Destiny's Conflict - pre-release preview

Here you go, peeps. Note: do NOT copy this and post it elsewhere, though you are quite free to share the link to this page. This is Main Chapter I. I may, or may not, add the two sub-chapters later - given the folks on the N. American side of the pond may have to wait a bit longer for the book. Let the pre-release discussion heat up!


Late Spring 5923
Stone as my impartial witness, behold!
The Terms of the Fellowship’s stay of execution for
Arithon Teir’s’Ffalenn are withdrawn.
Crown debt to Rathain, sworn at Athir, is confirmed.
Koriathain are freed to determine his Grace’s fate,
‘Asandir’s oath of nonintervention
witnessed in stone at Whitehold Third Age Year 5922

I. Duress

Lysaer awoke, groggy, his nostrils clogged with the parched taint of volcanic rocks and blown sulphur. His reflexive cough raised an aching complaint from cramped limbs. He lay bound hand and foot. His stubbled cheek rested against the rough boards of a wagon-bed, splotched by old blood-stains and sliced by the shadows cast by a sturdy, spoked wheel. Dizzy and sick, left with the disjointed recall of a battle, Lysaer squinted through glare and identified the transport the surgeons’ corps sent to move the Light’s wounded.

Which made no sense. He had sustained no injury. Lashed in discomfort, he stirred, annoyed, then lifted his head, furious enough to lambaste the healer who had miscalled his condition. But the wagon loomed empty. No other casualties sprawled, strapped into splints or field bandages. His confused survey met only burlap sacks of provisions, two barrels of ale seared with Cainford tax brands, and a crate of bottled brandy, then the knotted leads fixed to five head of horseflesh, hitched to the cargo rings meant to lash field tents.

Evidently, the dray was not hauling the surgeon’s gear in the baggage train. Lysaer heard no chatter, no gossiping wash-women. The baked air was not clouded with dust from the lance companies’ ranks or popped by the whip-cracks of the war host’s outriders. The vehicle was parked in full sun, in a desert without habitation.

Lysaer gritted his teeth. He tried to roll over, jerked against tight restraint. Whoever bound him also had trussed his frame in oiled canvas. Which extreme measure suggested the horror of madness inflicted by Desh thiere’s curse, and far worse: the recall of a shameful act, fraught with pain sufficient to break him.

He had killed again, wantonly mass murdered innocents in an act beyond human conscience.

The coward in him preferred not to bear what could never be reconciled. Thousands of times, over hundreds of years, the voice of self censure condemned him: better he died than survive to fall prey to the next wretched bout of insanity. Logic destroyed the weakness of delusion, that he ever had owned the brute will to defeat the forces that rode him.

Lysaer tested his bonds with a useless tug. Strap leather and rope reinforced with wrapped wire redoubled his crushing despair. Someone’s pitiless foresight already had thwarted the pitch of his desperation. Conjured light could not singe him free. Not without crippling damage to both hands and feet, or risk of igniting the oil-soaked tarp bundled over him. Without recourse, he breathed, while the midday sun scorched the air into ripples. Only pride stifled his frustrated groan.

Lysaer raised his chin. Plagued by a throbbing headache, he surveyed his surroundings to see whose mishandling imposed the ignominy.

Nothing met his eye past the wagon’s edge. Just barren ground: an unbroken flatland of parched lava and gravel. The stabbing flash of flecked mica melted seamlessly into the shimmer of heat-waves. Yet he was not alone. Two of his captors locked horns, beyond view, with a grainy voice Lysaer recognized as Dakar’s shouting over the other’s obstinate protest. ‘No. That would get us fricassied for betrayal the instant he starts to wake up!’

Dread retreated a fraction. Perhaps his nightmare fear was a phantom. Lysaer eavesdropped, hopeful the dispute haggled over the terms for a ransom by Elkforest’s barbarians.

‘I won’t shoulder that risk!’ Dakar ranted on. ‘Yes, I lack the main strength. No ranging ward I might weave can subdue an elemental mastery of light. Be patient for another few days. At least until I’ve ascertained we’re clear of Arithon’s fatal proximity.’

Which callous mention of that accursed name triggered Desh thiere’s geas. Whiplashed by the assault, Lysaer shuddered in agony. The vicious drive to embrace wholesale ruin set his wits under siege. He battled for reason, as always. Clung to the rags of free choice: not to blast everything within reach with a levin bolt charged to melt stone into magma. He suffered in recoil. While the primal torrent surged to consume him, the gall of repeated past failures made a mockery of his resistance.

Torment wrung a gasp from him.

The sound stopped the ongoing argument. Gravel grated. Someone’s scuffed tread approached.

Lysaer twisted for confrontation. Any frail stay to distract him from the drive of the curse.
Glare stabbed his eyes like needles to the brain. Squinting against the white dazzle of sky, he made out the loom of volcanic formations grotesquely weathered and eroded with crumbling arches. Then a shadow flicked over him. A clownish face eclipsed his view, raffishly bearded and wisped with grey hair, streaked by faded chestnut. Cheeks and snub nose wore a peeled scald of sunburn on a countenance stripped of forbearance.

Dakar snapped, ‘Don’t think to put on your statesman’s mask, Lysaer! I’ll stand for no pretence. Are you able to govern your natural mind? Or speak with frank honesty? Then defend your case. Convince me that you didn’t kill her.’

Which test of trustworthiness needed no name. Viciously personal, the accusation frayed the last thread of sane balance. Lysaer bridled. He sucked an offended breath through clenched teeth. Whether to plead or to scream became moot: as if human language existed to stem the cascade towards disaster.

The idiot spellbinder lectured, oblivious. ‘This is not Sithaer, but a place in the Scarpdale Waste called the Stacks. Before you cry foul, accept your lot, held under my charge in good faith.’

Lysaer’s temper ignited. His lethal retort in pure light tipped towards destructive release.
Dakar yelped. Eyes widened, he scrambled too late for a stop-gap intervention. Yet what murderous damage might have ensued, his unseen companion’s blow, swung from behind, clipped Lysaer’s nape like Dharkaron’s vengeance.

He dropped limp, hurled back into black-out unconsciousness.
Saved, but not sanguine, Dakar rebounded from shock and glared at his slighter accomplice. ‘That’s thanks for the killing strike I didn’t field?’ he shouted in caustic astonishment. ‘Best hope your crude remedy didn’t crack his Lordship’s thick skull.’

