As promised yesterday, here is the full introduction… The first 4,000 words of Sorrow’s Peak. The rest of the book is ready to launch on September 9, 2014. If you like what you read, don’t forget to pre-order. You can find details for that right here!
“It’s been three days, Your Majesty.” He said the word majesty with deliberate disdain, watching the king’s face with sharp, excited green eyes. The prince grinned just a little and stretched his long legs further beneath the table. He perched both arms atop the ledge, as if that lip of wood alone held him aloft. The casual position lent an appearance of laziness and indifference, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
His sorceress stood at his back, arms crossed, head tilted. Strategically in front of the door, which she blocked with magic so they might not be disturbed while interrogating the king, the length of her silver hair hung around her shoulders and the muscles of her mouth flexed tight with superiority.
“I’ve given you appropriate time to grieve your losses, and now I want answers. Why did she do it? What did she know that was worth dying for?”
King Aelfric of Leithe, one of the proudest men in the Middle Kingdoms, was little more than a mere shell of the arrogant monarch he’d been only five days earlier, lifted his embittered stare with surprising alacrity, but there was nothing pleasant about the leer hidden beneath the untrimmed hairs of his mustache. His pride unbroken, Trystay could see he was on the very edge. The man was horrified and more afraid than he had probably ever been in his fifty-nine years.
How quickly the mighty fall, he thought, his own cynical grin stretching into a tight, pinched line of disgust.
A kinder man would have shown more compassion, considering everything the king lost in the blink of an eye, but Trystay was in no way kind, nor was he compassionate. Such trifles were the attributes of lesser men and kings, and he knew that were the boot upon the other foot, were he in Aelfric’s position, the king of Leithe would spare him no quarter, offer no kindness. From time to time he caught the king glaring at him, and he knew what dark and twisted wishes the man plotted behind those steely eyes. The barest hint of the warrior he’d once been stared back at the prince from time to time, but he’d lost too much to form even a convincing scowl or challenge.
Sorrow… It was a wonderful thing. Grief bred weakness, where once strength dwelt.
“Yes,” Aelfric nodded, the word barely leaving his lips. His voice grew hollow as he went on to confess, “You’ve been very generous, Trystay, offering three days so I might grieve, but it feels as if it’s been a lifetime, and I still know not why she did what she did. Why she betrayed me.”
“Then perhaps it would be best to set your grief aside and act, Sire.” That last word he spoke with unbridled distaste, as though the mere acknowledgment of the other man’s royal blood was ash on his tongue, but Aelfric didn’t seem to notice. “There is little time to dwell on sorrows when a man has a target for his frustrations. Your daughter…”
“If it is to Lorelei you refer, that abomination is not my daughter,” the king hissed, showing signs of rage for the first time in days. “I would have been a smarter man to poison the seed while it still festered in the womb.” And then the grief returned, unshed tears swelling in the man’s eyes as he thought to his wife. “I spared her for her mother’s sake, because I loved her more than life itself. Oh Ygritte,” he moaned, lowering his head. The sound evoked an impatient eye-roll from Trystay, who drew his legs from beneath the table and sat up straight. “The things we do for love.”
“Pull yourself together, man!”
The prince’s flat palm came down atop the table, the blunt force of it tingling through his hand almost painfully and the sound startling the king in front of him before he was able to slip into another pathetic spell of sobbing over a woman who’d clearly been plotting against him since he’d taken her to bed on their wedding night.
At his back, Deallora did not move, but stood stoic and proud, staring straight ahead as if in deep trance.
“Your woman betrayed you, fool! And from the looks of it, it was a betrayal planned long before its execution.” Trystay pushed his chair away from the table, his long legs rising as he stood to tower over the king. “Do you really think she took her life out of guilt over the things she’s done?”
Trembling lower lip, eyes red-rimmed and irritated, Aelfric lifted his head again, shaking it in disbelief. “I was good to her,” he stammered. “I gave her everything…”
“You hunted her down like a dog when she ran from you, killed her husband and made her watch!”
“She was mine. Promised to me, just as Lorelei was promised to you, but she…”
“But she had other plans, just like her daughter. I will not stand by and be made the fool, and I will not make the same mistakes you made.”
“Wh—what are you saying?”
“I will do that which you did not have the courage to do. Ygritte should have been culled for her crimes against you. Both her and the mutant offspring she carried inside her should have put down like the rabid dogs she chose to keep company with.”
“You’ll kill her?”
“Does she deserve any less?”
Tilting back his head, Trystay felt the jostling of his own hair as it slid down the center of his spine. For a moment he closed his eyes, knowing that timing was everything. Aelfric’s grief made him weak, a liability if ever there was one, and though he’d shown definite signs of animosity toward the child he raised as his own in the days since his wife was discovered dead in her sitting room, the poisoned cup shattered on the floor around the golden strands of her lovely hair, the unexpected blow of her suicide broke the king beyond repair.
