Lara, Domina of Terah, has mysteriously disappeared, and Magnus Hauk is frantic to find his beloved wife. When no trace of her can be discovered, he turns to two strong alliesPrince Kaliq of the Shadows and Ilona, the most powerful of the faerie queens.
Meanwhile, Kolthe Twilight Lordrevels in his victory. The exquisite Domina is now in his possession, and her powers will soon help him to conquer first Hetar and then Terah. But Lara will not stand for his treachery, even as she is seduced by his charisma. She calls on all of her strengthand the passion in her heartto once again rise to the challenge of her destiny.
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The great winged horse galloped across the skies above the Emerald Mountains, a single rider on his back. Strapped to the animal's side was a woven basket in which a sleeping child lay. Lara glanced now and again at her daughter Zagiri to make certain she remained asleep. She was a beautiful little child with her father's dark gold hair; her golden eyelashes fanned out over her pale pink cheeks. She looks like him, Lara thought. The only bit of me in her are her green eyes.
"We're almost there," Dasras said as they left the mountains behind them. "I can see the fields of the Blathma below us, and just beyond and to my left are the meadows of the Aghy. I wonder if Roan has any pretty new mares."
Lara chuckled. "You are as lusty as a Shadow Prince," she told him.
Dasras chortled. "Well, I was born and raised among them," he said drolly. Then he asked, "Is the princess still sleeping?"
"Aye," Lara responded. "She'll be delighted to see Dillon againand he her. I hope Anoush has gotten over her jealousy by now. She doesn't even understand that I am her mother and her invidiousness toward Zagiri is hurtful."
"She is too young to have developed that attitude without help," Dasras remarked.
"Who can have planted the seed of envy in Anoush? Certainly not your good Noss. She has always been a fine foster mother to your children."
"Vartan's mother," Lara said sadly and with certainty. "She grows madder with each passing day. I have asked Noss to limit my children's visits to Bera but she is their grandmother. Of course there is Cam, as well. Adon's son is Anoush's cousin. And Bera is raising him. I have never found him to be a pleasant child."
"You should investigate the situation and see that it is corrected," Dasras advised. "It does not matter that your children are blood kin to Bera and Cam. If they pose a danger to Dillon and Anoush, you must do what you must to keep Vartan's younglings safe. Bera's feelings cannot matter to you, and Cam has no sensibilities at all to consider that I can see. The safety of your children must come first and foremost."
"I am fortunate to have such wise advisers as you, Verica and Andraste," Lara told the great stallion.
"And the Dominus?" Dasras teased her.
"Villain!" Lara laughed. "My husband is a good man and a wonderful lover, but he does not understand humanity as well as he thinks he does. However, we shall not tell him that, shall we, Dasras?"
The horse shook his head, then began his descent to the lands below him, which were possessed by the Fiacre Clan. He preferred galloping the last few miles into the main village, New Camdene, rather than just descending into its midst. The cattle in his path scattered as his hooves touched the ground. There was no one this bright summer morning to see their arrival until they drew close to the dwellings. To Lara's delight it was her son, Dillon, who first saw them coming and ran toward Dasras to welcome his mother. The horse came to a stop.
"Mother! Welcome!" Dillon said. "Have you brought Zagiri?" Standing on his toes he peeped into the basket. "Ahh, Zigi, wake up now," he cooed.
The little girl slowly opened her eyes and, seeing Dillon, smiled and held out her arms to him. "D," she said excitedly. "Uppy, D!"
Dillon lifted her from the basket and set her on her feet. Zagiri slipped her hand into his and together they began to walk. Lara slid down from her saddle to join them as Dasras followed. Lara smiled as she watched Zagiri toddle along beside Dillon on her fat little legs. Her son carefully matched his steps to his younger sibling.
"Where is Anoush?" Lara asked the boy.
He stopped and turned a serious face to her. "We must speak on Anoush, Mother," he said quietly.
"Did you know I would come today?" she asked, nodding.
He smiled at her now. "Aye, I awoke and felt you drawing near. That is why I came out to meet you. I know Dasras's habit of landing several miles outside the village and then taking a leisurely gallop. My instincts are growing stronger."
"You will go to your grandmother and Prince Kaliq one day for training," Lara said. "Not yet, but one day, my son."
"When?" he asked eagerly.
"When you are twelve," she answered.
"I should go sooner," he protested. "That is almost three years away."
"The fact that you cannot accept my decision in the matter but proves to me that you are not yet mature enough," Lara told him.
"Ah, you are too clever, Mother," he said with a chuckle.
"Aye, I am clever but I am also wise, Dillon. Anoush has no magic in her I can yet see and I cannot yet tell if Zagiri will have magic. But you, my son, from the beginning I could see the magic in you, but I said nothing and let you discover it for yourself. With the proper training you will be a great sorcerer one day. But you also need time to be the little boy you are now. You need long summer days feeling the sun on your back, picking berries and eating them until your tongue is blue, swimming in the lake, riding your horse and lying on a hillside at night looking up at the stars. Your summers must feel as if they would go on forever and ever. For now, you must be taken unawares by the summer's end and your return to lessons," Lara told him. "When you feel the summers going quickly, then I will know you are growing up and we will begin to discover how much magic is in you. Then and only then will you go to study with Prince Kaliq and your grandmother. You will be old for far more years than you are young, Dillon. Enjoy these years."
