Mourn me but briefly. Then find your destiny, Lara, my love, my life. Now let me go
With those words, the spirit of Magnus Hauk, Dominus of Terah, departs his bodyleaving the fate of his nation to his wife, the half faerie Lara.
While Lara's son Prince Taj is well loved by the people of Terah, he is too young to rule, so Lara must obey Magnus's dying command and govern in his stead. Yet some in Terah still believe that a female must never wear the crown and Lara and her children will face old enemies who are not finished with their schemes for revenge. But one hope remainsLara has a powerful ally in Prince Kaliq of the Shadows, though never was there a more seductive friend or foe .
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Lara had brought the convenience of faerie post to Terah many years before. Now she marshaled the tiny messengers, sending them throughout Terah announcing the unexpected death of the Dominus Magnus Hauk. The leaders of all the villages were instructed to gather at a central meeting place assigned to each of the seven fjords, at a specific time on the day of Magnus Hauk's funeral. The headmen and -women of the New Outland families were also sent similar instructions. The mountain gnomes were also invited to participate. Her husband's funeral would be a grand one.
Lara thought back to the time she had managed the funeral of her first husband, Vartan, Lord of the Fiacre. She had been a young girl with two small children then, one a baby. Now her eldest son, Dillon, was a man grown with his own wife. Her eldest daughter, Anoush, was also grown. The three children she had borne Magnus Hauk were still fledglings. Well, perhaps not the eldest, Zagiri. At seventeen Zagiri was fully grown, wasn't she? Lara sighed sadly. She was finally beginning to understand the curse of being faerie with mortal offspring. Her children were aging, but she was not.
"Mother?" Anoush had come to stand by her side.
"Yes, my darling," Lara answered the daughter she had borne Vartan of the Fiacre twenty-one years ago.
"I have a crystal that will ease the pain," Anoush volunteered.
"Nay," Lara said softly. "Magnus Hauk's memory is more than worthy of my pain, but thank you." Reaching out, she patted Anoush's small, pale, blue-veined hand. This first daughter of hers was so fragile while the other two were healthy. Zagiri might even be called sturdy. How different they all were. There wasn't a magical bone in Zagiri's body despite her bloodline while Anoush had the Sight and was an instinctive healer of mind, body and soul. Her gift was both a joy and a sorrow to her, for she was so intuitive and sensitive herself she suffered along with those who sought her help.
As for her youngest daughter, Marzina, she was, like Dillon, extremely magical and had proven so at an early age. Born a twin to her brother, Taj, Marzina had not been sired by Magnus Hauk although it was generally believed she had been. The seed from which Marzina had blossomed was that of Kol, the Twilight Lord, who had forced himself upon Lara on the Dream Plain. For this crime Kol was now imprisoned, his kingdom in chaos. No one had ever questioned Marzina's paternity but for Lara's mother, who had been present at the twins' birth and declared she looked like a Nix relation.
Lara felt a tear slip down her cheek. She rarely wept, but now suddenly the tears flowed for Magnus Hauk, who had been so good to all of her children. Anoush wrapped her mother in her embrace, and, sobbing, Lara accepted her daughter's comfort as the girl's hand stroked her mother's pale golden head. "It isn't fair!" She voiced aloud her frustration and her despair over her husband's sudden demise.
"I know," Anoush agreed, "but when has life ever been fair, Mother? Was it fair when my uncle killed my father, Vartan?"
Lara drew away from her eldest daughter. "Nay, it was not fair then, nor is it fair now, Anoush. I shall not wed again. The men I marry seem to meet with untimely ends."
"You do not need to marry," Anoush replied, and suddenly her blue eyes glazed over. "You are loved without the bonds of marriage. And you have your destiny to consider. It draws closer, but you are still not ready to receive it. There is time yet." Then Anoush slumped against Lara. "Mother?" she whispered a moment later.
"It's all right, my darling," Lara comforted her. "It was one of your visions."
"Was it important?" Anoush wanted to know, for she never recalled these moments when she saw into the future.
Before Lara might answer Anoush her two younger daughters burst into her dayroom shrieking with terrible distress.
Zagiri threw herself into her mother's arms. "Is it true?" she sobbed. "No! No! It cannot be true! Tell me our father isn't dead?"
Lara's sorrow evaporated as her anger arose. "It is true, Zagiri," she said. "Now who has usurped my right to bring you this awful news?"
"grandmother Persis," Marzina quickly replied, for Zagiri was incapable of answering, so great was her grief. She had been Magnus Hauk's firstborn, and he had without meaning to tended to favor her.
"The old bitch!" Lara hissed softly. "Where is Taj?"
"With her," Marzina answered her mother. "She is most distraught."
"Not so distraught that she couldn't send your sister into hysterics," Lara said angrily. She turned to the weeping Zagiri, and gathered the girl into her arms. There was nothing she could say that would comfort this daughter of Magnus Hauk, but she cradled and rocked the girl until Zagiri's sobs subsided.
"How did Father die?" Marzina asked sanguinely, her eyes filled with tears.
Zagiri's woebegone face looked up at Lara now.
"The main mast of your uncle Corrado's new ship was being set into place. It shattered, broke and fell onto your father and uncle. Your uncle will survive. Your father's injuries were mortal. He called for me, for Kaliq, your grandmother and Taj so his last wishes might be heard, and swore us to uphold them."
"Couldn't you have saved him, Mother?" Zagiri asked Lara now, pulling away from her mother's embrace. "You are faerie! What good are all your powers if you could not save the life of the man you love?" she asked angrily, irrationally.
