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Authors: Elaine Isaak

The Eunuch's Heir

BOOK: The Eunuch's Heir
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THE
EUNUCH’S HEIR
ELAINE ISAAK

For my sister, Michelle;
we found common ground in the realms of fantasy

Contents

Prologue

“HOW COME the Goddess didn’t touch me, Alyn?” Princess Melody…

Chapter 1

IN THE darkest valley beneath the foot of the castle,…

Chapter 2

TAKING DEEP breaths, Wolfram huddled atop the altar in the…

Chapter 3

DRAINED AT last, Wolfram found his way back to his…

Chapter 4

BRIANNA GAZED at Fionvar across the little table in the…

Chapter 5

LYSSA KNELT on the floor of her little chapel, carefully…

Chapter 6

“STEADY THERE,” Fionvar said, placing a guiding hand on Dylan’s…

Chapter 7

WOLFRAM RAN a nervous hand through his hair. Five months…

Chapter 8

THE FOREMAN did more than give him tools. When he…

Chapter 9

MELODY LED the way down to the stable door and…

Chapter 10

HER BODY immense with child, Asenith leaned against the wall,…

Chapter 11

WHEN THEY finally touched the stone jetty at Khuran, the…

Chapter 12

THE JOLTING of the elephant as it maneuvered sideways awoke…

Chapter 13

WOLFRAM AWOKE in the light of a new dawn, almost…

Chapter 14

APPARENTLY GRATIFIED by their reactions, Faedre rose. “There are a…

Chapter 15

DARKNESS HAD fallen before they returned to the palace, and…

Chapter 16

WOLFRAM WAS searched and prodded, and shoved into some dark…

Chapter 17

IN LYSSA’S chamber alongside the women’s quarter, servants slathered Wolfram’s…

Chapter 18

WHEN WOLFRAM emerged, Melody sprang up from a seat against…

Chapter 19

SUNLIGHT TOOK a long time to reach Wolfram’s little corner,…

Chapter 20

WOLFRAM FOLLOWED Esfandiyar through a workshop full of busy servants,…

Chapter 21

THE NIGHT before they reached port, Wolfram felt well enough…

Chapter 22

THEY SLOWED their pace after some time, and Wolfram began…

Chapter 23

LYSSA SLOWED Fenervon to a canter as they approached the…

Chapter 24

A SHARP pain yanked Wolfram from the edge of darkness.

Chapter 25

DARKNESS. THE scent of Lyssa hovering over him—she had…

Chapter 26

WOLFRAM JERKED awake, the scent of the tiger strong in…

Chapter 27

WOLFRAM’S NEW room was on the ground floor—no more…

Chapter 28

FOR A long time, Deishima stared.

Chapter 29

THE NEXT day, standing as straight as he could before…

Chapter 30

FIONVAR AND Lyssa exchanged a look. “This is the princess’s…

Chapter 31

WHEN THE door closed, Wolfram sank back to the rug.

Chapter 32

SHORTLY AFTER a dinner tray had been brought to him,…

Chapter 33

WATCHING THE proceedings from his chair by the throne, Fionvar…

Chapter 34

FOR THREE days, Wolfram feared to leave his room. He…

Chapter 35

BENEATH THE veil, a scarlet band of silk wrapped Deishima’s…

Chapter 36

WITH WOLFRAM wondering at his heels, Fionvar led the way…

Chapter 37

IN THE darkness, Fionvar made his way to the temple.

Chapter 38

WAKING LATE, and feeling fuzzy-headed, Wolfram decided to pay some…

Chapter 39

ALL THAT day, Wolfram sat in his room tying knots.

Chapter 40

PAUSING TO light a sixth candle at the Cave of…

Chapter 41

A CHAIN about a foot long joined Wolfram’s wrists, while…

Chapter 42

BARELY KEEPING herself to a walk, Lyssa fled the courtroom.

Chapter 43

LEANING BACK against the altar in the tiny chapel, Fionvar…

Chapter 44

CRAMPED AND shivering, Wolfram roused to a sound outside the…

Chapter 45

HIS HANDS tucked between his knees, Wolfram huddled against the…

Chapter 46

EMERGING THROUGH the little door by the temple, Fionvar felt…

Chapter 47

THE THREE crouched on their hill, searching the milling mass…

Chapter 48

HEARING THE commotion, Wolfram froze, expecting to hear someone coming…

Chapter 49

BLOOD WELLED between them, and still Wolfram held Melody to…

Chapter 50

LYSSA STOOD over Ghiva’s body, the bloody sword raised above…

Chapter 51

RELUCTANTLY LEAVING Deishima in the hands of the healers, Wolfram…

Chapter 52

THE NOBLES in the Great Hall fell silent at Wolfram’s…

Chapter 53

AFTER THE pain awoke him, Fionvar lay for a long…

Epilogue

WOLFRAM AND Deishima wed at midsummer, needing a celebration after…

Year 1236 since the Second Walking
A courtyard, castle of the
Kingdom of Lochalyn

“HOW COME
the Goddess didn’t touch me, Alyn?” Princess Melody demanded, scowling as fiercely as a six]-year-old could.

