A prince with a quest. A commoner with mysterious powers. And dragons that demand to be freedat any cost.
Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in the capital that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming to Caithen. Torn between Corin’s quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, the lovers must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and a rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Elisabeth Anne Leonard has degrees from St. John’s College, the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, and the University of California Hastings College of Law. She lives in Northern California.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Anne Leonard
Riding, riding, he had been riding when the dragon appeared overhead and came slowly, inevitably, down. It was a cloudy day and he was in the Fells. The air still had plenty of winter in it here, high up. There were two men with him from the garrison. There had been no purpose to the ride besides itself; he had been sick of the dirt and smells and noise and press of soldiers in the hold and needed to clear his head with exercise and open air. Then the dragon’s cry, sharp and compelling as a hunting hawk’s, but longer, fiercer, more dreadful. He had heard it a hundred times and it still made the hair on the back of his neck rise and his skin prickle. He was prey, and his body knew it.
The horses knew it too and reared and neighed in terror. Corin was nearly thrown, and one of the soldiers was. The dragon descended. It folded its shimmering blue wings with a rush of hot air that smelled like sulfur. Long ivory claws gouged the earth. It was huge, its snout at least the length of a tall man’s arm. Silver scales on its sides glistened even under the grey sky. It crouched, tail switching back and forth, nostrils steaming.
By the time Corin had his own horse under control, the second soldier was kneeling beside the first, whose leg was clearly broken. One horse had not gone far, but the other one was out of sight. “Go back for help,” Corin said. “There’s nothing you can do about a dragon.” He did not even touch the hilt of his sword. It was useless.
The dragonrider came off the dragon in a smooth and graceful slide. Corin’s horse trembled and sweated but did not move. He would stay mounted as long as he could. When he glanced over his shoulder he saw that the soldier was obeying him and returning.
The dragonrider had dark skin and black hair, and when he spoke it was a different accent from the Mycenean Corin was used to. “Lord Prince.” The tone was hard, mocking.
“Rider.” He felt the dragon looking at him, and he was careful to keep his eyes on the man and not the beast. One who stared too long into a dragon’s eyes would go mad.
“I have for you a message.”
“The Firekeepers have chosen you to free them from their slavery. Already you walk in Hadon’s dreams. He fears you, so he will bring down war. He makes alliances with your enemies and turns your friends against you. This is your task, this and no other: to free the Firekeepers from the empire. They will lend you their power, so that you will be as them though still a man, until you have done this. They will do what magic they can for you.
Corin’s legs moved of their own accord. He walked stiffly toward the rider. The rider held out a small golden flask.
Faster than anyone could move, the dragonrider had hold of him and forced the liquid down his throat. It was sweet and thin and it burned. He struggled, but it was no good. One swallow, two swallows, three. His mouth had the taste of iron.
The dragonrider stepped back. Corin staggered. He felt feverish.
The rider said, “You will forget this until the change is complete. When you remember it, then it will be time for you to begin your labor. The Firekeepers will watch, do not shirk it.”
Darkness closed in on him, and when it lifted he remembered nothing of the dragon or the rider. He was sitting on the stony track beside the man with a broken leg, waiting, while his horse nuzzled among the rocks to see what thin new grass it could find.
The canyon walls were black. Sharp glasslike chips of stone and rough dark cinders lay on the ground. When she looked up the towering walls to the top, all she could see was the deep blue of sky. No trees, no grasses, nothing but stone and sky.
She walked. The ground was ashy. She heard the wind.
Then she walked among men, and they did not see her, and she knew she was a shade, a phantom. There were dozens of them, dark-haired, strong. Soldiers, she thought. They had rigged ropes down the sheer cliffs, with harnesses. More and more came down slowly, like spiders dropping in jerks and starts. They had baskets with them, baskets lined with firecloth and coals. The dragons’ bodies were stiff and dark. Men walked heedlessly by them as though they were nothing more than rock and gathered the eggs.
Smooth round eggs with a mother-of-pearl sheen. The eggs reflected back the black walls. The men carried them gently.
She came to the end of the canyon. A tall crack in the rock breathed icy air at her. She slipped through, untroubled by sharp edges. She could see in the dark. Inside was a large cavern, with a long crevice running across the center. Cold air rose from it, steaming and curling like smoke. Beside the crevice lay the body of a man.
She knelt beside him while the cold air coiled around them. His skin was the waxy white of death. His lips and fingernails were blue. There was no mark on him. With a gentle touch she opened his eyes and saw that they were as black and hard as the canyon walls. She placed her hand upon his cheek and wished him peace.
Featherlike, she drifted down the crevice. It was a long way. Ice crystals clung to the walls. The air grew colder and clearer. The stone was the pocked and circled roughness of lava gone cold. At the bottom another body lay. This one had been burned. It disintegrated into ash at her touch.
There were ashes everywhere. Many dead, she realized. There had been a conflagration. And then it had gone out.
The seeing twisted, and she spun further and further back.
The crevice glowed with heat. Flames shot up as though from a furnace. On the roof of the cavern was the shadow of a dragon. It writhed in pain. It screamed, and fire jetted to the cavern roof in a white-blue glow. A man with eyes that flashed silver stood on the edge of the crevice and drew the fire to him. He breathed it in. His skin shimmered. He became a puff of ashes that fell softly down.
And another man came, and another, eyes flashing silver, then turning to stone. They breathed in the flame and became ash, and the fire faded. The dragon’s shadow dimmed. Its writhing slowed.
One more spin, and she stood in the canyon. The sky was a black- ness that breathed fire and had wings of smoke. It was made of coal. Red sparks showered from its body. Its claws had the shiny brightness of fresh blood.
