Far in Darkover's past, the Ages of Chaos were a time of constant warfare, when immensely powerful psychic weapons ravaged the land and slaughtered entire armies. Perhaps none was more dangerous and unpredictable than the mental Gift to sense--and control--thunderstorms. When the realm of Aldaran and their Scathfell cousins came to blows, that Gift turned the tide of battle, and Aldaran prevailed.
A generation later, the heir to Scathfell, Gwynn, has grown up in the shadow of that conflict, his life shaped by the loss of his entire family. Now he plots his revenge for his family’s humiliating defeat by seeking to marry a woman who carries the storm control Gift, so that his sons will be able to wield the terrible power of storms against Aldaran.
Since childhood, Kyria has been able to sense approaching storms. She had never expected to marry a rich man; independent and athletic, she defied tradition by donning her brother’s castoff clothing and trapping small game to keep her family from starvation. When Gwynn’s emissary arrives with a marriage proposal that will secure her family’s financial future, she agrees. Along with her younger sister as her companion, she sets out for Scathfell, where she will be formally wed.
During their passage through rugged mountains, a blizzard drives them to seek shelter in a traveler’s hut, where they meet Edric, the young heir to Aldaran.
Edric has inherited the storm control, but he has never dared to use it. His whole life, he has been warned against the consequences, not just to his enemies but to everyone he loves. Now, disguised as an ordinary traveler, he journeys home after years of study, disciplining himself to control his powers.
When he meets Kyria, he senses the presence of the same storm power, but unschooled and dormant. They know each other only as Edric and Kyria--for under shelter truth, all identities are concealed--and are drawn to one another.
Thus begins the saga of two kingdoms, divided by bitter history and present-day suspicions, one armed with devastating power and the other determined to overcome it, no matter what the price. Can their love and resourcefulness overcome even the overwhelming power of a Thunderlord?
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 30, 1930
Date of Death:September 25, 1999
Place of Birth:Albany, New York
Place of Death:Berkeley, California
Education:B.A., Hardin-Simmons College, 1964; additional study at University of California, Berkeley, 1965-1967
Read an Excerpt
Beyond the jagged western peaks of the Hellers, the most massive of Darkover’s mountain ranges, a storm was gathering. As yet, only a few clouds marred the skies and the winds had not quickened. Sunlight filled the meadow under its blanket of snow, warming the air with the promise of approaching spring, but the stands of conifers cast shadows as deep and chill as Zandru’s Hells.
Kyria Rockraven pushed back the fur-lined hood of her jacket and tilted her face to the sky. Even at this distance, she could feel the storm on her skin and taste the lightning to come. She did not know how she knew that a day as mild as this would quickly turn to killing cold, but she could not remember a time when she could not do so. She had never spoken of it, not even to her father or her younger sister, never sure if it were a good thing or a sign of the Rockraven curse.
Behind her, the aged chervine jerked on its lead line and snorted as if it, too, sensed the shift in the weather. It had come to a halt when Kyria paused and now it pawed determinedly at the ice-crusted snow. It uncovered a patch of grass, still bearing occasional seed-heads, which it nipped off neatly.
Kyria patted the pony-sized animal affectionately. It had carried her through many a childhood adventure, although it was too small for her to ride now. “At least one of us has something to eat.”
Her gaze flickered upward again as she judged how long she’d have before the storm swept down from the heights. If she hurried, she could finish her circuit, checking the traps that had supplied a significant portion of the cook pots this winter. With luck, there would be another rabbit-horn or two, enough for a stew when eked out with the dwindling store of root vegetables. She wondered what it would be like to pass a winter without being hungry. When she’d tagged along when her younger brother Rakhal was first taught trapping, an enterprise suitable for boys too young to hunt, her father had scowled at her but had not forbidden it. He might have suspected how many family dinners her traps would supply once Rakhal had joined the army of the Hastur king, but he’d refrained from comment. That way, he didn’t need to insist she behave in a more womanly way, she wouldn’t have to openly defy him. So the fact that for two years now, she’d gone out in all weather, dressed in Rakhal’s much-patched castoff jackets and breeches, had never become an occasion for a public quarrel.
Kyria tightened her hold on the chervine’s halter rope. “Come on, then. The sooner we finish, the sooner we’ll get home.”
She picked up her pace, angling across the meadow toward the edge of the conifers. Here at the edge of the stand, weedy bushes formed a thicket. Kyria led the chervine through a gap. The light dimmed, cut off by the masses of blue-black needles, and the temperature fell. She shivered, as if the storm were already upon her, then forced herself to concentrate on finishing her task.
