Sorcerous Moons – Book 1
By Jeffe Kennedy
An Unquiet Heart
Alone in her tower, Princess Oria has spent too long studying her people’s barbarian enemies, the Destrye—and neglected the search for calm that will control her magic and release her to society. Her restlessness makes meditation hopeless and her fragility renders human companionship unbearable. Oria is near giving up. Then the Destrye attack, and her people’s lives depend on her handling of their prince…
A Fight Without Hope
When the cornered Destrye decided to strike back, Lonen never thought he’d live through the battle, let alone demand justice as a conqueror. And yet he must keep up his guard against the sorceress who speaks for the city. Oria’s people are devious, her claims of ignorance absurd. The frank honesty her eyes promise could be just one more layer of deception.
A Savage Bargain
Fighting for time and trust, Oria and Lonen have one final sacrifice to choose… before an even greater threat consumes them all.
Available at Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Smashwords on July 19, 2016
Buy links will be added to the website once available
~ Chapter 1 excerpt ~
Oria squinted into the heat shimmer rising in the distance beyond the high walls of the city. Maybe if she looked long and hard enough, the weapons of the clashing armies would give off a telltale glitter or the shouts of the men would echo back. But, even though her high tower gave her one of the longest views in Bára, she remained blind and deaf, stuck in her chambers, remote from the battle underway.
Just as she’d lived most of her life isolated from the rest of the world.
Despite the lack of other evidence of war, the hot wind seemed to carry an unfamiliar smell to her rooftop garden. Layered among the scents of sand, the brackish bay, and distant ocean came something new. Something like roasting meat, redolent of rage, despair, and determination. An unsettling combination unlike anything she’d ever experienced. But until this, no one had attempted to attack Bára in her lifetime. Not for a long time before that either, according to the histories.
She paced the gilded balcony as Chuffta, perched on the rail, watched her without moving, green eyes sliding back and forth as if he were watching a xola match.
“You realize you walk much and get nowhere,” he said in her head.
“Yes, yes—the story of my life,” she snapped at her Familiar. “Besides, it’s not as if I need to conserve my energy just to hide in my rooms while the city falls.”
“Bára will not fall,” Queen Rhianna said in a mild tone. Her nimble fingers never faltered as they wove seven needles threaded with different colors in an intricate embroidery, a casually powerful exhibition of her magical skill, her the golden metal mask that covered her face without eye holes demonstrating her ability to see in other ways. “It has not these many years and there’s no reason to believe it will now. Don’t put attention on a result you do not want. You know better than to articulate such thoughts, lest they manifest in truth.”
Oria frowned at her mother. “I don’t know any such thing, but let’s try it out. Everything is fine! The Destrye army has vanished into thin air and we’re no longer under attack.”
Queen Rhianna sighed, leaking the barest hint of exasperation through her carefully cultivated calm. “Your casual attitude toward powerful forces beyond your ken will be your undoing, daughter. You should know better than that, too, by now.”
“If they’re beyond my ken, how can I respect them?” she grumbled.
“You’ve never met a Destrye and you fear them, so your logic is faulty,” Chuffta pointed out.
She did—and fear of their ancient barbarian enemy drove her to rudeness, as Chuffta obliquely noted. Sometimes her Familiar’s wisdom grated on her. Okay, a lot of the time, but he offered sincere advice and helped her when no one else could. True growth is uncomfortable, even painful, the temple taught. She made herself stop and stroke the winged lizard’s soft white scales between his eyes. “You’re right. I apologize, to both of you,” she added to her mother.
“What is Chuffta right about?” her mother asked.
“That I’m afraid of the Destrye without knowing any, so my logic is bad. Though there are plenty of stories and illustrations to inform that opinion.” Oria’s longtime morbid fascination with the warrior race that shared their continent had led her to ignore the texts she was meant to study in order to linger over the vivid drawings of the Destrye with their big bodies, darkly gnarled hair, black-furred garments, eyes wild in their cruel faces. So unlike the Bárans.
“As there are similarly many stories, diagrams, demonstrations, and lessons on how magic works,” her mother was saying in a placid yet pointed tone. “You may not yet have access to all of the temple’s knowledge, but you know the basic laws. If you paid as much attention to those as to the gory histories, you might be making more progress than you are.”
