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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Triane's Son Fighting

Triane's Son Fighting
 Have I mentioned the Batman thing?  I'm pretty sure I've mentioned the Batman thing.

In fact, I know I've mentioned the Batman thing.  Because, well, Batman.  I've written pages and pages on Batman, and heroic archetypes and the pantheon of superhero archetypes-- it is old hat by now.

But just like I can still look at my husband and like the feel of his skin under my hand, I still get off on Batman.

It doesn't hurt that my first experience of Batman was the old Tim Burton Batman-- because when Michael Keaton put on his Batman face, he went from goofy Mr. Mom to terminally fucking cool in a few facial muscles.

It really doesn't hurt that my second Batman was the animated 1992 series, the one voiced by Kevin Conroy, whose gravel tones have probably soaked nearly a billion sets of panties by now--so, not just mine.  And that Batman was my favorite.  Taciturn, sardonic, he didn't give a rat's ass about the showmanship of the bad guys, his stocky, heavily muscled body had been honed to do one thing: kick their evil snarky asses.  Batman?  I loved that guy.

He made the angel's fall of the Gothic hero look so fucking cool there was ice on his skin.

That he shattered when it was time to rumble.

So when I do fantasy superhero stuff--nobody who has followed me for any length of time is at all surprised when my go-to guy is Batman.

When I first wrote Bitter Moon, my original goal was one short fantasy novel--don't laugh.  This was in the early days of my writing when I was not aware that writing short for me was sort of like looking like hell for Tyler Hoechlin.  I'm sure it can be done but it takes a lot of work on behalf of professionals, some make-up, and a deplorable treatment of the gifts Goddess gave you. But whether or not I could write that one short, the fact remains that the first book opens up with a foreshadowing scene that places us firmly in the center of the action in what is now the fourth book of the series:  the image of our hero, Torrant Moon-Shadow, slinking along the streets of Clough, his friend waiting to help him as they wreak mayhem on the evil doers who have the city in their clutches.

I wrote the entire first two books heading for that image, that idea.  The duality of the prominent daytime figure becoming a dark force of justice in the night.  And there is no way to write that without drama-- I know, I tried.  It comes out surrounded with angst and pain and glamour because those things ooze front  he concept itself.  We can not throw a cat or push a button without seeing some public figure being a hypocritical, self-serving hosebeast and doing it legally with the full blessing of the powers that be.  I know I'm not the only one who ends up jumping up and down at my computer, sputtering like a flat tire.  "Did you… but look!  That's… it's so STUPID!  Evil… just… I mean… oh for crap's sake, who in the human slush puddle is going to rise up and call these wankers on their sheer up-yours fuckery!"

Triane's Son Learning
Very often, it's no one.  And even if our helpless, puddle-stuck government does manage to accomplish something, the same douchefuckers who were fouling up our country take that as permission to go somewhere else and ooze people pus from their pores.  The assholes who weren't allowed to fuck up the environment in America go to India and screw with their ocean.  The idiot-bigots who tried to make life miserable for the LGBTQ population here are no in Uganda and Nigeria, rallying to pass laws that make it illegal for 20% of the world's people to even exist.  It's like laundry-- cleaning the world of this human sludge is never done.

We need help.  It feels like we need help that is better, stronger, faster than most of us plain humans, because the list of heinosity just continues.

We need Batman.

And so Batman is who I wrote.  But if we want our Batman to be worthy, he can't fight the poisoned claws of corruption without a terrible cost to his own soul.  The closer you get to the manticore, the more likely you're stung by the scorpion end, and that's Batman.  He can't always leave the bad guys in puddles of moaning henchmen-- sometimes he has to kill.  Sometimes he makes mistakes.  And he didn't set out to hurt people-- he set out to save them.  And he can't ever just get over the things he has to do, because then what would he be?  A sociopath with extreme abilities to hurt people, and we'd be twice as fucked as we were before.

Triane's Son Rising
So we need Batman to save us, but Batman can never be saved.  He can never stop fighting.  Because if he stops fighting the laundry of human pain will build up some more and some more and some more…

Poor Batman.

He's just so delicious to write.

