It's excerpt day! The Asphodel Cycle 3:The Temptation of Asphodel
Coming July 1, 2016
Book 3--The Temptation of Asphodel
The game of the gods is speeding up, and when Tamsen and Brial find a long-lost civilization of Elves, the pattern of the gods' game starts to become clearer. After a new magic evens up the odds of the foreordained battle, Tamsen begins to feel confident—until a lethal and forbidden possibility tempts her from her path.
But that possibility is actually the opening gambit of an ancient, dangerous deity--a gambit that signals the emergence of a new foe into the game.
When Tamsen is drawn into conflict with immortal enemies, she discovers that the line between obedience and temptation is much narrower than she thought.
Obedience is dangerous; temptation can kill.
Love Romances and More Best Novel of 2008 Nominee
Preditors & Editors Top Ten Best Sci Fi/Fantasy Novel 2008
A soft knock sounded at the red door. Tergen sped to it and I sat up, all of my sleepiness gone. A tall shape entered, muffled in a long, green cloak. It crossed to the center of the room and paused.
The figure fell to its knees, pushing the cowl back with a slim hand. Elven features emerged from the shadows: dark hair fell around sharply-pointed ears and green, slanted eyes stared keenly at me. He bowed his head but not before I caught a flash in those eyes that disturbed me.
The flash of a zealot.
“Regina Ka’antira, sancte me viam.” The Elf had a low, strongly-accented voice. He pulled a longbow from his side. Brial and Wilden both leaped to their feet in dismay, but the stranger laid the bow crossways on the floor at my feet.
“My Queen!” he said, a thrill rushing through his voice. “I beg you to accept the service of my bow and may the gods grant my arm the strength to defend you.”
I stared at him, stunned. The involved intricacies of etiquette came back to me and I lifted the weapon from the floor. I kissed the bow and rose to my feet. “May the gods grant you their blessings and glory in battle. Rise, revered Elder, so that I can greet you.”
The Elf rose to his feet. “I am Nige, of the house of Ka’merila, Tamsen Ka’antira. I am the Elder of our tribe, and I greet you in the name of our people.”
I was thinking quickly; I’d never heard of the Ka’merila. “I welcome the greeting of the Ka’merila. May I introduce my family and friends to you?”
Tergen brought Nige a glass of mulled wine and disappeared into the door behind the bar. Brial looked at our guest and I was surprised to note the black glitter of his eyes. For some reason, our guest had put my husband on his guard.
Brial’s voice was cool. “I was unaware that Elves lived in these mountains.”
“There were not many of us when we arrived,” Nige replied, unable to stop staring at me.
“How did you come here?” I asked, growing a little uncomfortable at his unceasing regard.
“When the Elfwars started,” the Elf began, sipping at his wine, “most of the Elves fled to Leselle. Several families who lived south of the great lake, however, found the path to the Elven forest blocked by great human armies. We built small boats and came to the feet of this mountain range. Our Elders decided to hide within them until such a time as the world was safe for the Elves once more. So, we came through the high passes and found a deep, secret place in the forests there. We have remained there ever since.”
“Why?” Brial asked. “The Elfwars were more than two hundred years ago.”
“The priestesses of the Huntress came to the Council one day and told us that we were to stay here. That is how we know your name, my Queen. The goddess told us to abide against the coming of the argent one, a scion of the house of Ka’antira, who carried the bow of the Huntress at her side. When she passed into the heart of the mountains, we were to guard her from pursuit and make ourselves known to her when she reached our tribe.”
“What did she say then, my friend?” Mariol asked, his eyes intent.
“That the coming of the Ka’antira Queen would lead the Elves once more to glory in the eyes of the goddess. She told us that the Queen would take us back to the tall trees of sacred Leselle and that our children would walk in the golden city again.” Nige’s eyes were lit with that strange fervor as he said this and I glanced uneasily at Brial.
“Things are rather different from what you might expect, Nige. I am passing through the mountains, true, and I thank you for your protection along the way. I am bound for an unknown destination, at the far end of Tartarus.”
“We know of the purpose you follow,” Nige replied. “The goddess’s hand lies upon your journey and she catches you up in her will. Your coming is a sign to our people that our long exile is almost over.”
“Exactly how many of you are there?”
“Our tribe numbers more than thirty thousand now, my Queen. We have warded these forests in your name since we arrived.”
“Thirty thousand?” I repeated. “How did you stay hidden from us for so long?”
“The deep passes of the mountains are impossible for humans to traverse, save with our assistance.”
I took a drink of wine, in order to give myself time to think. Brial spoke up, his face set in those impassive lines that irritated me so. “Is there a path we can take that will lead us to the northern sea?”
Nige frowned. “There is such a path, but it is dangerous and difficult. Dark things lie hidden in the valleys of these mountains, and there are some places that even we do not venture.”
“If it is so dangerous, then humans would not use it. We could travel across Tartarus undetected.”
