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The Forests of Dru

The Forests of Dru, January 2017
Sorcerous Moons #4
by Jeffe Kennedy

Author Self-Published
180 pages
ISBN: B01NATI8EE
EAN: 2940157409784
Kindle: B01NATI8EE
e-Book
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"Marriage of political convenience brings fantastical love"

Fresh Fiction Review

The Forests of Dru
Jeffe Kennedy

Reviewed by Make Kay
Posted February 27, 2017

Fantasy

THE FORESTS OF DRU is book 4 in The Sorcerous Moons fantasy series by author Jeffe Kennedy. This is a series best appreciated by reading in order. The first three books did the heavy lifting in terms of world building, but now we get to see what life is like in Dru, Lonen's kingdom. Dru is more of a barbarian sort of society, more agrarian than the rigid magical culture of Bára.

Lonen is hereditary king of the Destrye now that his father and several brothers were killed in the Destryen attack on Bára in book 1. Oria was a princess of Bára, now titular queen of the Destrye after her precipitous political marriage to Lonen. As a sorceress, Oria is cut off from the wellspring of her power now that she is no longer in a Báran city. Oria and Lonen had to flee Bára after an unsuccessful bid for rule, and now have to face Lonen's brothers at home, who think that Oria has ensorcelled and enslaved Lonen.

There is more introspection in THE FORESTS OF DRU, as Lonen struggles with his feeling of inadequacy for leadership and Oria grapples with how to survive when her connection to the life-supporting magic is severed. I approve of how the couple takes turns supporting the other- this is becoming a marriage in more than name, and it's just beautiful to see.

I also adore how Lonen is learning how to work around Oria's inability to tolerate direct skin-to-skin contact, due to her magical susceptibility to others' life energies. His creative bedplay is quite arousing! Having Oria unable to consummate her marriage (yet, I presume!) has made this a slow burn romance, which is very titillating.

I'm excited to hear that there will probably be several more books in this series. The characters keep evolving and maturing, and I love not only who they were but also who they are becoming. Both Oria and Lonen have many fine qualities, and I love how they are turning so much effort to helping each other and to helping their two kingdoms. They have their foibles as well, which makes them fully fleshed out and realized characters, all the more engrossing for their imperfections. Brava to Kennedy for another fine addition to this wonderful fantasy series, THE FORESTS OF DRU is all that I would hope for Lonen and Oria's initial time in Lonen's kingdom.

Learn more about The Forests of Dru

SUMMARY

An Enemy Land

Once Princess Oria spun wicked daydreams from the legends of sorceresses kidnapped by the barbarian Destrye. Now, though she’s come willingly, she finds herself in a mirror of the old tales: the king’s foreign trophy of war, starved of magic, surrounded by snowy forest and hostile strangers. But this place has secrets, too—and Oria must learn them quickly if she is to survive.

A Treacherous Court

Instead of the refuge he sought, King Lonen finds his homeland desperate and angry, simmering with distrust of his wife. With open challenge to his rule, he knows he and Oria—the warrior wounded and weak, the sorceress wrung dry of power—must somehow make a display of might. And despite the desire that threatens to undo them both, he still cannot so much as brush her skin.

A Fight for the Future

With war looming and nowhere left to run, Lonen and Oria must use every intrigue and instinct they can devise: to plumb Dru’s mysteries, to protect their peop

Excerpt

“We won the war and this is still the best the king’s table can command?”

olan poked at the meat with a sour scowl, and Arnon clapped him on the shoulder. “Not much of a homecoming, huh? You could have brought us game from the far forests and done better.”

“I brought the King of the Destrye instead.” Nolan shrugged him off. “That seemed more useful at the time.”

Lonen, that selfsame King of the Destrye, didn’t adjust his position to ease his aching side, lest his brother misinterpret that as a sign of discomfort with the topic of conversation. Nor did he miss the sidelong glance from Nolan that suggested he might be reconsidering Lonen’s inherent usefulness. Not that Lonen could argue much otherwise. Being laid up in bed recuperating for more than a week didn’t lend itself to high-profile—or even marginally effective—rule. Nevertheless, some remnant of his youthful self cringed, wishing he could do something to earn his older brother’s approval rather than his scorn.

