The incomparable C.L. Wilson brings her phenomenal Tairen Soul novels to Avon Books! Lord of the Fading Lands is the first book in the epic romantic adventure that combines sweeping fantasy with breathtaking paranormal romance. USA Today and New York Times bestseller C. L. Wilson dazzles with a magnificent, heart-soaring tale of passion and great destiny—of the tormented Fey King Rain, the woodcutter’s daughter Ellysetta, who would be queen, and their eternal quest for true love in the mystical Fading Lands.
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Lord of the Fading Lands
By C. L. Wilson
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2007 C. L. Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Ellie, don't be such a soggy dorn." Nine-year-old Lorelle Baristani pouted at her older sister.
It was, in Ellysetta's opinion, an adorable pout. Lorelle's out-thrust lower lip was plump and pink, her round cheeks soft as satin, and her big brown eyes heart-tuggingly soulful. The whole enchanting picture was complemented by masses of mink-brown ringlets, and more than one seasoned adult had been known to abandon common sense in the face of such considerable infant artillery. Unfortunately for Lorelle, Ellie was made of sterner stuff.
Ellie smiled and bent to kiss her sister's cheek. "A soggy dorn, am I? Just because I don't want to spend the whole day caught up in what's sure to be the worst crush in the past year? And for what? To catch a brief glimpse of a Fey warrior as he walks past?" Ellie shook her head and punched down the bread dough she was making for tonight's dinner rolls.
Tomorrow was the much-anticipated annual visit of the shei'dalin Marissya v'En Solande. Her arrival was always a spectacle as she and her guard of one hundred fierce leather-and-steel-bedecked Fey warriors entered the city and marched down the main thoroughfare to the palace.
A week ago, Ellysetta would have gone, nomatter how long the wait, just for the chance of glimpsing the glint off a Fey blade. But that was before that disturbing nightmare and before the dark dreams that had continued to haunt her ever since. When she woke each morning, her skin felt tight, her muscles inexplicably sore and weary, as if each night she fought a battle in her sleep. As if she were fighting to keep something out ... or worse, to keep something in.
Memories flashed-of horrifying convulsions racking her body, Mama's fear, the Church of Light exorcists with their fervent, shining eyes and merciless determination to drive the demons from her soul.
She shuddered from the awful memories and quickly sketched the sign of the Lord of Light. No, all things considered, now was a bad time for her to go anywhere near the Fey and their powerful magic.
"Besides, I'm busy tomorrow," she told Lorelle, grateful for the genuine excuse. "Lady Zillina ordered an entire new suite for her receiving room, and Mama wants me to get started on the embroidery for the pillows."
"But, Ellie, the Feyreisen is coming!"
Ellie's breath caught in her throat. The Feyreisen? Despite her well-founded fear of magic, she'd dreamed all her life of seeing Rain Tairen Soul in the flesh.
Then common sense returned, and Ellie cast a stern side-long glance at her sister. "Who told you that bit of silliness? Everyone knows the Feyreisen hasn't set foot outside the Fading Lands in a thousand years." Not since the end of the horrendous magical holocaust known as the Mage Wars.
"It's not silliness!" Lorelle protested indignantly. "I heard it straight from Tomy Sorris." Tomy Sorris, son of the printer, was the local town crier and usually well on top of the latest news and gossip.
Ellie was unimpressed. "Then Tomy's been smelling too much printer's ink." She transferred the dough back into its rising bowl and covered it with a damp cloth.
"He has not!" A stamp of one small foot expressed the child's outrage.
"Well, perhaps he's just misinformed then," Ellie replied. If Rain Tairen Soul were coming, they'd have heard about it long before now. The Fey who'd once nearly destroyed the world in a rage of tairen flame wouldn't simply end his thousand-year exile without someone knowing about it in advance.
With a few quick swipes of a clean cloth, she swept the light dusting of flour off the tabletop into her palm and disposed of it in the waste bin beneath the kitchen sink. She cranked the sink pump twice and rinsed her floury fingers beneath the resulting cold spurt of water, then cast a glance back over her shoulder at Lorelle.
"Besides, why would the Feyreisen come here? He never had much use for mortals even before the Wars."
She recalled a story in yesterday's paper about a small caravan of travelers attacked near the Borders by dahl'reisen, the frightening mercenaries who'd once been Fey warriors before being banished from the Fading Lands for the darkness in their souls. Would Rain Tairen Soul come to Celieria because of that?
She dismissed the idea instantly. All her life she'd heard tales of dahl'reisen raids-such tales were so common they were used to frighten small children into behaving-but none of those stories had ever lured the King of the Fey beyond the Faering Mists that circled the Fading Lands. No, Lorelle must be wrong.
Ellie untied her apron and hung it on a wooden peg in the corner of the modest, cozy Baristani family kitchen and smoothed slender hands over her serviceable tan muslin skirts. Her shirtsleeves were bunched up around her elbows, and she tugged the plain cuffs back down to her wrists, unable to stifle a wistful sigh as she imagined a fall of ivory lace draped over her hands. It was, of course, a foolish daydream. Lace would only get dirty and torn as she went about her chores.
