Books

The Queen's Weapons

The Queen's Weapons

Ace
March 2021
Hardcover, ebook, and audio book

Cover design:
Adam Auerbach

available as audio bookavailable as ebook


 



EXCERPT

Copyright © 2021 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.
(Suggested reading age: 15 years and older.)


PROLOGUE

Tersa drooped on the stool in front of her worktable. Her brown hands trembled as she pushed her black, tangled hair away from her face. Her gold eyes, dulled by fatigue, stared at the latest tangled web of dreams and visions that she had woven in an effort to understand the uneasiness that kept scratching at her. It would go away for days, sometimes weeks, and then it would return. Scratching and scratching. Daring her to remember a life best forgotten for everyone's sake. For her own sake most of all.

With this latest web, she could almost see . . . something. But the truth of it eluded her, as so many things eluded her. Simple things. Ordinary things. Some days her body and most of her mind were present in Halaway, the village where she lived. Some days she looked at the decorated cakes in the bakery window and saw cakes. Then there were other days when she saw fragmented memories of other windows, other cakes full of sharpness and pain and screams.

Perhaps the cakes had held those things. Perhaps not. Sometimes it was difficult to tell one thing from another because she was a broken Black Widow—and a shattered crystal chalice.

The breaking had been done to her, the savage rape destroying her potential and turning her into another witch whose power had been broken by a man's spear. But the shattering that had fragmented her mind and left her forever wandering the roads in the Twisted Kingdom? That had been her choice in order to regain the Hourglass's Craft. She had done it in order to see, to give warning and hope to her boy and the winged boy.

So many years had passed since the night when she had told Daemon Sadi and Lucivar Yaslana that Witch was coming. So much had happened—joy and pain, sorrow and celebration.

And now . . .

Tersa closed her eyes and let herself slide away from the border between sanity and the Twisted Kingdom. There was often clarity in madness.

She followed a familiar road, stopping when the road began to fragment into paths that might hold the answer—or might hold some terrible memory. As she stood before those paths, knowing she could lose her way and never find the road back to the border, back to her boy, she wondered if all the pain and sorrow, if all the prices that had been paid, had been for nothing.

*I am Tersa the Weaver, Tersa the Liar, Tersa the Fool.* She spoke the words she'd said once before, sent those words into the Darkness on a braided thread of power and madness.

A midnight voice, rising from deep in the psychic abyss that was part of the Darkness, replied, *Not a liar, and not a fool.*

*Something's coming, but I cannot see.* She wondered if her ability with the Black Widow's Craft, the ability she'd paid for with her sanity, was fading. Failing.

*Even if you can hear the sound of a man's feet marching on the road, can you see him when he's still on the other side of a hill?* Witch asked.

She considered that for a moment. *Not until he reaches the crest of the hill and becomes visible.*

*Well, then?*

Tersa looked at the fragmented paths that would fragment into more paths that would fragment into even more paths. So easy to get lost in the fragments, where yesterday might be tomorrow. So hard to remain close to the border and its noisy, everyday living.

But her boy needed her. The winged boy needed her. Even the girl, the assassin, needed her.

*You will help the boy?*

*I will help him.*

Turning away before she couldn't resist the lure of following just one of the fragmented paths, Tersa began the climb back to the border of the Twisted Kingdom.

She opened her eyes and grabbed the edge of the worktable as she swayed on the stool, adjusting to the harsh return to the tangible world. As soon as she felt steady enough, she disposed of the tangled web and cleaned the wooden frame that had anchored all the threads of spider silk. Then she locked her tools and supplies in their trunk before tidying up her worktable. When everything was in order, she left the workroom she'd created in the attic of the cottage she shared with the Mikal boy, locking the door before going downstairs.

Because of the vision in this tangled web, she'd heard the warning sound of footsteps, but it wasn't time yet to see. She had to believe there would be enough time to see.

That night, Tersa dreamed she was standing in a place full of mist and stone—a place with a chasm that held an enormous web of power that spiraled down, down, down into the Darkness. As she stood there, feeling the weight of that place pressing on her skin, Witch whispered, *Keep watch, Sister. Listen for those approaching footsteps.*

*What will you do?* Tersa asked.