It reached down and ripped her open.
She faded into darkness.
Which became the darkness of sleep and waking in her own soft bed, and there was grey at the window. She heard dawn birds and kitchen noises and the rattle of a wagon along the street. By the time she had washed and dressed, the dream had so vanished from her mind that she did not even remember she had dreamed. She had not a single thought of dragons.
Corin stared unhappily at the dingy little inn that was the only public place with a roof on it for miles. He considered riding on. He had slept in such places before and would again, but he was not sure he had the stomach for it that night. The wood and paint were sun-blistered and faded to dull grey, and the yard was a trampled patch of bare earth with some chickens pecking at it. Next to a corner of the building, a skinny mongrel scratched itself vigorously. The rusting pump by the porch was probably the only source of fresh water. He certainly wouldn’t get a room to himself, and what bed he did get would be full of fleas. Houses that looked equally downtrodden were strung out along the road. A shutter somewhere banged in the gusty wind.
Beside him, Bron said doubtfully, “We could just pay him for his trouble and keep going.” They had sent a man ahead to find lodging when it became clear they needed it. The sky was a lowering dark yellowish-grey that promised rain at any moment.
Corin looked over his shoulder at the eight other men. They had been riding from dawn to dusk for a week, and another push still wouldn’t get them home this evening; they had nearly sixty miles more. All of them, himself included, were saddle-weary to the bone.
He took the map out of his cloak pocket. Wind threatened to tear it away. They were fifteen miles west of lyde and it was about that far to the next town of any size. It was the main east-west road, but this was farm country, and all they would find along it were scattered villages, none likely to be any better than where they were. Baron Stede’s estate was about seven miles northwest, and they could impose on him. But in Corin’s experience working soldiers did not mix well with lords or gentlemen, and the additional formality and time such visits required were rarely worth the better beds. Especially with Stede, whose obsequiousness was matched only by his dullness. The fleas at least were honest in getting his blood. And democratic too; they didn’t care how royal it was. The thought of hot water for a bath almost changed his mind, but the wind and the darkness of the clouds decided him.
“No,” he said, “let’s stay, but I don’t want to know a damn thing about the kitchen.”
Bron gave him a glance to see if he meant it, then dismounted and started giving orders to the men. Corin got down slowly and barely noticed when someone led his horse away. He hoped the stabling was adequate and decided Bron would have told him if it weren’t. No point in looking. One of his boots had been chafing at his ankle for the last hour or so, and he dropped to one knee to adjust the laces. He was stalling, and he knew it, so he screwed himself up and went in.
The captain had as usual arranged things so that he barely had to deal with the innkeeper. So far as the man knew, he was just another soldier. The inn itself was better than it looked from the outside. It was crowded and noisy. Oil lamps dispersed darkness and a few windows let in fresh air. The common room was tidy, the glasses clean, the food tolerable, and the wine surprisingly decent. Perhaps, he reflected sardonically, he had been leading a rough life too long and his tastes were changing. The last six weeks had been rough only in comparison with palace softness and he did not allow himself to take the thought seriously.
The table-maid was very pretty, with golden hair in a thick braid to her waist. She flirted and laughed and teased, all charmingly and without favoring anyone. But she was no harlot; when one of the men put his hand on her hip she slapped it away with the efficiency and ease of a motion she had made a hundred times before. The soldier’s discomfited expression brought laughter from the others, and Corin hid his grin behind his wineglass. When she topped off his cup several minutes later he found himself quite aware of the smoothness of her neck and arms and the pleasant roundnesses beneath her practical and modest clothing. In Mycene with a body like that she would be someone’s slave. She was lucky to be Caithenian. He watched her a little longer than he should have.
His muscles relaxed slowly with the food and wine. He was not only weary from the travel but still preoccupied by the events of the past weeks. His father had given him a straightforward task: one of the commanders of the northern holds had died of lung-fever in midwinter, and Corin had gone to install the new commander and perform an overdue inspection.
That part had all gone well enough. The north was beautiful in spring, with clear sunny skies and thousands of birds everywhere, the Fell Hills bright and beyond them the mountains rising sharp and distinct, white tips gleaming. Even the high ground above the treeline was colorful with the small creeping flowers that bloomed for a few weeks a year. When he rode on the open plain he saw the distant huts and woolsheds of the shepherds. The barks of the sheepdogs and the bleats of the sheep were loud over the wide lonely land. There was no danger to look for from the north; the Fells and the mountains were sparsely inhabited by very poor people struggling for an existence as far north as anyone had ever gone. The holds had been used only for military training for decades. He should have enjoyed the solitude that he never got at home.
But things could not be that simple, of course. There were dragons. It was a rare day when he did not see one flying overhead, sometimes circling, looking for all the world as though it were doing its own inspection. On occasion they flew low enough to frighten the horses with their scent. And that was not at all the pattern of things; emperor Hadon usually kept his dragons within the heart of the empire, not patrolling the bleak northern edge of this small vassal kingdom. No love was lost on either side between Hadon and the king, but Hadon had always kept with history and tradition, ruling from afar and leaving Caithen mostly to its own affairs. Like kings before him, Aram had never made trouble. If Hadon had sent dragons here now, it meant he was up to something. He was watching where he had no call to watch.
Worse, it was a taunting and unsubtle reminder of Hadon’s power over the dragons and over Caithen to bring them this close to the dragon Valleys from which they had been seized and where they could no longer go. The dragon had been the symbol of Corin’s house once, before the empire stole the dragons five hundred years ago, claimed the country, and forbade it. Corin hoped bitterly that the dragons would rebel, throw off their riders and come back to the caves that their blood remembered. Caithen had never mastered the dragons as the empire did, he could not say they were his dragons, but they belonged in his land. It did not matter that they were deadly.
