Born of Empire: The Chronicles of Kydan 1
Afterwards, Poloma Malvara tried to remember what the sound had been like. A rattling, like nails thrown around in an iron bucket. Crackling, like fat on fire. Close, but not quite right. Maybe it had been like rain falling on a terracotta roof, or coins dropping onto a counting tray, or linen sheets being torn in half. . .
In truth, nothing could ever quite describe the sound the first time he heard a volley of firegons, or the first time he heard the metal-insect whistling of round lead balls cutting through the air or the wet slapping sound they made when they hit a body.
But his mind’s eye would never let him forget what he saw, and in his memory it was like turning a page in one of the illustrated manuscripts kept in Kydan’s basilicas. On the first page the Great Quadrangle of Kydan, dominated by the Assembly and filled with members of the city’s ruling council, all dressed in their finest clothes, filling the space with colour – the blue of a beetle’s wing, the crimson of a winter sunset, the yellow of freshly churned butter, the green of a spring day. On the next page the same square but muted by a cloud of black powder smoke, colour and life torn and bled onto grey stone. And from one scene to the next had taken no more time than a dozen heartbeats, the time for two lines of Rivald infantry to fire into the crowd. Every lead ball struck someone. The impact had been like a gust of wind hitting a pile of leaves, leaving everything scattered and bewildered.
On that morning Poloma had been standing with the rest of the council before the great wood and brass doors of the Assembly, waiting for them to be opened for the first summer parliament. He watched his colleagues with pride and affection. The Kydans were a strong and vigorous people, well built – with the occasional slim exception like Poloma – and brown-skinned with dark curly hair and generous faces. With their colourful clothes and noble appearance he thought they looked like a parliament of particularly wise and beautiful birds.
He was in the middle of the space, so did not see or hear the Rivald infantry march into the quadrangle from the north, but when the first rank shot their firegons a shudder passed through the crowd as if it was a single living mass. Poloma heard something whiz by his ear, and out of the corner of his eye saw the councillor behind him start to fall. He automatically reached out to help, grabbing her arm, but she was a dead weight and slipped out of his grasp. Poloma turned around to see if she was all right, but then he saw there were great holes in the crowd, as if many of the councillors had simply vanished, and a pall of black smoke, strangely thin, rolled above the quadrangle towards him. He caught a whiff of it, and its salty bitterness caught at the back of his throat.
Because the crowd had thinned so much he could now see the Rivald infantry in their white and blue uniforms, lined up in two ranks, the first starting to kneel. The second line raised their firegons, and it seemed to Poloma that every barrel was pointed directly at him. The air in front of the second rank sparkled and flashed, and that was when he heard the sound, like nails rolling in a bucket or fat crackling in a fire. Something pulled at his cloak; he looked down and saw a hole in it. Then he noticed the councillor he had tried to help and saw she had a hole in her cheek, and that the back of her head was swallowed by a red pool of blood.
His brain caught up and he realised the Rivald infantry were shooting at them. He knew about firegons but had not realised they were so destructive. He had always thought the bullets they shot would be like small arrows . . .
Another volley rippled through the morning air. Poloma looked up again. It was the first rank firing again. The second rank were furiously ramming rods down the barrels of their firegons. The quadrangle seemed almost empty now.
He heard moaning, rising from the ground like a heavy black bird, growing in volume until it was a chorus of pain, and for the first time since the shooting started he was fully aware of what was happening. Fear as cold as ice ran through his veins and he could not move. Some of the councillors still living were running away, but he could only watch them.
Above the moaning he heard a barked command in a language he recognised as Rivald but did not understand. The first rank dropped to their knees again and this time the second rank moved forward before raising their firegons. Poloma realised he was crying. He could feel his tears run down his cheeks. A cry broke from his wet lips.
