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Lynn Kurland is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels and novellas including the Nine Kingdom series, the de Piaget Family series, and. FontArialFont ColorblackFont Size whiteTHE QUEEN IN WINTER ByClaire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Sharon Shinn, S. Get Free Read & Download Files Star Of The Morning Nine Kingdoms 1 Lynn Kurland PDF. STAR OF THE MORNING NINE KINGDOMS 1 LYNN KURLAND.

Chapter One The fire burned brightly in the hearth, warming not only the rugs before it, but also the dogs lying upon those rugs and the man sitting in the least uncomfortable chair in what was almost a snug gathering chamber. He had been near her all along, first at Wychweald, then as king of his own lands. It was also no time to have all the decent furniture he owned carved up unnecessarily—and elf though he might have been, Ehrne was in every respect Hamil's equal. Whoever he was, Lothar of Wychweald knew of what he spoke. Just what your father's salad needs.

Symon sighed heavily. Something I can solve easily? Instead, your mother sent along a list. I have it here"—he patted his breast protectively—"should you care to have a look at it.

Guards who had been standing silently in the shadows leapt forward, then stopped still. Hamil was up with his sword drawn, then he froze as well. Symon found himself on his feet along with the rest, without really knowing how he'd gotten there.

He stared at the intruder, supposing idly that he might be allowed a bit of surprise. It wasn't every day that an elf deigned to visit a mortal's dwelling. But the elf in question seemed unfazed by his break with tradition.

He merely walked across the small hall calmly, as if it were no great thing to be who he was, where he was. Symon cleared his throat. Wise in spite of his youth and inexperience with his crown," he added. Symon suppressed a sigh. He was five and thirty, old enough to manage the affairs of one small kingdom.

Never mind that Neroche was a vast land surrounding several smaller of the Nine Kingdoms. Never mind that he'd spent so much of his time over the past year trying to keep the evil from the north at bay that he hadn't seen a fraction of that kingdom.

Never mind that instead of giving him decent warning, his father had, a year earlier, plopped that ill-fitting crown on his head one night at supper and bid him pack his bags the next morning and be about his next adventure.

He would rule well enough, if he could just have the peace to do it in. Symon gestured with his most regal gesture towards Hamil's chair. He fetched a stool from the hearth and sat down upon it, still silent and slack-jawed.

Symon waited until Ehrne had seated himself with a grace that belied the great distance he'd come and, by the telling condition of his clothes, the haste in which he'd traveled it, before he slowly took his own seat. Why in the world a prince of Ainneamh would find himself in a snow-bound hunting lodge leagues from his own comfortable home— "I came to seek your aid.

He looked at Symon crossly. There was safety in having a relative stranger think Hamil incapable of understanding his tongue; it might prove useful in the future. I am here because I was banished. By my father, in case you were wondering. Symon handed him the half-full cup of ale he held in his own hands.

Ehrne drained it, then dragged his sleeve across his mouth. Ehrne looked at him, or through him rather, then turned back to Symon. Symon motioned for his page to refill the prince's cup, then accepted another for himself. He sipped slowly while his guest quenched his thirst with barely drinkable ale and while he waited, he considered. This was a remarkable visit, no matter the true reason. It wasn't every day a man entertained an elf of Prince Ehrne's pedigree and station.

Though, it wasn't that Symon hadn't treated with elves before. He had. He'd become acquainted with their fine tastes, their diplomatic speech, their painful beauty—on those rare occasions when they had come to make visits of state to his father. He had also been to Ainneamh—and for longer than most men could claim.

Long enough to look on things he never should have seen, to be burned by a beauty so painful, even the memory of it made him want to draw his hand over his eyes. A beauty whose brother had apparently finally drunk enough to find his voice.

Ehrne looked about him as if he sought a distraction. Passing foul of him to leave you this hovel as your palace. You say your father banished you, but I don't understand why there was no one there to protest your innocence. He tried to look as diplomatically unsurprised as possible. I thought I had reason.

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You see, my mother betrayed an elf to a black mage. So few that Symon could bring all three of them to mind without effort. Especially considering—" "The fact that we hold wizards, their get, and mage kings in the same high regard we hold rats, dwarves, and ill-dressed brigands? Aye, there was one of the three. Why had he not seen this coming? Is fratricide any less grievous? You'll pardon yourself.

