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Authors: Gail Z. Martin

Dark Lady's Chosen

BOOK: Dark Lady's Chosen
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DARK LADY’S

CHOSEN

(Book Four of the Chronicles Of The Necromancer)

By Gail Z. Martin

Dedication

For Frances Zehner and Betty Martin, my mother and my “second mother.” Their belief in
me helped to sustain my vision for the books on the long road to publication.

Acknowledgements

Once again, bringing a book to life requires a brotherhood of dedicated people who are bound together for the love of the story. Thanks always to my husband, Larry, who is my first, best editor, and to my kids, Kyrie, Chandler and Cody who have to live with a writer.

Thanks also to Christian Dunn, Mark Newton and Vincent Rospond for bringing my dream to life. And of course, thanks to my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, for his support and encouragement. I also want to thank my friends at the Carolina and Arizona Renaissance Festivals, who have allowed me a glimpse into the life of a bard. And of course, thanks to all my readers and to the author and convention friends who make life on a book tour livable.

CHRONICLES OF THE NECROMANCER

THE FIRST YEAR
of the reign of King Martris of Margolan, son of Bricen, did not usher in
the hoped-for peace. Though Jared the Usurper wore the crown for less than a full year, the
damage that he caused brought Margolan to the brink of famine and fractured the centuries-old Truce between mortals and vayash moru. Loyalists to the Usurper King went into hiding,
none so defiant as Lord Curane of Lochlanimar, whose granddaughter was forced to bear
Jared’s bastard son.

Just after the Feast of the Departed, King Martris Drayke wed Princess Kiara, daughter of
King Donelan and successor to the throne of Isencroft. Their wedding, a rare love match,
also sealed a covenant made long ago between their two kingdoms. The marriage joins the
crowns of Isencroft and Margolan until heirs can be born to place the kingdoms under
separate rule once more. Within a month of the wedding, the king and queen announced
Kiara’s pregnancy. Succession assured, Tris had no choice but to lead his army south to
Lochlanimar to lay siege to Curane’s stronghold.

On the battlefield, the great energy river called the Flow is violently unstable, making it
increasingly dangerous for Tris and his mages to counter Curane’s blood magic. The
Margolan army is a tattered shadow of its former greatness, hurriedly reformed after Tris
took back the throne. Rebels who followed Ban Soterius in the uprising, relatives of the
thousands of people who were murdered or disappeared under the Usurper’s reign, and
willing ghost fighters make up the bulk of the forces, along with a few dozen vayash moru
and those mages who have defied the Sisterhood to go to war.

The siege is going badly. Nearly three months into the war, casualties are high, winter
storms are fierce, and food is scarce. Plague has broken out among the soldiers, sent by
Curane’s blood mages. Magic and the Flow pose as great a threat as any of Curane’s
weapons, and Tris Drayke may lose his life, his kingdom and perhaps his soul if the tide
cannot be turned.

Within Shekerishet, a traitor threatens Kiara’s life. Several attempts on the new queen’s life
have barely been averted, and suspicion falls on old friends and trusted supporters. Alone
in a foreign land, Kiara must rely on herself for protection. The crowns of two kingdoms
depend on her ability to discover the traitor’s identity and outmaneuver the dangers before it
is too late.

In Isencroft, violent opposition to a joint throne raises the threat of civil war. Cam of
Cairnrach, King Donelan’s Champion, has been taken as a hostage to force the king’s
hand. Cam has discovered the identity of a traitor whose actions betray both King Donelan
and Tris Drayke, but he may well die before he ever gets the chance send a warning.

Lord Jonmarc Vahanian faces treachery of a different sort in Dark Haven. Rogue vayash
moru, led by Malesh of Tremont, have slaughtered mortal villages in an attempt to draw out
Jonmarc. Malesh tried to bring Lady Carina across as a strike against Jonmarc, but the
Dark Gift warred with her healing magic, leaving her neither mortal nor undead.

