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valoraciones:
2.5/5 (9 valoraciones)
Longitud:
467 página
7 horas
Publicado:
Apr 4, 2013
ISBN:
9781301438655
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Named for heaven, the kingdom of Elessia once served as a beacon to the world. Now its name has become a byword for decadence. When Lord Prince Marcus de Pilars hears the beginnings of a vast conspiracy from the lips of his dying mother, he sets out to uncover the motives lurking behind the war his father waged. With the help of Kaelyn Beauvais--a sharp-tongued courtesan nursing a long-hidden desire--and Vernon de Gauthier--a near-disturbingly prolific womanizer with a weakness for apples--Marcus slowly unearths the truth: his country lies on the brink of collapse. And soon, the vanquished nation of Kydona will rise to settle a generation-old score.

In Elessia’s debauched court, the threat goes unheeded. Marcus’s romances bloom and just as quickly wither. Blood is shed, lives extinguished. It matters little. Quarrel and murder, lust and love, right and wrong—the lines that separate these are hopelessly blurred in the throes of court intrigue. And the difference between each rests on a knife edge so sharp that even a hero cannot tell them apart.

Kydona is the first installment in its series. The story continues in Kydona: From Ashes.

Publicado:
Apr 4, 2013
ISBN:
9781301438655
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Thomas K. Krug III lives in Skippack, Pennsylvania with his beautiful fiancé, Caitlin. When not whittling away at sequels, he’ll either be glued to his Xbox or sipping bourbon—always on the rocks. He put the finishing touches on his first book in Afghanistan, where he served as a junior officer in the United States Army.

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Kydona - Thomas K. Krug III

Kydona

By Thomas K. Krug III

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2013 Thomas K. Krug III

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Connect with me Online

Prologue

The night was peaceful as the king’s army slept. No cricket chirps, no rustling wind. Just the sound of his tent mate’s gentle breathing, and then, just above that… the sound of distant shouts. A horse had gotten loose, probably. The full moon always made beasts behave oddly, after all.

But there were more shouts joining in. Even at this distance, Marcus could hear the alarmed tones.

A trumpet sounded—a long, dolorous howl drifting over the camp. Again. By the third report, Marcus and Vernon were sitting bolt upright. More trumpets quickly joined the first, all blowing that same drawn out note. Even if the Watch hadn’t drilled it into his head already, Marcus would have known what the trumpets were saying.

Arms! he shouted, as everyone else was too. He wrenched off his blanket and launched himself out of the tent, grabbing his cuirass as he went. All around him, his brothers were doing the same. They scrambled from their canvas shelters, half-dressed and tousle-haired, each with that same wild look in his eyes.

Arms! Arms! Arms! the entire camp was screaming at the tops of their lungs, as if no one knew, and just like that, the men were throwing on their armor as fast as they could, cutting their fingers and scraping their faces on the bands of steel, cursing at the pain. Marcus cinched his sword belt on so tight he nearly pissed himself.

Come on, Vernon! he bellowed in the din. He wound his arm through his shield straps and hefted a spear. He glanced back. Vernon!

I’m doing my bloody best! Vernon yelled, his cuirass on backwards. Swearing, he took up his weapons and clambered after Marcus barefoot.

A deluge of men hurried along the avenues, the clanking of their hurriedly-donned armor merely adding to the cacophony. Some tripped over their scabbards or the butts of their spears, but the ones beside them grabbed them under the armpits and hauled them upright again. Marcus saw Sergeant Carpenter standing atop a wagon waving his sword toward the perimeter. The walls! Find your spots! This is it! Ivan is here!

The fright in the air was palpable as the soldiers made for the walls. Every expression was strained. Their breathing was agitated. No panic though. The Watch had drilled that out of them. Most were too frightened for their minds to operate on any higher level, but their legs knew where to carry them. So they moved—a flow of steel-encased humanity that were trained like dogs and herded like cattle for one excruciatingly simple reason: to kill their opposite number.

Above the bouncing helmets, Marcus saw the ramparts rising up ahead. There were men lining the top already, their spears angled forward, waiting for a charge that hadn’t yet materialized. A courier wheeled his horse back and forth in search of whoever was in charge. Overhead, flights of burning arrows went arcing into the sky, streaks of orange cutting into the black of night.