There was also a splat, as if a goodly amount of ale had abruptly left that cup. He looked down and realized that it had been his cup to deposit its contents on his boots and the floor both.

Symon looked up. Ehrne was watching him with clear, untroubled eyes, waiting. Symon took a deep breath. Obviously being Yngerame of Wychweald's son had its advantages. Elves and mages did not wed. It was just one of those things that was as accepted as the sun rising in the east or the seasons changing from year to year. Then again, in that blessed land of Ainneamh seasons didn't change all that much, so perhaps there were other things that might not be as true as he'd been led to believe. He closed his eyes briefly and brought to mind the vision of a slender young woman dressed in a gown of hues that seemed to shift as she did.

But what didn't change was the sheet of darkness of her hair falling down her back and the vivid blue of her eyes. Aye, he'd been close enough to see that much, and to smell the sweet scent of her perfume as she passed by him, and to take note of the flawless perfection of her skin.

If there was grace, beauty, or goodness to be found anywhere in any of the Nine Kingdoms, it was in Ainneamh, where Iolaire the Fair walked over green grass that never faded to brown— Aye, he knew her.

He also knew that he could never have her. He listened to Hamil make increasingly loud and quite reasonable arguments as to why the entire adventure was doomed from the start, not the least of which was that even should they manage to free Iolaire from Lothar's hall, Symon could expect no more than a nod in thanks—if that.

Was that worth putting his own life and kingdom at risk? He was unwed; he had no heir. Should he die, who would inherit his lands? His elder brother, the black mage in question, would have gladly and quite legally taken the title of Neroche, but what would have been left of his lands after a single season?

Darkness, death, destruction. What you need to be doing, my liege, is following your father's advice and seeking a bride. You cannot wed with elven get and even if you did, what would it serve you? She is as banished as he is. One would hope that some of the father's power became the son's upon taking his crown.

Another reason for my appearance here and not at your father's hall. Perhaps he could decide on no decent retort for that. Symon sighed. Your father is powerful, but of you I know little—" "I daresay you know nothing at all! Ehrne looked at Symon's hand. I have my own magic. You even look like a weak-stomached, flower-picking—" Symon watched with only faint alarm as Ehrne rose and drew a sword from a previously nonexistent scabbard and made a ferocious swipe at Hamil.

Hamil rose to his feet with a yawn, which would have made Symon laugh, but this was no time for levity. It was also no time to have all the decent furniture he owned carved up unnecessarily—and elf though he might have been, Ehrne was in every respect Hamil's equal.

Too much longer and those two would reduce everything usable to rubble. Symon sighed, then lifted a finger and murmured a word of command. Ehrne's and Hamil's swords both went flying across the hall.

Hamil cursed and sat down. Ehrne turned and looked at Symon with what Symon was sure had to be one of the first times in his life he'd been surprised. But the look of surprise quickly faded to satisfaction. Ehrne's stained but obviously finely made clothes disappeared and were replaced by what Symon was certain Ehrne considered ill-dressed brigand's gear.

Hamil threw up his hands and heaved himself back to his feet. I'll go see to supplies.

All for You

Symon smiled at his captain. Even elves must eat now and then. I am no doubt the only one with the ability to see us fed well. It was going to be a very long journey. He wondered about the end of it. First was the question of even freeing Iolaire from his brother's castle. Perhaps it was possible. But then he thought again of those first-hand accounts of what crept over Neroche's most northern borders.

To think on what Lothar had done to his own people was horrifying. But to think on what Lothar would do to an elf of Iolaire's beauty and grace? He rose to his feet. An hour was too long to sit and wait for preparations to be made. Indeed, he rued the time he'd spent in conversation with Ehrne. Nay, he would have nothing more than thanks from her, if that, but it would be enough. Chapter Two Iolaire dreamed of Ainneamh.

The dream was so pleasant and so real that she smiled and stretched in her sleep. The sounds of water softly filling the air were accompanied by heady smells from the twisting vines of jasmine and curling branches of climbing roses that framed her window.