From his right came the metallic tramping of the Kydan militia as its phalanx marched down from the Citadel and into the quadrangle. They were heading straight for the flank of the Rivald infantry and were too close for the enemy to wheel and shoot; nothing could stop the militia from rolling the enemy up and skewering them on their long, heavy-bladed pikes. Poloma felt a shout of joy rise in his chest. Then he saw the Kevleren. Poloma knew right away who he was. Even in Kydan they had heard stories of those from the land across the great sea who used the Sefid. His pale skin and midnight-black hair marked him out. He had stood behind the two lines of Rivald infantry, surrounded by his own bodyguard, watching the progress of the battle in the square. When the militia appeared the Kevleren grasped the neck of a young woman standing by his side. Poloma saw the woman’s eyes open in sudden pain, saw the blood flow over the Kevleren’s fingers. Poloma’s whole body went cold with the sudden impact of unseen energy, and the air between the Rivald lines and the approaching phalanx shimmered like the air above an oven. Blue flames licked off the barrels of the firegons.
Poloma could not move his gaze from the young woman in the Kevleren’s grasp as she withered and died, her blood soaking her clothes, so he did not see the first rank of the militia suddenly burst into flame, but he heard the screams of the dying and the clatter of their pikes as they fell to the ground.
Grey clouds had been building up over the Vardar Mountains for a tenday, finally bursting over Omeralt just as the funeral procession for Empress Hetha made its way from the great yellow gates of the capital city. The train stretched for two miles as the Kevlerens and their Axkevleren attendants – special household servants – and other leading subjects of the Hamilay empire wound their way to the imperial mausoleum set in a fissure in the eastern flank of Hassouly, the nearest peak of the Vardars. For the people lining the great wall of the city, the mourners and their sedans, all dressed in black, seemed to melt and disappear in the rain.
In the second sedan, General Third Prince Maddyn Kevleren stared out unhappily over the increasingly barren landscape. It was not that he was grieving deeply for the late empress – she had shown him the favour of advancement in the army but paid him scant attention otherwise – but that he felt the cold, grey day reflected his own cold, grey spirit.
He felt somewhat guilty about his self-pity on this of all days, but mollified himself by admitting that of course he was as sad as the next subject that Hetha had passed away. However, although the empress had been a good, fair-minded and often generous ruler, her daughter Lerena would make as good an empress, and possibly a better one. Hetha had lived a long and peaceful life and earned the respect of her citizens; what more could a monarch want in life? Maddyn decided he should be allowed to wallow a little.
The carriers were struggling with the slippery road as it steepened and their progress had slowed almost to a crawl. Maddyn wished he could get out and help, not from any sympathy for the drenched carriers but because he could not bear to be inactive. Ever since he had been ordered back to Omeralt from the frontier with Rivald his life had been without adventure or excitement or challenge of any kind . . .
A long, cool white hand rested on his. He glanced up at the Duchess Yunara Kevleren. Her beauty still took away his breath, and he realised he had been lying to himself. Sister to the new empress of Hamilay, Yunara was Maddyn’s lover and his second cousin. She had provided him with more than enough adventure, excitement and challenge. She was the Kevleren archetype: tall, pale-skinned, black-haired, eyes of jet, and her whole being seemed to resonate with power. She was possibly the most terrifying person alive, and she made sure everyone around her knew it, including Lerena. At this moment, on the way to her mother’s internment, Maddyn could almost believe there was something like a normal human emotion inside her heart. It occurred to him that he should be worried that the closest Yunara could get to love – at least love as almost anyone else would understand it – was grief for its loss. A silver tear hung on her cheek, frozen in the cold winter air. Partly out of sympathy, partly out of reflex and habit, he closed his hand around her fingers. She glanced at him, but as always he found it difficult to read the expression in her eyes; she kept her soul well out of sight. He remembered that it had been that very elusiveness that had first drawn him to her, and now – ironically – was starting to drive him away.
‘How much further?’ she asked her Beloved – the highest Axkevleren in her service and her constant companion – sitting opposite her.
As with almost all Beloveds, Netarger’s appearance was an echo of his mistress: thin, pale and dark-haired. He poked his head out through the sedan window. When he pulled it back in his hair was dripping wet; he swept it out of his eyes with one hand and shrugged. ‘It is too dark to tell. I think the ground is starting to level, so perhaps not far. Do you want me to go ahead?’
