I’ve decided in today’s post to share another chapter from my upcoming book Instruments of Sacrifice: Time Passers
This novel is the third in the series but it is a prequel so although reading Spirit Followers and Keepers of the Crown is highly recommended, you won’t get spoiled by reading it!
You can read chapter one in another blog post.
THE coolness of the throne room was more alarming than refreshing. It had been ages, even with the bath she had had, that Ilea had felt a space so cool. It sent goosebumps prickling over her arms.
Ilea noticed two other aspects of the room immediately after noting its temperature. For one, it was nearly as expansive as the market they had just come from, with pillars flanking the aisle. The throne, which was so far off, seemed more of a spec than anything else.
And the second was that the light blue of the flooring was so polished, she could see her own reflection shimmering in it. Dark brown skin covered in a thin, tan garment. Hair cut jaggedly. In a way, it warmed her to see her own face even when bruises marred one side in ugly splotches.
It was now, when Ilea looked up from the floor, that she noticed it was just her, Moaz, and the leader of the Jarhira that stood in the throne room, aside from the dozen or so figures now shifting at the opposite end.
The court of Perez.
“The Varhira,” Ilea breathed. The name of the now ruling family of Perez had been breathed far and wide. Across the Scarlet Sea, into the desert lands and perhaps farther north as well into the mountains and ocean-side cities.
They moved forward, and Ilea glanced at Moaz. His expression was set in determination, his blue eyes focused. But it was not his disposition that held Ilea’s attention. It was the recognition crossing his features, the comparing he was doing in his own mind.
He had been in this room before.
Ilea looked forward, for they had neared a raised platform of shimmering blue stone upon which was set a throne of the same appearance. This throne was the largest seat here with more than a dozen others around it. Sofas laden with pillows and soft blankets littered the dias. Several women were lounging on them.
Ilea now noticed how quiet it was and how, just a moment before, there had been enough murmuring to make this room feel smaller than it actually was. All eyes were turned toward them.
The lead Jarhira bent into the deepest bow, but both Ilea and Moaz stood upright. Ilea glanced between the people on the dias. A tall, regal looking woman with lean features and skin the shade of the richest brown snagged her attention first. Her eyes were narrow slits gleaming in feline grace. Her long, lethal nails tapped the side of her cheek as she observed them. There were others too, most of them young.
The children, Ilea surmised. And that woman is their mother.
Moaz was only looking at one person. The ruler of Perez himself. And now, Ilea was too.
He wasn’t the wrinkled, grumbling, old tyrant she had imagined. He appeared young but old enough that he was undoubtedly the one to have all the children. His head was shaved but not entirely uncovered, for upon him rested an elaborate headpiece as long as Ilea’s arm to mark his authority. His eyes were heavily lined in khol, and he sat straight, his broad hands, which were embellished with rings, stretched across the arms of his throne.
His eyes flickered in recognition. His lips twisted into a smile, and all of Ilea’s attention fastened on him as he exclaimed, “Moaz! How can it be?” He rose quickly, his voice jarringly jovial and eyes bright. Ilea started, her jaw falling open. The head of the Varhira spoke in the common continental tongue.
She looked towards Moaz. You…know each other?
Alarm and curiosity battled for dominance within her, rendering her reactionless. She knew that Moaz came from this country but never guessed that he had known the royal family. Moaz was not smiling, but he wasn’t denying recognition either. And now, the ruler of Perez was before Moaz, his hands clasping the other’s shoulders.
“And this beard! These clothes! You have been in the desert, far from home?” The Perezian flung his hands out in disbelief.
Moaz chuckled, and Ilea could have sworn it was forced. “I made my home in the desert.”
The ruler of Perez raised a brow and then burst into laughter. It was not pleasant laughter. Rather, it was edged in glimmering cruelty. “Yes, indeed? But do you remember my name, Moaz?”
Moaz smirked, his blue eyes glinting. “I remember the names I called you, yes, and the ones you called me.”
The other man laughed. “‘Son of a whore,’ was your favorite, and so she was.” He clapped Moaz on the shoulder. “Welcome home.”