So, Triane's Son Fighting is coming out on January 29th, and this third book in the series finds our hero in the dark molten core of the Batman experience.  He's not just Batman, he's pulling the people around him into doing Batman things too.  He believes there's a hero in all of us--and to some extent he's right--but poor Torrant.  He's not prepared when his heroes in training start taking the hits that he'd planned to take.  The idea that people might suffer for him, when he's suffering for the rest of the world, makes him crazy--and thus hinges much of the story.  This book pushes some of the boundaries of YA-- but it is still 16+ YA (also called New Adult and Emerging Adult literature.)  There is love here, both gay and straight, and pain--which knows no gender.  There is action and adventure, sorcery, and a big white snowcat just for kicks.

If you haven't read it before (because it's been out for a while) and you're willing to forgo reading a romance for reading an action/adventure/fantasy with some romance in it, by all means pick up the first volume

and head on from there.

I mean, Batman.  Don't we all need Batman in our lives?



Description:
A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title

2nd Edition

Sequel to Triane's Son Learning
Bitter Moon Saga: Book Three 


Outraged by the destruction of innocent lives and the threat to his family’s safety, Torrant Shadow and Aylan Stealth-Moon ride to Dueance, the capital of Clough, with a desperate plan: Torrant will impersonate Yarri’s dead brother, Ellyot Moon, and infiltrate the Regent’s council to help change to the government’s policy toward the Goddess’s chosen from the inside.

But from the very first night, Torrant and Aylan are pressed into service in the shadows of the ghettoes, fighting for the lives of the brutalized people within. It’s a bitter job, made more so by close scrutiny and mockery from Consort Rath, the ruler whose policies have created the discrimination and cruelty wreaking havoc in their country.

Torrant’s only bright moments come from Aylan, whose love and loyalty never falter, and the hungry, compassionate minds of the younger regents. Believing that all they need is a worthy song to follow, Torrant sets about leading them to accomplish the salvation of their country. But not even Torrant can be everywhere at once. When faced with one disaster too many, he realizes one man alone cannot right the wrongs of an entire government—not even Triane’s Son.

1st Edition published as Bitter Moon II: Triane's Son Reigning by iUniverse, 2009
ISBN-13978-1-62798-341-9
Pages350
Cover ArtistNathie
Buy at Dreamspinner


EXCERPT

Prologue

Goddess Stories





THE HEALER sat in the waning twilit hours of the Beltane Faire and watched the couples dancing in front of the bonfire in preparation for the wilding. His wife—short, plump, and sturdy—came and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, touching her cheek to his.

“They’re all waiting,” she told him, not wanting to look into his eyes. The pain was there, all of it, as fresh as it must have been thirty years before, when he’d first ridden off to the east and left her. It was just as bad now, just as bloody as it had been, when they’d ridden back to town nearly a year later.

Goddess, how Yarri hated Beltane.

Once upon a time, it had been her favorite holiday. When she and Torrant had come to Eiran, it had been a symbol of rebirth and spring, beauty and family.

But that had been before he’d left her to save the world. That had been before his heart had been ripped out, and she, Aldam, and Aylan had barely been able to put it back together. That had been before she’d had to watch him, for nigh on thirty years, resurrect this pain for their town and their family, make it fresh and red all over again.

“Beloved?” she said, and he turned toward her, the softness on his face for her and her alone. Then he came to himself, remembering what he had to do. He wiped his mouth with his hand and stood, his hazel eyes assuming that artificial brightness she always associated with this moment, on this evening.

“You don’t have to do it again this year,” she said, taking his hand. He touched her cheek and smiled again, this one almost reaching his eyes.

“Of course I do! It’s important. Besides, the little ones expect it.”

“The little ones just want a story and a song from their Pa-pa,” she snapped with bitterness that surprised them both. “This hurts you!”

“It should hurt me.” He ran a hand through his short hair, the salting of gray obscuring but not hiding the white crest at his temple. He’d wondered aloud lately, after watching himself age easily through the years, if he would have to dye his hair brown in order to show that mark of magic like the badge of honor it was. This morning he’d stated rather firmly that never having to hide the white streak again would be enough.

“That pain bought something important,” he continued when she looked away and refused to answer.

“Well, then.” She turned away sharply, angry with him for doing this to himself. Hadn’t he given enough?

“Hey!” He caught up to her and took her hand. “You knew this would hurt us when we started.”