Her room was drenched in the scents of the flowers that bloomed all year round save that pair of months in the chill of winter when the earth rested and regained her strength. The scene changed. She walked through her father's hall with the enormous hearths at each end, where a fire was lit each night to stave off the cool of the evenings.

Her father was there, her brothers, her cousins, her friends, all in their finery, all eating the most delicious things her father's cooks could produce and sipping sweet wine that tasted of dew. Everything glittered, from' the whisper-thin goblets hand blown by her father's most skilled glasswrights to the gowns that seem to have been spun from the gossamer wings of Ainneamh's most beautiful butterflies. She looked about her. Her mother was gone, but that was not unusual these days.

Her mother had withdrawn from them more and more often of late, as if she found their company painful. Perhaps she was grieved for the loss of her niece, Creana. Perhaps she merely wearied of their company. Iolaire did not know and it troubled her. But despite that niggling doubt over her mother's absence, Iolaire relished the feeling of being comfortable, safe, and surrounded by those who loved her and whom she loved. Was there a more beautiful place than Ainneamh?

Was there a more luxurious and appealing hall than her father's, where the colors, sounds, and smells all blended in a perfection that was only to be found here? She drew a shawl of the finest cashmere about her shoulders and closed her eyes briefly to better savor the pleasure of it. She was certain that the bliss of her life could be no richer. And then she saw him. Even in her dream, she felt a tingle of something that was not dread and certainly not fear run through her.

The man was not altogether mortal, but not elvenkind either. Who he was might prove to be as much a mystery as what he was. A guest of her father's surely, else he would not have dared enter the king's innermost hall.

No crown sat upon his dark hair, but he carried himself in a straight, confident way that bespoke noble breeding. He was deferential to her kin, speaking in their tongue, which was a most unusual thing for one who was not of Ainneamh, but even so, he did not abase himself… She watched him look about the chamber as politely as good manners would allow, but with an awe she supposed she could understand well enough.

But then he turned that looking upon her. And she watched him go still. That same stillness came over her, leaving her feeling as if it were just they two who stood there, connected, silent and unmoving in a sea of strangers. That same feeling came over her, only this time she recognized it for what it was: It was as if she had always known him, but only forgotten until this moment that she did.

Even eternity held its breath. She wanted to go to him, to take his hand, to go into his arms and find herself whole. But before she could move, her brother had taken her by the arm and pulled her away.

She wasted time convincing him that she was well and not consorting with mortals beneath her station, but by the time she turned back to look for the man, he was gone, lost in a sea of elves who suddenly looked all the same. She almost wept. She looked amongst her family, but could not find him for the press of her kinfolk.

After a time, she gave up and left the hall. As she walked past the mingling crowd, she thought she heard her name. She looked up quickly and saw the man again, briefly, only to have the crowd draw together before her and hide him from her view. She didn't dare ask who he was. Her father would have wanted to know why she desired the name of a man who could not possibly interest her.

Ehrne would have come undone at the thought of her looking twice at a man whose clothing was likely quite serviceable in a mortal kingdom, but made him look a rough peasant in her father's grand hall. She half wondered, now, if she would recognize him at all, or if she would pass him on a deserted road and not know it was he. The sorrow of that was so great that she woke with tears streaming down her cheeks. And once she was awake and again facing the hard, unyielding stone of her prison, she wept for other reasons.

She would never see her home again. Even if she could free herself, she would be forever barred from it. The law was such and her father was bound to uphold it. She could break herself and her shattered heart against that law, but it would not yield. She was alone now, without home or lover. How she longed for both. She leaned her bruised head gently against the wall and gave herself over to daylight dreaming.

Of her home she could think no more.

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Her grief would be endless and thinking on it only deepened that grief. But that man, aye, that was something she could think on idly and not have it pain her so much. Was he mage, prince, or stableboy?

It had been impossible to tell, though she supposed no stableboy could have spoken her tongue, and she had watched him converse with her kin. And no stableboy she'd ever encountered had ever possessed such a handsome face and such piercing, pale eyes. Blue or green? She could not say, and she found that it became increasingly difficult to imagine up the contours of his face. She struggled, trying to make out his features in the semi-dark of her prison. And then the face began to speak.

