“This Avalon series has earned a top-tier position with Historical and Fantasy fans! Tanya Anne Crosby has created her own mythology – where history and legend collide.”Whiskey & Wit Book Reviews
Rhiannon's destiny is fated from the moment of her birth. She and her dewine sisters must defeat an ancient evil, or Britain itself will go the way of Avalon. Her sisters and their champions have set the stage for a final, epic battle against the Witch Goddess Cerridwen, but Rhiannon can only fulfill her destiny if she can win the heart of the Lord of Shadows, the man who holds her prisoner.
Fueled by vengeance, Cael d'Lucy's ambition has raised him to the pinnacle of power. Concealing an ancient secret, he's close to achieving his desires, and once the dust of battle settles, he stands to rule again as Duke of Wales. All he must do is vanquish a slip of a girl—Morwen Pendragon's daughter. Trouble is . . . Rhiannon is Cael's match—mind, body, and soul. Winning her means losing Blackwood; losing her means winning Wales, but what shall it profit a man if he gain the entire world, and lose his very soul?
Contains mature themes.
Release date: September 22, 2020
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 377
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Lord of Shadows
Tanya Anne Crosby
Llanrhos, Wales, 547 A.D.
The tribes were all at war, brother scheming against brother… The Dragon Lord of Anglesey sat beside his queen, watching a party of dancers as he brooded over the state of his realm. So, it seemed, men no longer needed whips nor chains to sway the masses. All they needed was a bit of gold and a lot of empty promises.
The Romans might be long gone, but having left behind their jeweled yokes to be donned by the people of Wales, the weight of their harnesses now grew heavy. For love of those winking jewels, the free all remained oppressed, patting their sated bellies as they toasted from sour casks of vin. Now, the worst had come to pass… But all was not lost. The spirit of the world was alive and well. It was here, in this hall, in every turn of the dancers’ lithe bodies, and if anything hardened his cock, it was this: Against the taming of a nation, there was a certain beauty to be found in the old dance.
Amidst their graceful motions lay passion and truth, a raw honesty that fired his spirit and stirred the blood. In every revolution the dancers made, he spied the Goddess face of the moon and heard the voices of the faefolk singing bard songs to the wind. It stirred a song in his own blood that made him long to strip to his boots and howl at the moon.
Alas, these were times for the changelings—those who would convert, or those who would create. But sadly, not for the ones who would cleave to the Old Ways. Still, he resolved to enjoy it while he could. The Gwyddon, or wise one, clad in her fine white robe (to symbolize purity and light), twirled at the center of his hall, whilst twelve young disciples danced about her in a circle…
One dancer stood out amidst the rest—Sanan, his nephew’s young bride. With her soft pink lips and her darkly burnished hair, the girl was striking, but, like her betrothed, there was a certain falseness about her that made Maelgwn feel she could be anyone’s for the taking—even his, if he so desired… It was that come-hither look in her jade eyes—a sultry glance that roused him, even against his will. She dipped, then spun, raising her hands in thanksgiving to the Mother Goddess, only with a backward glance to the throne, smiling a smile intended only for him.
“You like her?”
Maelgwn slid his wife a careful glance.
Nesta nodded, and he swept away the notion, no longer willing to sew his seed indiscriminately. Together they had created a beauteous daughter, and he still had one son by a previous marriage.
“She’s too young,” he said.
And, besides, there was too much strife in his kingdom to steal his nephew’s bride and then lie abed like a sated boor. The last thing he needed was to become a fat, happy emperor like those he’d despised.
“Mael,” she said gravely.
“I have not conceiv—” “It matters not,” he said firmly. “I am well pleased with the daughter you gave me and my son. What more could any man ask for in life?”
“Only think on it,” she argued. “What if something should happen to you? Einion—”
“She. Is. Too. Young,” Mael persisted, and though his tone brooked no argument, his wife was not so easily silenced. Her temperament, like her faekind, was wild as the wind.
“Maelgwn, please… you know that Igraine cannot inherit these lands, nor I—”
“Nay!” he snapped, and still, she persisted. “It must be someone. So much as I loathe the thought of sharing you, my sweet husband, you must consider a new bride. Sanan comes from a good line.”
“She is promised,” he told her, and Nesta laughed without mirth.
“To your nephew? What has the fool ever done save to pit himself against you?”
Silence. Because it was true. And nevertheless, Maelgwn hadn’t any stones to throw, because, he too, in the name of these lands, had slain his uncle—for Wales.
“She’s as good as any, and—”
“Nay,” he said, and this time she gave him respite, although he knew she would resume her campaign in good time.
She was on a mission, and he frowned, because he feared she could be right. The spirit of unrest was growing. The Roman prelates were wagging their silvered tongues. Little by little, the Old Ways were being abandoned. Nesta herself was the last of a dying breed—those faefolk who’d once inhabited the hills overlooking the Drowned City. Cauldron born, she was descended of the acolytes and he trusted her without fail. She was a gem among women, and though he didn’t love her as he longed to love a woman, he still wasn’t in the mood to collect more wives. As it was, he had a nest of vipers… Some of them were here tonight. Unfortunately, it was a king’s duty to entertain foes.
