Read Sacred Knight of the Veil Online
Authors: T C Southwell
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic
The Queen's Blade IV
Sacred Knight of the Veil
T C Southwell
Published by T C Southwell at Smashwords
Copyright © 2010 T C Southwell
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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Table of Contents
In her endeavour to end the Endless War that had raged between her kingdom and the Cotti for more than seven centuries, Queen Minna-Satu, ruler of the Jashimari, heeded the advice of Shamsara, Idol of the Beasts, who said that when a child who was neither Jashimari nor Cotti sat upon the Jashimari throne, there would be peace. After scores of her soldiers failed the task, Minna-Satu sent an assassin to slay the Cotti King and bring his son to her, alive. Blade succeeded, and thus the Master of the Dance in Jondar became the Queen's Blade.
As soon as she was certain that she bore his child, Minna-Satu sent Kerrion back to his desert kingdom. Before the Princess was born, however, the kingdom of Contara invaded Jashimari, which, weakened by war, could not prevail against two foes. When the Cotti King reached Jondar, Minna-Satu took the Queen's Cup, a painless poison, to make Kerrion's daughter the Jashimari Queen and save her people. Kerrion, however, went to Shamsara and got the antidote for the Queen's Cup. He honoured his daughter's heritage and drove out the Contara, then gave Minna-Satu and Blade the antidote and took them to Cotti.
The elder Jashimari Queen was in grave danger in Jadaya, and the King needed Blade's skills to keep her safe. The assassin's hatred of the Cotti, however, ensured that he was not a willing cohort in that endeavour. Kerrion imprisoned him, but Minna-Satu persuaded Blade to obey her, and he slew several princes at her behest. The Cotti King found Blade’s only surviving sibling, his older sister, but a prince murdered her. Blade returned to Jondar and retired, moving to his estate. Prince Armin tracked him down and tried to force him to claim Kerrion as his employer before judges, thereby condemning Kerrion and Minna-Satu. Blade refuses, even though his is tortured, and Chiana sends soldiers to free him.
At the palace, Blade foiled Armin’s attempt to kill the infant Queen, but was mortally wounded himself. Shamsara rushed to save him, claiming that Blade’s destiny was not yet fulfilled, and if he died, the streets of Jondar would one day run with blood. In order to heal Blade, Shamsara gave him many years of his life. Furious, Blade vanished for fifteen years…
Queen Minna-Satu gazed out at the lush gardens that surrounded the Cotti King's palace. Beyond them was the pale stone city, and, beyond that, the desert's hot sands. She sat in the cool sanctuary of her morning room, her embroidery forgotten in her lap. Her handmaidens concentrated on their needlework, well accustomed to the Queen's penchant for staring into space.
Minna-Satu's mind wandered in the cool green valleys of her kingdom, far away across the burning sands, where springs flowed through verdant forests and rain fell in soft grey curtains. Her thoughts lingered far in the past, when her daughter had been born into a world ravaged by an endless war. She recalled the petal softness of her first-born's skin, her clear blue eyes and flaxen hair.
Kerra-Manu, Queen of Jashimari, was fifteen today, almost a young lady. Minna would never know her daughter, who thought her dead. Minna's former chief advisor, the Regent Chiana, raised Kerra. Much as she loved and trusted Chiana, Minna often wondered how Kerra fared, and longed to see her. That was impossible, however, and she had resigned herself to that fact long ago. It was the sacrifice she had been forced to make to end the war. Minna-Satu sighed and looked down at her embroidery. The swish of curtains made her glance up, a smile curling her lips as her husband entered the room. The maidens fell to the floor, prostrating themselves before the King.
Kerrion stopped to admire his wife, returning her smile. At forty, she retained the fresh beauty of youth, though lines of wisdom now marked her skin. No grey had yet touched her hair, and her slender figure retained the suppleness of a woman half her age. The handmaidens straightened at his gesture, keeping their heads bowed and their eyes lowered. They all had various shades of blonde hair, ranging from almost brown to pale gold, and were brown-eyed, golden-skinned girls of typical Cotti stock.
By contrast, Minna-Satu's pale skin offset the jet hair piled atop her head in gleaming coils, and dark lashes framed her blue eyes. The air of fragility that her delicate colouring and small stature bequeathed was belied by the will of iron that she possessed in abundance. He stepped aside to usher his sons into her presence, and the two boys ran to embrace their mother. The maidens departed at a wave of his hand, and he took his turn to hug Minna. He still considered her the most beautiful woman in all the land, and told her so often, smiling at her snorts of derision. To prove his undying love, he had taken no other wives or concubines, breaking the tradition of Cotti kings.
Kerrion sank down on a cushion and poured himself a cup of wine from the bottle on the table, glancing at the huge sand cat stretched out in a cool corner. The boys regaled their mother with their latest exploits, embroidering their tales with wild gestures and giggles. At least, Ashton did, being only twelve, while Shantar preferred to adopt a more mature mien. He was fourteen, and heir to the throne, a serious boy who took his duties to heart.