She smiled at Lorelle, whose pout had now become an outright scowl. "Come now, kitling, don't be cross. I'll take you to the park instead. It won't take up the whole day, it's bound to be less crowded, and we can still have a fine time."
Lorelle crossed her arms over her chest. "I don't want to go to the park. I want to see the Feyreisen."
Before Ellie could reply, Lorelle's twin, Lillis, came skipping into the kitchen, all atwitter. A mirror image of her sister, Lillis would have been indistinguishable from Lorelle except for the radiant excitement stamped on her face, which contrasted vividly with Lorelle's dark scowl. "Ellie! Ellie! Guess what!"
Ellie made a show of widening her eyes with exaggerated interest. "What?"
"The Feyreisen is coming, and Mama says you can take us to see him enter the city tomorrow!"
"Ha!" Lorelle exclaimed. "I told you so!"
This time the breath that caught in Ellie's throat stayed there. Tomy Sorris might have sniffed too much printer's ink, but Mama was never wrong. Seeking confirmation, Ellie glanced towards the door.
"Mama? Is it true? Is the Feyreisen really coming to Celieria?"
Lauriana Baristani nodded, her fingers deftly untying the bow of her large-brimmed sun hat as she crossed the threshold and entered the kitchen. There was a light of excitement in her eyes that Ellie had never seen before. "It's true," she confirmed.
Ellie watched in astonishment as her mother tossed her hat and woven shawl over the back of a nearby chair rather than hanging them neatly on the wooden pegs provided for that purpose. Her mother was a firm believer in a place for everything and everything in its place. Something was going on, something that had nothing to do with the unexpected ambassadorial visit from a twelve-hundred-year-old Fey who could turn himself into a tairen.
"Mama?" She picked up the hat and shawl and hung them in their place. "What is it?" She gave her mother a searching look. Lauriana was a handsome woman in her mid fifties, with a solid build and strong arms that could help her husband move heavy pieces of handcrafted furniture or hug her children close. She had the same rich brown hair as the twins, though her soft ringlets were threaded liberally with silver, and her eyes were a pleasant hazel. Her brown dress was neatly made of sturdy, sensible cloth, and her shoes were sturdy, sensible brown leather to match. But at the moment, she did not look sensible at all. She looked ... giddy.
"Oh, Ellie, you won't believe it!" Lauriana reached out to grasp Ellie's hands. "Queen Annoura," she said, squeezing Ellie's fingers tight, "sent Lady Zillina to commission your father to produce a special carving in the Feyreisen's honor. He's to have it finished and ready to present to the Feyreisen at the Prince's betrothal ball!" When Ellie gasped again and the twins squealed, Lauriana beamed and nodded. "Commissioned by the queen. At last!"
"Oh, Mama," Ellie breathed. "Papa must be singing with pride!" After ten years as a master woodcarver, Sol Baristani had finally received a coveted royal commission. When word got out, nobles and rich merchants would be banging down his door to commission his work. Money, always rather scarce in the Baristani household, was sure to flow into the family coffers.
Lauriana flashed her eldest daughter a devilish grin. "And won't that just put Madam Rich and Snooty Minset's knickers in a twist?"
"Mama!" Ellie gasped, giving her mother a shocked look.
Her mother-definitely not her staid and sensible self-laughed out loud, then clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh, that was evil. Just evil."
Ellie couldn't help laughing herself. It was so unlike her calm, unflappable mother to say something nasty, even about the social-climbing Madam Minset, the banker's wife. Though if ever a woman deserved to have something nasty said about her, Madam Minset did-and that went double for her daughter Kelissande.
"But, Mama, why is the Feyreisen coming to Celieria?"
Lauriana shrugged. "No one knows, but it's sure to be a spectacle. And I promised Lillis you would take her and Lorelle to see the Feyreisen." Ellie stared in surprise, and her mother blushed a little. "I know what you're thinking, and this doesn't mean I approve of Fey sorcerers. I don't. Not in the least. But the Bright Lord did select Rain Tairen Soul as the vehicle through which He has delivered this latest blessing upon our family. I wouldn't want Him to think us ungrateful. You will take the girls, won't you?"
Ellie glanced at Lorelle, who was now sporting a grin as large as a dairy cow, and had to laugh. "Of course I will," she agreed. The twins shrieked with happiness and danced about the kitchen.
No matter how dreadful her nightmares, Ellie would never have missed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the one and only Rain Tairen Soul. He was living history, the Fey who'd once in a fit of grief-induced madness almost destroyed the world.
How many ballads had been written about that terrible day? How many plays? Celieria's Museum of Arts held no less than twenty enormous oil paintings that commemorated the entire series of events, masterpieces painted by Celieria's greatest artists over the past thousand years. Ellie couldn't count the number of times she'd stood in front of Fabrizio Chelan's immortal Death of the Beloved and wept at the unspeakable anguish the great master had depicted on the face of Rain Tairen Soul as he held Lady Sariel in her death swoon and cried out to the heavens.
