They call him StoneKing: the lord of four countries, the vanquisher of the Wichelord Daazna, the man who will restore his people to prosperity and peace.
But there is no peace for Kristan Gemeta. Already weighed down by the cares of his new realm, Kristan carries a secret burden – the knowledge that Daazna is not dead. He isolates himself in his ruined castle in Fandrall, where he struggles to control the destructive Tabi’a power that may be his only hope of defeating the Wichelord once and for all.
And there’s trouble elsewhere in his realm. His Reaches are squabbling in Dyer, Melissa and Nigel are experiencing heartache in Norwinn, and Heather’s command in Hogia is in jeopardy. Unaware of this turmoil, Kristan receives an unexpected gift – one that forces him, his knights, an inexperienced squire and a crafty young shape-shifter into a hazardous winter journey.
Excerpt from Chapter 5
She stared at her toes, lost in thought. At last Bayla’s voice broke through her reverie.
“Would you like to change for dinner, my lady?”
She was about to say no, but remembered telling Ravelin that she could wear whatever she
wanted. Her response had been bold, but after the incident with Staub she wondered if he was
right. “I think I will,” she said. “It’s been ages since I’ve worn a dress.”
Bayla’s mouth dropped open, but she quickly recovered her composure. “Any particular
gown, my lady?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You pick one.”
As Bayla rummaged through the big storage chest, Heather stood before the fire and pulled off her padded tunic and bulky leggings. She had designed the clothing herself, for warmth and
ease of movement, but now she wondered if she had made herself look freakish. “But you are a
freak, lady commander,” she muttered to herself.
“Let’s try this one,” Bayla said, pulling out a russet gown. “It was big on you last summer,
but maybe it’ll fit now.”
“Have I gotten fat?”
Bayla grinned at her consternation. “Far from it, my lady. Your waist and hips are as slender
as a boy’s. But your shoulders have gotten broader.”
She helped Heather into the dress, and then stepped behind to lace it up. Heather stood as still
as she could against Bayla’s yanking, but after spending so much time in her work garments, the
dress felt odd – constricting through the chest and disconcertingly airy around the legs.
“How do I look?” she asked, as Bayla came back into view.
Her maidservant surveyed her with a critical eye. “Well… perhaps you should see for
Heather turned to the mirror on the far wall. She rarely looked at herself and was startled by
what she saw: a dress that sagged at the waist and hips but was so tight through the bodice that it
mashed Heather’s modest breasts flat. The muscled expanse of her shoulders and neck were
exposed, along with the thick scars left by Iele’s teeth.
“The dress barely meets across the back,” Bayla said. “It was all I could do to fasten it. I’m
afraid your other dresses will be worse. You were so thin last summer.”
Heather raised her hand to the scars, grateful that the marks from Iele’s knife were low on her
back. “I look like a grizzled old warrior.”
“Not at all. Look here.” Bayla worked Heather’s hair loose from its coronet of braids and
shook it out across her shoulders and breasts, veiling the scars and ill-fitting bodice. “No man has
hair like yours, my lady. Such a beautiful color, and so thick.”
Heather flicked at the fringe across her forehead. “And so unbecomingly cut.”
“There are women in Needwood who’ve cut their hair the same way, in your honor.”
“And were no doubt sorry for it afterward. I know I was.”