Yarri eyed him sourly. “It’s one thing when we were young,” she said at last, “but shouldn’t there be an age when you get to stop ripping your own entrails out for the greater good?”

He winced. “Appropriate, beloved,” he said with a grim smile, but she couldn’t even return that.

“This hurts you.” It was stated baldly, without flinching. Yarri was as she always had been—the years had not softened her, but they had given her a little grace. “It hurts me to see you hurt,” she added softly.

“I’m fine.”

She shook her head adamantly, her long, silvering braid rippling past her wide hips. Once it had grown back, neither of them had ever wanted to cut it again.

“Every year you say that, and every year there are nightmares. We’ve done this for thirty years—you know that, right? For thirty years you tell this story, and every year the two of you spend a week sharing a bed back to back, swords in hands, whimpering if you actually do close your eyes.”

He looked away. Starren and Yarri had known, from the first night of their return, that Torrant and Aylan would never be able to shake some memories of that terrible time. For the most part, neither of them minded overmuch, but Torrant and Aylan were honorable men. Their wives didn’t give a flying bucket of pigshite about the niceties of fidelity, as long as their beloveds could rise from the darkness and embrace them in the light, but that need for each other when they were frightened or reminded of the darkness never faded. Sometimes honor flinched, and honorable men had to live with that.

Yarri was not concerned with honor. She had learned long ago that she would take her beloved living, breathing, and struggling with his conscience over still and dead on any day.

“I could give a shite if you and Aylan bugger each other until your hearts pop,” she said, shifting in impatience when Torrant winced. “Look, I’ll always be here to pick up the pieces, because I truly don’t care—I never have. But I can’t watch your heart break, not one more time, not again. Ellyot’s youngest isn’t feeling well….”

“All that sugar.” He smiled, and she rolled her eyes in agreement. For a moment they were a perfect burst of harmony, a shared expression of a lifetime of living to be the other’s heartbeat.

“And Bitsy’s baby is teething. I’ll take them to the house while you do this. I’ve heard it before.” Her mouth, which was usually shaped like a plump and pleasant little bow, was pinched together, almost invisible in her irritation.

Still, he thought he’d try one more time. “The song changes every year,” he said lightly, and her look grew even darker.

“No it doesn’t!” she hissed. “It never changes. ‘Oueant’s Son,’ ‘Dueant’s Son,’ ‘Triane’s Son’—none of it matters. What matters is that it was real and that we lived and that you and Aylan and Aldam and….” Her voice faltered. Not even she could mention those other names, the names of their honored dead, on a breath of ire. “All of us,” she finished lamely. “All of us did this.” Yarri sighed and eyed their five children unhappily. They were waiting gravely, their families and friends grouped around them. Their father was going to play. Yarri couldn’t, not even for the love she bore her husband, figure out how to tell him how much the aftermath of this story hurt him.

“What matters,” she finally said, “is that we shed blood, not a little of it your own, to make this world a better place, and that you shed more of it every year when you go out and tell this story, and I’m sick of it!”

He smiled, the grooves around his mouth deepening, his dimple popping, and his lip curling up on one side. It was an absolutely lethal smile, and it had taken him a while to learn its power, but many women still fantasized about the lead healer of Eiran.

He had only ever cared about two.

“Thirty years, my heart’s peace, that we’ve been telling this story, and you still don’t understand why it’s important that I tell it?”

She looked away, feeling childish. She had never been poised, never been quiet and docile, and she assumed that was one of the qualities he loved her for—or in spite of. She hated feeling petulant, spoiled, and unkind.

“You tell me, then!” she snapped, unhappy with both of them. She should drop it. She should just drop it. She should be a good wife and listen to his story, let him spend his week sleeping in Aylan’s bed, and accept that he loved her without question.

“It needs to be remembered,” Torrant said firmly, holding her shoulders. “That’s what’s important. We need to make sure that no one ever needs to go out and live this story again.” His voice hardened, and his eyes flashed a glacial blue, frigid and sharp, at odds with the warmth he practically radiated.

“Right,” she replied, her brown eyes wide. She rarely saw that color anymore. She might have lost her hard-won maturity in an effort to protect her husband, but she was not a fool. “The little ones will be fine. I’ll stay and listen.”