Daliana hurled aside her makeshift bludgeon: a chunk of fire-wood, padded at need with a grimy Sunwheel surcoat. The billet thudded into the wagon-bed next to Lysaer’s slack form. ‘Necessity,’ she stated, crisp. Stripped to a squire’s shirt and torn hose, she scrambled over the tail-board and knelt to examine her prostrate victim.

Blond and royal-born, chiselled to a statuesque fitness made to bring sculptors to rapture, Lysaer looked, every inch, like the downfallen avatar worshipped by the Light’s faithful. Unwashed, dishevelled in his soiled white tunic, he sprawled with an unconscious majesty designed to wreak female havoc. A stone heart could but melt at the sight of such helplessness, trussed ankle and wrist in looted strap leather.

Daliana’s features already softened as she explored Lysaer’s goose-egg bruise. ‘This wants ice.’ Flushed by shameless regret, she leaned on Dakar’s scant sympathy. ‘Might you fashion a construct to freeze a piggin of water?’

‘My sleep spell wouldn’t have dunted his noggin,’ Dakar grumbled with reproach.

‘No.’ Daliana unfurled the surcoat from the billet and wadded a pillow for her liege’s bashed head. ‘But your callous comment left his Lordship no civilized course to salve his wounded pride. Someone had to do that for him.’

When Dakar said nothing, she straightened, contrite, a tanned, slender minx with tawny eyes fierce enough to outface a tigress. She brushed back chocolate hair that a fortnight in barren country had tangled for want of a comb. ‘Your sack of wound remedies includes poppy? Then perhaps a tisane for headache could be added to his next dose of valerian.’

But when her concession to further drugged sleep failed to lift the fat spellbinder’s frown, Daliana lost patience. ‘You claimed Asandir had swept Lanshire clear of The Hatchet’s war host under Fellowship mandate!’

‘He has.’ Dakar’s pouched eyes blinked with injury. ‘My scrying shows the last companies of rear-guard have withdrawn past Havish’s northern border.’

‘Since when?’ Her irritable gesture encompassed the spires of lava, pocked in between with ash pits and hot springs rimed with bilious mineral deposits, plumed geysers, and steaming mud pots. ‘Why are we still skulking like rats in a place fit only for scorpions and lizards?’

Dakar deflated. Careless of splinters, he perched on the dray, which was flat, without shade for relief since an awning increased visibility. ‘The orderly troops have departed. But I cannot trace every straggler or the criminal bands of deserters.’ He cut her off. ‘Oh, yes! There are rogues holed up in the Storlain foot-hills. They’ll be making their furtive way on the sly. Hungry enough to slaughter our draft team or kill for the theft of a horse.’ He need not broach rape. Not after Daliana had braved the peril of the Light’s war camp. Alone, without a stitch of protection beyond several daggers and a lance squire’s dress, she must acknowledge her personal vulnerability.

Since Arithon’s recent escape from Lithmarin ruled out travelling south, the inhospitable terrain to the east provided a brutal haven. The reduced chance that Lysaer might be seen forestalled the armed rescue that would come in force if word of his presence alerted the True Sect fanatics.

Daliana tossed back the damp braid pasted against her neck. ‘Stop lying, then. You don’t need to buy time to perfect any ward ring. You haven’t the means to fashion a shield against elemental light in the first place!’

Dakar side-stepped, ‘You can’t know that for certain.’

Which evasion sparked Daliana’s mercurial laughter. ‘I wear Asandir’s mark, or did you forget? At Morvain, tossed into the holocaust of Lysaer’s curse driven fire-storm, even your former master’s ward wasn’t infallible.’

Trickling sweat, Dakar warned, ‘Be most careful. It’s a deadly folly to presume with regard to the actions of Fellowship Sorcerers. The power they wield was bestowed by the dragons. They can do the unimaginable, and without limit. Never ever forget the more dangerous list of what actions they might be withholding under some abstruse ethical preference.’

But reckless as Dakar had been in the past, Daliana shrugged off the gravity of semantics. ‘Whether or not a sure safe-guard exists against Lysaer’s gift, why not admit the truth? You’re past your depth. We’re here because there’s minimal brush and nothing in range that’s combustible!’

Dakar deflated, stung by the irony that had landed him on the flip side of his own argument: Lysaer could not be drugged unconscious, indefinitely. The palliative use of medicinal draughts tore away what remained of a spirit already shattered by a cursed compulsion.

‘Why not stand off and allow me to handle him?’ Daliana pleaded. ‘Could I do any worse? Your blunders have done little else but inflame the wound in his self respect.’

Mightily worn by his shortfalls in the arena of subtle relationships, Dakar lashed back. ‘I should abet your impetuous ruin? What happens the next time your liege goes insane and fries the ground where you stand? Don’t tempt fate! You haven’t the strength to constrain him each time he loses his grip.’

‘Then think beyond the use of brute force!’ Before the spellbinder shouted her down, Daliana admonished, ‘After hundreds of diligent years of apprenticeship, surely you’ve learned other options!’

The spellbinder stared, moon-calf features slackened as though the heat had broiled his wits.

Daliana reached for her billet, galled enough to hammer him senseless.

She lost the chance.

From stunned windless to owlishly rapt, Dakar reversed. ‘I’ve got an idea.’ He surged erect, slapped his forehead, and chortled. ‘Oh, indeed, yes. My dear! The notion is genius!’

Daliana glowered in suspicion. ‘What now?’

The Mad Prophet’s smile sparkled with teeth. ‘You’ve asked all along to stay at Lysaer’s side, a death sentence waiting to happen. But not if I stand that prospect upside down.’

The method was brilliant. Once, Asandir had done the same: wrought a punitive stay that bound Dakar to Arithon’s company with the persistence of a malediction. More, Luhaine had fashioned a similar spell, years later, an obdurate constraint on Fionn Areth’s rebellion, weaving him under protections within the spellbinder’s close proximity. Both approaches opened intriguing possibilities when combined with the homing ciphers stitched into the aura of Asandir’s stallion. Dakar flexed his fingers, empowered by enough sundry knowledge to rig an inventively nasty variation.

‘What in Dharkaron’s name are you thinking?’ Daliana broke in.

