Although she was born to save the kingdom by sacrificing herself to the rising sea, Khosa's marriage to King Vincent has redeemed her. As the Queen of Stille, she's untouchable. But being Queen hasn't stopped her heart from longing for the King's stepbrother, Donil. And it hasn't stopped her body from longing for the sea itself, which still calls for her.
While Khosa is made to choose between loyalty and love, Dara is on a mission for vengeance. Years ago, the Pietra slaughtered the entire Indiri race, leaving only Dara and her twin, Donil, alive. Now, spurned by King Vincent, Dara has embarked on a mission to spill the blood of Pietra's leader, Witt, and will stop at nothing to show his people the wrath of the last Indiri.
As the waves crash ever closer to Stille, secrets are revealed, hearts are won and lost, and allegiances change like the shifting sand.
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C H A P T E R 1
Da r a
It is in my blood.
It is in my bone. It is in my being.
Before my mother became earth, she told us our names, her final thought becoming our first as my twin brother and I crawled from the pit that held our slaughtered people, our infant feet now the last on this land to carry the Indiri marks.
“Dara.” I say my name now, our word for “vengeance.” To the side, a tree shrinks from me. It knows my tongue, as do all things of the land. And like all things of late, it wishes me gone.
“Donil.” I say my brother’s name, the word for “family love.” Our mother knew us well, though she would never see our faces. No matter their meaning, my words are heard only by wild things and my horse, an animal that none in the Stillean stables could lay a hand on without losing a finger.
“Famoor.” One ear turns back to acknowledge that I have spoken, but otherwise the stallion ignores me, as is fitting for a proud animal named after the Indiri word for “unbroken.” That I sit upon his back is a temporary arrangement, and I would that he remember it.
When I fall, I do not wish for him to return to Stille, to stables and harnesses, the civilized world shaving away his wildness until he thinks not of foraging but of the hand that will bring the next meal to his wooden box, where he is protected from the rain and the earth, sealed off from all that calls to him. It was my own mistake, years ago, and I will not have it played out by any other, be they two-legged or four.
I left that behind me when I passed from the castle’s shadow, my former home. Stille will not welcome me again, not after I led the king’s beloved to her near death, a foolish choice, twice over. For both Vincent and my brother care for the Given, and she had called them to her as easily as the sea drew Khosa herself.
I would see her crowned with seagrass, but now she sits enthroned beside Vincent, the boy whose heart I cannot have.
The forest moves around me, the dying rays of the sun touching briefly on my speckled skin. I cannot look at my own flesh without marveling that I carry it, a dressing on my bones that only one other wears. As falling rain sinks through the earth to feed salium and igthorn alike, my spots have burrowed within, giving life to what is both beautiful and poisonous at my core.
I am one of the last Indiri, the violent half of the whole, the pride- ful carrier of deep wrath, which wants only to bury itself in the Lithos of the Pietra, even if it be my last act. The love I carry for my departed people is a song made with war drums, the name my mother gave me inked deeply on my being. I close my eyes against the bright flash of fiverberries, the sun warm on my eyelids as Famoor goes on without my guidance.
The Given would laugh to see me here, at this place I recalled for her from my third-great-grandmother’s memories. The ancient tree the Tangata cats use to sharpen their deadly claws stands as she saw it then, though larger now and marked with the use of many in their clowder, cats long dead.
I swear as I dismount, though I had expected to find as much. Many things can be said of the Given, but not that she is dim. Together we worked in the place she felt most comfortable and I entombed, stone walls rising to our sides and smaller walls, bound in paper, stacked beside us. That I am here now, reminded of the Given even as I banish myself from Stille in order to forget her—and how others felt for her— is both a prick to my conscience and a chink in my armor.
In her maps and books Khosa saw many things, as Donil does in the track of an animal, three days spent. These small moments she deciphered, trapped in time like a paw print in dried mud. There she saw the doom of our island, a rising sea that would never stop, the memories of the Indiri people helping to point the way.
I rest my head against the tree, and it tells me stories of cats digging deep, fibers carried away in claws, a small death each day, a dismem- berment spanning lifetimes. If I were stronger, I could ask for more, push for the tree to give me the tale of Onwena, my ancestor, and how she fell in love at this place. In her time the sea was far from here; in mine I can hear it striking the beach, and carrying away the earth as it leaves.
But I am weak, and maybe the surf itself is to blame, earth taken and made infertile by salt. The tree could perhaps not part with the story, either, its lifesap leaving with the effort of telling. Underneath my hand, it shivers, and I see the tail of a Tangata above the waterleaf rue, a confident curl bending its stripes as it comes to tear bark from branch, skin from bone.
I nock an arrow and send it through the violet rue, drawing a harsh cry followed by silence. I follow where the arrow hit true and retrieve it, leaving the cat for the oderbirds. Famoor shies from me as I approach, the blood on my hands scenting the wind. I cannot blame him. I smell of death and the wild, violence and the wind.
“Famoor,” I say, recalling his name and its meaning to him, so that he may stand with pride at my approach. Unbroken.
