- Paula Altenburg
Chapter One, Part 1
“Salvatore will be there.”
Bastien kept his opinion of his friend’s unnecessary warning to himself. Theo Leonetti had a talent for stating the obvious. Overland’s clan summit, which took place every five years, was now only a few months away. Of course Salvatore would take advantage of the month’s amnesty it provided in order to flaunt his crimes in Bastien’s face.
Except his brother would consider them victories.
He focused on his task, dragging—through the sheer force of will—ribbons of shadow from the Shadow Sea. Sweat beaded his forehead and dripped down his back. The St. Johns and their clansmen were the greatest weavers of shadow in all of Overland and he had brought twenty of his very best to spearhead this restoration. While Bastien was no artisan—the more delicate shadow weavings were his brother’s talent—he was by far the strongest builder among them. The weave they created today would reconstruct the island’s crumbling edges where it broke off in gigantic chunks of rock that tumbled away to be swallowed by the Shadow Sea.
Above him, a coruscation of stars blanketed the black sky, from one horizon to the other, outshone only by twelve perfect, glittering diamonds floating on inky waves lapping against the pylons that anchored the dock to the land. Sullen-faced locals watched from the shore. There was no love for the king of Overland among the Aramandez clansmen.
“You waste our time here,” Theo continued. He took command of the ribbons of shadow Bastien passed him, grunting under the strain. He and three more St. John clansmen threaded the ends through the weave. “They blame us for their downfall.”
Bastien snagged another ribbon of shadow, hauling it hand over fist from the sea. “They should blame us.”
“Why?” his friend demanded. “We didn’t invite the Shadowsworn to the wedding.”
“We could have been better prepared for opposition to the match.”
Bastien’s marriage had been one the Kingmaker—Claude Aramandez—had himself arranged. Many people believed the Kingmaker overstepped by setting aside Salvatore, the firstborn heir to the throne, so as to betroth Bastien, the second son, to his daughter. Bastien had been five years old and barely remembered the events of that day. All he knew was that it had changed his relationship with his father and his brother, damaging both irreparably.
The events on the day of the wedding, however, he recalled all too well. Giselle had been lovely, with her shy, downcast eyes and soft voice as she’d uttered her vows. He’d never paid much attention to her before that moment. She’d always simply been there, a part of the shadows—pliant. Malleable. Ready to do whatever her father bade her.
Then, as they’d turned, man and wife, to greet their guests for the first time as a couple, twenty cloaked Shadowsworn stormed the St. John chapel. Guests fell in their wake, struck down by black-bladed swords, as they worked their way to the front. An arrow sang past Bastien’s cheek to embed itself in the throat of the priest, who sank to his knees without uttering a sound, profound disbelief on his face.
Claude Aramandez leaped to his feet. His panicked gaze connected with Bastien’s. “Protect my daughter!” he thundered.
A part of Bastien’s brain that had remained dormant for more than two decades roared back to life. Another arrow found Giselle even as he thrust her behind him. He had no weapon. No time. No other choice. He hauled Giselle into his arms and stepped into the safety of shadow.
They emerged into light.
Blood soaked the front of Giselle’s dress. The arrow had embedded its head in her shoulder, but once he’d ascertained that she’d live, he abandoned her on a deserted shoreline, in a world not her own, blinded by the brilliant light from a sun she didn’t remember. Her screams for him not to leave her behind followed him into shadow.
He couldn’t have been gone from the chapel for more than a few seconds, but still, he was too late. Claude Aramandez and his remaining family were dead, the chapel’s stone floor slick with their blood, and the Shadowsworn were retreating, leaving the St. Johns largely unscathed.
So no, he didn’t expect the lesser clansmen of the Aramandez estate to spare any love for him. He’d allowed the Aramandez estate—the jewel in Overland’s crown—to dissolve into disrepair in the years since, its light slowly waning, its shores gently crumbling into the Shadow Sea. They’d seen the accruing neglect as arrogant indifference on their unwanted king’s part, a silent pronouncement to all of Overland that their estate had fallen from grace.
After five years of struggle, doing what they could on their own, Julio Caprini had finally made the voyage to Drente, the home of the king, to plead on behalf of his clan. A solidly built man of fifty-some years, one of the lords of the Aramandez outer islets and their de facto leader, Julio had stated facts without accusations.
But Bastien hadn’t been blind to the angry pride in the other man’s eyes. He’d seen what it had cost the Caprini to come to him. It was why he’d chosen to head this restoration project himself.
“I need more light,” he said.
A Caprini sprang forward. With an effort that showed on his flushed face, he managed to bind enough light from the stars for Bastien to reassess the extent of the damage to the shoreline and see how much of it their current labors had resolved. Satisfied, he again set to work, barking out orders, his clansmen melding their weaves with his.
The young Caprini stepped too close to the edge of one of the fragile repairs. Disaster unfolded in slow motion—the fresh layer of shadow, too thin to support the boy’s weight, buckled, then cracked. It tilted and the boy lost his footing. The light fled from his grasp, returned to the stars. He fell to one knee, his hands sprawled forward so that he faced downward, and slid toward the abyss of the sea. Terror flared on his face.
Bastien dragged a single black ribbon free from the weave and lashed it forward, whip-like, to coil around one of the boy’s ankles, jerking him to safety. The boy landed hard on his back. The sharp report of his head as it connected with solid ground echoed in the silent pall that had descended upon the onlookers.
Julio Caprini reached the boy first. He hauled him to his feet by the front of his shirt. “Go home.”
The tone of his voice suggested he’d hear no argument, and the boy, aware of his close brush with the abyss, gave him none. He scuttled up the path that cut from the quay through the cliffs to the stronghold, his narrow shoulders bent forward in humiliation. Only those who were very talented in shadow were permitted to work the borders of the islands of Overland, but talented or not, experience remained the key to their survival. This boy had none, or very little, and he’d proved it.
The clan leader faced Bastien, bowing his head. “My apologies, Majesty. He’s young. He’ll grow into his shadow abilities, which are well above average.”
Bastien was disinclined to judge or condemn the boy. When he was a boy, he’d once fallen headfirst over the side of a dragon boat. No one who faced the abyss and survived ever forgot. The young Caprini would be no exception.
Several hours later, with the repairs complete and the island’s shoreline now stable, the St. Johns prepared to leave the Aramandez estate.
His men were tired. Bastien was, too. The dragon boat they’d arrived in rocked gently on a black wave, safely moored to a cliff face by a tether of shadow, because the dock had been too uncertain for use. To board the boat, they’d need to retrace their steps across the swaying bridge of shadow they’d strung between it and the shore.
Single file, they began to cross.
Bastien went last. He stepped onto the bridge. As his foot touched the weave, a blaze of light, brighter than the thirteen island estates combined, blinded him. He reached out, his fingertips grazing the ropes that fenced in the sides of the bridge, but caught empty air.
He tore a ribbon of shadow from the sea as he fell. It lashed through the air to tangle around his chest and tighten under his arms. The other end wrapped around the weave of the bridge.
Blood roared in his ears—not from fear of the sea sucking at his thighs, but for the woman whose safety he’d believed was assured.