‘Bless you, sweetling!’ crowed Dakar. ‘I’m going to tie Lysaer’s presence to you! Give him a leash that extends for three leagues, you can duck beyond range of his rages. He might slip your guard at the whim of his curse, but not bolt out of reach without your complicity.’ The spellbinder hitched up his pot-belly with venomous satisfaction. ‘Ath above, I can’t wait. We can leave this forsaken place, soonest. Just nip off a thread from your clothing and loan me a knife to prick his little finger.’

‘No.’ Daliana uncoiled from nursing her invalid. ‘I can’t sanction this plan.’

Dakar shrugged. ‘Then I’ll seal the craft-work without you.’ Undeterred by the scorch of her rage, the spellbinder bore in, ‘How many more temple war hosts will wreck the peace for your pride? Canon Law will purge more clanbred families, and for what good end, Daliana?’

She did not stand down. Small, scuffed with dirt, and rabidly furious, the minx defended her ground. ‘Dakar, you can’t. This is not a solution. Your proposal does nothing to bolster my liege’s besieged integrity. Compulsion can’t mend his raw self esteem! You’ll do naught but destroy the last shred of true spirit if you rope down a man already ridden beyond mercy.’

Dakar slid off the wagon. ‘Athera cannot afford your squeamish instinct to coddle Lysaer’s cursed madness. You don’t fully grasp the scope of the stakes. Stick now over principle, or hang up on your infatuation, I will the more ruthlessly clip the man’s wings.’ The snatched move to unsheathe her belt knife raised only the spiteful slap of his indifference. ‘Don’t imagine bloodshed will stop my interference.’

‘Should I worry?’ Daliana retorted. ‘The moon will fall out of the sky on a wish before my liege grants you permission.’

The spellbinder’s crafty smile stretched wider. ‘A grand gift, for sure, he’s tossed out of the compact, and also that I’ve been dumped from the upright graces of Fellowship auspice.’

‘You daren’t stoop to coercive extortion! That verges upon dark practice!’ But as the Mad Prophet braced to take action, Daliana promised, ‘Try, and I will not rest until I find means to prevent you. I don’t care how many innocents you believe you’ll be saving! The back-lash you cause will strip Lysaer of his humanity and leave us with a monster.’

A man less resolved should have quailed from her smoking glare on him, except the leeway for debate was exhausted. A muffled groan from the wagon-bed warned that their charge recovered his senses.

Dakar eyed the tousled blond head sheltered by such untoward sentiment. ‘You wanted an ice pack to ease his bashed skull? Then strike me a fire to heat a fresh tisane. We need that valerian infusion, right quick.’

‘We? No.’ Daliana leaped down from the tail-board, as determined a bundle of feminine rage as ever set off to thwart destiny. ‘Do the scut work yourself since you fear to burn!’

Forthwith, she claimed a pair of saddle packs and began to stockpile provisions. ‘I’ll be taking two horses and Lysaer. You can test the mettle of Asandir’s mark and try to stop me at your peril.’

Dakar turned his back. However brave, Daliana’s resolve would not upset his decision. Neither did he revel in her misery, or cave in to the tears she swiped off her grimed cheeks as she tacked and loaded the pick of the available string. Stressed as she was by rough living, the spellbinder weighed what had to be done with a cold heart and ironclad purpose.

Forget the fair fight. Past service to Arithon s’Ffalenn gave him the long view and the scars of unpleasant experience: a sharp adversary corrupted by Desh thiere’s geas never spurned dirty tactics. First chance, Lysaer would snatch the advantage against any fool who volunteered as his chaperone.

‘Pack the valerian as you wish,’ Dakar said. ‘Or leave me a horse and a share of the stores and drive off with the wagon.’

When Daliana spurned his effort to ease her lot, the spellbinder hunched stoic shoulders and stumped off into the dazzle of heat-waves. Discomfort compounded his sullen mood. The flint rock burned through his boot soles. Insects whirred aloft upon glassine wings from the desiccate cracks in the boulders. Through the scrape of his stumbling strides, he deafened himself to the ring of shod hooves, receding. Onwards, he plunged from the glare of midday into the abyss of shade beneath the high arch that buttressed the nearest rock stack.

The bounce of a kicked stone cracked an echo that died. Dakar sucked a vexed breath, pulled up short while his eyesight adjusted. He required a flat surface, less reactive to flux charge, to lay down meticulous boundaries. Care must be taken with a work not in form: no chance influence should warp his intent.

‘Did you believe your twisted bumbling wasn’t noisy enough to draw notice?’ admonished a voice from the desert silence.

Brought face-to-face with the tall shadow that detached from the gloom, Dakar discerned the faint emanation flared off of uncanny embroidery. The impression of a gaunt face, framed in a streaked tumble of shoulder-length hair crossed the keyhole behind, and punch cut the figure into silhouette.

‘Davien!’ the spellbinder yelped. ‘Did Sethvir send you as my keeper or have you come to champion Daliana’s appeal?’

The Sorcerer also known as the Betrayer took pause, a stalking lynx against the parched vista behind him. ‘I happened to be afoot in the vicinity.’

Dakar swallowed back his panicked consternation. Recall surfaced too late, that the dragon Seshkrozchiel had denned up in the volcanic spur of the Storlains to hibernate. The nonchalance behind Davien’s phrase distilled into visceral dread.

Lately released from the thrall of the drake, the most untrustworthy of the Fellowship Sorcerers meddled here as a radical free agent.

Amused, Davien rested his foot on a boulder, crossed his arms on his thigh, and leaned forward. ‘I’m not ready to answer Sethvir’s cry for peace. Here’s the pot and the kettle, both sooted black. You seem hell-bent to grant Althain’s Warden due grounds to ban you from the compact.’

Dakar forced his lungs to inflate. ‘After my choices killed High King Gestry, does another transgression even signify?’

‘Perhaps.’ Davien straightened. Not impervious, his person showed the frayed snags and cinder burns from mean travel through Scarpdale’s rough country. ‘Your first course of action salvaged Arithon’s life and threw no one to grief against their will . Don’t overplay your importance, besides. The strengthened potency of the flux lines was far more to blame for Gestry’s untimely demise.’

‘No one else could have pressured that wild-card play,’ Dakar insisted. ‘Since I wasn’t condemned for up-ending Asandir’s standing orders in Havish, I have reason to dread my murky call may spark the next round of catastrophe.’

