The Virgin Queen
The Chronicles of Parthalan Book Two
by Jennifer Allis Provost
Genre: Fantasy romance
Publisher: Bellatrix Press
Date of Publication: April 5, 2016
Number of pages: 300 Word Count: 100k
Cover Artist: Veronica Jones
Asherah, Queen of Parthalan and Lady of Tingu, has led her people through eight centuries of prosperity. That peace shatters when Mersgoth, the mordeth thought long dead, attacks Teg’urnan. In the aftermath a new warrior emerges: Aeolmar, a man as secretive as he is deadly.
Asherah and Aeolmar race across Parthalan in pursuit of Mersgoth, and track the beast to the High Desert. While they're gone, Harek, now Prelate of Parthalan, conspires with the Dark Fae against the elves...Against Leran, the king of the elves and Asherah's son in all but blood. Will Asherah see the truth of Harek before it's too late, or will he bring down the fae once and for all?
Asherah held her hand against her brow, shading her eyes against the suns as she surveyed the carnage across the plain. There had been no warning of this attack, led by the mordeths Mersgoth and Esguth, no scouts had run to the gates alerting Teg’urnan that demons had been on the move near Teg’urnan; then again, the scouts probably had been the first to die. No, yesterday had been a day like any other, almost boring in its sameness to the days that came before, until darkness fell.
Shortly after the child sun went to rest, demons had amassed before the gates, an unusual and effective tactic for creatures who shunned the darkness. It was a force Asherah hadn’t seen the like of since her army of slaves and elves, the Ish h’ra hai led by herself, Lormac, Harek and Tor, had taken the palace from Sahlgren. Since that bloody, tragic day when both Asherah’s mate and dearest friend had perished, she had led Parthalan through nearly eight centuries of peace.
Harek...the one time Teg’urnan was attacked since she took the throne, her Prelate, along with all of the con’dehr, had been away to the south. He’d been leaving the palace more often of late, and Asherah speculated that the mordeths had become aware of his frequent and extended absences. She suspected that they’d waited until the Prelate and his guards hadn’t been in residence before they moved against the palace. She wondered if Harek had been attacked, if he yet lived. She needed him alive, needed him to return, for she doubted she could set this mess to rights without him.
No, that’s not true. I just don’t want anyone else near me to die.
The queen shoved away her thoughts about Harek’s possible demise and brought her ruminations back to the prior evening. Upon the alarm’s sounding, the legion and hunters had scrambled to meet their attackers. Even the sola had emptied, with each and every nuvi grabbing the nearest weapon and mustering in defense of their home. Asherah and her First Hunter, Argent, had been among the first outside the gates. As they had called out orders, one of the mordeths, Esguth, had taken notice of Argent, and had fixated on him throughout the battle. While Esguth had baited the hunter, Asherah had shouted for Argent to keep his head, for he had been too canny a warrior to fall for a demon’s tricks. Or perhaps not. His body had yet to be found, but reports claimed that Esguth had ripped Argent to pieces.
My Prelate is gone; my First Hunter is dead. Why am I left breathing? Why Esguth had bothered singling out Argent had been a mystery to the queen. While Argent had been First Hunter, and therefore a target of all demons, she could not recall Esguth having ever having had set eyes on him. Further, Argent had gone into battle clad in simple leather armor that in no way differentiated him from the rest of the hunters. She shuddered as she remembered the look in the mordeth’s eyes, as if Argent had been his intended prey. Even now, after all the death she had seen, all the demons and men she herself had killed, the malevolence in Esguth’s stare made her blood run cold.
A herald approached Asherah and confirmed what she had been dreading: none of the hunters could be found, and each was assumed dead. As queen, Asherah felt the loss of each and every Parthian deep within her being, but her hunters were as special to her as her Ish h’ra hai had once been. It had been Caol’nir’s idea to have a team of warriors specially trained to fight demons, in much the same way he had taught her and Torim the finer points of combat. She’d wanted Caol’nir to train them himself, but he had not been swayed in his desire to create a quiet, demon-free existence for his mate. Asherah never learned where he and Alluria eventually made their home. She had honored their pact that his name be stricken from Teg’urnan’s records and never had sought them out or spoke, their names. Still, she never gave up hope that she would see them again.