She came to herself to find Lothar of Wychweald standing on the other side of the stone chamber, speaking to her.

Claire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Sharon Shinn

It took her a moment or two to drag herself from the comfort of her dreaming and understand him. His look was mild, but she was no fool. And only a fool would have missed the malice behind that pleasant expression.

She scrambled to her feet. She wrapped her arms around herself, somewhat alarmed by how chilled her flesh was. By denying me even the most paltry of comforts? And she feared greatly the sound she would make if she began to give voice to her fear. Lothar pushed away from the wall, much as he had done the first time.

He spoke no word, but suddenly a doorway appeared and a door swung open. He left, silently. Once he was gone, Iolaire stumbled across the chamber. She ran her hands fruitlessly over the place where the doorway had been. The magic there was strong, stronger than she was accustomed to.

Then again, her magic was given to more noble purposes than locking unwilling prisoners in cold, comfortless cells of stone. She sighed deeply, then turned and went to the window.

It was far too small for her to crawl through; indeed, she could scarce shove her hand through the narrow, vertical shaft that afforded her all the light her chamber possessed.

She tore off the hem of her nightgown and held it bunched in her hand.

Rain fell softly, slowly, but eventually long enough that the cloth was wet and she managed to draw off a small bit of moisture.

It tasted far better than anything she had ever savored at her father's table. She spent the better part of that day trying with only scant success to ease her thirst. When evening fell and the misting rain ceased, she retreated to her corner where the draft was less, drew into the smallest folding possible of herself, and gave thought to her future. She could wed with Lothar, she supposed. It might at least gain her an exit from her prison.

She might be able to flee at some point in the future, when she had the means of escape and hope of a refuge. But if she wed with him, she would no doubt bear him children. Unbidden, came the vision of a small, fair-skinned maid child with curling hair and soft blue eyes. Iolaire fancied that if she'd had the light for seeing, she could have looked down in her arms and seen that wee girl snuggled there, sleeping peacefully with her hands clasped together and her face turned upward, untroubled by unpleasant dreams.

Iolaire shuddered. How could she doom that child—and the rest of the world—to the specter of Lothar's manifest evil coupled with her magic? If she had any magic left. She gave thought to that. She had been born with magic in her blood; all elves were so blessed. At least they were as long as they remained within the borders of their land.

There, spells fell over everyone and everything as effortlessly as sunlight sparkling and glistening through dew-laden trees. Elves walked through those spells, over them, under them, making the magic a part of themselves as they passed. And Ainneamh was the source of it all. Or so she had been led to believe. Now, though, she wondered. Losing that magic was part of what made the specter of banishment so awful.

But what if the magic was in her and of her, in spite of where she dwelt? She tried to draw magic from the stones beneath her feet, from the air, from the gray light that came in the window.

In Ainneamh the magic so drawn would have shimmered in her hands and effortlessly become what she required. Here she only drew evil to her. She gasped and ceased immediately. She would have no part of this place or its power. Though that she had even managed to gather some of it to her was something to think on. She allowed herself another moment or two to envision again that sweet, pure child who had not yet rested in her arms, then forced herself to give somber thought to just what she might do.

She crossed the chamber to where she knew the door to be and ran her hands over the stone. She tried door and open in all the languages she knew, but to no avail. She cursed it with all the vile things her younger brother Artair had taught her when their tutor had been snoozing in the afternoon sunlight. That brought no better result. But as she stood there with her hands pressed against the wall, her head bowed, tears she could not spare falling down her cheeks, she realized Lothar's spell lay over where she knew the doorway to be like a piece of cloth.

She pulled back with her palms still flat against that invisible bit of magic and stared at it in surprise. Could she unravel it? And what would Lothar do to her if she managed it? She decided immediately that it was best not to think on that.

She would seek to undo his evil quietly and perhaps she would manage to free herself from her prison, escape out the front door, and be on her way before he was the wiser. It did not serve her to think on what would happen to her otherwise. Chapter Three Symon surveyed his brother's domain and could scarce believe his eyes.

Gone was the lovely castle on the edge of the sea, surrounded by fair meadows full of wildflowers. Gone too were the beautiful stretches of beach before the castle, the clutches of rocks with wild birds perching thereon, the lovely white cliffs that provided a bastion of safety from the crashing waves.

