Crown of crystal flame, p.1
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Crown of Crystal Flame, p.1

           C. L. Wilson
Download  in MP3 audio
Crown of Crystal Flame


  C. L. WILSON

  CROWN of

  CRYSTAL FLAME

  For Kevin.

  My one true love.

  Ver reisa ku’chae. Kem surah, shei’tan.

  Table of Contents

  PROLOGUE

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  Acknowledgements

  By C. L. Wilson

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  PROLOGUE

  Northern Celieria ~24th day of Verados

  Death raked like a knife across Ellysetta Baristani’s empathic soul. Talisa Barrial diSebourne was dead. Killed by the tairen venom in the red Fey’cha her husband, Colum, had thrown at her Fey truemate, Adrial vel Arquinas.

  Of Colum diSebourne—Talisa’s husband—there was no sign.

  The scorch of ozone, the odor of powerful magic released with explosive force, still hung heavy in the air. No one needed to draw Ellysetta a picture. She’d felt Colum’s hate-filled fury, felt Talisa’s death. Adrial’s wild, deadly Rage. She’d sensed the moment Colum’s anger turned to terror, seen the unmistakable explosion of Adrial’s magic, and then… nothing. A vacuum of emotion, the utter stunned silence of disbelief, followed at last by grief and accusation and a chaotic whirl of unchecked thoughts and feelings.

  Colum had discovered his wife returning from the forest with her Fey lover, and he’d set into motion the series of events that had led to this: Talisa and Adrial dead. Colum… simply gone.

  “My son.” Great Lord Sebourne—Colum’s father—stepped into the open space where his son had been. His eyes swept the clearing. His jaw thrust out aggressively. “Where’s my son?”

  “He’s gone,” Talisa’s father, the Great Lord Cannevar Barrial, answered in a bleak voice. “They’re all gone.” His sons Luce, Parsis, and Severn stood in stricken silence beside him. He swiped at the tears brimming in his eyes and glared at his neighbor. “I hope you’re jaffing satisfied, Sebourne.”

  Kneeling on the ground beside the bodies of Talisa and his brother, Rowan vel Arquinas fixed his grief-stricken gaze on Ellysetta. “Please, Feyreisa. Save them. If anyone can, it’s you.”

  Rowan’s ragged plea spurred her to action. She crossed the field and dropped to her knees beside the fallen truemates.

  “Rain, try the Shadar horn on Talisa,” she commanded. A gift from the Elf King, Galad Hawksheart, the curling horn from the magical horses called Shadar was reputed to be an antidote to any poison—even irreversibly lethal tairen venom.

  “Ellysetta.” Rain, Ellysetta’s unbonded truemate, laid a hand on her shoulder. “It’s too late, shei’tani. They’re already gone.”

  Her gaze shot up, pinning his. “I have to at least try to save them,” she protested. “You know I must.”

  Compassion and understanding softened his expression. Her mate, the King of the Fey, who had once scorched the world in a fit of grief-stricken madness, was no stranger to death or the desperate desire to prevent it. “There’s nothing to be done. They have passed beyond the Veil. Even if you could call their souls back into their bodies, you would only summon them as demons, not as the friends we knew.”

  The sounds of shouting made them turn. Lord Sebourne and Lord Barrial were at each other’s throats, swords drawn. All their men had blades in hand as well, ready—even eager—to spill their own countrymen’s blood.

  “What are you thinking?” Ellysetta cried. “Haven’t you had your fill of death?”

  Though the Fey-Celierian treaty that prohibited Fey from manipulating mortal thoughts with their magic—and though that was precisely the crime for which Adrial vel Arquinas had been sentenced to death—Ellysetta still did it. She spun a weave of peace upon the enraged men, stealing the raw heat of their anger.

  “Sheathe your swords,” she commanded, infusing her voice with compulsion. “There will be no more killing here today. Lord Barrial, Rowan, tend to your dead. Lord Sebourne, mourn your son. For the sake of the dear ones each of us have lost, let there be peace between us.”

  Though Sebourne sheathed his sword, not even Ellysetta’s weave was enough to still his anger completely.

