This Scepter'd Isle (Scepter'd Isle Series #1)by Mercedes Lackey, Roberta Gellis
God Save the Queen! (With the help of the Sidhe of Elfland . . .) Two Masters of Historical Fantasy Join Forces in a New Epic-First Time in Paperback!
The FarSeers among the Sidhe of Elfhame Avalon have seen two visions of the future. In one, an evil queen will take the throne and welcome the Inquisition in, debauching the nation and threatening even the elf
God Save the Queen! (With the help of the Sidhe of Elfland . . .) Two Masters of Historical Fantasy Join Forces in a New Epic-First Time in Paperback!
The FarSeers among the Sidhe of Elfhame Avalon have seen two visions of the future. In one, an evil queen will take the throne and welcome the Inquisition in, debauching the nation and threatening even the elf strongholds throughout the land. In another, a red-haired child will grow up to take the throne and usher in a golden age of literature, music, and art. The evil Unseleighe Sidhe, who draw power from pain and misery, welcome the coming of a ruler of humans who will increase their strength, and are determined to prevent the red-haired child from coming to the throne. Unless the good Sidhe can find the child and protect her from the evils and dangers of both the human and elven worlds, she will never grow up to become Elizabeth, Queen of England in the Sixteenth Century.
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This Scepter's Isle
By Mercedes Lackey Roberta Gellis
Baen BooksISBN: 0-7434-7156-3
Chapter OneWith red-eyed hounds wailing and horns sounding "the death," the Wild Hunt poured into the forecourt of Caer Mordwyn, the palace of Vidal Dhu. Rhoslyn Teleri Dagfael Silverhair reined in her black steed, feeling his flanks heaving beneath her legs, his muscles trembling with weariness. Automatically a sidelong glance measured the physical condition of her twin, Pasgen Peblig Rodrig Silverhair, and his mount, but his not-horse was no less tired than hers. It had been a long Hunt; their quarry had been a canny creature who had doubled and redoubled his track, trying to escape them. They hadn't expected that; it wasn't as if he was anything special, just a mere mortal boy out on the wrong moor on the wrong night.
He'd been a gypsy, though-perhaps that had had something to do with his cleverness.
Not clever enough, not by half. He'd finally gone to ground in a place he probably thought was safe, a churchyard-but elves weren't demons, no matter how many times mortals confused them, and the holy symbols that mortals held powerful were of no use against them.
Cold iron now-if the fellow had remembered to keep even a single horseshoe nail about him, they might have cornered him, but they'd never have been able to touch him. The fool-going out at night, on the moors, without cold iron (and why hadn't he had a knife, at least?), a hawthorn sprig, or any sort of true protection against the Unseleighe Sidhe.
Perhaps he hadn't been a real gypsy then; a real gypsy wouldn't have been so foolish. A real gypsy would have had a cross made of horseshoe nails about his throat, and perhaps even a horseshoe in his pocket to boot. After all, a horseshoe was proof against mortal as well as Sidhe, when wielded in a fist.
The horses milled, the red-eyed hounds swarming about among their clattering hooves, the courtyard a seething sea of chaos and noise. Then Vidal Dhu, unmistakable in his ebon armor, rode his sweating horse halfway up the staircase, paused there, raised his hand, and a silence fell over all of them. Even the hounds cringed, and slunk away to cower beneath the hand of their houndmaster.
"Disperse," their leader said, the single word echoing against the obsidian walls that surrounded the court.
And, of course, they did.
The houndmaster left first, his charges surging about him in waves, but silently now, silently, for Vidal Dhu had made it plain that he was wearied of the noise. To their kennels they would go, to lick the mortal blood from their paws and dream of another such hunt.
The lesser members of Vidal's court left next, riding out, not through the Gate to the mortal world which was now dead and dormant until Vidal called it to life again, but through the ordinary courtyard gate into the Underhill realm in which Vidal Dhu held sole sway. The greater lords and ladies, those who dwelt here in Caer Mordwyn at the pleasure of their lord and master, dismounted as servants came to take their steeds. With the creak of leather or the soft susurration of silk, they slipped up the stairs to the Great Hall, and from thence, to their quarters.
Now only Vidal Dhu, Rhoslyn, and her twin brother Pasgen remained, still mounted, in the courtyard.