Gods. If only they’d been here. Caol’nir had killed seventeen mordeths during the Battle for Teg’urnan, but the one who’d gotten away was Mersgoth. Mersgoth, the beast who had marked Caol’nir’s mate and driven them into hiding, the same beast who had led yesterday’s charge alongside Esguth. What she wouldn’t give to see that creature’s head on a pike.
The battle had suddenly ended when the demons scattered, and it was later reported that the lessers had abandoned the fight when Esguth fell. No one knew who killed the mordeth, and there was no sign of the demon’s carcass near the gates. Asherah now wended her way down the Hill of Rahlle, named for the sorcerer who’d sacrificed his sight for its creation, and across the deathly stillness of the battlefield, desperate for any sign of her hunters. She forged ahead like one possessed, ignoring the sucking noise the blood-soaked ground made against her boots.
Lormac, if ever you wished to offer your wise counsel, now is the time. Lormac would have rallied the survivors, issued orders… he would have known what to do. He had always known the right word or action; he who had been her mate, he who she’d lived without for far too long. She sighed, and wondered when she would join him. On days like this, she hoped that day would be sooner rather than later.
The queen wandered on, picking her way among the dead as the sharp incline of the Hill of Rahlle gradually leveled out to the flatness of the plain. She hadn’t realized the distance she’d covered from the palace until she spied an individual kneeling before the rocky outcrop on the far side of the plain.
Is that a survivor, or yet another demon? As she got closer she saw that it was a faerie man, kneeling with his head bent forward as if in prayer. Scattered around him, as if they’d been flung from a great sack, were the limbs and heads of demons. His back was to Asherah, but as she approached she noted his long chestnut hair, and that his jerkin looked to be blue underneath the gore...
“Aeolmar!” Asherah cried as she threw her arms around the hunter. “Aeolmar, Aeolmar, Aeolmar, I thought those beasts had killed every last hunter.” She felt his arms and back for wounds. “Are you all right?”
Aeolmar nodded slightly; Asherah assumed he was in shock. Still searching for wounds, she grabbed his hands, pausing when she saw the sword he held in a white-knuckled grip.
“This is… Is that Esguth’s weapon?” she asked incredulously. While she was aware of Aeolmar’s excellent swordsmanship, the taking a mordeth’s sword was nearly unheard of. Not even Caol’nir, arguably the greatest warrior she had ever known, had managed such a feat. She looked again at the heaps of demon limbs, and noted how one arm was so much larger than the rest. No, he couldn’t have, not alone…
“Did you kill Esguth?” Asherah asked. Aeolmar finally met the queen’s gaze, his face as unmoving as stone.
“Yes.” He glanced at the destruction he’d caused. “I killed them all.”
Asherah stood, awed and slightly frightened of this man who was able to dispatch at least a dozen lesser demons as well as the mordeth on his own. In all her days she’d only known a handful of people capable of such a feat, herself being one of them. She pulled Aeolmar to his feet, and hunter and queen began the long walk back to Teg’urnan. Aeolmar kept his free hand on the queen’s elbow as he led her around the bodies, his other hand clutching the mordeth’s sword as if one of the corpses may rear up and attack. After a time, they came upon a man’s arm clad in dark green leather, which was the last either of them saw of Argent. Once they reached the gates, they were told that the other mordeth, Mersgoth, fled the battle shortly after Esguth fell, the suspicion now confirmed by a sighting east of Teg’urnan. He had once again escaped with his hide intact.
The queen nodded, hardly hearing the detailed account of the demon’s whereabouts. Instead, she contemplated the statues of the stag and doe as they leapt toward each other over the dark iron gates of Teg’urnan. Sculpted as representations of Olluhm and Cydia, gods of the sun and moon who were parents to the Fair Folk, they were meant to honor her kind’s origin. To Asherah, the statues went far beyond a mere reminder. Olluhm was strong and his justice swift; indeed, tales were told of him setting entire realms ablaze to ensure the safety of his mate and progeny. Cydia, the calm mother goddess, tempered her fiery mate with the compassion that only a mother could possess.