“Yes, but they never really explain anything. Like ‘you’ll understand hwil only when you master hwil.’ How in Sgatha is that remotely helpful?”
“Some things may only be understood through experience. You know that we would tell you if it could be put into words.”
Oria did know that, not that it helped. “None of this has anything to do with my original question. How can you sit and sew not knowing what’s going on out there?” She flung an impotent hand at the desert beyond the city walls.
Her mother raised her featureless mask toward Oria. “Is pacing about like a wild thing giving you information on how the battle goes?”
“Maybe not, but it makes me feel better than sitting still does.”
“I know it’s difficult for you now, but once you master hwil, all will become clear. You’ll understand that there’s infinite motion in stillness, and you’ll be able to channel the energy that makes you so restless into its intended purpose. You will find great relief in channeling your sgath to the common pool And, following that, you can begin to seek your perfect partner and perhaps find a temple-blessed marriage. Once connected to him, you will be able to express your magic to its greatest extent, as Sgatha intended.”
Oria turned to stare into the distance again, choking back her impatience. Queen Rhianna, like the other sorcerers and sorceresses of Bára who wore the masks of their office, exemplified hwil, the art of peacefulness under duress. Sgath only flows through a calm mind, Oria’s teachers explained again and again. Though they never said it out loud, in the last years their featureless golden masks seemed to hold disapproval—and the resignation of those who’d given up on her.
Oria could never sit through a full meditation session. Her body unfailingly thrummed with restlessness to get up, to do something. Her mind dashed from thought to thought, like the jewelbirds in the garden, pausing in its mad flight only to hover over the worry that she’d never find the key, never qualify to receive a mask of her own. Never realize her mother’s patient hopes.
If course, the possibility that she ever would grew less likely with each passing day since she’d never even glimpsed this perfect state of hwil where all became clear. Of them all, only her mother remained confident that she could.
Would it be so terrible if she didn’t, beyond disappointing her mother’s unshakeable belief? Her three brothers had all passed the final testing, each possessing enough power and control to succeed their father, needing only marriages to solidify their positions as heirs. They’d all taken their masks before they were twenty—including her baby brother Yar the year before, a prodigy at sixteen—while Oria trailed miserably far behind, facing her twenty-second birthday within weeks.
Truly, the blow to her pride rankled. And in her secret heart, more than a little unbecoming jealousy, nursed all those years as her brothers practiced the showy battle magics below her tower, so she could at least watch. They’d meant to entertain her, not deepen her envy.
Oh, her teachers could go on about how the male grien magic was easier to learn; that it burgeoned in young men, pushing up from the ground below Bára like the sap in the trees in springtime. How they only had to practice restraint, focus, and release, and that such things came naturally to men, while women’s magic worked in the reverse. Instead of exploding outward, sgath drew in and received.
Thus the emphasis on meditation, calmness, and peacefulness. A woman should be like a serene lake, always refilling from those deep wells, so she could nurture with her magic. The sacred blessing of creation belonged to women, a divine obligation that provided Bára and her sister cities with the blessing of fruits, greens, and grains in the desert.
In the most exalted partnership, a sgath sorceress and a grien sorcerer married with temple blessing, their magics complementing and enhancing each other in a perfectly balanced flow. She to receive and grow magical energy, he to focus and release it. For this reason, the temple frowned on same-sex partnerships as not ideal, though they weren’t strictly forbidden. Many settled for lesser marriages, not temple-blessed, and every person regardless of gender possessed some sgath and some grien, in different measures. Even the purest and strongest sgath carried a seed of grien, just as their parent moons, Sgatha and Grienon, waxed and waned, one around the other’s orbit. Diligent study led a sorcerer or sorceress to develop his or her best self, all the better to serve Bára.
And that best self would be reflected in a temple-blessed marriage, such as her parents enjoyed. An ideal none of Oria’s brothers had yet achieved. Something she could be first in, if only she could find a way to be still long enough to grasp the essence of hwil.