Marcus spied his company standard and moved toward it. His boots dug furrows into the earthen walls as he clambered up to his assigned position, shouldering his way through the second line. Steel rustled, men parted, and he got his first look beyond the wall.

Despite the full moon, there was little to be seen. The steppe was a sheet of dull purple. A couple hundred yards distant were small patches of burning grass that the arrows had lit, illuminating a broad band of ground. Beyond that, nothing.

Maybe it’s a false alarm, Hamo postured over the blaring trumpets, his youthful face full of desperate hope.

A lone horseman emerged from the darkness.

He was a strange and fearsome sight. He rode a gigantic black stallion with a shaggy mane and long, muscular legs, its body draped with sheets of studded leather. The rider himself wore full a suit of fine-linked mail. His greaves and vest were formed of interlinked square plates, all lusterless black. His helmet was dome-shaped, wrought of bronze and peaking sharply at the top. On his back was a shield shaped like an inverted tear drop, and the blade in his hand tapped impatiently at one stirrup as he wheeled his stallion around, considering his massed enemy.

The bogatyr raised his sword high, and he bellowed, "Za rodinu! Za Nadiya!"

"ZA RODINU!" came the roar of innumerable voices. And all at once, the bogatyr came hurtling into the light.

What a sight they made. The elite of Kydona were a wall of armor and horseflesh a quarter of a mile wide—a thousand yards of thrashing hooves and snarling faces. Weapons of all kinds were belted to their saddles and sheathed at their waists. There were bows in their hands, arrows already nocked.

At some unseen cue, their line split in half and broke apart, curling on itself. Marcus watched, mesmerized, as the bogatyr’s charge transformed into two giant, galloping circles.

Arrows! Carpenter bellowed over the pounding of hooves. Turtle up!

The men quickly obeyed. Marcus sank to one knee, slamming the tip of his shield into the earth. Simultaneously, he felt the men behind shuffle close. The sky disappeared as they angled their own shields upward. The battle line became a barrier of interlocked steel—wall and ceiling both.

The sergeant’s order came just in time. Marcus felt his shield jar against his shoulder as if someone had given it a solid kick. Curiosity got the better of him; he peeked over the rim. He caught only a glimpse of the scene—twin roiling masses of black-armored cavalrymen riding in great arcs beyond the trench, steering with only their knees, unleashing arrow after arrow into the night sky. His shield gave another thud, and he dropped his head.

Back in the shelter, the anxiety was a palpable thing. Eyes were wide beneath helmets, teeth gritted. He could hear excited pants behind him.

Vernon? That you?

Aye! That you? his friend squeaked.

Marcus was about to reply, but then he felt Vernon flinch. Fuuuuck! Mate there’s a fucking arrow sticking in the ground half an inch from your ass—

Move your shield closer to it then you selfish cock!

No way in hell! bawled Vernon. I need it more!

But arrows were finding gaps elsewhere too. Just over the thunderous hoof beats and the metallic thuds, the first screams could be heard. Glancing back, Marcus saw two archers struggling to hold down a third one, who thrashed on the ground with a shaft protruding from his throat. Blood flowed freely, squirting with each pulse. Having seen all he cared to, Marcus looked away. With the arrows pattering against shields like rain, he wondered how long anyone could survive outside the shield wall.

But a lone, metal-tinged voice was shouting above the din, His coming shall be a whisper, but yea, with his coming shall sound peals of thunder! Chaplain Stallings strode along the rampart, his black armor gleaming in the moonlight, his mace clenched in one hand and cat-o’-nine in the other, paying no heed to the arrows sinking into the earth about his ankles.

They shall hearken to his call, those righteous men! From the four horizons shall they come, and prostrate themselves before him—Ancel, the lord come again, wrath incarnate!

Men gaped at him between the cracks in their shields. He’s bloody mad! Rich cried. None of them doubted the truth of it. Yet the chaplain's armor didn’t have a scratch on it.

The bronze skull helm turned Marcus’s way. Rejoice his coming, you righteous! No sooner had the words left his mouth than the chaplain stumbled. The men groaned in dismay. But Stallings steadied himself. His gauntlet closed around the arrow lodged in his breastplate, then plucked it free. Growling, the chaplain snapped the head off the shaft and tossed the thing away with contempt.

