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The original manuscript of CROWN OF VENGEANCE that I turned in to Tor ran over 1600 pages. Tor demanded a considerable number of cuts, so less than half the original manuscript was included in the published edition. Most of the excisions were in the nature of single paragraphs and even single sentences, but in some cases, entire chapters were removed.

Here's one of those outtakes. Vieliessar's journey to the Western Shore to seek alliance doesn't go quite as she expects.

"So she had gone to take promises of Amrolion and Daroldan,
traveling to the Western Shore to do so."
-- Crown of Vengeance, page 406


War Prince Damulothir had come to the throne of Daroldan much earlier than was the custom even for the domains of the Western Shore, nor had he been the youngest child of Maduchalaid and Nimphaeros. Daroldan was beautiful, and rich, and cursed by the Silver Hooves to be a forcing-ground for battle. In the east the War Princes might sit fat and safe in their castels from Harvest to Sword. In Daroldan there was no moonturn of peace.

Often Damulothir dreamed of gathering together all the Lightborn of Jer-a-Kalaliel and setting them to build a great wall all along the eastern borders of Daroldan and Amrolion. And once it was sealed shut, he would stand atop it turn the Western Shore to a wasteland of stone and ash. And then there would be days of peace, and he could be certain of dying before his children died, and certain his youngest would rule his lands after him.

Is it good fortune or ill luck that the Beastlings infest the Grand Windsward as well? I cannot say. But that they do means there are not two voices raised among a hundred, but nearly fifty. And for that reason the High Houses can't dismiss the Beastling armies as a matter of no concern to them. They know they must send their meisnes when I call for them, or risk the fall of Daroldan and the loss of all the west.

It was a hazardous game he must play with the lives of his people. Call for aid too often, and the eastern domains would think Daroldan ripe for conquest. But refrain from calling for aid when he must have it, and Daroldan might be overrun, her people slaughtered. Tragedy enough, but worse that the Western Shore would then fall to the rule of those who didn't understand how to fight the Beastlings.

Swordmasters of other Houses cultivated vast tailles of informants and spies to guard their domains from harm. Daroldan's enemies couldn't be spied upon by alfaljodthi, and so Daroldan kept astromancers and oracles and Lightborn skilled in every art of augury and divination. Four times each year without fail, Damulothir Daroldan sent to the Sanctuary of the Star with rich gifts for the Astromancer and rich sacrifices for the Starry Hunt to beg a Foretelling of the sennights ahead. If there had been a Lightborn anywhere in the land with a Keystone Gift of Foretelling, Damulothir would have paid any price to gain them for his court -- but there had been no whisper of one for the last four Astromancers' reigns.

What there had been, again and again, like the drumbeat summoning armies to battle, were warnings. No augury could make clear the danger, but all had agreed. War was coming. A greater war than the Hundred Houses had ever fought before. Death, destruction, loss. Maduchalaid Daroldan had hoped the warnings spoke of Serenthon and Farcarinon, and Ladyholder Nimphaeros and Heir-Princess Tolomiarch and Prince Damulothir had hoped with him. But Farcarinon was erased, and the prophecies didn't change. And soon Damulothir found himself War Prince, and wondering how to keep his people safe in the years to come. It was only because every child of Daroldan knew in blood and bone no prophecy could be altered that Damulothir hadn't given the order for his cousin Iardalaith to be slain at the moment of his birth. Iardalaith's birth-auguries had promised him a life of battles greater and more terrible than any War Prince of Daroldan had ever fought. It had been a disturbing thing to remember, when Belfrimrond Lightbrother had Called the Light in him, for Lightborn fought only Beastlings, and that by spell, not sword.

But year followed year, and if the warnings in the Foretellings didn't change, at least matters for Daroldan went on much as they always had.

Until Vieliessar of Lost Farcarinon made herself War Prince of Oronviel and announced she would become High King.

Others might stop up their ears and refuse to hear when the rumors began to fly that her authority came from an ancient prophecy. Damulothir gathered his Lightborn together and demanded answers. Meanwhile, Vieliessar of Oronviel conquered Laeldor -- and used Magery to do it. Araphant had fallen to her by vacancy, and Ivrithir was hers by treaty, and Mangiralas was next to fall. And all Damulothir's fellow War Princes could do was squall about the fact she shouldn't have Oronviel at all, and that their commons were fleeing their domains in great numbers to join her.

Is none of them willing to see they face something more than another War Prince seizing badly-defended domains -- or even another Serenthon?

After that, Damulothir wasn't really surprised when she arrived in Daroldan.

#


It was such a morning as made Damulothir know that his heart would break in two if he were ever driven from this beautiful and terrible land. The sky was bright and clear, and the air was sharp with the smell of the sea, for Daroldan's Great Keep was set upon a high rock that overlooked Great Sea Ocean himself. Damulothir could hear the cries of the sea-birds that wheeled and dove over the nets, and the calls of the sentries on the walls mingling with the rhythmic work-chant of the fishers as they pulled in the great drag-nets. It was far too dangerous to go out into the bay to fish, for if the sea-Beastlings could, they would capsize a boat and drown all within it. But the fishers set weighted nets, one end tied to posts sunk deep into the sand, for the evening tide to sweep out into the water. When morning came, they would fly their fishing birds at the brightly-colored floats bobbing far out upon on the ocean's surface. The floats were attached to lines, light enough for the bird to carry back to the shore, and the lines were attached to ropes, and the ropes were attached to the far end of the nets, and soon they would be able to draw their catch ashore and begin the process again.

Damulothir lingered over the remains of the morning meal with his wife and his chief nobles.

"Make Hamphuliadiel Astromancer see reason, find someone to murder Prince Vieliessar, or figure out how to do astromancy in two moonturns. Those seem to be your choices," Swordsmaster Martenil said drily, toying with a crust of bread. "I hardly need mention the omens indicate none of these is likely to happen."