  “Peace?” he spat. “There will be peace when Celieria and her king are free of Fey manipulations and control.” He turned to the king, and declared, “Sebourne will not fight beside these Fey rultsharts. I will not spill one more drop of Sebourne blood on their behalf, or trust them at my back. I pray gods you soon find the strength to cut free of their strings.”

  Raising his voice, Great Lord Sebourne shouted, “Warriors of Sebourne! Mount up. We ride for home!”

  CHAPTER ONE

  I watch my loved ones weep with sorrow,

  death’s silent torment of no tomorrow.

  I feel their hearts breaking, I sense their despair,

  United in misery, the grief that they share.

  How do I show that, I am not gone…

  but the essence of life’s everlasting song

  Why do they weep? Why do they cry?

  I’m alive in the wind and I am soaring high.

  I am sparkling light dancing on streams,

  a moment of warmth in the fays of sunbeams.

  The coolness of rain as it falls on your face,

  the whisper of leaves as wind rushes with haste.

  Etrrnal Song, a requiem by Avian of Celieria

  Celieria ~ Kreppes

  24th day of Verados

  “The bodies of Talisa and Adrial have been sent back to the elements,” Rain said.

  After Talisa’s and Adrial’s deaths, the King’s Army continued marching to the great walled city-fortress of Kreppes to prepare for war. Rain and the Fey had stayed behind with Great Lord Barrial and his sons to say their final good-byes and return the bodies of their loved ones to the elements from whence they came.

  Now, as he and Ellysetta stood before Celieria’s king in the chambers Great Lord Barrial had surrendered for Dorian’s use, Rain feared that the deaths of Adrial, Talisa, and Colum diSebourne on the fields of northern Celieria today had destroyed far more than three lives.

  Only one month ago, the Fey had learned that the evil High Mage of Eld intended to unleash a terrible army upon Celieria. An army one of his Mages had compared to the mythic Army of Darkness, a world-conquering force of millions. Rain and Ellysetta had spent weeks trying to cobble together an alliance to combat the threat, but now, thanks to what had happened with Talisa, Adrial, and Colum, the small army they’d managed to assemble was in danger of coming apart at the seams.

  King Dorian X of Celieria, who had not risen when Rain and Ellysetta entered, continued to scan the sheets of parchment in his hand as if Rain had not spoken, leaving the king and queen of the Fey to stand before him like chastised children summoned to the schoolmaster’s office.

  Irritation flickered through Rain. Dorian had a right to his anger—and Rain knew he deserved reproach for hiding Adrial’s continued presence in Celieria City from Celieria’s king—but he would tolerate no discourtesy towards Ellysetta.

  “The Fey stand ready to fight,” Rain announced, speaking to the top of Dorian’s bent head, “but before this battle begins, King Dor
ian, the Feyreisa and I must know what impact our recent mutual loss will have on our alliance.”

  The hands on the parchment froze. The Celierian king’s head lifted. Eyes hard as polished stones clashed with Rain’s gaze.

  “It’s a little late for such concerns, don’t you think?” The quiet venom in Dorian’s tone came as a surprise. Since meeting the descendant of Marissya and Gaelen’s sister, Marikah vol Serranis, Rain had never regarded Dorian as much more than a too-weak, too-mortal product of a great Fey bloodline. Fey in name only, with little to recommend him as either a strong leader or a seasoned warrior. But there was a new edge to Dorian that Rain had never seen before. A flinty glitter in his eyes and resolute hardness to his jaw.

  Trusting, accommodating Dorian vol Serranis Torreval had grown steel in his spine—and with it a decidedly less favorable view of the Fey.

  Rain spread his hands in a placating gesture. “King Dorian—“

  “You knew!” Dorian kicked back his chair and surged to his feet. “All this time, you knew about Adrial and Talisa. You knew Adrial and the others hadn’t gone back to the Fading Lands. Knew they were using their magic to hide their presence from Talisa’s husband. You knew, and you condoned it. Not only that—you participated in their deception!” He jabbed a finger in Rain’s direction. “You, who posture and pride yourself on Fey honor, intentionally set out to deceive me, the Sebournes, and the Barrials.”