She continued checking the traps but had not gone far when, with a familiar, wordless intuition, she sensed the distant rumble of thunder. The sky was no longer clear, but scudded over with clouds. Wind whipped over her skin, so cold it burned. As she watched, the clouds darkened. The first flurries of snow whirled around her, thickening with every passing moment.
Moving briskly, she started back across the meadow. The snow made speed difficult, but she pushed forward with each stride. As best she could, she placed each foot in the impressions she’d left on the way out. The chervine came along without protest, as if it too sensed how close the storm was.
Within a quarter of an hour, snow fell so heavily, Kyria could see only a few feet in front of her. The gusting winds blew every which way. She paused, wiping away the snow that clung to her eyebrows and lashes. Already her cheeks and the tip of her nose were going numb. With one hand, she loosened her knitted scarf and pulled the edge over the lower part of her face.
In that brief moment, the newly fallen snow had almost obliterated her footsteps. The nearest trees, only a few paces away, appeared as shadows. Try as she might, she could make out nothing more distant. The danger of her situation—how easily she could become lost—settled on her like a second blanket of ice. She’d known the storm was coming and that it would be bad, but she had not imagined the suddenness of its descent.
Her body was still warm but she could no longer feel her toes and fingers. Her muscles felt thick and sluggish, and a number of times she fell but caught her balance against the chervine. The beast plodded on, apparently unconcerned by the weather.
Soon Kyria felt as if she’d been struggling through the snow for hours, half a day certainly, far longer than it had taken her on the outward journey. Surely she should have seen some sign of the castle or its outbuildings by now. The light was fading, although that could be the darkness of the overhead clouds. She tried her best not to think of a fire blazing in the main hearth. Her younger sister, Alayna, would smother her in a down comforter and bring her hot spiced wine.
No, imagining that won’t help at all.
She lowered her head, putting all her strength into pushing her way through the snow. A change in the smell of the air, sensed as much with her mind as with her nose, made her lift her head. The snowfall lessened for a moment, and she made out the curve of hill that led to the great stone-walled house. Below, she glimpsed a warm orange light.
The sight of home infused Kyria with renewed energy. She knew this stretch between two low hills, for it was the only approach to the front gates. The path was wide enough for two horses or a cart, but smoothed over by many feet over the centuries. The next thing she knew, the stable master burst from the stables, lantern in hand.
“Damisela Kyria! Bless Aldones, you’re safe!”
He drew her into the dark shelter of the barn, where the wind no longer blew snow in her face. One of the stable boys took the chervine’s lead rope, saying he’d bring the rabbit-horns to the kitchen, and the stable master was half-carrying, half-leading her up to the house.
The door flew open before Kyria had climbed the last step. Her adolescent nephew, Gwillim, stuck his head out and exclaimed loudly, “I told you she would come!”
“Get out of the way, child!” His mother, Lady Ellimira pulled his arm. “Don’t block the door!”
Kyria found herself swept up into a very different sort of blizzard, one whirling with color and light, familiar faces, and voices exclaiming. Her sister-in-law, Lady Ellimira, took charge of the proceedings. She was a big-boned woman, too long in the jaw to be handsome, but her dowry of cattle and pastureland had made her an excellent match. Although visibly pregnant with her third child, she was energetic and robust; she dragged Kyria through the chilly entrance hall and into the more intimate, well-heated family parlor. All the while, she issued one order after another as if she were a general in King Allart’s army, keeping anyone without useful work away from interfering with those with. Within a surprisingly short time, Kyria’s sodden outer clothing had been stripped off and a thick warm shawl wrapped around her.
Ellimira seated Kyria in a chair before the fireplace and placed a goblet of spiced hot wine into her hands. “Drink!”
The men of the family kept their distance while Ellimira gave orders. Kyria’s eldest brother, Valdir, Ellimira’s husband and heir to the estate, was not present, although he would undoubtedly have a thing or two to say privately to Kyria later.
Lord Pietro Rockraven watched the proceedings from his throne-like chair of age-darkened wood, on the other side of the hearth. Living in the mountains had aged him beyond his middle years, turning his hair the gray of granite and paring his features into feral leanness. Painfully aware of his silent regard, Kyria could not bring herself to meet his gaze. Valdir would berate her because young women like herself, of good breeding and reputation, were not supposed to wander the countryside, but the worry in Lord Rockraven’s eyes was born of his love for her, and that made it far more difficult to endure. No matter how Kyria had misbehaved as a child, he had never railed and shouted at her as he had at her brothers.
