Fortune's Blight by Evie Manieri continues the conflict begun in Blood's Pride. Victory for the Shadari rebels has come at a terrible price. Hardship, superstition, and petty feuds poison King Daryan's young reign, and entire families are vanishing without a trace. Help is nowhere to be found, for their Nomas allies have troubles of their own and the Mongrel, plagued by the sins of her violent past, has disappeared.
While Daryan struggles to maintain the peace, Eofar and Rho are racing to their northern homeland to plead—or fight—for the Shadar's independence. But Norland has changed, and they soon find themselves embroiled in the court politics of an empire about to implode.
Meanwhile, the Mongrel's path carries her deep into Norland's frozen wastes to redeem a promise—one that forces her into the heart of the growing conflict.
As the foundations of the two far-flung countries begin to crack, an enigmatic figure watches from a tower room in Ravindal Castle. She is old, and a prisoner, but her reach is long, and her patience is about to be rewarded....
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About the Author
EVIE MANIERI has a degree in Medieval History and Theatre from Wesleyan University. Blood's Pride was her first novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.
EVIE MANIERI has a degree in Medieval History and Theatre from Wesleyan University and is the author of Blood's Pride. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.
Read an Excerpt
Shattered Kingdoms Book II
By Evie Manieri
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Evie Manieri
All rights reserved.
Lahlil sat on the carpet beside her nephew's cradle, waiting and willing something to happen. The light filtering in through the sailcloth tent had faded down to nothing and the hush of twilight had replaced the noises of the Nomas camp outside, but she hadn't yet lit the lamp. Oshi looked up at the ceiling of the tent with his round silver-blue eyes shining faintly in the darkness, indifferent to her presence. She reached into the driftwood cradle to adjust a fold of his swaddling and accidentally set the finely balanced vessel rocking. The clinking noise of the little suns and moons dangling over it drifted through the tent. A dozen versions of herself winked back at her from the twisting medallions, illuminated by the pale gray glow of her skin: the smooth oval eye-patch, the nicks and tiny scars, the jagged line pulling up her lips at one corner.
At least the sleeve of her Nomas sailor's blouse hid the scaly pink scars that ran over her left forearm—scars nearly as old as she was herself.
Let all so afflicted be numbered among the damned.
For three months she had been waiting, holding on to the elixir's promise that somehow Oshi was going to take all of her broken pieces and put them back together, but here she was at the end of another monotonous day, and still nothing—nothing—had changed.
A feeling like tiny needles jabbed her behind the eyes as Oshi wriggled in his cradle: he was just about to cry. He owed his Norlander ability to communicate without making any noise to his father, Lahlil's brother Eofar, and got the vocalized crying from his Shadari mother, Harotha. She lifted Oshi up against her shoulder, patting his back to calm him before his upset could turn into shrill, nerve-shredding wails. She felt him trying to lift his head—he could still only just manage it—and his soft hair brushed against her ear as she started off in the well-worn circuit around the tent. On the tidy side were Oshi's little things, the washbasin, the low chair on rockers that Callia had demanded she get, and the cold lamp hanging from its sun-emblazoned stand, while her side of the tent still bore the hallmarks of her seizures: bedlinen in a tangled heap, table knocked onto its side, shards from a broken cup sticking up from the carpet. She paused for a moment by the door and looked down at her over-full pack, weighed down by all of the supplies she and Oshi were going to need for their journey—everything except for the medicine she needed to withstand the attacks that came on her every day at dawn and dusk. Without something to at least keep her alert and breathing, she would be putting Oshi's safety at risk.
She couldn't deny that her fits were getting worse, any more than she could deny the bits of pottery crunching under the soles of her boots or the cuts on her hastily bandaged hand. Sunset had only just passed and she was already dreading tomorrow's dawn. She had come back to the Nomas caravan with the thin hope that her return would somehow placate the two different gods to whom she had accidentally been consecrated. Instead, Shof, the sun god worshipped by the men of the Nomas caravans, and Amai, the moon goddess worshipped by their seafaring women, had pushed their claims on her further and further. They were quarreling over her like two children wrestling over a rag-doll until it was spoiled past wanting.
She might have appealed to her own Norlander gods for protection, if they had not decided to make her a plaything of their own for having the affront to go on living with the scars that should have mandated her expulsion and death. She had gambled on the constant movement of the caravan to keep those cold gods from catching up with her, even while knowing, like all gamblers, that losing became more certain the longer she played. She was quite sure Onfar and Onraka enjoyed twisting her life into knots too much to stop the game now.
She made her way back to the cradle and set Oshi down, pulling her hands out from underneath him only when she felt him slide down into a deep sleep. Then she knelt down next to the cradle and drew out the parchment from her shirt pocket. The crack along the fold would split soon; the crumbling edge had already nibbled at the fading ink. She didn't need any light to read it. She knew the text by heart.
Let all so afflicted be numbered among the damned.
She traced her finger along the edge of the watery blue stain darkening the corner.