And you wicked, he roared at the stampeding Kydonians, tremble!

They all cheered him at that—a poor display coming from a group hunched behind their shields, but still.

Come on and fight, you bastards! Jorel shouted. Soon the whole line was hooting and whistling in derision, egging the bogatyr on. And yet the enemy kept on circling, and the Watch stayed firmly behind their cover.

For what seemed like an hour, the two sides exchanged salvoes of arrows. Here and there an Elessian cried out and fell, pierced through. Out in the field, the archers found occasional victims. Horses tumbled earthward, throwing their riders or crushing them. But always, the bogatyr closed ranks, and their flow continued unabated.

Then, just as Marcus became convinced that it would never end, a deep war horn blew. The Kydonian horsemen reined their horses around, threw their bows around their shoulders, drew their swords—and all once came charging straight at them.

Spears! Captain Rowley was behind the line somewhere. His trumpeter blew the corresponding set of notes, and the company obeyed. The whole line rippled as the chevaliers stood, lifting their spears out of the dirt. Legs braced. Row upon row of spearheads dropped horizontal, points glittering with menace.

Chaplain Stallings reared his head back and rejoiced to the heavens, Lord Ancel! Watch your sons!

The hooves were pounding closer, thunderous—or was that Marcus’s heart?

Hasten to us the foe, o’ lord!

The wave rolled over the pathetic fires the archers had set, stamping them into nothingness.

That we may meet him, with steel in our fists!

All around Marcus, soldiers panted with agitated excitement and barely-suppressed fear.

With praise on our lips!

The stampede was thirty yards away now. Marcus could see the horses’ rolling eyes, the riders’ snarls.

With fire in our hearts!

For Ancel! they all cried—spear tips pointed, aligned, and quivering.

In the handful of seconds he had left, Marcus tried to remember. These were the moments were epiphanies were supposed to strike, where his life was to flash before his eyes… his blissful childhood that memory couldn’t reach… the few tender moments he had shared with his father… the many he had known with his mother, only never recognized… his first ride with Breggo, getting drunk with Vernon… Kaelyn, Jacquelyn. And they did pass through his mind, albeit so fleetingly he had no time to grasp them. Just like that, they were gone.

He could only watch, paralyzed, as the bogatyr did away with the final yards between them. This close, he could see the gleaming chestnut coat of the horse charging him. The rider atop it wasn’t much older than him. His features were plain, unremarkable except for the eyes—clear blue.

The pike he held was aimed straight for Marcus’s heart.

Chapter 1

For the briefest of instants the sun caught the blade, turning it to a length of white fire. It was mesmerizing, almost. Then in the same instant, Marcus realized that the blade was hurtling toward his head. He ducked on instinct, forced so low that he nearly lost his balance. He staggered back, cursing, free arm waving frantically, then was right again.

Easy! But the only reply was another wicked slash. He deflected it and charged, boots scuffing on marble tile, a growl pulling at his lip. To hell with easy. He’d told her too many times and suffered too many bruises for it. His practice blade clashed against hers, jarring his grip so badly that his hand went numb. Luckily some disadvantages work both ways, and Kaelyn finally gave Marcus some breathing room.

How many times do I have to tell you? he said between his teeth.

Kaelyn glared at him, and it was quite a sight. She was at just that age when a man could want her without feeling badly about it—in a word, eighteen. Not that any man wouldn’t want her at any age. She was the product of generations of meticulous breeding, and that breeding made her exceedingly attractive. It had given her hair the unlikely color crimson, a figure worth killing for and blue-green eyes that made her look twice as furious at Marcus for spoiling her fun.

God help him if he put a mark on any of it—crown prince or not. Why am I doing this? he muttered.

What did you say?

I said you ought to take up archery instead like a proper heroine, since your bladework is rubbish and all—

She came in again with a very unfeminine snarl. The first swipe wasn’t even close. The second was. Marcus leaped back to avoid it, parried her next, decided he’d had quite enough and launched an attack of his own. Suddenly, Kaelyn was on the defensive. It was not her strong suit. Her balance was off, her footing imprecise, her blocks clumsy. She wasted energy by trying to stop his blows rather than deflect them, and she fell for more than one feint.