‘Are you trying to win my agreement?’ Davien chuckled. ‘Or is this an attempt to stiffen your nerve?’

‘Why else are you here?’ Dakar snapped. ‘Except maybe to gloat at the on-going expense of your overtaxed colleagues.’

‘I am not crowing!’ Davien contradicted. The fixated glitter of black eyes and white teeth like the stoat, he slashed for the jugular. ‘In fact, my courtesy call is a precaution. Don’t waste your effort or your good name. Because if you proceed, I will stop you.’

‘Who are you saving?’ Dakar cracked, annoyed. Though his nape puckered up into gooseflesh, he pressed, ‘Daliana? Or Lysaer? Don’t pretend you stirred a finger to spare me. After your handling of the Teir’s’Ffalenn against the grey cult at Etarra, I’d kill myself laughing.’

Davien grinned. ‘You forget. The mist-bound entities locked down in Rockfell Pit are not free wraiths. If you compromise Lysaer to serve Arithon’s survival, our means to curb Desh thiere might go down in flames.’

Dakar sighed. ‘Don’t play me for a gullible idiot, that you have any loyalty left to the Fellowship.’

The Sorcerer’s figure stayed dangerously still, more silent than the primordial boulder under his foot.

Soaked in run sweat, Dakar cleared his throat. ‘Pray, have you a better solution in mind?’

‘Maybe.’ Davien shrugged. ‘If so, the option relies upon Daliana’s cooperation.’

Dakar sat on a nearby outcrop, ribs clutched against wheezing laughter. ‘If your counsel will move her, by all means, try! Kharadmon failed to cool her devotion. Not even the True Sect war host, with its cohort of priests and diviners, kept her from returning to her liege’s side!’

‘She has the brute courage to hammer through bed-rock,’ Davien agreed. ‘Who says I intend to dissuade her?’ Before Dakar pushed erect and rushed back towards the wagon, he added, ‘Don’t bestir your protective instincts to warn her against the hazards of hearing my offer.’

The spellbinder wilted. Chary of the chit’s knack with a billet, he said, hopeful, ‘Daliana’s already loaded her liege and gone on her way.’ Bone-tired, he knuckled his inflamed eyes. ‘Asandir should have told you I’ve been outfaced since the day of my birth.’

When Dakar looked up, the span of the archway stood empty. Davien had gone. A glance over his shoulder confirmed: the tacked horses with Daliana were already diminished to blots in the dazzle of heat-waves. Since the spellbinder was too pudgy to give chase, he opted to bury his misery and take an oblivious nap in the shade.

Lysaer roused again to a furred mouth, vile with the after-taste of a drugged syrup. His fuddled awareness added a pounding head to the inflamed discomfort of sunburn. Hurting, he stirred, gouged by crushed pumice and tufts of razor-edged grasses. His limbs were cut loose. The breeze that stung his abraded flesh wore the chill of on-coming twilight. Another day waned in the unknown span of his prolonged captivity. If his keepers had not let him soil himself, the affront to his dignity chafed even through the haze of turned senses.

Sundown burnished the snow-capped peaks, their crumpled flanks folded into cobalt shadow, except where spewed smoke from a volcanic vent smudged the horizon. Lava sand gritted between his teeth and invaded his soiled clothing. His stubbled chin itched, and his tangled hair hung rank as the thatch on a bogman’s hovel. Propped halfway erect, Lysaer surveyed the view. Nothing moved. Only the breeze riffled the clumps of stunt thorn, their crabbed twigs darned with tattered foliage.

Lysaer dared not assume Dakar’s watch had abandoned him. Irked to have lost the civilized service of his valet, he examined his wrists, dye-stained where the straps had dug into his flesh. His hose had matching marks at the ankles.
Given freedom of movement, innate caution distrusted the impression of autonomous solitude.

‘Forget Dakar’s spectacular failure,’ the voice of the woman he thought he had murdered declared from behind him. ‘The setting’s my choice, and this isn’t my reckoning for your catastrophic behaviour at Morvain.’

Lysaer spun around, terrified. But the diminutive female who faced him in squire’s dress was not an apparition. The pert face with too-bright, tawny eyes raked him over. Her dark brown braid was no longer luxurious but roped into a wisped knot and pinned up with a hazel stick. The worse for him, she witnessed his panic: shock destroyed his prized poise as a statesman. Her intact, living presence slammed through heart and mind, a visceral blow that also hit below the belt.

While Lysaer gaped, paralyzed, she attacked first. ‘I did not burn by your hand, as you see, and nothing between us is finished, yet.’

Lysaer twisted his vulnerable features away. Not fast enough: twice shamed as the force of his anguish unmanned him, he had no way to silence her or any word to fend off her analysis of his weaknesses.

‘At least you should know why you failed,’ Daliana pursued. ‘The rage that turned Desh thiere’s curse against me was no fault of your character. Your demise was set up. In fact, you fell prey to the tricks of the Koriathain.’

But excuses were empty. Nothing relieved the responsible ethic demanded of his royal upbringing. His short-falls and his privacy were subject to no one’s ruthless dissection, far less any female bent on interference. Once laid open by Talith, and after the inexcusable pretence of his political marriage to Ellaine, Lysaer s’Ilessid brooked no exception. The merciful woman would withdraw as a kindness; likewise, the stout hearted one plunged beyond her depth.

But this brazen creature respected no boundaries. Her courage possessed too much gall to salve his beleaguered spirit. The locked pause extended. Coarse with the whisper of breeze through the brush, the grey mantle of nightfall continued to leach the last colour out of the world.

Yet falling darkness lent cover, at least. Lysaer torqued his facade back into the semblance of equilibrium. His voice was ice, and his nerves, armoured steel, before he tried speech. ‘I want you gone.’

Her calm contained the strength to eviscerate. ‘I won’t oblige. Leave on your own merits.’

She would not enable a coward’s retreat. Or else she understood him too well and refused the reprieve in his plea for rejection.

‘Hold out in vain, then.’ Lysaer gathered himself to arise, shocked by the quiver of atrophied muscle and sun poisoned nausea. How long had he languished in drugged oblivion at the whim of his self righteous guardians? Bitter, he wondered if he also suffered withdrawal from an addiction. Dakar knew his herbals. Given a wagon equipped to haul casualties, the slippery spellbinder could have plied him with a war-time stockpile of narcotic remedies.

