A Throne of Shadows
A feisty outlaw.
A conniving prince.
A war of magic and shadows.
Wanted by the crown for a murder she didn’t commit, Cora dreams of getting revenge on the mage who framed her. In the meantime, she hides in the forest and hones her magic. But when she discovers her enemy’s violent hunt for faerie creatures, she forms a plan for vengeance.
Prince Teryn, heir to a bankrupt throne, will do anything to keep his country from sinking into ruin. When he meets a feisty outlaw wanted by a neighboring kingdom, he gets his chance. The woman has an impressive bounty on her head, one that could pay off his kingdom’s debts.
If Teryn can help Cora save a few magical creatures, he can gain her trust, hand her over to her king, and collect the bounty. But Cora has plans of her own, and none of them include being betrayed by her handsome new traveling companion.
The closer Cora and Teryn get to their desires, the harder their tasks become. And it isn’t just their budding attraction that’s the problem. A secret war is coming, one stemming from ancient feuds and forgotten fae magic. They must work together to stop it, or else both their kingdoms will crumble to ash.
A Throne of Shadows is the first book in the Prophecy of the Forgotten Fae trilogy. Perfect for fans of Throne of Glass, Air Awakens, and Shadow and Bone. If you like breathtaking magic, fierce heroines, and enemies-to-lovers romance, then you’ll love this epic fantasy tale.
NOTE: A Throne of Shadows was previously published as an earlier edition called Shadows of Lela. This updated edition has been fully rewritten and includes some plot changes, name changes, and other modifications from the original. The original edition is unpublished as of spring 2022.
Release date: May 4, 2022
Publisher: Crystal Moon Press
Print pages: 472
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A Throne of Shadows
When Cora dreamed, she dreamed of castles. Not the storybook variety with shining turrets and glistening marble columns, but dark towers brimming with even darker magic. These castles held no masked balls, boasted no gilded statues or impressive tapestries. Instead of fancy footmen fluttering about the halls, the corridors were empty, black, and soundless. All that existed was a feeling, a deep and hollow knowing that something wasn’t quite right.
In her dreams, Cora could do nothing but follow this sense of unease, this wrongness that existed outside of her, calling to her like the mythical sirens of fae lore. It was a silent song, one so chilling it made her hair stand on end. Still, she could do nothing but follow. Follow. Meeting dead end after dead end.
The feeling intensified, growing heavier, tugging her bones until it bore down upon her like a leaden weight. She knew she should stop following the feeling. Knew she should turn around and forget the dark pull. But even when she tried to forget, tried to turn around, the feeling only drew nearer. Soon the halls closed in, inch by inch, until they narrowed down to a single corridor, one that ended in the same door no matter which way she turned.
A rattling sound echoed around her. Glancing down, she found it was coming from the serving tray she carried. A teacup trembled against its saucer. Her hands were shaking even more.
The door loomed ahead of her, gaping like a hungry maw.
Against her will, her feet moved toward it. Too soon she stood in the dreaded doorway. As she saw what lay beyond, she felt as if she’d known all along. There was a bed. And upon that bed…
Blood. So much blood.
A scream shattered the air, piercing her eardrums.
She shook her head, trying to rid her eyes of the sight and her ears of the blaring shout. It grew louder. She blinked several times, but that only brought her closer to the bed. The blood was no longer just in front of her but all around, dripping from her hands. The sharp tang of it filled her nose, seared her throat.
Then a question filled her mind, the voice angry and familiar.
What have you done?
The scream intensified.
It was coming from her.
Cora opened her eyes but all she could see was black. Two weights pressed down upon her shoulders—hands—and she flailed against them, fighting the unseen assailant who restrained her.
“Cora, quiet, you're safe.”
The voice leached the fight from her bones. She went limp beneath her friend’s touch, pursing her lips against the screams that still crawled up her throat.
“It's just me,” soothed Maiya, stroking the damp hair away from Cora’s forehead. “You’re home. It was just a bad dream.”
Cora gritted her teeth and breathed away the remnants of her terror. In its place, anger grew. Not at her friend but at herself. She was supposed to be stronger than nightmares. She was a witch, after all. Witches were meant to be powerful.
“I’m sorry,” Cora muttered, finding her voice far weaker than she liked. Wiping furiously at a few errant tears, she rolled onto her side and buried her face in her blanket. Maiya gave her shoulder a light pat and returned to her cot at the other side of the tent they shared. Even in the darkness, Cora could feel the other girl’s eyes burning into her.