There was madness behind every utterance, rumor spreading through the castle he’d been muttering rather often to himself, or rather to his queen, as if she walked beside him as he paced the magically blocked corridor outside the wing in which Trystay’s men kept watch over him. Senseless phrases, oh how he prattled on, they said. The king was mad, no longer fit to rule, and though he could have called for reinforcements, taken the city by force and placed himself upon the throne in Leithe, Trystay had other plans.
“She betrayed me,” Trystay went on. “She made me look like a jester in front of my men, my father and everyone in both kingdoms. I nearly fell for her harlotry when she threw herself at me, but now I know she would have likely slit my throat while I slept. For that I will do to her the very thing you were too sodden with lust for her mother to carry out.”
Head shaking, eyes squinting as the king tried to make sense of his threat, Aelfric murmured something that didn’t quite reach Trystay’s ears.
Tilting his head almost thoughtfully, the grin that wrenched the left-hand side of his face was hideous and triumphant.
“I will not reward her for her betrayal with a crown, but hunt her down,” he said rather simply, “and when I find her, I’m going to kill her for making me look like a fool.”
An eerie softness washed over the king’s face, smoothing the lines and wrinkles as he held his head up high and said, “She’s just a girl. Despite her nature, she was a good girl… Surely there are other ways… I made promises to her mother…”
Squinting with disgust, Trystay’s head began to shake, but his glare never wavered from Aelfric’s face. “She’s not a girl, you doddering imbecile. She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a beast no better than the dogs in my hunting party before her U’lfer tore them to pieces and scattered their remains across the Edgelands. I won’t make the same mistakes you made, Your Majesty. I will never take that traitor to my bed, or call her my wife.”
“Ygritte is dead, and her last act before she took her own life was to steal from you the only legitimate heir to your kingdom and hide it. You need to find your daughter, Your Majesty. Your true daughter, not the U’lfer bastard you attempted to taint my family line with, and when you do, she and everything you hold dear become mine.”
“You…” Aelfric shook his head, confused and disoriented. “You would still honor the terms of our alliance, still tie our houses together and forgive…”
“Forgive?” Trystay laughed, the boisterous clamor of his mock-amusement ringing through the long halls so loudly several servants on the other side of the palace were later said to have heard it. “I don’t forgive, Sire, and I never forget.”
“But you said…”
“I said you will give the girl to me, along with everything else you have. Your crown, your castle, your men… They’re mine now, and if you utter even the slightest word of protest, I’ll gut you where you stand and take it all by force. Your people will know such suffering under my rule.”
For the briefest of moments the monarch in Aelfric, the warmongering conqueror who’d almost single-handedly wiped out the U’lfer race, rose to the surface and he straightened his shoulders in defiance. “What’s stopping you then? Why don’t you just kill me and get it over with?”
“Don’t fool yourself for even a moment it is a kindness,” he assured him.
“Then be a man and do it. If you want my kingdom, you’ll have to take it by force because I’ll never hand it over to you.”
“We shall see,” he shrugged, then called over his shoulder to the guards posted just outside the door. With a clatter the doors opened and two guards strode in, heads held high as they focused their attention on the prince.
“You called, my lord?”
“I did, Kellen.” He grinned back over his shoulder at Aelfric. “Were my orders carried out?”
“Yes, my lord. The royal adviser and the king’s steward have both been tended to.”
“Tended to?” Aelfric’s glare shot upward in dismay. “What does that mean, tended to?”
“I believe they suffered an unfortunate accident, did they not?”
“Most unfortunate, Highness,” Kellen confirmed.
Quivering lips spilled anxious words into the air. The king of Leithe leaned back in his chair, flabbergasted to the point of speechlessness.
“I am to be your adviser in his stead,” Trystay announced. “And it is my advice that you draw up orders for your men.”
“Yes, it’s time we finish what should have ended with the War of Silence.”
Eyes arcing toward the high ceiling overhead, he shook his head as if he couldn’t believe how daft the man in front of him was. “You’re sending troops into the Edgelands,” he explained. “Five thousand men to rout her out and burn that pitiful prison to the ground. With my help, you will finish what you started, put an end to the U’lfer once and for all, and when they’ve found that simpering bitch you tried to pawn off on me, they will drag her back here and we will bring her to justice for her crimes.”
Aelfric’s expression was indescribable, horror mingled with relief, guilt wrangling with self-righteousness and sparking strange light in his watery eyes. “And if I don’t?” he finally asked.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Trystay shrugged.
“Why would I?”
