A hundred years have passed since the Faerie woman Lara last saved Hetar. Her youth and beauty remain as always. The waning years, however, have taken many of her friends and kin. And those who remember her heroism in times of peril are few.
All the while Lara's son, the charming but nefarious Twilight Lord Kolgrim, waits patiently for his moment. Kolgrim won't repeat his father's mistakes by waging war. His way is more subtle but just as sinister—not even Lara's formidable powers will be able to stop him. Though all seems lost, Lara still clings to the hope that she can fulfill the prophecy to unite the people of Hetar.
As darkness once again falls over her land, Lara finds that, more than ever, she needs the wisdom, love and support of the handsome Shadow Prince, Kaliq. In their greatest trial yet, Lara and Kaliq will finally meet her long-foretold destiny...together.
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The author of more than fifty historical, fantasy and erotic romance novels, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Bertrice Small lives on the North Fork of the East End of Long Island with her husband and two overfed felines. She is a member of the Authors Guild, Romance Writers of America and RWA’s PAN and PASIC. Bertrice Small is the recipient of numerous awards and was honored as a Pioneer of Romance by RT Book Reviews.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Over a hundred years had passed since Lara and Kaliq had triumphed over the dark forces that shared their world. She had reluctantly accepted the cruel fate visited upon magic folk who must watch the mortals they love grow old and die. Dillon, her eldest son, remained young and vital on Belmair, where he ruled as king. His wife, Cinnia, remained by his side, still youthful, too. They had produced a single son, and six daughters, two of whom had shown a talent for their parents' magical abilities.
Anoush, Lara's second born, Vartan's daughter, had lived to be ninety. She had never married, to Lara's sorrow, nor even taken any lovers. Among the Fiacre clan family she had been respected for her healing abilities, but feared because of her talent for prophecy. She had come to suppress that gift for, gentle creature that she was, Anoush did not like distressing others. And as the years had passed, and those who knew her had died that particular talent had been forgotten and she was just considered a healer. She was content to be thought of in that way. Eventually none but a few elderly among the clan families recalled that she was the daughter of Vartan the Great, who had married a faerie woman.
Vartan's exploits were believed nothing more than legend now. In the New Outlands of Terah the clan families had no need to fear for their survival. Separated by a range of high mountains from Terah proper they paid their yearly tribute to the Dominus while growing content with their lives as it was. There were no more great leaders among them. They came to believe their lives had always been as they were now and no longer believed that men like Vartan or the beautiful faerie woman he had wed even existed. They considered the tale of Lara's rescue of the clan families from Hetar's Outlands just a story. Nothing more.
The Devyn sang their songs of the past at the Gathering each Autumn as they had always done. But now the clan families gathered there smiled and nodded, considering most of what they heard fiction, or stories that, while they might have some truth in them, were not quite factual. They could not believe that their people had ever lived lives of such adventure, or known such magic. The names Rendor, Roan and Liam were no more than names to them. They thought of themselves as ordinary agrarian folk. Of late, however, the Taubyl Traders had begun coming over the waters of the Obscura from Hetar to offer the clan families fine goods and slaves for sale. They saw the New Outlands as a fresh new market for their wares, but they also brought with them the foibles of Hetar.
Over the previous twenty years a good-size town had sprung up before the castle of the Do-minus. And at the head of each of the seven fiords a smaller town was now in existence. The trading ships from Hetar were sailing directly across the sea of Sagitta into those towns. They came for the fine fabrics, jewelry and crafts that the Terahn artisans created. They brought with them Hetarian vices. At first permission was requested for a single pleasure house in each of the small towns to service Hetarian seamen. But the curious Terahn males allowed to patronize those pleasure houses when there were no Hetarian ships in their own port decided they should have their own pleasure houses, too.
The then Dominus Amhar had requested seven pleasure mistresses from Hetar to come to Terah. They would create a single pleasure house for each of the fiord towns, manage them for three years, choose their own replacement from among their women and then return to Hetar. In return for this favor Amhar sent his youngest daughter, Mahault, named after his sister, as bride to Hetar's Lord High Ruler Palben. Hetar and Terah were bound closer than they had previously been. Lara sighed. How could this be when she had struggled so hard to keep Terah safe from the decadent civilization of Hetar?
