Books


The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen

Roc
March 2009
Hardcover ISBN-13:
978-0-451-46254-1
Paperback ISBN-13:
978-0451-46286-2

Cover:
Art by Larry Rostant
Design by Ray Lundgren

available as audio bookavailable as ebook

 



EXCERPT

Copyright © 2009 Anne Bishop. Used with permission.
(Suggested reading age: 15 years and older.)


Prologue

Terreille
two years ago

Still shaken by the storm of power that had destroyed half the Blood in Dena Nehele only a few days before, the rogues came down from their camps in the Tamanara Mountains to face an unexpected enemy.

The landens, who had been brutalized for generations by the “caretakers of the Realms,” hadn’t wasted time. When they realized the surviving Blood were stunned by the violent loss of Queens and courts, they rebelled--and decided that dying by the thousands was an acceptable price to pay in order to wipe out the Blood in Dena Nehele.

So the landens died during those first days of the uprising. Oh, how they died.

But so did the Blood.

The males in the Blood’s towns and villages died as they exhausted the power that made the Blood who and what they were, until even the ones who wore Jewels and had a reservoir of power had used up everything they had in the effort to defend the women and children who didn’t have the strength or skill to defend themselves.

When that power that lived within them was gone, they fought with weapons like any other man. But the landens kept coming, kept fighting--and the Blood, outnumbered, had no chance of surviving.

Women and children died, along with the men. The landens, steeped in their hatred for the Blood, set fire to the buildings, turning entire villages into funeral pyres.

Then the rogues, trained warriors who had refused to serve any Queen, came down from the mountains--and the battle for Dena Nehele really began.

He rode with one pack of rogues, a leader committed to slaughter in order to defend what was left of his people. But as they reached a walled estate on their way to the town that served as Dena Nehele’s capital, he pulled his horse aside and stared through the iron bars of a double gate at the big stone mansion.

Grayhaven.

It was his family name. This was his family’s home.

He had never lived in that mansion because the Queens who had controlled Dena Nehele had claimed it for their own residence, their own seat of power. And like the rest of the Territory, the house and the land had declined under the rule of bitches who had stood in the shadow of Dorothea SaDiablo, the High Priestess of Hayll.

He had grown up in the mountain camps ruled by the rogues because he was the last of his line, the last direct descendant of Lord Jared and Lady Lia, the Queen who, like her grandmother before her, had been called “the Gray Lady.” And if there was any truth to the family stories, he was the last person capable of finding the key that would reveal a treasure great enough to restore Dena Nehele.

Lord Jared had told his grandsons about the treasure the Gray Lady and Thera, a powerful Black Widow, had hidden somewhere around Grayhaven. While the family still lived in the house, every male had searched for it, and the story had spread to trusted advisers who shouldn’t have been trusted. When the family line failed to produce even a minor Queen, Dorothea’s pet Queens had descended on Dena Nehele like scavengers fighting over a fresh carcass. What was left of his family abandoned Grayhaven and spoke the family name only in secret.

Generations had tried to hold on to something that was Dena Nehele, that was the Blood as they had been when the Gray Lady had ruled. Generations of the Grayhaven line had been “broken into service” as a way of keeping the people yoked to the rule of unworthy Queens.

Generations of suffering--until that witch storm swept through Terreille. A fast, violent storm, terrible in its cleansing, it had swept away Dorothea SaDiablo and everyone who had been tainted by her, but it had left the surviving Blood prey to the landens’ hatred.

“Theran!” one of the Warlords shouted. “The bastards have set fire to the south end of the town!”

He wanted to ride through those gates, wanted to protect the only thing left of his own heritage. But he had been trained to fight, had been born to stand on a killing field. So he turned away from the house and land he wanted to reclaim.

But as he rode away, he promised himself that when the fires of rebellion were finally smothered, he would come back to his family’s home.

If there was anything left.

dingbat

Chapter 1
Terreille
present

Reaching the broken-down stone wall and the double gate that was half-torn from its hinges, Theran Grayhaven planted his feet in the exact spot where he’d stood two years before. Now, finally, the landen uprising had been completely smothered, and the Blood--those who were left--could set about the business of trying to restore their land and their people.

If there was any way of restoring their people.

“Since you invited them here, you’re going to feel like a fool if you’re still standing at the gate when the other Warlord Princes arrive.”

Theran looked over his shoulder. He hadn’t heard the other man approach, hadn’t felt a warning presence. Even a month ago, being that careless would have killed him.

“You shouldn’t be up before sunset,” Theran said. “It drains you too much.”

The old man scowled at the wall and the gate--and all the other signs of neglect. “I’ll manage.”

“You’ll need blood tonight.”

The scowl deepened. “I’ll manage.”

“Talon… ”

“Don’t be using that voice on me, boy. I can still whack some sense into that stubborn head of yours.”