“Aelfric,” it felt good to dispense with the formality of a title he felt the king didn’t truly deserve. “You are an old man,” he pointed. “You’ve lost your wife and the only legitimate heir to a kingdom you can barely hold onto with those stiff, arthritic hands of yours. I am offering to help you, pledging my men to your cause. All I’m asking in return is that you bring back your daughter, your true daughter, and give me her hand so that when you die,” he paused for a moment, choosing his next words carefully, “and you will die sooner or later, old man, rule of your kingdom falls to me through our heirs. You see, I don’t want it to come to a fight. I want your men to follow me, to embrace and accept me because their dying king wishes his son-in-law to succeed him.”
“This…” he stammered. “This was your plan all along?”
Laughing softly, Trystay shook his head. “Oh, Aelfric, I couldn’t have planned this well if I’d tried. It’s all sort of fallen into play, hasn’t it? Now, what do you say? Do we have an accord, or are you really going to force my hand?”
“If I don’t agree?”
“I’m prepared to send word to Hofft, asking for reinforcement so we might take Leithe by force, but I’d rather not. I am already in the castle, the king under my guard. It would be bad for your people, don’t you think? I’d rather we work together,” he smiled, adding, “for the sake of your kingdom and its people.”
“I should never have offered her hand to you,” Aelfric spat, turning his head downward to stare at the table in front of him. “It was my mistake, inviting you here in the first place, thinking we could have peace.”
“Is what I’m offering you not peace?”
Scoffing, the king shook his head again and brought his eyes back up to meet with Trystay’s. “Were I a younger man…”
“But you’re not, are you?” He grinned. “You’re an old man, a spent warrior who can barely lift his sword arm above his head, much less charge into battle. Perhaps it would be better to kill you now and be done with it. You’re practically useless.”
“My men will never follow you, and the people will never acknowledge you if I do not give you my daughter.”
“I don’t need the acceptance of the dead,” he shrugged. “As I said, I’d rather not take Leithe by force, but I will if you push me to it.”
“You are your father’s son.” Aelfric lowered his head in withering defeat.
“I am my own man,” Trystay assured him. “So, what will it be? Will you work with me, or against me?”
“That is hardly a choice.”
“Perhaps not, but it is a choice. You should be grateful I’ve given you that much, considering the embarrassment you’ve caused me, the slight on my good name as you sought to marry me to a bastard mongrel that wasn’t even yours to give.”
He contemplated, lips moving over silent utterances as he cursed and shook his head. “I will do what you ask,” he gave in, “on one condition.”
“You’re hardly in a position to be demanding I yield to conditions, but I’ll take the bait. What is it you want?”
“I want two more days to mourn my wife, time enough to see her laid to rest in my family tomb.”
“The customary mourning period is three days,” Trystay pointed out. “Too much time has already been wasted. Your daughter is out there somewhere, victim of her mother’s cruel plot. She’s probably terrified, hoping against hope her father has the wits to send someone after her.”
Guiltily, Aelfric lowered his head and bit down on both lips with his teeth so he looked like a specter deep in thought. “Knowing she’s been laid to rest, I can focus more clearly on finding Mirien.”
“Two more days,” Trystay went on, “could be enough time for the slave you say was working with your queen to disappear with the girl entirely. Unless…” He pondered thoughtfully a moment, then turned distrusting stare back to Aelfric. “Unless you don’t want her to be found. Unless you were in on their plot from the start…”
“You think I wanted any of this?” the king railed, raising his voice in an attempt to startle Trystay, but the young prince was no stranger to angry kings and their senseless tirades. His own father was quite prone to throwing himself around, trying to intimidate anyone who dared challenge him—most especially his only son. And such an attempt might have worked had it come from his father, but Aelfric wasn’t even half the man King Derewend was. Maybe once, long ago, a man like Aelfric was frightening to behold in mid-tirade, but he was a man defeated. A man who’d lost everything he held dear faster than he could reach out his hand to try and hold it all in place.
“Are you deliberately trying to provoke me, Aelfric? Trying to see just how far I’m willing to go, because I can assure you that you will not like the outcome if that is the case. My sorceress…”
“No,” the king’s eyes widened as he glanced over Trystay’s shoulders at the lithe Ninvarii woman standing near the door. He shook his head, stammering, “Of c-course not. I… I want my daughter found,” he insisted. “I want her brought back and in my care where she belongs, and I want the head of the slave who took her.”
“Then call your priests and say goodbye to your queen before the sun rises on the morrow. At first light, we march men west into the Edgelands to find and retrieve that treacherous wretch you tried to force upon me. In the meanwhile, I will dispatch a search party to find your daughter before she disappears entirely.”
After a long silence, during which Trystay couldn’t tell if the man was thinking or simply staring down at his hands in his lap in hopes that some solution would magically manifest itself, Aelfric finally offered a meek nod. “Fine.”