As the partnered sorceresses of the city did their half of the work of defense, the halcyon shimmer of women’s magic pooled below Oria’s tower, radiating from their stations on the walls, flowing out like a reverse bore tide. Queen Rhianna would have been with them if she hadn’t elected to keep her daughter company. As it was, between the immense power of her sgath and her temple-blessed marriage with the king, she could be anywhere and feed him magic, a constant vital flow Oria sensed but could no more access than she could the battle taking place leagues away.
Thus it remained the sorceresses’ job to stay within the protective circle of Bára while the men went forth to battle the Destrye with their powerful grien, fueled by sgath.
“This system has worked for centuries,” Chuffta told her. “In this way the cities have survived many onslaughts.”
“Like you’ve been around for any more of them than I have,” Oria retorted in a dry tone, but scratched Chuffta’s wing joints where he couldn’t easily reach them. He arched his neck, purring as she relieved an itch.
Her mother had no trouble following that thought. “Chuffta may be young, as you are, but the derkesthai have stood by and advised many a queen and princess of our line while our armies fought in the distance. I know you’d fret less if you could be directing your energy to feeding power to our sorcerers, but your time will come. The women in our family are like—”
“Like the fruit that ripens in the dry season, long after the rains have passed,” Oria chimed along with the familiar adage. “I know, I know. Unless they don’t bloom at all.” Like her various aunts, exiled to live in other walled cities, far from the temple and the source of all magic.
Queen Rhianna tilted her face up, as if looking at her daughter, though she wouldn’t be literally. The smooth golden mask of the sorceress gazed at her with eyeless serenity. “Or all the more powerful for the slow ripening. I would not have made the journey to invite Chuffta to be your Familiar and guide for when you take your mask unless I believed you would find your magic. Nor would you be able to hear him if you were mind-dead.”
“Nor would I have agreed to put up with you for any other reason,” Chuffta teased in his dry mind-voice.
“I know you love me. You think I’m charming, brilliant—and funny.” She stroked the winged lizard’s softly scaled hide, always soothing with its sueded texture. Of all her fears, the possibility of losing Chuffta worried her most. They’d been together since her seventh birthday. He was the greatest gift she’d ever received. If she failed to take her mask, he’d have no reason to stay with her. She could deal with a life without being a sorceress, even with a mind-dead half-marriage without magical completion—though what an unhappy life that would be—but living without the rustle of Chuffta’s thoughts in her head? A desolate prospect, indeed.
“What people believe becomes real.” Chuffta echoed her mother’s advice.
If only it were that easy. Like a jewelbird going to the wrong blossoms, Oria’s thoughts seemed to forever return to the worst-case scenario. The dreadful potential outcomes of any situation filled her head far more readily than any other. Unbidden, they sprang to life in her mind. So much so that she diligently hid the extent of them from Chuffta, her teachers, and especially her mother. A woman’s sgath magic could turn toxic, undermining as easily as it nurtured. If they knew how poisonous her thoughts could be, they’d stop training her altogether. The techniques they taught were far too potent to chance in irresponsible hands.
Another warning repeated far too often for comfort.
It all came down to this: She must learn to calm and quiet her mind. To be like her mother and live serenely behind the mask of a priestess, with no desire to pace in restless agitation, only happy thoughts running through her mind, not dread of the future.
Focusing on positive images, she determinedly rehearsed them in her head. The Destrye would go back to their sterile and magicless land. The battle would be won, perhaps so soundly that the fierce warrior people would never come after hers again. Bára would be safe and her father would peacefully hold his throne for many joyful years to come. Her brothers would continue the elaborate courtship and testing rituals to find their ideal wives among the priestesses of the temple, which she wanted for them with all her heart. (Never mind that little corner blackened with jealousy—she’d excise it.) Focus on the result you want. And she, herself, a paragon of peaceful maturity with vast powers of concentration, would find her hwil and receive her mask. Somewhere out there, her perfect match awaited, too. Perhaps she already knew him, and he only needed her to grow just a bit more so they could join in a blissful, eternal union.
A fine hope. Though more unlikely with every passing day. Especially with the Destrye attacking.
“When will they send news?” she muttered at the horizon.
This time, no one answered her.
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.
Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of and the third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books will follow in this world, beginning with The Pages of the Mind May 2016. A fifth series, the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, started with Going Under, and was followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.
She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.