Barely even a passable swordsman—swordswoman?—but then, Marcus was very good. None better. And Kaelyn was a courtesan. Her realm was one of politics, intrigue, and for a not-so-modest fee…

Well, she was going to lose, and that was that.

She was tiring, and Marcus had only just begun. He was dancing to the rhythm of clashing steel, and Kaelyn could only follow his lead. He steadily pushed her back to the edge of the chamber, whittling away at her, slashing, chopping, thrusting. At least once, he ignored an opening in her guard. Later he would tell her he was being polite, but really he was just playing with her, and the flush of her cheeks said she knew it. There was little she could do now. A few more steps and her back would be to a wall.

Marcus allowed himself a smirk, just to piss her off.

She smiled right back as she swiped his next cut aside. Not good, he thought, raising his sword to block her reverse cut. Only she didn’t reverse—just kicked him right below the knee, hard. He stumbled. Still smiling, she raised her sword for a killing blow. The dulled blade wouldn’t kill him, of course, only shatter his collarbone or skull, whichever.

No choice, then. Marcus stood with a growl and caught her sword against his. Most other opponents would have pulled back and defended, at that point. But Kaelyn was the most dangerous kind of swordsman: an amateur. She did precisely the opposite. She pushed, and Marcus was forced to push back. There they stood locked together by their hilts, legs braced, arms straining, faces just inches apart.

She really was gorgeous. Marcus would have taken some time to appreciate that, if not for that look in her eyes which he knew to be utter fury, and for the unspeakable hurt that awaited him should he weaken his grip.

She was starting to tremble with the effort. This wasn’t a fight she could win. Marcus saw her realize it, saw her make a decision, rearing her head back—and slamming it into his face.

Agh! he squawked, staggering back.

Shit! she gasped, clutching her forehead.

A problem quickly solved, and with a distinct lack of grace to boot. Marcus’s face was numb but he could feel the blood dripping down his upper lip. He licked at it, tasted copper. He felt at it, saw the red smeared on his fingers.

Oh come on! His voice was a bit nasally.

You asked for it, Kaelyn snapped, still pressing her forehead.

Your highness, are you alright? called one of the guards. Marcus didn’t much appreciate the amusement in his tone. He waved the man off grudgingly.

He glared at Kaelyn. What the hell was that? he demanded.

She returned the look from under her hand, still clasped to her forehead. Well that’s what arrogance gets you, isn’t it?

A bloody nose? By God, Kaelyn, I’m trying to teach you swordplay, not boxing!

"Excuse me, your highness, but are you trying to impress fair play on a courtesan?"

He opened his mouth to reply, then shut it, fuming to himself. There would be no winning this one. You’re amazing. Simply amazing.

Bickering considered, one could have thought the two were brother and sister.

Marcus—the crown prince—was the heir to the throne. His blood was the purest in the realm, the result of an alliance between Elessia’s two eldest families: one dying, one flourishing. So it was only natural that he be raised as the king-to-be by his mother, the queen. Aside, he was tutored by the foremost scholars that could be found—philosophy, history, warfare, and of course, politics. Court.

But he was not nearly as proficient in the latter as Kaelyn. Her mother was the King’s consort—concubine, as she would be called in other nations—which made her salon the finest and richest in the whole kingdom. She’d instructed her daughter quite thoroughly in her art. It showed in the sensuous way Kaelyn dressed; the way she wagged her hips sinuously as she walked; the ease with which she lied. Or in this case, cheated.

Well, there was no use telling her, then. She was already leaving, sword held carelessly under her armpit, inspecting her nails. Marcus followed. They passed between a pair of columns and into the outer chamber, confronted now by the white marble wall encircling the entire affair.

Kaelyn made for the exit—an open arch, doors flung open to reveal the wide halls of the palace within—but Marcus broke away and approached a semicircular fountain built into the wall beside it. He wanted to get the taste of blood out of his mouth as best he could.

He examined his pale reflection in the clear water, feeling gingerly at his nose. It hurt, but it was straight as ever. The lower half of his face was pink with fresh blood, and his dark hair was tousled. More than likely, the brown eyes his mother had given him would be ringed with light bruises tomorrow morning. He would have to get by without his good looks for a week or so.

Still beautiful, Marcus?

Not so much as you, he muttered as he scrubbed at his chin.