Let them not remain among you, for they will be your destruction; let them be stripped of their garments and set out in the wilderness, for by these marks on their flesh, their twisted limbs, the corruption issuing from them, our brother Valrig has claimed them and will have dominion over them. He will bring them to his hall of Valrigdal in the deep forbidden places, and they shall be his Army of the Cursed. Then be ready against the day they will rise up and strike at the Righteous. On that day let a Hero be prepared with the sword we have given you, to subdue them, lest they corrupt all that is pure in this land.
Her mother had taught her to read from The Book of the Hall. Lahlil had drawn chalk maps on the floor of her hidden room and reenacted the battle poems with her toys. She had read the story of Lady Onraka breathing life into the twelve genderless progenitors after Lord Onfar, her brother, had fashioned them out of snow. She had imagined the blood of her own progenitor, Eotan, spilling from his wounds as he battled ice-trolls and sea monsters, and every drop springing to life as the first warriors of the Eotan clan. She had pored over the stories of Lady Onraka outwitting Haggah the she-wolf, and Lord Onfar wrestling the last leviathan out of the black sea.
The sound of clinking bracelets came tinkling through the tent wall.
Yet as Lord Onfar is merciful, and as Lady Onraka is just, if the afflicted be found worthy, so their wounds shall be healed and their steps guided back to the fires of their clan. For by this sign, they are to be embraced without prejudice. Then let the wine be abundant and the rejoicing long and full of praise for the gods and the progenitors. Let the clan make rich sacrifice from the hunted beasts, and all of that fellowship partake in the burned flesh.
The tent wall behind her rustled as someone lifted the flap. She folded up the parchment and put it back in her pocket.
"Why is it so dark in here?" asked Callia, wiping her feet on the rug and shaking out the wet, sandy hem of her pink dress.
"No he isn't."
Lahlil got up and lit the lamp. As the wick caught, Callia's dark eyes swept over the mess. She made her way over to the cradle, her great round belly sailing before her, leaving streamers of scent in her wake.
"He's hungry. If a Nomas like me can feel that from halfway across this marsh, a Norlander like you can certainly feel it sitting right next to him." Oshi began to cry again as he sensed the proximity of his next meal and Callia scooped the baby out of the cradle with a smooth competence that Lahlil could never emulate.
"He was asleep. You woke him up," said Lahlil.
"Crying babies," said Callia as she settled him on her shoulder, "an army of them. That's what I'd send against you in battle, not soldiers. Quickest retreat in history." The impending Queen of the Nomas made some ridiculous clucking noises as she settled down in her rocking chair to nurse. "You didn't give him that goat's milk again, did you? If my milk's good enough for the son of a god, it ought to be good enough for this little sprat."
Lahlil started picking up the pieces of broken pottery and tossing them into the rubbish sack. "Idrian women don't nurse when they're pregnant. They say it makes the baby come early."
"Good thing I'm not from Idria, then," Callia said tartly. "Mairi told you to tell me that—don't bother denying it, I know her meddling ways right enough. I've had just about enough of that potion-pusher and her bad temper and the way she fusses over everything. No one asked her to leave the Dawn Gazer to look after me. You'd think I hauled her ashore like she was the catch of the day, the way she complains about being here. But this is Shof's baby in my belly and if a god can't see his own son into this world in one piece then we ought to chuck him overboard and catch ourselves a better one."
The material pulled tight over Callia's belly rippled as her baby rolled over; perhaps the little demi-god was jealous of another child stealing his mother's milk. Lahlil sometimes wondered exactly how Shof went about fathering the Nomas kings, but only the women chosen by the goddess Amai as her proxies had that knowledge and Nomas' tact kept anyone else from inquiring. Jachad had come into this world in the same way, though Callia and his mother, Queen Nisha, could not have been less alike.
"Where are you going?" asked the girl.
Lahlil had only just picked up her cloak. "Jachad's, to look at the maps."
"Oh," said Callia, packing a whole trunk-load of insinuations into the syllable. Lahlil knew better than to respond; it only encouraged her. "When was the last time you changed that shirt?"
Lahlil looked down at the soft gray linen, a gift from Nisha herself before she sailed for Norland on the Argent. A spot or two she hadn't noticed before stared back up at her. "I don't remember."
Callia sighed and shook her head, her big gold earrings flashing in the lamplight. "You do it on purpose, don't you, just to torment me?"
"No one asked you to leave the Dawn Gazer either." Lahlil pulled the cowl up over her head and adjusted it to make sure it concealed her face.
"And live with the smell of fish all night and all day? Not hardly. I could stand it before, but now ..." She sniffed the air scented with her perfume, then stuck out her pink little tongue. "Anyway, you couldn't cope without me. You've been too used to getting your own way, that's your problem. You need someone to tell you what's what. Admit it."
"Next time I need a vain little chit to talk my ear off, I'll come find you."
"Lahlil Eotan!" Callia cried in mock astonishment. "Do I have water in my ears, or did you just make a joke? Be careful not to hurt yourself, now. Start slow. I have a few limericks I can teach you when you get back."
