubborn, like you.”
When they parted, he rubbed his eyes. Karigan stared, astonished. Had she ever seen him cry before? He took a rattling breath and collected himself. “I would like the complete story of what happened to you. The captain,” and now his voice tightened, “was vague on the subject, and your letter was, shall we say, rather lacking?”
At that moment, a hand rested on her sleeve. Startled, she looked up. The king. He had descended from his throne chair and approached from her blind side. She’d never get used to the loss of her peripheral vision in that eye.
“Your Majesty,” she said a little breathlessly. She looked down, unable to meet his gaze, for it held so much that remained unresolved between them.
“I believe your captain requires rescuing.”
She glanced at her besieged captain. All four aunts were still chivvying her about Karigan’s appearance, and didn’t she take better care of the people under her command? Thankfully, Karigan thought, they could not see her other scars, those of the flesh hidden by her uniform, as well as the invisible wounds within.
“Enough,” she told them firmly. “Captain Mapstone is not to blame for anything.” When this failed to quell their outrage, she added, “And do not forget you are in the king’s presence.”
That silenced them, and quite suddenly they each looked ashamed and started curtsying to the king and uttering chastened apologies. Captain Mapstone simply looked relieved.
“Sir Karigan,” the king said, “We are releasing you from duty so you may spend a couple days with your family. We hope you will be able to satisfy their curiosity about your most recent exploits. And to your family, We say, know that Sir Karigan has Our highest esteem. She has served this realm well and courageously time and again. She should receive no reproach from her closest kin, only praise and honor.”
Karigan stared at him in surprise. First, he had used the royal “we,” which she had rarely, if ever, heard from him. Then there was the rest of his speech. Her aunts looked astonished and her father very proud. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t known the king regarded her highly; he had knighted her, after all, but it must have made more of an impression on them coming directly from his mouth. It certainly impressed Karigan.
Her father bowed. “Thank you, sire. I have always considered my daughter exceptional, and it pleases me she has served Your Majesty well. But we have been enough of a distraction to you, as you must have important matters of state to attend to.”
As if his words had been prescient, there was a brief commotion at the throne room entrance, and a moment later, Neff, the herald, bolted down the length of the room and bowed before the king. “Your Majesty, visitors from—”
He didn’t have to complete his sentence for them to know where the visitors were from. Three of them, cloaked in shimmering gray against the winter, entered the throne room. The dim afternoon light seemed to stretch through the tall windows for the singular purpose of brightening their presence. The trio glided down the runner with long, matched strides. Not too fast, not too slow.
Aunt Tory tugged on Karigan’s sleeve. “Child, are those Elt? Real Elt?”
“Very real,” she murmured on an exhalation. A sense of familiarity washed over her. Not as if she had experienced this scene before, but more as if there were a rightness to it, like a thread of time that had been realigned.
Also, because the Eletian leading his two companions was well known to her.
He halted before her and nodded. “Galadheon.”
Aunt Brini loudly whispered, “Why does he say our name like that?”
Karigan did not answer. Unable to restrain herself, she hugged Lhean. She had never hugged an Eletian before, and he stiffened in surprise, then relaxed and hugged her back, if tentatively. He smelled of the winter wind and fresh snow. They had been through much together, the two of them, first the journey into Blackveil, then being thrust into the future. He was Karigan’s only living link to what had befallen her in the future, the only one, besides herself, who had known what it was really like there.
He studied her for a timeless moment, and what went on behind his clear blue eyes, she could not say. Eletians, their behaviors and expressions, were not always easy to interpret. Then he nodded to himself as if satisfied by his observation of her. “It is good to see you again.”
He swiftly turned from her, and he and his companions bowed to King Zachary. The others were familiar to Karigan, as well. She had briefly met Enver and Idris upon her return from the future to the present.
Karigan’s aunts watched the scene in wide-eyed enchantment. Her father, however, glowered. Karigan knew he distrusted all things magical, and Eletians embodied magic as no other beings did. She was sure he also resented them for any questionable influence they’d had over his late wife and daughter.
“We bring you greetings, Firebrand,” Lhean told the king, “from our prince, Ari-matiel Jametari.”
King Zachary stepped up to the dais and sat once more upon his throne chair. “And to what honor do I owe his greetings, brought in the midst of winter?”
Karigan knew she should be escorting her family out of the throne room so the king could conduct his business without an audience, but she couldn’t help herself. A visit by Eletians was momentous, and besides, it was Lhean! What, she wondered, would he tell King Zachary?
His answer, however, was delayed, delayed by the arrival of yet another unexpected visitor.