Moaz nodded curtly, his voice going cold. “Ramis, thank you, but I am afraid I have only come for a short time.”
Ramis, as he had been called, lifted both brows this time. “Ah, but it is the Jarhira that have brought you in. That does not look like you came of your own will.” His voice was cool. Too cool, now.
Moaz’s jaw tightened. “It was time I returned, Ramis, and made atonement for my misdeeds.”
Ramis’ expression grew dark quickly. Ilea nearly missed it. Misdeeds? What happened when you were here, Moaz? She noticed that the young men and women behind them, who had been listening intently, had now gone very, very still.
Ramis banded his arms across his chest. “Misdeeds?” he said, his voice like ice. “I think the word you mean is crime. Murder, perhaps?”
Ilea drew in a breath. Ramis’ voice had grown dangerous. Too cool and too quiet all at once. Moaz did not reply. He didn’t have to.
Ramis nodded. “I see.” He observed Moaz, this man who must have once been his friend, even if Ilea could not fathom it. “You have changed.”
Moaz’s voice was low and steady. “I changed the day I left, Ramis.”
“Go back,” Elyon had said to him, Ilea remembered. She wasn’t well-versed in going back herself.
Ramis’ eyes narrowed. “I did not send all forty of my best warriors and assassins after you, Moaz. It was not I who commanded them. So, tell me, what made you summon them after so long?”
Ilea was inclined to feel the same curiosity as the ruler of Perez. It was clear that she and Ramis knew very different versions of Moaz.
Moaz would not look at her.
Ilea’s veins began to prickle and rage danced in her chest. So, Moaz had been a criminal in this kingdom, and crippled by twenty years of guilt, he called forty of the lands greatest assassins right to him.
And to me, she thought with an ache exploding inside her. No, there is far more to this. Moaz didn’t seem crippled. But then, guilt wasn’t something that always showed itself on the surface.
Ilea’s speculation was muted by the burning sensation of an intent stare upon her. She glanced at Ramis just in time to see a more curious expression cross his countenance. He glanced at the Jarhira and muttered a short, clipped question in their own Perezian tongue.
One of the Jarhira shrugged and bent into his deep bow once more. He murmured a response Ilea also did not understand before tossing a satchel to the ground as if it were filth. Ramis jerked his head, motioning for a servant. One scuttled forward and bent to the satchel. Panic rose in Ilea’s chest.
The servant reached into the satchel and pulled out a glimmering silver object. Thorns twisted into a crown. The Crown.
Ilea’s stomach coiled. “No!” she heard herself scream as she lurched forward. Ramis looked to her, brows raised and gaze growing colder. “It’s mine…” she panted out. “Please. That’s mine.”
Ramis glanced down at the object which the servant had now placed on the floor. But he did not recognize the object itself, which eased Ilea’s chest somewhat. But then, in the language she knew best, he said, “You, barbarian whore, are mine.”
The Varhira behind him was stirring now, hushed voices passing speculations between them. Ilea looked to Moaz, for help or companionship or anything.
He still would not look at her.
Ilea’s heart rattled in her chest. Hot tears pressed into her eyes. She felt her veins filling with lava and tiny pricks against her palms. Not now, she commanded as if she could prevent the magic within her from acting of its own accord.
Ilea froze, then, at that very feeling inside of her. The magic. The pulsing mark on her neck. It didn’t feel as it usually did when her emotions rose and the thorns sprung from her. She felt heavy. And then light. Darkness crept to the edge of her vision and wind seemed to howl from far away and very close all at once.
She only felt this heaviness, this pull when…
He was close.
Ilea’s attention turned from the Crown on the floor to the opposite side of the room where a figure was entering. His black cape fluttered behind him as he came forward, his movements fluid and regal.
And his eye…
His single eye, the color of ice, found her gaze. She could never forget it or the eyepatch fastened where his other one should be. He did not need to speak aloud for him to hear her.
“Yes, Ilea, it is I, your favorite Shadow Bearer come to haunt you still. Yet, I am not known merely as Shadow Bearer here. And no, they do not know me as Leviathan. Only those who fear me most know that name.”