Mostly, though, he longed to be back in that bed, under the furs with Oria, sharing her warmth, basking in the surety that she slept beside him. To be there when the strange dreams woke her.

Oria hadn’t wanted him to be up and about yet, but Nolan— believed lost in battle, now miraculously returned and restless with unsatisfied expectations—had decided he’d waited long enough for explanations. Rather than risk having Nolan barge into his bedchamber and interrogate Oria, Lonen had conceded to the lesser of the evils and gotten himself to this private dinner with his two remaining brothers. The last three of Archimago’s line, sadly diminished in robustness of every kind.

But three was one more than they’d thought they had.

That had to be a good thing. A blessing from Arill herself. Somehow, though, under the sharp scrutiny of Nolan’s piercing blue stare, Lonen nursed a few doubts.

He gave in and shifted, easing the pinch in his gut. The infection no longer poisoned him, but the massive tissue damage had yet to replace itself—however much ever would— despite Oria’s foolhardy attempt to give her life to heal him. That side of his body sagged inward, as if part of him had been carved out.

Which, come to think of it, it pretty much had.

With a grimace for that, he forced himself to finish the slice of stringy roast on his plate, then picked up his warmed wine and drank, hoping to mute some of the ache.

“It’s not good for you to be upright in a chair like this,” Arnon said, frowning at him. “I can see it pains you.”

“Father would say a warrior can suffer far more than a bit of pain, especially in the service of Dru,” Nolan replied, gaze never wavering from Lonen. “He would have expected his successor to be sitting the throne and handling the pressing issues of the Destrye, not lying abed with a foreign mistress.”

“You mean Her Highness, Oria, Queen of the Destrye?” Lonen didn’t raise his voice, but his tone carried all the iron resolve of his battle-axe. Enough that Nolan sat back slightly, a hint of surprise flickering through his eyes before they sharpened again. That’s right. I am not the same little brother you knew before the war. He might not be ruling impressively, but neither was he a pushover. Not anymore.

“She is Báran,” Nolan said flatly, tempting Lonen to remark on his brother’s powers of observation. But this was no time for levity. This conversation had been a long time coming and Nolan clearly intended to have it out now. So be it—and Arill hold him in her hand for this battle.

“I’m fully aware of that, Nolan, as I met her in Bára, where she is in fact, a princess and should be queen of her people by her own right.”

“What exactly happened there?” Arnon put in, full of curiosity. “What?” He gave Nolan’s frown a scowl of his own. “You’re not the only one who’s been sitting on questions while Lonen concentrated on not dying,” he added pointedly. “You’ve dragged him out of bed for this, so we might as well get the whole story.”

“I’m not interested in this Báran princess’s story,” Nolan snapped. “What I want is to break this foul spell she’s employed to ensorcell our brother and king. We needed to get him away from her devious influence if we’re to have a hope of that. Stories can wait.”

“I am not ensorcelled.”

“She’s a witch, Lonen—you know this.”

“A sorceress, actually.” Surreptitiously, Lonen scanned the shadows near the ceiling. Sure enough, the emerald gleam of Chuffta’s eyes shone back from a high perch, his iridescent white body stretched into a low profile along the upper curve of a ceiling beam. Oria had sent her Familiar to spy on the conversation, even though Lonen had asked her to keep her friend and guardian close. He didn’t like her to be alone. Not after what had happened to her without his protection when they’d arrived in Dru.

“You call it a pine, I call it an evergreen,” Nolan replied. “It’s the same Arill-cursed tree.”

Lonen regarded his brother calmly. One benefit of battling hordes of golems, running out of water in the desert, and countless other ways he’d nearly died horrifically—it had become abundantly clear to him that arguments over minor details like semantics paled significantly as anything to get excited about. He’d have thought Nolan would have learned that lesson, too, during his trials and journeys.