Damulothir growled wordlessly. He'd had Belfrimrond Chief Lightborn combing through all the books of Foretelling in the Great Keep since the news had come that Hamphuliadiel did not mean to step down, trying to find some promise that Daroldan would still be here a dozen moonturns from now. He reached for the pitcher on the table, but Warlord Palinoriel was there before him.

"If I can't send your army against this ill luck, I can at least perform this small service for you, cousin," he said quietly.

Damulothir sighed, accepting both the tacit apology and the full tankard. Three things a sword cannot slay: ill luck, foolishness, and Death. When he glanced up, he saw Astertiralda standing in the doorway.

Astertiralda was First among Daroldan's rangers, and she walked as proud as any lord. She'd come here directly from the forest, for she still wore her forest garb. It was as much her protection as the layers of steel and mail were for a mounted knight: close-fitting leggings and soft boots of doeskin, a doeskin tunic that fell to mid-thigh, and a hood to cover her hair and her neck. Each item was artfully tattered and dappled in forest colors, so that its wearer could vanish more easily among the trees. Visitors to Daroldan were sure the rangers used some sorcery to hide themselves among the trees -- but that would be madness, when the prey they stalked was drawn to magic as a moth to a flame.

"You wanted the Green Robe oathbreaker who means to make herself High King," Astertiralda said without preamble. "Well, she's coming. Iardalaith's with her, and three Lightborn of the Sanctuary -- I heard them named Hervilafimir, Rondithiel, and Thelfelient. Oh, and the Free Company Silver Star, numbering a hundred fifty swords."

"Have you any more happy news?" Ladyholder Ereneine asked. "Perhaps we're to be invaded by minotaurs. Or centaurs. Or face another plague of dryads. Or a gryphon. Trying to kill one of those things provides sennights of delight."

Astertiralda smiled faintly. "I have seen no gryphons this season, my lady. Not even an aesalion. The travelers will reach the edge of the forest tomorrow. I have left Terandamil and three more to watch them. Iardalaith Lightbrother knows we must be there, but we haven't shown ourselves."

"Let's slaughter the lot of them," Martenil said glibly. "Oh, I know you are fond of Iardalaith, my lord, but you have many cousins."

"You among them." Damulothir snorted. "You think because you taught me to hold a sword you can take my good nature for granted."

"You are all that's just and merciful, my lord," Martenil said lightly, half-bowing from where he sat.

"I am, yes," Damulothir agreed. "It's my lady's gentle influence which tames me."

Ladyholder Ereneine plucked a grape from her plate and threw it across the table at her husband. "Unfortunately we can't kill anyone. Or to be precise, your archers might be able to kill some of them, Astertiralda, but then the Lightborn with them would just Shield them. And then they would arrive here in a bad temper."

"Indeed that is true, my lady," Astertiralda said. "I had considered leading the Lightborn away from the mercenaries by some means, but..." she shrugged. "Lord Vieliessar is Lightborn also."

"And Lord Vieliessar is the stone in the Vilya fruit," Palinoriel Warlord said. "Is it foolish of me to wonder why she's coming here with a band of mercenaries?"

"It's the obvious question to ask," Ladyholder Ereneine said. "Perhaps she got lost on her way to Caerthalien."

"Perhaps she did not," Damulothir said dourly. "I am grateful for this news," he told Astertiralda. "Please do your best to see that Lord Vieliessar and her escort survive to reach here."

"I hope she's fond of fish," Ladyholder Ereneine said.

#


In the days when Vieliessar thought she would never leave the Sanctuary of the Star, she'd studied the domains and their histories, from the Less Houses of the Grand Windsward to the Houses of the Western Shore. The accounts made them all seem the same. And it was true that Oronviel was Caerthalien in miniature, as were Cirandeiron, Aramenthiali, Ullilion...

But Daroldan and Amrolion were not.

On the Western Shore, the War Princes kept armies of foresters -- much like the infantry in her visions of ancient times -- and called them "rangers", and used them to spy upon the Beastlings and fight them in the forest's heart. On the Western Shore the children didn't fly kites in Flower Moon, or leap fires in Fire Moon. In Flower Moon and Fire Moon they were tested -- every boy and girl -- for skill at sword or bow. On the Western Shore the Lightborn Called the Light into every child of the domain three times -- on three successive Midwinters -- before saying it wasn't there. Daroldan and Amrolion each sent more Candidates and Postulants to the Sanctuary than any other domain.

She would have known that -- everyone would have known that -- if the Candidates in their Service Year hadn't been so thoroughly discouraged from speaking among themselves of where they had come from. And the Lightborn were the nearest the alfaljodthi Houses possessed to a caste that transcended allegiance to the domain in which they were born. If they didn't share such information, no one else would. But in all the centuries, all the generations, that have passed since the fall of Celephriandullias-Tildorangelor, the only lore worth having, worth sharing, worth preserving has been that which will give one House tactical advantage over another.

And now, knowing how little she knew, she could but stand here in the greatest stronghold of the Western Shore and hope she would be able to leave again.

"I welcome you to Daroldan, Lord Vieliessar," Lord Damulothir said, inclining his head. "I trust you had a safe journey?"

"Of course, Lord Damulothir. I understand I have your rangers to thank for that."

"In part," Damulothir said consideringly. "And the Beastlings hesitate to attack Lightborn. They fear our Magery, as my young cousin will have told you."

"Iardalaith may have forgotten to mention that in the excitement of returning home," she answered blandly. She hadn't expected to be received by Damulothir's whole court, but there were a dozen people present in addition to Lord Damulothir and Lady Erenine. "Shall I tell you what I have come to Daroldan to ask? Or must we waste one anothers' time with inessentials?" Vieliessar said bluntly.

"You'll never become High King if you aren't willing to bore people into a swoon," the lord standing at Damulothir's left hand said. Namings had been quick and -- she thought -- intentionally confusing, but the Sanctuary-trained had good memories. This was Lord Martenil, Daroldan's Swordsmaster.

