Authors: Dana Marton
Tera, a powerful healer, travels with her beloved warrior, the High Lord Batumar, on a secret mission to forge alliances to stop the bloodthirsty Emperor Drakhar. Surviving vicious pirates, slave traders, and an ancient enemy of dark power is only the beginning. The journey brings Tera unimaginable hardships and loss, testing her spirit and heart as she gathers her own allies and fulfills her destiny. Adding a tiger and a wraith as companions on her journey, Tera struggles to survive with her wits and healing skills while protecting her light from the dark power that seeks to claim her.
“It’s impressively easy to become immersed in Marton’s fantasy world. Readers will find it impossible not to care what happens next…” Kirkus Review
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Dana Marton. All rights reserved. Published in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the author.
With my sincere gratitude to all who provided encouragement and their special skills while I was writing this story: Sarah Jordan, Diane Flindt, Linda Ingmanson, Toni Lee, and all my wonderful readers in the Dana Marton Book Club on Facebook. I appreciate you more than words can say.
Many thanks to Sami Jordan for giving Bloodstorm his name.
* * *
“We may lose the ones we love, but we do not leave them behind, Lady Tera,” the Guardian of the Sacred Cave said.
“They are a thread woven irremovably into the fabric of our lives. Because they were, we are.” He patted my hand as the two of us walked the parapets in the dusk, the Kadar fortress city of Karamur spread out below us. “If you miss their voices, listen deep inside your heart.”
My heart hurt. We had lost too many good men and women in the siege.
The smell of wood fires filled the air; locked-up hunting hounds bayed in the night. The hem of my cape swept the worn stones with a soft whoosh as we walked. I drew the cape tighter around me. Fall had barely ended, but halfway up the mountain as we were, the chill of winter was already in the air.
A small shadow on our path caught my gaze and brought me to a halt. A shudder ran through me. I stared down at the dead bird, and said without meaning to, “A journey through darkness.”
The Guardian stopped next to me. He had lost much weight. He might have counseled me in my grief, but he too suffered greatly from our losses. He had aged. His shoulders sloped, the set of his mouth grim, his face drawn, but his eyes radiated endless wisdom and kindness. In the voluminous folds of his robe, he looked like an ancient figure out of myth.
He peered at me. “What did you say, my lady?”
I expelled a small sigh, wishing I had not spoken. I could not tear my eyes away from the slight, broken shadow at my feet. “The Kadar believe a dead blackbird means a journey through darkness for the one who finds it.”
The Kadar had many superstitions. My people the Shahala, who lived on the southern half of the island, believed not in omens. Neither did the Guardians, so the Guardian of the Sacred Cave stepped over the bird without giving it much notice, and continued forward.
I drew a deep breath and pushed away the sense of foreboding that tried to settle on me. No sense in becoming as superstitious as a Kadar kitchen maid. I tore my gaze from the bird and hurried after the Guardian, as the city around us prepared for sleep behind the safety of the walls.
Karamur clung to inhospitable cliffs that protected the city from the back, while the city wall guarded the front, the damage from the siege fully repaired at last. Everything about the fortress city spoke of the warrior nation that had built it: sturdy, stark, battle-ready. The top of the walls we walked were wide enough to drive an oxcart on, no adornments, only sheer, intimidating strength.
But no fortress was impregnable.
“How holds the Gate on the other side of the mountain?” I asked.
“The Gate holds.” The Guardian of the Cave folded his gnarled fingers together over his brown robe that hung on him. He sounded confident, perhaps for my sake.
“Any news of the new Guardian of the Gate?” I held my breath for the answer.
The old man shook his head, looking out over the city as we walked, at the lamplights that blinked to life behind windows. “He has not returned.”
We had repelled the fall siege and triumphed over the Kerghi horde. But sooner than we had expected, new troops broke through the island’s Gate, and the old Guardian of the Gate had bespelled the Gate to seal it, cutting off the larger enemy force from reaching us.
Our island of Dahru was the largest one of the Middle Islands that dotted Mirror Sea where all could safely sail. The Outer Islands edged the sea, also within reach by ship. But surrounding our small corner of the world spread the wild ocean, ruled by hardstorms that allowed no passage.
Island groups like ours dotted the wild ocean, with a bigger stretch of land here and there, one even large enough to be called the mainland. We could reach those kingdoms only through Gates, the portals of an ancient people whose lost knowledge we could not recover. We could use their Gates, but if a Gate was destroyed or damaged, we could not repair it.
Of all the islands of the Mirror Sea, only Dahru had a working Gate—and it was a special one. But that Gate was now sealed, and we were thoroughly cut off from the rest of the world.
“At least we are saved from immediate occupation,” I said, only too aware that we had paid a most high price for the protection. The strong binding spell had required the life of the old Guardian of the Gate.
The three old Guardians—the Guardian of the Gate, the Guardian of the Scrolls, and the Guardian of the Cave—had been like grandfathers to me. Of the three, only the Guardian of the Cave still lived.
When a Guardian dies, his son takes over his duties. But the son of our Guardian of the Gate had been traveling to other Gates, still learning, when his father had died. And with our Gate now sealed, we feared he would not be able to return to us.