In their places were ruin and decay. But hadn't he suspected as much when he thought of Lothar overrunning Neroche? He'd wondered, over the past year since he'd been king, and for several years before that, if he was imagining Lothar's potential for evil.

He'd wondered it as he had watched his elder brother whilst they grew to manhood together. Lothar's power was perhaps unmeasured, but his capacity for cruelty had been amply demonstrated over the years. Symon had also wondered, when their father had given Lothar his most beautiful bit of land but no crown as an inheritance, what would become of the magnificent castle on the sea. When he'd asked as much, his father had only looked at him in that way he had, placid and patient, and said that 'twas no longer his affair and that Lothar would have to find his own way.

Did a father know, then, when a son was a babe, that the son would go so astray? And if so, what could he possibly do to stop it? Ah, but such a departure from good sense and goodness. Slabs of rock from ill-conceived and poorly executed mining ventures littered the land, blackness from fire, debris and refuse covered the strand—and not a green thing in sight. It was as if anything within Lothar's reach that had possessed any life at all had given up. I have little magic of my own, but I'm well acquainted with Lothar's use of his.

Are there invisible companies of his monsters lying in wait to attack upon his command? If the castle was covered by some sort of spell, Symon could not tell. And he was not the lesser of his father's sons. So, let us be about this business and quickly, before she must spend another night in this accursed place. Any fool might win the first, or even the second, but the rest are only taken by those with an affinity for the business or strong power found running through their veins.

But the last ring—" "I can manage what needs to be done," Symon interrupted with a warning look shot Hamil's way. It wasn't as though he cared what Ehrne knew of him, but there was no sense in boasting of any skill so near to Lothar's front stoop. He looked at his men and considered.

Symon supposed they could expect no less, being his men. He looked at Hamil. Shall you be the wind? As quietly as possible, in a magical sense, he made the necessary changes to his company, then changed his own appearance. Whether or not it would fool his brother remained to be seen.

Lothar had magic, 'twas true, but he had learned it not from those who taught restraint and honor in its use, but rather from rogue wizards who had learned enough to be dangerous but hadn't managed to earn any of the rings of mastery. Nay, Lothar would wear only the first of mastery, if he wore one at all. Even so, that did not mean he had no power.

Ehrne led them down the path to the hall door in a lordly fashion. Symon followed, too busy watching the surrounding desolation for the potential of attack to worry overmuch about what Ehrne would do. If they gained the great hall, hell would be unleashed upon them no matter how pretty Ehrne's introductions were. All, however, was quiet. Too quiet. Ehrne banged on the door. It was opened eventually by a stooped, misshapen old man. Let me pass.

Symon slipped in behind him. He used Ehrne's blustering calls for service as a shield so he could be about his own business. He could not hear Iolaire, nor could he sense her. He followed Ehrne into the middle of the hall near the fire pit, mentally searching frantically through passageways that were cobwebbed by rotting, though dishearteningly strong magic. And still no trace of her. Ehrne's calls for ale grew stronger. Before Symon could lift a finger or spew out a spell of his own, Lothar had cast a net of his own magic.

Symon watched it fall. Iolaire selected a thread of magic that looked as if it might be weak enough for her to break. It had taken her most of the night to manage to find even that. Of course, she had been clumsy with fear, certain that Lothar would surprise her with another visit as she was about her work. But now, as the chamber had lightened enough to signal full daylight, she had found what she sought. She unraveled a bit more on either side of that weakened thread, and then with a great rending sound that she feared would shake the castle to its foundations, she tore the spell asunder.

The door was revealed. Symon could have sworn the castle rocked on its foundations. The sound of rending was nothing short of deafening. Lothar, startled, turned. And by the time he turned back, it was too late. Perhaps he was powerful. Perhaps he was determined. But Symon fought for a more noble purpose.

It was the smallest of advantages, but perhaps it would be enough. He countered Lothar's spells one by one. They were unpleasant spells, ones full of evil portents Symon had never before considered. It took all his wits to fight them off while doing his best to lay his own snares about his brother.

