Artesans of Albia series synopsis.
On a foolhardy foray into a foreign realm, Taran Elijah is attacked by a terrible weapon known as the Staff. Killing its wielder, he escapes into Albia, inadvertantly carrying the Staff.
Concerned by the vicious raids that follow Taran's actions, Major Sullyan of the High King's forces crosses into Andaryon to seek diplomatic resolution to the crisis. She is captured and tortured by Lord Rykan, aspirant to the Andaryon throne.
Slowly dying, Sullyan escapes his clutches. She offers her skills to the Hierarch in defense of his throne, finally confronting Rykan on the field of battle.
Her handsome Captain and lover, Robin Tamsen, embarks on a desperate quest to recover the Staff. But Rykan's greedy General, Sonten, is two steps ahead of him. If Robin cannot lay hold of the weapon before Sonten does, Sullyan's life and the lives of all Artesans are forfeit.
The race for the Staff has begun.
King's Envoy Excerpt.
Taran Elijah's quest for knowledge uncovers a plot that threatens the world...
"Are you quite sure about this, Taran?”
Cal’s voice echoed in the gloom as Taran Elijah closed the cellar door behind them. He raised the lantern and sharp-edged shadows fled up the walls.
Taran glanced at his Apprentice standing three steps below him and ran a hand through his short brown hair. It came away clammy and he wiped it on his shirt. Trying to keep his voice level, Taran said, “I’ve tried every way I can think of to find another teacher. My father was right, there simply aren’t any Artesans left in Loxton Province. Maybe even in the whole of Albia. Entering the Fifth Realm might be dangerous, but it’s the only place I’m going to find other members of our craft.”
Turning away from Cal’s doubts, Taran faced the portway. It was the smallest, tightest structure he could form and it was firmly anchored. There was nothing else to wait for.
He nodded to Cal and drew a deep breath.
Stepping into the portway, he left the cellar behind.
Taran was distracted as the Staff skidded to his opponent’s feet. The noble snatched it up and it flared blindingly, blue and green light rippling down its length. He drove at Taran with his sword but even as he parried the blows, Taran felt his opponent calling up power. He stared in shock—the Staff’s flickering tip was pointing at his heaving chest.
A killing bolt of pure elemental energy flashed from the Staff. With a wide-eyed look of horror, totally unnerved by this unforeseen event, Taran only just managed to twist sideways. He was showered with dirt as a sizzling bolt of Earth power pulverized a rock behind him.
Fear and anger goaded Taran and he leaped at his opponent. Taran rained blows onto his blade, striking viciously, trying to keep the noble off balance. There was a discordant clang, and Taran’s sword arm went numb. The noble roared a curse as his sword was sent spinning from his hand.
“Yield,” panted Taran, but his opponent didn’t falter. Raising the Staff, he attacked Taran with renewed ferocity. Huge bolts of Earth energy shot from its tip, forcing the exhausted Journeyman to deflect them.
Taran’s powers were stretched far beyond their straining limits. Terrified, he only had one choice and he grabbed it, throwing all his remaining metaforce into one vast Earth shift. The ground bucked beneath his opponent’s feet, nearly toppling him, and Taran rushed him. Ignoring the Staff’s awful power, he brought his sword around in a powerful backhanded sweep.
The noble’s head suddenly dangled from a half-severed neck.
There was shocked silence.
The Count led Major Sullyan to the far end of the hall, where a tight knot of people surrounded a tall, regal-looking man dressed in black trimmed with red and silver. The man in black turned to see who was approaching.
Taran felt the shock that ran through Sullyan as she saw his face. He sensed, rather than heard, her tightly hissed whisper in his mind—Beware!—before her mental shield snapped down. With amazement, he saw the very deep obeisance she accorded this arrogant-looking lord, and watched as he took her hand with a predatory smile. A strange light glowed in his pale yellow eyes.
The Count licked his lips and cleared his throat before announcing, “Most noble and gracious Lord, may I present the Lady Ambassador Sullyan, of whom you have heard me speak many times. Lady Sullyan, it is my privilege to present to you his Grace Lord Rykan, Duke of Kymer.”
The saturnine lord gazed intensely into Sullyan’s face. She had frozen her expression in a smile but Taran could feel tension radiating from her.
“My dear Lady Ambassador.” The Duke’s voice was deep, rich and silky-smooth, and his eyes looked as sharp as an eagle sighting prey. His darkly handsome face was perfectly complemented by an aquiline nose and the very pale gold of his slit-pupiled eyes. Despite his clear middle age, his slim and powerful body positively radiated strength and virility.