“Trees are sacred to Arill,” Arnon put in, ever the pedant, “so it’s not technically correct to call it an ‘Arill-cursed’ tree.”

Nolan turned on Arnon with a snarl, proving that temperance had not been one of the lessons he’d learned. Ironic, as Nolan had been the dreamer and thinker before the Golem Wars. Whereas Lonen, solidly third in line for a throne he’d thought he’d never have to sit, had been the irresponsible, playful one their father had despaired of teaching discipline to. Perhaps tragedy and the horrors of war worked to change people. Fire tempered some weapons to greater strength and destroyed others.

“Queen Oria is a sorceress, yes,” Lonen said before his brothers could come to blows. “She wields powerful magic, but she does so with heart and conscience.” He eyed Chuffta in the shadows, certain her spy would be faithfully relaying the conversation, and chose his words carefully for both audiences. “Instead of staying in Bára as their queen, Her Highness married me and journeyed here at great risk to herself, sacrificing her own throne out of a sense of responsibility to the Destrye, in order to help us.” And to keep a personal vow to him, but that should remain exactly that—personal. He held her promises to him close to his heart, treasuring them alongside her confession that she loved him. Precious gifts from a prickly and dangerous woman. They did not need to be scrutinized by others.

Particularly those who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—understand what lay between him and the foreign bride who’d brought a bright face to the terrible magics wreaked in the wars, and light into his own darkened heart. She might have made the difference in him becoming the tempered weapon, rather than the warped one.

Nolan sighed heavily. Pushing his plate aside and leaning elbows on the table, he laced his fingers together except for the index fingers, which he pointed at Lonen. “Your obvious sentiment aside, let’s discuss the legality of this marriage.”

“It’s a legal marriage, Nolan.”

He waved that off. “Only according to Báran law, which is not ours. We do not recognize it.”

“I recognize it, and I was there.” The onerous ritual had nearly knocked him unconscious and had left Oria in a dead faint. The magic connection hummed between them, Oria a warm flame inside him. The only time since their marriage that he hadn’t felt it was when they’d been separated, both near death. Something he never intended to endure again—and something else he wouldn’t attempt to explain. Before he’d experienced it for himself, he wouldn’t have understood it either. Nolan opened his mouth and Lonen held up a hand. “A moot point anyway, as I intend to rectify any lingering legal qualms by marrying Oria in Arill’s Temple, just as soon as we can both stand upright for the entire ceremony.” And dance afterwards, he promised himself. Oria would see how a wedding—and wedding night—should be properly celebrated.

He flicked a glance at Chuffta, hoping Oria had gotten that particular message. She could be stubborn, but he’d have his way in this.

“Well, let’s discuss that,” Nolan said.

“No.”

Nolan made an impatient sound. “I want you to hear me out on this.”

“No.”

“There is no need for you to marry her, Lonen! Keep her as a trophy of war, if you must. Our warriors have a history of that. It’s somewhat outdated, but the tradition is an old and stirring one that celebrates Destrye victory. We can play it to the people that way and they’ll see you as all the stronger and more vital for it. Don’t ask them to accept a foreigner—the enemy!— as their queen. There’s no reason to do so and it makes you look weak. Your people deserve a Destrye woman as their queen.”

Lonen shrugged. “They won’t get one.”

“Can she even quicken with your seed? We have no way of knowing if Destrye can breed with her kind. She could leave you without heirs.”

“There are Ion’s sons, if so.”

“It’s one thing for that to be a last resort, another for you to go in knowing she won’t give you heirs.” “What man knows such things for certain when he marries?”

“What about Natly?”

Lonen tightened his jaw. “She’s irrelevant to this conversation.”

“Hardly. She waited for you to return, believing the two of you to be engaged. She could still be your queen.”

At Nolan’s suggestion, Arnon dropped his face into his hands. He and Lonen had spoken about Natly before, with Arnon arguing strongly against Natly as an appropriate queen.