Toss herbs onto the fire? Brew up a potion or two? You needn't bother. She's dead already. He would have bid Ehrne make a search, but he didn't have the breath for any speaking. And then Lothar smiled and began the words of essence changing. Symon was torn between a desire to point out to his brother where he was doing it wrong and the horror of realizing that his brother was trying to weave such a spell around him.

It took all his strength to counter the spell, to fight it off with his own magic. He felt himself, after what seemed like hours, begin to weaken. The ground beneath him began to slip. And slip a bit more. As eternity passed, he began to wonder if he would manage to best his brother after all. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another old man enter the hall. Damnation, was he to be plagued by these geriatric pretenders until the end?

He realized perhaps the instant before his brother did, that this old fool was not quite what he seemed either. If Symon had had the strength, he would have sighed in relief, no matter how unkingly it might have made him look. Yngerame of Wychweald had arrived and he did not look pleased.

Chapter Four Iolaire crept toward the stairs, her bare feet crunching things she didn't stop to identify. She was free of her prison and on her way to being free of the castle.

There was noise coming from the stairwell before her, as if there were a great ruckus happening below in the great hall. That cheered her slightly; perhaps no one would notice her in the confusion. Her feet hurt with every step, but that could be remedied later. For now, she would do what she had to. She hobbled as quickly as she dared down the circular stairs to the great hall. Then she came to a teetering halt.

Before her was a scene she was sure she would never forget. Her brother stood there, along with Lothar and two strangers who stood with their backs to her. And around them all swirled a whirlwind that seemed to delight in blowing ashes from the fire into Lothar's face.

Lothar's servants stood all in a huddle at the back of the hall next to her. They made no sign of intending to stop her flight, but she supposed she should have expected nothing else. They might have been human at one time, those souls there, but they were that no longer. It was a terrified mass of creatures who shrank back against the wall when she looked at them, so she turned away, unwilling to torment them more.

Ehrne watched silently, his mouth agape, as Lothar and the older of the two strangers screamed at each other. Actually, Lothar was screaming. The older man stood there calmly, speaking every time Lothar would take a breath.

This seemed to anger Lothar more each time, but somehow, with each firm word or two spoken by the older man, Lothar seemed to have less breath and vigor for shouting until all he was able to do was stand there with his mouth in an open scream and glare at the older man with hate in his eyes. The other man, a younger one, stood with his hand upon the old man's arm, as if he leaned on him for strength, though she could not understand how that would be.

She could not see his face, but he was possessed of a powerful form and stood straight and tall, as if he were someone to be reckoned with. The power that emanated from them both was like waves of heat from a fire; she could distinguish that even in her current state.

Who were these two, then, to be dressed so humbly yet possess such power? Enemies Lothar had made long ago? Powerful noblemen fetched by Ehrne to come battle the foul mage and rescue her? He took hold of her and pulled her back with him toward the front door.

She was almost all the way there before she managed to stop him with complaints over the condition of her feet. He swept her up into his arms and ran. He put her up onto a horse standing there unhappily. Iolaire stared at her brother, wondering if the journey from Ainneamh had damaged his wits. The horse didn't answer. It looked at Ehrne as if it thought him daft as well. Ehrne cursed, vaulted onto the horse's back and yelled at Iolaire to ride, and quickly, too. She did, regretting deeply not having thanked the men inside for making her escape fully possible.

She hoped they would know just the same. It was very late in the day when Ehrne finally allowed them to stop. Iolaire sat by the poor fire he'd built, shoving her numb, bare feet as close to the blaze as she dared.

Ehrne dropped his cloak around her shoulders and sat down next to her. She looked at him. It was quite some time that he sat there, silent and unmoving. She understood. Any time spent in Lothar's hall was enough to render a body sick at heart. And if Ehrne were sitting next to her, not on his comfortable chair in their father's throne room, then that meant he had been banished as well. She reached out and put her hand on his arm.

You must have things you wish to say, or questions to ask. Why are you here? To rescue me? I listened to her fix just such a bargain with him, but didn't realize whom she intended to betray until you went missing and I confronted her with my knowledge. Father came upon me attempting the deed and cast me from our land. He was rather unwilling to listen to my tale. If you are not there to see to them and Father does not believe what you've told me, then where does that leave them?