Vidal slowly removed the antlered helm he always wore when leading the Wild Hunt, a fearsome thing of blackened silver with a pair of antlers worthy of an Irish elk, and a grim, grated visor that permitted nothing of Vidal's face to show.
A servant appeared at Vidal's stirrup; literally. Such things were commonplace Underhill, depending on the strength of the mage, of course. Vidal handed the helm to the creature, which was black-skinned and looked rather like an elongated newt in Vidal's black-and-silver livery. With a jingle of harness and a creak of leather, the Unseleighe prince dismounted, and stalked down the staircase and across the courtyard to the twins.
He took Rhoslyn's hand in his, and bestowed a kiss on the back of it. Even through her leather gloves, his lips were icy.
"I believe that the FarSeers require your presence, and that of your brother, my child," he said, his voice a velvet purr over a blade of adamant.
Pasgen and Rhoslyn exchanged a look, and both dismounted. Rhoslyn had no idea how the Prince of Caer Mordwyn knew that his FarSeers wanted her and her brother-certainly no words had been exchanged between him and his servant. It was, perhaps, a measure of both his power and his control over everything within the bounds of his domain.
They were dressed alike, Rhoslyn and Pasgen, in tight black leather breeches, thigh-high boots, and black silk shirts with billowing sleeves. Wide, waist-cinching black leather belts held their weapons, matching daggers and rapiers. They differed only in their headgear; Rhoslyn wore a flat cap over her silver-blond hair, while Pasgen, as long-haired and fair as his sister, went bare-headed.
While Vidal Dhu watched with cold, green, cat-pupilled eyes and more newt-servants came to take their horses, the two crossed the courtyard and climbed the stairs. When the prince of Caer Mordwyn spoke, it was wise to follow even an implied order.
Not everything was bedecked in black in Caer Mordwyn. Once past the doors, the entrance-hall was a blaze of red and gold, with brazen stairs rising right and left. Pasgen, with slightly longer legs, got a bit ahead of his sister, and preceeded her up the right-hand stair.
Vidal kept his FarSeers in a tower, which they never left. Why, Rhoslyn wasn't certain. It wasn't as if there was anywhere for them to go. They couldn't pass the established border of Vidal's domain. Vidal never took them with him anywhere. And she and her brother were rapidly overtaking their teachers in FarSeeing skills. There was no reason anymore to keep his old servants confined-unless it was to deprive them of all external stimuli so they would be more eager for their visions.
Rhoslyn shivered, glad Pasgen was ahead of her on the stair so he would not see her weakness, but a really horrible thought had just occurred to her. Would she and Pasgen be the next denizens of the tower?
The chamber holding the great Mirror was at the very top of the tower, in a round room with no windows. A plush black carpet covered the floor from edge to edge, black velvet draperies covered the walls, so that every sound was muffled. The Mirror, a round, shallow basin, black as the walls and filled with the clearest of water, stood directly on the floor. Around it were placed the stools used by the FarSeers. The lighting in this room, dim and subtle, came from the ceiling-the entire ceiling, which glowed like a moon, a flawless moon, a silver disk without a shadow on it.
The other three FarSeers, sexless elves, pale and willowy, were robed identically in black, like the robes worn by the occasional priestly mortal Rhoslyn had seen in the upper realms, equally sexless, equally pale. Those poor worms, however, were clothed in harsh wool, while the FarSeers were draped in velvet.
They waited already on their stools. Without a word, Pasgen and Rhoslyn joined them. The three elder elves raised their hands in silence, and a mist drifted down from the ceiling above, a mist glowing with latent power as it settled on the surface of the Mirror. Theirs was the power. As she thought it, the knot that had formed under Rhoslyn's breastbone, making it hard to breathe, loosened. She and Pasgen could not summon that kind of power-and by her will and her warning, they never would. However, it was Rhoslyn and Pasgen who would clarify whatever dim vision the FarSeers had sensed in the Mirror that had caused them to call for the twins.
The mist settled; the Mirror began to glow as the light within the room dimmed. Rhoslyn could not have pulled her gaze away from that glowing circle now if she'd wanted to.
But she didn't want to, not really, in spite of the price she knew she would pay. The power in the Mirror was like a heady drink, and filled her with languor and euphoria at one and the same time. She did not wish to look away, and although she forgot it when she left this chamber, the moment she took her place on the stool before the Mirror, she remembered, and longed for the draught.
