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Authors: Anne Kelleher Bush

The Misbegotten King

BOOK: The Misbegotten King
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IN A TRAITOR’S HANDS

Annandale looked up from the low pile of blankets on which Abelard lay. In the weeks of captivity since their arrival, there
had been no change in his condition. The King’s eyes were closed, as usual, his breathing was shallow. The skin sagged from
his cheekbones, and beneath the ragged garments he wore, his body was little more than bones and sinew covered with a leathery
husk. She could feel his mind, however, and the never-ending torment in which he existed as his body and the last vestiges
of his will fought Amanander’s enchantment, and she did what she could to ease the misery. But her attempts were futile; nothing
short of her own death could wrest Abelard from Amanander’s control, and she knew that even were she to make such a sacrifice,
the King would only die.

A wave of loathing swept over her, nausea so acute she felt as though she might vomit.
Hold fast, daughter.
The voice whispered through her mind, like a scent of roses in the midst of offal. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the
voice. Hold fast? she wondered. For how long?

* * *

“ENGAGING AND POWERFUL.”

—VOYA

ALSO BY ANNE KELLEHER BUSH

Daughter of Prophecy

Children of Enchantment

P
UBLISHED BY
W
ARNER BOOKS

Copyright

WARNER BOOKS EDITION

Copyright © 1997 by Anne Kelleher Bush

All rights reserved.

Aspect® is a registered trademark of Warner Books, Inc.

Warner Books, Inc.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: October 2009

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2668-6

For Juilene Osborne-McKnight,

Christine Whittemore Papa and

Lorraine Stanton with love.

Some things can’t be said with words.

Acknowledgements

Once again, special thanks are due to special people—Beal,Ms. Daae, EmeraldAngel, HappyAngel, Shadowheart, Jemimah, Jackdotcalm,
Skiperino, Vixen, Esua, Synkie, Isolde, Leaslyric, Dragonspawn, Precious too, Wildfire Di, and Picmaker—you all know who you
are. Also, my long-suffering children, Katie, Jamie, Meg, and Libby, who have learned not to mind quite so much, Kathy Tomaszewski,
who kept me on track, Don Maass and Betsy Mitchell for patience beyond belief, and finally, to Donny, who worked a bit of
real magic on New Year’s Eve.

Prologue

T
he warriors of my people believe that words are only sounds which fall and fade into empty air, the weapons of the weak. I
thought so, too, once. But I am old now, and I know better. For warriors die, in battle or in their beds, and only in the
tales the Keepers tell do their deeds survive.

When I was young, my days were taken up with sword and bow, with lance and battle-ax and quarter-stave-weapons I wielded better
than most boys. And for the other girls—the soft ones who spent their days learning to spin and sew, to cook and weave—and
for the men and women we call the Keepers, those with wordskill, I had only scorn.

Did I know then, wild and unschooled child that I was, that in language there is more power than in all the weapons of men
combined? Who could have convinced me, Deirdre M’Callaster, rebellious daughter of the Chief of all the Chiefs of the Settle
Islands? I cared more for my father’s title than any story men might tell of me.

It wasn’t until
he
came to me, months after she had died—the woman who was his wife, the woman who should have been his Queen—that I began to
understand.

He came, proud King of a prouder line than mine, and on his knees, his eyes empty of everything but grief, to me he poured
out his pain. What choice did I have but to listen? I, too, had sworn to uphold the kingdom and the King unto death, and there
was about his mouth the drawn, pinched look I have seen on the faces of the dying.

I tightened my fists and forced my face smooth, and I listened while the man I loved gave me the story of his passion for
a woman as different from myself as sword from sheath. He had come to fulfill the bargain we had made between us, for he was
a man of honor who always kept his word.

He had come to father me a son, but he could not—not in those long grief-haunted nights, when the only fire which burned between
us was the one within the grate, the only wine which flowed were the flagons he drained one after another, until I thought
my cellars would be emptied. And certainly not in those gray, rain-shrouded days, when he lay upon my bed, fully dressed,
and slept, clutching my pillow to his chest like a little boy.

It was a full two weeks or more when the torrent of words finally ceased. He looked at me across the hearth, and for the first
time, he seemed to remember who I was and why he was there. “I’ve talked all this time,” he said.

I nodded, saying nothing. How could I answer the loss of a love so true, so deep?

“I’m sorry, Deirdre.” He shook his head like a man waking suddenly from sleep. “I didn’t mean to talk so much—I don’t know
what came over me.”

I held up my hand. “The Tell is a sacred thing among my people, not given lightly. It is never refused.”

“The Tell?” he frowned.

“Among my people, after someone dies, and one feels the need, it is the custom to go to one of those with word-skill, those
we call the Keepers, and tell the story of that person’s life. We call it the Tell. It is a sacred thing, for it is three
times blessed—it honors the one who hears it, and the one who speaks it, as well as the one who died.”

“You listened to all this—because you had to?”

“No.” I glanced into the flames. “I am only a warrior, you know that. I was not trained to listen and remember. But when you
came to me, you began to talk, and I could not refuse you.”

He rocked back, drawing his knees up to his chin, and wrapped his arms around his legs. He rested his chin on his knees, and
he looked no more than a child of ten or twelve. “You’ve never refused me anything, have you?”

In the firelight his eyes were darker than the ashes beneath the grate, and very steady, and I had to swallow hard in order
to answer. “You are my King. As you reminded me once, there is an oath which binds us.”

“An oath,” he repeated. “And a bargain.” He reached for me then, across the space that separated us, and this time, when he
wrapped his arms around me and drew me close, there was nothing of the child in his touch.

Contents

In a Traitor’s Hands

Also By Anne Kelleher Bush

Copyright

Acknowledgements

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Epilogue

Chapter One

Prill, 77th Year in the Reign of the Ridenau Kings
2749 Muten Old Calendar

I
t was the blood which Deirdre noticed first, the dark, liver-colored streaks which had dribbled down the face of the granite
rock by the roadside and congealed in a muddy ditch into a thick, fly-speckled mess. The sight of it wrested her out of her
mental rehearsal of the leave-taking speech she was planning to give her companions as soon as she found an opportune moment.

The warm, damp wind rustled the heap of rags lying on top of the rock, and all her instincts, honed by six years of ruling
the most contentious men in Meriga, told her there was a body under the tattered fabric.

She reined her horse back and motioned to the tall man on her left who wore the insignia of the King’s Guard on his olive
drab tunic. “We’d better halt, Captain. I think there’s a body on that rock.”

Clearly startled, Brand raised his hand at once, and further down the line the sergeant of the company bellowed the order.
Deirdre swung out of the saddle and handed her reins over to the bewildered standard bearer. “Careful with him, boy. He catches
the smell of blood, he’s likely to get skittish.”

She ignored the standard bearer’s nervous reply. Her
boots clicked across the smooth paved surface of the ancient highway, and the breeze lifted the few wisps of red-brown hair
which had escaped the heavy coils of her braids. She adjusted her sword belt, and automatically felt for her dagger. The damp
wind shifted, and over the hurrying clatter of Brand’s following footfalls, she heard the horses whinny nervously as they
caught the carrion stench.

BOOK: The Misbegotten King
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