"I will be High King," she answered, meeting his eyes. "I have come to Daroldan to receive from Lord Damulothir his pledge of vassalage, and the renunciation of his claim on the Unicorn Throne in favor of mine. In exchange for this -- and for Daroldan's further promise to give neither aid nor sanctuary to my enemies, I shall leave Daroldan essentially untouched."

"Oh, essentially," Lady Erenine said. "Now we come to it, my love."

"What more could you possibly think of to ask of us?" Lord Damulothir said.

"One, perhaps two, of your master rangers to return to my army with me to train my infantry," Vieliessar answered levelly.

There was a moment of tense silence, then Martenil laughed. "Oh, well struck, Farcarinon's Heir! And how long are you prepared to wait for Daroldan to make these concessions?"

"Not long," she answered simply. "I must have the same pledge from Amrolion, though I won't need rangers from Lord Leopheine if you'll supply them."

Lord Damulothir leaned forward in his seat and studied her intently. "Are you mad, or are you merely the most stubborn creature I have ever encountered in my life?"

"Do you wish to spend the years of your life fearing to ask the High Houses for aid because you also fear they'll think you weak?" she asked in turn. Attack is a komen's greatest defense, Gunedwaen had told her, but she'd learned that lesson long before she ever held a sword. "Is fear the inheritance you wish to leave to Prince Hantoneniel? I shall put your mind at rest, Lord Damulothir: unless you die quite soon, Hantoneniel will never rule over Daroldan."

"This becomes interesting," Ladyholder Ereneine murmured.

"I was many years at the Sanctuary," Vieliessar said. "Daroldan made greater sacrifices more often than any other House, even Amrolion. Why, if not to beseech the Starry Hunt Itself for aid, and to ask Foretellings to guide your rule? Who seeks the Silver Hooves as allies save the truly desperate? I know something of desperation, my lords. I was born under a sentence of death, nor was it ever lifted. Belfrimrond Lightbrother, you will know the truth of this: within the Sanctuary of the Star I had safety, and I could have had such power as no War Prince even dreams of. Why then would I seek to make myself High King -- I, who have no House, no lands but those I have conquered, a name that's cursed by the High Houses for the death and loss my father dealt to them?"

"You have named yourself Child of the Prophecy," Belfrimrond answered, after a long moment of silence. "Celelioniel swore The Song of Amrethion was a true prophecy, and that she'd found the key to its riddles. But she would tell no one what it said."

"She feared it, and for many years she sought some way to undo it. Then I was born, and she realized she could not. But her reign was near its end. She chose to entrust all she knew of the Prophecy to her successor, charging him to aid me in my task."

"You're talking about Hamphuliadiel of Haldil, of course," Damothir said. "But--"

"But he destroyed everything Celelioniel left in his charge, and later locked away all the books of prophecy and foretelling the Sanctuary library held. If he didn't destroy them outright," Vieliessar finished.

"You think he destroyed books from Arevethmonion?" Ladyholder Ereneine sounded shocked.

"Some believe to destroy the instrument of a prophecy keeps it from coming true," Vieliessar said.

"I always knew the Windsward Houses were mad," Lord Damulothir said. "I hadn't realized they were amazingly stupid as well. But you know what it said." It wasn't a question.

"I have been forced to guess. Hamphuliadiel was thorough. But he couldn't destroy the Song itself, for every Postulant is required to memorize it. The Prophecy says the Child of the Prophecy will be born of no House, in the moonturn of Rade, in the candlemark of greatest Darkness. Farcarinon was erased before I drew my first breath, though that isn't sufficient proof: many children were born in that candlemark, including Prince Malbeth of Haldil, and there are many ways to interpret a line of poetry. But the Prophecy also says that in the years of my life, the Child of Prophecy's life, a Darkness will come from somewhere outside Jer-a-Kalaliel, riding in the vanguard of armies bought with blood. I know this Darkness isn't a Beastling army, and I know it comes to slay all things living, but I know nothing more -- save that there's no chance of withstanding it if the War Princes are still arguing about who's to lead the army that must fight it."

"And you believe the Prophecy has chosen you," Warlord Palinoriel murmured. "How generous of Amrethion to recompense you for the loss of Farcarinon by granting you the Unicorn Throne."

"You mistake me, Lord Palinoriel, if you think I have come here to argue with you," Vieliessar said. "Any of you," she added, sweeping her gaze over the assembled nobles. "I have come to deliver my terms for your surrender, and to give you my promise I'll do all I can to keep you safe once you have."

"What if we don't?" Princess Seniltiliana demanded. "We could just throw you in the dungeon. Or stake you out on a rock at low tide -- and you could find out what it's like to fight the Beastlings of Great Sea Ocean."

"Tilia!" Prince Hantoneniel said.

"If you don't surrender, I am sorry," Vieliessar said. "I don't wish harm to any of you, for I will need you to fight for me and for the land. But Daroldan is one domain of many, and I can't afford you as allies to my enemies."

"So you'll ... what? Conquer Daroldan with two great-tailles and my lackwit cousin to help you?" Lord Damulothir asked.

"No," Vieliessar said quietly. "You are right. That would be impossible. But all living things fear fire, my lord. If I set all forests ablaze, the Beastlings who lurk there will be forced westward. They'll have nowhere else to go. Nor will you."

Nearly everyone in the Great Hall -- except Vieliessar, Iardalaith, and the five commanders of Silver Star who had accompanied her -- began talking at once. Belfrimrond Lightbrother insisted she couldn't do what she claimed -- that no Lightborn could stand against the power of ten, a dozen, a score of Lightborn set against them. It might be so. But Fire was the first spell, the simplest spell: she knew she could set Daroldan ablaze before they forced her shields.

And perhaps the Prophecy would work the same eldritch persuasion here that it had elsewhere, and she wouldn't have to.

After a few seconds Iardalaith stepped forward.

"She can do it." He hadn't raised his voice to be heard, and the silence that followed it was deafening. He glanced over his shoulder at Vieliessar, his expression unreadable. "Ereneine. Cousin. You know what power is granted to those who are the hands of prophecy. If she says she'll set the forests alight, believe her. If she says a great Darkness is coming against us, believe that too. She came here with me because I promised her victory in Daroldan and Amrolion without battle."

