ON the night of the divining ceremony, the moon sat full and bright over the Sylamor Mountains. Court officials and representatives from each fae clan crowded the Great Hall, their voices a low rumble of rumors and politics. When the oracle last named a new monarch, there had been a dispute between Odharan and his brother over who she had indicated. It ended with his brother’s head rolling across the marble floor of the Great Hall.
Though certainly not a child, Tyg had been young for a dren and could remember how pleased her mother had been with the news. Odharan ruled fiercely. Back then, the sylvn clans had grown too powerful and treacherous. The fae had wanted a strong king to quell the threat. It was Odharan’s cause that first inspired Tyg to join the Yewolyns. Now, faced with taking the throne, she vowed to strengthen his kingdom once again.
In anticipation of the divining, she chose to wear a dress of deep, red fae silk. It was the same red the Yewolyns used for their war banners. Though simple, it fell elegantly over her strong figure. She wore her black hair down, letting it spill over her shoulders and breasts in long, soft waves. More unusual still, she painted her lips a dark red to match her dress. She was strikingly regal in her beauty. More than a few sets of eyes followed her as she entered the palace.
When she stepped into the Great Hall, Aygriel drifted toward her. “Magus Marigen, you look well,” she said.
Tyg did not wish to speak with her, but Aygriel reached out to touch her arm. She drew back with a grimace.
Still, the high priestess persisted. “Might I have a word with you?”
“Whatever you’d like to say, say it now,” said Tyg.
Aygriel dared to lean in closer to the Yewolyn so that she could speak quietly. “I know what Basirah imparted to you. Perhaps it would be wise for you and me to put aside our differences. It’s all just politics, isn’t it?”
Amused by the high priestess’s words, Tyg smiled and replied softly, “Perhaps.”
“Magus, I simply want what’s best for Mysanhal. I have no wish for—”
Tyg cut her off. “Aygriel, your duty is to carry out Cree’s will, is it not?”
“If it is Cree’s will that I should take the throne, then it is his will that you should be a loyal little priestess and obey your new queen. Is it not?”
“I—” Aygriel seemed ready to argue, but then she bowed her head. “Of course.”
“Good. Then, we don’t really have any differences to set aside, do we?”
“No, Magus Marigen.”
Tyg whispered into her ear, “Try again, Aygriel.”
The high priestess’s lips parted, and she seemed incapable of making a sound. The dren waited with her hands folded behind her back as Aygriel struggled to humble herself. At last, she murmured, “No, My Queen.”
“It’s a shame you are so pithless,” said Tyg. “I might have enjoyed your counsel otherwise.”
Aygriel’s bewildered gaze rose to meet the Yewolyn’s. “You might have?”
Tyg did not answer but brushed past her to find a seat instead. Despite the vision from Cree, doubt still managed to gnaw at her thoughts. Basirah knew well what Tyg had seen, but did that mean she would speak with clarity when naming the new monarch? Would she have to confront another over the crown? So absorbed in her thoughts, she did not notice her cousin arrive until she felt a firm hand grip her shoulder.
“Pyri,” said Tyg, surprised to see her cousin. She took her hand and drew her toward the empty place beside her. “Please, sit. It has been too long.”
Pyri sank down onto the bench carefully. She had also dressed well for the occasion. She wore their clan color, Kieran green. “It has,” she agreed. “I am training with Usyngol to regain my strength.”
Though long since retired, Usyngol was a renowned teacher of the fighting arts. She smiled, pleased to hear it. “I cannot imagine time better spent. You’re recovering well, then?”
“Well enough,” said Pyri, but she pressed her hand against her chest and grimaced. Then, she lowered her voice. “I was sorry to hear news of Callum’s death. He will be remembered as a great Valor.”
Tyg closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, searching for suitable words. At last, she muttered a simple thank you. To her relief, the conversation did not have to continue. The oracle arrived.
Basirah waited in the entry until the hall grew silent. The high priestess stood at her side, crown in hand. They walked noiselessly to the front of the Great Hall, and dozens of hungry eyes followed them. Every fae in the room felt the same hope—that Cree would honor them with the crown.
An altar had been erected before the court with a golden bowl and ritual knife. Basirah pricked her finger and squeezed a drop of her blood into the bowl without any formalities. Tyg felt Pyri shift beside her, leaning forward to see the oracle better. Every fae seemed to be holding their breath.
Despite the initial lack of pageantry, she made a great show of calling upon Cree, swirling her hands about, and drawing in deep breaths over the bowl of water. She spoke in the old language as lamplight shifted on her face. The court sat transfixed and waiting. At last, she opened her eyes and looked out upon them all.
“Our queen will be of Kieran and Marigen blood. Cree has willed it, so it shall be.”