So charming, she sighed. Hurry up, I’m starving.

Marcus was in no mood to rush. He dunked his head into the water. It was pleasantly cool. He savored it for a moment before pulling his head back out. Through his water-blurred vision, he spied Kaelyn shaking her head at him from the doorway. She looked ready to chastise him for the second time today—but he was saved by a patter of feet from the hallway behind her.

Shortly thereafter, a young woman flew into the chamber, knocking shoulders with Kaelyn in her haste. The girl seemed entirely unaware that she had just pushed the daughter of the king’s consort aside, and Marcus, momentarily forgetting their argument, opened his mouth to rebuke her.

Your highness! she cried, distraught. Her hair was all askew, her eyes wild, and she appeared to have lost a slipper. She skidded to a halt in front of him, panting so heavily that she was having trouble speaking. Your… mother… she managed to get out between gulps of air.

He had recognized her by now—one of his mother’s chambermaids whose name escaped him. Catch your breath. It can wait. But the fright in the woman’s eyes said quite the opposite. Marcus felt his gut sinking with the first vestiges of horror. The babe is here? He prayed that was all—that the maid was just overexcited.

There’s no time, your highness! She… Her voice faltered. You must come.

He didn’t hesitate. By the time he’d reached the hall, he was at a dead run with his hapless female companions hurrying to catch up.

The palace had been Marcus’s home his entire life. He’d walked its halls so many times that he could have navigated it in his sleep. He knew its every aspect—the Atrium, the royal suites, the gardens, even the kitchens.

Right now, the white palace was too damned big. Every hall seemed longer by a bowshot. The air seemed thin and dry; every breath scorched Marcus’s throat. His leg—the one Kaelyn had kicked—throbbed painfully every time it hit the hard floor.

His mind was racing just as fast. A problem in childbirth? But what kind of problem? Could be anything—maybe the babe wouldn’t come, or had come out feet first, or was stillborn, or…

Oh God, she was too old, he had known it all along. The chirurgeons had known it, they had warned her again and again. They had tried to give her the Lover’s Succor. She would have been bed-ridden for a few days, feverish and bleeding between her thighs, and she would have lost the babe, but she would have her life at least. Marcus damned her in his head for her foolishness, then just as quickly took it back and hoped desperately that she was alright.

He wasn’t desperate enough for prayer, not yet.

He sprinted through nearly half a mile of marble corridors, bursting through groups of surprised servants and nobles. Behind him, he heard the jingling of mail; his trio of guards was keeping pace with him, stoic and uncomplaining. Kaelyn and the maid were surely not far behind but their footsteps were drowned out by the clatter of armored footsteps.

It didn’t matter. He rounded a corner, nearly ran headlong into someone—servant or noble, he didn’t notice or care which—then shoved him aside and kept on going.

They were nearing the royal suites. Here, the hall was wider, the decoration more ornate. The walls were of the same pale marble as the rest of the palace. Scores of niches were carved into the walls at intervals, each housing a life-size statue of a long-dead Elessian ruler. They all leered at Marcus with blank, pupil-less eyes and expressionless faces. It was difficult, he remembered being told, to capture the niceties of a smile or frown in stone.

Finally, Marcus arrived in the hall that housed Geneva’s bedchambers—and immediately froze mid-step, aghast. There was blood, and in quantity. Women were hastening in and out of the chamber. Those emerging were carrying crimson-stained cloths, some still dripping. His mother’s dreadnaughts stood watch over the hall, stony faced in their helplessness.

A thin-haired old man stepped from the obscured room, his face grim and pale. His deep red robes marked him out as a chirurgeon. He was wiping his bloody hands on the cloth, and all of a sudden its color seemed pragmatic, indeed. Marcus’s mouth was dry and his legs moved of their own volition, carrying him toward the man.

How is she? His voice was working on its own, as well, thick with despair. He knew the answer before the chirurgeon even gave it.

Slowly, sorrowfully, the man shook his head. His gaze was rooted to the tiles. Alive. Not for long, said the slump of his shoulders. There’s naught to be done.

How long? Marcus’s voice asked, though his mind hadn’t yet registered the facts. He felt detached, dazed, as if a rock had been hurled against the back of his head. Surely Kaelyn had knocked him out during the fight. Surely this was just an awful dream, the worst of his life.