From the dais, he studied the hall’s newest guests—Uther, that golden child of the Empire, and his equally golden mage, who indeed, was quite golden. Everything about the man shone, from his pearlescent skin to his fine-gilt hair. Goddess blessed, so ’twas said, and it must be true. The mage was as fair as any druid Mael had ever beheld, and there was, indeed, an aura about him that put Mael in mind to the gods. Both men sauntered into his hall with an arrogance born of privilege and, rather than take up a plate and find themselves a proper seat at one of the lower trestle tables, the pair approached his dais, and Uther—the sodomizing bastard—unsheathed a blade from his scabbard as he came. Beside him, Nesta gasped, leaping up from her seat and sheltering herself at his back as three of Maelgwn’s guards rushed forward to impede Uther’s approach.
Undeterred by the guards, the warlord grinned, slippery as an eel, as he tossed up a hand, as though his men were Uther’s to command.
“Uther,” said Mael in greeting, and he too waved to his guards, urging them to fall back as his nemesis approached. The mage remained by his side as he bowed before Maelgwn and said, “My friend.”
Friend? May the gods rip out his tongue and cast it to the wolves. Uther was no man’s friend. He was, as they claimed, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The cords in Maelgwn’s neck tightened, though he smiled and said graciously, “Welcome.”
“Our King… on this holiest of nights, we come bearing felicitations from the Senate,” said Uther. “And a gift…” And then, with a flourish, he presented a strange sword, laying it gingerly atop Uther’s palms, so that the inscription could be read on the shining blade. Maelgwn blinked with sudden lust.
It was only once the revelry resumed that he realized the breath of the world had come to a pause… waiting to see how these foes would meet. As the musicians began to play again, and the dancers’ feet kicked up more dust, his favored guests brought bits of nuts and fruit to their lips. Maelgwn leaned closer to inspect the blade… Intricately crafted serpents lay entwined about an elegantly fashioned hilt.
On the blade itself, glowing faintly blue in the most ancient of languages, lay inscribed, “Take me, but turn the blade, and we will see.” But the runes were faint—indeed, so faint, that the inspired words might have been a chimera. Incredible. There was still another word etched betwixt the serpents, and this one could be read more easily: Caledfwlch, it said. Cut steel. Excellent craftsmanship, and no doubt a bribe, but Maelgwn was nevertheless bewitched.
“Remarkable,” he said.
“Indeed,” said Uther with a knowing smile, and he flicked a short glance at the mage by his side.
No longer quite so concerned over Uther or his mage, Maelgwn longed to caress the blade. “Who forged this work of art?"
It was Taliesin who replied. “It was crafted by the Dynion Mwyn, Your Grace,” he said, with a respectful bow.
The Fair Men. “It was forged from blooms of steel mined from those Ancient Hills before Avalon’s doom.”
Maelgwn blinked, his heart suddenly thumping with lust unlike any that might be inspired by a woman. The blade was, indeed, a fine, fine work of art, expertly crafted, and glowing like a piece of the moon. Every carving on the hilt seemed to shiver and come alive under the play of light and shadow; the serpents themselves appeared to writhe before his eyes. Astounding.
Shining like tourmalines, Maelgwn’s eyes fixed drunkenly on the sword, wanting it with a fervor not only born of greed. It was as though its essence called to him, beguiled him… “’Tis a gift,” repeated Uther, with a smile in his voice. “For you. We are asked to sue for peace.”
Taliesin added, “It bears a druid blessing. He who wields the sword will not bleed, and he who possesses it will e’er reign as Dragon Lord of Wales.”
Behind him, Nesta hissed like a cat. “Old man! Begone with your gift and your forked tongue!”
She stayed Mael’s hand as he reached for the glittering prize, whispering for his ears alone. “The gifts of your enemies are not gifts, my love. Have you learned naught from our past? Better to send them away.”
“Nay,” said Maelgwn, silencing her with a lift of his hand. “I shall not forswear a victory gift.” And then, ignoring his wife’s counsel, he reached for the sword, utterly enchanted by its essence and form. Try though he might, he could see no reason to turn his head from such a beautiful concession—and it was clearly a concession, delivered by the hands of a well-respected druid and a prelate of the Empire.
It was the mage who placed the gleaming sword in Maelgwn’s hands, lifting it carefully from his master’s palm and placing it into Mael’s hands with the care and love of a father handing over a firstborn child. He who wields the sword will not bleed, and he who possesses it will e’er reign as Dragon Lord of Wales… Desire coursed through Maelgwn’s veins with such vigor that he shivered. He accepted the gift, and for a moment, simply tested its weight… fine, fine, cold steel, precisely calibrated by the hand of a master. It was his now, and he could already envision himself wielding it, unsheathing it from his scabbard… The hiss of metal was like a song to his ears. It was only belatedly that he realized the mage still had possession of the blade, and when Mael tried to turn it to inspect it a little better, the druid turned it and slid it back, nicking Maelgwn’s flesh, drawing his blood… “It’s only a scratch,” he said to his wife, when she gasped.