"You had no right," Damulothir said, rising to his feet in sudden fury.

"He promised only that I would be heard," Vieliessar said, taking a step forward to stand beside Iardalaith. "It was my vow to him I would not take the armies from the domains of the Western Shore. Pledge to me on the terms I have set, and I shall leave you untouched. And when I am High King -- when we have defeated this great enemy -- I'll make Daroldan as peaceful as any domain I hold."

"And how peaceful is that likely to be?" Martenil Swordsmaster asked.

"Very," Vieliessar answered with a small cold smile. "Ask Belfrimrond Lightbrother what joy the Lightborn take in Healing wounds that should never have been inflicted. War is neither sport nor game. If the High King's armies lack for tasks to occupy them in days of peace, be sure I shall find them suitable employment."

#


"If I'd known you intended to tell my cousin you'd set fire to his entire domain I would never have brought you here," Iardalaith groaned.

"If I'd known everyone in Daroldan was a superstition-besotted mystic, I wouldn't have come," Vieliessar answered, without turning away from the window. It was the third day she had been here -- not as a prisoner, though she had not been asked for her parole. She had the free run of the castel, though Iardalaith said it would be best for her to remain within its walls unless a knight or ranger of Daroldan accompanied her to make her aware of perils she hadn't encountered elsewhere. Even Eletehradan, whose company had spent half a year in the Grand Windsward before joining her, agreed this was a good plan, so Vieliessar had confined her explorations to the castel itself.

She and her people had been given comfortable -- if slightly-crowded -- accommodations within the Great Keep. It was built more to the style of the Sanctuary of the Star than like the castels she was familiar with: its interior space wasn't divided into many small chambers, but a few large ones, for the Great Keep was truly meant as a refuge for the people her War Prince ruled. She, Hervilafimir, Rondithiel, Thelfelient, and Silver Star's captains were quartered together in one large dormitory chamber, though two of Elete's captains slept each in the great rooms where the rest of their company was housed. Vieliessar wondered who was being protected from whom.

"Don't fuss, children," Eletehradan said without looking up. She had a gan set in her equipment, and played endless games to pass the time. The ones against Grisegondoran lasted longest. "We're waiting for Amrolion to arrive, and then we find out who's going to be fed to the kraken."

"That's not funny," Iardalaith snapped.

"No," Vieliessar said, watching the sun sparkle on Great Sea Ocean. "It isn't."

"Did I say I was attempting to tell a joke?" Eletehradan answered, not looking away from the gan board -- a mat, actually, that could be rolled up and packed away without damage. "That's how they execute people here."

"Kraken" was noted in Lannarien's Book of Living Things as a beast of Deep Ocean, almost certainly imaginary. The first night she'd slept in Daroldan Great Keep, Vieliessar awoke from a troubled dream of fire and blood to discover the screams weren't a part of her dream -- but real.

Seeing Vieliessar awake, Eletehradan had pointed toward the window. She'd grabbed her sword and flung open the iron shutters that covered it. The deep angled well of the window slit was lined in smooth-polished crystal to let in as much light as possible. In the dawn light, it had flared like burning copper, and it had taken her eyes a moment to adjust. Then she looked out.

The water in the bay below was churning as if it were being boiled, and she could see the silver flash of fish as they leaped into the air, trying to flee. For a moment she didn't know where the danger was -- then she saw the sea foam was tinged with blood, and long arms like black whips broke its surface.

Kraken.

Kraken was gigantic -- Vieliessar hadn't believed something so large could be real -- and its serpent-arms moved as deftly as if they contained eyes. She was afraid to try Fire without knowing more of the thing she fought, but there were other spells she could cast, and she did. None of them had any effect -- not her spells of Overshadow, or of Control, or even of Confusion or Illusion. She could only watch helplessly as the fisherfolk ran toward the fields, the trees, toward anything that held the promise of safety. But they couldn't escape. Kraken plucked the fisherfolk from the sand as a pampered lordling would choose sweetmeats from a tray. Some it crushed. Some it tore in half. Some it drew beneath the water alive.

At last, sated, it slipped beneath the surface of the bay once more and vanished. Questioning Iardalaith only gained her the information that no Lightborn had ever found a spell that would affect Kraken. At least its visits were rare, but there were many kinds of Beastlings that lived in Great Sea Ocean: merfolk and selkies and sea-horses, and monsters that made Kraken look commonplace.

Those who were to be executed were Overshadowed by a Lightborn and forced to row themselves out to a rock at the entrance to the bay. Once their boat drifted away, they were released, and had the choice of trying to swim back to shore or waiting for the monsters that came with the dawn.

No one had ever made it back to shore.

"They aren't going to execute us," Vieliessar said.

"As my lord says," Eletehradan drawled. "But we won't know until Leopheine gets here."

Vieliessar wasn't sure whether Daroldan was a place of wonders or a place of insanity, but apparently Leopheine and Damulothir trusted each other. Another thing I should have known, and didn't. Damulothir had sent word to Leopheine that he wished to discuss her terms with him. Iardalaith said Damulothir hadn't made up his mind whether or not to accept, and wouldn't until he discussed them with Leopheine. Vieliessar hadn't believed one War Prince would voluntarily enter the domain of another without sennights of bargaining and an exchange of hostages, but the alliance between Daroldan and Amrolion was closer than anything Vieliessar could imagine: closer than the bond between kin, between spouses, between komen and liege.

She would see if matching trust with honesty could gain her what she desired. And then, if it did, she would have secured the Western Shore just in time to see the Grand Windsward set ablaze.

#


On the fourth day after Vieliessar's arrival in Daroldan, Leopheine of Amrolion arrived in Daroldan.

