Authors: TERRI BRISBIN
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF TERRI BRISBIN
“A carefully crafted plot spiced with a realistic measure of deadly intrigue and a richly detailed, fascinating medieval setting.”
“A richly imagined, spellbinding romantic fantasyÂ .Â .Â . atmospheric, absorbing, infused with dark magic, gripping intrigue, and mesmerizing sensuality.Â .Â .Â . I'm totally hooked and I can't wait for more!”
New York Times
bestselling author Lara Adrian
“Excitement, adventure, royal intrigue, and a what-if scenario that could change the world. Terri Brisbin weaves them together with the masterful touch that has become her trademark.”
New York Times
bestselling author Maggie Shayne
“[A] captivating medieval romance. Expertly laced with danger and sweetened with sensualityÂ .Â .Â . an absolute delight.”
“ExcellentÂ .Â .Â . the quick-moving story contains several twists readers may not see coming.”
“As always, Terri writes compelling characters and a riveting storyÂ .Â .Â . the kind of story that will stay with you long after you finish the last page.”
âThe Romance Readers Connection
“A seductive, vivid love storyÂ .Â .Â . a highly emotional tale that is vastly entertaining. It's rich in historical detail, laced with the perfect amount of passion, and enhanced with intrigue.Â .Â .Â . Ms. Brisbin continually delivers highly satisfying romances.”
âRomance Reviews Today
“A great historical romance with rich characters that will delight and entice readers.Â .Â .Â . Newcomers will find in Brisbin a great new author to add to their historical romance listÂ .Â .Â . truly a must-read.”
âHistorical Romance Writers
Published by New American Library,
an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
This book is an original publication of New American Library.
Copyright Â© Theresa S. Brisbin, 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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This one is for my readersâthose who have been fans since the beginning and those who have just found me. It's amazing to me that I've been writing for twenty years (since 1995!) and I would not be doing it if there were not readers who enjoy it! A special thanks to all the readers who contact me about my storiesâI love hearing from you. So, thanks to you, readers!
he six gathered inside the stone circle and around the seventh, awaiting her acceptance of their sentence. Her next actions would determine the fates of humanity and of this world. Taranis hoped Chaela would choose to step back from the abyss of evil. Her words tore his spirit apart.
“You are fools!” she screamed. “I can destroy you all.”
Knowing now that there was no other way, Taranis looked at each of the others. Only by combining their powers against her would they be able to save this human world and yet, the thought of taking this action against her made his blood freeze. His feelings changed as she unleashed her destruction on the humans who gathered there on the open fields around the henge.
Changing into the form she favored, Chaela rose into the sky on black-and-red wings. Flames spewed from her mouth, burning people, plants, and even the earth in their wake. The screams echoed in the air as the smoke evaporated, leaving ashes everywhere. With no other alternative, Taranis nodded to the five gods and they began the ritual of silencing one of their own.
She laughed at the destruction she'd wrought and inhaled a deep breath, one that foretold a killing strike. Drawing in their own breath, the chant began between them, swirling in the air and encircling them, her and the stones beneath them. Only a moment passed before the power began to control her.
As a weaver wraps the threads over and under, through and around, they wove the thoughts of the spell that would take away her power until they could imprison her. Building a cocoon around her, the ritual blocked her words and her powers and surrounded her so completely that even her thoughts were contained within it.
Taranis knew the moment she realized what they were doing. And, once more, they offered her a truce.
“Chaela,” Belenus, the god of life and order, called out to her. “Cease this and you will be allowed to live.”
“Fools!” she roared back when her voice would serve her mind. “I cannot be destroyed!” Struggling against the bonds that held her, she could not do more than scream out in frustration. An elemental power such as hers was created by the universe and could not be extinguished.
“You can be defeated, Chaela. You will be imprisoned in the endless pit and never return. Your name will be forbidden and forgotten,” Sucellus, the god of war, warned.
