Elle Demont is the youngest of Earl Sevrin Demont's children, his only daughter. An alliance with the kingdom of Pry-Ree will secure borders and stabilize both kingdoms. Elle agrees to the match but when her cousin, the ruthless prince of Comoros, decides to overturn her family's fate, her future is anything but certain.
Enter a world of Leerings, majestic abbeys, and brimming with the awesome power of the Medium once more in a singular stand-alone tale set during the era of The Legends of Muirwood series. One woman's triumph over darkness and despair will wrench the world and provide hope for the future.
Release date: April 4, 2023
Print pages: 56
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
In the Twilight Kingdom: A Legends of Muirwood Tale
“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it. We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
—Cuthbert Renowden of Billerbeck Abbey
Kingdom of Comoros
Elle Demont looked at the translation of Ovidius she’d just scrived on the wax tablet. Learners practiced on wax instead of precious aurichalcum at the beginning. Not that she was a learner, technically. Because of the war gripping the kingdom, none of the abbeys of the realm had permitted new learners that year. She bit her lower lip, looking at the words and then at the Pry-rian original. The tome was a gift from her betrothed. A collection of his favorite sayings, written in the strange and mercurial tongue of his ancestors.
She heard footsteps coming up the stairs of the tower. From the window, she could see the sunlight shimmering on the waters of the lake-sized moat. Kunil castle was the strongest, most highly defensible castle in all of Comoros. No army had ever defeated it, which was why her father had chosen it to house his wife and daughter. There were several baileys and towers connected in an L shape atop the island. During seasons of peace, the moats could be drained into the Verne River. During times of war, the moats were full, creating a barrier connected by a few defensive bridges that gave the defenders higher ground.
Elle put the stylus down as the door opened, and she was surprised to see her mother had come in person.
“You could have sent a servant, Mother,” Elle said, coming out of her chair and greeting the stately woman with a loving embrace and a kiss. “I would have come.”
“I’ve been doing nothing but pacing. I needed to get out of the hall.” She stroked Elle’s hair and then glanced at the table with the tools and tome. “Can I see your work?”
“If it pleases you,” Elle said. She brought the wax tablet to her mother and showed her the translation. She bit her lower lip again, worried that she showed too many mistakes scratched out in the wax. Her mother was the daughter of kings. She’d studied the maston ways at the famous Dochte Abbey in Dahomey. Elle was the daughter of an earl, so that opportunity would never be hers.
“That quote is a favorite of your father’s too. Prince Alluwyn and he are like-minded in many ways. Pry-rian is a difficult language to speak or to write. I think I lack the patience to even try to master it.”
“Isn’t the script lovely?” Elle said. “It’s a very old language. Mother . . . ?” She paused, thinking on whether now would be a good time to bring it up. Father was gone with soldiers to face the Prince of Comoros’ army. Her cousin had escaped confinement by tricking one of Elle’s brothers and had rallied some malcontents to aid his cause. A battle was imminent. They were all awaiting word of it.
Her mother put the wax tablet down on the desk. “What is it?”
“Maybe now isn’t a good time. It can wait.”
“Tell me, Elle. You’re my youngest. My only daughter. Are you . . . nervous about the marriage? Second thoughts?”
“No, that’s not it. I like what I’ve heard of Prince Alluwyn. Most importantly, he’s a maston and a good man, like Father. I know I’m young.”
“You are thirteen, old enough to make the decision yourself. Prince Alluwyn said he would wait until you pass the maston test to marry you. You have four more years. Some lasses marry much younger than seventeen.”
Elle fidgeted and nodded. Her mother was nine when she had been plight trothed. Sixteen when she married Lord Shaul, her first husband. “I’m grateful the prince wants me to pass the maston test first. What I was thinking, though . . . was passing it at Tintern Abbey.” She bit her lip again, worried about what her mother would say.
The idea had surprised her. All her life, Elle had anticipated studying at Muirwood Abbey. That was where the nobles of Comoros sent their children, it being the oldest abbey in the realm. Coincidentally, the first Aldermaston of that abbey was from Tintern. Pry-Ree had converted to the order sooner than Comoros had, which was known as the Kingdom of Moros at that time. In the centuries that had followed, the neighboring kingdoms had gone to war against each other many times. Allies had become enemies, until now. Elle’s father, Sevrin Demont, had brokered peace and had, two months ago, accepted an offer from Prince Alluwyn to marry his daughter—if Elle approved of the match. He wouldn’t have forced her to marry a foreign prince.