“It seems to me,” Lonen said slowly, measuring Nolan, “that you, yourself, rejected Natly as a suitable queen.” His elder brother had the grace to wince. “Yes, well. It need not be Natly, but—”

“It’s a moot point. I’ve made vows and I intend to keep them. Would our people want a king who breaks his vows?”

“You mean like your betrothal to Natly?” Nolan shot back.

Lonen clenched his teeth against returning the bite. “I never promised. She assumed.”

“Perhaps you are becoming the politician, parsing terms and dividing rope fibers.”

“Perhaps so,” Lonen returned, ignoring the sneer in Nolan’s voice. The accusation was a fair one. “But I am king. I realize I shouldn’t be. Arill knows our father died too young and this crown should be his.” Lonen waved a hand at the wreath of hammered metal leaves he’d worn to the dinner. He didn’t much care for it, and he’d worn it mainly as a reminder of his authority to his elder brother. At least it was light, even if he felt vaguely like an imposter wearing the thing. “Ion should have lived to succeed him, as we all believed he would. And yes, Nolan—you should have been king in his stead. Would have been, had we but known you lived.”

Nolan’s jaw flexed and he sat back, crossing his arms. “It wasn’t as if I had a way to send a message. It took us weeks to find our way out of those caverns. If not for the underground lake that cushioned our fall, we would have died of thirst.” He shook his head, a ghost of his old smile crossing his mouth behind the neat beard. “I tell you, it pissed me off mightily that I might die of drowning of all things.”

“What did you do for food?” Lonen asked.

“You haven’t gotten to hear this tale.” Arnon poured them all more wine, clearly cheered by the turn in conversation. “It deserves to be set down as an epic ballad of its own.”

“You tell it.” Nolan took his cup, staring into it. “I’m weary of it, myself.”

Arnon, who never met a topic that wearied him, grinned with enthusiasm. “So, there they were, Nolan and his regiment, on the north flank of the city. Fireballs hurtling through the air, golems everywhere, whirlwinds whipping through the center of the battlefield, while lightning forked overhead.”

Lonen adjusted his position, sitting back to enjoy his brother’s tale—and not bothering to point out that he’d been there, too. No sense interrupting the story’s rhythm. He kept an eye on Nolan, however, darkly brooding over his wine.

“Then crack!” Arnon slapped his hands together, making both of his brothers jump and grinning at it, Arill take him. “The ground shook and opened up. Nolan and his men raced away from the edges, but no man can outrun the earth itself. The ground disappeared beneath their feet, and they fell, plummeting to certain death.”

Nolan wiped a hand over his forehead and Lonen nearly called a halt to the story, but Nolan caught him looking and pierced him with a stare so challenging he knew it would only give insult. Instead he silently toasted his brother’s bravery. After a slight hesitation, Nolan dipped his chin.

Oblivious to the exchange, Arnon continued. “Our hero, Prince Nolan, managed to grab a handhold and cling to it, as did a few other men. But the ground continued to shake, crumbling beneath their hands, while horses, supplies, even golems rained around them. They fell, too, sending a prayer to Arill to guide their steps to the Hall of Warriors.”

“My prayer was nothing so coherent,” Nolan interrupted.

“Shut up, this is my tale now,” Arnon replied easily. He was doing this on purpose then. Telling the elaborate story to defuse tensions. Good on him. “But instead of waking in the Hall of Warriors, our hero plunged into icy water, cold and black as the sea. He drove for the surface, hampered by the rocks, men, horses, and supplies also teeming in the water.”

“Grim,” Lonen said, and Nolan raised his brows in acknowledgment of the observation. There. A bit of connection. Lonen would have to tell his brother the story of swimming through the bore tides of the Bay of Bára, carrying an unconscious Oria, nearly drowning all of them.

Or perhaps better not to.

“No light penetrated so deep in the earth,” Arnon described with ghoulish glee, “but Arill held our hero in her hand, guiding him to swim to an unseeable shore.”