The watch towers set at the outer corners of the castel walls were in constant use, for there was no moonturn that wasn't War Season in Daroldan. The tower guards wore amulets and talismans of protection -- and even so, each year a few would leap to their deaths on the rocks below, bespelled by the Beastlings. Even if no sorcery were used, gryphons and aesalions could fly, and a Beastling shaman's spells could compel a Silver Eagle just as Magery could. Anything in the sky was a danger.

Even so, Vieliessar liked the towers. She didn't seek the vantage point for privacy. The tower watch stood their watches in pairs, and the top of the tower wasn't a spacious place. But the view was breathtaking, and she loved the height and the sea wind.

To the west was the rolling surface of Great Sea Ocean, stretching on forever. To the north, the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Medhatara Range -- the Mystrals in minature -- were visible on the clearest days. East lay fields and farmland, each cluster of fields with a great stone tower at its center, to shelter livestock and farmfolk in case of attack. Further east were the forests, rolling on in their glory until they vanished into the blue of the distance. South was the bay, and the long border of stainless pale sand. In the distance, too far to see clearly, was the faint dark shadow of a headland, and somewhere further south the undefended border between Amrolion and Daroldan.

In the last several moonturns, she'd grown accustomed to drawing crowds of commons wherever she was, and Daroldan was no exception. It would be a mistake, she knew, to believe Daroldan was a paradise, where the constant attacks of the Beastlings forged ties of mutual love and care between the nobles and the commons, for here as elsewhere the commons looked to her -- to the High King -- to bring justice and mercy. But here the commons asked her for things she'd never heard them request elsewhere.

Aid for the War Prince. Help for the nobles.

Daroldan was no paradise, but there was one truth its people knew: lords died as easily as landbonds.

She spent candlemarks gazing out over the vista in silence, thinking of all she'd learned since she'd arrived at Damulothir's court. What magic allowed the domains of the Western Shore to live in trust? Need wasn't enough, or enemies at their gates: Haldil and Bethros had both, and were bitter enemies. Nor it was distance from the High Houses: Daroldan shared a border with Cirandeiron, and was peaceful. Calwas was in the Grand Windsward, and was not. It wasn't possession of a unique resource: she could name a dozen domains that prospered through trade: Mangiralas with its horses, Daroldan and Amrolion with the harvest of their Flower Forests, Andhirra with cattle and pelts, Nantirworiel with gold and sapphires. All but Daroldan and Amrolion fought.

She didn't know what element she was missing from the puzzle. She only hoped she could discover it. Or re-create it without knowing what it was.

"Ah, here's Leopheine now," Guardsman Chiruth said in satisfaction, pointing southward. "Ulvearth Lightsister said they'd be along before noon."

Ulvearth was one of the Lightborn travelling with the party from Amrolion. Damulothir had announced the arrival of the party at the morning meal. Vieliessar walked over to stand beside Chiruth. "I don't see anyone," she said, puzzled.

"Ah, well, my lord, you need to see with Daroldan eyes," Chiruth said. "Plainci -- come over here and tell Lord Vieliessar what I see."

"You keep an eye on the west, then. You know the Beastlings get excited when we have visitors," Plainci said peacefully. She walked over and stood beside Vieliessar. "Ah. Now, your lordship, follow the line of the water where it strikes the sand as far as you can."

"It's hard to see much more than heat-shimmer," Vieliessar said.

"True enough," Plainci agreed. "But you see how the water's churned up? There, where the coast tucks back in."

"Yes," Vieliessar said cautiously.

"Wasn't yesterday and won't be tomorrow. They're riding just at the tide line, where the sand's firmest. You'll be able to see them soon."

"I'd understood the water was dangerous," Vieliessar said, puzzled.

"Is," Chiruth said from the other side of the tower. "But the Beastlings like dawn and dusk better for their games. And if we see something coming into the bay, we'll have plenty of time to warn them." He waved over his shoulder at the object resting in its padded leather case against the inner wall -- a signal-mirror of crystal and moonsilver. A signal drum or even a war-horn might not be heard, for Great Sea Ocean would swallow up the sound. But summer on the Western Coast was a time of clear bright days, and the flash of a signal mirror could be seen for miles.

Vieliessar stood beside Plainci, watching as intently as if her concentration could have some effect upon the safety of the riders. It wasn't long before there was a blurred and wavering shimmer in the air, and then the bright glitter of sunstrike upon harness and armor, and the sight of Amrolion's banner in silver and azure.

I suppose I should prepare to receive them, she decided, scrubbing her hands through her hair.

But despite her expectation that she would be summoned at once to account for herself, she didn't see Lord Leopheine until the evening meal.

At least Eletehradan and her company don't have to worry about making a proper display of themselves, she thought ungraciously. With so many to accommodate at meals -- an ordinary circumstance of life on the Western Shore -- tables were laid in many chambers at once, and Silver Star's commanders ate with their warriors. Vieliessar was seated each night at the high table. This was both a good thing, as it indicated Lord Damulothir did her honor, and a bad one, as it placed her on display.

Daroldan's "high table" was the largest she'd ever seen -- it not only ran the full width of the hall, but there were additional tables laid at each end, making the whole shape like three sides of a square -- and that, and the exotic and unfamiliar foods served at each meal, only served to emphasize the fact that the Western Shore was a place unlike any other in Jer-a-Kalaliel.

To begin with, fish was served at every meal. In itself it wasn't exotic, for every lake and stream held fish, and Rosemoss Farm had kept stockponds for carp. But Vieliessar had never been served fish in such quantity and variety as she was in Daroldan, and there were foods she'd only read about: strong-flavored sea-birds, sea-fox -- a beast which had fur instead of scales -- and others that were luxuries for a feast-day table everywhere but here: crabs and oysters and mussels. Tonight the dishes brought from the kitchen included venison and mutton, both as exotic in Daroldan as they were commonplace elsewhere, for the forests were dangerous hunting grounds, and sheep were more valued for their wool than their meat. Though the evening meal was more lavish than usual, it was merely a banquet and not a feast: there were no pauses between courses for songs and entertainment.