Nige shook his head. “You still would have to travel across the plateau near the great human city in order to reach the arm of the mountains that runs to the north,” he disagreed. “There is no other way to reach it.”
“How long will it take?”
“No more than a month, if the weather permits it,” Nige replied. “The season changes swiftly this year and it will not be long before blizzards block the highest passes with snow. The Council has sent me to bring you to our tribe. It is on your way and when you leave I will guide you through the passes myself. I am the eldest of the scouts and know trails through the mountains no others of our kind have found.”
“Very well,” I decided. “We’ll accompany you to the Elves of the mountains and continue our journey from there. I think it only fair to warn you that I do not have the time to delay with your people; I must be on my way quickly.”
“On the morrow, then, it will be my privilege to escort you to our people, my Queen.” When I nodded, he fell to his knees once more and kissed my hand. Then Nige rose and departed through the red-painted door of the inn.
“I don’t like him,” Brial announced less than a minute after we’d retired to our room.
“Why not? I thought he was very nice.”
Brial stared down at the burning logs with a creased brow and his arms crossed on his chest. “There is something about him that just isn’t right.”
I raised my eyebrows, poured two glasses of wine and handed one to him. “Well, we’re only following him to his people and then to the mountain pass,” I said, seating myself in the chair opposite where he stood. “It’s not like we’re moving into his house.”
“It’s just too convenient,” he muttered. “It doesn’t make sense that so many of our people would remain secret from us for all this time.”
“That is strange,” I admitted. “Of course, I’ve never met any Elves who liked to travel, except you, perhaps. When you think of it that way, it makes more sense. The feravir we encountered lends some credence to his story. Until tonight, I couldn’t figure out how an Elf came to be so far from Leselle. If large settlements of Elves live in these mountains, it explains a lot.”
“True, but still, why wouldn’t they have sent word? Any Elven scout who can roam these mountains could cross over to Leselle at the border.” He scowled. “And why would a feraviri be this close to as large an Elven city and not be taught the lore?”
“We’ll probably learn the answer to that when we meet them. Why worry about it? It’s helpful to find a guide through the mountains at this point. If this Nige proves to be as experienced as he claims, it can do nothing but lend us an advantage, don’t you think?”
Brial’s eyes met mine coolly. “You have already three Elven scouts in your party, Tamsen. One more shouldn’t make that much difference.”
“I’m not casting any aspersions on your abilities,” I retorted. “This Nige is more familiar with the area, that’s all.”
He set his wine glass down at the mantle and scooped me up in his arms, settling himself into the chair with me tucked onto his lap. “I’m just wary of accepting help from an unknown source. We know nothing of these Elves, and it triggers my suspicions that their existence is unknown in Leselle. You may be right; perhaps I am too mistrustful.”
I nuzzled the side of his throat. “I don’t think I’d love you as I do, Brial, if you weren’t the most distrustful Elf in the world.”
He laughed and took my empty goblet from me. I slanted a look up at him from under my lashes with a wicked little smile and felt triumphant when I saw the intensity starting to mount behind his glittering eyes.
“You’re trying to change the subject,” he accused, wrapping my long braid around his hand.
“It appears to be working.”
He tugged my head closer to his, his lips hovering over mine. “You are an evil woman, cariad.”
I brushed a swift, scorching kiss against his lips with a soft laugh. “After all, Brial, it has been a long time since we were in a room, with a bed—”
Brial cut off my words as he kissed me and with one easy movement, he rose from the chair and crossed the room to the bed. He laid me onto the soft mattress, his lips leaving mine only when the bed sank under my weight. I smiled and ran a loving hand along the strong line of his jaw. Then, he lowered his head to mine and I lost all awareness of anything but him.
The next morning, as we ate an early breakfast, I kept my eyes on my plate. The others were talking in low voices around me as I attempted to keep a gloating expression from my face. When I looked up, Brial caught my eyes and smiled. The heat rushed to my face and I dropped my eyes again. We were nearly done when Nige’s slender, cloaked form entered the common room.
“Are you ready, my Queen?”
I pulled on my gloves and got to my feet with a frown. “Nige, will you do me a favor?”
“Certainly, my Queen.”
“I have a name,” I pointed out. “Call me Tamsen; I get very tired of ‘my Queen’ or ‘your Majesty’ after a while. And please don’t bow to me every time you see me; it gets on my nerves.”
Nige looked at me in shock. “I could never treat you in such a discourteous manner.”
“Consider it a command, then,” I advised. “If we’re going to be traveling together, I don’t want you hung up on all this formality.”
“As you wish, my Queen.” He bowed and left the room.
“This one is going to get irritating,” Mylan noted to Anner, who nodded in agreement. Surprised, I looked at all of my companions and, to a man, they were all staring at me in disgust.
“What did I do?” I demanded.
“It’s not you, Tamsen,” Mariol replied. “It’s that sycophantic Elf.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little harsh on Nige?”
No one answered and I stalked from the common room with an irritated slap of my hand against my thigh.