The Known Lands are teetering on the brink of war. Desperate to avert worldwide catastrophe, Jack, the baker's boy, must learn to harness the full strength of his magic to face his ultimate destinya final confrontation with the murderously evil Kylock.
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Drip. Drip. Drip. The waterclock turned another degree, sending a cup full of water trickling to the bowl. One more round and the hour would strike. The same hour on the same day that a month ago had marked her marriage to the duke.
Melli settled herself in the most comfortable chair in the most comfortable room in the house. Even as she drew her feet from the floor, her thumb found its way to her mouth. With her other hand she cradled her belly and then began to rock back and forth. She was a widow with no black to wear, no body to wrap, no wedding night to remember through the mourning. Not a widow at all by Bren's reckoning.
Oh, but they were wrong. All of them: from Lord Baralis to her father, from Traff to Tawl, from the Duchess Catherine to the lowliest stableboy. Each and every one of them as wrong as they could be.
Back and forth Melli rocked. Back and forth, back and forth, back, back, back.
Back to the wedding day. Back to the chapel. Back to the one single hour she and the duke spent as man and wife.
The smell of incense and flowers accompanied them as they turned from the altar and walked down the aisle. The duke's hand was cool, his grip firm. The chapel doors were drawn back and somewhere bells began to ring. One hundred pairs of eyes were focused upon them, yet Melli saw no one but Tawl. In a church full of people feigning joy, the knight's face seemed too honest by far. He bowed as they passed, and as his face fell into shadow, he gave everything away. Regret, raw and unmistakable, was marked in each feature that he bent toward the floor.
Quickly, Melli glanced at the duke. He hadseen nothing; his eyes looked only ahead.
Through the palace they walked; guards in blue to either side, Tawl's footfalls sounding from behind. Melli felt as if she were dreaming, everything had happened so fast: the courtship, the proposal, the marriage. Too fast. She felt drunk with the sheer speed of events, dizzy with the importance of it all. This was more than a marriage this was a strategy for peace. The duke loved her, she did not doubt that, but it was a love prompted by expediency: he needed an heir and a wife to provide him with one. The marriage was as good as a treaty. And the wedding night would be ink for the signing.
Melli knew all this, but as she walked toward the duke's chamber it began to matter less and less. Her heavy satin gown rubbed against her breasts. She could feel the effects of the ceremonial wine on her cheeks, on the furrow of her tongue and belly deep within. Such strong fare for a fastening, the priests must have distilled it themselves. Melli shifted her fingers within the duke's grasp, and he turned to look at her.
"Not long now, my love," he whispered.
The richness of his voice made up for the thinness of his lips. His hand now felt a little damp, whether from her sweat or his own no longer mattered. Yes, this was part marriage of convenience, but love and passion were equal partners at the join. Indeed, tonight they would reign supreme.
They arrived at their destination within a matter of minutes. The last quarter league had been almost a race, with the duke speeding along the corridors just short of a sprint. Tawl had matched him step for step. Eight men waited at the entrance to the duke's chambers, spears crossed in honor, chivalrous in their averted glances. The double doors were opened and the duke bore Melli forward. As he guided her toward the doorway, Melli looked back. Tawl was gone. Her heart fluttered a tiny warning, but the duke's presence so solid and reassuring canceled out her feelings of unease. By the time the door closed behind them, Melli couldn't even remember what she was worried about. Nothing mattered anymore.
They were in a small vestibule with a short flight of stairs leading up to the chambers. A matching pair of double doors marked the top. As her foot found the first step, Melli felt the duke's hand on her waist. With a firm grip he guided her round.
"I would kiss my wife on the threshold," he said. His voice was unfamiliar to her: a stranger's voice. Low and guttural, it was thick with something that Melli had no name for. His lips were on hers, pressing so hard she could feel the teeth beneath. His tongue followed after. Thin and dry and tough as old leather, it bore the vestiges of his last meal on its length. Melli's foot hovered above the step a moment longer, and then she brought it to rest against the duke's leg.