They could feel her disbelief and resistance. She would never give up this mad quest for complete domination of humanity and of them. Steeling himself, Taranis waited for Cernunnos to begin.
The earth buckled and rose at his brother's command, exposing the endless pit within the circle as they chanted the sounds of power. Taranis guided the winds to wrap around her, securing her in his grasp even as their spell did. The current swept her over the yawning chasm and held her there. Now, the final step, a terrible one, would seal her out of this human world. The human male who carried Chaela's blood and power stepped into the circle and joined them in the ritual, adding his voice to theirs. Her screams pierced the spell.
Taranis pushed her down into the blackness, forcing her deep into the chamber that existed within and outside this world. The words they sang created it and would seal it. And the sacrifice of Chaela's only blooded son would keep her there forever.
The human walked to the pit and threw himself off the edge, soaring over the abyss. Sucellus created a spear of iron and threw it at the man, impaling him on it, piercing his heart and spilling his blood into the pit.
The other gods honored the sacrifice, freely made, with their words, completing the ritual that sealed Chaela away. After the destruction and horror of the day, a blessed silence and peace filled the area as the ground and chamber closed and disappeared. The stones returned to their usual size and positions and everything was right with the world.
Taranis's brothers and sisters gathered around him, all weary from the struggle of exiling one of their own. They'd barely accomplished it against her formidable powers and only with the blood sacrifice had they triumphed. Now, the world and humanity were safe and would remain so.
They would leave here, knowing that humanity could continue without them, but they imbued their own human bloodlines with their powers to keep watchÂ .Â .Â . always. A race of men and women who could use the powers to keep this evil at bay. Warriors of Destiny, not war.
But, with their course of action this day, they would never be needed to do that.
Broch of Gurness
Northern Coast of the Orkney Mainland
Late winter, AD 1286
inar Brandrson paced around the chamber at the base of the broch, chanting the prayers he knew better than he knew the names of his kin. His bones ached and the cold air sliced into his skin, but he would persevere because he must.
The words echoed around him as he called on the gods of old to grant him a few more months of life. And to grant him the knowledge he needed to aid his grandson.
Since it was in their service, his prayers became demands as he circled seven times around the chamber and then seven times in the other direction. He listened closely for signs of an answer. Or a word of wisdom or confirmation.
They never did.
The old gods could be capricious and silent when they wished to be. Though some said they'd left eons ago, Einar believed that not. They were still thereâwaiting in the earth and trees and wind and water for their followers to rise again.
He knew it in his heart and soul. As he knew he would not live long enough to see it. Or to help.
Sighing, he gave up praying and searched for the charcoal stick he'd brought in his sack. If he would not be here to guide his grandson, he must leave something for him. Mayhap Soren would remember the songs he'd taught him and understand the significance when the time came.
He scratched some of the most important symbols into the stones of the walls, each one in the correct position around the tower. A beast. The sun. A war hammer. A tree. A lightning bolt. Waves. Flames. Using the charcoal, he colored the scratches in until they almost looked alive.
Praying in the old language, he blessed each symbol with the name of the god it representedâEpona, Belenus, Sucellus, Cernunnos, Taranis and Nantosuelta. The last one, the flames, he did not bless for it was that of Chaela the Damned.
It would take many days to sanctify the markings, days that he probably did not have left to him. It mattered not. All that mattered was that he must continue until his last breath so that mankind had a chance against the vile destructor who now tried to push her way out of her prison.
Einar returned every morn to the broch to repeat the sacred words and blessings. And he watched from the top of the tower, searching the skies for portents of things to come. Yet every day his strength lessened and he felt his life coming to an end. And he damned his own stubbornness, too, for he had not passed on the knowledge to his kin as he was supposed to. There had been no signs for so long that he'd grown complacent. Now, his failure could doom humanity.
If only there was more time, for he could feel that Soren's blood would rise soon and he would need guidance.
If only the gods would listen.
If only the gods would answer.
He learned over the next days and weeks that the gods had heard himâand ignored his pleas after all.