Shapes formed in the shifting light, and she leaned forward, just as, on the other side of the Mirror, Pasgen did the same. She felt him, hot and strong, binding to her as she bound to him. Both drank the power, willing the shapes to become more.
"Ahhh," that was one of the three FarSeers, as shapes became figures, and figures became the images of mortals.
The mortal king of this island-Henry, eighth of his name-a red-haired infant in his arms. A deathbed, with a bloated, monstrous version of the same king upon it. A coronation procession, though who was being crowned, Rhoslyn could not make clear.
Then many images in rapid succession-green fields and fertile harvests, festivals, laden ships coming into port-musicians and players, poets and painters-faster and faster until they blurred together into a single impression of burgeoning and flowering-and blurred into the formless mist.
Inside herself Rhoslyn shuddered; it was a future Vidal Dhu would hate. He would not thank the FarSeers for such a vision. This future held none of the things that their prince treasured. Only when there was unrest and pain in the mortal world, did he reap a harvest of his own. Rhoslyn glanced quickly at the poor, pale things and was surprised that they were not weeping and groaning. They would suffer for what she had seen. But Rhoslyn herself? Deep within her something stirred ... and she strangled it a-borning.
"That is one future," whispered one of the FarSeers. "Linked to the red-haired, mortal child."
Even as Rhoslyn thrust down that quiver of desire for light and joy, another image began to form. She knew at once that this was why the FarSeers were not aghast; this was what they had brought her and Pasgen here to See. She concentrated on a new potential, buoyed by a burst of will from Pasgen, on a future that did not hold the red-haired child or that golden coronation procession. Rhoslyn held to that thought, driving all others from her mind, as her brother was doing across the Mirror from her, and the shapes began to form in the mist again.
And this time-they were very different.
Linked to a woman, whose hair might once have been red but was now drab and dark; linked to a woman surrounded by those black-robed Christian priests, and beside her a man, hardly taller than she, pale and pasty fair, with a long, thin, melancholy face, softened only by too-full, too-red lips surrounded by a thin, sandy beard. His clothing was as black as the priests' and his small-eyed head was presented on his crisp ruff as if it were being served on a plate. And now images that would be much more pleasing to the prince passed like ghosts across the face of the mirror.
Fires, fires in the heart of which twisted the bound figures of mortals. Mortals trooping into churches beneath the eyes of priests, with fear in their eyes and bowed heads. More mortals, in the hands of those priests, screaming in agony, undergoing what the mortals drolly referred to as "the Question." More fires, more mortals, bound and shaven, some mere children, being marched to feed those fires. Books going on still more fires as well, and a pall of smoke covering the land. The smoke rose to obscure the fires, to mix with the mist, and then, as always, Rhoslyn felt Pasgen's strength withdrawn and her own drained out of her as the mist thinned and settled and vanished. She sagged on the stool and passed her hand in front of her eyes; when she looked again, there was only the Mirror, blackly reflecting the silver ceiling above, and across from her, the weary emerald eyes of her brother.
"Ahhh." This had the sound of satisfaction in it. "Well done, my lord, my lady. The prince will be pleased."
Rhoslyn could not tell which of the three had spoken, but the one nearest her clapped his hands, and servants, stick-thin creatures with fingers like gnarled twigs, parted the curtains beside her. They looked fragile, but as she knew of old, they were strong; they helped her down from her stool, as on the other side of the Mirror, they were helping her brother. After a moment, he waved them off unsteadily; she elected to lean on them. After all, what else were they there for?
"Your lady-mother is preparing your chambers for you, my lady," one FarSeer said, holding aside the curtains so that she and her escort could pass through. Rhoslyn wanted to protest-not mother-she'll make such a pother!-but it was too late. The decision had been made for her, and she was too tired to do anything other than go along with it.
She felt a moment of envy, when it appeared that Pasgen was remaining behind. Lucky Pasgen-he wouldn't have to listen to their mother's vaporings! And perhaps he would learn from the mouth of the prince himself what the visions all meant, and what parts, if any, the twins were to play in his plans. She would not let herself be left out of those plans this time!
But then the moment slipped away, for she was too tired to think about anything other than placing one foot in front of the other. Speculation could wait, and so could jealousy and rivalry.