But he wasn’t dreaming. Just through that door, his mother was dying.

Not long, my lord prince, the chirurgeon was saying. I’ve done my best to slow the bleeding but… she won’t be awake much longer. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly, looking thoroughly miserable. His fault or not, the queen would be dead under his watch. A long, illustrious career stamped out.

The pit in Marcus’ belly had widened—a deep, yawning hole. He could feel himself dropping into it, just as he felt himself patting the man’s shoulder. He paused with one hand on the door, took a deep breath, and stepped inside.

It was a large room, even by royal standards, with a lofty ceiling and tall glass windows. There were burgundy drapes embroidered with the crown-and-laurel of House Demo. The furniture was artisan-crafted mahogany, elaborate but functional. The wide bed against the far wall had been stripped of its hangings. The queen was lying under the covers, her head propped up by pillows, dressed in a white nightgown—almost as if she was just bedridden ill.

Geneva was awake, smiling weakly. Her eyes were strikingly dark, the same color as her hair. She was a handsome woman, but her skin was pallid with blood loss, and it stole away much of her beauty.

Marcus, she whispered. The smile lingered for a moment longer before exhaustion hauled it from her face. Geneva stirred beneath the sheets, as if to rise to hold him.

He went to her. Mother, he said. It amazed him to realize how steady his voice was. He sat beside the bed on a thoughtfully-placed chair. Her fingers twitched. He took her hand in both of his. He was shocked at how cold it already was.

She saw his face and smiled again, all too briefly. My God, your nose, she said with a frail chuckle.

Marcus’s smile lasted little longer. We were sparring. Kaelyn and I. She has no sense of fair play.

That girl, his mother whispered. Such a waste, what her mother makes her do…

There was silence for a moment. Then, in a choked voice, Marcus asked, Does it hurt?

Not much, now. No smile was forthcoming this time.

Don’t go, he pleaded quietly. Stay with me a little longer. He grasped her hand tighter.

I will, murmured Geneva.

Marcus was forcing himself not to look at her blood as it soaked through the sheets and spread across her thighs. He couldn’t cry, then—he wanted to, but something blocked it. A solid wall of disbelieving anguish. He managed to kiss his mother’s hand, wanting so badly to say something to her—to tell her how much he loved her. How he wasn’t ready for this.

Do you… Geneva stirred restlessly. Do you remember that day at Demarre? At the docks?

Marcus nodded. When I slipped off the pier. And the sailor with one eye—he saved me from drowning.

Yes. But I… I could only stand and watch. I wanted to jump in myself. But I couldn’t, I was so terrified. Even now, years later, the pain and shame of that moment was clear in her eyes.

Marcus was quick to reply. His mother didn’t need thoughts like this—not in her last moments. It was years ago. I don’t even remember what you did. I just remember you afterward, hugging me. You wouldn’t stop crying.

That was my shame, she whispered. Imagine if you had drowned, if that sailor had not saved you… I am sure I would have taken my life. I couldn’t have borne the grief. The woman gave a little sob. She smiled through fresh tears. You made my life worth living. You did.

Marcus didn’t know what to say. He smiled back as best he could and gently squeezed his mother’s hand.

I couldn’t protect you that day, but—but I’ve protected you from other things. Things not so obvious to you, even now. Her voice was growing weaker, so that Marcus had to lean in to hear. I cannot anymore.

A sense of urgency gripped him. There was not much time left. What things?

Secrets. About the war… your grandfather… your father… everything. It is farce, Marcus, all of it. She took a shallow breath. You will see yourself… soon.

Marcus grasped her hand harder. What will I see?

You must see it for yourself. Watch everyone. The common. The nobles. Your father. Her voice was barely audible now. A last lesson, my son. When the great sin, it is the small who pay. You will be great, Marcus. A tear trailed down his mother’s cheek. I only wish I could be here to see… She paused, took a deep breath, let it go in a long sigh.

The moment stretched on. It took him a long time to realize she was gone. Her eyes were still on him, half-closed, as if pondering her next words. But they were dark and empty—her pupils wide, sightless. Her hand was heavy in both of his. The air was utterly still.

