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The Temple of Ardyn (Song of the Swords Book 2)
 


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The Temple of Ardyn (Song of the Swords Book 2)


  The Temple of Ardyn

  Tameri Etherton

  This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  THE TEMPLE OF ARDYN: SONG OF THE SWORDS BOOK TWO. Copyright © 2015 by Tameri Etherton. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information address Teacup Dragon Publishing, LLC, P.O. Box 240, Carlsbad, CA 92018-0240.

  Cover design and interior artwork by Carol Phillips

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2015902895

  ISBN (ebook): 9781941955055

  To Alexzandra and Michael.

  For being you.

  Table of Contents

  Title

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Maps

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Glossary

  Cast of Characters

  A Note of Thanks

  Meet the Author

  Chapter 1

  DESTROYER. Betrayer. Lover. You are eternally mine.

  A voice, deep with the rasp of one not accustomed to speaking, twisted in her thoughts. Shards of fear raked across her skin, leaving indelible marks visible only to her. Taryn scanned the room, forcing a bored expression while taking in every courtier, each servant. A slight flare to her nostrils was the only outward sign of distress as she fought to slow her breathing, to warm the ice chilling her veins.

  Thrice now the voice had disturbed Taryn. Each time entreating her to find him, to be his, but Taryn had no idea who ‘he’ was. Fresh slivers tore her thoughts. That wasn’t entirely true. She pressed a hand beneath her heart and took a long drag of air to calm her unsteady pulse.

  “All is well, Taryn. I am well.” Sabina’s encouraging smile did little to help Taryn relax. “Have some tea.” Her gentle voice held a hint of steel and Taryn knew better than to argue.

  She sipped the tea Sabina handed her, hiding the shaking of her fingers beneath a shock of silvery hair. Sabina had every right to assume Taryn’s anxious behavior stemmed from concerns about her health. After all, she’d rarely let Sabina out of her sight for the past several weeks, but that morning Sabina couldn’t have been more wrong.

  “We must not dwell upon the events at the Stones of Kaldaar. You can’t spend your days worrying over me. I am alive because of you. Now, you must turn your focus to other matters.”

  Despite her brave words, Taryn knew Sabina could never forget the horrors of that morning. Nor would Taryn ever forget the way the phantom had used Herbret as his living entity to rape two other women before nearly succeeding with Sabina. If Taryn and Hayden had been even a few minutes later—Taryn shuddered and squeezed her eyes shut against the memory. It should’ve been enough that they were able to save her friend, but she was haunted by the images of the innocent women Herbret and Celia callously destroyed.

  To her knowledge, the court knew nothing of the attack except what Lliandra wanted them to know. The true events of that morning had been buried beneath a shining account of lies and propaganda, all of which made Marissa appear to be a hapless victim in Herbret and Celia’s schemes. Taryn’s role was downplayed to being nothing more than a convenient bystander.

  Even so, everywhere she looked, accusatory stares and whispered innuendos followed her. The courtiers feared her more now than they ever had. Feeling sorry for herself would solve nothing. Fearing a nameless voice would help even less.

  “You’re absolutely right.” Taryn set her cup aside and retrieved her playing cards. With a wink she knew wouldn’t fool Sabina, but her friend playfully returned, she said, “Now, where were we? I believe I was walloping your arses in Pift.”

  The chill persisted regardless of the warmth of the room and she wrapped herself in a protective layer of ShantiMari. The rasp of the voice taunted her, the words lingering in spite of her efforts to replace them with cheerful volleys with her sisters. She fidgeted in her seat, staring without seeing the cards in her hand. The crowded room closed in on her, simultaneously suffocating and alienating her from the others. She had to get out of the palace before she lost her bloody mind.

  Eliahnna placed a hand on Taryn, startling her. “Look what you’ve done.”

  Taryn’s fingers had methodically shredded the once beautiful playing card and left the evidence of her unease scattered like confetti across the table. “Oh, sorry.” She scooped the mess into her palm, folded her fingers tight, and with a flourish opened them. “Here.” Taryn offered the restored card to Eliahnna.

  “It’s not the same, Taryn. It will never be the same.” She stuck the offending square into the deck and shuffled. “Once ShantiMari touches something, it’s forever altered.”

  Truer words were never spoken. The phantom had touched Taryn with his Black ShantiMari. She couldn’t explain how or why and refused to speak of it, but before she banished the phantom, he’d reached into her soul and placed a chill that refused to abate. It was his voice she feared now mocked her thoughts. Somehow, he’d gained access to her without her knowledge or permission and she had no way of removing his presence. The court had good reason to be frightened. Whatever had happened at the Stones would alter everyone’s lives and Taryn could neither protect them, nor comfort them.

  “Taryn, it’s your turn,” Eliahnna prodded and Taryn placed a card on the table. “That’s the wrong suit. Where is your mind, dear sister? Oh, look! It’s stopped raining. Perhaps today you can visit the docks for Rhoane’s gift.” Eliahnna offered, her hand grazing the pendant she wore beneath her gown. Her ShantiMari made it invisible, but Taryn saw the telltale wisps of power encircling the snippet of wood.

