Empire’s Legacy, Book VI
Some games are played for mortal stakes. Gwenna, heir to Ésparias, is summoned by the Empress of Casil to compete for the hand of her son. Offered power and influence far beyond what her own small land can give her, Gwenna’s strategy seems clear – except she loves someone else. Nineteen years earlier, the Empress outplayed Cillian in diplomacy and intrigue. Alone, his only living daughter has little chance to counter the Empress’s experience and skill. Aging and torn by grief and worry, Cillian insists on accompanying Gwenna to Casil. Risking a charge of treason, faced with a choice he does not want to make, Cillian must con-vince Gwenna her future is more important than his – while Gwenna plans her moves to keep her father safe. Both are playing a dangerous game. Which one will concede – or sacrifice?
In this excerpt, the family is preparing for a ceremony to mourn Lianë, the youngest child, who has died of a sudden fever. Grief and anger, and the need to makes sense of her death, are causing tension.
Finally, we were alone as a family, the last of the students and her escort leaving not long after sunrise. We’d eaten breakfast—or at least some of us had—but no one had left the table. There was nothing that had to be done: no lessons, no diplomacy. Just a ceremony tonight, an honouring and a farewell.
“Cillian,” Apulo said softly. “The day looks set to rain. If Gwenna is to dance tonight, should it be in this room? I will have the table moved, if so.”
“That would be best,” my father said. “Thank you, Apulo.”
“Is there anything else needed? Do I sing again?” He had sung the parting song at Lianë’s burial, after Sorley couldn’t, his clear, pure voice laced with such sorrow. He too had loved her.
“No. The offering tonight is the music and the dance,” my father said.
Apulo nodded. Without asking, he poured my father more tea, and then went away to the kitchen, the teapot in hand.
“Offering?” Colm said, his voice fierce. “To gods who may not exist?”
“There are gods,” my father said. “Or at least one I can vouch for. I have felt his touch.”
“The god of death.” Colm knew the story. “Why did he want Lianë?”
No one spoke, and then, “She was the price demanded,” my mother said.
“Demanded?” I asked. A sacrifice, she’d said the other night. “For what?”
“My life, Lena believes,” my father answered.
“No,” Sorley said, his voice strangled. “Lena, no.”
“I said they would demand something from us all,” my mother said. “Beyond the music you charmed the dark god with, beyond the supplication offered. Because that was only to one god, and not the one who asked for Cillian’s life. An arrow guided is what must be paid for, and if not Cillian, then Lianë.”
“You are wrong, Lena,” Druise said. “I have killed many times. Sometimes only through luck,
when I should have died. No sacrifice has been asked.”
“You believe the huntress wanted Lianë?” The bronze statue stood in the courtyard, her shoulder shining where she was touched for luck or blessing by my mother and some of the female students. And by me, since childhood.
“Four times I asked her for help,” my mother said. “Three times she gave it. The fourth time, she took her price for the death Sorley ransomed with his music.”
“Käresta,” my father said. “You are blinded by grief and exhaustion. Do not blame the gods; they do no wrong.”
My mother, her face drawn, simply shook her head. “Do not quote Catilius at me.” She pushed her chair back. “I am going for a ride. Alone.” She did not kiss my father before leaving.
“I don’t want there to be gods, if this is what they do,” Colm said. “Mathàir speaks as if she knew Lianë was to be a sacrifice.” He smashed a fist on the tabletop. “Why did you have her if that was her fate? She didn’t deserve to be born just to die.”
“She was born of love, Colm,” my father said quietly. “As you were, and Gwenna. Not as a sacrifice. Your mother is distraught and looking for an explanation.”
“Can I go riding too?” Colm asked.
“Where?” Druise, always the guard.
“I don’t know. Away.”
“If you wish to spend the day away from the Ti’ach,” my father said, “you may. I would prefer you went to Hagenstorp and Shugo. But wherever you go, please be here tonight.”
“Can I go alone?”
I’d asked the same of Sorley once, when I had difficult truths to absorb. I hadn’t wanted someone I knew with me; they would have interfered, somehow, just by being there. “Why don’t I ask my guard to accompany you?” I suggested. She would keep both silence and distance. I’d made that clear at Wall’s End after Lynthe’s promotion: if I had to be guarded, those were my requirements.
Colm’s face relaxed a little. “Would she?”
“If I tell her to, yes. Druise, will that satisfy you?”
He grunted his agreement. I went to the kitchen to find my guard and tell her what her duties were today. “You are not leaving the Ti’ach?” she asked.
“No. If for some reason I must, Druisius will be with me.” I could, to some extent, direct her, but she reported to Talyn, not to me, and ensuring my safety was her first obligation. But Druise would die for me, and she knew it. Not that I was in any danger here. Or anywhere, probably.
Thank you, Marian L Thorpe and The Coffee Pot Book Club
About the author
Essays, poetry, short stories, peer-reviewed scientific papers, curriculum documents, tech-nical guides, grant applications, press releases – if it has words, it’s likely Marian L Thorpe has written it, somewhere along the line. But nothing has given her more satisfaction than her novels. Combining her love of landscape and history, set in a world reminiscent of Europe after the decline of Rome, her books arise from a lifetime of reading and walking and won-dering ‘what if? ’Pre-pandemic, Marian divided her time between Canada and the UK, and hopes she may again, but until then, she resides in a small, very bookish, city in Canada, with her husband Brian and Pye-Cat..
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