Again his ear turns to me, and I allow a smile for this one living thing that would have me near it. But my mouth is not accustomed to the shape, and the smile falls quickly as I mount, cat blood mixed with earth falling from my boot heels. I spare it a glance before spurring Famoor on, this mixture that I am bound to be a part of one day.
Blood and earth.
I’ll have one, before I become the other.
C H A P T E R 2
"My L i t h o s .”
I close my eyes against Hadduk’s voice saying Pravin’s words, but force my mouth around the proper response.
“My Mason.” I nod at him to continue, ignoring the salt that streaks down my throat as he updates me on the state of the Pietran army. My army. I taught myself to cry only inwardly at a young age, knowing my mother’s deepest wish was to send me to the Cliffs of Alta, where I would train to become what I am now. The Lithos, leader of the Pietra, a man as hard as the Stone Shore he protects. Mother’s wish was granted, and she knew no regrets when I put her in the boat and pushed her out to sea with no oars.
We have no need for more saltwater, and so I swallow mine, rather than let it leak from my eyes. Much and more laps at our heels, pulling away the very soil we stand on. Our rocks are crusted with its leav- ings, a briny reminder that time passes, and so shall we—sooner rather than later if we do not hold the entirety of this island for ourselves. Even from the cliffside where I view what remains of the once sprawl- ing Pietran army, I imagine I can hear the tide, though we are safely inland.
“As for my own men,” Hadduk concludes, “most were lost to the wave. Only a handful found the fires and returned.”
I make a sound in my throat, one that he’s prickly enough to inter- pret correctly.
“None would abandon, my Lithos,” he says, dark eyebrows coming together at the inference, though his tone remains respectful. “They were trained by me and earned their armor.”
“And drowned in it,” I say, recalling the pull of the water at my own feet as I climbed a tree, the weight of Pravin’s hand on my ankle swept away as it receded.
“That they did,” Hadduk agrees. “And I’d rather have it be so than see them walking dry on the land and not in step with their commander.”
“It is not in them,” I concede, and know it to be true. Hadduk is a hard man, one of the soldiers who rode down the Indiri on the Dunkai plains, blood of children flinging from the tip of his sword. His men would either fear him or be like him. Either way, they would have found our campfires if they could, returning for the promise of more fighting, or to avoid his wrath. Either way, I do not care what urges their feet to return to their army, only that they come.
The army below us stands in rank and file, a mouth with more gaps than teeth. Some men are without armor or weapons, shields and swords torn from their grasp by watery fingers, their mail blown from their bodies to be dragged to the depths and then rust. Even this sight does not slow Hadduk, his eyes making quick work of the picture below.
“Fold Gahlah’s men in with Fadden’s. Spears are easily made, and both commanders taught them well.”
“Though there is only one to lead them,” I say, eyeing what’s left of Gahlah’s lancia, their commander no doubt swollen with the sea by now.
Hadduk only shrugs. “Fadden is the better man.”
The better fighter perhaps, but I’ve seen Fadden’s wife and chil- dren dappled with bruises, as if they stood beneath a Hadundun tree on a clear day, the shadows of the leaves marking where they would slice, should they fall. Yet to Hadduk he is still the better man.
And as Lithos I should be nodding in agreement, glad to have such a fine commander under my watch, not thinking of his wife and children at home, who would have found their lives much easier if the wave had taken him.
“Ula’s spada barely stands,” I say, continuing our assessment of the units.
“And swords take time to make,” a voice behind me says. Hadduk and I turn to see that Ank has found his way up the cliff.
“Lithos.” He nods to me, and I note that he has left off the tradi- tional “my.” The Feneen may fight beside us as part of our agreement to make them fully Pietran after Stille is defeated, but I am not their leader yet.
“Where’s your pretty snake?” Hadduk asks, when he sees that Nilana is not riding in her harness on Ank’s back. Though she is arm- less and legless, Nilana is as deadly as any of the Feneen, and many times more beautiful.
“Nilana minds our camp,” Ank says, one sweep of his gaze assess- ing what remains of our army. “A somewhat bigger task than minding yours, I think.”
Hadduk bristles, exactly as Ank intended. “I’ll show her some- thing big—”
“Enough,” I say, raising my hand. Hadduk falls silent, but there is nothing I can do to wipe the smile from Ank’s deceptively youthful face. Though his hands bristle with age, the caul he was born with kept him looking far younger than his actual years. Even without wrinkles, his eyes show a lifetime of wandering with the Feneen, morbid castoffs and unwanted members from other peoples.
“How many of your soldiers were born Pietran?” I ask Ank, surprising him. His eyes go upward as he pretends to ponder, though I have no doubt the answer is easily summoned. The Stillean mother who abandoned him was foolish indeed to quail at the sight of his caul. Underneath it is the quickest mind I’ve seen.
“A full third,” he answers. “Though they are all Pietran in the end.”
Hadduk clears his throat and spits, and I know where his thoughts go. The terms of our agreement to bring the Feneen into our people as one were deftly made, Ank’s offer of an entire army of blooded soldiers difficult to refuse. Pravin assured me that the most hideous of their kind—those with three heads or misplaced arms—would be bred out within a generation, Pietran blood only diluted, not overwhelmed, the Feneen rewarded with the acceptance denied them at birth. Yet now I have no doubt the Feneen stand three deep to a single Pietran, and any offspring that should come from our mingling would have more wildness in them than stone.
