"What can I say? A fitting end to the trilogy. I think you could read this as a stand-alone novel, although the backstory would all be told not shown. Jeffe Kennedy writes such beautiful prose, such engaging characters and such evocative landscapes." Alison, Goodreads
Published: January 8th, 2019
Just beyond the reach of the Twelve Kingdoms, avarice, violence, strategy, and revenge clash around a survivor who could upset the balance of power all across the map...
Once Ivariel thought elephants were fairy tales to amuse children. But her ice-encased childhood in Dasnaria’s imperial seraglio was lacking in freedom and justice. With a new name and an assumed identity as a warrior priestess of Danu, the woman once called Princess Jenna is now a fraud and a fugitive. But as she learns the ways of the beasts and hones new uses for her dancer’s strength, she moves one day further from the memory of her brutal husband. Safe in hot, healing Nyambura, Ivariel holds a good man at arm’s length and trains for the day she’ll be hunted again.
She knows it’s coming. She’s not truly safe, not when her mind clouds with killing rage at unpredictable moments. Not when patient Ochieng’s dreams of a family frighten her to her bones. But it still comes as a shock to Ivariel when long-peaceful Nyambura comes under attack. Until her new people look to their warrior priestess and her elephants to lead them . . .
Despite the rain, I went to see the elephants. Especially Efe.
In the endless downpour, it hardly mattered what I put on. Whatever it was became soaked within moments. I’d finally adopted the habit of the Nyamburans, wearing light fabrics that at least didn’t hang on me like iron manacles with the weight of all that water. When I returned to the house, I’d then hang them next to one of the fired clay stoves, switching them out for another set.
It gave me an excuse to sit quietly and try to recover my strength—and wind—while hanging onto my pride. Perhaps I fooled no one with my attentiveness to drying my clothes.
Especially as nothing ever seemed to dry completely. Even Ochieng’s elaborate descriptions hadn’t done the rainy season justice. It poured nonstop, day and night. Below the granite butte the D’tiembo house perched upon, the river swelled until it seemed to fill the entire valley. No longer shining bright like a polished sword, it lay gray and sullen, deceptively still—until debris sweeping downstream revealed the lethal currents that tumbled them past, a great beast masticating its treasures as it carried them away.
Though I felt naked without my leathers, I’d given them up as too impractical in the pervasive damp. I’d even stopped wearing the vambraces, which had always been more to cover up the scars on my wrists from my wedding bracelets. I wouldn’t say I no longer cared who saw them, but they were certainly no longer secret. All the D’tiembos knew what I came from and what had happened to me. Another reason not to bother with pride, though I couldn’t seem to help myself.
There seemed to be very little I could control about myself. I hadn’t picked up my knives and sword since I’d returned either.
Slipping out of my little room, I left the sodden curtains hanging in place instead of tying them back, so it wouldn’t be obvious I wasn’t within. Though I’d given up my vow of silence—and of chastity, though I’d yet to do anything there beyond giving up the silver disk of the promise—I didn’t often feel like talking to people. You’d think I’d have a lot of words dammed up inside me, like the debris in the river fighting to race to the sea, but once I’d told Ochieng my story, I didn’t seem to have much left to say.
Or, more precisely, nothing I felt comfortable articulating. Back to that pride. The legacy of my mother, a curse I perversely treasured for its cool familiarity.
I’d killed Rodolf, my now late husband, in a blur of blood and violence I barely remembered. But that hadn’t killed the hatred he’d planted in me. As my body healed from that brutal battle, all of my fear and pain gained life again, too. Sometimes it overcame me, the rage-terror, the many-faced emotion that flashed like a fire no amount of rain could quench. Sometimes I thought another person lived inside me. Perhaps Imperial Princess Jenna, daughter of Empress Hulda, the most ruthless bitch in the Dasnarian Empire, hadn’t become Ivariel. I might have created Ivariel, Warrior Priestess of Danu, but she only provided a calm shell over the dark face of Jenna.
Jenna, who couldn’t seem to stop hating, and whom I couldn’t seem to control.
The antechamber was empty, as usual, since my room sat on a less-frequented edge of the many-tiered house, and I moved silently through it and down the woven grass steps few people besides me used, suppressing a groan at the aching protest of my body. Amazing how simple movements like going down steps made my abdomen protest and my always-strong legs tremble with weakness. I thought I’d endured pain before and understood it. Had conquered it.
But those had been mostly surface pains—from flogging and my late husband’s rough attentions. Mostly skin deep, except in my woman’s passage, which was meant to open to the outside anyway. These wounds had penetrated through layers of tissue and muscle and organs, deep inside me, hindering my smallest movements. Pointed reminders that I should be dead.
With determination, ignoring the pain, I descended the slow steps to the terrace. When I’d arrived, in the dry season, the large D’tiembo clan had spent most of their time on the big, low-walled terrace that overlooked the river. These days it mostly held puddles of rainwater. One of my young students, Ayela, and her brother, Femi, used long-handled tools to push water that collected in the corners and deeper indentations over the edge of the terrace. It seemed like an exercise in futility to me, but all the kids took turns doing it. Maybe to keep them occupied as much as anything.
Ayela spotted me and waved, a cautious gesture, her normal ebullience carefully muted. They were all careful with me. I could hardly blame them. She and my other students were anxious, I knew, to resume lessons with me. I also knew their parents had spoken firmly with them that they should not ask me, that I needed time to get strong again. The first eighteen years of my life had been spent in the seraglio of the Imperial Palace where the ladies all honed eavesdropping to a fine art. The D’tiembos with their curtain walls and privacy that existed only via courtesy could hardly keep secrets from me.
I smiled at Ayela, but quickly turned away so she wouldn’t get the wrong idea. If only I could go down the cliff steps. However—exactly as Ochieng had predicted—the lower levels had been swept away, even before I managed to escape my sickbed for the first time. So, I went around, skirting the edge of the terrace rather than going through the house, making my way to the back side, where the covered steps descended to the storehouses.
“Ivariel.” Ochieng stepped out from a room I passed, his lean face smooth, his dark eyes full of concern. “Going to visit the elephants?” he asked.
I nodded, then remembered I should give him words, since he seemed to crave them from me. “Yes. Is that all right?”
A slight line formed between his brows. “Of course. This is your home. You may do anything you wish. I simply thought to offer to go with you.”
“You don’t have to,” I replied, my gaze going to the opening leading to the steps. I’d been so close. “I’m sure you have other things to do.”
He laughed, though not in a genuine way. “It’s the rainy season. Nobody has anything to do that they haven’t done dozens of times already. I’ll go with you.”
Because it felt churlish and ungenerous of me to refuse, I nodded and continued walking, Ochieng falling in beside me. “How are you feeling today?” he asked me.
I never knew how to answer this question. “Better,” I said, as I usually did. Not an untruth—I certainly felt better than I had when I first awoke in the D’tiembo home, swathed in bandages, with no idea why I was there instead of dead. One day I wanted to feel again as I had before my eighteenth birthday, before any of this occurred. I missed feeling limber, vital, and beautiful. I hadn’t appreciated what a blessing those things were when I had them. Now that I would value them as precious gifts, I suspected I’d lost those, too, forever.
About the author:
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. She lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine Coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at JeffeKennedy.com, or every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.