If mother is capable of this offense to me, why not something similar to our younger siblings? How will we save them? Iolaire stretched forth her mind in an effort to take hold of the sense of her land. Before, before her time in Lothar's hall, it had been a continual stream of beauty and peace that ran through and under her thoughts.

That connection with her land had been a part of her for as long as she could remember, coloring all her thoughts, her emotions, her desires. It was gone.

She looked at him wearily. If not, it matters not what we do, for we are all lost. She understood completely. Symon spoke the last word of his own spell of binding, then hunched over with his hands on his thighs as he tried to catch his breath.

The fact that his father was in much the same position made him feel slightly better. A stiff breeze blew Symon's hair into his eyes. With a curse, he grunted out another spell that left Hamil standing suddenly there, bouncing on his heels and looking far too lively for his own good.

Look at the fool, standing there with his mouth gaping open. Lothar was trapped, mid-scream, and bound by so many unbreakable spells that he would have looked like a large, very plump chrysalis if the spells had been visible to any but those who had woven them about him.

It will be up to your children, I daresay, to see that his evil stays within its bounds. I am sorry for that, for I could not—" Symon shook his head. We will just be vigilant. Now, perhaps you would care to come to Wychweald and rest after all this. He would have something decent to eat for a change, if he went to Wychweald.

He also might have a good look or two at that elven princess he'd had the pleasure to mostly rescue. Aye, that was what he wanted—to sit at his mother's table and stare at a woman who had haunted his dreams for years and be no closer than he had ever been to having her, given the fact that he would still be unable to spew out two coherent words in her presence.

Symon grunted. Besides, I'll no doubt need help protecting that elf maiden young Ehrne of Ainneamh whisked away so quickly. It is a long road to Wychweald. I am quite sure you are just the lad to render such aid. Come with me at least for a few days.

You can turn off the road at the great crossing easily enough if you decide otherwise. He paused. The damage may be too great. Can you not do this? He began to undo his brother's foul work—and that with great effort—but as he did so, he realized the changes were wrought so deeply and so poorly, that they could not be undone.

He kept at it, though it cost him dearly in energy and hope. When he was finished, the man was again a man but still quite damaged in mind and spirit.

Symon looked at his father. I daresay there is no evil in them. When I return to Wychweald, I will find a steward for them. Then at least they will finish out their lives in some peace. I cannot bear to stand in this place of evil a moment longer. He used one last bit of precious energy to change his guards back from horses to men before he dragged himself over to his own horse. He found himself with no strength to mount. The older man was smiling faintly, but his color was poor.

Symon understood fully. I am not ashamed to desire a slower pace for a bit. He took a final look at his brother's ruined hall before he turned away and rode with his father away from the sea and into the peaceful, welcoming dusk. Iolaire rode next to her brother the following morning, cold, but grateful nonetheless for the pale winter sunshine. It was sublime to have not only liberty from Lothar's hall, but limitless freedom to do what she wished with the rest of her life.

At least she told herself it was so. Something fell on her hands. She looked up, expecting to see rain clouds, but the sky was cloudless. She realized then that she was weeping. She looked down at her hands and watched them grow increasingly wet. She took a deep breath.

This would not do. There were many advantages to being banished. She would no longer have to endure those endless suppers where she was watched as covetously as a lone bottle of her father's rarest wine that was to be shared amongst the entire company. No longer would powerful elves from other families come to see if they could bluster their way into her father's good graces. Never again would she be forced to learn the languages of foreign kings so she could reject their suits in their own tongues.

She was free to do what she liked, to converse with whom she cared to, to make a life where it suited her. More tears fell.

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The thought of never being allowed to return to Ainneamh was more devastating than she could bring herself to admit. How was she to go on?

Where was she to go on to? Her life, her family, even her home was now forbidden her. She dragged her sleeve across her eyes and cast about desperately for a distraction. She found one immediately in trying to divine the true identities of the half dozen men who rode in front of and behind her.

Most of them had caught up with them the evening before, giving her a terrible fright. Ehrne had identified them as men-at-arms, though he had declined to name whom they served—as if that somehow was going to ease her mind more than knowing who commanded them. Two other men had joined them as they broke camp that morning. She hadn't had a chance to converse with them—as they had kept firmly to themselves—but she had recognized them from the day before.

