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Authors: Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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The Black King (Book 7)

BOOK: The Black King (Book 7)
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Information

 

 

 

 

THE FEY SERIES

in order:

 

 

Destiny: A Story of The Fey

 

The Sacrifice: The First Book of The Fey

The Changeling: The Second Book of The Fey

The Rival: The Third Book of The Fey

The Resistance: The Fourth Book of The Fey

Victory: The Fifth Book of The Fey

The Black Queen: The Sixth Book of The Fey

The Black King: The Seventh Book of The Fey

 

 

 

 

For my sister, Peg Hammer, who showed me that women can be strong, courageous, and feminine all at the same time.

 

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

 

Thanks on this book go to Anne Lesley Groell for her tremendous work on this project; Paul Higginbotham, and Jerry & Kathy Oltion for their perceptive comments; my husband, Dean Wesley Smith, for loving the world of the Fey sometimes more than I do; and to all the readers who’ve been writing me letters and telling what they enjoy about this world, and why.

 

 

 

 

THE RETURN

 

 

 

 

ONE

 

 

GIFT STOOD on the prow of the
Tashka
, his hands clasped behind his back, his feet spread slightly apart. He wore his hair longer than he ever had, and used a leather tie to hold it back. The sun and weather had darkened his skin, making it the same color as that of the Fey around him. His hands had calluses, his body more muscles. He had learned a lot on this trip, much of it about survival.

The Infrin Sea was choppy. A wind had come up, carrying with it a light mist. The skies were overcast, the air chill, but something in it smelled of home.

If he squinted, he could see Blue Isle ahead. At first its mountainous shore had looked like a gray shadow against the gray ocean, but as the ship drew closer, the shapes were becoming clearer.

The Stone Guardians protected the only natural harbor in Blue Isle. They were huge rocks, three times taller than most ships, staggered throughout the harbor and its entry way. The Guardians created unusual currents that changed with the tides and the weather. No ship had ever made it through the Guardians without guidance. For decades, Gift’s Islander father and grandfather kept Blue Isle isolated by destroying all the maps and getting rid of the people who watched the currents.

Now that Gift’s sister, Arianna, was Queen of Blue Isle, she had reopened the trade routes. Maps existed again, as did the on-land watchers. Navigators learned the patterns of the currents, and some Fey had even been trained in reading the waters.

He unclasped his hand and wiped his eyes. Soon his Gull Riders would return with news of the conditions near the Guardians. Then he would put his Sailors and Navigators into action.

His stomach was jumping. He was coming home after almost a decade away. He had traveled across the Fey Empire, and then he had gone to the Eccrasian Mountains to train as a Shaman. There he had touched the Black Throne and his life had changed.

He shuddered, remembering how the Throne had clung to him, how it had tried to absorb him, and the strength he had used, both mental and physical, to pull away. The Throne was a living thing, and it wanted to make him Black King. But his sister Arianna ruled the Fey.

Arianna was a good Black Queen, and an excellent Queen to Blue Isle. Except there was something wrong now. He had Seen it in Visions. Something was wrong with her. And no one would tell him what it was.

He took a few steps forward, as if that would bring him closer to the Stone Guardians. Once he had vowed not to return to Blue Isle until he became a Shaman. But he would never be a Shaman. A Shaman couldn’t practice with blood on his hands, and Gift hadn’t realized that, in his youth, he had accidentally killed a Wisp.

Now he didn’t know what he’d do if something was wrong with Arianna. He was the oldest, the one who should have taken the Throne, but he had renounced it. Arianna was the ruthless one, the one who had the willingness to make the hard decisions and the enemies that leadership required. He had always been the gentler of the two, the one less willing to take risks.

“Standing and squinting at the Isle won’t bring it any closer.”

Gift turned. Skya stood behind him, her black hair in its customary knot on the top of her head. The wind had pulled strands from it, whipping them about her narrow face. He had always thought that she looked like the perfect Fey: her features symmetrical and upswept, her chin so narrow that it looked almost pointed, her black eyes filled with life and intelligence. She was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen, and although he’d spent the last six months with her, he was still surprised at the depth of that beauty.

“Part of me wants to get there now, and part of me doesn’t want to return,” he said.

She didn’t answer him. She tried not to discuss what she called matters of state. But he sometimes saw that as her way of avoiding anything personal. “The Gull Riders are back.”

“I told them to report to me,” he said.

“They’re waiting in the hold.” She put a hand on his arm. Her touch was gentle. He put an arm around her and pulled her close. Her gaze met his and in it was a warning he ignored. He kissed her, slid his hands into her soft hair, pulling it free as he had done almost every night on this trip when she slipped into his stateroom after everyone else had gone to sleep. The kiss was long and deep and he didn’t care who saw it.

She did. She believed they did not belong together.

She had never told him that, not in so many words, but he knew. It was one of the few times he knew what she was thinking, and he had no way to reassure her.