They were beautiful children, Kerrion reflected. He could not have wished for more handsome sons. They had inherited their mother's blue eyes, but while Ashton was as blond as his father, Shantar had his mother's dark hair and pale skin. He looked like a pure blooded Jashimari, unfortunate for the heir to the Cotti throne. As yet neither boy had bonded with a familiar, and he wondered, as he often did, what animal kin they were. With some children it was easy to tell from an early age, but his sons showed no signs yet. Most children bonded when they were younger than the princes, and Kerrion suspected that it was their lack of contact with the outside world, and in particular the beasts of Jashimari, which had delayed their finding their familiars. If they were meant to bond with animals that only dwelt in Jashimari, they would have to travel there to find them, something he kept meaning to do.
Kerrion slugged back his wine and stood, glancing at the sinking sun. "I must go. I have a meeting of lords to attend. I will see you later." He bent to kiss Minna, then ruffled Shantar's dark hair. "Look after your mother for me, Shantar. Ashton, behave yourself."
Minna splashed her face in the basin of cool water and straightened, patting her skin dry with a towel. The boys had gone to their rooms, and she was alone until Kerrion returned from his meeting. She liked to spend a little time alone each day, watching the sunset or reading a book. Shista had gone to the goat pens for a meal, as she did two or three times a week.
Minna glanced around at the sound of footsteps, and her eyes widened. Three brawny men strode towards her from the direction of the curtained doorway. Their dirty leather garb and scarred, brutish faces told her that they were hired thugs, thieves or cutthroats commonly found on the streets of Jadaya. She shouted for the guards who always stood outside her door as she dropped the towel and backed away, but she knew that no one would come to her aid. There was only one way in which such common criminals could find their way into the King's private wing of the palace. A prince was behind this, and her guards had doubtless been sent away.
Minna looked around for a weapon as the thugs approached her, their faces filled with triumph. The wine bottle was the only heavy object at hand, and she grabbed it as she bellowed for Shista. The bottle shattered on the nearest thug's head with a satisfying crash. A blow robbed her of her senses, and the world spun away into blackness.
Chiana relaxed on the balcony outside her room, which overlooked the Jashimari palace's vast gardens. The puffwood trees were in full bloom, scenting the air with sweet fragrance, and the fire trees' yellow flowers seemed to burn amid their scarlet leaves. The banners on the palace's outer walls rippled in the cool evening breeze that ruffled her hair, and sunset painted the sky with glorious red, gold and a brilliant, startling pink. The hiss of dream silk on a nearby temple intruded into her pleasant contemplation, and for the umpteenth time she wished she could ban the hated cloth. The church wielded too much power, however, and the old High Priestess, now a doddering crone, seemed to be immortal.
The wind freshened, making Chiana shiver and rub her arms to ward off the chill. The plain, dark grey cloth of her severely simple gown did little to prevent the night wind from cooling her skin. Since her husband had left, almost fifteen years ago, she had affected a mode of dress that had earned her several unwanted titles. She wore no colour other than the grey or black of mourning, and her gowns lacked any form of adornment. Her chestnut hair remained perpetually in a severe coil, and was devoid of jewels or gold. This had led to her being called the Widow Regent, the Black Lady and the Grey Virgin.
As far as she knew, she was not a widow, although she might as well be one. Now in her thirty-fifth year, she had been Regent of Jashimari for fifteen of them. Her term of office would continue for another ten years, unless her ward's father, the Cotti King, changed the law. Only then would she be able to leave the palace to seek her husband.
Chiana winced as a high-pitched shriek of rage ripped the silence asunder, echoing from the corridor outside her rooms. The guards outside her doors had instructions that she was not to be disturbed, and they were the only ones who could refuse entry to the one who now demanded it. Chiana knew all too well that the person outside would not give up and go away any time soon, but would continue to berate the guards until someone let her in. Turning from the sunset's fading glow, Chiana entered her sitting room and walked over to a table where a fresh pot of fragrant tea steamed on a silver tray.
The screams outside the thick wooden doors reached an ear-splitting crescendo, and a sprinkling of clearly enunciated curses thickened the air. Chiana's brows rose as she added cream and sugar to her tea, stirring it. The guards were well trained, and experienced in dealing with the person who demanded entry. They would remain unmoved by the stream of invective, their spears crossed before the doors to bar entry to the one who spouted the verbal abuse being aired so volubly outside. The Regent sighed and glanced at a handmaiden who stood in the shadows, then waved a hand towards the doors, indicating that they should be opened.
As the doors swung wide, the spears were pulled aside, and silence fell. Chiana turned to face the slender, golden-haired girl who marched in, her pale skin flushed with anger and blue eyes sparkling. Queen Kerra-Manu, hereditary monarch of Jashimari, swept the room with a furious glance. The handmaiden prostrated herself as she announced the girl's entrance.
Chiana inclined her head in gracious acknowledgement and raised her soft grey gaze to meet the angry eyes that burnt under knotted brows. Kerra's pretty mouth was twisted with ire, and the rich silk of her turquoise gown was bunched in one fist. White lace trimmed its hem and sleeves, and gold brocade ornamented the bodice that clasped the Queen's tiny waist. A diamond pendant nestled in the hollow of her throat, and ruby earrings winked through the veil of her hair. Kerra's beauty, though still blurred by youth, had the potential to outrank even her mother's one day.