Yunara shook her head. Maddyn looked at Netarger’s face for some sign of relief, but as with his mistress, Netarger never showed emotion. Maddyn noticed his own Beloved, Kadburn, had also been checking.
Kadburn was one of the exceptions to the rule about the appearance of the Beloveds. Where Maddyn was pale-skinned and dark-haired – very Kevleren – he was unusually short and wide-shouldered for his family, and he kept his hair cut short in the military fashion; Kadburn, on the other hand, was tall, whip-thin and his blond hair was long enough to be tied back. They exchanged the slightest of smiles and returned their respective gazes to the world passing by their side of the sedan. Their escort of Royal Guards, their dark green uniforms almost black they were so sodden, tramped along beside them, their firegons clanking dully in the grey air.
Maddyn’s thoughts returned to his dispiritedness. If it was not the lack of adventure, excitement and challenge in his life that was pulling him down, what was it? The feeling of discontent had been growing for a while, and was only partly to do with Yunara’s emotional detachment. There was more to it than the lack of love. It was like an illness, he thought, and he wondered if it would end with a fever.
He wished on the Sefid that the new empress would see fit to return him to the frontier.
There was a change in the tempo of their carriers. Netarger had been right. The ground was levelling and the going becoming easier. Even the guards seemed to be stepping more lightly. As the procession drew closer to Hassouly, however, what little light had been getting through the clouds seemed to be cancelled out altogether. The shadow of the great mountain turned day into night, and Maddyn felt it like a weight.
Eventually the fissure holding the imperial mausoleum came into view. It was a ragged crack in the side of Hassouly, a longyard high but only a tenyard wide. It looked like a crooked smile set side-on into the mountain. As the procession passed between its flanks some of the guards had to light torches to show the way for the carriers, but at least the narrow opening at the top of the fissure stopped most of the rain from getting through, although the floor was home to a fast-flowing rivulet that poured over the boots of the escort.
Flickering light from the torches played eerily on the fissure’s granite walls, and when they came to the carved likenesses of the emperors and empresses above the first tombs the faces seemed to come alive.
Eventually the procession stopped. Kevlerens and Axkevlerens tumbled out of sedans and splashed into freezing, ankle-deep water. They were near the head of the fissure, and the rain had made a waterfall that filled the space with roaring. Maddyn could almost believe they were the protests of the dead.
‘I do not like this place,’ Yunara said under her breath to Maddyn. ‘I’m glad I’m not empress. I would not like to be buried here.’
Maddyn glanced towards Lerena, getting down from the first sedan; judging by her expression she had the same reservations as her sister, but being the empress she would have no choice when she died. Behind her, Hetha’s bier was being unloaded from the roof of the royal sedan, together with the chest that held her consort’s bones. Hetha’s younger brother, Duke Paimer Kevleren, stood next to Lerena, looking older than Maddyn had ever seen him despite the jolly red wig he always wore in public.
Yunara, with Netarger, joined her sister and uncle and their Beloveds, and together the six followed the bier being carried by the late empress’s Axkevlerens into the freshly cut tomb in the side of the fissure. They were just about to disappear behind the rock when they all stopped. Maddyn, too, had faintly, so faintly, felt something. As one, all the Kevlerens looked east, their eyes staring across continents and seas. Something had touched the Sefid with a powerful sacrifice, Wielding on a scale no one had felt for many years. Somewhere, a Beloved had died.
An invisible wall of heat washed over Poloma Malvara and sucked his breath away. He was retreating before it when a hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him around. He yelped, then saw it was his brother, Berrat. There was a cut on his forehead and blood pooled above his eyebrows.
‘Berrat . . .?’ Poloma began, dazed. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Come on!’ his brother hissed urgently. ‘Run! Make for the Long Bridge! It’s our only chance!’