Marcus put her hand down and slumped back in his chair, hand on his mouth. Was this how it was supposed to feel, losing a parent? No wave of quiet tears, no quaking shoulders… nothing. Just emptiness, as if someone had blown out a candle and left him alone in a pitch dark room. All he could do was sit there, silent. He didn’t know what to do.

For the longest time, he sat and waited. For anything.

The first thing he felt was unease. His mother was still staring at him. Gently, he reached out and closed the woman’s eyes. A strange custom, he thought. It spoke volumes of man’s nature—his primal fear of the unknown. Of death. The unwillingness to look into the vacant eyes of one who’d succumbed to its touch.

The next thing he felt was guilt. Is this how selfish I am? My mother is dead and all I can feel is discomfort?

He placed Geneva’s hand across her belly. With her eyes closed, her repose was a tranquil one. Marcus had heard people say things like this many times—that the dead look like they’re sleeping, and the like. He wished that was a comforting thought.

He rose, leaned and kissed his mother’s head. Truthfully, he wasn’t even sure why he did it. It had seemed an obligation. Pondering that, trying his best to feel something, he drifted from the room. He opened the door slowly and walked out into the hallway, carefully shutting the door behind him.

It was dead quiet in the corridor—an enormous achievement, considering the way these halls amplified the smallest of sounds. No one seemed to be breathing—not the blood-sodden midwife, the chambermaids, the dreadnaughts… not Kaelyn, the only one he looked at.

She asked the question no one else dared to. Is she…? Even Kaelyn Beauvais couldn’t finish a question like that.

Marcus nodded. The guards seemed to shrink a little. One of the maids burst into tears.

To her credit, Kaelyn didn’t hesitate a moment. She closed the distance between the two of them and wrapped her arms around him. Marcus felt the dull haze of unawareness beginning to thin with her nearby. He found himself returning the embrace. Her body was reassuringly warm. She’d buried her face in his neck.

He wasn’t sure if she was crying. But she hadn’t truly known his mother. She had no reason to weep. She was just being kind. He appreciated it more than words could express.

A thought occurred to him. He looked up at the midwife—a stout woman with firm look to her. There was a dent in that firmness now, made evident by the glaze of her eyes. The child? he asked simply. He knew the answer already. If he hadn’t figured it out before, the way Kaelyn’s arms tightened around him would have given the truth away.

The midwife shook her head.

Marcus nodded again. His eyes felt moist, but the tears resolutely refused to come. All he could think about was the futility of it all. His mother gone, and the babe with her. Brother, sister, did it really matter? It hadn’t even had a name.

Kaelyn had remained still, and Marcus pulled away from her at last. I… ah… He wiped his eyes with his sleeve. They were still dry, but they wouldn’t be for long. He didn’t want anyone to see. I’d like some time alone.

The girl nodded, took his hand, and led him away. Marcus followed like a lame horse on a lead. His chambers were close. He would have his solitude, but his mother’s body would still be cooling just a stone’s throw away.

They paused at the arched door. Kaelyn turned and regarded him; her face was solemn. Marcus… Her voice was low and heartfelt; it had none of its usual crispness.

I’ll be fine.

I could stay with you for a while, she suggested, smiling fleetingly. We could lie down and just… talk. Like we used to. When they were children, she would sometimes sneak from her room and make her way across the palace wing to Marcus’s. She would climb into his bed, pull the covers over herself, and the two of them would talk quietly about meaningless things until sleep arrived. They hadn’t done that in years.

Like as not, they never would again. I need to be alone, he said as firmly as he could. He blinked and scrubbed at his eye again.

Kaelyn drew close and hugged him once more. She whispered into his ear, It takes strength to grieve. She stepped backward. Be strong, Marcus. Then she turned away, and Marcus fumbled at the door’s handle.

He shut the door behind himself. Alone at last. Here he could grieve—sink to his knees and let his tears flow.

Only he didn’t. The tears wouldn’t come.

My mother is dead. My mother is dead. Over and over he thought it—just trying to feel what he already knew. Trying to cry.

Failing.

†††

The ceremony took place a week later. It was a practical arrangement; it gave the embalmers time to prepare the queen’s corpse, and the nobles time to travel to Ancellon for her interment, and the heralds time to spread word to the masses.