The court officials began to turn their heads. Remarkably, only one among them could claim both names. A Kieran by birth and a Marigen by marriage, Tyg could not hold back a thin smile as she rose to her feet. She glanced down at her cousin, who had a mixture of pride and shock written across her features.
A murmur rose around Tyg as she made her way along the center aisle to stand before them. Her walk was still jagged, but she refused to take the throne with a crutch in one hand.
Aygriel bowed deeply before Tyg, and then, the dren slowly lowered herself to her knees so that the crown could be placed on her head. But even as she rose back to her feet the queen of Mysanhal, all she could picture was the dagger and the hand that held it.
Pushing aside dark thoughts of the human girl, she held her chin high and addressed the court. “Cree has revealed a vision to me as well,” she began. Her words caused an eruption of hushed conversations. Irritated, she bellowed over them, “Quiet! You will hear your new queen speak.”
The fae settled back down but stole nervous glances between each other. This was no Innes, after all. Anyone could guess how Tyg would handle irreverence.
“The human girl who killed our queen is only a harbinger. Magic has returned to Himil, and it is time we regain our strength. For too long, the fae have hidden in this realm as the lands and power of man have grown unchecked. Our outposts have been abandoned since the time of the ancients, and the fae have been all but forgotten in the realms beyond the crossings.
“My duty is to Cree and to Mysanhal, as it has always been. I led our Yewolyns against Hisinger’s mages and crumbled their sylvn colleges to stamp out their blasphemy. Surely none of you have forgotten. It is written in our histories, our songs. My duty is to you, to our future.
“If magic is truly returning to Himil, then I will lead the charge in quelling it. Magic in the hands of men threatens our way of life. Would you have them passing through the Ether to our realm? They would drive silver through our hearts to take our lands! Do not forget the stories of our grandfathers and grandmothers.
“By the power and blessing of Cree, I stand before you not only as your queen but as your Valor. Under my banner, a new era will dawn. Under my leadership, Mysanhal’s strength will be known, and we will destroy the queen killer and every last trace of magic in the human realm.”
One by one, the court officials went down on their knees and bowed their heads to show their fealty. Never in her life had Tyg felt such power. She lowered herself into the throne with her heart beating wild in her chest and a smile upon her face. Despite everything, Cree still awarded her what she had rightfully earned. But if she was to keep it, she would have to destroy the girl.
Though she would not admit it to anyone, not even herself, she feared Ora. Whatever the girl was, her magic was unlike anything the fae had seen before. Spells, curses, and charms were one thing, but the girl used magic without any ritual or practice. It erupted from her violently, without direction or warning.
That night, Tyg sat before a wall of windows, gazing upon the mountains and letting the moonlight touch her skin as she contemplated what she would do once she captured the girl. Ora would be stripped of power, of course. She would be lashed and perhaps hung in a cage somewhere in the mountains until she was a breath away from death. Then, Tyg would send her to the healers so it could be done all over again.
“Your Majesty,” came a servant’s voice from behind her. “Master Becanan wishes to speak with you.”
Without looking, she raised her hand and said, “Very well.”
Maol’s soft footfall grew closer, and she gestured to the seat beside her. For the divining, he wore a fine shirt of dark blue fae silk. It was the royal color of Tirnan. Amused, Tyg wondered if he had hoped to be crowned king.
“Please, forgive me for the late hour.” He bowed before he sat down, much to her pleasure. Her revelry did not go unnoticed as he lifted his head. “You seem to have taken to your new role rather easily.”
“What have you come to discuss, Maol?”
“Your hands.” He held out his own and received a baleful look. “The scars on your hands.”
How he had noticed in the Great Hall, she could not surmise. Though wary, she undid the small clasp on her sleeve and drew it back to reveal the scarring that wound up her arm. “Not just my hands,” she said and gave him a slight nod.
Maol took the hand she offered and studied the scars. He traced one of the pale lines on her arm, and she shivered. “My apologies,” he said and then withdrew. “Your magic has been severed from you, hasn’t it?”
“You’ve seen this before then,” she said. “What is it?”
“I have seen it once before. Have you heard of the ash crystals?”
“Of course. They were used to slay the old gods.”
A strange smile quirked into place, and Maol shook his head. “A god cannot be slain. The ash crystals were used to steal their power.”
“What does this have to do with anything?”
“The scarring is not from a curse.”
For once, Tyg looked rattled. Her face paled, and her lips parted as she searched for the right words. “You mean … my magic, it’s gone?” she said, voice flat.
“Yes, but my dear queen, what would you say if I told you that I could help you find an ash crystal? That you could take the power of a god?”
Tyg pulled her sleeve back down over the scars and rose to stand before the window. The oracle had been right. She was meant for greater power.
“Maol,” she said. “You are a godsend.”