Lahlil turned back for a last look at the baby. Every time she left him she was afraid she would miss the moment—like a highwayman bending down to take a stone from his shoe while a fat merchant rides right by him. As she ducked out of the tent, she heard Callia serenading the suckling infant with one of the most brazen limericks she had ever heard.
She walked through a stand of squat trees toward the heart of the camp. The lights of the tiny town of Wastewater twinkled in the middle distance and she remembered old King Tobias telling her that Wastewater was the kind of place where retired purse-snatchers and cutthroats came to die of boredom. Inside the tents, the men of Jachad's caravan were sitting down to their evening meal with their children, brothers, fathers and friends, their shapes moving across the canvas like a shadowplay as she passed. Plates and cups rattled; someone plucked the strings of a harp.
A shriek cut through the background hum and a little girl in a striped robe darted out from a patch of tall grass with four or five other children in hot pursuit. She was smaller than they were but faster, moving over the sandy ground as smoothly as a snake. Lahlil tracked their procession until they blundered into one of the shallow pools right in front of her and splashed her with water.
The children froze, and the hectic rise and fall of their little chests reminded her of a family of mice after the box under which they'd been hiding had been whisked away.
"Sorry," squeaked one of the boys.
She went around them and continued on her way.
"Where's your sword?" asked the same boy.
"In my tent."
One of the girls asked, "Why did you leave it there?"
"I don't need it right now."
They were trailing behind her now, taking courage from each other. She picked up her pace.
"Besides, anyone from Wastewater would know she wasn't one of us if they saw her with it," said another boy. "Did you really kill the striders? All of them?"
"But they weren't hurting anybody, were they?"
"The emperor wanted the striders to work for him." She stopped next to a tree blotched with dry yellow moss and turned to the children. They shrank back, shifting closer together. "The striders said no."
"Why didn't they just stride away?" asked the girl in the striped robe.
Before she could come up with an answer, one of the other children grabbed the girl's arm and whispered, "Triss, your dad's coming."
"Triss!" Behr the wagon-master called as he hurried up the path with his robe hitched up and displaying a pair of knobby ankles. "What are you all doing here? Go and wash your feet and get ready for bed. Come on, now, get going."
The little huddle broke apart and Triss trudged off with her head lowered, but Lahlil didn't see much penitence in her expression.
"Sorry if they were bothering you," said Behr. "They're just curious."
"Forget it," said Lahlil. She started off through the trees, then a memory of Behr as a strong, wiry-haired boy with gentle eyes and a shy smile made her turn back around. "She looks like you."
The shy smile returned and he mumbled some awkward acknowledgment before jogging after his daughter and putting his arm around her slender shoulders.
Mairi, the only other grown woman in the caravan besides her and Callia, had wedged her tent on a ridge between two trees. An untended fire smoldered in front of it, and a band of lamplight marked out the tent flap in the deepening gloom. Mairi glanced up as she entered, then immediately returned to the task of scraping the skin from a gnarled purple root into a bowl.
"Why are you here? Isn't it time for your thingummy? Your fit?"
"The sun is down. My seizure is over."
"Move out of my light." The healer waved her into a corner while she measured water into the bowl, counting each drop under her breath.
Lahlil pulled back her cowl and stepped away from the lamp, but she couldn't move any further because of the collection of things from Mairi's cabin aboard the Dawn Gazer: clay pots, wooden bowls, gourds made into bottles, dippers and mortars sat on every flat surface. Casks of wood bound with iron bands were pushed almost to the tent walls, and garlands of dried plants hung from the supports or sat heaped in baskets. Lahlil nearly upset a shiny clay vessel in which a thick, oily sludge was reducing over the flame of an unshielded candle. As she watched, a heavy bubble glugged up to the surface and burst with an odor so foul it made her eyes water.
"And don't touch that," Mairi called out sharply, finally looking up. Her eyes were bloodshot and stormy with frustration and fatigue. She reached across to a low wooden chest and tossed a clanking missile to Lahlil—her silver flask—not some base metal polished up or covered in a thin sheet of silver but real, solid silver. She felt the weight resting in her hand, heavier than she remembered.
"That's what I've got: nothing," said Mairi. "I can't lay hold of half the ingredients, and I can't find substitutes for more than a third. I told you it was hopeless from the start. If you need more of it so badly, then go back to where you got it in the first place."
"I can't," she said. "I need you to keep trying. I have to have it before the caravan leaves for Prol Irat."
"You think I'm not trying? Believe me, you don't want to go half as much as I want you to leave." Storm clouds swept across Mairi's face. "We're going to have a new princeling in a few weeks and, Amai help us, a new queen-in-waiting. No one expects Jachi to marry Callia, but he's the baby's near-father, like it or not, and he has responsibilities."
"That's nothing to do with me."
"Glad to hear it," said Mairi. "Then go away and leave him alone."
Excerpted from Fortune's Blight by Evie Manieri. Copyright © 2014 Evie Manieri. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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