Zagiri, her third child, had survived her husband, Lord High Ruler Jonah, although Jonah had managed to live into his eighties. Frail of body but astute of mind, he had ruled with an iron hand, bringing Hetar back to its former prosperity. And Zagiri had never stopped loving him or supporting him in all he did. Though almost thirty years younger than Jonah, Zagiri had not lived long after her husband had died. It had always surprised Lara that her beautiful golden child, Magnus Hauk's daughter, had followed Jonah so quickly, so easily. But then Zagiri had never had an ounce of magic in her.
As for Marzina, Lara's youngest child, she had grown into an incredibly beautiful girl. And having spent two years with the Daughters of the Great Creator to learn self-discipline, Marzina had gone to her grandmother, Ilona, queen of the Forest Faeries, again, to learn how to properly use her magic. Then Kaliq had spent two years tutoring her. She was incredibly talented, being the child of two magical creatures, although Marzina had always believed that Magnus Hauk, her mother's second husband, was her father. And thanks to Ilona, no one had ever questioned that Taj's twin sister was so unlike him, being dark-haired while Taj was blond.
Marzina now spent a good deal of time in the forests of Hetar or the mountains of Terah for she and her mother did not always get along. Lara saw in her youngest child what others did not. She saw a ribbon of darkness that frightened her. The black blood of Kol, the former Twilight Lord who had sired her, could not be denied. It ran hot in Mar-zina's veins along with a streak of faerie cruelty she had inherited from her grandmother. When Marzina had attained sixteen mortal years she had even attempted to seduce Kaliq. He had put her off, but things were never again the same between mother and daughter. Marzina quickly knew she had overstepped herself, and she blamed Kaliq. But Lara knew her lover and life mate far better than Marzina did, and she was not certain she could ever forgive her daughter's lapse, although Kaliq did.
Lara sighed again. Her world was on the edge of something, but she did not know what, nor could she gain any preglimpse of it yet. Rising from the chair where she had been seated, Lara walked out into her gardens. She now lived in the southwest tower of the castle. Praise the Great Creator that it faced the fjord, and she didn't have to gaze down upon Dominum as her grandson had dictated the town be called. It was modeled on The City. But of course few Terahns had ever seen The City. The royal Terahn architect had relied on Ambassador Amren's description of Hetar's capitol. Lara had visited it once, but it was nothing like The City as she remembered it. Dominum was a monument to excess with large building fashioned from marble quarried in the Emerald Mountains.
Both the Ore and Jewel gnomes had objected to this incursion onto their lands. But they were now fewer in number than ever before and could only protest vocally. Lara had spoken to her grandson, the Dominus Amhar, reminding him that the precious metals and jewels the gnomes mined were the raw materials Terah's artisans needed for their jewelry and metalwork. If the gnomes refused to go into their mines, Terah would have no work for export to Hetar. She convinced the Artisans and Metalworkers Guilds to support her endeavor. The Dominus Amhar was not pleased to be chastised by the beautiful woman who was his grandmother. But the guild chiefs were another matter entirely. Amhar sent to the gnomes apologizing for intruding upon their lands without first asking, and requesting their permission to quarry for another two months. With his messenger went a dozen barrels of fine wine and six casks of oysters packed in ice. The gnomes grudgingly agreed. The damage was already done to a portion of their mountains.
And so Dominum was raised up with three broad avenues running north to south and three broad avenues that crossed them running east to west. The buildings, however, were mostly empty for the only government was the Dominus and he ruled from his castle. The council formed by Magnus Hauk had been dissolved decades ago by Dominus Taj. How Lara had argued with her son over that, but as Taj had pointed out, there was no need for a council. It had been an experiment and nothing more.
Terahns were used to one form of rule. They wanted no changes made. Their Dominus was good enough for them. It was his duty to make the decisions, not the people. Lara realized that Taj's grandmother, and his three uncles whom she had appointed to be his council had done their job well while she had been off saving their worlds. Her son had been turned into a proper Terahn Dominus from the old school, and she hadn't seen it until it was far too late. And her grandson and great-grandson had followed Taj in maintaining the ancient traditions.
When her mother-in-law had lain dying, she had advised Taj on the sort of wife he should take. A well-brought-up Terahn girl who knew her place, which was in the background, and her duty, which was to give Taj children. And Taj, despite Lara's best efforts, had followed the advice given by Lady Persis. Lara could only silently despair. She considered if Magnus Hauk had listened to his mother Terah would never have been free of the curse of Usi, and it would have probably been conquered by Hetar or the Twilight Lord. But from the moment Magnus had died the Terahns had subtly worked their influence on Lara's son. Perhaps had she been with him more it would not have happened, but there were so many problems that needed to be solved in those days. And it was the magic inhabitants of the world of Hetar who fought to save it.