“I thought you wanted to go to Muirwood?”
Elle sighed. “I do. I love that abbey. It’s dear to me. My brothers all went there, and I love their stories. Especially the ones of mischief in the Aldermaston’s kitchen! But if I am to marry Prince Alluwyn, if I’m to become a queen in the eyes if his people, might they not prefer if I knew their ways better? Spoke their language fluently? I’ve grown up speaking the tongues of Comoros and Dahomey equally well. I just feel . . . the Medium has whispered that perhaps I should go there instead.”
Her mother smoothed her hair again. “It would not be easy, Elle. Many in Pry-Ree hate our people for the wrongs we’ve done them. You’d be slighted.”
“I’m already slighted because of Father,” Elle reminded her. Being a Demont was a sword with two sharp edges.
“I will come visit you, then,” her mother said. “I grow weary of being confined in castles and keeps.”
“The roads to Pry-Ree are dangerous,” Elle said. “I would worry about you.”
Mother hugged her close. “I would come with an escort of knights.” She sighed. “I wasn’t ready to lose you so soon. But when this conflict with the prince ends, there will be peace again. How we need it. We’re all tired of this war.” She sighed, stroking Elle’s hair. Then her hand stopped, and she stiffened.
“Look out the window. A rider.”
Elle turned around quickly. The view this tower provided of the road coming to Kunil castle was why she loved it so much. A knight was bearing down hard, wearing full armor.
“Quickly,” Mother said, squeezing her daughter’s hand.
They left the stylus and other scriving tools on the desk and hurried down the tower steps. The walls of the keep were made of red sandstone, which gave them their distinctive coloring, heightened when the sun was setting. Elle’s heart was pounding in her chest and not just from the rush down the steps. When they reached the ground level, they hastened together down the inner corridor, which connected the various assortment of keeps protected behind sturdy outer walls.
The servants they passed were looking anxious. They knew someone had arrived, one of Father’s knight-mastons.
When they reached the great hall, the remaining guard had assembled. They had all been left behind to protect Kunil, and many were resentful of that. They’d wanted to partake in another battle. Another Demont victory against overwhelming odds. No news had been shared, so anxiousness shone in the eyes of those gathered.
Elle recognized Sir Talon. He was one of her father’s guards, a young man of nineteen. His armor was bloodstained and dented. His face was filthy. He tried to utter some words. Failed.
“By Idumea, Talon, speak!” Mother impressed, her face growing white. She knelt before the winded knight, realizing he wasn’t just exhausted. He was wounded.
Elle saw him struggle, saw the tears in his eyes, and knew the worst had happened. It struck her in the chest like the blow of a battering ram. Father was dead. For a moment, Elle was dumbstruck by the idea. Not Father. Not Sevrin Demont. He was strong in the Medium. It would have warned him.
She shoved the doubtful thought aside. It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.
Elle saw a servant with a jug and cup and beckoned the man forward. She filled the cup, then knelt by Mother and pressed the cup into Sir Talon’s hand.
“Drink this. It’s water,” Elle said plaintively.
Sir Talon took the cup, his lips trembling. He took a few sips and nearly choked on his tears. “The earl is dead,” he groaned.
Mother hooked her hand around his neck. “I know. I know, Sir Talon. But what else? Where? Where was the battle?”
“Maseve,” Talon said, grimacing. “But battle it was not. They slaughtered us, my lady. It was murder.”
Mother closed her eyes and hung her head. Elle felt tears running down her own cheeks.
“More knights are coming,” one of the guardsmen said. “They’re fleeing to Kunil. The survivors.”
“What of my brothers?” Elle asked Sir Talon. Amury was teaching at Muirwood. It was his hope to be an Aldermaston someday. But all the other brothers had chosen the arts of war, following Father’s footsteps.
“C-Callum is dead,” Talon sputtered. He squeezed the cup so hard it looked as if it would dent. “Brant fled south, chased by the p-prince.”
“Garen?” Mother asked. “What of Garen?”
“I think he’s dead too, my lady. He received bitter wounds. I don’t think . . . I don’t think they spared any who fell.” Sir Talon looked Mother in the eyes. “The prince will come here. He’ll break down the walls of Kunil.”
“He can try!” shouted a grief-stricken knight.
“What . . . what of the king?” Mother asked. The king, her brother. A weak-willed man. A ruler made clumsy by power, who had driven his nobles into rebellion. Elle was closer to her cousin, the prince, than she’d ever been to her uncle.