He smiled, showing white, even teeth, and held fast to Sullyan’s hand as his raptor’s eyes traveled her body, drinking in her curves.
“The Count has told me of your beauty, Lady,” he murmured, “but at his most effusive he did not do you justice. You are a flawless gem among women. No one here could outshine you.”
“Your Grace is too kind,” responded Sullyan, casting down her eyes. She tried to reclaim her hand but the Duke was having none of it.
He turned, obliging her to fall into step beside him, and moved toward the highborns’ feast table at the far end of the hall.
The Count scuttled nervously after him.
“It is my pleasure to be the lady’s escort tonight. Make other arrangements for her … companions.”
“Yes, your Grace.”
With much flapping of his long hands, the Count ushered Bull, Robin and Taran to tables at the long side of the hall. Bull and Robin went reluctantly, the Captain clearly unhappy at being separated from the Major. Sullyan, when Taran glanced back at her, seemed to be coping with her shock, for she sat and talked with the dark lord while the other guests found their seats.
“The Duke of Kymer?” hissed Robin. “What the hell’s he doing here?”
Bull shook his head.
“I’ve no idea. All I know is that we’ve been warned about him before. Leaving aside our suspicions as to who’s behind the invasion, Rykan’s probably the most influential and dangerous person in the entire Fifth Realm. He has a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty and I’ve heard he has an insatiable appetite for women.
“Coincidence it may be, and nothing to do with the raids, but his presence here means there’s something afoot. He’s got under Marik’s skin too, by the looks of things. The Count may be gloomy by nature but he’s not normally so nervy, although I’d expect him to be on edge with Rykan here. The Duke’s a harsh overlord and Marik’s not wealthy.
“Keep your wits about you, lads. Sullyan’s in no danger at present but if Rykan takes a fancy to her, she’ll need all her diplomatic skills to wriggle out of it without giving offense.”
Sprinting toward the guard house, Taran ignored the sounds of combat behind him and slipped quietly through the door. The building was deserted. Re-emerging, he saw that Robin had tied his man securely and was helping Cal and Bull, neither of whom seemed under pressure. Swiftly, he looked around, identifying the mansion’s entrance as the only other possible source of danger. He ran around the courtyard, keeping out of the direct line of sight of the open doorway, and sidled along the wall until he could see into the passage beyond. It was clear.
He jumped through the doorway and listened intently in the pale light of a few tallow torches. There was nothing to hear or sense. When he turned back to the others, two of the guards lay bleeding their last on the slick cobbles and Robin was menacing his prisoner, trying to make the demon tell him if there was anyone else inside.
The guard stayed defiantly silent, staring at Robin through pale, slitted eyes until Bull came up behind him and casually sliced off an ear lobe. The demon’s agonized shriek echoed around the courtyard.
“Where’s the Count?” repeated Robin.
“Gone,” rasped the demon, blood streaming down his neck.
“Gone where?” yelled Robin.
Bull laid his dagger beneath the guard’s other ear and the demon flinched, sweat beading his face. “They’ve gone to Kymer,” he spat. “They left two weeks ago.”
Robin and Bull stared at each other.
“Kymer?” said the Captain. “That’s Rykan’s province.” He turned back to the guard and shook him roughly. “Are you telling me Rykan came back for the council meeting?”
Despite his pain, the guard smiled wolfishly. “He never really left. There was a tasty morsel here he fancied.”
Robin stamped furiously on his arm and the demon grunted in pain.
“I knew we shouldn’t have left her here,” raged Robin. “If Marik’s betrayed her, I’ll slice out his heart. The gods know what’s become of her now. Curse Blaine for recalling us too soon.”
Bull frowned. “Calm down, Robin, getting angry won’t help us. We don’t know this is Marik’s doing. And if Rykan’s that enamored of her, he’s not going to do her any harm.”
They became aware of a rasping sound. It was the demon guard laughing at them as he bled. “No lasting harm?” he wheezed. “She’ll be dead by now if I know my Lord Rykan. He’ll have had what he wanted of her ten times over. There will be no stopping him now.”
King's Champion Excerpt.
Trapped in Andaryon and slowly dying, Major Sullyan is determined to find some purpose in the shattered remains of her life...