I drew my cloak tighter around me against the wind. “Do you think the enemy troops that squeezed through might steal down the mountain and attack when the weather worsens, thinking it is what we would least expect?”
The Guardian considered my question for a long moment before answering. “For now, the strength of our forces is equal. As long as the Kadar warriors remain in the fortress city, the enemy cannot overpower the defenses. The attackers would be disadvantaged out in the open, standing before the city walls.”
And our army could not march to attack them at the Gate on the other side of the mountain. We could not overtake them as they sat behind their makeshift stone and wood-spike fortifications. Our warriors would be disadvantaged there. Several skirmishes had proved this, and now the two forces sat at a stalemate.
The Guardian said, “Likely they are settled in where they are for the winter.”
“Can the enemy reopen our Gate from afar and send more troops through?” Emperor Drakhar, who sought to conquer the world, had a sorcerer in his service, the knowledge of which had me steeped in worry.
“It would be best if our young Guardian of the Gate could return,” the Guardian of the Cave admitted, then stopped. “I should be leaving. I still have a long walk ahead of me tonight.”
He lived even higher up the mountain, in the Forgotten City. For centuries, people believed that the Forgotten City had been lost, their Guardians and their people, the Seela, relegated to myth. Until I had found them…or rather, they had found me.
Our island of Dahru was inhabited by three nations. In the south lived the nine tribes of my people the Shahala, a peaceful nation of healers ruled by their elders. In the north lived the warrior nation of the Kadar, ruled by their warlords and their High Lord. Up the mountain above Karamur hid the Forgotten City, the small enclave of the Seela—the descendants of the First People—protected by their three Guardians.
And around us, the world at war.
“Will you talk with Batumar before you leave?” I asked as we turned around and walked back toward the palace.
The High Lord had spent the evening meal discussing something with Lord Samtis, another powerful warlord whose lands lay to the west of Karamur. The Guardian and Batumar had only had the briefest of exchanges.
But Guardian said, “I have come only to see how the city fares.”
I had the odd sense that his sentence was unfinished, as if he had meant to say more. And that more I could almost hear as:
one last time.
Did he feel his own end? Did he wish to follow his friends to the realm of the spirits? Of course, I could not ask such question. But my heart worried.
We reached the spot where the dead blackbird had lain earlier, and I searched the stones in the falling darkness. I could see no trace of the small, broken body.
“A hungry cat,” the Guardian suggested.
A shudder ran through me once again.
We walked on in silence, then took the stairs that led to the bottom of the wall where the Palace Guard waited to escort me back to the High Lord’s palace—four sturdy men dressed in red and gold, the High Lord’s colors.
The premonitions that had assailed me on top of the wall would not leave me, so I asked the Guardian, “Has the Seer seen something?”
But the Guardian only said, “Remember your mother’s words. And hold on to your light.”
Spirit, be strong. Heart, be brave
had been my mother’s last message.
The Guardian looked at me with great kindness and the warmest affection, his gnarled hand reaching out to touch my arm in farewell. Then he turned and shuffled away from me, down the cobblestone street.
I watched his progress for some time in the light of the flickering torches before I turned in the opposite direction and hurried off toward the palace.
The Palace Guard escorted me straight to the High Lord’s Pleasure Hall, the concubines’ quarters, a nest of luxury—in the middle of military order and simplicity—as could scarcely be imagined by outsiders.
Had anyone told me of such a place, back when I’d been a sunborn Shahala girl impatiently waiting for her healing powers to manifest, I would have thought the descriptions a tall tale. Never would I have thought that one day I would end up among the Kadar as their High Lord’s favorite concubine.
concubine, until recently. My heart gave a painful squeeze as I pushed the door open, hoping against hope that the others would be back in their chambers, settling in for sleep.
Instead, they all waited, gathered in the round center hall, every displeased, suspicious eye on me as I entered.
“You poisoned the High Lord against us.” Lalandra spat the words instead of a greeting.
The slender beauty of amber eyes and full lips stepped forward from among the rest of the concubines, the silk of her emerald gown rustling as she moved. Her golden hair towered in an elaborate design of looped and folded braids, making her look like a carved temple statue of some ancient goddess. Even the look she shot me was as cold and hard as marble.
I winced at hearing the word
from her lips. In that regard, the High Lord Batumar’s Pleasure Hall had a most unfortunate history.
I squared my shoulders as I stood my ground, between us the sunken pool in the middle of the center hall, its heated water filling the air with the scent of lavender oil that floated in glistening drops on the surface. Fur-covered benches lined the walls; silk wall hangings adding color, depicting couples in loving embraces. Low, octagonal tables offered fruit and drink: mosan berry juice, grapes, apples, pears.
In her lord’s Pleasure Hall, a concubine could find anything she ever desired. Anything but peace. The Kadar saying had it right—a warrior
safer in battle than a concubine on her pillows
Since merely holding my ground would not do, I took a few steps forward. I had meant to go to my sleeping chamber, and I would do so.
I faced the women head on. “This is nothing but a misunderstanding.”