“He was on the battlefield, screaming for his life,” said Sir Talon with derision. “The prince has him now. But they’re coming, my lady. They know our knights will retreat to Kunil. We cannot stand forever. Not against so much wrath.”
“My lady,” said Sir Brighton. “We can hold Kunil until Idumea returns. Others will rally. Such treachery will not be rewarded by the Medium! Stand fast, my lady.”
Mother was decisive. She always had been. She and Father had risked contempt and ire by choosing to marry for love. She, a king’s daughter. He, a landless knight from Dahomey, but a warrior without peer.
Elle looked at her mother, and then she heard a whisper deep in her soul from the Medium. Montargis.
It was an abbey in Dahomey that her father had paid tithes to. The one where he had passed the maston test. A small abbey. A humble one. Sevrin Demont’s rise to power had improved the abbey’s fortunes, and they’d found a wealthy benefactor in the earl and his wife.
“Sir Brighton, I want you to ride hard for Muirwood. Tell Amury to flee to Dahomey. Take a ship with him from Bridgestow and meet us at Montargis Abbey.”
“My lady!” Sir Brighton gasped in complaint. “Surely not even the prince would violate the right of sanctuary at Muirwood!”
Mother squeezed Elle’s hand. “I cannot trust that. And I will not let that black prince have my daughter too. Stand fast. Whatever happens.” She rose to her feet, bringing Elle with her. “We flee to Doviur. This instant. We cannot linger an hour.”
Though Elle’s heart clenched with pain, she believed her mother was choosing the Medium’s will. She’d heard the whisper in her own heart. The abbey at Montargis would welcome them. They would be protected by sanctuary in Dahomey, which was stricter in the maston order than wayward Comoros.
Elle looked around and saw most of the knight-mastons crying.
“I will escort you, my lady,” Sir Talon said, grunting in pain as he rose to his feet.
“You need a healer,” Mother said, shaking her head. “Tend to his wounds.”
“I will not abandon you,” Talon said firmly. “I will not betray my duty. We ride to Doviur. And ready the parapets! When those spawn of the Myriad Ones come, they will meet your steel and see men of courage still stand ready to defend Kunil!”
Elle was bundled into a cloak. A horse was prepared. Sir Talon chose three knights to ride with them on fresh mounts. More stragglers from the defeated army arrived, sharing tales of bloodshed and misery.
As Mother had said, they fled Kunil within the hour. And it wasn’t until they were clear of the trees that Elle remembered the tome her betrothed had graciously provided her as a present.
It was still in the tower where she’d left it.
“Small sorrows speak. Great ones are silent.”
Kingdom of Dahomey
The learner was a little girl of twelve, with sad gray eyes and hair the color of almonds. Elle Demont knelt by the child’s desk, seeing a little of herself in the poor thing. The girl’s name was Lydia, the daughter of a knight-maston who had died at Maseve ten years ago. Sometimes Elle remembered what it had felt like, coming to the Dahomeyjan abbey back then. She’d been thirteen herself back then. Back before her family had been murdered, the survivors banished.
“The Aldermaston told me that you’ve been struggling, Lydia,” Elle said in a soft, coaxing voice. As she stroked the little girl’s hair, she noticed another ripped seam in her own dress. She could see the skin of her arm poking through. Nothing some needle and thread couldn’t fix.
“I can’t make the Leerings work,” Lydia said softly. “I just can’t.”
“It’s not easy for some in their first year,” Elle said. “It’s all right. You’ll get it.”
“I’m the only one who hasn’t yet.” The girl put her cheek down on her folded arms. Tears danced in her eyes.
Elle rubbed her back. “What do you think it is? Are you afraid of them?”
Lydia sniffed. “A little.”
Leerings were faces carved into stone that helped a maston invoke the Medium’s power. Some Leerings summoned light. Some water. Some invoked feelings of fear, like the ones at the abbey door, which prevented the untrained from entering. And some, like the ones in the kitchen, were caked in soot and summoned fire. There were learners that were stronger in the Medium than others, especially if they had the right lineage. Elle had mastered her first Leering when she was eight years old. Her father, especially, had been powerful in the Medium, but her mother was adept as well. That gave Elle an advantage over others her age.
“The Leering does look a little grumpy,” Elle said conspiratorially. “But it’s not the face that scares you, is it?”
Lydia sighed and shook her head.
A thought struck Elle. Just a little whisper in her mind. “You’re afraid of the Medium?”