“Did you take your sleeping tonic last night?” Maiya asked, caution heavy in her tone.
“Yes.” She’d brewed it herself. Stronger than usual.
“Is…is something wrong?”
Cora remained silent because she had no answer. This was the third night in a row she’d woken screaming from this same terrifying nightmare. Such dreams plagued her on occasion but never with such alarming frequency. Her sleeping draught was normally enough to drive them away.
“Would you like to tell me about your dream?” Maiya asked, trying to sound nonchalant but failing miserably. “Perhaps I can help divine its meaning.”
Cora ignored her. Not because she didn’t trust her friend. Maiya was probably the only person she trusted with her whole heart. She was like a sister to her, one of the very few people Cora had let herself grow close to ever since she was taken in by the Forest People six years ago. But Cora’s burdens were hers to bear. Besides, Maiya was a witch too and growing proficient at dream divination. What if her abilities had grown beyond the realm of dreams? Cora couldn’t risk her discovering any of her secrets. It was too dangerous for them both.
Without another word, Cora focused on slowing her ragged breathing until it settled into a gentle rhythm. Hoping Maiya would fall for her ruse and think she’d drifted back to sleep, she kept up the act until she heard her friend’s soft snores. Only then did she let herself remember the dream.
A dream that felt like a memory.
Cora woke to morning sun kissing her eyelids. Even with just a sliver of light peeking in from the open tent flap, it was bright enough to tell her she’d slept in. She pressed a tattooed palm over her eyes, but it was no use. She was already awake. Not even the black symbols inked into her skin could ward away the evils of everyday responsibility. She rolled over and peered at Maiya’s cot. Her bedroll was empty, and her wool blankets and furs were neatly folded on top of it. How late in the morning was it? Cora rubbed her eyes to rid them of grit, but nothing seemed to soothe them. Her throat too felt raw, and she was almost of a mind to go back to sleep. However, she knew there was no use lingering in bed all because of a bad dream.
With a stretch, she forced herself to rise from her cot. Her arms prickled with gooseflesh beneath the cool spring air that drifted into the tent. Dressed only in her linen shift, she peeked outside and found her freshly laundered clothes hanging on a line. The smell of lavender wafted on the air, mingling with the earth, woodsmoke, and pine scents of camp. All at once, Cora felt a sense of calm. Of safety. She was protected by the Forest People. With their proficiency at wards and subterfuge, her enemies couldn’t find her here.
If only her dreams couldn’t either.
She tugged her patchwork petticoats and bodice off the line, then brought them back inside to get dressed. She’d have Maiya to thank for the clean clothes. Her friend had clearly been up working hard while Cora dozed.
Once dressed, she strolled between the tents of varying shapes and sizes, each structure draped with oiled hides, and tried not to look anyone in the eye. Her screams had to have been loud enough to wake half the camp, and she dreaded knowing what everyone thought of her. Did they think she was crazy? Or did they feel pity? Cora wanted neither sentiment and preferred no one thought much of her at all. Luckily, it seemed most of the Forest People were too busy with their daily tasks to pay her any mind, whether they were hunting, cooking, weaving, brewing tinctures and salves, or practicing the Arts—magic, in other words.
Magic was the lifeblood of the Forest People, infusing their way of life. The nomadic commune was once comprised of the last living Faeryn, ancient fae who practiced the Magic of the Soil. Nowadays, there wasn’t anyone left of pure Faeryn blood, as most had eventually mated with humans, but some within the commune still bore obvious signs of their heritage—petite stature, the slightest hint of a pointed ear, skin and hair in the richest earth tones.
In recent decades, those with human magic came to live amongst the commune too, making the Forest People an eclectic group. Most citizens in the Kingdom of Khero didn’t believe in magic, but they had no qualms about ostracizing anyone who possessed uncanny senses or an unusual fondness for nature. Whenever the Forest People came across these individuals, they welcomed them with open arms. They did the same when they found Cora, an orphaned girl wandering alone in the woods.
Cora nearly fit in with the Faeryn descendants with her dark hair, brown eyes, and warm tan skin, but she wasn’t of Faeryn blood. She was a witch. Even though this made her welcome with the Forest People, it didn’t make her feel like she belonged. She’d been with the commune for six years, but she didn’t think she’d ever stop feeling like an outsider. Probably because her new family might very well revoke their welcome if they knew who she was.