Daliana addressed that transparent suspicion, aware that he sorted his appalling infirmity for evidence of further treachery. ‘You were not dosed with poppy.’

She extended a hand to him.

Lysaer stifled a fury that clenched his jaw, brought to his knees by sapped vitality and cruel despair. Pride refused to yield. He hoarded his right to unfettered autonomy and spurned her care though he scrabbled like a dog to buy distance.

Darkness hid his agony, while the vertigo ebbed. When in due time he commanded himself and used a boulder to claw himself upright, Daliana did not mock or step in to brace up his wracked balance. Instead, she silently offered the bridle of one of her two saddled mounts.

‘If you go, the choice becomes yours alone.’ Golden eyes pinned him, direct beyond quarter, though her grasp on the reins trembled with distress. ‘I will not leave. No matter if you succumb to the curse, or how brutal the provocation, nothing you do, alive in this world, can make me abandon you.’

Which lashed him to fury and cut him in places too harrowed to bleed in her sight.

Destroyed, the last shred of control he possessed: Lysaer strove to drive such innocence past the hazard of reckless endangerment. Proximity to him would see her dead, and far worse, unravel the dregs of his self control that chose not to sully his last, tattered remnant of decency. Once, he had yielded himself to affection, only to endure heart-break great enough to demolish his principles. Never again would he divide his autonomy under the sway of feminine influence. He had cast off both women pledged to him in marriage, turned from them and denounced their memory. The Mistwraith’s fell madness blighted his future, too murderous an affliction for him to sustain.

Of all the mis-steps with power to wound him, he had lost control: nearly scorched alive the tender innocent pleading to save him. Lysaer rejected the unthinkable liability. He owned no sane means to protect Daliana or spare her from the fate that had destroyed Ellaine and Talith before her.

Lysaer fought venomous self-revulsion, too choked up for words, even had sickness not wrung him wretched.

He staggered forward, snatched the reins without touching her. Disability forced him to lean on the hack to stay upright but did not weaken his beseiged defenses. He clawed himself astride. Shaky and soaked in febrile sweat, he searched the gloaming for Dakar’s campsite. Though no fire burned to draw unfriendly eyes, he picked out the angular bulk of the dray, with the unhitched team tethered nearby. Lysaer turned his mount’s head in the other direction. Then he dug in his heels and set off at a break-neck gallop without a glance backwards.

Night swallowed him, sultry with the steam vented off the simmering hot springs. He did not slacken pace or guide the horse under him. Reckless, he let his mount’s keener instincts pick the path through treacherous country. Lysaer scarcely cared if he broke his neck. He drove the animal at clattering speed through the craters of hardened caldera, leaped over seams where the rills of old lava flows yawned underfoot. He coughed on the fumes belched from the mud pots, and taunted fate, where the pressurized gush of the geysers seethed in the obsidian shadows. Alone, he need not wrestle to mask the misery of total despair ’

Under the ice-chip glitter of stars, her heart crushed, Daliana sank to her knees. Tears fell for the fracture she could not mend. But she did not sob aloud. Failure preferred the night’s silence since Dakar’s vindictive lecture surely would finish her. How many would come to die in the future lay out of her hands, nor might any measure of sore regret lift the gravity of tonight’s miscalculation. Done was done. She had acted as her intuition directed. No matter how dimmed the hope of Lysaer’s long-term healing, she had turned him loose with his spirit intact.

Numb to the bite of the volcanic gravel, she bore the disastrous hurt. She renounced self-pity, straightened, and rose, and gathered the reins of the gelding left to her. Unable to face the Mad Prophet just yet, she laid her wet cheek against the animal’s shoulder.

Lysaer’s cause would not be forsaken. For more than a sealed oath under Asandir’s auspices, she would search the breadth of the five kingdoms for a remedy. ‘Until I’ve found some way to redeem my liege, before Ath, I will not rest his case.’

‘You are worth ten of him,’ a dismissive voice snapped from the darkness.

Startlement whirled Daliana volte-face and dislodged the hazel twig pinned through her hair. Half-blinded, she clapped a hand to her belt-knife and braced for a defensive throw.

But the speaker’s stark stillness smothered her impulsive attack.

‘Whatever you say, I promised my liege. Nothing else matters.’ She drew herself up though the presence before her radiated the might of a Fellowship Sorcerer. ‘Kharadmon already forewarned that I pursued Lysaer’s better nature in vain.’

Her visitor strode forward. Angular and tall, he wore a belted tunic and simple hose. The lean face, brushed in starlight, was graven by absolute confidence; or else smelted by the flame of an arrogance that brooked no impertinent questioning.

Daliana regarded the dangerous creature last seen in the company of a dragon. The edge had not left him. His attention still blazed like a brand, even cloaked under nightfall.

Davien said, ‘I am not here to part you from your desire but to offer you means to pursue it.’

Her bitterness echoed off the naked rocks. ‘How? Lysaer distrusts women! Worse than that, he views affection as a fatal weakness. He won’t abide his deepest dread, that he might fall prey to his vulnerability.

‘Intimacy could bring him down, wide open to enemy leverage.’ Davien capped her list, razored with irony. ‘The greater his love, the more fear of loss, added to the horror he can’t stand the guilt if his cursed nature drives him to murder.’

Daliana leaned on the horse, all the brazen starch shaken out of her. ‘The honest spirit should panic, in fact.’

The Sorcerer stepped closer. ‘You’re weak at the knees?’ Presumptuously bold, he pried her fisted grip off the bridle reins. ‘My dear, let go. If the horse strays, I will summon it back for you.’

Escorted aside, nostrils filled with the sulphurous taint ingrained in his clothing, Daliana permitted the steering touch that perched her on a nearby boulder. ‘How can I possibly keep my sworn charge if my liege allows no one near him?’

‘Ah!’ Davien straightened. ‘Is that strictly true?’

Daliana regarded the face notched out of the deep sky above her and conceded the point. ‘Well, he does have his retinue.’ Galled by her defeat, she raised a nervous hand, yanked out the skewed twig, and let her crimped braid tumble over her shoulder. Rewinding the hair to steady herself, and through the stick clamped in her teeth, she carried her share of a dialogue that led nowhere. ‘My liege will bear no one’s familiarity. He isolates himself through his station. I know he has no one he consults for wise counsel though history records that my forebear Sulfin Evend relied on the steadfast allegiance of his Lordship’s personal valet.’