Up came her tongue from the bottom of her mouth, back arching inward, arms rising upward, lips pressing forward jaw to jaw. Half-mad with newly discovered need, Melli leant against the duke for support.
He pulled away. "Come, my love, I will take you to our marriage bed."
Before the words were out of his mouth, she was pushing them back down with her tongue. The thing inside of her was too strong to be delayed. To be deprived of the duke's body even for an instant was too long. He fought her at first, arms pushing her forward, hand in the small of her back, but she fought back in her newfound way, biting his ears and breathing moist hot breaths on his neck.
"Damn you, Melliandra," he murmured as he drew her close. "You're enough to drive a man insane."
The words excited Melli more than any kiss. Throwing back her head, she offered him her breasts. A sharp intake of breath, and then she found herself lying back against the stairs. One solitary lantern lit the duke from behind. At first she was surprised by his knowledge of her clothing: it didn't seem right that a man should deal so deftly with petticoats and underdrawers. An instant later she was glad of it. Better a man who knew what he was doing than the fumbling youths at court. The duke didn't bother to unlace her bodice or unfasten the hooks on her skirt; he raised the fabric up around her waist and went to work on the linen below.
The stone steps bit into Melli's back. Consecrated wine ran heavy in her blood, carrying fragments of memory along for the ride: kisses and caresses and touches from the past. Jack, Edrad Melli stiffened for an instant and Baralis. A long, crooked finger drawn down a back raised with welts. Despite herself, Melli's spine arched more.
Pain splintered her thoughts. Her legs had long parted of their own accord, and she felt a tearing between. She wanted to scream, but the duke's tongue was whip-sharp in her mouth and Baralis' image was blade-keen in her mind. The pain seemed to fold in on itself, creating a vacuum that demanded to be filled. Melli's fingers no longer formed fists, they became claws. The corner of the step was a hand upon her spine. The man above no more than a silhouette against the light. Need was the only thing that counted, and everything wine, pain, and memories served to heighten the need.
Too soon it came. Too quickly it was over. Too little to justify the means. Melli's breaths were ragged, irregular. She wanted more. Something warm and mercury-heavy trickled down the length of her thigh. Her gaze alighted on the ceiling: stone capped with brass. The duke, for he was now himself once more, stood over her and tore off the fabric at his tunic's cuff.
"Here," he said, handing her the length of heavily embroidered linen. "Clean yourself up. There is a lot of blood." His tone was cold, almost disapproving.
Melli turned away from him and did what she was told. She was ashamed, confused, brought down to earth with an unsettling jolt. Had she done something to displease him?
The blood was not easy to wipe clean. It was dark and fast to dry. Melli had to spit on the cloth to bring it off. As she rubbed away the last of it, the duke spoke up from behind.
"Would that we had waited for the marriage bed. This is not the place to show you love's pleasures."
Melli stood up. Her legs were weak, her senses slow to rally. A dull pain sounded in her side. "You did not enjoy it?" she asked.
The duke came forward and smoothed down her dress. He did not look at her as he said, "It would have been better for you if you were comfortable."
Sensing something close to embarrassment in the duke's voice, Melli stretched out her arm. "Come then, let us try again."
The duke smiled, his first since the wedding. "You bewitch me," he said.
Melli began to ascend the stairs. "I've never been called a witch before, though I was once called a thief."
"You steal men's hearts?"
"No. Their fates." As Melli spoke, a shudder went down her spine. The words were not her own, they belonged to another woman. A woman from the Far South who was an assistant to a flesh-trader. "Where I come from, we call people like her thieves. Their fates are so strong they bend others into their service. And what they can't bend they steal."
Melli's hand was on the door. The duke was just behind her. She pushed against the brass plate and entered the chambers first. They were in the duke's study. Melli remembered it well. Two desks were laid out with food. Cold roast beef, ham and venison, sweetmeats, wafers, and pies. The crest of Bren was sculpted in spun sugar.