Very carefully, as though not to puncture her delicate bubble of acquiescence, he leaned forward and touched her forehead with his own. He cupped his hand between their chests as though there was something precious, something lovely and sweet and fragile, housed in the space between their heartbeats. Her mouth softened, and her tanned, freckled, barely wrinkled face creased into a tender smile as she cupped her hands over his.

This. This lovely warmth between them—this had never changed, and it could not be killed.

His gorgeous, gods-beloved smile came back, and he swung around to greet the family, all of them, gathered around the Moons’ traditional picnic table. He had to wade his way through grandchildren in order to perch on the top of the table, after shooing a couple of the smaller ones off his lap.





AYLAN DID his own wading and handed his oldest friend his lute. Torrant took it gratefully. It was old as well—it had belonged to Lane before him—and the wood was mellow and sweet with age and oil, years of melancholic songs dancing across its strings.

“Thank you, Aylan.” For the first time a hint of uncertainty crossed Torrant’s face. “You’re staying, right?” There had been a few years after Starry had come of age when the two of them had tried to live without each other the week after Beltane, and Aylan had been unable to stay and listen. The absence had hurt them. It had left them shredded and infected, and one Solstice wilding, Starren and Yarri had conspired for the two of them to meet. Hadn’t they all fought for the right to wild and love, to make love and make family as they saw fit, and not the world at large?

“Of course I’m staying,” Aylan replied, with a killer smile of his own. Aylan’s smile had improved with time; the bitterness that possessed it in his youth was completely gone now. “If I’m not here, you don’t tell it right.”

“Ha!” Torrant guffawed, secure now that Aylan would be there to see him through this. “If you’re not here, no one whines when the son of Oueant gets his due!”

Aylan’s look of disgust was enough to pull the last of the tears from Torrant’s heart, and he smiled at his children for their approval. The oldest two, the twin boys, of all the family needed this song, he thought achingly. So much of who they were was wrapped up in who had come before.

Lane hobbled up across the green, much of his weight on the pair of canes in his hands. He had been seated with the other elders, watching the sunset, but he too was faithful to the story as it was told at Beltane. Torrant’s eldest, Ellyot, ran up with a stool for his great-uncle Lane, and Lane sank onto it gratefully.

“Have you started yet, boyo?” he asked. His voice had aged, and his beard was long and full and white now, but his eyes still twinkled their merry blue, nearly as sharp in what they saw today as they had been in Torrant’s youth.

“Not yet, Uncle Lane. You know we can’t tell the story without you.” Torrant tuned a couple of strings and played a chord that proved his ear was still sound. Almost to himself, he said, “I wish Aunt Bethen was here.”

“Oh, she is, but she’s getting impatient. Now start!”

The rest of the family laughed, and Aylan’s youngest, a scant and scandalous six years old, piped up, “You’re going to tell the story of the Sons of the Three Moons, right, Uncle Torrant?” The little boy’s hand was firmly entrenched in the hand of Ellyot’s youngest, as they had been since the little girl was born. The sight of the two of them, so easily moon-destined, so beautifully meant, made Torrant’s heart constrict with pain and joy.

“Absolutely, Djali,” he replied. “Are we all ready? Do we all remember how it starts?”

His five children started the first verse, their voices falling in and out of harmony, but still strong. When they were done singing, he began the story itself, the words changing as details sharpened and faded with the passage of years, but always, always, starting with the same image.

“A ruthless ruler, mad and powerful, had been persecuting Triane’s children for many years. One day, Triane’s Son and his best friend, the son of Oueant, the moon of Honor, rode into the cursed city to stop him.

“They bore between the two of them a terrible secret….”





Part X—The Deceiving Moon





And You Are?





THEY WOULD not have known who he was when he entered the gates of Dueance, trying hard not to gag at the stench of the crucified bodies hanging over the archway. They would not have known who he was as he made his way through the neatly bricked streets of the city’s main common area and into the square where the consort’s palace, the Hall of Regents, and the regents’ apartments all faced each other, with the entrance to the square serving as the fourth wall.

After he presented his letters of introduction to the concierge at the regents’ dormitories, asking politely for a ground-floor room with a window and a water closet, odds were good that his name got out. It certainly received a satisfying reaction from the self-important little man who waxed lyrical about the library on the top floor of the apartment building, talking at length about how it was the finest collection of law books and financial tracts in the three lands.