Finally she pulled away. “Gift,” she whispered. “We can’t—”

“I thought you didn’t follow rules,” he said, placing his wet forehead against hers. The mist ran down their faces like tears.

“Only the rules I make myself.”

“You’ve made up rules about me?”

She smiled and slipped out of his grasp. “The Gull Riders are waiting.”

He sighed. “All right. Are you coming with me?”

She shook her head. “This is your ship, remember?”

There was a bit of rancor in that. He’d hired Skya to be his guide, to get him out of Ghitlas and to Nye. He had told her time was of the essence, and that he needed to be to Blue Isle within a month. She had laughed at him, and told him the best way was to go through Vion, and catch a ship out of Tashco on the Etanien continent, bypassing Galinas altogether. Her guidance had saved them months of travel. She was going to leave them in Tashco, but he persuaded her to come to Blue Isle, a place she had never been.

At that point, they hadn’t been lovers, but the possibility had been there. He liked to think she had made this trip for him, but she had never said that. He knew that her natural curiosity and distaste for rules might have been the thing that convinced her to come.

Also, having been to Blue Isle made her much more valuable as a guide. She needed as much experience as possible. The Fey were not known as natural guides. It wasn’t part of their magick. It wasn’t really part of Skya’s magick either, but that didn’t seem to matter. She was born with a Spell Warder’s talent—the ability to create spells for all types of magicks, which meant that she had a little bit of all of the magicks that existed among the Fey—but the Warders were also the most rule-bound of all the Fey. Such a job would have driven her crazy.

“It may be my ship,” he said, “but I can always use your advice.”

“I have no advice to give,” she said. “I’ll watch you maneuver through the Stone Guardians, but I’m still not sure they’re as dangerous as you say.”

He stared at her for a moment, measuring. She raised her eyebrows, then shrugged. “This is a new world for me, Gift.”

He nodded. Just as everything had been new for him in Vion and Etanien. She had been surprised at that. She had thought that the Heir to the Black Throne should have understood everything about the Empire. Now that he had traveled a lot, that concept made sense to him too. But Arianna had never been off Blue Isle. She had no idea that women went shirtless in half the Empire or that there were still slaves in rebellious regions like Co.

To Arianna, Blue Isle had been the entire world.

It felt strange to be back here. Sometimes he questioned his own motives in returning. Was he coming back to solve a problem he didn’t entirely understand? Or had the touch of the Black Throne done something more to him?

When he had wrenched his hand free of the Throne, it had emitted a white light that had triggered a series of Visions, Visions he could still see if he closed his eyes.

—His long-dead great-grandfather, sitting on the throne in Blue Isle, smiling at him—

—And his sister was standing before the Black Throne, looking at it with such longing that it frightened him. He wanted to warn her, to tell her to stand back, but he almost didn’t recognize her or the look on her face. He took a step toward her—

—He was in water, thrashing, an undertow pulling him down. Water filled his mouth, tasting of brine and salt. The old Fey in the boat—his great-grandfather again? Or someone who looked like him?—reached for Gift, but if Gift took his hand, the old man would die. And Gift didn’t want that. He didn’t want to cause someone else’s death—

—His sister, her face gone as if someone had draw it and then wiped it away, calling his name—

—His long-ago best friend, the man to whom he’d always be Bound, Coulter, kissing a Fey woman, kissing her, and then Gift grabbed him, pulled his head back, and put a knife to his throat. He had to—

—His sister, screaming—

—In the Places of Power, two Shaman stood at the door, preparing to find the Triangle of Might. He couldn’t stop them. He was trying, trying, but he didn’t have the strength—

“Gift?” Skya said.

“What?”

“You looked strange for a moment.”

“I always look strange.” He kissed her again, lightly, then headed toward the hold.

As he stepped into the large deck house, he nodded at one of the Nyeians braiding rope. This ship carried a larger crew than most ships, and it seemed as if most of the crew did nothing. But they were there for an emergency.

Gift had a cache of Weather Sprites to bring storms or to hold them back, five Navigators whose services he would probably need in a few moments, and a large group of Sailors to get him through the Guardians. Those were all magickal Fey. Then there were the Tashil and Nyeian crew who actually tacked the sails and swabbed the decks, and did all the necessary manual labor. They had carried the bulk of the work on this trip.

The Bird Riders he had with him were also necessary for long ocean voyages. Most of the Riders he had were Gull Riders, although he had a few Hawk Riders for their strength and a few scattered Bird Riders from Sparrows to Pigeons to Robins who had come to him from various places on Etanien, all carrying messages from Seger.

Seger was a Healer who had served Gift’s Fey great-grandfather, whom Gift’s Islander father had eventually defeated in battle fifteen years before. Seger had proven loyal to Gift and his family by saving the life of Sebastian, a golem that Gift considered to be his real brother.

Now Seger served as Arianna’s Healer and sometimes advisor. The fact that Seger had sent for Gift—and by more than one messenger—told him that things were very bad indeed.

BOOK: The Black King (Book 7)
6.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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