Her brother gazed back at her with that unsettling hint of knowledge, but what he said was, “I don’t know.”

Prince Wolfram rolled his eyes at both of them. He saw them maybe a couple of times a year, and they were always having the same argument. “Let’s play a game,” Wolfram suggested, bouncing up from his bench.

“I don’t want to play, I want the Goddess to touch me.” Melody crossed her arms more sharply.

“I’m not sure we should play right now. We haven’t got our play clothes on,” Alyn pointed out, smoothing his silk tabard, blue for Name Day.

“You want to just sit here? It could be hours before they call us for dinner!” Wolfram waved his arms at the courtyard. Alyn and Melody’s nurse sat not far off, picking at a bit of embroidery while his own great-grandmother, Duchess Elyn, propped her hands on her cane reading a scroll with a squint that narrowed her eyes even more.

“Alyn could ask the Goddess to tell us.”

“That’s not funny, Melody. The Goddess is very serious. And what She tells me is really important.” Then Alyn’s voice fell. “Even if I can’t figure it out all the time.”

Wolfram grinned. He stalked toward Melody and poked her lightly in the arm. “Touch! I’m the Goddess.”

Melody shrieked with laughter, then pounced after him. “No, I’m the Goddess!”

Dodging away, Wolfram ran across the courtyard.

“Children,” said Duchess Elyn in a warning tone, not lifting her eyes.

“That’s not funny!” Alyn howled, but Melody caught up with Wolfram and slapped his back.

“Touch! I’m the Goddess!”

Both of them laughed, and the chase began again, Melody scooping up her skirts in both hands as she fled. But she couldn’t resist glancing back, taunting, “Can’t catch me, can’t catch me!”

“Melody, watch—” but Wolfram called too late, as Melody sprawled headlong over a loose cobblestone.

She wailed, and the nurse threw down her stitching to hurry over. “Are you hurt, Your Highness?” She gathered the girl into her arms, cooing and wiping away locks of dark hair and the tears that tracked Melody’s face. Her cheek, chin, and nose oozed blood through nasty scrapes, and Wolfram winced in sympathy.

“Are you all right, Melody?”

“Don’t you talk to her,” Alyn said. He pushed his way between them. “That was a bad game, and you shouldn’t have been playing it.”

“It was just for fun,” Wolfram protested.

“You started it. You’re a bad boy, Wolfram.” Alyn’s bright eyes widened, and he seemed to stare through Wolfram and their surroundings as if he could see inside them. “There’s darkness all around you, Wolfram, Prince of Lochalyn,” he said. “The altar is falling, and even the sun goes dark. There’s blood upon your hands.” Alyn’s own hands rose slowly.

“What’s this?” Duchess Elyn stalked nearer, her cane clicking.

“Hush,” said the nurse, “Prince Alyn is speaking for Her.”

“Blood and dying and darkness, the ground shakes with it. The stars cannot be seen, and a foulness corrupts the Lady’s way.”

Wolfram’s entire body trembled, but he couldn’t look away or stop up his ears. Alyn almost glowed before him, his pale skin and golden curls alight. Wolfram thought that beams of light might shoot out from his fingertips. He’d never seen Alyn having a vision before. It felt like the Lady Herself stared back at him from Alyn’s vacant eyes, and he wanted to drop to his knees and cry.

“The darkness moves through you. It wants to live in you.
It knows your heart.
” Alyn gasped, and his arms fell. He gave a tremendous shake and gulped a few breaths of air. Wolfram, too, was gasping.

“Sit down, Your Highness,” the nurse urged, patting the ground beside her.

“She showed me…” Alyn blinked, frowned, and finally focused on Wolfram’s face. “I can feel the danger in you. You’re evil, aren’t you? That’s why it’s dark and bloody.” He took a step back, and his sister whimpered.

Still fighting tears, Wolfram balled his hands into fists. “I am not evil. You take that back.”

But Alyn kept shaking his head. “There’s blood on your hands, Wolfram.”

His hands felt sticky and damp. Quickly, he glanced down, his lips trembling. Nothing was there. “Take it back!” Wolfram jumped toward Alyn, about to snatch him by the tabard. He stumbled, and they both fell in a heap, tumbling together. “Take it back, Alyn!”

Melody shrieked again, and the nurse called out, then a hand grabbed Wolfram’s tunic and hauled him upward, carrying him away from the twins and dropping him on his unsteady feet. “You leave them alone, Wolfram,” Duchess Elyn
hissed. “You were raised better than this. You respect your betters, and you respect the Lady.”

“I didn’t do anything! He called me evil.” At the other side of the yard, the nurse cuddled Melody and Alyn close in her embrace.