Too shocked to do anything but obey, Poloma followed Berrat who was already running for the main avenue that fed into the quadrangle from the west. He felt lead balls cut the air around him and he could smell burning flesh and wood. He heard the terrible sigh of something large catching alight and another surge of heat rolled around him. The moans of the wounded and dying turned into screams. Another councillor running ahead of them shouted suddenly and dropped. Poloma ran through a red mist and tasted blood at the back of his throat. He gagged, stumbled as he tripped over a body, regained his balance. Berrat grabbed him by the shoulder again and helped keep him upright. His lungs seemed empty of air and he did not think he could go any further. His mind was so dazed he no longer knew where he was. He did not recognise the buildings around him, nor the faces of the dead he ran past. He was telling himself it was over, that he was finished and was going to die, when the Long Bridge loomed into view. The bridge became the focus point for his senses, and although panic was riding his heart, his mind started clearing.
Instead of heading straight for the bridge, Berrat guided him to one side so they passed by the south pylon and ran behind it. Under the cover of the bridge, out of sight of anyone in the quadrangle, they stopped, gasping for breath.
‘Oh, Kydan and Frey!’ Poloma cried.
‘Quiet!’ Berrat said and put his hand over Poloma’s mouth. ‘For your life’s sake!’ He looked around the pylon to see if anyone was coming.
Poloma angrily pulled the hand away and stared at his brother’s bloody face. ‘Why? Why did it happen? Where did the soldiers come from?’
‘From the river,’ Berrat panted, still short of breath. ‘I was crossing the Long Bridge on my way to the quadrangle to watch you all enter the Assembly when I saw them. They came up the Sayeff Channel, ten galleys or more. I stopped to watch them, thinking they were something to do with the parade. There were some councillors on the shore below the Citadel waiting for them.’
‘Some of our councillors?’ Poloma cried. ‘Who?’
‘Maira Sygni and his merchant allies.’ Berrat said the words like a curse.
Poloma rested back against the pylon, not wanting to believe it even of his worst enemy in the Assembly.
‘I watched soldiers pour off the galleys and Sygni lead them up to the sally port on the north wall. The port was open and the ladder down. By then I recognised the uniforms and knew they were from Rivald. There were other people on the bridge with me and we all realised what was happening at the same time.’ He paused and blushed. ‘We panicked. Most ran away, back to the city to warn families and friends. Some of us froze. Then I remembered you were in the quadrangle and found I could move again.’
Berrat looked squarely at Poloma. ‘You are a dead man if you stay in Kydan. Maira Sygni is gambling everything on this – his life, his family’s honour, even Kydan itself – he will make sure you are caught and killed. You have always been his most determined opponent, and he will never forgive you for winning the prefecture from him.’
‘But where can I go? I have never left Kydan before –’
‘Hamilay,’ Berrat interrupted.
Poloma looked at him in shock. ‘Hamilay! Are you serious –’
‘You have no choice!’ Berrat closed his eyes and drew a long breath. ‘Look you, brother, Kydan is too small to take on Rivald. Only Hamilay can match that kingdom, and after this they owe us a debt.’
‘A debt?’ Poloma said in amazement. ‘For what?’
‘For Kydan and Frey’s sake! For this, of course! Why do you think Rivald is helping Maira Sygni? Kydan is nothing to Rivald, but one of your first acts as prefect was to allow Hamilay’s merchants to trade here, and their old enemy Rivald obviously decided to do something about it.’
‘But it could take months to get to Hamilay and return with any help! Even years!’
‘What of it?’ Berrat demanded. ‘What if it takes decades? Can anyone else help us? Would anyone else help us?’
Poloma fell quiet. He had no answers to Berrat’s questions, and he found his fear temporarily subsumed by frustration. He wanted to throw Rivald and Maira Sygni out of the city now, not wait for decades . . .
But Berrat was right. Kydan and its militia could not stand against the regiments of Rivald. It would be a slaughter that made the destruction in the quadrangle seem like nothing more than a minor misunderstanding.
As if he was reading his brother’s mind, Berrat said, ‘Maira Sygni and his supporters have only destroyed the members of the council, but if we show resistance now I don’t think Sygni would be able to stop Rivald from levelling the whole city.’
‘Sygni is swimming in waters that are deeper than he knows,’ Poloma said sullenly. He looked up to meet his brother’s gaze. ‘I will go. I will come back with an army to revenge what Rivald did here today.’