In desperation, Jonmarc swore Istra’s Bargain, a soldier’s vow to trade his soul to the Dark
Lady in exchange for the death of his enemy. It is a suicide pact. He and Lord Gabriel of the
Blood Council, along with vayash moru loyal to the Truce, have left to battle Malesh, aided
by the shapeshifting vyrkin. Destroying Malesh before a cure can be found for Carina may
assure her death, because of the strong bond between maker and fledgling. Malesh’s threat
to destroy a village every night left Jonmarc no choice, although the price of peace may be
Carina’s life.

Tris and Jonmarc thought that taking back the crown of Margolan would return the Winter
Kingdoms to peace and prosperity. They were wrong.

DAY 1

Chapter One

Hoof beats thundered in the winter night. The wind was bitter cold. Jonmarc Vahanian pulled his collar up to shield his face. Thirty
vayash moru
rode with him, outfitted for battle.

Vyrkin
loped alongside them, shape-shifters in the form of large wolves. The
vayash moru
were the Dark Haven guard—almost all of its undead members, save the dozen who had remained to guard the manor house. The rest came at the summons of Riqua and Gabriel from their broods. Jonmarc was the only mortal among them. Tonight, anger and grief overrode fear.

They rode to end a war before it could begin. He rode to avenge Carina.

The skin on his chest burned over his heart where he had drawn the sign of the Lady.

Jonmarc had made an oath—Istra’s Bargain, as soldiers called it. In return for the death of his enemy, Malesh, Jonmarc had bargained with the Dark Lady at the cost of his soul. He didn’t expect to return to Dark Haven.

The bond between maker and fledgling is so close that the fledgling dies the maker’s death.

Gabriel had warned him that destroying Malesh would also kill Carina, giving her less time to recover from Malesh’s botched attack. Malesh’s challenge to destroy a village every night unless Jonmarc faced him in battle left no other choice. And so they rode. Jonmarc let the battle coldness deaden feeling. He had one mission: to destroy Malesh quickly and painlessly. The truce between
vayash moru
and mortals would be preserved—at the cost of any chance to save Carina. After that—well, he didn’t expect there to be an ‘after that’ for him. That was the bargain.

“Remember what I told you.” Laisren, his
vayash moru
weapons master, rode up alongside him. “Fledglings die easy—wood or metal through the heart. Direct sunlight. Decapitation.

But if Malesh has older
vayash moru
on his side, it gets tougher. Stabbing through the heart immobilizes, but it won’t kill the oldest ones. Sunlight cripples but won’t destroy—not if they’re more than a few hundred years old. The only sure way to destroy one of the Old Ones is to cut off the head.”

Jonmarc glared at him. “How do I know which ones are the Old Ones?”

Laisren’s smile was chilling. “When nothing else destroys them.”

Months of training with Laisren had honed Jonmarc’s legendary sword skills sharp enough to hold his own against a
vayash moru
opponent. Pitched battle against dozens of undead fighters would be something else entirely. Jonmarc had hedged his bet. Underneath his right sleeve was a single crossbow quarrel in a powerful spring-loaded launcher. It was his last resort, useful only when he was close enough for point-blank range. Malesh was young enough in the Dark Gift that a quarrel through the heart might destroy him. If not, it would immobilize him long enough for Jonmarc to strike the fatal blow. Under his left sleeve was a knife sheathed for quick release. A baldric across his chest held more knives, and a crossbow was slung over his shoulder. In his right boot, he had a blade that he could slip forward. It wasn’t much, but he hoped it was enough.

A forbidding stand of massive trees stretched between the village and Dark Haven. Local legend held the forest to be haunted, and few hunters would venture into these woods even in dire times. As they rode, Jonmarc sensed the presence of spirits around them as wisps of green light flickered in the distance between the trees. A year on the road with Tris Drayke, Margolan’s Summoner king, had made the appearance of ghosts unremarkable to Jonmarc.

The revenants seemed to be waiting, watching their group in anticipation. Ghosts were the least of Jonmarc’s worries tonight.