Rising away from him, his great-grandmother glared. She hefted her cane, and Wolfram tried to spring out of the way. He caught the blow across his bottom, and pain exploded through him. Wolfram wailed, tears streaming down his face as his hands flew to protect himself. He dared not turn his back on her again and edged away toward the door.

“Go on, run away. Don’t try to tell anyone about this, boy.” Elyn waved the cane at him. “I’ll give you what you really deserve.”

At that, Wolfram did run, his feet pounding the floor all the way to the room where his mother must be. He slipped between the guards and pushed inside, then froze. The room, lined with benches, must hold a hundred people staring at his mother on her throne, but they turned when the door popped open. Seeing him, some of them sighed, some laughed or smiled as they returned their attention to the front. Wolfram clamped his mouth shut so hard that his head ached. His hands hurt from being clenched, and if he pulled them a little tighter still, he could drown out the pain in his bottom. His mother glanced up from the supplicant before her, her crown sparkling, her face creased briefly in a frown.

Then a man rose up from his lower chair, his green tunic fluttering. Fionvar DuNormand, his mother’s Lord Protector. Fionvar gave the queen a short bow and came swiftly down the steps of the dais, one hand clapped to his sword to keep it from swinging. His chain of office clinked upon his chest.

At Wolfram’s back, the door opened more gently, and a guard’s voice murmured, “Forgive me, my lord, he came up so quick. I’ll take him—”

“No need,” said Fionvar. He dropped to one knee, his eyes searching Wolfram’s face. “What’s happened, Your Highness?”

Wolfram’s lips twisted, and his eyes were burning. If he
opened his mouth, he’d start wailing again, and he knew it. But Fionvar did not wait for an answer. He scooped up the prince in one strong arm and carried him back through the doors, Wolfram’s small arms wrapping instinctively around his neck. As they walked, Wolfram blubbered out the story of the game and Alyn’s words. Fionvar took him to a bench in the sun and sat down, letting the sword hang free while he stroked the prince’s back.

“It doesn’t mean anything, Your Highness. Nothing at all. Prince Alyn is just a child like you. Do you know everything the Goddess has planned?”

Wolfram shook his head slightly, Fionvar’s chain pressing into his forehead.

“No one does, Your Highness. Not even Alyn.”

“What’s happened?” Wolfram’s mother stood suddenly before them, and Wolfram watched her from one eye, tightening his grip on Fionvar’s tunic.

“They were playing in the courtyard and Prince Alyn started prophesying again.”

The queen’s eyes flared. “Prince Alyn had a vision? About Wolfram?”

Fionvar shook his head, his hair brushing against Wolfram’s cheek and fingers, soft and dark. “Just a load of nonsense, Brianna. The boy sees things, but he doesn’t know what they mean. His parents ought to teach him not to open his mouth until he understands what he’s saying.”

“He’ll learn,” she said, patting Wolfram’s head. “What did he say?”

“It’s nothing,” Fionvar repeated.

Wolfram raised his head, his mother’s hand warming him and his tears drying at last. “He said I was evil. He could see a falling altar and darkness and blood. He said even the sun went dark because of me.”

His mother’s hand froze, then lifted away. “I’m sure it’s nothing.” She swallowed and took a step back. “Nothing at all. I should go.”

“Brianna,” Fionvar called, but she gave a tiny smile, and a nod, and walked away.

“Mama?”

Fionvar’s sigh ruffled Wolfram’s hair. “She’s very busy, Your Highness. I’m sure you’ll see her later.”

“You’re busy, too,” Wolfram said. He could see that Fionvar wanted to deny it, but the man gave another sigh instead.

“I should be, yes. I’m sorry.”

Wolfram slid down from his lap, wincing as the impact of the floor sent shivers of pain from his bottom. “But I’m not evil, right?”

“Of course not,” Fionvar told him, his hand lingering on the prince’s shoulder. “Will you be all right, Your Highness?”

Wolfram nodded. His bottom still hurt, and his head throbbed from crying, but he wasn’t supposed to go into court, and they all knew it. “I’ll just stay in the sun a little while.” He tried to smile. “Then I’ll see if Dylan can play instead.”

“I’ll fetch you for supper. Won’t be long.” Fionvar bowed and smiled.

Wolfram waved as Fionvar walked back down the hall, then he lay on his belly on the bench, arms folded under his chin, letting the sun from the tall windows warm him. Fionvar’s warmth lingered for a while, too, and that felt good. He was not evil, and Alyn didn’t know what he was talking about.

Outside, a dark cloud ate away the sun, plunging Wolfram into the cold of a dim corridor, and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to be afraid. Clouds covered the sun all the time, it didn’t mean anything. His head pounded, and his bottom throbbed with any movement. He wished that Fionvar would come back and find him, but he lay there alone and hurting as the bench grew cold and the sun was hidden in shadow.

BOOK: The Eunuch's Heir
10.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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