‘A male lackey is invisible in that regard,’ Davien agreed, too complacent.

Daliana jammed the hazel shim through her tucked plait and glowered at his insolence. ‘Yes, I played the lance squire. But not directly for Lysaer, and only at a safe distance. The disguise worked in the crowded confusion of the True Sect’s campaign. I got by, always by feigning to be the malingering servant of somebody else!’ Amid the massed host, one face more or less risked little notice, and lazy boys everywhere contrived devious ways to shirk duty.

Davien said nothing. But one booted foot tapped in impatience.

Which cue emptied her chest in bolt-struck epiphany. Daliana shoved straight so hard, the pumice against her braced seat ripped sound cloth, and her braid came unmoored from its fastening. ‘You couldn’t!’

‘Could I not?’ The Sorcerer laughed outright. ‘Ask Dakar. In fact, more than once, your spellbinder stymied himself against my skilled touch for concealment. Although strictly speaking, a masking spell won’t fully address your straits. Illusion can’t blindside a necromancer, or evade the trained Sight of the True Sect’s diviners.’ Head cocked, Davien peered down with an intensity to drill through pretence. ‘How strong are you, really?’

Daliana crossed her arms over her breast, while her heart raced, and dread lanced her viscera.

Once before this, Dakar had warned, ‘Don’t let him cozen you,’ while the ceiling of an inn cellar became ignited by drakefire over their heads.

This Sorcerer’s bargains never were wont to tread the straightforward path. Flesh and blood, breathing, he was not mortal: the air in his company still crackled, unseen, with the volatile flame of a dragon’s live dreaming.

Daliana’s question ground through her tight throat. ‘What moonstruck scheme are you proposing?’

Davien bent, plucked a thorn cane barehanded, and gave it a vigorous shake. Sparks flew, as though flint had struck steel, and the whisper of fallen leaves pattered his boots. He extended his offering. The stripped stem was not as it had been: a fine lacquered hairpin glistened under the starlight. ‘Forms can be changed.’

Daliana accepted the perilous gift, finger-tips tracing the refigured wood through the Sorcerer’s resumed explanation.

‘You don’t behold trickery, or a disguise. The thorn has not forsaken its nature. The core substance is not shape shifted. Only the outer surface has been remade.’

Stunned as though hurled into the abyss, Daliana dropped the polished stick.

Davien picked it up, laid it flat on the boulder. His stride kept the grace of a predator as he paced before her, still speaking. ‘Lysaer does not confide in his servants. However, with time, the ones who are faithful do earn a measure of trust. They handle his person. Come and go when he sleeps. How strong are you, lady? Have you the fibre to lurk in the background, watch his struggles, his failures, and even, the ghastly course of his short-falls? Could you wait, hold your tongue, keep to the shadows behind his affairs and bide without snapping? Can you live for the day that unforeseen destiny might grant you the perilous opening?’

As she measured herself, wrung by trepidation, the Sorcerer stopped before her. Features in shadow, his regard could be felt, searing as coals on her skin. ‘You would be alone as never before. None would know your identity. On the days you suffer in pain and despair, no one’s kindly word will support you. While you watch aggrieved, your beloved may destroy himself. His worst hour might break him. Can you survive? Is the purity of your love deep enough?’

Daliana swallowed. ‘Didn’t Dakar just warn that my decision to let him go would murder untold thousands of innocents?’

The Sorcerer regarded her, bleak. ‘But you were not blind to the danger inherent in the fool’s intervention the spellbinder proposed.’

A knifing breath, snatched into seized lungs. ‘Then we agree? Lysaer is a good man, yes, with human flaws that have been unconscionably pressured and twisted!’ Daliana swallowed again. ‘Somebody has to stand by his character. Else watch the last fragment of his true grace fall to wrack and ruin.’ A second justification, no steadier, ‘Asandir sent me into the breach already aware I was overfaced. So Kharadmon informed me, too late.’

Davien’s teeth flashed, not a smile. The line of his shoulders reflected no humour but only the indomitable steel that bore the weight of two ages. ‘Asandir did as he must. The options he had were most likely fatal. Lady, most brave, do not miscalculate the purpose that drives the Fellowship! Mankind on Athera walks the razor’s edge. All the more as the True Sect gains sway, humanity’s long-term survival is threatened. Against that disaster, you are hope itself. Or else the frail straw cast into the breach to buy a brief margin of time. Never doubt, Daliana, we Seven are ruthless.’

She shivered. ‘I accepted Sulfin Evend’s oath, willing.’

In whip-crack retort, Davien’s pacing resurged. ‘Did you know the bad odds? The best years of your natural life could be lost!’ He spun and regarded her. ‘I will not lie. Nothing can guarantee the victory you seek.’

Daliana took up the hairpin. Defiant courage reached up, determined, and restored her braid into a coil. ‘You would make me appear as a man?’ Despite iron will, her hands trembled. ‘Would I be so, in fact?’

Davien raised his eyebrows. ‘Enough to pass close up scrutiny, and not as a figment for show. You would need to shave, or the lack would raise questions. More, your aura must withstand the Sighted scrutiny of even the True Sect’s most gifted diviners. To alter your signature presence that deeply means, yes, you would have to bear a measure of masculine responsiveness.’

The idea made her choke. ‘Then what if’’

While her blush heated scarlet, Davien chuckled. ‘The young women need not be a problem, I think. As you wish, I could fashion a form that makes you seem older in years.’

Daliana reeled under suffocating apprehension. ‘Would I even know myself?’

‘You will hold your self image, but only in Name. And only the fullness of that true identity could sunder the binding. Few but the most wise own the vision to sound your true essence. No man alive, beyond Athera’s Masterbard, or through a human love great enough to surpass the awareness of flesh and blood. I would not leave you helpless. The means to free yourself will remain under your command, always.’

Daliana skewered the braid, wound too painfully tight as gooseflesh prickled her nape. She scrubbed her hands over her face, rattled by atavistic reservations. Sensible caution knew her experience was inadequate to plumb the enigma Davien represented. His motive could not be read in the hands casually hooked at his belt, with the sparkle of citrine set in his ring a captive spark under starlight. Unable to fathom his greater purpose, and hag-ridden: since only one choice upheld Asandir’s charge, Daliana picked at the flaw in the Sorcerer’s terrifying proposition.

