Danger closes on every side,
And the world awaits a legendary hero…
Just when Alannys thought she had earned a little peace at the Great Palace, Lord Malrec and his Dark Alliance stormed Dorramon’s coronation and declared war on the new king. She’s known for a while that Dorramon has some bad news for her, but she’s unprepared for just how bad.
But it’s the midnight attempt on her life that spurs her to action–Ravanmark is imploding around her, and she can’t just sit and watch it happen.
She knows she caused it, after all.
And what of the prophesied savior, the legendary Redeemer? Time is growing short, and the songs of the Redeemer have yet to be found. Alannys will have to take her fight for Ravanmark’s future across the country on her own, while Lord Malrec continues his work on the magical device that will enable him to safely hold her prisoner, and use her as a weapon to destroy the king she loves.
Join Alannys and her friends again as they continue their epic fight for the kingdom of Ravanmark–because sometimes ‘happily ever after’ has to wait.
Fireworks lit up the nighttime sky, casting colors like glittering confetti over the Great Palace. In the Outer Ward, people drank in the streets, and shouted, and celebrated like no one had seen since the Queen Mother’s wedding thirty years ago.
In the Inner Ward, things were a bit more orderly. An enormous congratulatory line snaked through the ward, up the middle of the Great Hall, and on the royal dais to the throne of the new King Dorramon. People waited in this line for hours, smiling and chatting, to approach the throne and kiss the royal signet ring. It was a once-in-a-lifetime affair, happy but solemn, heavy with the weight of tradition and responsibility. The Great Hall overflowed with people, from the nobility and the courtiers in their fine, flowing garments and jewels, to the peasants from the Outer Ward in the best their shabby wardrobes had to offer. It was a spectacle like none of them had seen before, or would see again.
Alannys watched the proceedings from a place of honor on the dais, beside the throne. She knew she was hopelessly out of place there—what could a failed middle school music teacher have to offer the glittering assemblage around her? Beside her, in the royal throne, sat the very King of Ravanmark himself, under his regal purple cloak and golden crown. And on the other side of the throne stood Queen Mother Farrine, an imposing presence in her own right, her withering gaze commanding the unquestioning respect of every person in the hall.
Alannys shifted her weight to her other foot, her hand creeping to Songstrike’s ornate, aged bronze handle. Just touching the sword seemed to give her courage—it hummed in the back of her mind, singing calming melodies with words she could almost hear. She knew people weren’t used to seeing women wearing gowns and swords, but she couldn’t care much about it, while Songstrike crooned to her. Dorramon had brought her the gown himself, and told her to wear Songstrike, and it was a good thing she had, with everything that had happened. She knew she had no place here…but Dorramon had asked her to come, had even commissioned her gown to match his coronation clothes—how could she have refused? It was, after all, an important occasion.
Alannys sighed, and shifted her weight back to the original foot. Important occasion, sure, but the display around her was ridiculous, especially with the serious issues facing Ravanmark. But it was also touching and humbling. Either way she looked at it, she could not change things, so she stood and tried to pay attention to the endless stream of subjects filing past the throne. Some of the people smiled and nodded at her, some of them scowled and looked away. Most paid her no attention at all, and that was perfectly fine with her.
Arch-Prince Raman stood next to her, looking as though he belonged there in a blue velvet doublet, with a golden circlet in his blond hair. In the shadows of the torchlight, the jagged scar down the left side of his face was less visible than usual, and Alannys realized, as if for the first time, that he was a ruggedly handsome man in his own right. “Lady Alannys,” he said quietly, favoring her with a sidelong glance that felt sharp, “are you well? You seem…twitchy.”
Alannys tightened her grip on Songstrike, and forced herself to hold still. “I’m fine. I think I just—have other things I need to do.”
Raman wasn’t looking at her sidelong now—he gaped at her in disbelief, or something that looked an awful lot like it. “Things to do? What things could be more important than this?”
“The songs,” she said, aware of the tremor in her voice but helpless to control it. “I have to find the songs.”
“Now? You have to find the songs of the Redeemer right now?”
Do any of you really believe this woman is the Redeemer? The person who will restore to Ravanmark its lost heritage and its Muses—this female, alien, creature? Only a few hours ago, Lord Malrec had called her out for a fraud—here, on this very dais—in front of the nobles and the people. She could still hear his voice, sharp and sneering, in her mind. She closed her eyes. How could she hope to make Raman hear what she heard, to make him feel what she felt when she heard it? How could she make him see the importance of the songs that would prove her at last—or disprove her?
Her eyes popped open. “I’m sorry, Raman. I have to find them, that’s all.” She broke abruptly out of the royal reception line, pushing past the startled peasants in front of her, and hopping down the red granite steps as fast as she could. Their murmurs did not bother her; she had already lingered here too long, and she expected most of them could see that.
“Alannys?” The voice was Dorramon’s. It rang behind her, confused and worried.
For just a moment she froze. But she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t turn to face him now or she would never leave. He of all people had to see why she had to go. She shouldered aside the next person in line, not even glancing at the woman’s face, and hurried toward the big double doors.
A grip of iron closed around her upper arm, jerking her backwards and spinning her around. “What in the Seven Hells do you think you are doing?” The growling voice rumbled in her ears, low and intense. She recognized it as Raman’s in the same instant she looked up to see him glowering down at her. He was clearly working hard to control himself, but his face was almost purple with rage.
“I—I told you,” she stammered, “I have to go.”
Raman gave her arm a shake so violent it rattled her teeth. She’d never seen him so angry—what had she done to provoke this? “Not that!” He winced and lowered his voice, hissing at her in his fury, determined that none should overhear. “Dorramon spoke to you. You can’t have missed it. Your king spoke to you.” He gave her another shake. “And you didn’t even acknowledge him! We’ve just had a disaster of a coronation. The Dark Alliance has openly declared war. The people are restless and afraid. And now every person in this room has seen you publicly snub the new king. Do you have any idea what you have done?”
The tension hung there, yawning and terrible, waiting to swallow her. She could feel the hundreds of eyes on her, the unnatural stillness of the room, Raman’s fingers grinding painfully into her arm as he awaited her answer. But most of all she could feel the shame, the horrible, burning guilt—because everything he had said was true.
Alannys jerked her arm free and strode back to the foot of the stairs. Her legs shook and her face was on fire, but she did her best to stand tall. People scattered before her, as though they found her fearsome—or maybe they didn’t want her scandal, her shame, to rub off on them.
She knelt to the floor, dropped herself in a heap there at the base of the steps. “My Lord King, I beg your forgiveness. I meant no insult—I forgot myself. Please, your Highness, I beseech you—forgive me.”
She was laying it on thick, and she knew it. Dorramon would not have needed—or wanted—such an apology from her. But Raman was right; she’d done damage here, and to fix it, she was going to have to be extreme.
“You have given no offense.” Dorramon’s voice surrounded everyone in the hall, soft and calm. “There are none here who have cause for complaint with our Redeemer. Rise now, and be on your way with our gratitude that you stayed with us this long.”
She clambered to her feet, tears burning at the backs of her eyes. He should have punished her, made an example of her—he must have known that. But he hadn’t the heart to do it—she could see the affection in the clear blue eyes looking back at her, could see that he would shield her with his position as long as he could. His expression was somber, his dark hair cutting a stark contrast to his pale face—Alannys knew he felt the gravity of the situation as well.
And as Raman grabbed hold of her arm again and hauled her out of the Great Hall, she found herself looking back at those eyes and wondering—how long could he keep that up?
How much would that affection cost him, in the end?