“I mainly tried to swim away from flailing hooves and falling rocks,” Nolan pointed out acerbically.

“Do you want to tell the story after all?” Arnon rounded on him.

“No, no—you go ahead. Never mind the fact checking.”

“Thank you. Prince Nolan, chilled to the bone, exhausted and aching from the fall, at last dragged himself onto a dry shelf of stone. A few other men made it also, along with several horses—still with their packs, thank Arill.”

“How many men?” Lonen asked out of habit before he caught himself. “Never mind, it—”

“About three dozen survived the fall,” Nolan answered, gaze glittering. Out of a regiment of more than a thousand warriors. Horrifying indeed. Of course, they’d thought none had survived the chasm at all, so there was that. “Ten of those didn’t survive the first few hours, and we lost three more on the journey to Dru. I brought fewer than two dozen home.” Lonen closed his eyes and sent a prayer to Arill to fete the lost soldiers well in the Hall of Warriors—and to forgive him that he felt some relief at the smaller number of bodies to feed and keep warm through the winter.

“You’re jumping the story,” Arnon accused.

“Apologies, brother.” Nolan at least sounded less dour.

Arnon grunted, but continued. “Only three dozen men survived the fall,” he intoned, “and ten of those didn’t survive the first few hours.”

Lonen passed a hand over his mouth to hide his smile.

“In the blackness of the caves, they might have been lost had Prince Nolan not been an educated man, as well as an experienced woodsman and hunter. Discovering that a phosphorescent fungus grew on the rocks, he reasoned that, like the moss on trees in the forests of Dru, it might grow more densely on the north face, and he navigated accordingly.”

Lonen whistled, impressed, and Nolan refilled his goblet, shaking his head slightly, but not interrupting.

“As they continued, they discovered a well-worn passage. One that led more or less directly to Dru, and in fact emerged into a dry lake bed somewhat north of us.” Arnon waited, expression expectant.

The wine evaporated on his tongue and Lonen found himself sitting upright, the pain in his side a minor consideration. “Wait—an underground passage from Bára to Dru?”

Nolan gave him a long look. “At least to the region north of Dru, but it appears so.”

“That’s how their golems traveled here. And how they drained the lakes so quickly before we became aware, sending the water back to Bára.”

“The passage might have acted like an aqueduct, an underground river carrying water from our lakes to theirs until it had drained completely. They might have made others over however many years, with many routes to the surface, which would explain how the golems managed to pop up so unexpectedly and disappear again,” Arnon agreed.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” Lonen demanded. So many possibilities. How could they use this to their advantage? Of course, they’d thought the golems had been eliminated following the fall of Bára and that their major problem now lay in incursions by the even more deadly Trom, who needed no underground passages, instead flying in on their enormous dragons that scorched crops and Destrye alike. But he had nearly died under the fangs and claws of a band of golems he and Oria had encountered on their journey. “If we could—”

“Why didn’t we tell you?” Nolan interrupted in a tone as scathing as dragon fire. “There was the small problem of an enemy princess in your bed. She of the people who sent the cursed goblins. We could hardly discuss such sensitive matters in her hearing. Arill only knows what her plans are or what information she’d send back to—”

“Oria is a not a spy.” Lonen set his teeth against saying more. Steeled himself not to look up at her actual spy, concealed in the beams above.

“How do you know that?” Nolan demanded, angry and bewildered. “Think, man! You acknowledge she’s a powerful sorceress. She could easily work magics to cloud your mind. She could be here to finally and completely undermine Dru. What better way than to capture the attention—and, incredibly enough, the hand in marriage—of our king? How is it possible this has not occurred to you?”

“Because I know her,” he snapped. And he knew the many reasons she’d fought against him bringing her to Dru. Ones not at all politic to divulge. “I know what goes on in her heart and mind.”

Nolan threw up his hands. “No man knows what goes on in the heart and mind of a woman, and that’s if she’s Destrye and not a foul Báran sorceress.”

