Chapter 1 
       Summer, 874 


She scanned the crowd surrounding the wagon, looking for a single person. She knew he was down there and knew he’d be beside the wagon. On a normal day, he was easy to pick out of a crowd from both his clothing and the ever present honour guard. Today was not a normal day. Today, he wore white as his fellows did and his guards mixed in among the others around the wagon.


She spotted his long brown hair. Feeble sunlight winked off the solid gold clasp that bound its length into a long tail. She smiled; the sight of her only son—her only child—always lightened her heart. She watched as Sahiren took one of his fellow Dragon Warriors—a woman named Chounen—aside and held her as she cried. Even the ever exuberant Nalshen seemed depressed as he sat with one of the younger priestesses.

Her smile became a frown as she located the thaumaturge Nahiro. He stood still, staring at the bundle wrapped in white cloth lying on the wagon. At the distance he stood from her, his face was unreadable, but she could make a guess on what it was.

“He blames himself,” a velvety soft voice said at her side. “He couldn’t get to her fast enough.”

“I only hope he recovers,” Shinjaloye replied. “I can’t have him looking at the new Warrior and wishing them to be Shanye.”

“Were Nahiro and Shanye close?”

“Not as close as Shanye would have liked, but Nahiro considered her to be a good friend and confidant.”

Rikkala nodded. “I would instead worry about Nalshen. From what I’ve been able to gather, he also blames himself. Not for not being able to reach her in time to heal her as Nahiro does, but for not staying closer to her in the battle. Invisibility is a wonderful ability, but an invisible woman isn’t immune to Zalite arrows.”

Shinjaloye smiled, but it faded quickly. “I worry about him not at all. The young priestess he sits with will keep his head on straight and prevent him from becoming lost in his grief.”

At this, the Fire Sage laughed. “I can guess at the methods she’ll use to do so.” Rikkala paused. “What of the Crown Prince?”

“Sahiren is familiar with loss, sad as it is to say. I worry that all the losses he has suffered in his life are why he still refuses to take a bride. He is, perhaps, afraid that if he opens his heart to someone new, he’ll be hurt.”

“I can understand that,” Rikkala said in a soft voice. “At least he has his fellow Warriors to associate with.”

“There is that blessing. Kal Sharash knew what he was doing when he Chose my son.”

“He always does, Honoured Majesty, though his reasons aren’t always clear to us mere mortals.”

Shinjaloye shook her head. “When will you perform Shanye’s ritual?”

“Tonight. If we delay any longer, it may not take.” Both women shuddered at the thought. “In some countries, I hear that they bury their dead in the ground,” Rikkala continued. “In Doval, they construct elaborate wooden boxes to contain the bodies before they’re put in a deep hole. The hole is filled in with earth and the site marked by a stone with the person’s name on it.”

Shinjaloye looked ill at the thought. “The ways of other people are different. Just as the Fire Lord dictates that we burn our dead, I’m certain that the other four Sky Lords have rituals they wish their people to follow. Though, how burying a body in a box allows the soul to fly free to dwell eternally with Kal Kiterr is beyond me.”

“Perhaps Nahiro could explain it to you,” Rikkala suggested. “He communes with each of the Sky Lords on occasion. It would educate you in the ways of your neighbours and give him something to do rather than blame himself for Shanye’s death.”

“Is that why you brought up the subject of Dovalian funeral rites? Better that than for a darker reason.”

“We’ve had no conflict with Doval since Sahiren was born. Had he been a girl child, Emperor Lehenar would have been more aggressive.”

“Much as I craved a daughter as any woman does, I prayed to the Fire Lord for a son. I’d rather die than see a daughter of mine married to Lehenar’s eldest son.”

“His eldest?”

“Lehenar has many children, but most of them are illegitimate. Only Leshmiir would have been suitable. To offer a lesser son would have been an unforgivable insult.”

Rikkala shook her head. “Imperial politics are beyond me. Though, if Lehenar is so desperate for an alliance, I pity Emperor Kenjariyo.”

“As do I. I hear he’s been trying to marry off the elder of his two daughters with little success. Regarding Leshmiir, he feels as I do.”

“Have you considered trying to interest Sahiren in the idea?”

“Of marriage? More than once. In the Tiger Princess? No. I can’t bring myself to, not after this tragedy.” She sighed. “I need to find him a bride, and soon. My councillors have been bringing it up far too often of late.”

“My advice to you is to wait. Let him grieve for a time. I will pray for guidance. Perhaps he has no interest in marriage because Kal Sharash has a plan for him.”

“I hope so. I would hate for our line to end with him. The people won’t accept an illegitimate Heir.”

“Go. Find Nahiro. Ease his pain. I will do what I can to help this situation.”

Shinjaloye smiled at the other woman. “You’re a good friend, Rikkala. Kal Sharash be with you.”

“And with you, my Empress.”

Chapter 2