"Stop fidgeting," Iardalaith whispered, nudging her under the table. "Anyone would think you weren't lord over five domains and beloved of the Silver Hooves."

"It won't matter what I am lord over if Daroldan and Amrolion don't agree to do as I wish," she whispered back, gazing covertly down the table. Leopheine was seated to the left of Ladyholder Ereneine. Leopheine's lady, Arhondiniel, sat beside him. Leopheine had brought Lord Challaron, Amrolion's Warlord, as well. If he'd only brought his Swordmaster and his Heir, I could settle the matter of the Western Shore by simply slaughtering the whole of two Lines Direct, Vieliessar thought dourly. She knew Lord Damulothir and Lord Leopheine and their advisors had spent the candlemarks since Leopheine's arrival in council -- but that was all she knew, for she couldn't sift their thoughts from the babble of thoughts that filled the Great Hall, and trying to do so would only give her a headache. And I would be most surprised if they didn't both know precisely how True Speech works -- and how to defeat it.

"They will," Iardalaith said.

She wondered how he could be so certain. Ulvearth Lightsister of Amrolion and Belfrimrond Lightbrother of Daroldan would have had ample opportunity to Farspeak Lightborn in the domains east of here. The news they have will be fresh, while mine is sennights old. Anything might have happened in that time. They have had time to reach a decision, and to plan their strategy, while I must sit here helpless!

Iardalaith said. "You have nothing to fear. My cousin's no fool."

Perhaps not, she thought. But there are many who are. You think because I am the tool of Amrethion's prophecy my path is smooth. But it's not. And I fear.

#


In one thing Damulothir's court was like all others: the evening meal was when he heard petitions from his vassals and pronounced his judgments. But tonight no one approached the High Table. Perhaps the presence of the party from Amrolion dissuaded them. Vieliessar couldn't know. The dishes were carried out of the kitchens and into the hall -- first bread and fruit, then cased pies, then roast meats -- with brisk efficiency, until at last only the savory course remained to be served.

A few seats away, Lord Damulothir was rising to his feet, and the talk in the hall stilled to silence. Vieliessar suppressed a flare of panic. Surely Leopheine Amrolion had counseled against vassalage, and now she would need to fight her way free of the castel -- and do what she'd sworn she would. She would have to burn the forests of the Western Shore.

"My people," Damulothir said. "You know we have been honored by the presence of Lord Vieliessar, and you will have wondered at it. I tell you now she has come to bring her vow -- to Daroldan and to Amrolion both -- that she will ask nothing of us we cannot give."

Now hope joined fear as a heavy weight in her throat, choking her. She'd been certain a moment ago he was about to order her bound in chains. Imprisoned. Now she wasn't sure. But they've asked me nothing! she protested inwardly. How can they think to trust me?

"Many of you know Lord Vieliessar has declared her intent to become High King." Damulothir raised his hands for silence -- and got it. "But there is nothing for us to fear in that. We have reached the end of the days in which omen and foretelling can guide our way. Now we will place our safety and our destiny in the hands of the High King, and here pledge her the fealty of Daroldan and Amrolion together."

The domains of the Western Shore are mad, Vieliessar thought numbly. She rose slowly to her feet. You must say something now.

But the next voice heard in the great hall was not hers.

"Never!"

There was a flash of green robes. One of the Lightborn sitting at the far end of the High Table -- Arcensius Lightbrother, a member of the Amrolion party -- had risen to his feet. There was a flicker as he threw something -- a dagger -- at her. She Shielded herself almost without thought -- why a dagger, when there were a hundred spells any Lightborn could use?

Komen leaped to their feet, but none of them quite dared lay hands upon the Lightbrother. Suddenly he stiffened, his entire body going rigid in the instant before he fell to the stones. By then Vieliessar had realized what she faced. The weapon wasn't the attack. It was merely the vessel that contained the attack.

Every Lightborn learned the spell of Unmaking. It ate magic as fire ate wood. Cast it upon something that had been bespelled and it would remove the Magery set upon it. Cast it upon one of the Lightborn, and it would burn away their Magery.

No matter where the dagger struck her, she would die.

Vieliessar could feel Unmaking sucking Shield into itself -- the more power she used to Shield herself, the more it drained. She would be dead already if a dagger hadn't been used to hold the spell, but Shield was holding back the dagger as Unmaking destroyed Shield. She might stand here forever, holding it back, but eventually she would grow tired -- or slip.

"Vielle--" Iardalaith said.

"Shut up," she said tightly. She couldn't afford to be distracted. You can do this! Think! Any spell she cast upon the dagger would be nullified by Unmaking; even if she thought of one that would work, she couldn't let go of her Shield, for the banespelled dagger would strike her instantly. You want the High Kingship! Prove you are worthy of it! Think! You have cast spells inside spells before! Every spell of the Light possessed its opposite. That was the first tenet of Magery, the first rule Postulants were taught. There must be something in that I can use! There were a thousand reverses of Unmaking, for there were a thousand ways to render something bespelled. None of them would serve her now. But something-- Something-- Yes!

She didn't need to do anything to the banespelled dagger if she could only get rid of it.

Fetch was a spell that gave Postulants endless candlemarks of amusement once they learned it, for it enabled them to apport an object to them so long as they could visualize its location clearly and precisely. In practice that meant something nearby, for if it was miles away, its condition might have changed since the Mage last saw it -- or it might have been moved.

The inverse of Fetch was Send -- a more difficult spell, for one must visualize a location -- accurately! -- then visualize the object one wished to Send to it already there. We're taught that Fetch and Send can only be worked upon objects: they cannot be worked upon fire, or wind, or a Magery-state such as a ward or Shield... To Send an object in motion away -- just as to Fetch a moving object -- was theoretically impossible.

To Send the banespelled dagger from her, Vieliessar must cast Send upon an object which was bespelled to destroy any spell that touched it.

A spell bound to an object cannot exist separately from that object, for one of the conditions of the casting is the binding of object and Light-energy together, and once separated, the essential nature of the spell is changed so that it no longer functions...

