Authors: E.M. Sinclair
Tags: #epic, #fantasy, #adventure, #dragons, #magical
(Circles Of Light -
Copyright 2006 by E.M.
In Memory Of
For John and Ben, with
Cover Painting - ‘Kija’
by Bethan Town-Jones
Cover Design by David
Gossamer Tewk stalked
through the litter and vermin infested alleys towards the docks of
Kelshan. She was in a foul mood. She knew she no longer slept –
she’d been murdered eleven years previously and while the curse
laid on her meant she had an odd sort of existence, she no longer
required sleep. She rested at times, sort of thinned for a while,
but sleep? No. So how could she dream? Twice now a woman had –
infiltrated her mind. Aah, that was better than the idea that she
could be dreaming. Gossamer didn’t recognise the woman personally
but she knew who she was from Seola’s description. The woman was
the First Daughter, and Gossamer was fairly sure Seola ranked high
in the service of the First Daughter. As far as Gossamer was aware,
Seola hadn’t been in Kelshan for a couple of years.
Gossamer had been a
highly skilled courtesan and collector of sensitive information.
She emerged from an alley onto a paved wharf side and snorted. All
right then, she’d been a clever whore and a good spy. She’d made an
excellent living because she was smart enough to use the
information she gathered to the very best effect. But that
information concerned merchant guilds, trading contracts, and high
business deals. The First Daughter ruled the Dark Realm far to the
south. Gossamer Tewk was fairly certain business affairs in Kelshan
would be of scant interest to anyone in the Dark Realm let alone
First Daughter Lerran herself.
She scowled out across
the dark waters of the harbour, noting the faintest glimmer which
presaged the sun rising behind her. She moved back towards the
alleys and made her way through the tenements and shanties of the
Oyster District until, as the sky brightened above her, she reached
the slightly cleaner area of the Artisan Quarter. Perhaps the woman
appeared in her mind to alert her of Seola’s imminent appearance in
Kelshan? Gossamer quickened her pace until she reached her
It was a modest
building, set in grounds once well ordered but now an overgrown
wilderness. After her murder an enterprising group of petty thieves
had moved in, but they moved out equally swiftly and the rumour
spread that the property was haunted. A narrow path wound between
tangled bushes, kept clear as if with use, giving rise to much
speculation among the neighbours. Did ghosts truly dwell within the
house, or was it a regular camping stop for vagabonds and
The clink of metal on
metal sounded as Gossamer entered the house and went through a
narrow passage to the kitchen. She glanced around the empty
‘Drengle, stop playing
the fool. Where are you?’
The clinking noise came
again. Gossamer moved out of the kitchen and peered up the stairs
to a landing still gloomy with night shadows.
‘Drengle,’ she repeated
in an ominously patient tone.
A shaven head appeared,
followed by a gangly body holding a length of chain between its
‘What are you
The figure trotted down
the stairs holding the chain out towards her.
‘I thought the chain
rattling would give people a real fright.’
revealing blue-stained teeth, filed to points. Gossamer rolled her
‘You only need to show
yourself Drengle List – that scares people well enough.’
She went back to the
kitchen and Drengle clanked behind her.
‘Have you seen Seola
around the city?’ she asked, perching on the table.
Drengle frowned and
Gossamer cautioned herself to patience as his thought processes
ground into action.
‘That fierce woman from
the Dark Realm?’ he eventually asked.
‘She scared me she
did,’ Drengle confided.
‘Drengle, Seola is
alive, you are not. How can she, or anyone else, scare
There was another
prolonged pause. ‘Don’t know but she certainly does. And no, I
haven’t seen her. Would have told you if I had wouldn’t I?’ He gave
her a reproachful look and Gossamer wondered yet again how this
idiot had come to share her house.
‘How does she get here
anyway?’ The chain jangled as he waved a hand. ‘I mean no one
travels to the Dark Realm do they, and that Seola woman’s the only
person who I’ve ever met who claims to come from there. They’ve no
ambassadors here, nor traders.’
Gossamer had often
wondered exactly the same thing herself but wasn’t about to admit
that to Drengle List. She chose not to answer that
‘Well, if you see her
anywhere, tell me,’ she instructed him.
Drengle looked alarmed.
‘I’m not going out for a few days. Maybe more. Want to work on my
He left the kitchen and
Gossamer heard him thumping and clanking back up the stairs,
muttering to himself. She left her perch on the table and wandered
to the window. Perhaps there’d be some gossip at the Citadel. She’d
seen Seola there several times before. Gossamer looked down at
herself: her shirt was definitely grubby. She held out her hands
and studied them. Perhaps a visit to Snail the Embalmer might be a
good idea before she tried sneaking around inside the
She went to her room
and sorted through clothes she rarely wore these days. After
dithering between a skirt or trousers she settled on dark trousers
and a lighter shirt. She stuffed them into a pack, adding two
daggers as an afterthought. Her favourite knife was already at her
belt but she liked the idea of a couple more discreetly hidden
about her person. There were no mirrors in Gossamer’s house. She’d
found it too depressing to watch her body’s deterioration over the
months. Without her regular visits to dear Snail, she shuddered to
think what an eleven-year-dead face might look like staring back at
The Citadel rose high
above the town and harbour of Kelshan. It had been a stronghold
since the area was first settled millennia past. The Imperial State
of Kelshan also ruled over a confederacy of smaller regions – city
states and minor clan holdings and princedoms. The present ruler of
the Imperium was Veranta, a woman held in awe by most of her
subjects, and in increasing fear by her advisors and
Her father, the
Imperitor Jarvos, had ruled benevolently for many years before
taking to wife a woman from one of the poorest clan holdings.