“In the end,” I repeat, thinking of a moonlit beach and a wave that rose as high as the Lures’ cliff on the Stone Shore. The Feneen were spared that sight, their attack on the front gates shielding them from the merciless sea. It was Pietra and Stillean who saw a watery death fast approaching, the strength of the depths come to crush them. And though the Feneen may be Pietran eventually, I’ve learned what no Lithos can know too well.
In the end, we all go to the depths.
C H A P T E R 3
"Would you have the coral or the sea foam?" the girl asks, and Khosa closes her eyes against the color choices that mimic her greatest tormentor.
“Your decision,” Khosa says, flipping her wrist in the dismissive way she’s learned from watching Dissa, her husband’s mother, a woman long acquainted with the vestiges of power.
The girl flushes with pleasure and hangs the seafoam dress back into place. The fabric falls around Khosa’s ears, even the noises it makes mimicking the sounds of the tide. She grits her teeth as the girl fashions her hair, yet another style that calls to mind seashells cupping the sides of her face. Only two moons ago, the same people she now rules over would have rejoiced to see real shells against her skin, the soft, uncountable legs of sea-spines crawling upon her rotting flesh as her body tossed in the depths.
Yet she is no longer the Given, the wave that her sacrifice was sup- posed to prevent being not a punishment but a deliverance, as it tore the Pietran army from the sand like weeds from a wet garden. They went in her place, and now Khosa is the Redeemed, her husband the king, and all of the young girls vie for the chance to dress her in sea colors and fashion her hair after salt creatures.
“Enough,” Khosa says, her voice unintentionally harsh as the girl’s fingers brush against her temple. The girl pulls back as if bitten, and Khosa fights to find the appropriate smile to calm her, settling on one her own husband wears for her every night as he climbs into their bed.
“I would finish alone,” Khosa says, finding the girl’s eyes in the mirror.
“Do you not care for—”
“It is lovely,” Khosa says, and manages to deliver the lie well. “I only wish to be alone.”
“Yes, of course.” The girl nods to her as she leaves, unable to conceal the disappointment as her time with the Redeemed queen is cut short. Another may not have spotted the small twitch at the corner of her eye, the slightest flicker deep in the girl’s gaze, but Khosa has spent a lifetime learning to read others so that she may replicate their emotions later, her own face never naturally expressing the intricacies of emotion.
Khosa practices now, staring at her ref lection in the mirror as she perfectly executes the girl’s expression. Her Keepers taught her mimicry early, so that Stille would not know that the Given was not entirely whole. It was a charade meant to last only until she produced an heir, the next Given, and then all playacting could be abandoned, as the depths cared not how she reacted to death, only that she died.
The muscles in her face convulse as Khosa stares at her hair, obscenely twisted into seashells. Every part of her body remains at the mercy of the Stilleans, though now they curse her to live instead of drown. The game she was meant to play for a short while now grows long, her death as a young sacrifice now usurped by wishes of a long life for their queen. An heir is still demanded, but this one to live and to marry, produce another and another after that. How long until the
Feneen blood of her father comes to the surface? Until a wild thing emerges from her womb, tearing and spitting?
She rests her face in her hands, a heavy sigh drawing her chest tight against the lace framing it, fashioned in the shape of whitecaps. She need spend little worry on the quality of her descendants, as she cannot bring herself to make even one. Vincent is patient with her, climbing into their bed every night expecting nothing more than a quiet “good night” and her back facing him. It is not his demands that worry her, but those of Stille, and his mother.
“Stille needs a child,” Dissa had said, handing her a vial of alium water, rumored to quicken the womb.
“Stille needs . . . Stille needs,” Khosa says to herself, eyeing the vial that rests on her vanity. She’d choked back a retort to Dissa that a child would be short in coming if Donil were sent to Khosa’s bed in place of her son, though the heir would surely bear speckled Indiri skin.
Heat rises in her even at the thought of him, a new experience for Khosa, who knew only irritation at another’s touch until she brushed hands with Donil. She should have handed the alium water back to her husband’s mother, asking instead for a flask of wine if she truly wanted a grandchild.
And that particular route had been attempted, at Khosa’s own request. Vincent brought a bottle for each of them to their bed one evening, shamefaced with anticipation. It had ended not with their bodies twisted together under blankets, but with both of them retching over the nightbowl, emptying their bellies of a batch of bad wine.
Only Khosa was able to spot the smirk on the kitchen girl’s face the next morning, buried under supposed concern for the queen’s well-being. Donil had assured her that Daisy had no malevolence in her, that bad food finding its way to Khosa’s plate was merely chance and not the result of him spurning his former lover. But Khosa is not the only girl who can interpret a glance, and Donil is not well trained in hiding his emotions. Every look he gives her burns.
Khosa raises her head to her reflection as the girl returns, knock- ing softly on the door before she enters.
“I’m sorry, milady,” she says. “Your husband is waiting.”
A smile twists as Khosa sets the Stillean crown on her head. “You have no idea.”