Talon was a grizzled warrior who was missing two fingers on his left hand and half his right foot--evidence of the price paid for the battles won. He was also a Sapphire-Jeweled Warlord Prince. Since Theran was a Warlord Prince who wore Green Jewels, Talon was the only man in Dena Nehele who was strong enough to “whack some sense” into him.

But only after the sun set.

Talon was demon-dead. If he was forced to act during daylight hours, his strength drained at a terrifying speed.

“Did you ever wonder if it was worth it?” Theran asked, looking away from the man who had raised him.

He had never known his father. The man had mated to continue the Grayhaven bloodline and had been caught, broken, and completely destroyed before Theran had been born.

When he was seven, his mother had brought him to the mountain camps to keep the Grayhaven line safe from Dorothea’s pet Queens.

He never saw her again.

Talon looked at the mansion and shook his head. “I was in this fight for three hundred years, give or take a few. I knew Lia, and I knew Grizelle before her. I stood with Jared and Blaed when we were all among the living--and I stood with others when I became demon-dead. So I never wondered if bringing Dena Nehele back to the way it was when the Gray Ladies ruled was worth the blood and pain and lives that were lost. I knew getting that back was worth the price.”

“We didn’t win, Talon,” Theran said softly. “Someone else eliminated the enemy, but we still didn’t win.”

“A Grayhaven is standing once more on the family land. That’s a start. And there is a marker on the table.”

A marker Talon hadn’t told him about until a few days ago. “A dangerous one, assuming the man who owes us a favor is still alive.”

“There’s no way to win unless we gamble,” Talon said. “Come on. We’ll bring the Coach onto the grounds and camp out here tonight. Tomorrow you can go through the house and see what needs to be done.”

“We’ll be lucky if we find anything intact,” Theran said bitterly. “I can’t imagine the bitches who ruled from here not trying to find the treasure.”

“But the key wasn’t in the house,” Talon said. “That’s part of the legend. And without the key that begins unlocking the spells, they could have ripped up every floorboard and knocked down every brick in every fireplace, and they still wouldn’t have found the treasure even if they were looking right at it.”

“Doesn’t mean we’re going to find a safe floor or a working fireplace,” Theran grumbled.

“Do your pissing and moaning later,” Talon said. “We’ve got company. I’ll fetch the Coach. You give yourself a kick in the ass and get up to the house.”

“Yes, sir.”

Surrogate father and protector of the Grayhaven line, Talon had held him when he’d cried and hadn’t hesitated to give him a smack when it was deserved--at least, deserved according to Talon. Everything good that he knew about the Blood, about honor and Protocol and what a Warlord Prince should be, he had learned from a man who remembered Dena Nehele as it had been. Who remembered what it meant to have honor. To wear, as Talon put it, the Invisible Ring.

Bracing himself for the discussion ahead, Theran strode toward the mansion.

Was the honey pear tree still in the back gardens somewhere? Could the tree have survived that many centuries? There had been a few honey pear trees growing in one of the rogue camps low in the mountains, and there was a grove of them--or so he’d heard--tucked away in the southern part of Dena Nehele, in one of the Shalador reserves. Having heard stories about Jared’s mother growing the honey pear trees for her sons and how Jared had gifted Lia with his tree and given another to Thera and Blaed, he’d been disappointed when he’d finally gotten to taste one of the hard little fruits. But Talon said the trees didn’t grow well in the mountains, that something they needed was lacking, and that was the reason the fruit didn’t taste right.

Well, the trees weren’t the only things that had felt a need that had gone unanswered.

Talon set the Coach down on the scrubby front lawn, while Theran watched the Warlord Princes appear near the gate as they dropped from the Winds, those webs of psychic roadways that allowed the Blood to travel through the Darkness.

It wasn’t until Talon limped over to join him that the first Warlord Princes came through the gate, walking up the weedy drive in pairs, the lightest-Jeweled males coming first.

*I count about a hundred,* Talon said on a psychic thread.

*That’s probably every Warlord Prince left in Dena Nehele,* Theran replied.

*Probably. And a better response than I’d hoped for.*

What wasn’t said was that only a handful of those men wore an Opal that was considered a dark Jewel. He and Talon, wearing Green and Sapphire, were the strongest males in the Territory. Everyone else wore lighter Jewels.

They formed a semicircle around him and Talon, the lighter Jewels leaving spaces so the darker-Jeweled males could stand in the front.

Except for one Opal-Jeweled Warlord Prince who stood apart from the others--a Prince whose golden brown skin marked him as having a Shalador bloodline. Maybe even being pure Shalador.

Lord Jared’s coloring. Lord Jared’s race.

Theran resisted the urge to look at his own hand and see the similarities.

“Would you care to join us, Prince Ranon?” Talon said.

“I can hear from where I’m standing,” was the chilly reply.