At last, Ellimira decided that Kyria was not likely to perish from exposure, or perhaps she saw that it would soon be impossible to hold the curiosity of the household at bay. She opened the door. “You may visit with Kyria,” she announced, “but only for a few minutes. Don’t overwhelm her with your chatter!”
“Kyria! I’m so glad you’re safe!” Alayna, Kyria’s youngest sister, entered first, in a swirl of lavender scent. She threw her arms around Kyria. “I was so terribly worried—we all were!—when the storm hit. At first, nobody realized you were still out there, and then Gwillim discovered that one of the chervines was missing—” Alayna had a flair for the expressive telling of tales, and as usual had taken a few details and spun an adventure straight out of a winter’s night ballad.
As dearly as she loved her baby sister, Kyria had no wish to become the heroine in such a tale. “Enough, please! I’m home now, with nothing worse than a bit of a chill, and Lady Ellimira has seen to that. The storm came up faster than I expected, that was all.”
“Indeed, we must not overtire you after your ordeal.” Ellimira stood over Kyria, elderly Aunt Siobhan at her shoulder, and Gwillim and his younger brother behind her, politely waiting their turn. They all had things to say, the boys about how exciting it was to be lost in a blizzard, and the old lady about how when she had been a child, it was said that the Rockravens could summon winter storms from Zandru’s Seventh Hell. Ellimira clucked in disapproval and hustled everyone out of the room, except for Lord Rockraven and Kyria herself. As Alayna departed, she cast a conspiratorial glance over her shoulder and mouthed the words, Talk later!
“Come here, child.”
Leaving the shawl in a heap on the chair, Kyria approached her father. This was the moment she’d dreaded, when she must face the consequences of her adventure.
“I’m not going to scold you, so stop looking like a rabbit-horn caught out of its burrow,” he said. “I’m not entirely displeased with you for tending the traps in Rakhal’s place, although some would call it improper for a young woman of your rank to enjoy such freedom.”
Some do not have so many mouths to feed, Kyria thought.
“Papa, I only sought to—”
“We will discuss the matter shortly.” Lord Rockraven took Kyria’s hands in his, his fingers warm although knotted with joint troubles. The gentleness of his touch broke her depressing train of thought. “What I want to hear first is how you came to be caught by the storm.”
“It came upon me suddenly, sir.”
Pale eyes glinted beneath jagged brows. “And you had no warning, no sign of it?”
Kyria hesitated. She had felt the storm, even when the day was mild and the skies clear. “I... I could feel it.”
“I have long suspected as much, ever since you were a little girl and would wake in the middle of the night, crying that lightning was coming. I would show you the skies, so clear you could count a thousand stars, but the next day, your thunderstorm would be upon us.” He sighed. “It distressed your poor mother, who thought the tales were mere superstition.”
Kyria summoned her courage to ask, “Are they mere superstition, Papa? Or—or is the Rockraven curse real?” And do I have it?
“I do not believe that any Gift must necessarily be a curse.” His eyes flickered away from hers, as if his thoughts strayed to darker matters. “Like everything else, it can be used for good or ill. Some say that psychic talents were deliberately bred into our bloodlines, either by carefully selected marriages or direct manipulation of the cell-seeds that carry the trait. Others question that such a thing is even possible, although I have heard of even stranger experiments carried out in the Towers. This is why I have never allowed you or any of my children to be tested for laran, lest those folk use their findings as an excuse to turn you into a broodmare for their own purposes. Fortunately, only you and Rakhal experienced threshold sickness, and in neither case was it severe enough to threaten your lives, so there was no need to send for a leronis.”
Kyria’s head was spinning. She had never heard her father speak of such matters, not the Towers and how they cultivated laran, nor his fears for her and her siblings. She remembered a time, shortly after her breasts had begun to grow, when she’d felt dizzy for no reason she could tell, and certain foods had tasted peculiar and sometimes nauseating, but she had thought it was because she was growing so fast. She’d overheard the cook say something about growing pains to the scullery maid. Alayna had never complained of such symptoms, but Alayna had never had a single pimple, either.
But—“Gift?” The word escaped her mouth without her conscious thought. “You said this storm sense is a Gift?”
“It saved your life this day, did it not, by prompting you to turn back before the storm was fully upon you?”
Kyria lowered her eyes.
“Ah, my brave little Kyria. I did not mean to frighten you with what might have happened. You are back with us, safe and whole. In the future, should you ever receive a similar warning, I urge you to heed it. Look on it not as a curse but as a strength.”
“Feeling a storm even before it can be seen must surely be a good thing, especially here in the Hellers. But, Papa, why is it called a curse? Why would people think such a thing?”