An ancient map points the way …
… as well as a strange prophecy, and anyone who dares speak of either, dies.
A new enemy enters the Valla arena, but this one is as old as time and seeks a forbidden place. The terrible source of Valla power is uncovered. As friends and family are murdered, Torrullin reveals the truth about the Valla Dragon. He hurtles into battle when his twin sons are kidnapped, and takes with him into danger a pilot, a navigator and an innocent girl – they are the Dalrish seeking escape from Xen III.
Another truth rears up, the tale of the Nine who fled into the Forbidden Zone with a strange taliesman in the shape of a dragon. Quilla knows who the fire creatures are; the Q’lin’la fled them in ancient time. They are the Kallanon, the Glittering Darkness.
“There are dragons in my future,” Torrullin once tells Quilla, and that future is now.
War erupts on a world no more than a circle on an ancient map. There Torrullin discovers who his sons really are, Taranis of the Guardians confronts his inner demons, Bartholamu of the Siric faces his arch-nemesis, Q’lin’la and Kallanon are thrown into the same melting pot, an ancient emperor speaks again, the new Lady of Life is born, the Dalrish have a profound effect on Torrullin, and Vannis seeks revenge.
We are formed in our present, actively and emotionally. And we are formed of our pasts, personal and historical.
~ Malin Drew
The Valley of Torrullin’s Keep
SUMMER’S HEAT HAD sprinkled layers of fine sediment upon the fawn stone of the ancient crypts. Saska traced an arrow into the dusty deposits beside the arch of an empty chamber, and entered the mote-filled space. A marker perhaps, to call to her husband Torrullin, to declare I am here.
Her thoughts being on Torrullin, distracting her, she thus did not see him until it was too late. His shadow loomed inward, and she whirled, blood pounding. In her introspection she had placed her life into his hands.
She trapped herself.
A perfect situation for a psychopathic sorcerer.
His striking face ugly with hate, he laughed like a devil from a child’s horror nightmare. His expression and his actions rooted her, paralysed all thought and action. The next moment was the one that would mark her death. No, he would kill her, but the next moment was meant first for utter degradation. She realised how aroused he was.
She had to defend now. Lifting her hands, she swiftly cast a shield of protection, but he countered easily, his face twisting in delight. He wanted her to fight, she understood. She staggered back into cold stone, fingers spread in desperate resistance, but she possessed no magic able to stop him, or anything to distract him long enough for her to flee.
He lifted a slim black whip, shook it in cold calculation, and then cleaved it to her repeatedly, spittle flying. She screamed once before placing her energy into surviving instead. Her gown split. She stumbled. Blood flowed, dripping to the sandy floor, and he thrust her viciously down, the whip’s handle hot at her throat. His free hand clawed at her bodice. She fought him with nail and tooth, causing him to laugh anew.
As he kneed her legs roughly open, his twin hurtled into the speckled space with murder in his eyes. Without saying a word, he attacked his brother, tearing at his hair, splitting his lip. Dragging him out, he struck him repeatedly, and hurled him against the crypt stone.
The brothers fought for long silent minutes, without quarter, coming within a breath of death.
Despite her relief, and a desire to see her tormentor dead, Saska whispered enough, thinking more of the agony Torrullin would suffer than her own, and they ceased. Heaving, beaten and bruised, they glared at each other.
She crawled slowly into sunlight.
Looking up at her persecutor and her saviour, she realised he had already altered his appearance to fit that of his twin. She could not tell them apart. She could not win, not then, not now, not ever. She knew the next encounter would be even more brutal, and he would engineer it for when his twin was absent. Neither brother apologised, for there could be no words.
SHE HAD TO LEAVE or die here. Their love would die. She hated it here now, and thus spent her time elsewhere when the boys were in residence. They pretended respect for their father’s wife, but one was a liar and the other desired her dead.
At age five it was a deadly scorpion, a week later a lethal snake. At six, her horse spooked riding the ridges of the Arrows. Immortal she might be, but she could survive only to a point. The twins turned seven, a bad year. Poison, crossbow, and an attempt on her body while her mind roamed. At eight, after stabbing Nessie the cook, they left her alone for a while. No, he left her alone.
Quilla advocated years ago that she absent herself when they were in the vicinity, exactly when Torrullin needed her most. Now she did precisely that and it drove a wedge between her and her husband.
Yesterday’s terror made her decision final.
Saska went to Quilla at the Lifesource Temple for healing. His reconstruction was not as complete as Torrullin’s could be, for red welts remained on her arms, but no matter. Quilla, dear friend, had been sad. She saw the brothers earlier, both healed. What tale they spun their father she could not know, but Torrullin took pity again.
A screech filled the air and she looked up in time to see a hawk capture a smaller bird in mid-flight.
I am that little bird.
She leaned over the battlements and saw Torrullin in the courtyard below. She waved, and then moved out of view. When she looked again, he strode through the great Dragon doors together with his sons Tristamil and Tymall. It was Millanu’s Naming Day and they were on their way to the Graveyard to pay their respects.
The last place she desired to be.
Wandering to the north-western side, she watched them and had to admit they looked good together. Three lean and fit men, the one fair, the other two with gold and auburn streaks. The Vallas. Glorious in their beauty, terrible in their power.
Torrullin looked back, angling his head upward, and she discerned disquiet. He knew something brewed, but he also chose to go on walking.
She lifted her gaze to the next rise, to the Graveyard. She noted Vannis’ stance in the distance, and Raken, his wife. Lycea, the twins’ mother, was there also. Both women had aged in the twenty-five years since she met them. Unlike me. I do not age. Yet today I feel truly old.
The boys lived at the White Palace with Lycea, occupying their own wing in Vannis and Raken’s home. Raken quietly informed Vannis the first time something happened between her and one of the boys, and Vannis gave both such a beating she dared not say anything thereafter. Vannis respected her silence, knowing how close he came to losing himself in violence.
Poor Torrullin, Saska thought. A virtual recluse, afraid of accusations he imagines in the eyes of friends and family. He is particularly shy of Vannis lately, Vannis, who at their birth twenty-five years ago told himto ensure the unrecognised babe did not take a first breath.
Going below, she wandered the Keep, recalling happier times. There were many. Making love anywhere, as the mood took them. Their wedding. Filling the empty rooms of the newly built Keep with treasures … yes, for a while they were truly happy.
Then the boys turned three and remembered their time in their mother’s womb. Valleur babies were aware before birth and thus the father needed to cradle, speak and sing to the unborn. Recognition and commitment entrenched before birth. Unfortunately, Lycea carried twins and one babe hid behind the other, and therefore remained unrecognised until labour commenced. He entered his world with hate infusing every atom, and only his brother knew him. They even sounded the same.
Inhaling a sense of grief, for happy times were no longer a sufficient foundation to build a future on, she went upstairs next.
Their personal suite comprised of a small sitting room, Torrullin’s select library, a bathroom and their bedroom. The whole was a haven as life after the Darak Or progressed into parenthood and rulership. Recently it became Torrullin’s retreat as he withdrew from social graces. To her it was a prison, the walls enclosing, and conversely it was also the only place she felt safe. No retainers were permitted, and neither were her stepsons. Torrullin found their bed slashed to ribbons one night, and instituted the rule the following morning.
Nothing I want here; too many memories.
She lay down, gaze touching on the little wooden Buddha from Beacon, the large jade shell from Canimer, her homeworld, and other arresting items on display. Too many memories indeed.
Shifting her gaze, she watched the pale woven hangings move in the breeze …
TORRULLIN’S TREAD ON the stairs awakened her. She started dragging a sleeved tunic on to cover the welts, and jumped from her skin when his warm hand arrested her attempt at concealment. She emerged from the item to look into his grey eyes.