“And poetry, now that you’ve burnt down Triannon,” he said with no dryness and a bitter lack of irony.

The concierge turned red, looked at the name on the letters of introduction, and promptly tried to choke on his tongue.

The young man across from him smiled with only the faintest lifting of his eyebrows. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m….” The small old man looked up at the strapping broad chest of the young man and swallowed at that level, expectant gaze. Years of training kicked in, years during which he’d observed the foibles of the young, the moneyed, and the feckless and not only didn’t raise an eyebrow but didn’t let an indiscretion pass his lips in the company of anyone but his bored wife. “No problem at all.” He smiled blandly, and the young man indicated the concierge should lead the way to his apartment with a raised eyebrow over shockingly clear hazel eyes.

“I thought not.” They proceeded to a sumptuous apartment, full of heavy burgundy velvet draperies and a truly hedonistic sateen couch, cover done in jewel-colored embroidery. The bedroom was as large as the sitting room and kitchenette put together, and the bed was big enough to house five, with a sin-dark mahogany four-posted frame and a matching wardrobe as big as the ferry to Otham. There was a small patio outside the bedroom and a washroom annexed to the bedroom, with a window overlooking the marble-walled shower and toilet. There was also a promise of maid service and discreet laundry service, as long as he put what needed to be washed and pressed in the offered hamper.

“There’s a canteen in the west wing corner,” the concierge offered with a smile, “so there should be no problem if you get caught without stocks during curfew. They offer all three meals, if you like, but most of the young regents take their breakfast in the marketplace.”

The man looked at Torrant with a smile, hoping for some response to the amenities, but he got a rather dazed look in return. Had the concierge known, his shocking new tenant was both humbled and disgusted by the excess.

The new regent, in fact, yearned for a simple house of battered board walls and a thick slab of a kitchen table instead, with the sound of family inside and the roar of the sea without. He would have settled for a country surgery, with newly built bedrooms, a tiny water closet with a wooden seat on the commode, and the smell of dust and cedars in the hot, dry summers. He would have wept for the loft in a horse stable, with a quilt on the straw and a picnic of bread and apples at the ready.

But wanting was easy, and doing was hard. What the young man actually did was park his duffel next to the bed and wait for the concierge’s attention.

“Are the regents in session now?” he asked, hoping all his rehearsing with Aylan made that question come out casually.

“Not at the moment, sir. They take a break in the midday and reconvene around dusk, when the temperature drops in the city.”

The young man nodded. Good. Give this old man with the pulse beating in his throat a chance to spread the word, and then he could make the entrance he’d planned.

“How do you want to do this?”

He looked at Aylan, who was too grim for the late spring sunshine spilling gold from his hair. “Quickly, without blood,” he’d replied dryly, and Aylan had rolled his eyes.

“Your mouth to Triane’s ears. Now think—are you going to play the ingĂ©nue, allow the fat boys to lead you where you want to go? Or…?”

“Definitely option two.” The thought of dissembling was too awful, too repugnant. There would be so much subterfuge already, and he had never been good at it. “I can’t do this if I’m faking everything—it will be hard enough faking my name.”

Aylan nodded and then shook his head. “It will be harder that way, in the end.” He said it softly enough that the words were almost lost in the jangle of horse tack.

Of course, Aylan would know.

“Is there anything else—” A hesitation. “—sir?”

Torrant’s mouth quirked up, and even the apparently stolid old man, who seemed married to his toes, flushed. “No,” Torrant said quietly, his eyes darting around the room and wondering which new set of clothes he should wear for his grand debut to the Hall of Regents. The old man made to leave, and a sudden foreboding shivered through Torrant’s chest and knotted itself down in his guts. A year, they’d told the family. A month, he’d thought to himself, but what if it was closer to a year? He looked at the duffel bag and his lute case and thought unhappily that he would probably need more to wear than what his ex-lover had shoved in his saddlebags as he and Aylan were departing from her home, forged letters of introduction smuggled in with his lute.

“Um,” Torrant said tentatively, hating the eagerness with which the concierge (what had been the man’s name?) turned around. More fodder for gossip, he supposed. “A….” What was the word? It was comforting that none of his brothers would have known either. “A clothier? Um, haberdasher? I didn’t bring enough clothes to stay for long.” The idea of staying long in this city already made his stomach churn.