For now-the sole center of her universe was the urgent need for rest. Everything else could wait.
Elsewhere Underhill a far different hunt had come home, lthough here too the silver horns wailed the Mort. Their prey had well deserved his fate, for he had dealt death, and far worse than death, to many, and had grown so rich from his work that he had been flattered and courted instead of despised. The Sidhe had done what mortal law could not-or would not-and the swirling crowd of riders called cheerfully to each other as they dismounted from their elvensteeds and patted the dogs that leapt and cavorted around them.
Unwinking silver stars set in the illusory sky of Elfhame Logres burned down through the eternal twilight that shrouded the groves and meadows in misty blue. Denoriel Siencyn Macreth Silverhair turned away from the last of his companions of this night's Wild Hunt, leaving them to their revels and feasting under the shelter of the leafy boughs in the gardens of High King Oberon's Summer Palace. He had another appointment this night, one he would not break for a much higher price than wine and laughter.
"Miralys," he breathed, and the elvensteed was there, nudging him with a velvet-soft muzzle. He swung around the steed and mounted. Miralys had run all night, but he was ready and willing to run again. That was not necessary. Denoriel guided the silver-dappled, emerald-eyed elvensteed down moss-covered paths that led away from the sounds of music and laughter toward the Gate that joined Logres to Elfhame Avalon.
Excerpted from This Scepter's Isle by Mercedes Lackey Roberta Gellis Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Mercedes Lackey is the author of the Bardic Voices series and the SERRAted Edge series (both Baen), the Heralds of Valdemar series (DAW), and many more. Of her writing, Stephen King has stated, "She'll keep you up long past your bedtime," and Locus raved, "Lackey is one of the best storytellers in the field." She has her own fan club with over 1,000 members, and was one of the first writers to have an online newsgroup devoted to her writing. Among her popular Baen titles are The Fire Rose, The Lark and the Wren, and The Shadow of the Lion (with Eric Flint and Dave Freer). She lives in Oklahoma.
Roberta Gellis is author of over 25 novels in different fields. New York Times best-selling author John Jakes has called her "a superb storyteller of extraordinary talent," Publishers Weekly has termed her "a master of the medieval historical," and Romantic Times has praised her as "a master spinner of tales." Her many awards include: The Silver and Gold Medal Porgy for historical novels from West Coast Review of Books and the Golden Certificate and Golden Pen from Affaire de Coeur. From Romantic Times she has received both the Award for Best Novel in the Medieval Period and also the Lifetime Achievement Award for Historical Fantasy. And the Romance Writers of America have presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award. Her previous fantasy titles for Baen are Bull God and Thrice Bound.
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An excellent book combining the best of historical fiction with fairy. There was lots of political maneuvering in both the mortal and Unseleighe courts, but the book manages to end with a big battle between the forces of good and evil. We got to follow the characters for several years, watching their relationships (especially that between FitzRoy and Denorial) grow and develop. There was a strong sense of history and place, since everyone but the Sidhe were actual people. Several times the author's provided more details about everyday life in medieval England that normally wouldn't be discussed as a contrast to life Underhill.
Vidal Dhu abducted the Unseleighe Dark Court Elven twins Rhoslyn and Pasgen Silverhair when they were young. The siblings were raised as Unseleighe Sidhe. Now they see two potential futures for England. One version has a red-headed child sired by King Henry VIII leading Britain to prosperity. The other forecast depicts a different descendent of Henry VIII sitting on the throne and taking the country down the path of Inquisition and depression............................. At the same time without the kidnapped duo¿s awareness, the Seleighe Bright Court twin elves Denoriel and Aleneil Silverhair see the same double vision of future England. The latter duo is also unaware that their half-siblings shared their forecasting. Each pair of twins tries to influence the outcome of the shared vision with different goals in mind, which leads to the inevitable............................. This is a terrific historical fantasy that uses real persona and events to tell the tale of the successors to Henry VIII with a delightful Elven twist. The two sets of twins differ on whom they want sitting on the throne so when the magical battle occurs, fans have the added treat of a solid twist to the often told rivalry between Henry¿s daughters. Fantasy guru Mercedes Lackey and historical fiction champion Roberta Gellis combine their tremendous individual talents to create a wonderful delight in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts even with the parts being from two of the greats........................... Harriet Klausner