“Be mindful how you speak of your queen.”

“I have pledged that woman no fealty.”

“You will,” Lonen replied evenly, putting the weight of command behind it. “Or do you mean to challenge me as king?”

“And bring civil war to Dru, on top of everything else? Oh, that’s a grand idea.”

“Are you asking me to abdicate in your favor?”

Nolan’s face was perfectly neutral, an impenetrable mask. “Are you offering?”

“It’s been suggested that I should abdicate in favor of Ion’s son, Mago. His claim takes precedence, even over yours.”

“That was before the Trom attacked,” Arnon cautioned. “We discussed it as a peacetime proposition because we believed the war had ended—and because Salaya campaigned for it. I never thought it was a good idea, even if it might ease her widow’s grief, and would not support that measure now. We are as much at war as ever and Mago is too young to bear such a heavy responsibility. In times of war, a warrior must lead.”

“I am a warrior, and not too young.” Nolan gave them both long and pointed stares. If all had gone as it should, he would have been crowned king. It never should have been Lonen and they all knew it.

“By Destrye law, I became king the moment my father and older brothers died,” Lonen spoke slowly, feeling the weight of it himself. “I believed you dead and grieved your loss, brother, with never a thought that you might have survived.” Not exactly true, but the haunting terror that his brother might be trapped beneath the earth, broken, bleeding, and slowly dying without succor wasn’t worth plaguing them with. “I took the sword of the Destrye from my father’s dead hand. A hand that had been turned to jellied flesh by a monster so heinous it dropped my father and his heir with a touch, reducing every bone in their bodies to pulp. I had to wipe the hilt clean of unnameable substances just to keep my grip.”

He paused to gather himself, his brothers watching with ill-disguised horror.

“I didn’t want it, never sought to be king, but I took that responsibility,” Lonen told Nolan. “I assumed the weight of it over their dead bodies, as my heritage demanded I do, and I negotiated our truce with the Bárans.” He put down the wine goblet with a thump when Nolan opened his mouth. “It doesn’t matter that the truce was violated by some of their people. I did my best by the Destrye, as our father would have wanted. We came home to a decimated people, but I kept going. It was on me to find a way to save us and by Arill, I have tried.”

“You’ve done more than most men could have,” Arnon said. “The aqueducts. Planting the late crops. Rationing food and water. Planning for winter. Nolan, he nearly killed himself, and this after a long and exhausting campaign.”

“I don’t question any of that,” Nolan replied.

“But you question my competency now.”

“I think you should consider that you might be compromised.”

Silence fell among them, sharp-spined and treacherous to navigate.

“And you, Arnon—what do you think?” Lonen asked his younger brother.

“We don’t know her,” Arnon said quietly. “You ran off to Bára to demand answers, to hold this princess to her vow that they would observe the peace and no longer attack us, steal our water, burn our crops. I looked at that sword every cursed day and made myself consider that you would likely never return for it. Every time I made a decision in your name, I dreaded the day we’d reconcile ourselves to your death, and I’d have to hold the throne for Mago. If the Destrye survived long enough to for him to grow up.

“And then you returned—more than half-dead and apparently married to this Báran sorceress—who for all we know sent those attacks, who has swayed your heart and mind to the point that you snarl at us for asking the simplest of questions. We try to give you space to recover without her influence, and you barge into the ward for Arill’s Blessings—the women’s ward, even, where men are expressly forbidden to enter—you terrify our head healer, roar orders in all directions, install the sorceress in your bed, and refuse to admit anyone but a few servants. If not for them we’d wonder if the sorceress yet lived. You won’t even admit our healers to tend you, though you need it badly.”

“That was you who ordered Oria sent to that charity ward, who kept her from me?” Lonen gripped the arms of his chair, rather than strangle Arnon.

“We decided together,” Nolan said, jaw tight.