The duke made his way over to the nearest table and poured them each a cup of wine. For the first time Melli noticed his sword about his waist. Had he worn it through the lovemaking? Surely not.
He held out the cup of wine for her to take. "Let us eat a little to regain our strength," he said, smiling gently.
Melli was by his side in an instant. She took the cup and set it down. With hands shaking, she felt for the hilt of his sword. The duke's eyes flashed a warning. She ignored it and pulled the sword from its loop. It was heavy, solid, good in the hand. "You won't be needing this," she said, laying it flat upon the desk.
She cut off his protest with a kiss. "Let us eat later. The food is cold, a little longer will do it no harm." What was started on the stairs needed to be finished for her at least. It seemed the duke had already taken his pleasure. She clasped at his fingers. "Take me to the bedchamber."
The duke's eyes were a match for his blade. He took hold of her arm, not gently. "Very well," he said. "It seems I cannot keep my lady waiting." Twisting her arm behind her back, he walked Melli to the bedchamber.
She saw the assassin first. He was at the side of the door, knife up close to his chest. Melli screamed. The duke pushed her forward with one hand and reached for his sword with the other. It wasn't there. He hesitated for only a half-second, but it was more than enough. The assassin was at his throat. His blade was long, his hand was quick. It was over in less than an instant.
Melli screamed and screamed and no one came. Blood soaked the duke's tunic even before his body fell to the floor. The assassin's name came to her: Traff, Baralis' mercenary. After that one last feat of coherence, her mind seemed to give in. She could remember nothing that followed. Except Tawl. The knight came and although nothing was, or ever would be, all right again, at least he made sure she was safe. Tawl would take care of her always she didn't need her mind to tell her that. Her heart already knew.
Back and forward Melli rocked. Forward, forward, forward.
The waterclock turned another degree. One month to the minute now. One month a widow, one month in hiding, one month with no blood to show.
There had been more than a wedding that day, there was a union as well. The marriage had been consummated, and she was the only person in the Known Lands who knew it. Not for long, though. Melli's hand cradled her belly. The last time blood had flowed between her legs had been on the stairs leading to the duke's chamber. Breaching blood, not menses. There had been nothing since.
A child was growing inside: the duke's child, and if it was a boy, his heir. Melli spread her fingers full-out upon her belly. How would the city of Bren take the news? The answer was quick to come. They would try and discredit her, claim the duke was not the father, or that the child was begotten out of wedlock. Lies and slander would be thrown her way indeed, by many she was already counted an accomplice to murder. None of it mattered anymore. The only thing that counted was keeping the new life safe.
In eight months time a baby would be born, and everything her life, her strength, her very soul would be directed toward its protection. She had taken the duke's sword and stolen his fate, and this was either penalty or payment.
Melli stood up and put a hand to the waterclock, tipping the liquid from the cone. Prematurely it struck the next hour: Melli wished that all hours would pass so fast. She was impatient for the child to be born.
If it were a girl, then she would take her share of Catherine's wealth. If it were a boy, he would have it all.
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What People are Saying About This
We have a major new writer here. Bravo!
J. V. Jones is quite a find.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this series, and the final book was not a disappointment. Jack the common bakers boy has finally had to acknowledge that he is a powerful wizard, and with his few allies has to stop running and confront the evil forces in the kingdoms. No shockers and no cliffhangers in this one, and for once, a trilogy actually ends in 3 books. Good reading. If you've already read the Wheel of Time or Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, you'll find this a little flat, but still good.
Characters are weakly developed and I don't feel like a part of the story.
I read only fantasy and i was completely taken in by all three of the Book of Words. You wont be disappointed in this at all.
This is an absolutely great series. The characters are well written, the plot is deep and imaginative. There is humor injected at the perfect time, and the action is constant. A great read for any fantasy fan!
This is an excellent climax to the Book of Words trilogy.