She made her way to the heart of the camp, her stomach growling at the smell of roasting meat and vegetables being heated over the cook fires. Once she reached the common area, a clearing surrounded by brightly painted wagons, she found Chandra on cook duty. The middle-aged woman was of stout build with dark eyes and a bronze complexion. Her hair was black with the faintest hint of dark green—a sign of her Faeryn heritage. Inked designs extended from her palms to her shoulders. Cora stared at the woman’s tattoos with longing. Unlike the cook, Cora’s ink only marked her palms and forearms, indicating the levels of the Arts she’d proven herself accomplished in. She wished to one day be covered to her neck with ink. Maybe then she’d be strong enough to banish her nightmares.
“Twenty-five years,” Chandra said.
She frowned. “Pardon?”
“That’s how long I’ve worked to get my insigmora.”
Insigmora was the Forest People’s name for the tattoos—a tradition passed down from the ancient Faeryn. The thought of spending two more decades honing her Art left a pit in Cora’s stomach. She didn’t want to wait that long. “They’re beautiful,” was all she said, forcing a smile to her lips.
Chandra’s expression turned wary as she eyed her. Cora held her breath, hoping the cook wouldn’t bring up her nightmares. The cook was known for her bluntness, and the last thing Cora wanted was for her to ask about the screaming that shattered the peace of the camp last night. She bit the inside of her cheek, resisting the urge to open her senses to the woman so she could read her feelings.
As a witch, Cora’s talent was clairsentience. Every witch had an affinity for at least one of the six senses—feeling, knowing, seeing, hearing, tasting, or smelling. Sensing the feelings of others had been a bane since she was young, but after she was found by the Forest People, they taught her to shield against constant outside stimuli. Now she could use her Art at will, but it didn’t always go undetected. Not when used on fellow witches or the descendants of the Faeryn.
“Stew or porridge?” Chandra asked, finally breaking eye contact and nodding toward the cook fires.
Cora let out a sigh of relief and turned her attention to the simmering cauldrons. The smell of root vegetables made her mouth water. “Stew.”
Chandra went to the nearest pot and ladled a hearty serving into a clay bowl.
Cora nodded her thanks as the woman handed over her breakfast. As she went to turn away, Chandra spoke. “What are they about?”
Cora paused. “What do you mean?”
“The dreams that make you scream at night. What do you dream of when that happens?”
Cora’s muscles tensed at the question, but there was only one answer she could give. “Death.”
A bow in Cora’s hand always felt like home. And a belted dagger at her waist felt like safety. Strength. Practical defense to fill the many gaps in her magic. There was only so much a clairsentient witch could do. Cora was determined to do more. To be more.
She donned her cloak and gathered her weapons from inside her tent, shouldering her bow and her quiver of arrows, then securing her belt with its sheathed dagger. There was no doubt Cora had missed the day’s hunt, considering she’d slept in so late, but she could at least practice her archery. She rarely missed a day using her bow. Besides, she needed to harvest more valerian root for her sleeping tonic. She knew she could get some from the potions tent, but the Forest People kept up a stringent inventory of their ingredients during harvesting, stocking, and brewing. If Cora asked for yet another pouch of valerian, people would start talking. They’d know just how strong she’d begun to brew it. Which was why it was even more frustrating that her nightmares had become so persistent.
She left the tent but only made it a few steps before she pulled up short. Maiya stood just outside with her arms crossed. She was dressed in her most brightly patterned skirts and had pink cherry blossoms woven through two long black braids. An amused smile danced over her lips as she assessed Cora’s much plainer ensemble. “Really, Cora? On Beltane?”
Cora grimaced. “I forgot it’s Beltane.”
“Some witch you are,” Maiya said with a chuckle. She hesitated then, some of the mirth leaving her eyes as she shifted from foot to foot. “So…did you sleep all right?”
“I’m fine, Maiya,” Cora said with what she hoped was a reassuring grin. “You can stop looking at me like I’m made of glass.”
Maiya gave Cora’s shoulder a playful shove. “I just worry about you, that's all. I'm here if you want to talk. My mother is here for you too. Salinda’s an elder. She has more wisdom than anyone.”
