The highly anticipated second book of the Asphodel Cycle. Sequel to the bestseller The Reckoning of Asphodel
Shoot The Muse
After the defeat of the Duke de Spesialle's armies, Tamsen de Asphodel finds herself weakened and ill. The toll of the magic she called has ravaged her body, but the demands of the Elven Realm and the kingdom of Ansienne call her to continued duty. With Brial at her side, she ignores her fragility and dives headlong into the political turmoil of both nations. Unfortunately, her uncle Spesialle is not finished with her yet. When she finds herself at his mercy, she must gather all of her wits and courage to combat him. And when the gods demand an answer to the question What gift can buy the redemption of the Elves? Tamsen must decide if she is brave enough to give the right answer.
The Gift of Redemption
I opened my eyes. We stood in the great throne room of Ansienne. The room was pregnant with foreboding, the marble floors and walls gleaming in the flickering light of the pair of torches flanking the alabaster throne. The silence unnerved me. It rang in my ears, punctuated only by the ragged sounds of my breathing.
I was weak; so terribly weak. My legs trembled beneath me. I knew that I had just enough strength for one final blast of magic.
I was afraid to use it.
Brial stood before me, the great golden sword drawn and singing its song of death. Gabril de Spesialle confronted him, a smirk curving his cruel, thin mouth. My eyes met my uncle’s and I shuddered; I was too weak to face him and he knew it.
“Brial, run!” I whispered.
“You don’t want to see him fall, niece?” Spesialle asked me in amusement. I swayed as the room whirled around me.
“Don’t taunt her,” Brial said in a low voice. “Your quarrel is with me. There is no honor in torturing a foe too weak to withstand you.”
Spesialle’s gloating eyes rested on my husband. “Well spoken, Elf,” he said musingly. “I do indeed have a quarrel with you.”
My uncle drew his massive sword from over his shoulder. I stared at the blade I had seen last held to my throat. He held the sword at the ready, and smiled coldly.
“Well, then, Brial Ka’breona,” he purred. “Shall we fight for the girl?”
The swords crashed together…
…and I awoke with a start. Instinctively, I reached for Brial, only to find him gone from his place at my side. I sat up quickly.
My husband sat alone, staring into the dimly glowing hearth, his eyes distant.
* * * *
Nothing could be more daunting than to discover that you are a plaything of the gods. Within and around you, the divine tests the resolve of the mortals upon the sphere they created. The feeling wears a shroud of hopelessness. It lies heavily upon the soul.
I bear a terrible magic. Its potency had grown since the day I set my power against my uncle’s pet magician in the ruined city of Leselle. I awakened from that explosion of power with the color bleached from my skin and hair. The new silvery hues marked me as a scion of the magic that twisted within me. As the power grew, it was harder for me to resist. On the battlefield of Asphodel, I had called down an appalling retribution upon the invaders. The cyclone I urged from the summer skies had slaughtered thousands of men. Such a use of magic destroyed my strength; it also shattered our unborn, and unknown, child’s tenuous existence in my womb. In the end, a botched attempt at assassination ended my pregnancy. Jeshan de Callat, the architect of the ambush, was dead. He had fallen at my feet from the blade of my sword two nights ago, and I watched as his life’s blood stained the snow red.
I am fated, it seems, always to watch the pristine white of snow marred by the crimson virulence of blood.
I shivered, watching Brial’s silent vigil while my thoughts raced. My past dreams had proved visionary, foreshadowing events in my life with painful accuracy. Was this dream equally significant? For years, dreams that were either the thin threads of foresight or the haunted remembrance of the past had plagued me. Every night, Spesialle executed my parents as I watched, cowering, in the orchards that bordered my home. I relived the sight of his sword slicing through the alabaster skin of my mother’s throat; I watched her fall to the terrace. I saw him cut through her long, fair braid as proof of her death. I smelled the sweet aroma of my father’s roasted flesh as he was felled by the lightning my uncle had called to kill him. It mingled with the scent of the storm that I, in my juvenile grief and fury, had unknowingly called. The sudden blizzard lashed through the orchard, destroying the trees in the first blush of spring, and hid me from my uncle as I fled to the forest and the sanctuary of the Elves. Over the last year, that dream changed. Every time it did so, it showed me a possible conclusion to the paths I took.
“Why are you awake, cariad?” Brial’s deep voice rumbled through the darkness of the tent.
“I had a dream,” I murmured, leaning into his hand as he cupped my face.
“A new one?”
I heard the frown in his voice as he asked, “What should we do about it?”
I had no answers for him. I closed my eyes as he slipped beneath the covers and pulled me against his chest. The sound of his heartbeat soothed me back into an uneasy slumber.
He raised the sword over his head, swinging it at Brial with a huge, slashing blow. Brial leapt to parry it, and I fell as he blocked the blade with his own golden sword whose song screamed for blood.
“I already have the girl,” Brial pointed out with a tight smile as the blow swung past him harmlessly to the floor.
Spesialle’s answering smile was just as bleak. “Are you sure, Elflord?” he asked.
The world spun around me once more, and everything went black.