“Absolutely, sir,” the concierge said, a relieved smile gracing his wizened features. The name may have been strange, but the behavior seemed to be what the old man was accustomed to. “I can send him in with your midday meal.”

“Thank you.” He was, in truth, grateful, as much for something to do while he waited as for anything else.

The clothier brought in his food—fruit, a sandwich, a flask of wine—and proceeded to cluck over him, gushing about all the many ensembles he could create for the new regent. The new regent felt badly about saying “No, just a few outfits for this season. I’ll let you know if I’ll be here for the fall.”

“Oh, but, sir!” The clothier was a compact, fluttery man with an extraordinarily embellished waistcoat and a minutely trimmed goatee. “You must… don’t you see? Regents attend balls. It’s a social obligation. They need to dress for the senate and dress for dinner. They need clothes for fencing practice…. You cannotfunction socially without more clothes than this.”

The new regent closed his eyes. It wasn’t as though he couldn’t afford it, right? He had a sudden thought, then. “Right. I hear you.” He nodded. Good—he’d do it, sing the song and dance the jig if he had to, but if he were going to, he wanted something practical as well. In spite of what he’d said to the family, he was reasonably sure he and Aylan weren’t going to escape this venture without their alter egos coming out to play. “May I make a request?” he asked and then began to outline what he wanted, ignoring the clothier’s protests that such a garment would not be fashionable in the least.

“All the better” had been his mild answer. “I’ll take two.”

The clothier swallowed. There must have been something chilling about the way the handsome young man had said that, because the designer seemed to realize he was swimming in water far deeper than he was comfortable with. “Well, then,” the man ingratiated, “can I at least take this garment from you?” He picked up the simple, battered cloak of forest green with its shocking yellow liner and almost had the thing yanked from his hands.

“No!” Torrant clutched the cloak to his chest and glared at the clothier as though the man had tried to steal a beloved pet for the stewpot. “No.” Torrant swallowed, tightly, and his eyes gleamed suspiciously for a moment before he gave a distraught smile. “My sister made it,” he said at last, glaring at the clothier. He hoped the hitch in his voice when he said “sister” hadn’t caught the man’s attention.

The man took the hint and bowed. “Of course. Now, if you’ll allow me, I’ll have a few items delivered before nightfall.” So Torrant could wear them to the Hall of Regents. Of course.

He nodded and bid the man good day.

When the door was closed, he sank to the oversized bed, clutching his old cloak to his chest, feeling his first round of shudders sweep him, from icy bowels to clammy palms. Sweet Dueant, brave Oueant, could he really do this?

He looked outside and saw the dark spring shadows had barely moved from the moment he’d ridden under those cursed gates, and the small bit of food he’d eaten when the clothier had been there congealed in his stomach. His face flushed under his shivers, and he fought the urge to vomit. With deep, steadying breaths and purposeful movements, he reached for the one thing at this point that could calm him down.

Cradling his lute in his lap, and being careful to preserve his voice so he could sound strong and sure later, he deliberately wrote a song of longing. He inscribed the words in painfully neat letters on the parchment, being mindful never to use his beloved’s name. Still it whispered through the air, through his new, uncomfortable clothes and the sumptuous, ridiculous room. When he heard the clock at the square ring the half hour, the name followed him, until he was afraid he would stand before the regents, decked out in bravura and fraud, and it would scream from his skin, making the one giant lie of his name irrelevant.

Yarri.

He wore her name like a flag on his heart as he strode across the marble archway from the apartments to the hall. He could hear the whispers as he went, coating him with lies he hoped would be stronger than his belief at the moment, and he bore his head high and his chest out as though his boots were weighted with truth.

The sea of young regents, some of them not much older than he’d been when he’d gone away to university, parted for him like two separate armoires of fanciful velveteen clothes and extravagant feathers, and he pretended not to notice the startled gasps, the stares, and the wide-eyed, childlike wonder at his presence. All of it was glamour; it would help when the time came.

The hall itself was vast. His first thought was that there were relatively few outer rooms around the great hall, and his second thought was that the building didn’t look this big from the outside.