She supposed she couldn't blame them for their silence, given that they had been the ones to deal whatever blow had been dealt to Lothar. A renegade mage from the eastern lands you hired to help you? Don't you recognize him? He does not look so powerful. He looked younger then. Perhaps he's weary.

She had other things to think on. And to look at. She rode on for a very long time before she dared hazard a peek behind her. Closest on her heels, in front of the other half of the men-at-arms, rode the other man she'd seen with King Yngerame. He was weary as well; that she could tell from the set of his shoulders.

She couldn't examine his features, though, thanks to the hood he had pulled close round his face. She managed to bring the beast back under control, then she glared at her brother. It will devastate him. But I must tell him—" "Do, and I will turn you into a toad. You will die a terrible death and I will not mourn your passing. And if you think I cannot do it, then think on all the times you snuck out of your lessons whilst I applied myself to them.

He looked at her seriously, then pursed his lips. Symon of Wychweald, lately the king of Neroche, had come to rescue her.

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One, he is Lothar's brother and has no love for him. Two, I assumed he had inherited some of his father's power and might be willing to use that power to aid me.

And, lastly," he added, "he was the one monarch of the realm who had not fallen at your feet and begged for your hand upon seeing you. I thought that might be a boon. She wondered if she should find that offensive or not.

I wanted him for his sword and his spells, not his spouting of wooing poetry at inopportune moments—" "Ehrne? Iolaire rode for quite some time in silence, giving thought to what she'd learned. So, the king of Neroche had come to rescue her, quite possibly because he was the one man in the Nine Kingdoms who had no desire at all to seek her hand.

She wasn't certain how she should feel about that. Well, no matter. She hadn't any more use for him than he apparently had for her. She had someone else in mind. And since she was no longer destined to wed with an elven prince, perhaps she would set herself the task of looking for that dark-haired, light-eyed man who had come to her father's hall. Finding him might take a goodly amount of time. And given that she had nothing but an excess of that on her hands, it seemed a task worthy of pursuit.

Still, it would be impolite not to at least thank the man behind her for his efforts, misguided though they might have been. She slowed her mount just a hair. In time, and over several miles, she managed to find herself riding next to the king of Neroche.

She stole a look or two at him from under her hair—which was in sad need of a good brushing, but there you had it. It was difficult to look tidy after having been held captive without any of the appropriate creature comforts. Symon's hands were strong, but graceful. She supposed he was equally proficient at wielding a sword or weaving a spell. A pity she knew next to nothing of him. She knew a good deal about his father.

Yngerame was as famous for his skill with magic as he was for his gilded tongue. He had not founded the schools of wizardry at Beinn O'Rain, but while still a student he had forged bonds between them that courses of study might be shared between the apprentices.

He had mastered all the lessons available there, bested each of his masters in turn, and roamed far afield in exotic lands searching for strange and mysterious spells not known in the Nine Kingdoms. He had returned in time, wed himself the daughter of Murdach of Meith, built her a marvelous palace at Wychweald, then settled down to keep bees and dig in the dirt, shocking everyone who'd thought they'd known him.

Iolaire had suspected, once she had learned his history, that his purposes were far deeper and more serious than weeding out the pea patch—though she had to admit she had always liked that about him, being something of a gardener herself. But what of his son? She stole another look at Symon and wondered how much like his father he was. Was he equally as skilled? Was he kind or cruel? Was he like his brother, or not like him at all? These were questions worthy of an answer and since she had nothing to do until she was about her self-appointed quest to find that missing stranger, she would go ahead and ask him.

But first a bit of small talk. She was certainly adept at that. She cleared her throat purposefully. He didn't answer for quite a while. Then he slowly pushed his hood back from off his face and looked at her. It was him. The man she had dreamed about since the night she'd first seen him. Symon of Neroche.

He had been near her all along, first at Wychweald, then as king of his own lands. And she hadn't known. And he had come for her. In a roundabout way. She could only stare at him, speechless and unable to force herself to look away. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Lynn Kurland. RBL Romantica. Archived from the original on October 27, Retrieved Lynn Kurland Official Website.

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