Nearly as disquieting were the stories the soldiers brought back from the shepherds and farmers and villagers they talked to, oddly compelling stories that lodged themselves in Corin’s thoughts and would not leave. There were stories of huge white wolves creeping down from the mountains and slaughtering sheep by the dozens, of goblins, of two-headed calves that could speak, of witches laying curses and shadow-stealing, of necromancy. A woman in one village had the Sight and predicted doom. There were always such stories somewhere; natural philosophy was still the province of the rich and educated. The poor would have their gods of tree and stream and hollow, their hedgerow cures and charms. But those things were not usually tossed about in tavern gossip. For them to come out now meant fear of something else that was too hard to face. He had seen the hex signs, the wardings, on the farmhouse doors and the roofs of barns. On the sides of the roads were little primitive pyramids of stone for guarding and shrines with offerings of food. People expected evil.
It made no sense, not even accounting for the uneasiness the dragons cast. The winter had been milder than usual, and the spring days were clear and pleasant. The woods were thick with deer and the meadows with game. There was no severe sickness, no spate of dried-up wells, no vast quantity of dead or deformed lambs. The Sarian bandits who plagued other parts of Caithen had not made their way into this wild country. The farmers he met were busy and taciturn but not struggling. The alehouses were full of laughter. It was always someone else who had had bad luck.
Yet sooner or later the talk turned to whispers of corruption, of savagery, of a violent unnatural world. Spirits and demons walked the earth, fire springing up in their footsteps, women miscarrying when they passed. Wraith lights led travelers astray and horses refused to ford familiar streams. Dogs howled and snapped at nothing. The garrison soldiers were a superstitious lot, and they became twitchy. After a while the tension was heavy enough that Corin had his own nightmares of singing bones and red-hot cages and miles of gallows. He caught himself making the signs against evil, throwing salt over his shoulder, thinking the nonsense rhymes to ward off faerie. He slept uneasily, and he saw the signs of sleeplessness in the men around him. It was hard to think logically, to keep account of tasks, to be civil. He was clumsy and irritable. Bron’s surreptitious worried looks at him became more frequent. And he began to forget things.
Small things at first, what he had had for breakfast or where he had put his cloak. But they grew larger. He spent an evening talking with the new commander and afterward could not repeat a word of it. He sat down to write letters and half an hour would pass between one sentence and the next. He found himself and his men miles south of the garrison one afternoon and did not remember leaving. He remembered preparing the night before, waking that morning, but he could recall nothing since dawn. When he tried to remark on it he spoke words that were entirely different. Something had to be done and he could not think what. An irrational insidious voice told him that he lay under a spell, and for all that he tried to shrug it off and convince himself nothing was wrong, he kept coming back to it.
Now, a week later, it should have seemed absurd. He had not had a nightmare for three days. But he could not shake the feeling of failure and lost chance, the nagging certainty that he had forgotten something important he was supposed to do, that hung over him. He was afraid to ask Bron, because he thought the captain might tell him something he did not want to hear. He glared into his wineglass and drained it quickly.
The table-maid appeared a few minutes later and refilled the cup. His fingers brushed against hers as he took it. She glanced at him. Their eyes met. He thought that she would not slap his hand away. He wondered if she knew who he was.
He was tempted, but she was too young and too ignorant. It would not be fair. As soon as he finished eating he stood up, taking his cup with him, and went outside. Rain was not falling yet, but he smelled the moisture in the air. The wind was stronger. It pressed his clothing against his body and tossed the leaves of a nearby tree upside down. The unpainted wood of the porch was cracked and warped with age, but it seemed solid enough. He put his cup on the railing and leaned outward, looking into the greyness. To his relief, none of the soldiers came out after him. He was well liked by his men, but they knew to leave him alone when he was in such a mood. A foul, ill-tempered mood, he admitted to himself. If they shunned him it was as much for their sake as for his.
A wagon rattled along the road. His legs were tightening up. Walking might be a good thing. When he went around the corner the full force of the wind struck him, bringing tears to his eyes. He ignored it. Behind the inn was a good-sized vegetable garden, yellow and white with blossoms. He saw peppers, beans, melons, beets, chard, onions. There were many plants he was too city-bred, or too wealthy, to identify. It was well maintained, and large enough that it was a significant labor. There must be one or two other servants besides the girl; cooking, gardening, cleaning, and laundering on the scale that this required was too much for any one person. Although it was possible that nine nights out of ten they had no guests. He doubted it; the crowd of people inside had suggested it was rather popular among the local farmers and villagers. What would happen to them when . . . when what? Once again it slid away.
He walked around the barn, the wash-house, and the inn itself before returning to the porch. It was far too early to go to bed, and there was nothing to abate his restlessness. The rain started. The dog scampered onto the porch and looked beseechingly at him. He went back in, hoping there were no leaks in the roof. He refilled his cup and went upstairs.
The room was better than he had expected, though tiny. The bed frame was well constructed and had a real mattress rather than a straw pallet. Besides the bed, the only other furniture was a small table, wobbly when jostled but sturdy enough to hold the cup. The floor had been swept and the linens looked clean. The door did not shut perfectly—he had to put his shoulder against it and push—and the windowpane was cracked and dusty. The ballast ropes were fairly new. Corin gingerly raised the frame a few inches, and it held.