*I will make sure that, when the time comes, all the weapons are honed for war.*

 

CHAPTER ONE

Using Craft, Daemonar Yaslana called in a ball of twine and then considered the puzzle in front of him. After adjusting a couple of pieces for a better fit, he began lashing together the fallen branches he and his cousin had gathered for this harebrained, idiotic, get-their-asses-kicked-for-this idea—an idea that sounded intriguing enough that he might have tried it on his own at another time if he'd been able to talk Jaenelle Saetien out of building a raft today and testing it on the river.

It was a warm summer day, and floating on a raft sounded like fun, but there were rapids downriver and a waterfall. Testing himself against those things on a raft made out of branches and twine appealed to him. After all, he was an Eyrien Warlord Prince, and until he was old enough to test his strength and skill by making the Blood Run, this could be considered practice. Right?

That almost sounded like a reasonable explanation for doing this. He'd have to remember it if—okay, when—his father found out about this adventure. And he'd have to figure out a suitable reason why he wasn't alone on the raft. Maybe Auntie J. could help with that—if she didn't give him a whack upside the head before his father had a chance to do it.

Jaenelle Saetien set the next load of branches beside the ones he'd laid out. Then she sighed. "Why can't we just use Craft to hold the branches together? Tying them is going to take forever."

"You afraid we're going to get caught before we get this thing in the water?" he asked, lashing two more branches together.

"Maybe."

He looked at her. Jaenelle Saetien SaDiablo had the straight black hair and gold eyes of all the long-lived races, but her skin was a lighter, sun-kissed brown and her delicately pointed ears were a sign that some of her bloodline had come from the Dea al Mon, a race of warriors often called the Children of the Wood. She was smart, usually sweet in a feisty kind of way, and she sometimes had more backbone than sense.
Then again, so did he or he wouldn't be out here helping her build a raft that most likely would break apart when they hit the rapids and waterfall.

"Your father takes calculated risks, not foolish ones," his grandfather had said once. "He measures risk against his own strength and skill, as well as the strength and skill of the people with him. As you get older, he'll expect you to do the same."

"There is a difference between taking a calculated risk and a foolish one," Daemonar said, echoing words that lingered in his memory. "We take the time to make this ride a calculated risk, or we walk away."

She wouldn't walk away. Not completely. If he insisted on walking away today, she'd test a raft and a river at another time in another place without him, and that was unacceptable. She was family, and it was his duty and privilege to honor, cherish, and protect.

"But . . ."

"What are you going to say to our fathers if either of us gets hurt because you were impatient?" he asked.

She sat back on her heels and sighed. "That's hitting below the belt."

That was where truth, when it was inconvenient, usually hit.

Jaenelle Saetien might want to try things that were risky, but she would yield if he would get in trouble because of her actions. Well, she would yield most of the time, unless the impulse to do something overwhelmed every bit of common sense that should warn her about how her father would react to a particular scheme.

She was the daughter of the Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, and even though she loved her father, sometimes being the daughter of a powerful man was a burden. Daemonar understood that kind of burden. He was the son of the Warlord Prince of Askavi—the feared Demon Prince of Askavi. Those two men were not only brothers united by family and their service to a Queen unlike any other in the history of the Blood, they were also the most powerful, and dangerous, men in the entire Realm of Kaeleer.

But they were still men, and fathers, and if their children felt a reckless need to explore what could be done with Craft, that inclination must have been inherited from them. Right?

He'd point that out if he had a chance to argue his reasoning for doing this harebrained adventure before his uncle or father killed him flatter than dead.

Jaenelle Saetien sighed again. Then she shrugged, accepting the need to put in the work before having fun, and began helping him piece the branches together to provide the snuggest fit, using Craft to trim them to the best shape while he wrapped power from his Green Birthright Jewel around the twine to make it stronger without making it thicker.

Finally satisfied that the raft was the best one they could make, he secured the last branch. "I guess we're ready."

Daemonar looked at Jaenelle Saetien. She looked at him. And they grinned.

