|The Duchess of Manusk
FICTION – Fantasy
About the Book
When Elizabeth St John is asked by her father, King Vincent, to govern the duchy of Manusk, she knows she’s not in for an easy time. It’s a dark place ridden with corruption and thieves holding the honest people at ransom. What she doesn’t expect is to find an unmanned trader tied up at the docks and ship-wreck survivors on the beach. To make matters worse, neither one are from the King’s Heartland’s duchies. Who is the young maiden the survivors are protecting? Why is the ship in the harbor and where are her sailors?
Elizabeth struggles to find answers to these questions as the threat of war with marauding, neighboring armies looms ever larger and her fate is left in the hands of the mysterious maiden.
2015 Rainbow Award for Best Lesbian Fantasy & Fantasy Romance
“For God’s sake, Nightshade. Just kill them.” Galvin snarled. He was a tall, white-haired figure with cold, glowing yellow eyes. “We have to get out of here before the sun rises, you know that.”
Nightshade stared at the six women and children in varying stages of terror kneeling before her on the muddy ground. They were in shock, and some were sobbing. Nightshade stood with stooped shoulders and hung her head. Her dripping sword, coated in the blood of the human men who had tried to defend their loved ones to no avail, dangled limply in her hand. She tried not to see the carnage and the dead that lay about the clearing. All around, wagons lay overturned, their precious cargo of personal possessions scattered and trampled carelessly in the mud. Hacked bodies lay limp, their blood pooling in the once clean water of the recent forest rain. The night sounds had long since stilled, silenced by the tortured screams of dying horses and men.
Nightshade inwardly sobbed, yet outwardly held firm. The bloodlust had long since fled her system, and now she attempted to dredge up some image that would allow her to continue to slaughter the surviving humans. She looked at the captives and was captured by the frozen stare of a young, brown-eyed girl, no more than three. The girl did not understand what was going to happen to them, what Nightshade was required to do. The action was a deathblow to her resolve to be a good Dark Elf, and she tried to think up some reason for her not to do it.
“Here, let me.” Galvin sounded close behind her. He spun her around. “Can’t do it, can you? Coward.” His handsome face twisted in a sneer of impatience and revulsion.
He slammed a gauntleted fist into Nightshade’s face. She fell backward to the ground semi-conscious, blood streaming from the corner of her mouth. She rolled over to her side, spitting saliva and blood, sword forgotten, mud covering her clothes. Galvin swung his wickedly curved sword and beheaded the first victim. Blood spurted out of the clean shear to the neck as one of the other women screamed. The other five members of the scouting party lunged forward, eager for the taste of more innocent blood.
The rich smell of copper deepened in the early morning air, as the whoosh of metal sounded out in the silence, punctuated by heavy thumps as bodies and heads, separated from each other, hit the ground.
Nightshade slowly got to her feet. Her face ached. She grabbed her sword and sheathed it. She looked down in shame and felt Galvin approach her again.
“When we get back to the city, I will see to it personally that you are executed,” he said coldly. “You shame the name of Nightsbane.”
Nightshade felt a surge of loathing and finally found her tongue. “I am not a coward, Galvin. Kill me if you wish, but I am your best tracker. The king would most surely object.” It was true. She could see during the day and at night, unlike pure Drow. This skill was the main reason her services were sought in scouting parties, despite the almost universal loathing the Drow had for her.
Galvin stood nose to nose with her, contempt shining bright in his eyes. “You rely on the king too much. I’m sure he could be made to see reason,” he said in a silky voice.
A shiver traveled up Nightshade’s spine.
He shot her one last glare and gracefully went to his comrades. They were looting the remains of the wagons, carelessly stepping on bodies in their excitement.
Nightshade watched his muscular back, hating him with every fiber of her being. Sickened, she carefully went to one of the overturned wagons the others had not reached yet and made an effort not to attract more attention. She pretended to root through personal possessions. She broke open a trunk with the hilt of her sword and stilled. It had a rag doll inside, packed lovingly away on top of a load of clean, pressed clothes. As she picked it up and turned it over, more self-loathing coursed through her at her part in the destruction done to undeserving lives.
One of her compatriots came up behind her. “Will you look at the garbage that the humans carry?” the tall Drow said, shaking her head in disgust. “It’s a miracle they manage to do anything at all.”
“Yes,” Nightshade said, shaking her head, pretending amazement. She eyed the sky above. “Time to go to ground. The sun’s coming up.”
She left the female Drow to her wanton destruction of another’s property and went to find Galvin. She had to lead them to a safe place for the duration of the day.