So Taj had grown up, and married a suitable Terahn wife. Vineeta was pretty enough to keep her son interested long enough to sire the required children. Amhar had been born ten months after the marriage. He was followed by his two sisters, Elvyne and Casperia. Amren, the younger son, had been the fourth, born eight years later, and was followed the next year by Taj's youngest daughter, Mauhault.
But while offering her mother-in-law outward respect, the young Domina Vineeta found it disquieting that her husband's mother looked as though she could be one of her own companions. The daughter of a wealthy widower, she had been chosen by Taj's aunts Anselma and Narda to be Taj's wife. Motherless, she looked to them for advice. As neither of Magnus Hauk's two older sisters had liked Lara, their opinions drove Vineeta's attitude toward her mother-in-law. Taj's youngest aunt, the Lady Sirvat, Lara's best friend, had attempted to heal the growing breach, but the damage was done.
Anselma and Narda whispered a stream of ignorance and prejudice into Vineeta's small ear. Vineeta had believed it all. She kept her children from their grandmother, clutching them to her dramatically when Lara entered the nursery. The children sensed that something was wrong, and grew to fear the beautiful golden-haired woman who came to see them. Eventually they became so hysterical at the mere sight of Lara that after complaining to her son, Lara had stayed away.
"Children are like that, Mother," the Dominus Taj told her. "They have their shy moments even with their parents."
"I have birthed enough children to know what they are like," Lara had replied sharply. "Those two harpies who are your father's older sisters have taught Vineeta to fear me, and she in turn teaches my grandchildren. Amhar actually hissed at me and made a sign with his hands, which I imagine he has been told is something to ward off evil. I'm afraid I laughed at him, which sent him into a flood of tears and shrieking as he ran from me."
"It is a phase," Taj defended his oldest son.
"It is prejudice," Lara said quietly. "You have no magic in you, Taj, but you are still the son of a faerie woman. Be glad you are an ordinary mortal for if you were not you would face what I now face. It was never so in your father's time. Or perhaps it was, and your father protected me for he loved me. I am your mother, my lord Dominus, and that alone should command respect. But if your wife and aunts are allowed to treat me so shabbily, then your children will, too. Once you stood by my side against those who would mistreat me. You no longer do. It saddens me, but I will always love you even if I no longer like you," Lara told her son, and by the shocked look upon his face she knew she had made her point.
But she could not, would not stand between Taj and Vineeta. She would not demand that he make a choice between his mother and his wife. That was a mortal way; it was not the faerie way. And so her grandchildren had become virtual strangers to Lara. But when Taj's younger son was to be sent to Hetar as Terah's ambassador, he came to Lara for more knowledge than anyone else could give him.
"Tell me about Hetar," he said.
"Why do you need to know?" Lara asked him.
"I am to represent Terah," Amren said proudly. "You are Hetarian. You know what I need to know."
"I am faerie," Lara told him. "I was born in the forests of Hetar, daughter of Ilona, who is Queen of the Forest Faeries, and a Hetarian named John Swiftsword. Swiftsword was your great-grandfather. His memory is much respected in Hetar, and especially among the Crusader Knights."
"What are they?" Amren inquired.
"So in Hetar there is a distinct social strata, as there is here in Terah," he said.
"Even more so," Lara told the young man. "In Terah there is the Dominus, his family, and an underclass of merchants, farmers, artisans and the like. In Hetar there is the Lord High Ruler, the High Council made up of representatives from the provinces, as well as a Merchants Guild to which all merchants and shopkeepers belong. There is a Mercenary Guild, the order of the Crusader Knights, the Pleasure Mistresses Guild, the Guild of Pleasure Women. There are farmers and traders, healers and those who perform miscellaneous services."
"It sounds very complicated," Amren noted. "But you must teach me so I know it all, and do not embarrass my father."
"Must? How dare you speak to me so, Amren, grandson of Magnus Hauk. In Hetar how one appears is paramount, and good manners are all-important. If you are loud and rude, Hetar will believe that all who live in Terah are the same way. Your first impression will be the most important impression you make. You cannot allow Hetar to continue their foolish fantasy of being the only civilized kingdom in our world. Still I must consider if I will educate you in the ways of Hetar. Is it even possible to do so, considering how you have been raised?"
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