“As you are drawing up orders for your men, you will also draw a clear decree summarizing Lorelei’s crimes. She is to be returned to Rivenn, unharmed, so she can face charges of treason against her king.”
“Yes,” Aelfric agreed. “Of course.”
“Are we in agreement on all matters presented?”
“Yes,” the king sighed, still refusing to lift his defeated head. “We have an agreement.”
“Excellent.” Trystay clapped his hands together in a triumphant gesture, the dry sound ringing through the quiet room. “I will dispatch the search party at once and bring your daughter back to you, Your Majesty, and when she is returned you will make formal announcement that we are to be wed.”
“As you wish.”
There was a lightness to Trystay’s step as he spun around and marched from the room, his guard and his stoic, Ninvarii sorceress falling in behind him and closing King Aelfric inside like a prisoner. They did not need to bar the door, his grief alone was enough to prohibit him from doing something foolish, and Trystay knew it.
It was a delicious thing, he thought, and for the first time in his life he knew his father would be proud of him for taking that which he wanted by manipulation, rather than force.
Soon he would hold enough power to rival his own father, not that lording over his father was part of his plan, but who knew, perhaps one day that was exactly what he’d do. The only way to prove oneself a man was to be the last one standing, even if the corpse he towered over was the corpse of his father.
In the meanwhile, it pleased him a great deal to imagine his father would praise his ingenuity and effort as well, saving a situation gone horribly wrong before it spun out of his hands entirely. He bettered the terms of their original agreement in ways they never imagined when he sent his son forth to Leithe.
Deallora followed him into his chambers, closing the doors behind her to provide them privacy from his men on the other side.
“Plotting vengeance against the U’lfer is not wise, Highness. My goddess…”
“Your goddess has done nothing for me, Dea.”
“She does all for you, Highness. She has shown me your path to greatness, and if you go after the U’lfer, if you pursue Lorelei…”
“You’re still jealous of her.” Trystay narrowed suspicious and taunting gaze over his sorceress, his lover, searching for the barest hint of animosity in her features.
“I am not jealous of her,” she insisted, though he sensed annoyance in her tone at the suggestion. “What is she to me? A threat? I already have you, Highness.”
Trystay surged forward so quickly the wrapping of his fingers around her throat caught the sorceress off-guard, but when he squeezed she made every effort not to show pain or surprise.
“You don’t have me,” he hissed. Three steps forward and he threw her back into the door with a rattling thud. He surged inward until the tip of his nose touched hers. Her proud, golden eyes did not widen, her body did not flinch, but remained stiff and indifferent to his abuse. “I have you. I own you, and don’t you ever forget it.”
He watched as her nostrils flared, her full, coral-traced lips twitching beneath her nose until the edges rose into defiant grin. “Ninvariin owns me.” She tilted her head, a thoughtful inspection as her cold eyes darted across his face. “I am on loan from Her, and don’t you ever forget it.”
And then she kissed him, the prince moaning softly in his throat as she shoved him backward through the room until he felt the mattress edge the backs of his knees. Taking a step away from him, Deallora brought up her hand in a fluid gesture, a surge of pale blue light dancing across the tips of her fingers before it passed between them with a playful force that sprawled him onto his back in the bed behind him.
She lingered at the edge of the bed, magic’s pale essence still flickering across the palm of her hand. “You must heed Her wisdom, Highness.” Lifting one knee onto the bed, she passed the other across the tops of his thighs and lowered herself onto his lap. “Everything is changing. There are events in the offing you cannot even begin to understand.”
The sorceress leaned forward, resting her hand on his shoulder as she descended until they were face to face. Even through the leather of his armor, he could feel her magic, the electric tingle of it invoking a series of delightful chills that raised the hairs on his arms, along the back of his neck. The energy trickled down his spine, but he did not shiver. He wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.
“Going after the U’lfer will not serve you,” she went on. “In time they will come to you. Lorelei herself will march into this castle and demand you give her back her sister.”
“I wait for no one.” He lifted his hands to her shoulders, fingertips squeezing so hard her olive skin would boast tiny, circular bruises later where his fingers pushed into her. “I send Aelfric’s men south to finish a job he should have finished long ago. The U’lfer will burn, Dea. Every last one of them.”
He surged upward, shifting her onto her back in a bold, deft maneuver and then rolling in to perch above her like a predator. Her long, exotic eyes did not waver from his face, the molten gold irises flashing with defiance. “It is a mistake, Your Highness. Let me show you what I’ve seen.”
“The only thing I want you to show me now is a little love.” He dipped his head inward, brushed lips across her chin. “Show your prince a little kindness in a world that’s been so very, very cruel to him.”
When she opened her mouth to speak again, Trystay silenced her with kisses, her protests eventually lost in a mingling of gasps and sighs. By the time he’d finished with her, she protested no more, having remembered her rightful place beneath him.