To see Rain Tairen Soul in the flesh. It was more than she'd ever dreamed possible.
She wagged a finger at the twins. "You two had best plan to go to bed early. We leave at the break of dawn, so we can be sure to find a place with a good view."
Her mother shook her head. "You and your love of the Fey." But for once, she didn't add her usual lecture about the evils of magic and the danger of temptations that wore a pretty face.
Though Ellie shared her mother's fear of magic, all things Fey had fascinated her since she was a small child. "That doesn't mean I'm any less excited about your news, Mama." She reached out to grasp her mother's hands. "Indeed, I want you to tell me everything. What, exactly, did Lady Zillina say? Don't leave out a single detail."
Lauriana pulled up a stool and related the whole story, including the ultimate pleasure of having Stella Morin, the neighborhood's biggest gossip, witness the entire event. She'd come into the shop to tell Lauriana that Donatella Brodson, the butcher's youngest daughter, was officially contracted to wed the third son of a wealthy silk merchant.
"Oh-" Lauriana snapped her fingers. "That reminds me. Den is coming for dinner tonight."
"Den?" Ellie repeated with dismay. Den Brodson, the butcher's son, was a stuffed pork roast of a young man. And ever since his first wife had died in childbirth six months ago, he'd been following Ellie around like a starving hound on the trail of a juicy steak. He'd made a habit of catching her in dark corners, standing so close she could smell the reek of onions and bacon on him, and looking too intently down the neckline of her dresses as if he could see straight through the fabric to the soft curves beneath. His thick fingers were ever clutching at her arm, as if he had some right to her. She shuddered with revulsion. She'd never liked him much, even as a child. Now he made her skin crawl.
Beside her the twins rolled their eyes and clutched at their throats, making gagging noises. They didn't like Den either.
"Mmm." Lauriana paid no notice to the rolling eyes and gagging faces, but she did shoo the twins out of the kitchen. "Go play in your room, girls." Then, to Ellie, "Wear your green dress, kit. It makes you look rather pretty."
"Why would I want to look pretty for Den?"
A stern hazel gaze pinned her in place. The laughing, flighty Mama was gone. Practical, no-nonsense Mama was back. "You're twenty-four, Ellysetta. That's long past time to be making a good match and starting your own family. Look at your friends. All of them married for years, with at least one child walking and another on the way."
"Kelissande's not wed," Ellie reminded her mother.
"Yes, but Kelissande's not lacking for offers." The stern look in Lauriana's eyes remained the same, but her voice softened. "She's got beauty, girl, and wealth. You don't."
Ellie ducked her head to hide the glimmer of tears that sprang to her eyes. She knew she was no beauty. She'd seen her reflection often enough to understand that. And Kelissande Minset had always been happy to point out her shortcomings in case she missed them.
"Even though you've got a fine, kind heart," Lauriana continued, "and a strong back to make any man a treasured helpmate, young lads and their parents don't look for those blessings first. The lads want beauty. The parents want wealth. The queen's commission will probably be enough to bring Den's family up to scratch, but you don't have the time to wait for Papa to make a fortune so you can take your pick of men." Unspoken was the common knowledge that if a girl was not wed by twenty-five, she was obviously defective in some way. Spinsters were to be pitied-and watched carefully lest the hand of evil that had blackened their futures laid its shadow over those around them.
Ellie couldn't believe what she was hearing. It was obvious her mother had already decided whom Ellie would marry. "But I don't love Den, Mama." To her horror, her voice wobbled.
"Ellysetta." There was a rustle of skirts and then the unexpected warmth of her mother's arms wrapping around her thin shoulders and drawing her close. "Ah, girl. This is my fault." Lauriana sighed. "I should have done my duty by you long ago. But you were such an ... awkward ... creature, and we were poor. I thought you'd never be wed, so where was the harm in letting you keep your dreams?"
Awkward. Such a mild euphemism for the fearful truth Mama never voiced. Ellie knew her parents loved her, as did Lillis and Lorelle. But that had not stopped her from hearing the talk of others-or seeing the fear that Mama could never quite hide whenever ... things ... happened around Ellie.
"But you've changed, Ellie, and so have our circumstances. You've grown rather pretty in your own way, and this royal commission puts a few coins in our coffers, with the promise of more to come. Look at me, child." Obedient to the command and the accompanying hand raising her chin, Ellie met her mother's solemn gaze. "Life is never certain, Ellie. This is your chance to wed, and you must take it."
Lauriana held up a silencing finger. "Despite everything that happened when you were young, I've never curbed your love of Feytales or your dreams of truemates and happy endings, but that's for Fey, not mortal folk like us. We don't have centuries to wait for true love."
"I know that, Mama."
"Love will come in time, Ellie."
"But not with Den, Mama!" How could it, when the very thought of his touch revolted her?
Excerpted from Lord of the Fading Lands by C. L. Wilson Copyright © 2007 by C. L. Wilson. Excerpted by permission.
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