  She glanced out the huge windows that allowed for a view of the ocean and nodded. “I think I will. Do you want to come with me?”

  “And meet an Artagh? I do!” Tessa jumped up to stand expectantly beside Taryn.

  Always one for adventure, Tessa had been devastated to learn the others left without her Harvest morning. Taryn was glad Tessa hadn’t seen the brutality of Herbret’s attack on the young women. She was still young enough to believe in her own innocence and Taryn wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible.

  Tessa pulled at her sleeve, a pleading look in her eyes. “Yes, fine. You can come along. Eliahnna
? Sabina? Would either of you like to join us?”

  Kaida stretched lazily, her tail thumping on the rug. She’d been cooped up in the palace far too long. They all had. It was time to shake off the past and move forward.

  Sabina sniffed the air and frowned. “You should stay here, Taryn. But if you insist on going, take Baehlon.”

  “You know, since getting your ShantiMari, you’re kind of bossy.”

  “It’s only been three weeks. I’m fairly certain my power has nothing to do with my concern for your well-being.” An impish smile marred Sabina’s haughty look.

  “You know, you’re right. You’ve always been bossy.” Taryn grinned at her friend. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

  “I promised Marissa we’d have tea. This business with Kaldaar upsets her still.” Eliahnna answered with a shake of her head.

  Tessa’s face scrunched with a look of indecision. “But Taryn vanquished the phantom. Surely she isn’t worried the banished god will return?”

  “I think she mourns Celia, but Mother forbade her from speaking the name,” Eliahnna said in a whisper.

  “Should I stay? I would ever so like to meet an Artagh, but if our sister needs cheering, I will gladly accompany you.” Tessa looked to Eliahnna for an answer.

  For Tessa to give up the chance at adventure to raise Marissa’s spirits tugged at Taryn’s heartstrings. Her youngest sister was forever trying to win Marissa’s love. “You stay, Tessa. I’m sure Marissa would appreciate your company. I’ll take you to the docks another time.”

  “Promise?” Tears shimmered in her eyes.

  “I promise.” Taryn bent low to whisper in her ear, “Not only will I take you to the Artagh, we’ll have lunch in a tavern.”

  Her sister’s grin nearly reached each ear. Lliandra was too protective of her daughters. She rarely let them leave the palace, and when they did, made certain they had a royal guard. To dine in a tavern would never be allowed on Lliandra’s watch.

  Tessa held out her little finger. “Pinky promise.” They intertwined their fingers and gave a firm shake. “You said that was stronger than any oath.”

  “It is.” Taryn glanced around the room, looking for invisible dangers. “I think I’ll visit Ebus first.”

  “He isn’t there.” Eliahnna gave her a meaningful glance. “I saw Tarro this morning. When he woke up, Ebus was gone.”

  After the attack at the Stones, when Carina found him unconscious, Lliandra had demanded to know who he was, and why he was there. Rhoane fabricated a lie that made Ebus a minor servant who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Since he was discovered unconscious, Lliandra wasn’t able to question him, but upon their return to the palace, she demanded Ebus be placed under arrest and imprisoned in the dungeons.

  Instead of taking him to the dank cells, the captain of Lliandra’s guard turned Ebus over to Baehlon, who hid the thief with the tailor. It was the last place the empress would think to look and a week later, when Lliandra inquired of the prisoner, she was told he’d died of his wounds and was given a pauper’s burial.

  A grin broke the seriousness of Taryn’s features. Ebus was truly the most skilled spy she’d ever met. Not that she’d met many, but Ebus was gifted in being untraceable. He was most likely, at that very moment, somewhere in the palace.

  “Then I suppose there’s nothing preventing me from going. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see an Artagh about a birthday gift.”

  She left her sisters, Kaida silent beside her, and was joined by Timor and Carina, two of her guards who had taken to shadowing her every move. She didn’t mind the company, but their jittery looks and constant scanning of the streets and buildings put Taryn on edge. It was the first time since the attack she’d been out of the palace gates.

  A chill whipped beneath her coat. The heaviness of summer had long since disappeared and with Harvest came shorter days and colder weather. Taryn welcomed the crisp air and took a deep breath, filling her lungs. She’d missed the hustle of people and the smell of the city filling her nostrils. The salty tang of the harbor competed with the sweet scents of fresh pastries from several bakeries; even the horse manure and body odor of those they passed refreshed her spirit.

  She wasn’t raised to be confined in a stodgy palace. Brandt had instilled a sense of adventure in her that couldn’t be quelled, even if the walls around her were decorated with gold and silks.

  “Your Highness.” Carina nodded her chin at a nondescript building. “I believe your Artagh can be found here.”

  Taryn searched for a sign above the door but found none. Either Carina was wrong or the Artagh didn’t want to advertise his presence. “Stay close,” Taryn said before steeling herself for what lay beyond.

  She pushed open the heavy door, made of rough-hewn oak planks six inches thick. It creaked like a dying crow and Taryn winced. The sound reminded her of the feiches on the road to Paderau. The fetid stink of their blood assaulted her senses as assuredly as it had all those months ago.

  A shortish man, in his late forties perhaps—or it might be early nineties, she could never tell—with long chestnut hair and a dour expression, squinted up from where he worked at a bench. He surveyed Taryn and her companions before snorting a grunt and continuing his work.

  Whatever preconceived ideas Taryn had about Artaghs, the distant relatives of the Eleri, were dashed as she stood at the counter, patiently waiting. The man had the same delicate features as the Eleri, without the silky hair and barely pointed ears. Beneath his skin, she detected a muted shimmer, but it was nothing like Eleri Glamour. When he finally halted his work, he glanced at her, judgment clear in that one look.

  “What do you want?” If a man could growl, Taryn was certain that’s what he did.

  “I’m in need of a special gift, and I’m told you are the only one who can accommodate me.”

  “I don’t make trifles. Be gone with the lot of you.” He waved his hand and bent his head back to his work. Cases filled the small room, stocked with easily concealed weapons. Displayed on a shelf were four ornately carved pendants, covered in glass and protected by a coating of ShantiMari.

  Ignoring his obvious lie and rude behavior, she placed a sketch on the counter. “I would like you to craft thiscynfar.” Circular in shape and framed by a laurel wreath with a single diamond set in the center of a crystal plane, the image had come to her in a dream long before she’d met Rhoane, or even set foot on Aelinae. But she knew it belonged to her beloved. “It needs to be made out of godsteel.”

  Without looking at her sketch, he barked a laugh and Taryn wondered if Artagh were half-man, half-dog.

  “Godsteel? What’s a slip of a thing like you need with godsteel? Takes a mighty heart to control the mineral. What makes you think you can?”

  “What makes you think I can’t?” She laid her sword on the counter just to watch his response.

  “Well, suck my balls. Heard a rumor you were in Talaith. Didn’t believe it, did I? But then, Artagh aren’t as taken with shiny things like the Eleri, so it makes no matter to me.”

  His hand reached lovingly for her sword, hovering just above it. Even an Artagh wouldn’t touch Ohlin’s blade.

  “Can you pay?” He held out his grubby palm and Taryn counted out the coins he demanded.

  “I need it in five days.”

  “Impossible.”

  She placed a gold crown on the countertop. “Not for a skilled artisan like yourself. Five days. Godsteel. You can do this, Sulein of the Lorn Clan.”

  His eyes widened and then narrowed to tiny slits. He bared pointed, yellow teeth at her; a low growl came from deep in his throat. “You do not call me this, witch.”

  Carina slowly removed her sword from its scabbard. “At ease,” Taryn commanded her guard. Kaida sat beside her, ears pricked forward, eyes trained on the Artagh. “Sulein,” Taryn purred, running her fingers along his jaw to the tip of his ear. She used the pads of her fingers and not the backs. Doing so would be a complete breach of Ele
ri/Artagh etiquette. As it was, she was certain the intimate gesture broke several forms of protocol.

  His shudder started at his scalp and traveled to his bare feet. Overgrown toenails scraped the floor. “You do not have my consent to touch me.” Even as he said the words, he swayed closer, inviting her to stroke his hair.

  “I know.” She leaned forward until she could smell the rankness of his breath, see the pores of his skin, and look into the depths of his soul. “But you want it all the same, yes?”

  “Yes.” The word slowly unraveled from his lips, lingering overlong on the last sibilance.

  “Do this for me and you will have my gratitude.”

  He snapped out of his stupor and jerked his head from her touch, glaring at her with the hatred of his people. Theirs was a chaotic history, the Lorn Clan, one Taryn would unravel, but not that day. First, she needed him to make Rhoane’s birthday gift.

  “Five days,” she insisted yet again.

  “Your gold is all I need. You may keep your gratitude.”

  She straightened, a wide smile on her face. “I am honored.” She lowered her head and winked at Kaida. That went far better than she’d hoped. He hadn’t tried to turn her into a gargoyle, for a start.

  As they exited the shop, Taryn spied the Artagh placing his hand over the spot she’d touched, a traitorous, wistful smile on his gruff features.

  Timor scanned the buildings outside of Sulein’s shop and scowled. “We should return to the palace, Your Highness.”

  “Not yet. I’d like to explore the docks a little.” Her guards wore twin looks of apprehension and she laughed. “Seriously, the two of you need to lighten up. It looks like a storm is moving in and I’d like to enjoy my freedom for as long as possible.” She angled toward the harbor, where dark clouds hovered several miles out to sea. A storm meant seclusion in the palace and that was the last thing Taryn needed.

  She’d been in Talaith for several months and had yet to tour her hometown properly. The parade on her crowning day had given her a glimpse of the capital city, but Taryn longed to know every detail about the place. Timor and Carina followed her as she wove her way between stacks of crates down a narrow passageway. The cries of men shouting from the ships anchored in Talaith’s huge harbor mingled with the sound of seagulls calling out to the flock. Taryn paused, letting the sounds and smells envelop her.

 
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