Talon nodded as if the less-than-courteous response made no difference.

Prince Archerr, another who wore Opal Jewels, stepped forward. “You called us here, and we answered. But none of us can afford to be gone long. The landens have to be held on a tight leash, and some of us are the only trained warrior left in our piece of Dena Nehele.”

Theran nodded. “Then I’ll come to the point. We need a Queen.”

A moment of disbelieving silence before several men made derisive sounds.

“Tell us something we don’t know,” Spere said.

“We’ve got Queens, more or less,” Archerr said.

“Would you serve any of them?” Theran asked.

“When the sun shines in Hell.”

Mutters with an undercurrent of anger.

“We have Queens,” Theran said. “Women who, even in their prime, weren’t considered strong enough to be a concern to the Queens who whored for Dorothea SaDiablo. And we have Queens who are still little girls, barely old enough to begin training in basic Craft. And we have a handful who are adolescents.”

“One being a fifteen-year-old who’s turning into such a ripe bitch she may not live long enough to be sixteen,” Archerr said bitterly.

“We need a Queen who knows how to be a Queen,” Theran said. “We need a Queen who could rule Dena Nehele in the same tradition as the Gray Lady.”

“You won’t find one of those within our own borders,” Spere said. “Don’t you think we’ve all been looking? And if you look beyond our borders to find a Queen mature enough to rule, the males in that Territory aren’t going to give up anyone good. And since I live in a village along the western border, I can tell you the Territories west of us aren’t doing any better.”

“I know,” Theran replied.

“Then where are we supposed to find a Queen?” Archerr asked.

“In Kaeleer.”

Silence. Not even embarrassed coughs or shuffling feet.

“There’s no way into Kaeleer except through the service fairs,” Shaddo said. “At least, no other way to get into the Shadow Realm and stay alive long enough to state your business.”

“Yes, there is,” Theran said, grateful that he and Talon had considered this possibility. “Someone goes to the Black Mountain.”

Ninety-eight men stared at him.

“And does what?” Archerr asked quietly.

Theran glanced at Talon, who nodded. “There’s a Warlord Prince who owes my family a favor.” That wasn’t exactly the way Talon had phrased it. More like, For Jared’s sake and memory, he might be willing to do the family a favor. “If I can find him… ”

“You think this Prince can get us a Queen from Kaeleer?” Shaddo asked. “Who has that kind of influence and power?”

Theran took a deep breath. “Daemon Sadi.”

Ninety-eight Warlord Princes shivered.

“The Sadist owes your family a favor?” Archerr asked.

Theran nodded.

A dozen voices muttered, “Hell’s fire, Mother Night, and may the Darkness be merciful.”

“Talon and I talked it over and figured asking at the Keep is the simplest way of finding out if anyone knows where Sadi is.”

“He could be dead,” Spere said, sounding a little hopeful. “His brother disappeared years ago, didn’t he? Maybe Sadi got caught in that storm like the rest of the Blood.”

“Maybe,” Talon said. “And maybe he’s no longer among the living. But even if he’s demon-dead, he still might be able to help. And if he’s among the demon-dead who went to the Dark Realm, going to the Keep is still our best chance of finding him.”

“What happens if we do get a Queen from Kaeleer?” Shaddo asked.

“Then at least twelve males have to be willing to serve her and form her First Circle,” Theran said. “We’ll have to form a court. Some of us will have to serve.” The next words stuck in his throat, but on this too, he and Talon had agreed. “And Grayhaven will be offered as her place of residence.”

“You say we’ll have to form a court,” Ranon said, still sounding cold. “Will Shalador be asked to serve? Will Shalador be allowed to serve? Or will the blood that also flows through your veins, Prince Theran, be held to the reserves, ignored unless we’re needed for fodder?”

Before anyone could draw a line and start a fight that would end with someone dying, Talon raised his hand, commanding their attention.

“That will be up to the Queen, Ranon,” he said quietly. “We’re all going to hone the blade and offer her our throats.”

“Hoping we won’t end up with someone who will crush what is left of us?” Ranon asked.

“Hoping exactly that,” Talon replied.

A long silence. Ranon took a step back, then hesitated. “If a Kaeleer Queen comes to Dena Nehele, some of the Shalador people will offer themselves for her pleasure.”

Talon looked thoughtful as they all watched Ranon walk back to the gate. Nothing was said until the Shalador Warlord Prince caught one of the Winds and vanished.

“If you can get a Queen from Kaeleer… ” Archerr didn’t finish the sentence.

“I’ll send a message,” Theran said.

The Warlord Princes retreated to the gate. No breaking into groups, no talking among themselves. Some looked back at him and Talon.

“Looks like you’re going to the Keep,” Talon said.

Theran nodded as he watched the last man vanish. “Which do you think worries them more? That I won’t be able to find Sadi--or that I will?”

 

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