He wore a Green Jewel. She wore an extraordinary Birthright Jewel called Twilight's Dawn, which had a range of Rose to Green power. It had been a gift from Witch, the Queen of Ebon Askavi, the living myth. Auntie J. no longer walked among the living, but she was still his Queen. Would always be his Queen. And that was a secret known only to the other men who also still served her—his father and uncle.

Now Jaenelle Saetien tapped into the Green strength in her Jewel to help him float the raft on air and guide it to the water. He steadied the raft until she stepped on it and had her balance. Then he got on behind her, his legs spread in a fighting stance, his dark membranous wings opened halfway to help them keep the raft balanced. Calling in the last branch they'd collected and hadn't used, he pushed off from the bank, dropped the branch, and settled his hands on his cousin's waist.

"This is wonderful!" Jaenelle Saetien said as they floated down the river.

Daemonar scanned the river and the banks, watching one for debris that could snag the raft and upend it and the other for any Eyrien who might have spotted them and sent word to his father on a psychic communication thread.

He felt the change in the river, saw the white water and boulders seconds before Jaenelle Saetien said, "Uh‑oh."

He wrapped an arm around her waist and closed a fist around some of her tunic, wishing she had worn something with a belt. Easier to hold on to someone if they wore a belt. He'd remember that for next time.

"Here we go," he said as they hit the rapids.

He leaned this way and that way, using his whole body to steer the raft around the boulders as best he could.

Not easy,he thought, exhilarated by the challenge. Not easy, but, sweet Darkness, this is fun.

He saw sky ahead of them and mist from the waterfall. One more tight passage and—

He leaned one way. Missing her cue for the first time, Jaenelle Saetien leaned the other way. Instead of skimming past a boulder, they hit with enough force that it took all the skill he had to keep the raft from flipping and tossing them onto the boulders or into fast-moving water.

They hit another boulder and spun—and the raft began breaking under them, the twine snapping from the strain, despite the coating of Green power.

"Hang on!" he shouted, wrapping both arms around her as the raft reached the end of the rapids and shot over the falls.

They rode the raft down partway. Then the last of the Green power he'd used on the twine burned out, and what was left of the raft fell apart.

Should they go down ahead of all those branches or behind them? Ahead, they'd have all that wood coming at them, and even if he shaped a shield around them, one of them could receive a nasty knock on the head if they surfaced right in front of one of the heavier branches.

Behind then.

Daemonar spread his wings, pumping hard to get some height—or at least delay the plunge into the pool below long enough for the branches to move downriver.

Jaenelle Saetien was younger than his sister, Titian, but the girls were about the same size. He hadn't considered either of them large, but, Hell's fire, it was everything he could do to hold that weight—and he wouldn't be able to hold her much longer.

Judging the distance to the water, Daemonar created a Green bubble shield around them and folded his wings.

Jaenelle Saetien screamed as they fell.

*Hold . . . ,* he began on a psychic thread.

No time. They hit the water and went down like a stone halfway to the bottom of the pool before the buoyancy of the bubble shield popped them back to the surface. They rolled a bit in the Craft-made bubble before he eliminated the shield and they went under a second time.

"You okay?" he asked when they surfaced.

She tipped her head back and whooped, a sound full of the joy he also felt. "That was wonderful! Daemonar, let's . . ."

"Hell's fire," he muttered when he spotted movement on the riverbank.

"What?" Treading water, she looked in the same direction. "Uh‑oh."

"Yeah. Uh‑oh."

Lucivar Yaslana, the Warlord Prince of Askavi, stood on the bank, watching them. He didn't shout, didn't make a come-here motion with his hand. He just watched them.

That could not be good.

"Come on," Daemonar said. "We'd better not keep him waiting."

They swam to the bank, fighting the current with every stroke. Well, he fought the current, aiming for the ground where his father waited. Jaenelle Saetien either wasn't strong enough or wasn't trying hard enough to reach stern judgment, so the river floated her away from her uncle. Lucivar paced her, letting her struggle—more than necessary, in Daemonar's opinion—until she finally reached the river's edge.

Lucivar reached down and pulled her up to the bank.