Branches whipped past Rienne’s face as she clung to the horse’s neck. The darkness and the wind of their speed were unremitting. Horse sweat slicked her fingers. Her arms and legs ached fiercely with the effort of staying on the galloping beast, and neither the wiry arms circling her waist nor the unfamiliar chest pressed into her back were helping. She wasn’t used to riding this fast and certainly not riding double.
Would this ride never end?
How long had it been since she, Count Marik, and Robin had brought the gravely injured and unconscious Major Sullyan out of those dreadful dungeons? How long since they had fled Rykan’s palace and the patrols sent to hunt them? Rienne shuddered, trying not to think of Sullyan’s unresponsive face as Robin took her onto his horse. Marik had kicked their shared mount ahead of Robin, desperate to lead them far away from Rykan’s palace. As she passed him, Rienne saw tears glistening in Robin’s indigo eyes. Since then, she hadn’t had an opportunity to gauge the Major’s condition. Was she still alive or had she, as Rienne privately feared, already died? Her injuries were severe; this wild, panic-stricken flight through an unfamiliar forest might be one ordeal too many.
Sullyan removed her cloak and jacket, handing them to Robin. Ky-shan’s eyes widened when he saw her rank insignia and battle honors, and wariness showed on his face. He waved his men back to the walls of the compound to make space for the fight. This hid them from the soldiers outside, and Sullyan noticed Robin eyeing the Guardsmen. He would be wondering how long it would be before news of the duel reached the Hierarch. Sullyan could hardly deny inciting Ky-shan. Knowing Robin trusted her, she pushed the thought to the back of her mind, waving him to a position not far from the compound entrance.
As she drew her sword, Ky-shan positioned himself across from her, his heavier blade already balanced in his right hand. Poised on the balls of his feet, he looked angry and dangerous. Sullyan chose a double-handed grip. It wasn’t her usual style, but when the pirate attacked with no warning, she was glad she had. She blocked the mighty swipe and let Ky-shan’s blade shiver off hers, the two-handed grip giving her stability against his heavier weapon.
He came back at her at once, and she allowed him to make contact with her sword, jumping away without striking back. She would test his skill and strength and let him spend the first flush of his anger. Moving easily around the space, giving ground as necessary, she made him do all the work. Yet he was not without subtlety and soon realized what she was doing. After a few testing passes which she parried cleanly, she saw him begin to re-evaluate her. She gave him her full attention, anticipating the real start to their duel.
The pirate lunged at her and she switched to a single, left-handed grip, parrying his thrust and following up with a lunge of her own. The very tip of her sword parted the sleeve on his right arm and she saw a thin trace of blood follow the blade.
His men saw it too and erupted, roaring their anger. It was only a flesh wound and could hardly have stung, but seeing first blood go to her refueled Ky-shan’s rage. He bellowed and pressed her with a flurry of furious strokes. Sullyan parried smoothly, forcing him to circle, trying to tire him out. Where she could, she sidestepped his lunges, letting him spend his strength on empty air, and then followed up with a lightning-fast attack of her own.
Ky-shan’s was the stronger weapon, but it was heavier and slower. His thick, meaty fingers weren’t as flexible as Sullyan’s and his control over his blade not as sure. His was a slashing weapon and his style reflected this, more suited to shipboard skirmishes than the finer art of dueling. Soon he began to tire, his breath coming in gasps. She guessed that her level of expertise had both surprised and infuriated him. Sustaining his anger was sapping his strength. As he fought, he gave a series of grunts and cries, whereas Sullyan fought in silence, only exhaling hard during a particularly vicious cut.
His men were jeering her, yelling encouragement to their leader. Ky-shan altered his tactics and advanced hard on her, attacking with a series of cross-body strokes so powerful they turned his torso from side to side. Each slash was punctuated by a heavy grunt. Sullyan blocked, backing away before him, his men parting to give her room. She was still using a left-handed grip and Ky-shan had the measure of that now, compensating well for the unusual angle of her blade. He was grinning. She moved sideways, parrying awkwardly, sliding away when she could. Ky-shan pursued her relentlessly, pressing home his advantage. His men roared and he swung his sword round to attack her unprotected right side.
Flicking her sword into her other hand, she ducked his violent swing, thrusting swiftly at his completely undefended left flank. Her blade opened a long, bloody cut down his side.