Lydia’s eyes widened with surprise. She blinked but said nothing.
“And why are you afraid of it?” Elle asked coaxingly.
The little girl’s lip trembled. A tear dripped from her eyelash.
“You can tell me. I won’t be angry. And neither will the Medium. You can’t hide your thoughts from it anyway. Or your feelings. Tell me if you please.”
Lydia looked around, seeing they were alone in the room. The other learners were done for the day and could be heard in the cloister outside. The one with the huge yew tree with branches overhanging the walls.
“The Medium let my papa die,” Lydia whispered, her voice thick.
Elle hugged her. “It hurts, doesn’t it? Do you . . . do you remember your papa?”
Lydia shook her head no. “I was too young. I don’t remember him at all.” She wept quietly.
“But I remember your papa,” Elle said. “He came to Kunil many times. He was a faithful man. A kind knight. If there was a squire being picked on . . . he’d speak up. Wouldn’t allow it.”
Lydia gulped and blinked. She looked at Elle. “Then why did the Medium let him die?”
“I don’t know,” Elle said, feeling her throat constrict. Her own father, Sevrin Demont, had perished at Maseve. Her cousin, now the King of Comoros, had done awful things that day. Hideous things. Her father and her brother had their corpses defiled. She had overheard it enough times, though the survivors had never told her directly. There was a time when her cousin and father had been close. Now the king hated anyone with the name of Demont.
“Your papa died too,” Lydia said.
It still hurt, but the sadness came and went like the surf. Elle stroked Lydia’s hair again. “He did. But I know that I’ll see him again. That if I stay true to my vows, if I stay true to the Medium, then when this second life is over, we will meet again . . . in Idumea.” She tilted her head and smiled. “This isn’t the end. What gives me hope is that reunion. I believe in it, Lydia. The Medium has whispered that it’s true. The absence . . . still hurts. But I count my blessings. I have a warm, cozy abbey to live in. I get to help learners, like you and the other girls. My mama is . . . still alive.” A pang of sadness went through her, but she smiled anyway. “Two of my brothers survived Maseve. One of them is rather famous in Paeiz. And another brother, not a knight, has served the High Seer of Avinion.” She dropped her hand onto Lydia’s and squeezed it. “There’s much to be thankful for. Your papa was a maston, Lydia. And if you become one too, then someday he’ll hug you and kiss you, and it will all be . . . it will all be wonderful.”
Lydia’s smile was so sweet it made Elle tear up. She squeezed Elle’s hand in return and then looked at the stern-faced Leering across the room.
It began to glow. Dimly. But it glowed.
“I did it!” Lydia gasped.
“You did,” Elle crooned and hugged her. “I knew you could.”
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Lydia said, flinging her arms around Elle’s neck. Elle closed her eyes, squeezing her back. Even though she would never be a mother herself, helping at the abbey was a big source of fulfillment. By law and custom, she was still plight-trothed to Alluwyn Lleu-Iselin, one of the three princes of Pry-Ree. The prince had never formally released her from the vow, not that it mattered. His kingdom was under constant attack by Comoros. His own brother had arranged to murder him—a plot that had failed because of a freak snowstorm—and was now in exile in the court of Comoros. The king had made it clear that anyone who attempted to woo Elle Demont would face his wrath. And he was a king particularly known for his vengeance. Elle had resigned herself to the fact that she’d never marry. As the maston saying went—small sorrows speak, great ones are silent. Elle kept that sorrow to herself.
“Can I go play now?” Lydia asked. “I want to tell Becsy what I did!”
“Of course you may,” Elle said, rising from her knees. She watched Lydia rush to the door and head out to the cloister. Looking at her sleeve, she picked at the torn threads and decided to go to her humble quarters to repair it. Her mother, the daughter and sister of kings, couldn’t afford new dresses. She bit her lower lip and laughed at herself. Humility wasn’t difficult to practice when there was no other choice.
Elle left the room and saw the small cluster of girls sitting by the yew tree, giggling excitedly among themselves. The boys were already outside the walls—she could hear the clacking of sticks as they fought each other, preparing for the day when they would become squires. Each of them was hopeful that they’d join the ranks of Garen Demont’s army. Elle’s famous brother had made a name for himself after surviving his wounds at Maseve and escaping his captors and now served the King of Paeiz as his battle commander. Elle missed her brother. He was overdue for a visit.