He paused. There was a carved and painted hex in the outside sill. The paint was fresh. He ran his fingers lightly over it. A protection against wandering spirits. It should not surprise him, not in a country inn like this where likely no one could read. But it did. It was the newness of it, he decided, made from raw fear and not unthinking custom. For a moment he imagined he could feel his fingers tingling with galvanic power.
He pushed the thought aside and sat down on the bed. The rain hammered on the roof. It fell in heavy grey sheets, making the fields in the distance almost invisible. The only source of light in the room was a pair of thick ugly candles. No inn like this could afford glowlamps. Corin found the firestarter and lit them with a quick click.
The flames bent and fluttered. He watched the red and gold flicker and elide into each other, and he thought once more of dragons. He raised his glass ironically. To the Empire.
At nearly midnight, he was about to go to bed when someone knocked. Rain still slapped loudly against the window. He opened the door. Bron stood in the corridor looking worried. Before Corin could say a word, Bron spoke urgently. “Sarians, sir, a dozen of them, they just fired a barn two miles east. One of the boys got here ahead of them.”
It was too troubling to swear about. The bandits harried the eastern fringes of the country. They had never come this far west. “How much time have we got?” he asked as he buckled his sword belt back on.
Bron shrugged. He was ten years older than Corin, a few inches shorter, and eminently capable. “Ten minutes? Not long. But they’re on foot.”
“Do the people downstairs know?”
“No, sir. Alric headed the boy off before he went in.”
Ten to twelve. They should be able to defeat the Sarians handily, but Corin wasn’t going to take anything for granted. He said, “Get all the people here into the common room and put two men at the door. Can we rely on the horses in this rain?”
“I wouldn’t,” said Bron. “Too much mud.”
“All right.” Corin put on his cloak and cap. It was going to be a hellish fight. None of them had any armor more substantial than their leather vests. The Sarians weren’t likely to either, though.
The rain was torrential, the darkness thick. They waited on the porch. The smell of the smoke and the glow of the burning barn were evident even in the storm. Huge puddles glimmered on the dirt yard. It would be treacherous footing, slick and full of holes and lumps hiding under the water. The wind was not blowing as hard as it had been earlier, at least.
Two of the soldiers had bows. Bron put them at open windows on the second story of the inn. With any luck they would be able to bring down a few of the Sarians before it turned to hand-to-hand fighting. Two, maybe three shots each before the darkness and the close quarters made archery untenable.
Corin held his sword ready. It was an excellent blade, and he was a good swordsman. The soldiers were all superb. He was not too worried about the outcome. He was far more worried about the fact of the Sarian presence at all. But allowing himself to think about it was too much of a distraction. He forced himself to pay attention to the rain and the men standing by him on the porch.
The Sarians made no secret of their coming. They were chanting loudly and carrying torches. Corin’s heart sank when he saw that; they were the greenfire war-lights that water could not extinguish. The men’s faces were painted white, contrasting sharply with their red hair.
Corin could not hear the bow-twangs over the rain, but he saw the flicker of darkness in the light before two of the Sarians toppled over. A third cried out. That was enough warning for the others, who flung the torches down and drew their swords. The metal shone green with the reflected light. The shadows were huge. One more man went down with an arrow in his throat as the bandits advanced.
It was impossible for Corin to plant his feet in the mud. He would have to step lightly instead. Two of the Sarians were coming at him. They were taller and heavier, all of them. Bron interposed himself but one of the men got around him and swung at Corin. He parried easily but from the shock of the blow he knew the other man was stronger. Water beaded on the white paint on the Sarian’s face.
He was dimly aware that the two archers had come out from the inn, but he dared not look. His opponent had the advantage of him in reach and was skilled with the blade. The swords clashed against each other over and over. The mud made it nearly impossible to hold his line. A white light flared blindingly from one of the abandoned torches, flickered. Movements became jerky, hard to follow. Shadows moved maddeningly over the ground. The puddles reflecting the light were sleek.
The Sarian advanced on him, pushing him toward the building. He was going to be trapped against the wall if he was not careful. He parried the next blow and darted to the side, turned, so his back was to open air, risky as that was. Again the swords clashed.
He was lighter, he should be able to use that. He quickened his own slashes and forced the man slowly back to one of the puddles. Somewhere else in the yard a man screamed in pain. He could not tell whose voice it was.
The Sarian stepped into thick heavy mud that gave under his weight. He tried to lunge but the mud slowed him enough for Corin to get past his guard and strike him on the forearm. There was a ringing sound as the blade hit against a metal cuff or bracelet of some sort. Corin’s arm shook with the force of the clash. He kept hold of his sword.
The man pressed him again. He chilled briefly with fear. That pushed his body into harder, faster action. The sword felt weightless. It moved in the patterns he had practiced almost daily since he was a child. He did not have to think what to do. Even with the staccato light he could see clearly. Another slash to the man’s arm, and this time he hit not metal but flesh and bone, and he pulled back and swung again. The Sarian parried but more weakly.
Corin drew back once more. The man still lay open, and he surged forward, left palm on the pommel. The Sarian’s sword slid ineffectively against his and dipped down. He was through, pushing the blade into the man’s chest with all the strength he had. Dark blood bubbled out of the man’s mouth. Corin withdrew the blade. It grated hideously against bone. The Sarian was falling, slowly, backward with buckling legs. Blood poured from the wound. The man’s sword fell.
Breathing hard, sweat burning his eyes, Corin took his first look around. He saw immediately that he was not needed. Only two Sarians were still standing, and each had three soldiers ranged against him. They fell almost simultaneously. It was over.
He stepped onto the porch and wiped his face uselessly with his wet sleeve. Rain had already washed most of the blood from his own sword. There was a pain in his side from exertion.