Ky-shan staggered, gasping in pain. As his men swayed forward, yelling their anger, Sullyan pursued him across the courtyard, opening two more superficial cuts before he recovered his balance. Enraged beyond thought now and egged on by his band, Ky-shan chased her back, beating down on her sword, raining blows as fast as he could. He drove her backward on the icy ground where the footing was treacherous, pressing her so fast that suddenly—she went down. With a roar of triumph echoed by his furious men, Ky-shan raised his blade.
At the base of a small hill, twenty men crouched in the trees. Their leader gestured and three of them followed him as he began a slow, stealthy upward creep. All had knives in their hands.
On reaching the crest of the hill, they saw a group of four Albians oblivious to their surroundings and totally engrossed in the drama below. The one woman in the group had both hands tightly clenched and pressed to her mouth, the pressure of her huge companion’s arms around her waist unheeded as she stared with blank eyes. Two younger men—one of them the target—stood apart from the other two, closer to the trees. They were far enough away that the man and the woman couldn’t directly see them.
Silently, the leader indicated the two men. His three followers nodded. The Albians had heard nothing and remained ignorant of the danger behind them.
Taran’s sight faded to black as the spellsilver knife pressed in below his ear, shutting off every sense he possessed. Shocked and frightened, he tried to cry a warning to Cal or Bull, but a hand clamped painfully over his mouth, making speech impossible. Weakened, sickened by the spellsilver’s touch, he felt himself being hustled backward into the trees.
“The General wants a word with you,” growled a threatening voice in his ear.
The words sounded oddly muffled, and all he could see were vague, dark shapes. Coldly fearful, he could do nothing as his captors wrestled him away, leaving his companions oblivious on the hill.
King's Artesan Excerpt.
Robin Tamsen sets out on a desperate quest. The race for the Staff has begun ...
With a savage cut to the throat, Robin dispatched his opponent and drew a breath, using the brief lull to glance around him. He was pleased with the progress they were making, but could not understand what had happened to Parren. He and Parren were supposed to be supporting each other, driving Sonten’s forces away from the village and out into the marshy ground around the pond, yet Robin’s command were doing all the work themselves. There was no sign of Parren.
A sudden commotion to his left caused Robin to spin round. With relief, he saw the remnants of Baily’s command come pouring down through the houses to engage Sonten’s flank. This gave him respite to try to locate either Parren or Vanyr. He could see neither man, but what he did see, to his dismay, was the unmistakable shimmer of a trans-Veil portway. Limned against it like a blue halo was a tall figure wielding what could only be the Staff.
Robin went cold. Summoning his strength, he yelled, “Torman!” There was an answering shout from somewhere in front of him. Abandoning caution, Robin linked with Vanyr.
Sonten’s man is opening a tunnel. He’s got the Staff and he’s getting away!
Vanyr’s response was tight with strain. Don’t worry, I’m on him. If he tries to use the tunnel, we’ll follow, but it’s not ready yet.
Reassured that Vanyr had the situation covered, Robin again scanned the mêlée for Parren. There was still no sign of him, but in the slowly growing light Robin could just make out some of his men outside the tavern. Before he could wonder what the sallow captain was doing back there, an Andaryan swordsman aimed a lunge at Robin’s chest. Whirling, he deflected the stroke, his blade ringing on his opponent’s as he sidestepped, avoiding the backslash. There were more Andaryans facing his command now as those from the eastern end were rallying the ones surrounding Sonten. The battle was turning desperate.
Vanyr knew he was gaining on the General. He also realized that Heron was not fully in control of the portway. He could feel its instability through the element of Earth from which it was formed. Casting aside thoughts of his own safety, he had eyes only for the two fleeing men and the artifact they carried. As he ran, he tried reaching out with his own metaforce, wondering if he could disrupt Heron’s concentration. If he could wrest control of the Staff from Heron, he might be able to seal the end of the tunnel, trapping Sonten inside. He was aware that Heron was metaphysically stronger than him, but Sullyan’s words concerning his ranking five days ago had given him new confidence.
Exerting his will, Vanyr latched on to the strange signature of the Staff. He could now feel Heron’s pattern of psyche and sense how tenuous his grip on the Staff was. Ignoring the weird sensations the Staff sent crawling through his body, Vanyr succeeded in severing Heron’s connection to the weapon. Triumphant, he saw the enemy commander stumble and then glance fearfully over his shoulder.