“I know she does.” Cora started off toward the edge of camp. Maiya shadowed her every step, silent although Cora knew she was dying to say more. From the corner of her eye, she could see her friend opening and closing her hands—Maiya’s telltale anxious gesture. The girl’s palms were inked with only a single tattoo at the center of each, a design made from several overlapping circles and triangles that vaguely resembled a flower. She was a year younger than Cora and only just beginning to explore her talents with the Arts. While Maiya’s mother was half witch and half Faeryn, Maiya’s magic seemed to favor her witch heritage. She was claircognizant and used her keen knowing to divine meaning from dreams.
“You could let me practice on you,” Maiya said, voice brimming with innocence. “It would be good for me. And…and I think it would be good for you too.”
Cora halted and faced her friend. She knew Maiya meant well. Knew in her deepest heart that Maiya’s prying was done with nothing but love. Still, it had to stop. Maiya didn’t understand what she was asking to get involved in. “Just drop it, all right? Please.”
Maiya nibbled her lip. “I only want to know that you’re really okay. I know something is bothering you.”
Maiya reached for her hand. As soon as their fingers made contact, Cora was overwhelmed with a sense of worry and desperation—Maiya’s feelings. Her breath caught in her throat at the sudden onslaught of emotion. Wrenching her hand away, she took a stumbling step back.
Maiya’s eyes turned down at the corners, her sympathy palpable. “Cora—”
“You are not going to believe it!”
Cora startled at the voice, but it was a welcome interruption. It severed her involuntary connection to her friend’s feelings. Her breathing eased as she faced the figure darting their way.
Gisele stopped before them, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “It’s Roije. He’s back!”
Maiya’s face went blank, her preoccupation with Cora’s wellbeing instantly forgotten. The name Gisele had mentioned was probably the only word in the history of the spoken language that could wipe all prior thought from Maiya’s mind. Her voice turned wistful. Anxious. “Roije…he’s…he’s really back?”
“I thought you'd want to know,” Gisele said with a wink. “Come on!”
Before Cora could argue, Gisele linked her arms through both of theirs and dragged them across camp. They came upon a crowd gathering near the picket line where the Forest People’s horses were kept. A familiar young man stood at the far end, hitching his horse. Cora’s first glimpse at Roije showed he’d grown at least three inches taller since he’d left the Forest People a year ago. His hair had grown too, no longer cropped close to his head but in black waves that fell over his dark eyes. She turned her attention to his clothes and discovered more changes to admire. Instead of the leather britches and wool tunic most of the men wore around camp, he was dressed in a fine linen shirt and black trousers. His sleeves were rolled up to reveal inked forearms—proof of his skill in the Arts. But as Cora drew closer, she noticed something else about his shirt—a haphazard spatter of rusty reddish brown. Blood.
Strange appearance aside, Cora was surprised Roije was back. He’d grown up with the Forest People, but his father was not of their commune. When his mother took ill and died a year ago, he left to find the man who had sired him. His loss was missed by many, especially since his tracking skills were second to none. His Art was the Magic of the Soil, thanks to his Faeryn heritage, and he used it to speak to the earth. Before he left, he was considered the most marriageable bachelor in the commune. Now that he was back, Cora was curious to know why. She wasn’t the only one, based on the size of the crowd.
Cora expected to come upon giddy conversation, but the closer she and her two companions drew, the more obvious it was that something was wrong. It was too quiet. Roije had never been a frivolous man by any means, even before he came of age. He was never one of the youths who snuck off to the nearest towns to drink at pubs or steal kisses from farm girls. He took his tracking duties seriously and had gone to great lengths to care for his mother in her dying days. Even so, the look in his eyes was unlike anything she’d seen in them before. They seemed…haunted.
He unsaddled his horse with slow motions, wincing now and then as if he were injured.
“Roije!” Gisele released Cora’s arm to wave frantically for his attention, clearly unable to read the mood. “Where did you go? Did you find your father?”
Roije paused his ministrations and ran a hand over his face. He gave a solemn nod. “I found him. Turns out he…he was a butcher in Kubera.”
“What’s Kubera like?” Gisele asked. “Is it a large village? A wealthy one?”
It took all Cora’s restraint not to stomp on the girl’s foot to quiet her. A single word nestled within Roije’s answer said everything she needed to know. Was. His father was a butcher. She held no optimism that his usage of past tense suggested a change in occupation. His emotions were written clearly on his face, in the tilt of his eyes, and the dark circles beneath them.