  Rain’s skin flushed. “I know how this must seem—“

  “Seem?” Dorian gave a harsh, humorless laugh. “You spoke so eloquently about honoring our customs, holding our marriage vows as sacred as your own, and all the while, you plotted to rob a man of his wife. Is this the measure of Fey honor? Is this how low and worthless it has become—or is it merely an indicator of how low and worthless your honor has become?”

  At Rain’s side, Ellysetta bristled, but he silenced her with a small touch of his hand. «Nei shei’tani. Dorian has a right to his anger. I did intentionally deceive him.»

  “You counted on my trust… on my belief in your honor,” Dorian continued hotly. “You manipulated me like the puppet my own nobles have accused me of being. You used my faith in the goodness of the Fey—even my love for my aunt, Marissya, and my ties of kinship to the Fey—to deceive me. You are the reason three people died today! How I wish I’d heeded Tenn v’En Eilan’s warning about you!”

  “That’s enough!” Ellysetta exclaimed. Her green eyes shot sparks. “How dare you lay full blame for today at his feet? You, who bear as much blame as he?”

  “Ellysetta, las.” Rain pulled her closer, half-afraid of what she might do to Dorian. “Dorian has a right to his anger. I did manipulate and deceive him. And I will bear the weight of Adrial and Talisa’s deaths, as I bear the weight of all the lives lost to my sword and to my flame.” Silently, he added, «Perhaps Tenn was right, and I truly have lost my way.» The leader of the Massan, the Fading Lands’s governing council, had accused Rain of that when he banished Rain and Ellysetta for weaving the forbidden magic, Azrahn. Had he fallen from the Bright Path and been too blinded by his love for Ellysetta and his hatred of the Eld to realize it?

  She whirled on him, anger eclipsed by shock and repudiation of his silent confession. «Rain, nei. Don’t even think that way. You are a champion of Light. Don’t you ever doubt it.» She clasped his face in her hands and stared fiercely into his eyes, as if, by sheer force of will, she could make him believe her.

  Turning back to Dorian, she said in a calmer voice, “In his sorrow and guilt over today’s terrible loss, my shei’tan allows you to heap blame upon him without protest. But I will not. What great evil has he done? He allowed a dying man to spend the last months of his life watching over the woman he loved. If that is a crime, you should pray to the gods you would have the heart to be as guilty as he!”

  For the first time since they’d entered this chamber, Dorian looked uncertain. “Vel Arquinas was dying?”

  “Ellysetta,” Rain murmured a low warning. The high price of shei’tanitsa was a dangerous truth Fey never revealed to outsiders.

  “Aiyah, he was,” she confirmed. «I’m sorry, Rain, but it’s long past time he learned the truth. He is part Fey, after all.» To Dorian, she continued, “From the moment you upheld Talisa’s Celierian marriage, Adrial’s life was over. You did not realize it, but by denying him his shei’tani, you condemned him to death.”

  “Don’t be ridiculous.” Dorian scowled and began to pace. “Despite what the poets say, a broken heart never killed anyone.”

  “Perhaps not among mortals, King Dorian,” Ellysetta said, “but the same is not true for the Fey. Once a Fey finds his truemate, he has only months to complete the bond, or he will die.”

  Dorian stopped in his tracks. He turned, glancing uncertainly between the pair of them. “Is this true?” he asked Rain.

  Rain sighed, then nodded. “Aiyah, it is true.” “But you have yet to complete your bond with the Feyreisa. Are you telling me you are dying?” “I am.”

  Nonplussed, Dorian leaned back against the window, his hands gripping the stone sill. “How long do you have?”

  “Not long. Weeks perhaps. No more than a month or two.” Ellysetta’s hand crept into Rain’s. He squeezed her fingers gently.

  “If this is true, why is this the first I’ve ever heard of it?”

  “Ellysetta once asked me the same question. My answer to her was the same as it is to you now: If you had so great a vulnerability, would you let it be known to those who might wish you harm?”

  Dorian bristled. “You think I wish you harm?”