For this offense there will be justice, swift and sure. Compassion be damned.
“Aeolmar, you are now my First Hunter,” Asherah proclaimed. “What is your first command?”
“Find Mersgoth and kill him,” Aeolmar replied through clenched teeth.
Asherah laced her fingers with the new First Hunter’s. This new threat would be dealt with, and Asherah wouldn’t need Harek’s help. No, she and Aeolmar—she and her First Hunter—would have their vengeance.
“As you wish.”
Harek stood in front of the large window, his hands braced on the ledge and surveying the valley before him as if it were his own private kingdom. Indeed, these past few winters he’d spent far more time at this southern residence than in the palace, so much so that he’d had a full manor built to accommodate himself and his con’dehr. They’d spent much of the cold season at this home away from home, he and his warriors and no others. There was the occasional complaint over the lack of women, but generally the men bore their isolation well, and Harek needed no reminders of Asherah.
Many speculated as to why Parthalan’s Prelate took such frequent leaves from Teg’urnan, though few dared to ask him directly. Officially, he stated that since the old king had hidden away in the south while plotting with the mordeth-gall, there was a dire need to secure the region against further threats. That had been reason enough for his presence, but then a routine sweep had revealed a fissure at the desert’s edge, belching the all too familiar stench of demons. It wasn’t large, perhaps the length of three horses standing nose to tail, but its small size had mattered not. Whether by accident or design, there had been a crack in the very fabric of Parthalan that lead directly to the underworld.
“So this is why he went south,” Asherah had said when she was told of the fissure, assuming that the source of Sahlgren’s betrayal had been at last revealed. Against Harek’s advice, she had journeyed to look at it with her own eyes, though he hadn’t let her get too close to the edge. Back then, in the early days of Asherah’s reign, she still had worn the Sala, the armband given to her by Lormac that marked her as Lady of Tingu. The four green stones of the Sala had glowed an ominous red to warn her away from the evil sludge that oozed from the crack. Trust the elves to make an object that warned you of impending evil when you were right in front of said evil, not when you were still a league or two off. Foolish, foolish creatures.
No matter, Harek would worry about the elves another day. It had taken nearly a full turn of the seasons to close the fissure, which had first been first packed with rock and assorted rubble, and then with dressed stone as masons fit together an impenetrable wall of granite. Once the masons had completed their work, the royal sorcerers, under Sarfek’s direction, had woven a net of spells tightly around the stones. When all was said and done, the area looked like an ordinary hillside, not a gaping chasm where evil once spilled forth.
Harek had never doubted Sarfek’s abilities, and had been confident that the seal was sound. Life had gone on in Teg’urnan, and as time wore on the queen wore the Sala less and less. Eventually the fog of despair had lifted from Asherah’s sparkling black eyes, and those dark gems had settled upon a man. His name had been Brendan, and he was one of the warriors who’d fought in the Battle for Teg’urnan. He had been a kind man, strong and swift and handsome, a man who made Asherah smile again. A man who wasn’t Harek.
Unable to voice his despair, Harek had made up the excuse of ensuring that the fissure hadn’t reopened and fled Teg’urnan before the sight of Asherah in Brendan’s arms drove him mad. As time continued to flow, Harek stopped citing the fissure as the reason for his long absences, and Asherah stopped questioning him. He wondered if she noticed when he wasn’t there.
Soon, things will be different. Soon, Asherah and I will be close like we once were, and--
A commotion in the courtyard below interrupted Harek’s thoughts. It was a messenger wearing Teg’urnan’s silver and blue colors tumbling off a horse that looked as if it would collapse in the next moment. The messenger gasped his missive between breaths, then crumpled to the ground. Harek turned from the window and rushed toward the stairs; his warriors were already running to fetch him. It was Olwynn who spoke, his face bloodless.
“Teg’urnan has been attacked!
Connect with Jennifer at www.authorjenniferallisprovost.com