Bron joined him. “All dead,” he said. “No one hurt on our side except Alric, it’s minor.”
“Put the bodies in the barn,” Corin said. They couldn’t stay there, the blood would disturb the horses too much, but they needed to be searched and looked at. The barn was dry and they could have a light.
Bron gestured backward at the torches. “What about those, sir?”
“I’ll take care of them,” Corin said grimly.
“Yes.” Bron knew as well as he did that ordinary Sarian bandits did not carry the war-lights. He twisted his cap to wring out what water he could. Bron stepped aside as he came down the steps.
There were five of the war-lights. One was flickering white, and one had gone out. The others still shone with green flame. Heat radiated from them. They smelled acrid and stung his eyes. He picked one up and found the knob on the side, turned it. The flame flared up. Quickly he turned it the other way. It extinguished with a snap, leaving no fading glow or ember. He touched the metal wick and pulled his finger away at once. It was still quite hot. He jabbed the wick into the damp ground and screwed it ruthlessly until he felt it bend. When he pulled it out it was coated with mud. He worked it back and forth at the bend until it snapped.
After he had done the same with each of them, he gathered them up and walked to the barn. The rain fell faster, whipping into his face. He was so wet already that it did not matter much.
Inside the barn, he dropped the war-lights with a clatter and looked around. The barn was large enough to belong to a much more prosperous inn, but old and in some disrepair. To the left was a walkway with about a dozen stalls on either side and a large covered pen at the end. To the right were bales of hay stacked fifteen high and ten deep, large feed barrels, mostly empty, and a row of hooks. There were some loose hay bales and two battered stools in the open area. The floor was dirt and gravel and was relatively clean, though the smells of horse manure and wet hay and leather lay over everything. The only light came from a lantern hanging from the ceiling on a long chain. It had been disturbed, and the shadows swelled and shrank like waves as the light moved slowly to and fro. The horses were shifting and huffing; if things were not kept calm they could become difficult. Three of the soldiers were attempting to settle them. There were no horses besides their own.
The bodies were laid out neatly on the floor. A dozen Sarians, all tall and red-haired, all strong. There was no look of starvation about them. If they were bandits they had been doing remarkably well. Bron and Alric were already searching. Alric’s forearm was bandaged neatly with no blood showing. To Corin’s relief none of the deaths had been messy. That made it easier on everyone.
The Sarian bandits had been a problem for most of the last four years, but only on the fringes of the country. They were cruel and vicious. Their targets were lone farms and poor villages well away from main roads and large towns. They were also luckless deserters of Tyrekh’s army, pushed westward by the forces they dared not try to go back through. They fought with knives and slings and staffs, not with good swords and war-lights. It was a hard, makeshift, and harried existence. These men were not of that sort.
He squatted beside a body and looked carefully at it. The Sarian had been one of the ones who died from an arrow, and there was little blood. Someone had cut his shirt open. From nipple to nipple, and from each nipple to navel, was a burn-scar in a straight line an inch wide. In the center of the triangle was a smaller triangle, inverted. Corin winced reflexively, seeing them. He was not surprised—he had heard of these brands, honor-marks—but he could not help imagining the pain. The nipples had been pierced and ringed. From each ring hung a sliver of bone. These were elite soldiers, the cruelest Tyrekh had. And that led only to one grim and inescapable conclusion: Tyrekh was on the move.
He gestured at the burns. “They’ll all have it,” he said, “or at least some of them. It’s ritual.”
“Bloody stupid ritual, it must kill some perfectly good fighters,” replied Bron, who was nothing if not practical.
“I think that’s the point,” Corin said. He stood and thought.
Six years ago Tyrekh had come out of the east from Sarium, on the other side of the nearly impassable Black Peaks. He had taken four other countries under his control over three years. He was said to be a sorcerer, a half-god, a fey immortal. His soldiers worshipped him, which made them fearless. Corin knew of at least six assassination attempts that had failed, resulting in impalement for the men who had been unlucky enough to survive their tries. Aram had flatly refused to send anyone himself after seeing what happened to those from other countries. Nor had he risked many spies, and those only the best. The Sarian troops were armed with weapons of fire and strength such as no one had ever seen. They were cruel, rapacious, and unstoppable. Tyrekh took the field himself and whatever resisted him was left shattered behind. Kersage, readh, Torent, Al Marini, Veniti, Arragon, great cities all and now their palaces were destroyed and their people were slaves, and Tyrekh’s governors sucked away anything that people still had. After taking Illyria, he had ceased, apparently content not to reach farther west into Argondy and Caithen, and there had been three years of nervous peace since. No one would be surprised to learn it had ended.
“I’m going back in,” he said. “I’ll need someone to take a message when you’re done. Make sure all the men know to keep quiet about the fight. Put the torches in one of my bags.”
Bron nodded. They looked at each other. Speech was pointless.
Corin went back to the inn. He changed into dry clothes, took writing materials from his saddlebag, and went downstairs to wait. The common room was still noisy and raucous; he could not even hear the rain. He suspected that some of the men in the room were too drunk to have been aware of the danger they faced.
He did not want to call attention to himself. He sat at a table and began composing mental messages to his father. They all had a tone of panic in them. He should have stayed in the barn and helped search; it would have kept him occupied and made it go faster. Dignity be damned. He scowled.
After a while he realized the uncomfortable feeling inside him was fear. He did not try to talk himself out of it. Caithen was a small country; its strength lay in spies and not in soldiers. The Caithenian army had increased fivefold in the last six years, but it was still small and inexperienced in comparison with Tyrekh’s. As much as Corin hated Mycene’s overlordship, he knew that it made the emperor bound to protect Caithen. But if the Sarians were already moving in, they had plenty of time to slaughter before they were challenged by Imperial troops.