‘How many years would I have before death? Would the effect of your glamour shorten my lifetime? Lysaer does not age as a natural man.’

Davien’s snapped fingers dismissed the concern. ‘This point can be redressed without consequence.’ Shown disbelief, his peaked eyebrows rose. ‘Ah! You’d have proof? Dakar never informed you? My hand engineered the Five Centuries’ Fountain that crafted your liege’s longevity.’

Rocked by that admission, Daliana leaped to mad impulse and bargained, ‘Then you’ll match that advantage since I gave my heart-felt promise to Lysaer that I would never desert him.’

‘With your due permission?’ Davien yanked a black thread from the embroidery stitched through his cuff. The strand flickered bright as contained lightning as he knotted it into an intricate bracelet. ‘Lady, push back your sleeve and give me your left wrist.’

Her arm quaked, despite her hard-set resolve. The Sorcerer cradled her hand, his touch tenderly brisk as he slid his enchanted cincture over her skin. A quick movement noosed the weave firmly in place: nothing more, after all, than a frayed linen thread, except for a pattern that defied sight and sense to discern.

‘Most brave,’ Davien challenged, ‘you are quite certain?’

She dared not pause. Second thoughts would destroy her: love’s question, unanswered, would haunt her the worse if she failed to rise to this test. ‘Yes.’ Consent melted the construct into her flesh. A wave of heat followed. Then a flush like high fever, while her ears rang through a barrage of dizziness.

Deft support rescued Daliana’s reeling balance as the firm bounds of her body seemed to dissolve.

Dimly, she realized the Sorcerer’s handling laid her down gently onto firm ground. His words echoed across a chasm of distance and chased her fall into reeling black-out, ‘You will waken refreshed. Spend enough time alone as you need to adjust. I will leave you with more than sufficient provisions to supply your journey from here. When you wish to restore your true form, the change back will become irreversible. Simply grip your left wrist. Repeat your birth name three times, and break the circlet as it resurfaces.’

originally posted by Neil

Ah, he ‘happened to be afoot in the vicinity.’ :slight_smile:

So both Arithon and Lysaer have a companion that can live as long as they do now. What will be their strategy/objectives in DC now I wonder…? If Arithon is not so close can Lysaer regain some autonomy and then what will he do? Arithon and Lysaer both have issue with the koriani …and necromancers presumably have a heads up of Arithon's scorecard so far against/with the powers in Athera…

Davien suggests that Arithon *and* Lysaer are still needed together to sort out the mist wraith?

originally posted by Annette

Thanks for the interesting preview Janny, it had me in stitches. Now there's a solution to Daliana's dilemma I never imagined.

Wow, the murmur of response is close to a deafening silence…has this post flown that far under the radar? Just curious…or did it knock the wind out of ya? (if so, this is JUST the start).

originally posted by Annette

No, but I am still hoping Daliana will get another chance to knock the wind out of Dakar after that start.

originally posted by Melanie Trumbull

It's number two, Janny – the sneak peek left me speechless.

originally posted by Judy

I didn't think WEEEEEEE was an acceptable post

originally posted by David

YAY Thanks Janny can't wait for more. Now this book is nearly out, when is the next one due. !!smile!! lol

originally posted by Auna

How about ARRRRRRRRRG!!! That was stupid of me to read but how could I not? Like catnip to a cat, I couldn't resist. And now I WANT MORE! Waling and gnashing of teeth here. Just FYI.

I'm very happy to see Daliana get longevity. Now to get those two a HEA… after giggling at the man thing and of course much angst…

I love Davien :smiley: I can't wait to read more about him. And everyone else. And oh heck, I WANT IT NOW!

See, this is why I didn't post… you've turned me into a rabid cat seeking catnip!

originally posted by Maggie

I waited to read. I wanted to wait and have it all at once, especially if I need to wait in the US.

…I couldn't wait.

I need moar!

I don't remember from the last book, does dailiana know that Arithon is the masterbard? Davien made quite the point of mentioning that only the masterbard and true love could see through the disguise.

originally posted by Auna

Yah, I wasn't quite sure about that or the date at the beginning. I was all too eager to torture myself by reading the snippet. I'm trying to finish writing a story here before I reread the last book to re-familiarize myself with what happened. I have a vague recollection since I've only read that book once. Can't wait :wink:

originally posted by Clansman

oh, that was some mean WoLaS meth! Like a taste of honey, worse than none at all, so says Smokey Robinson…

originally posted by Auna

Hahaha Clansman. And no, I'm totally not here because my meth habit had me clicking to see if more suddenly appeared. Nope. Not at all!

originally posted by Frederik

Wow, just wow. I really like Davien, even more so after the short story in Evil is a matter of perspective - how he himself is walking the razor's edge to open solutions that don't exist, yet.

This piece also gives some perspective on the prime's frustrations in the last preview. Apparently Daliana's disguise helps to shield Lysaer in some way.

Janny, can you share some insight into this? Or am I asking too much at this stage?

originally posted by Annette

In the third sneek peek, Selidie Prime seems to know Daliana is with Lysaer, she would I think not know that if Daliana was still disguised. If Daliana is herself again, maybe Lysaer finally saw her, even through her disguise? Maybe Daliana is protected by love? Once Lysaer makes a commitment to Daliana, he is going to be especially careful not to repeat any of his past mistakes. It was said in Stormed Fortress

"Unassailable loyalty could not be suborned, or pushed by imbalance to sow errant havoc."

Talith tried and love was not enough to protect her. Ellaine tried, and Lysaer would not give her love a chance. But maybe love can protect Lysaer? Bit like Dakar was intending to do, but by free choice, Lysaer will stay by her side.

It is just a thought, we will have to wait and see what Janny comes up with, only a few weeks to go now.

originally posted by Dan

It's been years since I've been on these boards (so much so I forgot my account info) but with the release of DC imminent and I've just finished a full re-read of the series, I thought I'd jump back in.

Strangely of all the things in this first Main Chapter set, what intrigued me the most was Dakar's and Davien's language. Dakar said:

'Be most careful. It’s a deadly folly to presume with regard to the actions of Fellowship Sorcerers. The power they wield was bestowed by the dragons. They can do the unimaginable, and without limit. Never ever forget the more dangerous list of what actions they might be withholding under some abstruse ethical preference.'