‘There will be Hamilay merchants in the Citadel’s port. They will try to flee before Rivald can capture it. You must leave with one of them, but we must hurry. The Citadel cannot last forever against firegons and we must go along the shoreline to avoid being seen.’
As they made their way down to the valley under the Long Bridge, Poloma could feel his heart shrinking once again with fear.
Kevlerens exchanged glances, frowning. Maddyn saw Yunara turn to Lerena and read her lips as she said, ‘Far, far away.’ The two women held each other’s gaze for a moment, then continued on into the tomb where the Axkevlerens had already laid out Hetha’s corpse on the rock shelf made for that purpose, and at her feet placed the metal chest that held the remains of her long-dead husband. Hetha’s Axkevlerens withdrew, leaving the two sisters and their uncle, together with their Beloveds, to mourn alone. Royal Guards stood to attention in the entrance.
Maddyn shook his head to rid himself of the lingering shock he had shared with the other Kevlerens. A terrible thing had happened: a Beloved had been destroyed to create something overwhelmingly powerful from the Sefid. Such a thing had not happened for a generation. Since all the Hamilay Kevlerens of any note were in this fissure, the Wielding must have been done by a member of the Rivald branch of the family. But Rivald was in the south, and this Wielding had been done far to the east, across mountain and plain and sea. In his mind’s eye it had been shaped like a bright comet, the tail indicating the direction the Sefid had been cast, but such was the power behind it that some of its energy leaked in all directions. This was a mystery Lerena would have to work to solve in the future.
Maddyn forced himself to think about something else. He watched the dead empress’s Axkevlerens gather disconsolately outside the tomb in the drizzly rain, most of them huddling forlornly together like sheep. Two stood apart from the huddle and separate from each other, proud and erect. Maddyn recognised Garmonsway, Hetha’s Beloved, one of the tallest women he had ever seen and still unbowed by age and grief. The other was a man Maddyn did not know, about his own age and as wide, but very tall, with a craggy face and a bushy, black beard. Both ignored everyone else around them; their eyes seemed to be staring far into the past.
Or perhaps the future, Maddyn mused, but doubted it, especially for Garmonsway. An Axkevleren’s life was so bound to their mistress or master that it was difficult for them to comprehend a life apart, and this was especially true for a Beloved. He wondered then what it would be like for Kadburn if he passed away first. Kadburn belonged to a master without ability with the Sefid, and so was that rarity among Axkevlerens, a Beloved who knew with utter certainty he would never be sacrificed so Maddyn could Wield. Perhaps that meant the relationship between them was even closer than usual between a Kevleren and Beloved, so Kadburn’s grief would be that much greater. Maddyn cleared his mind of the thought by reminding himself that all love entailed tragedy and there was no point in struggling against it.
People from the end of the procession were still gathering around the tomb, and out of the corner of his eye Maddyn saw someone extraordinary. He turned to get a better view but the person had disappeared; then a large, well-dressed merchant moved aside to greet someone and there she was again, directly behind him, the most beautiful woman Maddyn had ever seen. He was aware of Kadburn looking at him and then following his gaze, and he heard his Beloved’s intake of breath. The merchant moved back and she was lost from sight again.
Maddyn blinked, tried to remember the face he had seen, but could not recall any details at all. It was as if he had been in a dream and now he was awake there was nothing of it left for him.
‘Who was that?’ Maddyn asked Kadburn in a whisper.
‘I have never seen her before. Do you want me to find out?’
Maddyn shook his head. ‘Wait here.’
He started edging through the crowd, nodding absently to people he knew but always keeping his gaze on the place where the merchant stood. The merchant saw Maddyn and obviously thought the prince was coming to see him; he straightened himself and pasted a courteous smile on his face to hide his sudden concern – Kevlerens never made idle conversation with anyone outside their own circle and he was furiously wondering what he had done to draw the attention of Hamilay’s most famous soldier. To his relief, when Maddyn arrived he gave him no attention at all, but with an apologetic smile gently moved him aside to get past.