She nodded to the porter guard who was stationed at the cloister gate, and he opened the door for her. Montargis Abbey was small, a truly humble structure fashioned after the abbeys in the Dahomeyjan style. Montargis wasn’t Muirwood. But it was special to Elle. It was where she’d passed the maston test. At sixteen. She felt a throb of pride in her accomplishment, but then tamped it down. Pride was anathema to the Medium.
And maybe that’s why she hadn’t heard or noticed the man behind her until he spoke.
“Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg?” said a man in the lilting language of Pry-Ree.
Elle’s heart leaped, mostly because she was so startled. She hadn’t heard or seen him. She whirled around, hand on her breast. The man before her was dressed like a woodsman, with a leather hood and a dark beard with a few streaks of gray. He had intense eyes that looked her over, noticing her shabby dress, her ill-fitting shoes.
She hadn’t heard anyone speak Pry-rian in ten years, but she knew what he’d said. On her passing the maston test, she’d been Gifted with Xenoglossia, the mastery of languages. Travelers from every kingdom wandered through Montargis at one time or another, and Elle was relied on to translate. But not Pry-Ree. No one from Pry-Ree had ever come.
“Tapping the stone breaks it?” she answered. Had she heard it right? It didn’t make any sense.
“Aye, lass,” said the grizzled man, in the tongue of Comoros. “But it didn’t . . . break . . . you. By Cheshu, you still know some Pry-rian, then, do you?”
“Who are you?”
“Apologies. My name is Martin Evnissyen. I serve Prince Alluwyn. He bid me see how you are faring.”
Her heart skipped again. “Prince Alluwyn?”
“Aye, lass. But I have to ask.” In one of his hands, he held a leather pouch that appeared to contain a bundle. He opened the pouch and then removed a small aurichalcum tome. She recognized it instantly. It was the betrothal gift. She’d left it in Kunil castle when they’d fled. “Why didn’t you take this with you?”
She stared at it, amazed, her heart swirling with a thousand emotions. She was twenty-three, the daughter of the most-hated man in Comoros. And the prince had sent his emissary. His bodyguard. What did this mean? Why had he come?
“We fled Kunil in great haste, sir,” she answered, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “It was left in the tower. There wasn’t time. How did you get it?”
“Awww, lass. I have my ways. A hunter is patient. The prey is careless.” He gave her another scrutinizing look. “Your mother is dying.”
Elle blinked rapidly. “You’ve seen her?”
“Aye. And spoken to her. The tumor cannot be stopped, nor cured.”
“I kn-know,” Elle said, her voice hitching. They’d tried a Gift of Healing. But the Aldermaston had said that it was not the Medium’s will for her mother to live. She’d be rejoining her husband in Idumea. She had weeks left. If that.
“I come at the behest of my prince,” Martin said, advancing toward her. “You were but a young thing when he proposed marriage. You’re a woman now, I see. Proud and fair and faithful. I mean proud in the best sense, lass. I know you mastons are often churlish about some words. The prince would like to renew his proposal. To marry you in an ancient maston custom. Here . . . at Montargis.”
“The prince is here?” Elle asked. She couldn’t believe it.
“No! It would risk too much if he came himself.” He chuckled. “Apparently my life is worth risking, by Cheshu. The custom is that a maston may stand on his behalf. Marry in his name. The Medium will hold it just as binding, assuming both parties are willing.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Elle said in astonishment.
“Well, that isn’t all that startling, is it, lass? The maston order in Pry-Ree is much older than in Comoros. Ask your brother, the High Seer’s pet, if you doubt my word. But you’ll find soon enough that it is. The question that matters is if you are willing. I must bring your answer back to Prince Alluwyn. He’s hoping . . . you’ll say yes.”
“Would this not endanger Pry-Ree even more?” Elle asked. “We hear little news from Lisyeux, from court. I’m sorry if I’m ignorant of events.”
“On this point, you’re sage,” Martin said with a huff. “The King of Comoros hates the blood of your Family. There’s no doubting that. But he also harbors a fugitive. Prince Alluwyn’s younger brother Davyd. But this is no tit for tat. The prince wants to marry you, lass. He knows of your banishment, your suffering. Knows what you’ve endured these last ten years. ’Tis not pity. I’ve not known a better man in all my years. And I knew his grandfather. Think he might suit you?”
Elle clasped her hands together, trembling with the shock, unable to breathe. Dahomey had never felt like her country. She’d felt like an outcast and had made the most of it. But this offer. This was too much.
“If it helps you decide, your mother said yes.” Martin gave her a wily grin.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...