This is very specific and not something I can imagine Dakar saying to anyone in quite this way early on in the series.

Davien also says to Daliana, 'Never doubt, Daliana, we Seven are ruthless.' Again not something I could see being mentioned in quite this way earlier. With the exception of Davien himself, I wouldn't say most people would consider the actions of the Sorcerers so far ruthless, harsh and necessary maybe, not ruthless. So I wonder whether Davien is reflecting his own character alone here, or just being more honest about his character AND those of his other colleagues, something readers haven't yet really seen in the others.

Janny - if it's not a spoiler, on Dakar, is his language here indicative of something he was always aware of to this extent and it was too early in the series for it to be stated so explicitly, or did he gain further insights into Seven after he again took up his apprenticeship with Asandir after Athir in IT?

originally posted by Neil

I think Dakar is saying that the F7 have an awful lot of power and ultimately humanity, as they are on Athera, cannot not face them at present and survive on Athera if the compact is threatened…Davien said a similar thing to Arithon after Kewar about not trying to take on the F7 based on power alone. The mistwraith still needs solving. L & A are being spared to achieve this?. Otherwise Arithon would be toast the moment he caused the F7 any trouble…

I wonder whether Arithon can somehow find a loophole where the F7 want reunification over/above the drake binding whilst the compact breaks… the drakes do not acknowledge the compact… almost as if they would just fry up humanity tomorrow and simplify things somewhat…there are hints that the F7 bend the rules…re drakes' expectations… they are bound but are not friends of the drakes…and perhaps feel something for humanity on Athera…they guide as they can but they are not responsible. And paravian survival comes first…whether F7 can break the binding or not…

I think Davien is saying that F7 will take whatever tools they have to hand (i.e. clanlood) to serve their purpose…if a human suffers in their lifetime…this is typically not that long in the greater scheme of things as the F7 plan for the long term.

originally posted by Annette

It has been known for a while that the Fellowship could be forced to destroy humanity if the compact is broken. They cannot break the binding to the drakes, if humanity over steps and threatens Paravian survival or the conditions necessary for Paravian survival, the drake binding takes over. Davien has been working on an alternate plan to the compact, that would free the Fellowship of that fate, because the Fellowship have always known, humanity would eventually break the compact, all the conflict with the half brothers has done is speed things up. Davien's plan rests on Arithon.

So for starters, if Arithon deals with the left over problems that are keeping the Fellowship bound to the drakes will, they would be given free choice over how they react when the compact breaks. And Arithon, Davien or Elaira are likely going to have some safe guards in place, for the time Arithon will be 'away'. The compact breaks on Arithon's death, and Arithon is needed for Davien's plan to work. So Arithon might be mastering something new before he returns.

But even if the Fellowship are freed of their binding, that is still going to leave at least one very irate drake, who has not agreed to the compact, and is going to be intent on removing humanity from Athera. Arithon is likely not going to be there to protect them, Elaira is probably going to be taking a nap, while Arithon is absent. Most of the clans will be in hiding knowing what to expect. Who will be there to protect the townborn? Lysaer? Charm her with some mesmerizing lights, some fancy words? Get her attention with that gold aura? What is it about Arithon that would have grabbed her attention? Would a freed Lysaer not have the same potential?

originally posted by Neil

"cannot break the binding" - what if the F7 or Davien found a way? What would be the impact?

Davien tells Arithon that "either way" paravian survival will be enforced…whilst the binding exists. "Championing the cause of humanity…"…who to?

F7 would not let paravians be destroyed based on knowledge of what paravians are…humanity on Athera would "come second" anyway if they overstep…? Davien's other works were invitations for key humans to focus / make stronger their gifts and go that extra step in awareness before the "current unique mixture of Arithon" came along? He sees they are not developing fast enough under the current system…why do the F6 disagree? And why have the F6 invested more than say Davien to change their views? There must be an interpretation of a key risk they disagree on…but how would they come to different conclusions? Does Sethvir have secrets? Does Davien? Where is Ciladis…:wink:

If Arithon could deal with drake spawn (only methuri left that pose a big risk?) - would he? F7 are freed from drake spawn / mist wraith but then humanity itself is then the risk that keeps F7 bound…Arithon has to find a solution…I guess it may have to come from the religion…they will be virtually the only ones left with perception if clans get threatened…why not the willingness to take into consideration paravians (they would return if mistwraith is resolved)? I guess then Arithon and Lysaer have to get it together again which means helping Lysaer and Arithon staying alive…(Koriani and necromancers still out there…)

None of the drakes (or some?) recognise the compact between F7 and paravians. Curious that they have not decided to just wipe some of humanity off Athera … maybe they do…but only a few hundred here, a few hundred there…but this would surely enter oral history if they did.

The drake skull wards seem to have been a risk. At least one paravians was aware of them. Does even their last existence imply some legal action needed from Paravians? Although I suppose Arithon pretty much served justice there?

how does a townborn actually break the compact? Kill enough clan so that they can walk freely in the free wilds? Do enough damage to threaten the magnetics? F7 have the power to locally shake up any group of humans…but if they all gang up, what stalemate is possible? Do we get to a F7 v ALL humans (when someone realises it it their fault for the downfall of past planets)…ironically could humans innovate? Would Davien/Biedar be able to hold off F6? What is this forbidden stuff Reiyaj watches? :wink:

Anyway I have run out of time to guess more…3 more weeks?. I always want to set all this out on post-its and kind of play out impacts/alliances…but I will just read the next book now and there are still secrets Janny is hiding that we could not know? :wink:

Casting Lysaer outside of the compact may have been a clever way to keep him alive…although F7 was forced to do this? But how come he is allowed to stay on Athera? For him it is like nothing happened (yet)? Suppose he is obliged to receive justice from Paravians which might now save him if say F7 are otherwise engaged?

originally posted by Joy

Summer plans meant I didn't get a chance for the intended full re-read of WoLaS and now I'm cramming with the intensity of the student who was partying instead of studying for finals!

This one was the longest wait yet but now has the feel of that childlike disbelief that Christmas is finally here and Santy really did come :smiley::smiley:. MASSIVELY exciting!!