I’m so glad to welcome Beth Bernobich back on the blog today. I loved the two first books of her River of Souls series but her next release is only coming out this fall. However, we invited her back to promote the paperback release of QUEEN’S HUNT. She’s also visiting the blog to give us a early preview of ALLEGIANCE, the next book of her series. She’s also giving away a great prize, so don’t forget to check that out at the bottom of the post.
Excerpt from Chapter 1
MIRO KARASEK WOKE Ilse a few hours past midnight for her turn at watch. The skies had cleared, true dark had fallen, and the stars were bright pinpoints against the black expanse. Ilse dragged herself from the depths of much-needed sleep and rolled over to one side. Karasek offered her a mug of hot spiced tea. Ilse downed a swallow, coughed, and drank the rest. Her mind cleared at once. "What is that?"
"A special brew, concocted for soldiers in the garrison. Are you awake now?"
She staggered to her feet. At some point, she had reassumed the coat and cap she had stolen from the dead courier. She fastened the buttons with clumsy fingers.
Miro crouched next to the low-burning fire, his hands splayed as if to capture its warmth. "You had some trouble in the past few weeks," he said quietly.
Ilse shuddered. "Once. We… I had to kill him."
"Was he a soldier?"
"A courier, we think."
She went on to describe their encounter with the solitary man who thought two women alone were defenseless. Ilse had proved him wrong. She had blinded him with magic, then run him through with her sword. Together she and Valara had removed every bit of identification from his body, and examined his saddlebags for further clues. They had found one packet wrapped in oilskin, with a message that contained a report of the king's death.
"Do you have the packet, or did you burn it?" Miro asked.
Wordlessly, Ilse handed the letter over to Miro, who scanned its contents, then set it aside. For a long interval, he said nothing, but studied the star-speckled skies. He seemed lost in contemplation of some faraway puzzle.
"How do they take the news in the garrisons?" she said at last.
"Badly," he said. "They are afraid. I am afraid. We've grown so accustomed to this one king that his sudden disappearance has loosened our customary restraints. I expected maneuvers from Markov, but not the others. That was a mistake…"
He shook his head. A dismissal of one problem, before he addressed another.
"I have been thinking about how to introduce you into my house hold," he said. "Let us say that you are two sisters, cousins from my mother's family. You are seeking a place with a distant relative along the coast. I invited you to visit me first at Taboresk, but bandits attacked your entourage. Only you and your sister escaped."
Ilse nodded. "That could work. What about your servants, however? Do they know your mother's family very well?"
"No," he said quietly. "Not anymore."
Ah, that question about his mother had scraped against some deeply buried grief. "But two strangers arriving just weeks after Dzavek's death. Will the coincidence be too strong?"
His glance dropped to the ground. He wasn't certain either, she could tell, but he only said, "It will serve for now. The current rumors speak of one young woman from foreign parts, not two. The queen's appearance is nothing like a Károvín, but I have a plan for that as well. We can discuss all that tomorrow. There is one last thing I must tell you, however." A long pause followed. Ilse thought he had lost the thread of their conversation when he said, almost unwillingly, "He lives."
Ilse's head swam. She dropped into a crouch and stared at Karasek. "What do you mean?"
"He lives," Miro Karasek repeated. "My captain reported the news to me in Rastov. Your Lord Kosenmark lives."
Though he continued to speak, Ilse could not take in the rest of his words. He lives, she thought. Raul lived. He had survived that impossible battle on Hallau Island.
"I can go home," she said.
"No. Not yet."
Her gaze swung up to meet his. "Why not?"
"I need… a very great favor."
More promises. More expectations.
"Tell me this favor," she said softly.
Miro Karasek chafed one hand inside the other, as though he were seeking the right words, and there were none to be found. "I have no right to ask this," he said, "but I will. Ride with the queen to Taboresk. It's too dangerous for either of you to travel alone—your encounter with that courier proves it—and I must report to the rest of the northern garrisons before I see you and her safely home."
"And if I do?" she asked. "What then?"
"Then I send you home to Veraene by the safest means I have."
One risk for another.
"Why would you do such a thing?" she said. "For me, or for her?"
The hands stilled. When he spoke, it was as though he spoke to others watching from beyond an invisible veil. "Because I failed a dozen times before. Each time, I salved my conscience, saying I had proved my loyalty to my king. And yet, by doing so, I had lost my honor and allegiance to the gods. Once, as you might remember, I executed you for treason, but there were other betrayals in other lives. I must do better in this one."
There could be no possible answer to such a declaration. Miro did not seem to expect one. He lay down next to the campfire, on the opposite side from Valara.
Ilse let her breath trickle out. So and so. We are not yet done with our obligations.
She stood and paced the circuit of their camp. For two weeks, she had told herself she had lost Raul for this lifetime and she could only hope to find him in the next. All that was overturned by two words.
He lives. He lives and I will go to him.
Oh, she would keep her promise to Miro Karasek. Keeping that promise would forge new alliances between his kingdom and hers, between theirs and Morennioù. But even as she considered the future, she came back to the news that Raul Kosenmark lived.
She found she was weeping for joy.
More about ALLEGIANCE:
With Leos Dzavek dead and his Council in turmoil, the king of Veraene sees his chance to launch his long-desired war against Károví. Ilse Zhalina and Raul Kosenmark know the people of Károví are not so easily defeated, however. Raul sets off for Duenne to confront his king and retake his place in Veraene's Court. Ilse Zhalina embarks on the long journey from Károví with a letter vital to their cause of peace. Both of them must beware of Markus Khandarr, King Armand's most trusted Councilor and Raul's long-time enemy, who has plans of his own.
Since ALLEGIANCE isn’t coming out until October 29, 2013, you can check out the rest of the series, if you haven’t already done so. QUEEN’S HUNT has recently been released in paperback so for those of you who don’t like hardcovers, now is your chance to read this one.
More about QUEEN’S HUNT:
Ilse Zhalina has left to start a new life in a garrisoned fort, leagues from her estranged lover, Raul Kosenmark. The violent quarrel that ended Ilse and Raul's relationship was quite public. And also, quite fake. They hope to mislead Kosenmark's enemies so that he can continue to influence the politics of the kingdom in an attempt to stave off an ill-advised war, while keeping Ilse safe from royal assassins.
While Raul seeks to make alliances for peace, Ilse is set on her own quest to find one of the three fabled jewels of Lir. In her search, she encounters a shipwrecked prisoner from another land, a woman who has a secret of her own...and the second jewel in her keeping. The two women become allies in their quest for the third jewel, because finding and controlling these stones could mean salvation for both of their nations. And their failure the ruin of their peoples.
The other book in the River of Souls series (click the cover for my review):
Beth is offering a copy of both PASSION PLAY and QUEEN’S HUNT to one (1) lucky winner!
The giveaway is open internationally.
Like all Supernatural Solstice giveaways, it ends July 5th, 2013.
To enter, fill out the rafflecopter!
Beth Bernobich is a writer, reader, mother, and geek. Her short stories have appeared in all kinds of places, including Asimov's, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. Her first fantasy novel, Passion Play, won the 2010 RT Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Epic Fantasy. The second book in that series, Queen's Hunt, earned a spot on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2012. She lives in Connecticut, USA with her husband, son, and two idiosyncratic cats.