In truth, Maelgwn was too entranced to care. Enjoying the feel of the sword in his hand, he sent the druid and his master away without so much as a rebuke, and then sat back in his throne, admiring the fine cut steel.
He who wields the sword will not bleed, and he who possesses it will e’er reign as Dragon Lord of Wales… And yet, he did bleed… Studying his prize, he was hardly aware that Nesta abandoned his side, or that the dancers continued long into the night, performing without his regard. Wine flowed generously. Laughter rang loudly, abundantly. And all the while, Uther kept his grin.
Unfortunately, Maelgwn was well into his cups before he realized that something was dreadfully wrong. Sweat formed upon his brow, then trickled down his burnsides. His vision swam like a drunken otter, and still, for so long, he blamed it on the wine. Only once he took the sword and draped his hand over the arm of his chair, then dropped the sword with a clang, did he realize… Nesta was right: The gift of an enemy was no gift at all. The sword was cursed.
That was his last conscious thought as the room swam, then faded to black. He awoke in his bed many, many bells later, shivering to his bones. His wife was kneeling by his side, and the chamber was filled with all her ladies, weeping and praying… “Mael,” she whispered softly, her throat thick with spent tears.
“Shhh,” he said, because he already knew what it was she would say, and he didn’t have the heart to hear of betrayal on his death bed. “How… long?” he rasped.
She choked past a sob. “Three days… three days and three nights…”
That was not what he wished to hear. “How long?” There was so much to be done—and what of his son?
Nesta did not immediately reply.
Maelgwn closed his eyes. “Mael,” she whispered, and Maelgwn tried hard to reopen his heavy lids. “My love,” she begged, and this time she shook him very gently, till his eyes again opened. But his vision remained hazed, so the figures standing before him morphed into caterwauling banshees, every one summoning him from his bed to the darkness beyond.
“Mael,” she said, again, and the single word was so full of agony that it twisted his heart.
“Uther?” he asked weakly.
Nesta’s lips quivered with grief. “He and the mage have withdrawn from our halls till the day breaks on the morrow. His armies remain camped beyond our walls.”
Nesta shook her head with grief, and Maelgwn felt a sob well from his breast to his sore throat. Einion ap Maelgwn was his only true heir. If his son was… dead… If Uther lay waiting… “You are dying,” she confessed between tears. “And yet you do not have to.
” Nesta, sweet Nesta was a child of the Goddess, cauldron born, and cauldron raised. Her knowledge was the knowledge of the Ancients. He trusted her without fail.
“My love… you must agree to allow it…”
“Dearest,” Maelgwn said with regret, and he tried to lift up a finger to her cheek, falling short of her face. It fell limp beside him on the bed. Indeed, he could feel his life slipping away… like sands in a glass.
“Mael!” she cried. “Only speak the word, and I shall gift you my life! True love’s tears might save you!”
Oh, yes… They would spend eternity together, he and his beauteous wife, whose glorious bosom was the pillow of his choice. He could learn to love her properly, and give Nesta her heart’s desire—a prince of her womb.
“You and I,” he said. “Forever… and ever… and ever…” To bloody hell with thrones and crowns. So long as he had her love, he would be happy evermore.
“Yay,” he said weakly. “Yay…”
His wife rose at once, her tall, lithe body towering over him, her shining gold mane surrounding her like a halo. She spilled her tears into the palm of her hand, and then he heard her words and recognized the gleam and slash of her ceremonial blade. But even as she worked, he fell in and out of shadow, somewhere at the back of his mind, understanding the rite she was speaking…
Here, with my blade, I take your former life,
Here, with my art, I still your beating heart,
Eternal thy flame, Lord of Shadows thy name.
And then she knelt once more by his side, and said her final good-bye. “Rest in shadow, my beloved, till you are once more summoned to the light.”
Invoked perhaps by the sultry nature of her words, shadow and light danced before his eyes like fornicating lovers.
Shadow and light converged, again and again, until, with a violent clap of thunder, a rush of wind rose from the casket of his body, and for the sweetest interminable moment—he and his wife were caught between worlds, their souls united as one, until the torrent died like a winterbourne in summer… devoid of life, but not quite dead. At the end of her ritual, Nesta’s body lay lifeless on their chamber floor.
Maelgwn could see it as though in a dream. Her maids lifted her up, then laid her beside the empty shell of her husband—his own body. When Uther arrived to claim the banner and crown, he was told the Dragon Lord’s queen ended her life with her husband’s last breath. No one noted the reliquary in the hand of her maid. She gave Uther the message with a nervous curtsy before quitting the chamber, rushing away with a heartfelt promise for the Lord of Shadows: “I shall keep you in secret till The One arrives, and someday, my lord, you must avenge my lady’s death! A pox on the house of Pendragon!”
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