Vanyr grinned, but his triumph faded as a strange and ominous rumbling came from behind him. Glancing over his own shoulder, he frowned at the eerie ripples advancing toward him, warping the air. The figures of men seemed to bleed, their shapes flowing like muddy water. Sound warped too, the cries and screams of men swelling and ebbing in his ears. He felt sick.
He grabbed for the substrate, trying to control the strangely fluctuating power. Before he could act, a shockwave barreled into him. The sound of a thousand souls screaming in agony whipped Vanyr around like fluff in a gale, making him gasp in pain. He stared, helpless, as the weirdly augmented scream rebounded wildly through the tunnel, blasting over Sonten and his fleeing men. Vanyr’s eyes widened in horror as the tunnel wavered on the verge of collapse.
He shielded instinctively, turning to yell furiously over his shoulder at Ky-shan and the seamen. “Cover your ears! The tunnel’s collapsing! Go back! GET OUT!”
Without waiting to see if they obeyed him, he plunged his metasenses into the Staff, grasping at the vat of power with no restraint. He took a deep breath, for the ripples of the shockwave had reached the far end and were racing back toward him with mindless fury. He saw Sonten and Heron fall, both men crumpling like slaughtered deer. Clapping his hands over his ears as the wave raced over him, Vanyr fell to his knees. His body was blasted and shaken like a rag, yet his mind clamped desperately over the tunnel’s structure as it shuddered around him, threatening to fall apart. It ripped at his senses and he screamed, fighting to hold it together. The sound wave bounced back once more, punching him flat to the ground, searing his nerves and burning them raw. In anguish, he called upon the power of the Staff, just enough to direct the tunnel’s opening. He forced himself to crawl forward, desperate to snatch the Staff from Heron’s hand. He had to make it out before the tunnel collapsed completely.
Holding his connection to the Staff was agony. Its power charred his barely shielded mind. Needles of hot pain lanced into his eyes and boiling liquid spilled down his face, making him shriek. On hands and knees, he blindly forced himself forward, pace by tortured pace, crying with pain as he grimly held on to the tunnel.
One thought kept him going, distracted him from his agony. It was the image of Sullyan fighting for Bull’s life as the big man lay unresponsive after his heart seizure. She would never have given up on him, and Vanyr knew he could not give up now. Everything she had suffered—at Rykan’s palace, in the arena, and then to save her friends—could not be wasted. Without the Staff, she stood no chance of life.
Vanyr could not let her down. Setting his teeth in a rictus of urgency, he clamped his mind around the disintegrating tunnel.
He had no idea if anyone else was left in the structure. He had no thoughts, no time to speculate, no capacity for anything but this bitter battle for survival. He felt it like a sword in his back when the Albian end of the tunnel fractured, broke, and collapsed. He shrieked aloud as it raced up behind him, tumbling and buffeting his body as it imploded, shattering all around him.
Robin composed himself to report to General Blaine. He hadn’t intended to put it off this long. He walked away from where the pirates were getting ready to leave, and sat on a pile of rubble. His quest for contact got the General’s attention immediately, and he ran through the events leading up to his arrival in Hyecombe succinctly. Blaine heard it all without comment. Then Robin described the battle for the Staff. He managed to keep his emotions at bay until he reached the part where the tunnel collapsed. He got as far as describing the Andaryan General’s desperate scramble through the structure and Vanyr’s heroic pursuit. When he tried to continue, however, he choked.
There was a short silence before the General asked, What became of them, Captain? Do you have the artifact?
Shame and sorrow colored Robin’s tone. I’m afraid not, sir. They were all inside when the tunnel collapsed. It would have killed them, sir. I think the Staff is lost.
Lost? Do you mean permanently?
I don’t know, sir. I searched, but I couldn’t find any trace of Sonten, his Artesan, or Vanyr. If they were trapped inside the tunnel when it blew, as I’m sure they were, then it’s gone for good.
Reader Reviews for the Artesans series:
"Better than A Game of Thrones" - SCIFI, Amazon reviewer.
"Most impressive. Fantastic series ... don't miss it!" - K S, Amazon Vine Voice and Top 1000 Reviewer
"A must-read for fantasy fans" CR, Blogger and Amazon reviewer
"5 stars, but deserves so much more" AA, Amazon reviewer
"Splendidly written in a wonderful voice" RM, Author and Amazon reviewer
"One of the best fantasy books I've ever read" DC, Author and Amazon reviewer
See the video of her performing live at the King’s Envoy book launch here:
Find out more at her website: www.caspeace.com
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And here’s the series trailer on YouTube: