THEIR ARMIES HAVE CONQUERED HALF OF THE WORLD. NOW THEY WANT THE REST.
The Fey, known for their beauty and their warrior magic, have set their sights on Blue Isle. They should conquer the Isle quickly; its people, simple and religious, have never known war.
On the eve of the invasion, Jewel, the granddaughter of the Fey's all-powerful Black King, has a frightening vision, one that ties her fate to the Isle forever. Still, she helps her father Rugar head the invasion force.
The force meets a surprising resistance. Nicholas, heir to Blue Isle's throne, has always dreamed of battle. Normally, he would be no match for the powerful Fey. But Blue Isle has a secret weapon-a weapon no one understands, a weapon that could stop the Fey in their tracks.
Nicholas must find a way to harness this amazing power. Jewel must find a way to thwart him. To survive, one of them must make the ultimate sacrifice.
A fast-paced, vibrant novel, filled with memorable characters, Sacrifice begins a saga that will take readers to a richly imagined world, filled with magic, treachery, and unexpected love.
"A very good, very large fantasy...nicely done and with a particularly satisfying and unexpected resolution."– Science Fiction Chronicle
"Rusch is a great storyteller."– Romantic Times Book Reviews
THE LITTLE GIRL slammed into Jewel at full run, then slid and fell on the wet cobblestone. The girl sat for a moment, her skirts wrapped around her thighs, revealing the pants-like undergarments the Nyeians insisted on trussing their children in. Jewel hadn't moved. Her hip ached from the impact of the girl's body, but Jewel didn't let the pain show.
She hadn't expected to see a child on the narrow, dark streets of the merchant center of Nye's largest city. The stone buildings towered around the cobblestone road. Even though the sun had appeared after a furious thunderstorm, the streets were just as dark as they had been during the sudden downpour.
"Esmerelda!" A woman's voice, sharp and piercing, echoed on the street. The passersby didn't seem to notice. They continued about their business, clutching their strange round timepieces as they hurried to their destinations.
The little girl tugged on her ripped skirts and tried to stand. Jewel recognized the look of panic on the child's face. She had felt that herself in the face of her grandfather's wrath. Jewel took two steps toward the girl and crouched, thankful that she was wearing breeches and boots that allowed such freedom of movement. "Why were you running?" Jewel asked in Nye.
"Felt like it," the girl said.
Good answer. Nyeian children didn't play enough. Their parents didn't allow it. The girl had courage.
Jewel extended her hand. The girl stared at it. Jewel's slender fingers and dark skin marked her as Fey, even more than her upswept eyebrows, black hair, and slightly pointed ears.
"Esmerelda!" The woman's voice had an edge of panic.
"She won't like your being dirty," Jewel said.
The little girl's lower lip trembled. She reached for Jewel's hand when a screech resounded behind them. Jewel turned in time to see a woman wearing a dress so tightly corseted it made her appear flat, swing an umbrella as if it were a sword. Jewel stood and grabbed the umbrella by its tip, pulling it from the woman's hand.
"You were about to hit me?" Jewel asked, keeping her tone level but filled with menace.
The woman was a few years older than Jewel, but already her pasty skin had frown lines marring her eyes and mouth. Her pale-brown eyes took in the thin vest that Jewel wore in deference to the heat. "What were you doing to my child?"
"Helping her up. Have you an objection to that?"
The woman glanced at her child. Jewel stood between them. Then the woman bowed her head. Her brown hair had touches of gray. "Forgive me," she said, not at all contrite. "I forgot myself."
"Indeed." Jewel put the tip of the umbrella on the cobblestone and leaned her weight on it. Sturdy thing. It would have made a good weapon, and she had no doubt the woman had used it as such during the recent conflict. "Forget yourself again, and your daughter may lose her mother."
"Is that a threat, mistress?" The woman brought her head up, eyes flashing.
"Mistress." Nye term of respect. The Fey did not believe in such linguistic tricks. There were other ways of keeping inferiors in line. "You're not important enough to threaten, my dear," Jewel said, using the linguistic trick to her own benefit. "I was merely warning you. As a kindness."
She knelt beside the little girl again. The girl's eyes were tearstained. "Don't hurt my mommy," she whispered. "I didn't mean to bump you."
"I know," Jewel said. She adjusted the girl's heavy skirts and helped her to her feet. Then she handed her the umbrella. It was almost as tall as the child. "You just remind your mother that we are no longer your enemies. You have to learn to live with us now."
The mother watched Jewel's every movement. Jewel brushed the dirt off the child's skirts, marveling at the thickness of the fabric. Jewel would suffocate in clothing like that.
"You might also want to let your mother know that pants are more practical for children, male or female."
"I thought you weren't going to change our customs." The woman spoke again, her tone full of bitterness, even though she bowed her head again in the submissive gesture the Fey had commanded. Jewel thought of challenging her on her rudeness but decided the battle wasn't worth her time. She was already late for the meeting with her father.
"We change only the customs that interfere with healthy, productive living. Children are born to move, not mince like some expensive fop at a Nye banquet." Jewel smiled and reached a hand under the woman's chin, bringing her head up so that their gazes met. "She wouldn't have run into me if she had been dressed properly."
"You have no right to change how we live," the woman said.
"We have every right," Jewel said. "We choose to allow you your customs because they keep you productive. You are the one without rights. You lost them six months ago when my grandfather became the leader of Nye."
Finally the panic that had been missing from the woman's face appeared. Her round eyes narrowed and her mouth opened just a bit. "You're the Black King's granddaughter?"
Jewel let her hand fall and resisted the urge to wipe her fingertips on her breeches. "Aren't you lucky I was in a good mood this morning? Threatening me is like threatening all of the Fey at once."
The woman's face flushed with terror. She grabbed the little girl and pulled her close. Jewel ignored the gesture. She took a loose strand of the little girl's brown hair and tucked it behind the girl's ear. "Take good care of your mother, Esmerelda," she said, and continued down the street.
At the corner she glanced back, saw the woman still standing in place, the little girl clutched against her side. Jewel shook her head. The bitterness would get the Nyeians nowhere. They were part of the Fey Empire now. The sooner they all realized it, the better off they would be.
Jewel clasped her hands behind her back. The air was warm and muggy after the storm, except in the shadows of the great buildings. Her grandfather had taken the greatest, the Bank of Nye, and made it his own. Four stories of stone standing like a palace in the merchant section, the building was the closest thing to a palace that the Nyeians had ever made.
The streets were nearly empty for midday. The half-dozen Nyeians gave Jewel a wide berth as they passed her on the street. The Fey guards standing in front of each Fey-occupied building nodded to her as she passed. She nodded in return.
Six months since the Nyeians surrendered, and still her grandfather felt the need for guards. Six months without fighting, and she was growing restless.
Like her father.
He had a plan for the next battle. She was ready, even though her grandfather wasn't sure if the entire force was ready to move again. Her brothers didn't think so, but they were young. The last year of the Nye campaign had been the first time any of the boys had seen battle.
Jewel had fought since she was eleven—nearly seven years—and she had never progressed beyond the Infantry, much to her father's and grandfather's dismay. Her brothers were delighted. They all assumed that her lack of Vision would mean that she would be passed over as heir to her grandfather's throne.
She hadn't told any of them about her strange dreams. She hadn't even visited the Shaman about them.
Finally she arrived at the Bank of Nye. It stood in the center of a cobblestone interchange. Sunlight touched a small corner of the stone, causing it to heat, and steam to rise from the wet. Through an open window she could hear her father's voice mingling with her grandfather's.
They were fighting, just as she knew they would be.
Every time her father mentioned moving beyond Nye, leaving the Galinas continent and heading out to sea, her grandfather objected. The next place to conquer was an island in the middle of the Infrin Sea. Blue Isle had been a major trading partner with Nye. It had also done some business with countries on Leut, the continent to the south. Blue Isle was a gateway that Nye could never be. But it was a gateway that the Black King believed the Fey were not ready to use.
Jewel knew better than to interrupt an argument between her father and her grandfather. Her father had asked her to wait for him, and wait she would. Outside.
Jewel sat on the flagstone steps and propped one booted foot against the wall across from her. She leaned against the cool stone walls, not caring that the roughness of the stone pulled strands of hair from her braid. This was as close as she could get to the open window, but even if she closed her eyes and concentrated, she could not make out the words.
No one else realized the importance of the battle within. Nyeians scurried by, moving as quickly as people could in six layers of clothing, their round faces red and covered with sweat. Jewel had often joked that the Nyeians had lost the war because they didn't know when to take their clothes off.
Not that the wars had hurt business in Nye. The shops were open, and the street vendors hawked wares as if nothing had happened. Fortunately, the bank was on a street filled with other austere stone buildings, a street where no vendors were allowed. She wouldn't have been able to hear anything at all if the vendors had been camped on the cobblestone.
The Nyeians ducked in and out of shops without once glancing at the open, gaily colored flags outside. The flags indicated the type of merchandise—blue for items made in Nye, yellow, green, red, and purple for items made in other countries. The Bank of Nye had transferred its business to the brick building directly across the street, and more than one trader had entered, a money pouch clutched tightly to his hip.
Jewel closed her eyes and a wave of dizziness hit her. The world tilted, and she suddenly felt great searing pain burning into her forehead. Her father shouted, "You've killed her!" and a voice answered in a tongue she did not recognize. Then he shouted, "Someone help her! Please help her!"
Her breath came in ragged gasps. She opened her eyes. A man leaned over her, his eyebrows straight, his hair long and blond. His features were square. He was neither Fey nor Nyeian. His skin was pale without being pasty. He had a rugged, healthy look she had seen only in the Fey, but his features were stronger, as if drawn with a heavy hand. He spoke to her in that strange tongue. Orma lii, he said, then repeated a different word over and over.
He cradled her in his arms, holding her with a tenderness she had never felt before. Then the scene shifted. The strange man still held her, but she wore her father's healing cloak.
A Healer slapped a poultice on her forehead. It smelled of redwort and garlic, and stopped the burning from spreading. "She'll live," the Healer said, "but I can promise no more."
"What did she say?" the strange man asked. His Fey had an odd accent.
"That she'll live," her father replied. He was speaking Nye. "And maybe little more."
The strange man pressed her closer. "Jewel." He kissed her softly. "Ne sneto. Ne sneto."
She reached up and touched him with a shaking hand. This night was not how she'd dreamed it would be.
Then the world shifted back. She had moved down two steps, and her forehead tingled with remembered pain. Her throat was dry. A Vision. A real Vision, powerful enough to make her lose her place in the present.
Her heart was pounding rapidly against her chest. She had never heard her father sound so terrified. Nor had she ever seen anyone like that man. His pale skin, straight eyebrows, and blue eyes marked him as not Fey, and his square features and appearance of health meant he wasn't Nyeian. Yet he knew her well enough to cradle her with love.
The bank door slammed open and her father stormed out, his black cloak swirling around his legs. He was among the tallest Fey, and he usually used that height to great effect. Now, though, he seemed even taller than usual.
Jewel had never seen him this angry outside of battle.
She made herself swallow, wishing she had something to ease her sudden thirst. Then she got up slowly, afraid the dizziness from the Vision would return.
"So he said no, huh?" she asked. She had to look up to see his face.
"He said yes." Her father bit out the words as if he resented them.
She frowned. "Then why are you angry? You want to conquer Blue Isle."
Her father looked at her. His eyebrows swept up to his hairline, his eyes fierce. "Because he said I am making a mistake. That I am fighting because I am addicted to slaughter, not because I want to add to the Empire. He said it would be good for me to die on the battlefield so that I don't bring that taste for death to the chair of the Black King."
Harsh words. Too harsh. The fight between the men must have been deep. "He was speaking in anger," she said.
"He believed it was truth." Her father stomped down four stairs, then stopped. At this vantage she was as tall as he was. "No matter what he says, I am taking you with me."
"What about my brothers?" Jewel asked. The last time her father had taken her on a campaign, he had done so that she might care for the boys.
"They're too young for this trip. Meet me in my quarters tonight and bring the Warders. We have a campaign to plan."
He turned his back on her and continued down the stairs. When he reached the street, the Nyeians backed away from him. He hurried across the cobblestone, his cloak fluttering behind him.
Jewel braced one hand against the wall. The dizziness was gone, but a disquiet had settled into the pit of her stomach. She had had her Vision after her father had decided to go to Blue Isle. Were the two connected?
She shook her head. She knew better than to make such speculation about Visions. They existed to guide leaders. She should be happy she had a Vision of such strength. It settled a fear that she would never have the power to be Black Queen.
In spite of herself she felt an odd joy. Her father would take her on her first real campaign—not as a soldier and caretaker for children, but as a leader. One who would help plan.
No matter what her grandfather said about settling, he was wrong about one thing: the fight was in their blood. The restlessness she had felt for the last six months would be put to good use.
She pushed herself away from the clammy stone wall. The face from her Vision rose in her memory.
"Orma lii," she whispered, even though she didn't know what it meant. She was going to face her destiny as a Fey should, in full battle gear, weapons drawn.