Someone approached him. He looked up. The serving girl with a pitcher of beer. He accepted a drink, more to have something to keep his hands busy than because he was thirsty. She had a charm on a cord around her neck, and her hand was going to it frequently. She knew or felt something. He watched her, because it was easier and more pleasant than thinking about war, but he no longer had even the smallest flicker of desire.
His mug was still nearly full when Bron came and sat down. “Only one thing besides money,” the captain said. He put a small leather pouch on the table.
Corin opened it. The leather was rich, soft and finely grained, not something a bandit was likely to possess. Inside were a few coins, an extremely battered map, and a green stone carved in the shape of an animal fang. The Sarian gods were animals, wolves and bears and sharp-beaked birds. He touched the stone. A luck piece or ritual item of some sort, no doubt. It had failed the man this time. “Have you got someone ready?” he asked Bron.
He laid out his paper and scrawled a brief message. Twelve Sarians west of Lyde with war-lights. Soldiers not outlaws. I am making all haste. He blew the ink dry and folded the paper. The only thing to seal it with was cheap wax from a candle in a wall-sconce. He doubted it would hold, but it was better than nothing. Rine could be trusted not to read it.
“I’d prefer he go the whole way,” Corin said, sliding it to Bron. “He can answer questions. But it has to get there whatever way is fastest, he can give it to a courier. And interrupt my father no matter what he’s doing.”
Bron took the letter and left. A group of men burst into a drinking song on the other side of the room. One grabbed the table-maid by the shirt and pulled her to him. She emptied the beer pitcher on him. Despite himself, Corin grinned. That was spunk. He hoped she made him pay for the beer too. He watched a moment longer to be sure no harm came to her.
Then he went silently back to his room and stretched out fully clothed on the bed, sword at hand. The peace was well and truly broken.
What People are Saying About This
“Fun and beautifully crafted. The novel is something like a Russian nesting doll: it’s a Jane Austen novel inside a Princess Bride type fantasy romp inside a much darker Tolkein-esque story of politics, war, magic, and dragons. An impressive debut.” – Charlie Lovett, New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale
“Moth and Spark is a standalone, a rare gem, especially in the fantasy genre. A fantastic read all around.” —The Book Swarm
"Anne Leonard’s Moth and Spark combines action, adventure, and romance flawlessly…. Readers will love the magic and secrets that are laced throughout…. From mysterious deaths to dragons, there is something here for everyone. Moth and Spark is beautifully written… Austen-esque and elegant.”—My Dear Biblophage
“Immensely readable, hard to put down… a debut that shows so much potential.”—Fantasy Review Barn
“[An] intriguing fresh fantasy debut.”—Genrefluent
“Moth and Spark was a magnificent blend of traditional fantasy, adventure and romance. It just might be what many a fantasy fan has been aching for.”—My Shelf Confessions
“Moth and Spark [is] for anyone looking for a standalone fantasy romance. It’s light but not too fluffy, and is perfectly suited for bouts of escapism and flights of fancy.”—Books Without Any Pictures
“…Astounding writing… a story that you can really sink into. This is one of those powerful debut novels that is unlike anything you’ve ever read before, while being exactly what you expect.”—Book Worm Blues
“Anne Leonard had me at dragons. From just this aspect alone I knew I would like the book. It's a fantasy, but it's not heavy fantasy. So if you're knew to this genre, this would be a great starting point…I would love for the author to write more books in the realm of Caithen.” —2 Read or Not 2 Read
“Anne Leonard knows how to craft a paranormal fantasy that is never dull, intriguing with just the right amount of details, and cleverly plotted to impact on the reader’s interest. You won’t be able to put this down; and if you’re a new or old fan of fantasy, this is definitely a MUST for your next read! Highly recommended!”—Crystal Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this book. I am not a fan of romance and particularly dislike graphic sex scenes; this book successfully conveys the sense of the protagonists' passion without bogging us all down in excessive details. The plot follows traditional fantasy lines, and does it well. The world and characters depicted are convincing and a pleasure to visit. And, of course, there are dragons, always a plus! Best of all, an actual conclusion is reached at the end of the book; this is not yet another fantasy where it is obvious from the get-go that the auhor plans to drag it out in as mny books as possible. I would welcome more books in this world and with these characters, but this novel is very satisfying as a stand-alone vehicle.
Anne Leonard’s defined style of writing grabs hold of readers and plunges them deep into this fantasy world filled with constant excitement, action, wonder, romance, and of course, dragons. The prologue gives but a glimpse of the world that Corin, heir to the throne, lives within. One filled with danger, secrets, and a commoner, Tam, who is a visitor at summer court and in awe with her surrounding, and sees Corin for more than just his title. She too carries a secret unknown to even her that could be the key to understanding, and either save or kill the ones around her. Unbeknownst to Corin, he has been tasked with freeing the dragons controlled by Emperor Had and his journey will slowly unfold as what he needs to know and do becomes apparent. But, there’s a war a brewing and they are but two people. Can they free the dragons? Can they find themselves? They say they look in the water and see the dead all pale and blind. Not bodies. There is a woman who comes up to you and touches your shoulder and you freeze like ice, and she sucks the blood out of you while you stand there. Moth and Spark was a phenomenal story that had me hooked quickly and carried through to the very end. It is a pleasant mingling of action adventure fantasy meets historical romance giving it a broad appeal for readers. Reminiscent of Game of Thrones meets the forbidden love of Water for Elephants, I found this story to have a perfect balance. The world is beautifully descriptive and enthralling, easily capturing my attention, while the characters, while not overly in depth, had personal qualities that made it difficult to not want a blossoming romance to round out the story. I am unsure if Leonard intends to keep this a standalone book, but there are definitely elements that could easily make this into a series, which is always my preference. If you are looking for a non-YA fantasy romance novel that will sweep you away from reality for a while, definitely take the time to pick up and read Moth and Spark. You won’t regret this choice! *This book was provided in exchange for an honest review*
I have been a long time fan of high fantasy - I practically grew up on the back of a dragon surrounded by wizards throwing fire balls at the enemy army (undoubtedly full of trolls and goblins). Moth and Spark was a pleasant return to this genre. With plenty of dragons around and a splash of magic thrown in, a dashing prince falling in love and a wise king guiding his kingdom from the evil baddies that threaten the safety of everyone - it was everything I had hoped for. Prince Corin was everything a good prince should be and Tam was the perfect (if not exactly socially acceptable) girl for him to fall in love with. But the dragons have given them a task - the dragons want to be freed from their slavery to the evil emperor whose family stole them long ago. The book follows the pair (and their many helpers) as they try and fiure out just how you're supposed to free a dragon. There was plenty of treachery, a few epic battles, and a lot of looking into themselves in order to find the solution. If you are a lover of fantasy and need something fresh and new, this would be the perfect book. Fast paced and interesting, you're sure to love it. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*
For the most part, I found this book enjoyable but it was not at all what I was expecting. It is more romance than any other genera. I thouth that it would be much more fantasy. You hear bout the dragons in the opening scene and then dont see them for another 150 pages. The last 30 pages or so were very good and interesting, but most of the rest was just loght romance that was slightly dull. My favorite character was not a main character and Corin didn't really seem to put his heart into anything, including Tam. ' Beach book', not 'OMG I can't put it down!' book.
MOTH AND SPARK has all the hallmarks of a classic fantasy novel. The world Ms. Leonard created is richly detailed and stunning, with well-rounded characters who blaze to brilliant life within the pages. Corin and Tam are great characters, each round pegs struggling to fit the square holes into which their society and families feel they belong. They are both much more than meets the eye – not just a prince and not just a doctor’s daughter. Both Corin and Tam have pivotal roles to play in the pending war with the Empire, so even though they cannot marry, they choose to enjoy their relationship until they must part. I didn’t feel as if the story was overstuffed with inconsequential information, every event and every character played a part in directing or impacting the flow of the story. Pick up this story and you will be swept to a faraway land which will capture your imagination. MOTH AND SPARK is well-balanced, creative, and has dragons!
I enjoyed this book.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I read the reviews beforehand so I knew there was a good love story here. Unlike some readers- I did not think it was a negative thing to bring the dragons into the story the way it was done. I loved the flow of the story and the richness of the language (: I LOVE dragons and have read many books about them, all varied. This is a unique story that I love. I look forward to her writing more!
I found the initial storyline interesting, but it wore very thin by the middle.of the book. The plot surrounding the dragons and the main charachters "power" was not very well explained. I found dmyself having to reread several parts to make sure I didn't miss an explanation, only to find that there was none. Intersting but vague
Being a lover of fantasy, I looked forward to reading Moth and Spark. Prince Corin of Caithen, very obviously under some compulsion in the beginning of the story, has war coming at his country from two directions. Tam, very beautiful but not of high birth, can assist Corin in his quest with her seer's gift. Although the prince is not supposed to court a commoner, in times of war exceptions are made. Despite the captivating beginning and lively, action-packed final third of this book, it is top heavy with the romance between Corin and Tam. Add to this the court intrigue and numerous girls fawning over their love interests, and the middle of this book reads a bit like a Jane Austen novel. Although the characters are generally realistic and lifelike, I found Tam a bit too good to be true. At least Corin, though also a bit too much the perfect prince, fortunately comes across as more prone to human failure. He makes mistakes, has doubts and doesn't always play open cards with either Tam or his father, king Aram. I absolutely loved the dragons in this book. The way the dragon riders can communicate with the dragons and with one another is unique and imaginative. The world building in Moth and Spark is creative and extensive enough for the purposes of this story. Moth and Spark is a comfortably paced, light fantasy especially suitable for those who prefer a heavy dose of romance. I would, however, warn readers not to approach this book with the same expectations as for series like A Song of Ice and Fire or even The Lord of the Rings. (Ellen Fritz)
It was alright. Nothing special.