She was still there, talking to an old man who stood next to her. She had the most perfect face he had ever seen, grander and more beautiful than any painting. Her skin was as pale as a Kevleren’s, but with a deep rose hue, and her hair was the colour of dark honey. Her chin was small and round, her cheekbones high. Maddyn spared a glance for her companion and saw immediately that they were related. The man’s face was rounder, weathered, and most of his hair was gone, but there was an unmistakable similarity.
By now both were aware of Maddyn’s presence. They glanced his way, showing surprise that a Kevleren had come so close to them, then something like shock when they realised the Kevleren was paying them particular notice.
‘Your Highness,’ the man said, and bowed deeply. The woman curtsied.
‘I am Maddyn Kevleren,’ he said, and heard his own voice trail away when he met her gaze. Her large eyes were as grey as the sky overhead and surveyed him with a frankness that made him blush.
‘Ah, General Third Prince Maddyn Kevleren,’ the old man said hurriedly, apparently for his companion’s sake.
‘Do I call you general or prince?’ she asked innocently.
‘Your voice is like a breeze on a summer night,’ Maddyn said.
She swallowed and looked away, suddenly embarrassed. Her companion’s cheeks were as red as an apple.
Maddyn shook his head. ‘I am sorry. That was very forward of me –’
‘Not at all –’ the man started, but the woman interrupted him.
‘You did not answer my question, your Highness,’ she said, still averting her gaze.
With her words, her beguiling frankness, Maddyn felt his spirits rising inside him like a glad song.
‘Convention says I am called general, but you can call me anything you like.’
‘Um, I am Nigh Selford,’ the man said, bowing again. ‘I am a merchant from Ferberin who now represents the farmers from there in Omeralt.’
Maddyn vaguely nodded at him.
‘And this is my niece, Alway Selford, who has come to see the capital –’
‘Alway,’ Maddyn repeated, interrupting her uncle.
‘If it pleases your Highness,’ she said simply, and curtsied again.
He was about to say, ‘Very much,’ but there was a commotion behind them. Maddyn turned to see that Lerena and Yunara were leaving the tomb, the Duke Paimer and their Beloveds trailing behind. All eyes were on them.
‘The memory of my mother, our late empress, has been honoured by your presence here today,’ Lerena told the crowd, her contralto voice hesitant with grief. ‘She now rests with her husband, my father. All pain, all doubt, is now behind her. May the Sefid guide us in our loss.’
‘May the Sefid guide us in our loss,’ the crowd intoned.
‘My mother’s family is now my own,’ Lerena said, and Hetha’s Axkevlerens looked towards her hopefully. All except Garmonsway and the bearded man who had stood apart. ‘They will be made welcome in my household. Once Axkevleren, let nothing break the bond.’
‘Let nothing break the bond,’ repeated all the Axkevlerens present, save Garmonsway and the man.
Lerena went to her sedan and climbed in, joined by Paimer. Their Beloveds waited outside the tomb, and Yunara looked around the crowd.
‘Wait here,’ Maddyn said to Alway Selford under his breath, and went to Yunara.
‘I am going with my sister,’ the duchess told him. ‘Our Beloveds will use my carriage. Can you make your own way back?’
‘I will make arrangements,’ Maddyn said.
‘I am sorry –’
‘Do not apologise,’ he said quickly. ‘Your sister needs you today more than I.’
Yunara lightly touched his face and joined Lerena in the royal sedan. The carriers lifted it, turned around and started back. Yunara’s sedan, carrying the Beloveds, followed close behind. The Royal Guards fell in beside as escort. The crowd squeezed against the side of the fissure to let them pass. Maddyn waited until the two sedans were lost in the gloom and returned to Alway Selford.
‘I am without a way back to Omeralt,’ he said.
Alway was still looking away from Maddyn, but her uncle spoke up quickly. ‘We would be honoured, your Highness, if you would return with us in our chair.’
‘I have my Beloved too,’ Maddyn said absently, not sparing Nigh Selford a single glance.
‘My chair carries four very comfortably,’ the man said.
‘Why, then, thank you. We accept your offer.’
The man scrambled away to call up his carriers, leaving Maddyn and Alway alone together. The crowd of mourners started moving off, washing around them like a receding tide. Maddyn knew Kadburn was nearby but keeping a polite distance.