Daemonar let the current take him to that spot on the bank. When Lucivar reached down, he accepted his father's hand, unable to decipher the look in those gold eyes. His father had a volatile temper, even by Eyrien standards. It should have been in evidence and wasn't—and that was a worry.

"It was my fault, Uncle Lucivar," Jaenelle Saetien said. "It was my idea to build the raft."

"I figured that." Lucivar looked them over. Satisfied that there were no apparent injuries, he studied the river and said mildly, "Listen carefully, witchling. If you ever test that river and waterfall again—or any river or waterfall anywhere in Askavi—without my permission, you will be banned from Askavi for a year. All of Askavi, including my home. Do you understand me?"

Daemonar's jaw dropped, and he imagined his expression matched Jaenelle Saetien's. No visits for a year?

"But . . . ," Jaenelle Saetien began.

"Do. You. Understand?"

Oh, Hell's fire. There was the heat of temper under the mildness.

"Yes, sir," she replied.

"Then let's get you home and into dry clothes." Lucivar wrapped them both in Red shields and took them with him when he caught the Red Wind, one of those psychic roads in the Darkness, and headed back to the Yaslana eyrie.

The Winds were connected to the power in the Jewels the Blood wore. The darker the Wind, the faster you traveled. Traveling on the Red, which Daemonar couldn't have used on his own since the Red was darker than his Green, they arrived at the eyrie too fast. He wasn't ready for the reckoning that had to be coming.

When they arrived at the eyrie, Lucivar handed Jaenelle Saetien over to Daemonar's mother, Marian, then looked at him.

"Get cleaned up. I'll be waiting for you in my study."

"Yes, sir." Nothing else he could say.

"Do I want to know what the two of you were doing?" Marian asked.

"No, Auntie Marian, you really don't," Jaenelle Saetien replied.

"I want to know," Andulvar said, joining them in the large front room.

*I'll tell you later,* Daemonar said on a psychic spear thread.

He smelled like the river, which wasn't a bad smell at all, but because he'd be closed in a room with his father and wasn't sure what kind of discussion they were going to have, Daemonar took a fast shower before getting dressed and reporting to his father's study.

He usually liked the room in the family eyrie where his father took care of the business of ruling Ebon Rih, the valley that lived in the shadow of the mountain called Ebon Askavi. Also known as the Keep, Ebon Askavi held a vast library, was the repository for the Blood's history, a sanctuary for the darkest-Jeweled Blood—and the private lair of Witch.

He often did his schoolwork in his father's study, sitting quietly while Lord Rothvar, Lucivar's second‑in‑command, reported on the Blood and landen villages in the valley or received orders for the other Eyriens who protected Ebon Rih. The men knew he listened, and he knew anything they considered private was discussed on a psychic communication thread. He also knew that when Lucivar, who had trouble reading, asked him to read a document out loud, it was as much to give him a glimpse at what it meant to be a leader as it was to help his father.

Maybe someday, if he proved worthy, he would be the one ruling Ebon Rih while Lucivar took care of holding the lines of Blood law and honor throughout the rest of Askavi.

Since he couldn't measure how much trouble he was in while standing outside the door, Daemonar knocked, waited for permission to enter, and went in.

Lucivar wasn't sitting behind the desk; he leaned against it and gave the boy a careful study before shaking his head. "Tell me all of it."

Daemonar told him all of it, from the first glimmer of the idea to building the raft. He even threw in the words about the difference between calculated risks and foolish ones—and heard his father snort in an effort to suppress a laugh.

Still no sign of anger or disappointment or anything except . . . amusement?

"Hold out your arms," Lucivar said.

Daemonar obeyed and said nothing while Lucivar ran his hands over shoulders and arms before moving around to examine back muscles.

"You are going to be hurting sore by tomorrow, boyo," Lucivar said. "You don't have the muscles or the strength yet to carry that much weight safely."

"I wouldn't have dropped her," he replied defensively.

"No, you would have gone down with her, because that's who you are." Lucivar came around again and looked Daemonar in the eyes. "Smarter to use Craft and the reservoir of power in your Jewels to lift something that's too heavy to lift otherwise. So I guess those are the Craft lessons we'll be working on this week."