Even if his expression had been blank, Cora would have known, for his emotions were so strong they slipped past her shields, much like what had happened with Maiya minutes ago. Grief flooded her heart, followed by shame. It made her feel heavy. Dizzy. Disconnected.
Breathing deep, she turned her attention to her own emotions, her own body. She focused on the cool spring air against her skin. The smell of earth and pine. Soon the unwanted emotions began to fade. She breathed deeply again, imagining the air around her growing thicker, gathering roots from the soil beneath her feet, soaking up water from earth, from the molecules in the air, then absorbing the bright light of the sun, the warmth of its fiery rays. Welcoming all four elements, she imagined them dancing, weaving, forming an invisible wall that hummed with energy all around her.
With her mental shields strengthened, she returned her attention to Roije.
“I’m so sorry,” Maiya said, her voice barely above a whisper.
His gaze cut to her, and his expression softened. Their eyes held for a heated moment that made Cora want to look away.
Gisele glanced from Maiya to Roije. “What? I don’t understand. What happened?”
“My father accepted me into his home,” Roije said, his eyes finally leaving Maiya’s. “When I tracked him down, I knew there was a chance he’d turn me away, but he didn’t. He remembered my mother and was eager to get to know me. Then they came.”
“Who’s they?” asked one of the men in the crowd.
“King Dimetreus’ soldiers. They came to Kubera.”
Every muscle in Cora’s body stiffened at the mention of the King of Khero. A spike of anger burned her blood, but she tried not to let it show on her face. She wasn’t the only one who seemed unsettled by the news, however. Some stared with hard looks while others exchanged wary glances. It wasn’t hard to understand why. The Forest People may have resided primarily in the Kingdom of Khero, but they served the land, not its king. They owed their allegiance to no monarch and avoided royal politics like a plague.
Roije continued. “They were recruiting young men to join the army by force. Father begged me to hide, said they wouldn’t know I’d ever been there. Two soldiers came to the shop while I hid in the cellar. Rumors about me had spread. Father refused to give me up so they…they killed him.” His expression hardened, taking the breath from Cora’s lungs. She knew that look. Terror meets a thirst for vengeance. It was as familiar to her as her own skin.
“Oh, Roije,” Gisele cooed, “that’s so terrible. But I’m glad you made it out alive.”
“Barely,” he muttered. “I had to take the two men out with me.” With that, he turned back to his horse and began brushing him down, a silent dismissal of his audience.
The tension was heavy in the air as the crowd dispersed. Gisele remained in place with a pout on her lips, but Maiya tugged her arm. “We should give him some space.”
Gisele cast one more longing glance at Roije before obeying. Cora was more than happy to follow, but before she could take a step, Roije’s voice called out. “Cora.”
With a frown, she turned back to face him, her cheeks burning beneath the sudden scrutiny of her companions. Gisele looked scandalized while Maiya’s expression flickered with hurt. Maiya had always held a secret affection for the man while Cora had never been close with him at all. It made little sense why she’d be the one he wanted to speak to after returning. She gave Maiya an apologetic smile and then approached him. Dread filled her stomach as a terrifying possibility occurred to her. Could his summons be romantic in nature? Goddess above, she hoped not. But why else would he single her out? It was Beltane, after all. Then again, why would he harbor romantic thoughts when he was clearly grieving?
Cora sent out a silent prayer that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for his summons that had nothing to do with courtship. It wasn’t because she was unattracted to him. He was without a doubt the handsomest young man in the commune. But she knew how Maiya felt. Besides, romance was something Cora sought to avoid. Love needed to be built on trust and honesty. And for a girl with a past shrouded in blood and secrecy…
“What is it?” she asked, trying to smile but managing only a grimace.
He continued to brush his horse, keeping his voice low as he spoke. “I just wanted to tell you to be careful.”
She frowned, not sure how to respond to that. “All right.” When he didn’t say more, she took a step away. “Welcome back—”
“Avoid the villages.”
“I know you normally stay at camp when we trade with the local towns, and…that’s smart. You should keep doing that.” He paused and met her eyes. The gravity in his expression sent Cora’s heart hammering against her ribs.
All she could think was, He knows. Goddess above, he knows who I am.
Before he could say anything more, she turned away, once again haunted by dark castles and blood. And a question. The question that haunted her mind, twisted her heart.
What have you done?
Her footsteps quickened until they kicked up into a jog, then a run, as she made a beeline for the edge of camp.
She didn’t stop until she disappeared into the shadows beneath the trees.
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