3.5 stars Reviewed by IvyD for Manic Readers & Miss Ivy's Book Nook Corin, prince of Caithen, has recently returned from a trip north, a trip that irrevocably changed him. The dragons believe the time is at hand to secure their freedom and Corin is their chosen champion. Tam, daughter to a scholar and doctor, is a commoner. Tam’s trip to court and exposure to the lines of power running through Caithenor brings out her latent talent as a Seer. With war on the horizon the new lovers become the last hope of not only the dragons but Caithen. MOTH AND SPARK is a strong beautifully written debut set in a medievalesque world centered on the country of Caithen. The familiarity of the “time” makes the world easily believable. What captured and held me first was the writing; the pacing, the feel, and attention to detail. The locations from the court of Caithenor to the Wizard Village can be clearly “seen’ and are peopled with vibrant characters speaking splendidly subtle and witty dialog. Tam is my favorite type of heroine, intelligent, strong, charming, and capable without being overbearing. These snippets illustrate her unpretentiousness, intelligence, and appeal. Her first “date” with Corin... He said her name, in the tone of someone who is repeating it. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I was thinking. It’s one of my faults.” He made a sound that might have been suppressed laughter. “It’s quite all right. I was saying something banal about the architecture.” At a very public Ball… “I’m aware of that,” she said. “But what do you expect them to talk about if they can’t go to university or take part in commerce or politics? It’s damn boring sitting around sewing.” She was not sure what to expect for a response, “You,” he said, and broke all rules of the dance to kiss her, “are not someone I ever want to argue against in public, because you will slice me into tiny pieces before I even know it. However did you get this way?” “I’m not inbred nobility,” she said. He burst into laughter and lost the rhythm of the dance. And later…. “Because you are the first woman who paid me the honor of actually seeing me,” he said. It was unexpectedly sober. “I’ll concede I didn’t give many women much of a chance to, but none of them were interested in it.” “I had no intent to lay you bare.” “That’s why you could.” The last two snippets speak volumes about Corin and Tam. And now a snippet or two about our hero, Corin;…he truly gets it. “Exactly. Never do both sides get what they want. The bargain always fails. I’m not playing that game.” He was right, but something about it stung her. She realized she had wanted to be the hero, to find the answer, to set things right. Perhaps that was the result of talking to dragons. It made one feel stronger, more important, cocky. She nodded reluctantly. “I know you don’t like taking things on faith,” he said. “Nor should you. But sometimes it’s necessary. A bargain is no bargain if you don’t have faith the other party will keep it. “That’s why Hadon is losing his empire. He has no faith in his subjects, and they have no faith in him. A people can only be governed by its own consent.” “You said at the ball that power was making a person give something for nothing and thinking she had got the better deal.” “That’s power, not governance. They aren’t the same.” Corin and a dragon… Its mind was asleep, and he traveled through strange dragon dreams before it roused enough to speak to hi. It was cold, alien, inhuman. There was sound, thunder or breaking ice and bells and gongs. Wind. The crackle of fire. Everything was black. Then opal light. Vertigo. He was pulled, tossed. He plummeted downward into darkness while wind rushed over hi and cold air stung his skin. Red light. The flickering shadow of a dragon writhed on Hadon’s throne. Hadon stood before him, hands outstretched,and his eyes were the blackness of the void. Go, the dragon was telling him. Go. You know what to do. He broke the contact with his mind and simply felt the dragon. Its bulk, its heat its scales. He ran the tips of his fingers along a scale over and over. So smooth. Water would bead on it and fall, a blade would crack, an arrow would bounce. He ventured the briefest of touches to the edge of the scale and pulled his finger back at once, bleeding. There, he thought. Now you have my blood. While I took abundant pleasure in the writing, characters, and tense action (the climax was amazing) there was one unexpected issue. I felt MOTH AND SPARK had too much romance for a fantasy. Surprising for a romance reader to say, but I prefer my fantasy to be more fantastical than romantic. I wanted more about the dragons, wizards, and the history of the “world” and less intimacy. Yes, Tam and Corin’s relationship developed at lightning speed but that really wasn’t a problem. War or the threat of it and extraordinary circumstances can explain the rapidity of their connection and its progression. I didn’t need those beyond the bedroom door scenes to solidify their relationship in my mind. There is nothing left dangling at the end of MOTH AND SPARK. This is worth mentioning because series have become the norm in most genres. I greatly appreciate that everything was tied with a big red bow. It left me remarkably relaxed and satisfied. If beautifully written fantasy appeals to you MOTH AND SPARK is definitely worth your time.
Peaceful Caithen is about to go to war, but this is not just any human war with its terrible destruction and at least a chance of winning. This is a fantasy land surrounded by the Mycenean Empire and the Sarian nation, lands where the depths of darkness reigns with dragons, wizards, poisons, and darkness never imagined. Tam, the daughter of a scholarly and brilliant doctor, knows about some of these terrors but refuses to be intimidated by them. Yes, she knows fear but isn’t ruled by it. Chaperoned, she arrives in Caithen and almost immediately sees someone die and has a horrific vision during the event! This vision does terrify her and distracts her from the normal courtly gossip and jealousies that are routine matters here. That’s all about to end though as she meets Corin, the Prince of Caithen, a handsome, strong man who is about to fall hard and fast for Tam, a commoner! Corin knows something recently happened to him that is to be immensely significant to him and his kingdom but for some odd reason he just can’t remember. However, he has little time to ponder that as it is clear the Sarians have begun traveling to attach not only Caithen but also every town, village and city between their land and Caithen. Corin is tense with worry and plans for a battle he knows they cannot win, because of the dragons who will be part of the attacking army. After many short, serious and sweet conversations with Tam, he not only knows he wants to marry her but also that she has some secret powers that he could use in his plans but which he avoids initially because of his fierce need to protect her. These are two level-headed, practical characters who know when to be fiercely romantic, sometimes surprisingly on the part of bold Tam. Though she has never loved like this and felt such desire, she abandons herself to what her body and mind are telling her. This develops into not only passion but also the realization that she will not be shunted away out of danger but instead will play an integral part in the plan Corin has to save Caithen before the Sarians can destroy it and all who reside therein. Readers will enter the world of magic, mesmerism, dragon flight, “blood dust,” and finally an internal battle in the depths of the earth that are stunning the way the author describes them. Corin and Tam may prevail but the journey will be almost indescribably dangerous and not without unforeseen consequences. Anne Leonard knows how to craft a paranormal fantasy that is never dull, intriguing with just the right amount of details, and cleverly plotted to impact on the reader’s interest. You won’t be able to put this down; and if you’re a new or old fan of fantasy, this is definitely a MUST for your next read! Highly recommended!
15 dollars for an ebook?