But she couldn't touch the dagger to Send it without also touching the spell.

The spell.

The spell of Unmaking.

That's it!

Quickly she prepared her spells. She would only have one chance at this. One, two, three. She cast them. There was a bright flash, a thunderclap, a skirl of wind. Shield and banespelled dagger were both gone. Vieliessar sat back down in her chair and wiped her face with an unsteady hand.

"What did you do?" Iardalaith asked in a stunned voice.

"I cast a spell of Unmaking upon a spell of Unmaking," she said, laughing with the relief of still being alive. "And then I Sent the dagger to the bottom of the bay. It wasn't hard to See it. I have spent enough time looking at it."

It had taken only heartbeats. Now, all around her, the Great Hall exploded into chaos.

#


"Arcensius Lightbrother remembers nothing, my Lord," Warlord Challaron of Amrolion said to her a candlemark later.

They were fourteen gathered in Lord Damulothir's private chambers. War Prince Leopheine Amrolion, Ladyholder Arhondiniel, Ulvearth Lightsister, and Warlord Challaron of Amrolion; War Prince Damulothir Daroldan, Ladyholder Ereneine, Swordsmaster Martenil, Warlord Palinoriel, Belfrimrond Lightbrother of Daroldan; and Vieliessar with Iardalaith, Eletehradan, Aesalion, and Grisegondoran. The War Prince's private chambers were some of the smallest -- and best protected -- rooms of the keep. The castel was still being searched. Arcensius Lightbrother had been placed under guard, though neither of the War Princes considered him to have been at fault. He was being tended by Hervilafimir Lightsister, for his long struggle against his Overshadowing had taken a harsh toll.

"Let me question this absent-minded Green Robe," Aesalion said, with a cold feral smile. "He'll remember."

"He'll remember nothing, Commander," Vieliessar said, shaking her head. "From what little he has said, he was Overshadowed before Lord Leopheine left Amrolion."

"That was four days since. It was a sennight ago that word came of your presence in Delfierarathadan, and I made my first preparations to come north. I chose Arcensius to accompany me then..." Leopheine said.

"No, my love," Ladyholder Arhondiniel said. "You spoke of your plan, and he put himself forward, saying he would be glad of a chance to visit his kinfolk here. He must have been Overshadowed even then. I did not know it was possible to hold that spell so long," she finished, sounding troubled.

"Possible, if it's one's Keystone Gift," Belfrimrond said. He frowned. "But when one holds another mind in thrall so closely that is all one may do."

"From what distance can it be done?" Lord Leopheine asked. Belfrimrond merely shook his head.

"From any distance, if it's the Lightborn's Keystone Gift," Vieliessar said. "And if that Lightborn is practiced. But Belfrimrond's right: the Lightborn who cast it would need allies to hide them and tend them so the spell wouldn't be disrupted."

"The other thing they would need would be knowledge of Amrolion and Daroldan," Lord Challaron said. "They would need to speak every word as Arcensius would speak it."

"It could be done -- both the Overshadowing and the gaining of the knowledge needed -- if Arcensius has Farspoken the one who would Overshadow him," Iardalaith said suddenly.

"Yes," Vieliessar said, nodding. When two Lightborn Farspoke, neither held wards or shields in place, for the spell wouldn't work if they did. "It may be how the spell was set." And if Arcensius had Farspoken his Overshadower frequently, he would have spoken of inconsequential things, as even enemies would, should they meet often enough, for long enough.

"So it was someone Arcensius Lightbrother trusted," Eletehradan said.

"Or spied upon, or spied for," Vieliessar said, with a sigh. "Your Lightborn do much Farspeaking, do they not, Lord Leopheine?"

"In Daroldan as in Amrolion," Lord Damulothir said, answering for both of them. "Faster and safer than sending messengers eastward. And of late we've had much to discuss."

"Of late" being since she'd declared for the High Kingship. Vieliessar spread her hands wide. She didn't want Aesalion torturing anyone, least of all a Lightborn who'd done nothing to deserve it, and still less did she wish to be forced to order him not to. Eletehradan held his jesses, and Vieliessar wouldn't willingly do anything to weaken that bond of command and control. She suspected it would end badly.

"Even if Arcensius can tell us the names of everyone with whom he has ever Farspoken, it will tell us little. The Lightborn who Overshadowed him might be in Daroldan, or Amrolion -- or anywhere else in Jer-a-Kalaliel," she said.

"You're remarkably sanguine for someone nearly slaughtered in an particularly unpleasant fashion," Grisegondoran said.

"Did I have the pledged fealty of a War Prince for each attempt there has ever been upon my life, I might hold my coronation tomorrow." She couldn't with certainty name Hamphuliadiel as the one behind this, though no one else was as likely to use Lightborn as assassins as one who had used them as tools of policy. "I cannot say I am resigned to it, but it's a familiar thing by now," she said.

"Though it's probably the first time a Lightborn has tried to kill you," Palinoriel commented.

Vieliessar said nothing.

"We are grateful for your mercy, my lord," Leopheine said. "And for your trust."

"Don't mistake either for weakness." She rubbed her forehead, for the need to cast such an elaborate and powerful set of spells had left her with a draining headache. "But it has long been in my mind that to rule through fear, and by the threat of punishment that all are eventually tricked into suffering, is no good way to rule. I shall not do it, nor will I permit it to be done by those over whom I rule."

"May I assume therefore that your vow to set fire to all the forests of the west is now in abeyance?" Lord Damulothir said dryly.

"As you mean to pledge your fealty, yes," Vieliessar answered.

"Do you truly believe you can force Cirandeiron -- or Aramenthiali -- to pledge to you?" Ladyholder Arhondiniel asked. She sounded as if she actually wanted to know the answer.

"I must," Vieliessar said simply. "Or we shall all die."

"Well, I for one am pleased to give my life and my future into the keeping of a lord who's so delightfully optimistic," Ladyholder Ereneine said brightly. "I know you are as well, husband."