For them, Geneva’s death was as nearly as devastating as for Marcus. Elessia’s nobility had always kept its distance from the common people; Geneva had tried to close that distance. She had been a beloved figure even before her ascension to the throne beside Marcus’s father, Audric. With her own coin, she had bought bread and doled it out to Ancellon’s poor. Often she wandered the streets with no goal but to speak to the people, and hear them in turn. Many a time she had taken their grievances to Parliament—though more often than not, they had paid her no ear. But the people loved her, because she loved them.

Now their only friend was gone, and their sorrow was unmistakable. Men and boys clambered atop the statues in Heroes’ Square to fasten black blindfolds around their heads, so that their champions could not see their misery. Black drapes hung from every window, and ash was smeared across the houses’ white walls. Children were spanked into silence, chased from the streets where they played. There was no music to be heard in the taverns and inns, no carousal or laughter.

The city was in mourning before the heralds’ words died. Soon, Marcus knew, the rest of Elessia would follow.

None of it made that week any easier. He watched it all from his chamber window high above the streets, detached. Grief was a terrible feeling. It sucked away his willpower, so that all he could do was sit and stare at the outside world—a vague feeling of envy his only company. Those people out there shared his grief, but he felt utterly alone. Reading was no distraction. The trays of food the servants brought in sat untouched until they were taken away again.

Twice, Kaelyn came by. Her first visit, Marcus didn’t even answer the door. The second, he sat and stared out the window while she talked, unhearing and uncaring, until she gave up and let herself out.

He was thinking about his mother. What an ungrateful son he had been. Grief alone had not moved him to tears, but guilt was a powerful thing. He remembered having dinner with her all those times, wolfing down his food and finding an excuse to leave. Back then, anything had seemed better than talking with his mother at length. There were other times—like one, when she had asked him if he wanted to picnic with her last summer, and he had agreed, only to cancel so he could go drink and chase girls with Vernon. Go ahead, she had

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  • (5/5)
    great book
  • (4/5)
    Prince Marcus Audric de Pilars has been questioning many things since the death of his mother Lady Geneva. Lady Geneva's last words continue to haunt Marcus and inspire him into actions that go against the nobles. Kaelyn Beauvais is skilled courtesan that often puts Marcus in a bad position and sometimes at her mother Lady Roselene Beauvais' direction. Marcus sees more than he has ever before and understand part of what his mother was trying to tell him before her death. Even among Marcus' peers there is clearly disdain for him as his position. When King Audric returns from unsuccessful campaign to answer the nobles demands. King Audric and Marcus don't see eye to eye on many things including King Audric's consort Lady Roselene. Marcus is forced to take action against a peer to stop a vile crime from happening. He comes under fire and is sent away for his own good or so it would appear at face value. What is Marcus to learn? What is Lady Roselene plotting now? Will King Audric reconcile with his son? Who wants Marcus gone? Your answers await you in Kydona.I'm sucker for fantasy books and have been since I discovered the genre. This book has all the classical elements that comprise fantasy including some new ones like intrigue and mystery. I loved reading Marcus' transformation throughout the book. I had love/hate relationship with Kaelyn. I'm definitely looking forward to next installment of this series.
  • (1/5)
    Can't gather the will to continue reading beyond the halfway point. There are no likable characters. The plot might turn out to be interesting, but so far it's driving me crazy. The main character -- a prince of dubious moral character -- is always insulting the ruling class (the nobles) and acting like he's a good guy, though he's not (and he even realizes this), that's a bit interesting but also just annoying. Their religion tells of the return of their gods (or angels) when the kingdom of man once again needs to be, uh, reformed, and frankly they would do well to show up now and wipe these people out. The prince sees room for redemption (or, he said he does, I don't think he does) but I don't.I made it halfway. The battle might interest me, but the characters don't, the courtesan-centric court doesn't, the 'intrigue' doesn't, and the writing doesn't. Some irritating info-dumps, like when the king reports on the war he was fighting, he explains it all from the beginning. Then the council is shocked... even though letters were mentioned, so you'd think along with (unread) letters to his (ingrate) son he'd have sent some to his council. Guess not. Not that it wasn't interesting, it just didn't fit. Maybe if the king were the main character it would be more my type of book.I'm guessing the prince goes through character changes and becomes a better man, the problem is the author did only too-well a job of making him an irritating jerk.