  “You? Nei. But you are king of a people who have shown increasing animosity towards the Fey. It seemed wiser to keep our secrets safe.”

  “Knowing this,” Ellysetta said, “can you now understand why Rain acted as he did? It’s true he allowed our Spirit masters to weave the illusion of Adrial and Rowan leaving the city while they remained behind with Talisa’s quintet, cloaked in invisibility weaves to avoid detection. And, aiyah, he kept the secret of their presence from you so that no blame would fall upon you. But he didn’t do it so Adrial could steal another man’s wife. He did it so Adrial could spend the last days of his life close to the woman he loved.”

  Dorian recovered his composure and regarded them both with a mix of suspicion and defensive ire. “Even if vel Arquinas was dying, that doesn’t excuse him. To manipulate diSebourne’s mind the way he did… to run off with the man’s wife. Those are not the actions of an honorable man—Fey or mortal.”

  “Nei,” Rain agreed. “They are not. And that is precisely why Adrial would have embraced sheisan’dahlein, the Fey honor death, and why no Fey will attempt to avenge him. What Adrial did was wrong. None of us will deny that. But his brother Rowan tells us he was going to do the honorable thing. He was going to leave his shei’tani with her husband and return to the Fading Lands.”

  Dorian’s shoulders slumped. “You should have come to me. Trusted me. If I’d known the price of the matebond, I could have tried to do something to spare vel Arquinas’s life. Now it’s too late. Three lives are lost—one of them the only heir to a Great House. Sebourne and his friends will make certain I regret my indulgence of the Fey.”

  “I do understand, Dorian, and I will do all that I can to make amends, but we have a far greater threat than Sebourne’s vengeance to worry about now. Hawksheart warned us the Eld would attack tonight.”

  “Tonight? I thought you said the attack would come next week? “

  “Apparently, things have changed.”

  “How many Elves did Hawksheart send to our aid? If the attack does come tonight, will they get here in time?”

  Rain hesitated. This, even more than Dorian’s anger, was the part of this meeting he’d been dreading. “The Elves are not coming.”

  The king’s brow furrowed. “Lord Hawksheart thinks the Danae alone will be enough against an army as large as the one you expect?” Weeks ago, after warning Dorian to marshall h
is troops and march to Kreppes, Rain and Ellysetta had traveled south to plead for military assistance from the Danae and the Elves.

  “We never met with the Danae. Hawksheart’s Elves intercepted us before we crossed Celieria’s borders. He promised he would speak to the Danae on our behalf, but even if they agree to come, it will be days, possibly weeks, before they reach Kreppes.”

  “Then we are doomed.” Dorian began to pace again.

  “The keep is heavily guarded, and the shields are strong,” Rain said. “Between your twelve thousand men, Lord Barrial’s two, and my three thousand Fey, we’ll give the Eld a good fight. The Mages will not claim one fingerspan of Celierian soil without paying a high price.”

  “Don’t patronize me,” Dorian snapped. “I’ve read the legends about the Army of Darkness. It was millions strong, they say.”

  “Legends often grow over time.”

  “Yes, but even if this Mage has built an army only a tenth that size, our seventeen thousand would still be outnumbered twenty to one. If the Elves and the Danae had agreed to fight, we might have stood a chance. Might. But now…”

  “Now, if this Mage truly has built an army to rival the legend, the best we can hope is to hold back the tide and kill as many of them as possible before we are overrun,” Rain agreed baldly. “And pray our defeat will spur the Elves to action, as our pleas for aid could not.”

  “You must hold out some hope of success,” Dorian insisted. “You would never bring your shei’tani here if you thought defeat was certain.”

  “She is here because I am, but if the situation becomes dire, her quintet will take her to safety.”

  At his side, Ellysetta went stiff as a poker. «Rain, I’m not leaving you.»

  «We will talk later.» He would not look at her.

  «Nei, we won’t. Because there is nothing to talk about. I won’t leave you. You’re mad if you think I would.»

  The corner of his mouth quirked, and despite the seriousness of their situation, he cast her a quick glance that sparkled with wry humor. «I believe we’ve already established that, shei’tani, and I’m getting madder by the day.»

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment