Cobweb Bride is book one of the critically acclaimed, atmospheric, and gruesomely romantic Renaissance epic fantasy trilogy by a two-time Nebula Award Nominated Author.
Death demands his Bride. Until she is found, the world is broken and no one can die (including slaughterhouse livestock) while murdered lovers and various mortal enemies find themselves locked in the realm of the living, in this epic Renaissance dark fantasy powered by chivalry, true love, creeping terror, and the myth of Persephone and Hades.
When Death stops, it is up to Percy, a plain unwanted village girl, to confront a mysterious Black Knight, armies of the undead, and Death itself, and restore order to the world... A dark fairytale for grownups filled with chthonic magic, Renaissance zombies, and ancient gods. Perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.
"Nazarian writes clean and true prose..."– Publishers Weekly
"Set in an alternate Renaissance Europe, this series opener by Russian-born Nazarian combines the stylistic manner of a folktale with the trappings of an epic fantasy, one driven by compassion rather than heroics.... Fans of period fantasy and those who like stories that feel like fairy tales should appreciate this skillful novel."– Library Journal
"I really enjoyed the rich, complex and highly unusual storytelling in the Cobweb Bride. Nazarian does an excellent job of painting the Renaissance world of her alternate reality and bringing in interesting twists... I loved the premise it was built on and I loved the story itself."– Tracy M. Riva, Midwest Book Review
"Cobweb Bride is astonishing and captivating;... an expansive collage of characters immersed in a plot as rich and decadent as a Verdi opera.... The romance is as subtle as it is grim, with glimmers of hope taking us further to our doom—perhaps.... The overall tone is introspective, hauntingly quiet with elements of horror-fantasy that are as provocative as the works of Tanith Lee and Storm Constantine."– Patrice, Romantic Historical Reviews, a 5-Star Top Pick
Evening twilight encroached with blue and indigo upon the whiteness of the frozen Lake Merlait. It was a scene of slowing battle between the forces of Duke Ian Chidair, known as Hoarfrost, and the armies of his neighbor, the Duke Vitalio Goraque. Neither side as yet had the upper hand.
Winter wind howled in fury while heavy cavalrymen and horses struggled in a slow melee, immense metal-clad knights bringing broadswords and maces down upon each other, to cleave and bludgeon. Joined with the screaming wind in a discord were the clangor of iron and shouts and groans of agony as the wounded and the slain soldiers piled upon the whiteness. Footmen slipped and moved between the feet of the great warhorses, and long pikes pierced chain mail and mail plate, butting up against the ice.
There were places where the ice had cracked. Here, men and beasts had fallen through into the gaping blackness, the sludge water thick and slow underneath the ice. The dead and the living had intermingled, and common blood stained the top layer of the ice with dark red; pale rose in places, deep as burgundy in others.
Then, all of a sudden, the wind died.
Except for the ringing metal and human cries, there had come silence.
With it came horror.
One beheaded soldier continued to move. His severed head together with its helmet, eyes still blinking, mouth distended into a cry, rolled into the gaping hole in the ice, sinking into the breach. But the headless torso, now blind and staggering, continued to wield the sword, and to swing it wildly.
Behind him, another soldier, wearing red and gold, Duke Vitalio Goraque's colors, was pierced through the heart with a long pike. Instead of collapsing, he froze in place for several long shuddering moments. Then, as the one who struck him down stared in disbelief, the soldier took hold of the shaft and pulled it out of his own chest, shouting in agony. And he continued to fight, while blood darker than his tunic poured out of his wound in a spurting fountain.
A few feet away, a knight in an over-tunic surcoat of palest frost-blue—its color blurring into the surrounding ice in the intensifying twilight—decorated with the ornate crest of Duke Hoarfrost, fell from his warhorse from the impact of a great broadsword blow. He fell upon the ice and through it, for the burden of his plate armor weighted him down as though he were an anvil.
The knight sank, screaming, while the sludge blackwater closed over his head, seeping into his under-tunic and all the crevices with a shock of excruciating cold. And he continued screaming silently with all the force of his lungs that collapsed and then filled with the ice water while he was being consumed by universal agony of cold fire and impossible stifling pressure. All his muscles spasmed, and yet his heart did not shut down instantly from the shock.