Gabriel, riding beside Jonmarc at the head of the group, reined in his horse and raised his hand to signal the others to slow. They dismounted, and tethered their horses. The road below them sloped downward toward the small village of Crombey, a clearing surrounded on three sides by dense forest. A few dozen homes lay quiet in the moonlight, smoke rising from the chimneys. Just before second bells, the village was still. At the edge of the forest was the Caliggan Crossroads. The main road ran parallel to the woods, and at the crossroads, the road branched, offering a dirt path into the darkness of the forest, or down the hill into the village. The trampled snow made it plain that Jonmarc and his party were the only ones foolhardy enough to take the forest road. Dark stories told of a sharp-toothed crone who would set upon travelers at the crossroads and feast on their hearts. Tonight, the crossroads was empty.

In the distance, bells tolled twice.

As the last tones of the bells faded, dark shapes streaked from the forest, moving fast, gliding above the snow.

“It begins,” Gabriel murmured, stepping forward to meet a dark-clad opponent.

Jonmarc drew his sword and stood ready, gripping the hilt two-handed. He struggled against his own mortal fear and the pounding of his heart for the awareness that would let him

track the movements of his opponents. He had the fleeting image of a slim, blond man barely out of his teens as the first
vayash moru
struck at him. Jonmarc wheeled, landing a solid Eastmark kick that threw his enemy backward. The black-clad man lunged again, and Jonmarc swung with his sword, connecting hard with the attacker’s shoulder and opening a gash that would have felled a mortal. Jonmarc could hear laughter as the man swung his own sword, a pounding blow that made Jonmarc stagger backward as he parried.

Jonmarc could not spare his attention for the fighting around him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that a force at least as large as his own was engaged against them. He could hear the clang of steel and the snarls of the
vyrkin
. A second
vayash moru
joined the blond man, circling Jonmarc like a predator.

“Where’s Malesh?” Jonmarc shouted. “This was his challenge. I came. Didn’t he have the balls to finish what he started?”

“Malesh will come in his own time,” the blond man said with a cold smile. There was a blur of motion. Jonmarc let his intuition guide him and reacted more by feel than by sight. He swung hard; his blade connected again. At the edge of his sight, he saw the second
vayash
moru
move.

Jonmarc lashed out with his sword and wheeled into a high Eastmark kick. His blade sank deep into the blond man’s chest, spilling dark ichor across the snow. The
vayash moru
stepped back, sliding along the blade, and began to tremble. Jonmarc lunged, twisting the sword, and the
vayash moru
arched and screamed. The second man attacked faster than Jonmarc could turn, and he felt the
vayash moru
’s sword slice painfully into his forearm.

Before Jonmarc could swing again, there was a rush of air and a large, gray form sprang from the shadows. A huge wolf tackled the
vayash moru
, teeth bared, knocking him backward. Behind them in the snow, the body of the first
vayash moru
, stabbed through the heart, crumbled into dust.

The
vayash moru
slammed the pommel of its sword against the
vyrkin
’s skull as the wolf lunged for its throat. Jonmarc heard the snick of sharp teeth as the
vayash moru
grabbed at the scruff of the wolf’s neck. There was madness in the
vyrkin’s
violet eyes as the animal snarled and twisted, pawing at the air for the chance to sink its teeth into its opponent. The
vayash moru
ripped the animal free, throwing it hard against the trunk of a tree and tearing a deep gash through the
vyrkin

s
shoulder.

Jonmarc swung hard, striking for the neck, but the
vayash moru
moved faster, with a kick that knocked Jonmarc’s feet out from under him. The
vayash moru
pinned him, bending Jonmarc’s sword arm back painfully and pressing against his rib cage with the heel of his free hand until there was the snap of a rib breaking and Jonmarc twisted in pain. “Malesh said we couldn’t kill you,” the
vayash moru
said, and Jonmarc could see amusement in his opponent’s icy blue eyes. “But he didn’t say we couldn’t have some fun.” The
vayash moru
brought his knee down, hard, on Jonmarc’s thigh.

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