‘I hope my uncle was not too forward,’ Alway said, still not meeting the prince’s gaze.
‘Will you not look at me?’ Maddyn asked.
‘I am . . .’ Her voice faded.
‘Do not say you are afraid of me.’
She lifted her chin to look at him then, a hint of defiance in her eyes. ‘You are a Kevleren.’
‘I am Maddyn Kevleren,’ he said. ‘And you are Alway Selford. Two people.’
‘A prince and a farmer’s daughter.’
‘Two people,’ Maddyn repeated, even while admitting to himself they were separated by class and culture and tradition; he pushed the thought out of his mind. After all, he was simply flirting, not courting. He wanted to seduce her, not fall in love with her. And yet he somehow already knew he was starting something more dangerous than simple seduction. It was as if he could see a new road to the future opening in his mind, a road he never knew had existed, let alone where it might lead. He also knew he would follow that road. He was certain of it.
Before either could say anything more, Nigh returned with his chair and eight carriers. The carriers lowered the poles from their shoulders to be level with their thighs so the chair could be boarded. Nigh bowed to Maddyn, indicating he should get on first, but instead Maddyn held out his hand to help Alway get on. As she boarded, he looked back at the entrance to Hetha’s tomb. He saw that only Garmonsway and the bearded man remained there. As he watched, the man handed Garmonsway a small phial. She took it and entered the tomb.
Maddyn could not help glancing at Kadburn then. Obviously Hetha’s Beloved had decided that without the old empress there was no future at all. The bearded man watched her go in, then turned around. For a moment he and Maddyn locked eyes. The prince was not sure what he saw there, but realised that grief was only a part of it. The moment was gone and the man looked away, then started back down the fissure.
‘The empress will take all of her mother’s Axkevlerens?’ Alway asked from the chair.
Maddyn nodded. ‘Those that wish to join her household.’
‘Do any ever go their own way?’
‘I have heard of it,’ Maddyn said, climbing onto the chair beside her, ‘but have never witnessed it myself.’
Think, Poloma, he told himself. Do not feel. Forget your heart.
He stared up into the sky and saw that the smoke above was thinning. The merchant ship he was sailing on was now far enough away from Kydan that the fires in the city were nothing more than a distant glimmer. He looked up and saw stars, sparkling.
Think. Never feel again.
I am Poloma Malvara, Prefect of Kydan.
He shook his head. No more. Now I am Poloma Malvara, refugee from Kydan. Fleeing from the flames and smoke and terrible firegons and Maira Sygni.
He leaned against the ship’s side and closed his eyes. In his mind he still saw Kydan burning. It had looked as if the whole city was on fire.
Think, Poloma, don’t feel.
But it was not possible. All his memories came with grief and fear. He could not forget what he had seen that day. He could not forget the sound of Rivald’s firegons shooting into the crowd in the quadrangle.
He could not help it, and he could not help the tears that welled in his eyes.
He wondered if anyone in the world had ever been as alone as he was.
“Simon Brown likes his fantasy fast, clever and unpredictable. Born of Empire is all of these and more, an excellent recommendation.” Bookseller & Publisher
The Kevleren dynasty rules both the Hamilayan empire and the kingdom of Rivald because they, and only they, can use the Sefid, the true source of all magic. But Wielding the Sefid comes at a terrible cost, the sacrifice of something loved.
Hamilay’s new empress, Lerena, no sooner ascends the throne than she is faced by the joint crises of an expansionist Rivald overseas and an unstable, love-spurned sister at home – whose influence with the Sefid is greater than any who have come before. Then a revolution in Rivald creates the greatest threat her family has ever faced, and the Kevlerens confront extinction at the hands of those they trusted most.
“A first-class trilogy. The Chronicles of Kydan has all the traditional fantasy ingredients expertly mixed with new ideas.” – Garth Nix, author of The Abhorsen Trilogy
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Simon Brown has been writing for over thirty years. His novels and stories have been published in Australia, the US, Russia, Poland, Japan and the UK. He lives on the New South Wales south coast with his wife Alison and children Edlyn and Fynn.