“You had no right to—”

“This is the first time since you’ve returned that we’ve been able to talk to you.” Arnon thumped a fist on the table in a rare show of frustrated temper. “What in Arill do you expect of us, Lonen?”

“I expect you to believe in and support me. If not because I’m your brother, then because I am your rightful king, whether any of us are happy about that situation or not.”

“It’s not that, Lonen, dammit.” Arnon raked his hands through his already messy brown curls. “If it were one of us, you would do the same. If you believed we’d been captured and controlled by a sorcerer—and up until recently, you agreed their magic was an abomination against Arill, too—then you would fight to help us also.”

“And I’m telling you that I am not controlled and I don’t need your help. Oria is here to help us, to protect us from the Trom. You’ll see.”

“See what?” Nolan spread his hands wide. “They’re gone and the damage has been done. You lost most of the unharvested crops. We have no nearby fresh water supplies for all these people hunkered down for the winter under the wings of Arill’s Temple. You’ve made little progress in shoring up what was supposed to be emergency construction and not long-term housing. And there’s no indication these ‘Trom’ and their ‘dragons’ will return. We have nothing left worth taking.”

“Any number of people can bear witness to what the Trom and their dragons did,” Lonen said. “Don’t try to make it sound like a child’s tale.”

“My point is that we have bigger problems than you dreaming up some implausible cause for your sorceress wife. If I were king, I—”

“But you’re not.” Lonen cut him off and Nolan’s piercing gaze flashed with anger before he directed it ferociously at his wine. Lonen choked back the temper and sighed. “We’re all stuck with me being king, like it or not.”

“There is legal precedent,” Nolan said, not looking up, but staring into his cup, “for a king to be deposed by another with an equivalent or more potent claim to the throne.”

“That civil war you mentioned?” Lonen tried to keep it light, but the implicit betrayal stung.

Nolan flicked a sharp glance at him. “Nothing so large scale or destructive. A duel would allow Arill to select her champion, according to the old ways.”

Arnon drew a sharp breath. “Lonen is barely out of his sickbed. He cannot duel with you, even if Arill’s priestesses agree to such an archaic ritual.”

“If you wanted me murdered, brother,” Lonen replied, holding Nolan’s gaze, “you would have done better to leave me at the spring. I could have died in peace and you would not have had to sully your hands with my blood.”

“I’ve thought back to that day.” Nolan’s eyes were dark. “And sometimes regretted my part in it. Particularly that I brought that viper of a sorceress here instead of leaving her there to fertilize the forest as I should have.”

“I would have killed you for abandoning her.”

“A dying man held no threat to me.”

“I’m not dying now.”

“And you may yet get the opportunity to try to kill me,” Nolan replied, with no apparent emotion. “Brothers—” Arnon began.

“I’ve had enough.” Lonen cut him off. He drained his mug and eased to his feet, no longer bothering to hide the wince of pain. “Such a heartening interlude this has been. So worth leaving my sickbed for.”

“Go back to her then,” Nolan called after him. “She is pretty enough to distract you for a while. But you have to get out of bed sometime.”

“Lonen.” Arnon caught up to him, expression earnest, eyes grave. “Let the healers tend you. Give us that much.”

“Not Talya,” he growled. If he saw the woman, he might strangle her.

Arnon held up his hands. “Fine. Not Talya. Who?”

A fine question. “Baeltya.”

“Isn’t she a junior healer?”

“Yes. And she tended me when I was but a junior prince. She has a good manner.” A quiet one that might not disturb Oria too greatly. “Send her.”

“I will.” Arnon gripped his shoulder. “We’re on your side, brother.”

“Then show it.” He shrugged out of Arnon’s grasp and strode away.

Alby, Lonen’s lieutenant, met him outside the doors. He made no comment, but stayed closer than usual. Perhaps he thought he needed to be ready to catch Lonen if he fell, which meant he must look nearly as bad as he felt. Lonen would not let himself fall, however. They walked slowly down the long hall, as Chuffta slipped in through a crack in the ceiling and winged his silent way ahead of them.


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