"Her arguments are compelling," Damulothir said blandly. "We shall make our pledges tomorrow noontide, my lord, and trust that the doing of it won't be marred by further interference. It's in my mind to send with you Master Ranger Terandamil, for you asked of me one of my rangers for your army."

"If he goes willingly, I will take him with thanks," Vieliessar said.

"There," Ladyholder Ereneine said. "Is this not an odd and refreshing change in overlords, husband? One who actually cares whether or not one of the commonfolk wishes to do something."

"Our new overlord was herself many years a servant," Ladyholder Arhondiniel said quietly.

Vieliessar glanced at her, startled. It was no secret, but there had been something in Arhondiniel's tone that marked her words as carrying deeper meaning.

"Then she knows all she needs to know to rule," Leopheine Amrolion said.

And so the matter was settled. Amrolion and Daroldan were hers, and Vieliessar still did not know why. She supposed if she must choose between victory and understanding, the prudent course was to choose victory, but the ease with which she had gained it was still unsettling.

The castle's guardsmen and servants -- and many of the older children, thinking it a wonderful game -- searched Damulothir's castel for candlemarks. Ulvearth Lightsister Farspoke Amrolion to see if there was anything there that would shed light on the source of the attack. Nothing was found -- either of another assassin in Daroldan, or of a Lightborn in Amrolion who might have bespelled Arcensius. Vieliessar's would-be killer had hidden all trace of his or her involvement.

#


"It's stupid," Aesalion said, as they entered their bedchamber. Tonight Eletehradan had brought up a dozen of her warriors to share it, just in case they'd missed something in their searching.

"Killing me?" Vieliessar asked, puzzled. "Only if you believe Amrethion's Prophecy is true."

Aesalion turned and gave her a look of put-upon contempt. "No one cares about your stupid prophecy," he said blightingly. "But if you're murdered over your boiled fish in Daroldan, where's the proof you're dead? Unless Damulothir wants to have someone Preserve your body like a side of beef so everyone can gawk at it -- and then send you on procession from here to the Grand Windsward."

"Which means your army wouldn't surrender -- themselves or your lands," Eletehradan said thoughtfully. "Everyone who's for you would assume you were a prisoner, and everyone who's against you would insist on proof of your death."

"It makes no sense," Vieliessar agreed.

Eletehradan and Aesalion were right. Killing her anywhere but on a very public battlefield -- or better yet, after she'd been captured and held prisoner -- would solve nothing. Those who were loyal to her wouldn't believe it. Those who were her enemy would want proof. And those who were using her as an excuse to throw off the shackles of the High Houses wouldn't care whether she was alive or not.

"But there's one thing I do know. We must be ready for ambush as soon as we reach Cirandeiron. It doesn't matter who Overshadowed Arcensius Lightbrother. They know the attempt to kill me failed."

"I do wonder why they bothered," Aesalion said, and he still sounded so personally irritated by the incompetence of whoever Overshadowed Arcensius that Vieliessar had to work hard not to smile at it. "Think, you witless lordling. No one knew Arcensius was Overshadowed. Lord Leopheine said he was there all afternoon while the great and the good were trying to decide what to do about you. Why make the attempt upon your life so public? Why let you know that everything he saw and heard -- and knows -- is known by some other?"

"You can't have had time to make that many personal enemies," Eletehradan said. "Certainly not ones who can induce Lightborn to kill for them. That, oh, that takes a year or two at least."

Vieliessar shrugged, and sat down on a padded stool to begin removing her veil. She hated the things -- they were always getting caught on something -- and still more did she hate the dozens of jeweled pins that held it in place. "The Astromancer hates me. Caerthalien hates me, and even if they did not, they take anyone else's claim to the Unicorn Throne as a personal insult. But even Hamphuliadiel's moved more to end the threat of the Prophecy than to end me."

"I'd always understood prophecies were prophetic in nature," Eletehradan said. "No, stop that, my lord. You'll tear the silk." Eletehradan came over and began drawing the pins from Vieliessar's hair.

"Prophecies are prophetic," Vieliessar answered irritably. "I don't see why everyone thinks killing me will somehow cause High King Amrethion Aradruiniel not to have said anything in the first place. I should have run away from the Sanctuary and joined a Free Company."

"You may have to do that yet," Eletehradan said, sounding amused. "There." She wrapped the handful of pins in the transparent square of veil and handed both to Vieliessar. "I give you good night, my lord."

"And a quiet one, I hope," Vieliessar muttered, getting to her feet.

#


The following noontide Vieliessar took the pledges of fealty of Lord Leopheine Amrolion and Lord Damulothir Daroldan, each of whom swore by Sword and Star to be her faithful liegemen.

I swear before leaf and tree and flower, before fire and moon and star, that I am your vassal until both leaf and star have withered away, and my life and all I hold is yours to do with as you will. I will uphold this oath until I die, and with it I pledge to serve you above all others until Amrethion Aradruiniel returns, and to this oath I will be faithful.

In turn she swore to Damulothir and Leopheine, and to all in the Great Hall who witnessed the pledging, that she accepted their service until leaf and star had withered away, or until Amrethion Aradruiniel returned to claim their service, that she would not allow them or any of their folk to lie unransomed in the halls of her enemies, nor languish a prisoner in their dungeons, nor permit their bodies to be dishonored in death. And she swore further that she would ask no levies of troops or supplies from either domain, but would come to their aid in time of war.

A sennight of celebration was declared, but she would not be here to enjoy it. Having gotten what she came for, she must leave as soon as she could.

When I am High King, she thought wistfully, I shall live in a great palace and never leave it. It was a forlorn promise made to the child she'd never truly been allowed to be, once she doubted she would ever keep. I am always going somewhere, and yet I'm never sure of where it is -- so how can I know if I ever reach it?

The following morning she and her company rode east again.

#
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The next book in the "Dragon Prophecy" series is Blade of Empire. It will be published by Tor Books at the end of 2017.

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