Panic. Hers, and his.
Tossing the garment aside, she went to the window, staring blindly over the beautiful valley.
“Saska?” Torrullin’s voice was behind her, close. “Is this why you didn’t come?”
He took her hand and ran his fingers up her arm, his breath in her neck. She snatched it back. He would want to heal the evidence away and she did not wish him to. She needed the motivation.
“What happened?” he asked. “Why could you not come to me for help?”
“It doesn’t matter, Torrullin. It is done.”
He moved away then and she turned to see him sit heavily on the bed. A troubled gaze speared her.
No, one boy. One man. “I am fine, do not worry.”
If he knew which son, Saska doubted not the young man would beg for his life this night. It was in his eyes, the need to punish.
“How?” He undoubtedly realised her injuries lay behind the beating they inflicted on each other yesterday. “What did he use?”
“A whip.” She swallowed and went to him when he paled, kneeling on the carpet to take his hands. “My love, leave it.”
“He will kill you.” It was the first time he admitted it aloud. “I will send them away.” He meant it, but his expression was bleak.
“That will solve nothing.” Saska took a steadying breath and loaded it with all the courage and conviction she could muster. Tightening her grip on his hands, she said, “Torrullin, look at me.” His expression was distant, in retreat, but he focused. “I shall be leaving.”
“I am accustomed to that now.”
A knife twisted in her heart. “I am leaving permanently.”
He yanked his hands free to clench them into fists. “Saska, no, I will not allow him to drive you from your home, from me. We can get past this.”
She placed her hand on his knee. “As we got past others? The next one may be my swansong.”
He inhaled. “They will be gone in two weeks.”
She stood with determination and returned to the window. “This marriage has suffered enough.” Silence answered that statement, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to rise. “I deserve never to look over my shoulder. Please understand.”
“You are not coming back … ever?”
She swung around, and froze. It was as if someone bled life and colour from him.
“I will fight this,” he whispered.
Her heart lurched, gladdened by his willingness, but it was now far beyond that. Her voice failed her, and she swallowed and tried again.
“I leave because I fear for us.” She crossed the space once more and drew him close. “I love you more than life, you know that.”
He held her to him, face hidden in her chest. “Don’t go.”
All his power, and yet this he could not change. That power was hers alone. “I must do this.”
Torrullin released her and stood. He paced, and each step brought anger closer. His eyes darkened with every step. She did not want him angry, but maybe that would make this parting easier.
“I cannot do this alone!” he blurted.
“You already are. No one can help you with those boys. They drive what is good away from you. Soon there will be no place for me.”
“Never!” He came to a halt.
“You’re lying to yourself. Do you want me to say I will return when you have dealt with the twins? Do you want an ultimatum? How long do I wait? I love you too much to ruin what is left.”
They faced each other, breathing hard.
“Just like that?” he demanded, disbelieving.
“No, not just like that. I thought long and delayed this moment many times.” She reached up to touch his face.
He flinched, and then hauled her into his arms. “When?”
A shudder passed through his entire body. “Goddess, not now. You have thought; I am shattered in moments. Please, my love, not this moment. One more night. You and me against the world.”
His hold tightened and his heart thudded against her cheek.
A minute longer made leaving harder. A whole night might undo her completely.
“Give us a chance to say good-bye. I am begging, by god.”
It would change nothing, except to hurt more, but she could accept added pain, yes, to say farewell. Tears coursed over her cheeks. It was all right now to let him see them. They had one more night.
“One more night,” she whispered into his ear.
He sagged with relief, in hope, and pulled her even closer.
SASKA LEFT AT dawn, leaving Torrullin in dreamless sleep, her last sight of him a man peaceful, the lines of strain smoothed over, a small smile on his lips. He thought to hold her longer, but the tenderness and connection of the night would change nothing in the days to come.
She abandoned the Keep for another life, somewhere else.