Corela’s sudden rise to such a lofty status had gone to her head
and she had quickly become heartily loathed by courtiers and
subjects alike. Within a year of the marriage a daughter was born:
Veranta. But the years passed with no more children and eventually
Corela fled back to her clan holding amid much bitterness. She had
spread rumours of the Imperitor’s impotence as the cause of her
barrenness when in truth she had refused him her bed for the ten
years since Veranta’s birth.
Jarvos took a second
wife: Tia, the daughter of one of the wealthiest courtiers in
Kelshan. Tia miscarried soon after the marriage and then gave birth
to a healthy son, the very image of Jarvos. When Tia died soon
after the boy’s first name day, Jarvos declined further pressure to
Despite her decade
superiority and undisputed position as heir to the Imperium,
Veranta was viciously jealous of this new half brother Jemin.
Before she learned to hide her loathing her father, the nursery
staff and tutors realised separation was the only solution. So
whilst Veranta strutted and bullied her way in the Citadel in
Kelshan, Jemin was moved with his own household a few leagues
inland to the Eagle Mountains.
When Veranta was
twenty-nine years old her father died and she assumed the mantle of
Imperatrix of Kelshan and its Confederacies. That same year she
gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Mellia who was now
a timid, mousy fourteen-year old. Veranta at Mellia’s age was
already working her way through all the men within her reach and no
name had ever been put forward as Mellia’s father.
The half brother,
Jemin, had apparently vanished at the time of Veranta’s accession.
When he failed to appear at the ceremonies, whispers and gossip
said he had died in a hunting accident, a rock fall, of a mountain
ague. Very softly it was murmured that Veranta had sent assassins
after the hated Jemin. But a few more astute observers noted that
Jemin’s maternal grandparents did not go into mourning, and they
drew their conclusions accordingly. Veranta’s behaviour towards her
father’s second wife had been appalling, both in private and in
public although she was clever enough never to let Jarvos witness
such scenes. The few brave souls who spoke up in Tia’s defence and
caused Jarvos to send his son away after Tia’s death, were not
forgotten all those years later when Veranta came to power: all met
But this particular
morning, as Gossamer Tewk made her way to the Embalmer Snail,
Veranta was already in her study in the Citadel. She stood staring
at a great map, framed and hanging on the wall opposite the door.
It had been there since her father’s time – long before that for
all she knew. It was a map of the whole continent of which Kelshan
ruled the entire central area from coast to coast. To the north
lived the bands of the wild clans, vast empty reaches of grasslands
right up to the narrow isthmus which linked the southern continent
to the northern lands of Drogoya. A line of red ink bordered the
northernmost region, a warning that beyond lay the lands of magic
wielders, liars, slavers, evil itself.
To the south of the
Kelshan Confederacies a wider line of black ink stretched through
the middle of a range of mountains. The mountains may have provided
barrier enough but the black line represented the edge of the Dark
Realm. Even less was known of that Realm than was known of Drogoya.
Myths, fireside tales of monsters and of people twisted in mind and
body ruled over by a strange queen, was all that was recorded of
the Dark Realm. But there were histories of invasion by Drogoyans,
the last being led by Sedka two millennia past, and thoroughly
rebuffed by the wild clans. Veranta had studied the old documents
and concluded it would be prudent to ignore Drogoya for now. But
the Dark Realm – that was another matter.
Veranta turned her back
on the map and sat behind her desk. Flipping through stacks of
papers she eventually found the pages she sought: deployment of
troops. She began to scribble notes on a blank sheet. By the time
footsteps outside her door heralded the arrival of Waxin Pule,
chief (and eldest) advisor to the Imperium Council, she had
rearranged those deployments to her satisfaction. Pule wheezed to a
halt just within the door and bowed. Veranta nodded
acknowledgement, waving him to a chair.
‘What do you know of
the Dark Realm?’ she asked abruptly.
Waxin Pule stared at
the Imperatrix. ‘Only that it has always been a place to avoid, my
‘Because of the monsters and a mysterious queen?’
‘The queen is always
referred to as First Daughter, my lady.’
‘First Daughter to
Pule combed his fingers
through his sparse beard. ‘It was claimed in all the tales I have
ever heard of that place, that this queen is the First Daughter of
the Dark Goddess herself.’
‘Surely you’re not
going to admit to a belief in gods and goddesses my dear Pule? Or
the idea that they produce offspring?’ Veranta leaned back in her
chair, thin lips curved into a smile but her eyes hard as shiny
From the day of her
accession Veranta had done her utmost to root out the unhealthy
beliefs held by the majority of the citizens of Kelshan. The
abolition of magic and religion, except as controlled by her, would
leave the world a far better place in her opinion. She’d left the
minor temples to cater for the simplest of her people – farmers,
fishermen, peasants and labourers – temples with small specific
areas of influence. But the worship of Sky, Earth, or Light, Wind,
Fire, or Dark was now a capital crime against the Imperium. She was
amused to watch old Waxin Pule, outwardly calm but his racing
thoughts almost visible beneath his forehead.