"Mother, you are wise and I know your words are truth," he told her.
Lara smiled. "Tell me of your sister now," she said. They began to walk again.
"Our grandmother infects her with discontent," Dillon said.
"And your cousin?"
"Cam is cunning and sly," Dillon replied. "He panders to Anoush's every whim, and he does it, I believe, to bind her close to him."
Lara nodded. "That is unlikely to change even if I forbid them contact," she said. "I have left you and your sister with the Fiacre because you are Vartan's children, as well as mine. Perhaps it is now time for you both to come and live with me. You could come this year after the Gathering, and then return each summer staying until after the Gathering. This would allow you to remain close to the Fiacre, too. Once, I thought you would follow in your father's footsteps, Dillon, and lead the clan one day. But I see now that your fate will not be among your father's people. You have a different path to follow."
"I am glad that you finally see that, Mother," he said.
"You are so old for one so young," Lara remarked as her attention was drawn to her little daughter. "No, Zagiri, do not eat that." She pulled the flower from her daughter's mouth and picked her up. "Noss will have a treat for you, I am certain."
And Noss, Lara's old friend, did indeed have a nibble for little Zagiri. She sat the child at a wooden table outside of her kitchen, beneath a pergola thick with grape vines, and gave her a cup of fresh-squeezed juice and a slice of newly baked bread with butter and honey. Then she hugged Lara, and brought them two cups of frine. They sat beneath the pergola sipping the fruit and wine mixture while Noss told Lara what had transpired with the Fiacre over the past months since they had seen each other.
Lara listened and then she asked after her elder daughter.
"She has probably gone to Bera's house," Noss said. "Of late she has been spending too much time there. With three rambunctious boys and another child in my belly, I sometimes lose track of her these days. She has become most disobedient, Lara, and I do not know what to do about it. Of late she does not call me Mama."
"What does she call you?" Lara asked, curious.
"She calls me lady," Noss said sadly. "I do not understand it or even who might tell her such a thing."
Lara nodded. "I would not hurt you, dearest Noss, but with three sons and another child on the way, perhaps it is time that Anoush and Dillon came home with me to the Dominus's castle. You and Liam have been so good to my children, but now I have a home and husband once again. Even if I must leave Magnus for a time, the children will be safe with him. Would you mind if I took Dillon and Anoush with me when I return?"
Noss sighed. "No," she said candidly. "Dillon is no trouble at all. He is always willing to help me even without my asking and he is a wonderful influence on Tearlach, Alroy and Val. But Anoush has become difficult. I love her dearly, as you know. I have always thought of her as a daughter and we were close with one another. But suddenly she is secretive and rude. I am afraid for her and I don't even know why," Noss said. Then she lowered her voice. "I never believed I should have a daughter of my own, but Dillon says this child I carry is a female. Given how Anoush has behaved toward Zagiri, I am afraid now for this child I carry, Lara. I think Bera has told Anoush who you are. She will not have spoken favorably of you, I fear. Anoush needs to be with you now. She needs to know her mother and not take the slanders Bera spews as truth."
Lara sipped her frine thoughtfully as Noss spoke. "Aye," she said. "Anoush is six now, and very impressionable like all little girls her age. The only way I can expunge Bera's venom is to take her back to the castle with Dillon."
"How long will you be with us? Your rooms are ready, for Dillon told us this morning that you were coming," Noss said with a smile.
"A few weeks," Lara replied. "Magnus is now more concerned with the trading season than anything else. The emperor's representative, Jonah, has gone home to Hetarhe does not like to leave Gaius Prospero alone too long, for he prefers to be the emperor's only influence. I convinced Kaliq to allow Jonah the use of magical transport instead of having to sail across the Sea of Sagitta each time he needed to confer with his master. I send him when he desires to return to The City and one of the princes returns him to us."
"Why does Gaius Prospero insist on keeping him in Terah?" Noss wondered. "It should be obvious to him that the Dominus is not interested in furthering ties with Hetar."
"The emperor thinks that in time Magnus will change his mind. What he really wants is to conquer Terah so he may add it to his little empire," Lara replied. "I understand he is attempting to duplicate some of the goods we make for Hetar in an effort to get our attention through economics. Unfortunately, Hetar has not the proper materials, and we will not trade with them for those materials. Their efforts so far have produced an array of shoddy goods that despite their cheap prices sit in the market stalls unsold. It is an interesting standoff between us."
"But what do you think of all of this?" Noss probed, curious.
Lara laughed. "Terah and Hetar must eventually come to an understanding," she said. "I think we may have a more dangerous enemy in the Dark Lands."
"Well, whoever they are they have caused no troubles so far," Noss noted.
"I would be happier if I knew who they were and what they want," Lara responded. "I do not like mystery, as you know. My destiny has been calling to me for some months now, but for the first time I do not know exactly what it wants or where I am to go. Nor has my spirit protector Ethne had anything to say on the matter though I have asked her. All she will say is 'you will know in time.' 'Tis most annoying. Kaliq says I must wait for my path to be made clearer to me before I act."