His heart went on beating, slow and stately like an ice drum, then slowing down gradually, as though unwinding mechanical gears. While his blood—now as cold as the water in the lake—crawled through him sluggishly. And still the knight descended, flailing his limbs in the absolute darkness and cold while his mind chanted a prayer to God for an end that would not come.
Eventually he hit the bottom of the lake, thick with mud. He lay there, unable to move from the weight of his armor and from the constricted and frozen muscles of his body; unable to breathe and suffocating without end, yet not losing consciousness. His face, now invisible to any other living being, was clenched in a rictus of horror, and prayers were replaced with madness.
Directly above him—no more than fifty feet through the freezing waters, upon the ice crust surrounding the breach through which he had fallen—the battle went on. But it had taken a turn of unreality.
Men on both sides continued to strike mortal blows, but their opponents faltered only briefly. Many of the slain picked themselves back up from the ice and continued fighting, even though they were soon drained of all blood. Others stood or lay howling in unrelieved pain from deadly wounds and mutilations, neither losing consciousness nor life.
"Sorcery! By God, this is dark witching sorcery! Fall back! Fall back!" Duke Vitalio Goraque cried, thrown into sudden mindless terror by the realization of what was happening around him. It did not matter that he was surrounded by a solid circle of his best knights and henchmen, while behind him rode the loyal pennant bearer, holding aloft the red-and-gold banner with the Goraque crest. It did not matter that they had advanced such a significant distance across the frozen lake, and were more than halfway to the western shore that marked the outer boundary of the lands held by his enemy, Hoarfrost.
None of it mattered. The red Duke attempted to fight his way back from the middle of the frozen lake to the eastern shore where his reserve detachments waited.
On the other end of the lake, a mere ten or twenty feet from the western shore, flew the pennant of the palest blue, now obscured by evening murk, with the crest of Chidair. Duke Hoarfrost himself, Ian Chidair, sat on his tall grey charger like a rock, while continuing to swing his broadsword at the enemy knights.
Next to him fought his son, Lord Beltain Chidair, protecting his father's formidable back. He moved, deep in a berserker fury, demonic and terrifying. No matter how tired he had to be at this point, few dared to approach the young knight who had never been defeated in combat.
The few remaining Chidair knights at their side were dull with exhaustion. None had yet noticed the peculiar consequences of what should have been mortal strikes, attributing it to the enemy's tenacity—after all, Chidair had been pushed back into retreating to their own shores of the lake. And the cessation of the ice wind against their numb faces was merely perceived as a blessed minor relief.
But then they saw in the distance near the heart of the lake that Duke Goraque's forces seemed to be regrouping and then retreating east.
It made no sense. Why was Goraque retreating? He had the upper hand!
Though evenly matched in general, the battle had been hardest upon Duke Hoarfrost's army, especially in these last minutes. The only explanation for the uncalled-for retreat of Duke Goraque's men was that they must have been deceived by something in the growing dusk. Or maybe they were unwilling to continue the battle at night.
"Accursed cowards!" Duke Hoarfrost exclaimed, panting hard. With a great backhanded blow he delivered a killing strike to the neck of the last Goraque knight within sword range before him—a strike that should have severed collarbone and ribs and cleared the immediate area of any remaining opponents.
The knight did not fall but slumped forward in the saddle to lie against the neck of his warhorse from the impact of the received blow. Blood spurted down the front of his already ruddy surcoat as his heart pumped the life-liquid out of the damaged body. Within moments he will have drawn his last breath.
Himself near collapse, breathing in shuddering gasps of exhaustion, Duke Hoarfrost turned his back to the defeated enemy and addressed the pennant bearer of his House.
"Laurent . . ." he spoke between breaths. "Raise the banner to its fullest. . . . We will now rally to strike them and drive them—"
He never finished. Because in that moment a long dagger was lodged and twisted with surprising force in his lower back near the kidneys, deep to the hilt, in that vulnerable spot right between the mail plates. And a moment later a broadsword point struck him higher, between the ribs, running in through the heart and out the front of his chest cavity. The point of the sword was stopped only by the hard inner surface of the chest plate.
Then the blade was withdrawn.
An instant of vertigo, that should have been followed by instant oblivion.
But Duke Hoarfrost, Ian Chidair, mortally pierced twice, remained alive. And alive, he screamed in impossible pain.
He screamed, while blood came spurting out of him, from his back and his chest, from the hole near his kidneys, and past the clenched jaws and into his mouth so that he tasted his own serum and bile, choked on it, while his lungs were filling rapidly so that he was now drowning.
And yet, slowly Duke Hoarfrost turned around. Staggering in the saddle, he faced the slain knight who once again sat upright in his own saddle, and who held a broadsword covered with Hoarfrost's blood. The dagger remained lodged in Chidair's back.
"No!" Beltain, his son, cried. "No! Father! Oh, in the Name of God, no!"
Duke Hoarfrost gurgled, unable to breathe. And then, with a supreme effort he threw himself at the enemy knight.
The two of them went down from the impact. Neither one cared any longer that to be unseated meant they would likely be unable to rise up and mount again—that it meant sure death.
What difference would it make when they were dead already?
For neither of them could possibly be alive.
The impact of two bodies collapsing against the ice resulted in a slow fissure, then a growing crack. Their warhorses stumbled, yet managed to regain footing and scrambled away to a safe distance, while all around, the Chidair knights backed away, leaving a perimeter around the collapsing ice.
Down the incline and into the churning sludge the two fallen men slipped, weighed down by the immense poundage of their armor, still grappling with each other as the thick waters closed overhead, bubbling.
Within moments there was only stillness. The ice pieces gently bobbed on top of the sludge.
"Holy Mother of God . . . have mercy upon your loyal servant Ian Chidair and receive him unto your bosom," Beltain whispered, crossing himself. He removed his helmet in grief and in final honor of his fallen Lord father. In the dark, his eyes were without an end, places leading only into hell; his hair, like filaments of the night.
Some distance away there were various sounds of retreat. Goraque soldiers returned to their own side of the lake, while straggling figures of Hoarfrost's men started to fall back to the place where the Duke himself had just sunk in the waters so near the shore.
In the darkness it was not clearly visible that some of these men should not have been walking upright. Indeed, many did not realize their own condition, feeling only numbness and winter closing in, and attributing it to the circumstances of battle. From the shores came the reserve troops, soldiers carrying torches to illuminate the scene of battle, for at last it was true night.
"Soldiers of Chidair! All of you now my men—good, brave men," Beltain continued, his face illuminated with the angry red flickering of torches. "I promise to you, his death will not go unavenged. I now count on your loyalty to—"
But his words tapered off into silence. Because in that moment the ice at the shore of the lake began to shudder, and then was shattered violently from the inside . . . out.
It was broken by the blow of a metal-clad fist emerging from the lake itself.
The fist was followed by an arm, and then another. The two hands tore and pounded at the ice, until it cracked and shattered, and the hole widened, became the girth of a man's body, then wider yet. At last a human shape burst forth, sputtering and gasping, then throwing up water mixed with blood upon the shore.
He stood up, the waters coming up to his waist. Then, bracing himself with his arms he crawled out and lay upon the surface at the edge of the hole, clad in mail and a soaked darkened surcoat that should have been faint blue, the color of frost.
He had lost his crested helmet underneath the ice of the lake. But the hair plastered to the skull with ice water was unmistakably that of the Duke Hoarfrost, Ian Chidair, Lord of the west lands of Chidair within the Kingdom of Lethe.
He lay twitching upon the ice, while lake water and the last vestiges of his own blood came pouring out of the fissures in his body. And then he slowly raised his head.
Illuminated by the torches of his own soldiers, a pale bloodless face of the man they knew and served looked at them impassively.
He was like a god of Winter, white with a bluish tint. The water was freezing into true ice upon the planes of his face, rimming his brows and hair with dead crystalline whiteness.
Duke Hoarfrost stood up, while many, including his own son, reined in their mounts to move away, and foot soldiers took an involuntary step back and unto the shore, away from the ice.
"Father?" Beltain Chidair whispered, his voice cracking. "Are you my father? Are you . . . dead?"
And the man before him parted his frozen lips, and then spewed forth more brackish water and the last taint of living blood. He then moved one awkward hand behind him to pull out the dagger from his back.
"My . . . son," he croaked. "I . . . don't know."
* * *