Lucivar's hands rested on the boy's shoulders, and the strength and power Daemonar felt in those hands reminded him that he had a lot of growing up to do.

"Did you have fun challenging the rapids?" Lucivar asked, that mild tone still a worry to the boy.

"Yes, sir." Daemonar grinned. Couldn't help it.

"Then I guess another thing you need to learn is how to build a better raft."

He studied his father. "You're not angry."

Lucivar stepped back to lean against the desk again. "Well, I can't get pissy about you and Jaenelle Saetien doing the same thing your aunt Jaenelle and I did. Only we rode those rapids and went over that waterfall on a raft built out of nothing but kindling and Craft. Twice."

"Twice?" Daemonar's voice rose to the point of cracking. "Hell's fire! Doing it once was a dumb-ass thing to do but . . ." He stopped and considered who he was talking to. "I mean . . ."

"It was a dumb-ass idea. Both times. But I imagine I did it for the same reason you did. That sparkle in the eyes that warns you that she's going to try this with or without you, and the thought of her doing it without whatever skill and strength you can give . . ."

"No." Daemonar shook his head. "We couldn't do that."

Lucivar smiled. "No, we couldn't do that. But sometimes that means drawing a line and being willing to fight someone you love into the ground if that's the only way to protect them." He looked away, seemed to be seeing something that wasn't in the room. "Jaenelle Saetien reminds me of Jaenelle Angelline in a lot of ways, but they aren't the same. When it came to Craft and spells and the use of power, my sister was brilliant and could do things no one else in the entire history of the Blood had done. Things no one else will ever do again. Her ideas didn't always work, but she wasn't impetuous or careless. Jaenelle Saetien is a child in a way that Jaenelle Angelline never could be, because your cousin is growing up safe under her father's protection."

"So are we. Growing up safe." Uncle Daemon wasn't the only Warlord Prince who took care of his family.

Lucivar laughed softly, then sobered. "Yeah, you are safe, and I don't know if you'll ever appreciate how much that means to me and your uncle. You'll carry your own scars. That's part of growing up. But you won't carry the kind that Daemon and I carry. You won't have to live with those kinds of scars."

Serious talk. "Would you tell me about those scars?"

Something about the look in Lucivar's eyes made him wonder what line he'd just crossed.

"That's campfire talk," Lucivar finally said. "Private talk. But not until you're older." He pushed away from the desk. "I need to go to Dhemlan. Better your uncle Daemon hear about this adventure from me than from someone else since I know what to say to smooth it over."

He and his sister, Titian, and his younger brother, Andulvar, were protected in their father's house, but outside the eyrie . . .

"You should talk to Titian." The words were out before he considered if he was protecting his sister or betraying a trust. But talk of scars and growing up made him think this wasn't something he should keep to himself any longer.

"Later," Lucivar said, heading for the door. "I'll be back before your bedtimes if Titian wants to talk."

"No, sir." Daemonar hesitated when his father turned to face him—an Ebon-gray Warlord Prince responding to the sound of a challenge issued by a Green-Jeweled Warlord Prince. Then he stepped up to the line. "You should talk to her before you go to Dhemlan."

A crackling silence as the Warlord Prince of Ebon Rih studied him.

"It's that important?" Lucivar finally asked.

Was it? Titian had been excited and happy about her secret, but lately she'd been unhappy and afraid of what Lucivar and Marian would say when they found out. "Yes, sir. I think it is."

"All right." Lucivar walked out of the study.

Daemonar bent at the waist and braced his hands on his thighs. Challenging a male as strong and as powerful as his father was a messy way to commit suicide, and even a son couldn't count on getting away with a challenge without paying a harsh price.

But he had gotten away with it. Sure, he'd argued with his father plenty of times and had even sassed him on occasion, but what was overlooked in a boy—up to a point, anyway—wasn't tolerated in a youth, especially one who wore a dark Jewel. Even though he was years and years away from that day, the closer he came to being considered an adult, the more dangerous it became to test the temper of the Ebon-gray.

It will be all right, Daemonar thought as he left the study and went into the kitchen to see what his mother might have for a snack. Father will know what to do for Titian.


Wild CountryThe Queen's Bargain, in paperback January 2021