"Aye, I am faerie, but sustaining mortal life is beyond my powers. His wounds were fatal. It was all I could do to help him live long enough to make his last wishes known, Zagiri," Lara told her daughter. "I am sorry you had to learn of your father's death in this fashion. It was not up to your grandmother to tell you, and I can see that she did it badly. But we will survive, my darlings. We are together, and your father would want us to honor his memory by living our lives as he would want us to do."
"You are so selfish," Marzina told Zagiri. "All you think about is yourself. How do you think our mother feels having to have watched our father die, and not be able to help him? Is her grief nothing to you, Zagiri? He was her husband. Her mate."
"Where is our mother's grief?" Zagiri said bitterly. "I do not see it."
"I have seen it," Anoush told her younger sister. "Before you entered this chamber I held our mother while she wept for Magnus Hauk. And she will continue to grieve in private I know. But now she must take up the duties of the Dominus if Terah is to survive. When word of our father's death reaches across the sea to Hetar do you think they will remain peaceful knowing my brother, the new Dominus, is yet a boy? Our mother has much to do if Terah is to remain strong. Her sorrow must be private, Zagiri. She needs her strength to save us all."
Zagiri was suddenly remorseful. "Oh, Mother, I did not realize.. " Then she gasped. "A woman ruling Terah? What will the people say?"
"To all intents and purposes Taj will rule Terah," Lara answered Zagiri. "I will guide him as the Shadow Princes once guided me. When your brother is capable I will step aside, and he will rule without me."
"You will be a Shadow Queen then," Marzina said with just the hint of a smile.
Lara smiled. "Aye, I shall remain in the shadows so that the customs of Terah not be offended or disturbed. I promised your father that, and I will honor my promise."
"Grandmother Persis will not like it," Zagiri murmured.
"But she will accept it," Lara responded. "She gave your father her sacred word as he lay dying. So did Kaliq, your uncle and aunt. The last wishes of Magnus Hauk will be honored, my daughters. Now leave me. I have already sent faerie posts to the elders, and the New Outlands, but I must inform the High Priest Arik at the Temple of the Great Creator, and Kemina, High Priestess at the Temple of the Daughters of the Great Creator, of the Dominus's death. They will conduct your father's funeral service. Tell your brother to come to me, and see that your grandmother stays out of mischief."
"Dillon should be told," Anoush reminded her mother.
Lara nodded as her daughters left her presence. There was so much to do, she thought. And so little time in which to accomplish all that needed doing. By Terahn law Magnus Hauk's Farewell Ceremony had to be completed within three days. She had already decided that the burning vessel that carried his body out to the sea would be that very one that had been responsible for his death. She knew that Captain Corrado would agree, for no Terahn would ever sail upon the ship that had caused the demise of Magnus Hauk. Lara sighed. How much time had passed since her husband's death? An hour? Two? She was both numb and aching at the same time.
She looked up to see her son Taj. His face was full of sorrow. "Come in, my lord Dominus," she replied to him. "Sit down. We must talk."
"It is too soon," the boy said tearfully.
Lara shook her head. "Nay," she told him. "You are your father's heir. There is no time for self-indulgence, Taj. You are Magnus Hauk's son, and you will be, must be, strong in the face of this tragedy. Once it is known that your father is gone, and you rule in Terah, our enemies will gather and plot, and seek to gain an advantage over us. You cannot let that happen. And I will help you with the aid of the High Priest Arik, and others, Taj. But never will I appear by your side. I will stand in the shadows behind your throne until you are old enough and wise enough to rule without me. Terah will see you, accept you as their Dominus from this terrible day forward."
"I do not know how to be Dominus," Taj responded.
Lara smiled. "Of course you don't," she told him. "It was never expected that you be Dominus so young. Your father and I wanted our children to have a happy childhood without the cares that accompany adulthood."
"Teach me," Taj said. "What must I do first?"
It pleased her that he had pushed his grief aside, and begun asking questions. "You will call the chief scribe, Ampyx, to you. Then you will dictate an official announcement of your father's death, and your right of inheritance. You will then order that it be sent by faerie post to be published throughout all of Terah. I have already notified the elders of the seven fjords, the religious, and the New Outlanders in your name. It was necessary, for by custom the Farewell must be done on the third day. I will bring them all here with my magic," Lara said.
"What will I tell Ampyx?" Taj asked her. "Will you be with me when I speak to him, Mother?"
"I will not be with you," Lara replied. "Remember it must appear from the start that you are in total charge, my son. Here is what you must dictate to Ampyx. You will say that it is with great sorrow you must bring the news of your father's death to his beloved people. That as his only natural-born son you have taken the right of inheritance. Then have Ampyx sign this document in the name of Taj Hauk, Dominus of Terah."
"I will go to the throne room now," Taj told Lara.
"Aye," she agreed. Then they both stood, and Lara embraced her young son. "Go," she said to him.
The boy strode bravely from his mother's apartments, and hurried through the castle to the official chamber where his father had formally received guests and dignitaries from other worlds. He climbed the dais to the throne of Terah, and, standing before it, called out, "Send for the chief scribe, Ampyx!" To his own surprise his voice did not tremble. And while the chamber appeared empty Taj knew there was always a servant discreetly in attendance there day and night.
"At once, my lord!" a voice called.
Taj sat heavily upon his father's throne. He wondered how long it would take for him to think of it as his throne. Then he composed himself, and considered the words he would utter to Ampyx. His mother had laid out the boundaries for him, but she knew he was an intelligent boy, and would want to speak from his own heart. Taj smiled. His mother was a very clever woman, and there was much he could learn from her. His grandmother had told him he should not listen to any woman, but rule in his own right. But Taj Hauk knew he needed his mother's counsel now. His father had with his dying breath put them all in Lara's charge. Magnus Hauk would not have done such a thing if he had not felt it was the right thing to do.
Taj raised his head from his thoughts and stood up. "Chief Scribe, I would dictate to you," he said.