His third thought, random and irrelevant, was that he could get heartily sick of teal-colored velvet and mahogany wood, both of which were plentiful around the inside of the hall. By the time his eyes sought out the small antechamber separated by a waist-high, wooden partition from the semicircle of chairs and desks that wrapped partially around the consort’s dais, he had the fanciful notion that he and Aldam should start making teal labels for the toxic medicines in their surgery. This particular shade would warn any inquisitive child, he thought with wide-eyed distaste.

Then he was in the antechamber, presenting his borrowed name sotto voce to the record keeper with the scroll and quill pen, who was so shocked he knocked over his inkwell and stared nakedly at the young man with the dark chestnut hair and the hazel eyes. The young man’s sardonic smile let him know his disapproval had been acknowledged.

And then he waited for his turn to speak, fully aware of the wildfire sweeping the room, his borrowed name dancing in the flames. To calm his nerves, he paid attention to the man who was speaking, and that sardonic smile at his quirkily beautiful lips deepened. How perfect.

“I’m telling you they were ready for us,” the man was saying desperately. “There was a battalion of trained soldiers outside of the school, and one of the Goddess’s own beasts with the warriors on the front lawn!”

“And I’m telling you it’s impossible!” snarled the squat, scarred man to the left of the consort’s seat. “Eiran has no army, Cleant only cares about farming, and Otham has no interest in our business. Now tell me, since your superior officers seem to have all deserted, did you at least rid us of the sorcerer army being trained at Triannon?”

The soldier suddenly looked troubled. “They were children,” he said after a moment. “I think you must be mistaken, sir. They were children, and they got away.”

“They were sorcerers,” spat what looked to be the secretary general, only to be interrupted smoothly by the thin, aesthetic-featured man with the salt-and-pepper hair and full mustache, sitting on the consort’s throne.

“I’m sure they looked like children,” he said softly, understandingly, with a condescending smile. “We all know that the Great Whore is deceptive. Now, resume your narrative, young man. How did they get away again?”

Oh, Torrant couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity if he’d scripted it. Pushing through the swinging door at the antechamber, he walked swiftly toward the soldier at the podium, and spoke with a carrying voice trained by years of singing by the fireside.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Torrant said, smiling that hard smile and meeting the eyes of the secretary general and the king consort with a fierce and dreadful joy. They moved with underwater slowness, staring at him in shock, and the smile only deepened. “I can tell you how those children got away from an entire company of soldiers descending on a school of healers and poets. My cousin and I evacuated those children out the back entrance while twenty-five men in our local militia died to protect us. Those ‘warriors’ that this man speaks of were beardless boys, defending their home with the help of a couple of aging professors who had never drawn blood in combat in their lives.”

The collective gasp of one hundred and fifty regents, as well as assorted registrars, secretaries, and retinue, sucked the air right out of the room, but now that he had spoken, now that his boiling fury was vented for the people who should be flayed with it until they bled, his own anxiety was forgotten.

“Who are you?” asked the secretary general when he had recovered his tongue.

His eyes on the pale shock of the king consort himself, Torrant Shadow replied, “I’m the person you two have been trying to kill for the last twelve years,” he lied with just the right amount of nonchalance. “I’m Ellyot Moon.”





HIS OLDEST son (by ten minutes at most), truly named Ellyot Moon, had always loved this part as a child, but as he aged into adulthood, it troubled him.

He stood now, his arm around his tiny wife, looking at his father with an undisguised compassion. For his entire life, his father had never pretended, not even to tell him pleasant lies as a child. The cat never ran away; it died. His da was never a hero; he was simply a healer. There was no happiness guaranteed; it was always on loan, because Joy could never stay in one place for long.

The only exceptions to the truth, ever, had been his “uncles,” Aylan and Aldam, and the fact that they were uncles had not been a lie so much as it had been a fact made true by force of will.

That truth—as well as the reason Aylan had kept the battered, ripped, and blood-crusted cloak in his closet, long after the thing had become too stiff for use—had taken several Beltanes to figure out.

But beyond these subtleties, his father was everything he said he was: as average a man as he was average in height.

Except that he wasn’t. It was his very truth that made him extraordinary, and this extraordinary truth made his lie, the one terrible lie of taking Ellyot Moon’s name, such an enormity of sin.



















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