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Bertrice Small

The Shadow Queen

The fifth book in the World of Hetar series, 2009

To Abby Zidle, who began the journey with me through

the World of Hetar, and hooked me on The Amazing Race;

and to Tara Parsons, who continues the adventure at my side.

Wonderful editors, and friends!

Prologue

MAGNUS HAUK, DOMINUS OF Terah, lay dying upon the deck of his brother-in-law Corrado’s new ship, the Splendor. Captain Corrado lay grievously injured nearby. The main mast for the vessel had snapped as it was being installed, hitting both men when it fell. Corrado had been quicker to leap aside, sustaining a shattered right leg as well as several other broken bones, but he survived. The Dominus, however, had been crushed by the great spar. Still, he managed to hold tightly on to the life remaining to him.

“Lara!” he managed to gasp. “Get Lara!”

He did not have to ask. Seeing the disaster unfolding, the ship’s second mate had dashed down the gangway, and hurried to find the Domina. Yet before he had even reached the castle entry itself Lara came running forth past him, and headed directly for the scene of the accident. The second mate swore afterward that her feet never touched the ground as she moved swiftly up the gangway onto the deck of the ship.

As she knelt by her husband’s side one look told her that his grasp on life was tenuous at best. “Magnus, my love,” she said, brushing a lock of his thick, golden hair from his forehead. “I am here.” There it was again staring boldly at her. Death. Damned death! She did not want to lose this man, but even she had not the power to heal such injuries. Only the Celestial Actuary could give life to mortals.

The turquoise-blue eyes opened at the sound of her voice. “Get my mother. Our son, Taj. Kaliq. Now,” he rasped urgently. “I cannot remain much longer.”

“I will sustain you until you must go,” Lara told him. That much she could do. She wanted to rail at the heavens, which were again taking another husband from her.

It wasn’t fair! Wasn’t she supposed to leave him to seek her destiny one day? Or had her destiny come calling upon her at last?

“Lara!” Corrado called to her. “Let me be by his side.”

She shuddered at the sound of Corrado’s pain. Then she transported him painlessly by means of her magic next to where her husband lay. Pushing aside her own grief, Lara used her magic to bring her mother-in-law, Lady Persis; her sister-in-law, Sirvat, who was Corrado’s wife; and her son, Taj, to the deck of the vessel.

“Prince Kaliq, heed my plea. Cease all else, and come to me!” she cried aloud, and he was immediately there by her side.

For a moment the others stood confused. Then Sirvat knelt by her husband’s side casting an anxious glance at Lara. Lady Persis cried out in despair recognizing death was about to claim her only son. Taj, the shock evident upon his young face, put a comforting arm about his grandmother, who was frail and elderly now.

“Hear me!” Magnus Hauk said. “Lara will rule for our son until she deems him ready to be Dominus of Terah. Only Lara! Her word is to be law in Terah.”

“She is female,” Lady Persis quavered. “Never has Terah been ruled by a female, Magnus, my son.”

“Only Lara!” he repeated. “My dying words must be honored. Corrado, Kaliq, you are my witnesses. Swear you will uphold my last wishes.”

They swore.

“Taj, my son, come to me,” Magnus Hauk called, his voice discernibly weaker.

“I am here, my lord father,” the boy said as he came to kneel by his sire’s side.

“Swear to me you will obey and sustain my dying wishes. Your mother is to rule until she believes you are ready. Swear!” The Dominus grew even paler as he spoke.

Taj began to cry. “I am too young to be Dominus,” he wept. “I swear, my lord father. My mother will rule until I am able to take up my inheritance. I will not question your wishes. I will not!”

“Mother, Sirvat, swear!” he demanded weakly.

“I swear, brother!” Sirvat said.

“Mother!”

“I…swear,” Lady Persis said reluctantly. “But it goes against tradition,” she could not refrain from adding.

“Kaliq, protect them!” the Dominus said, his voice beginning to fade away.

“With my own life, Magnus,” the great Shadow Prince swore.

“You are immortal,” Magnus Hauk said with a feeble smile.

“Not entirely,” Kaliq responded. Then he, too, knelt by the Dominus’s side. “Are you ready, my lord?” he asked him softly.

Magnus Hauk looked to Lara, his turquoise gaze locking on to her faerie green eyes. With the last of his strength he said, “I have loved none but you. I have never been happier than when I was with you. Mourn me briefly. Then find your destiny, Lara, my love, my life. You are surely meant for greatness. Now I must leave you.”

Lara pressed her lips together to keep from crying out. She caressed his ashen cheek. Then, bending, she kissed him a final time letting loose her hold on him as she did. Magnus Hauk, Dominus of Terah, died softly, his last breath slipping from between his lips to be caught up by the south wind which bore it away.

Prince Kaliq, the great Shadow Prince, could see the Dominus’s spirit as it hovered above them all, reluctant to depart. Go, my friend, he told Magnus Hauk in the silent language of the magical folk. You know I will keep my word to you. Then he watched sadly as the spirit rose up and disappeared. He looked to Lara, for his greatest concern now was for her. Magnus Hauk had left her with a terrible responsibility. He wondered how the Terahns, a people of ancient tradition, would react to their Domina assuming power for her son.

Without a word Lara stood, up taking Taj’s small hand in hers as together they walked from the ship, returning to the castle to prepare for a funeral, and for the transition that was to follow. Kaliq shook his head. His fears were needless. Lara knew her duty, and the Shadow Princes had taught her well. He would be there for her, but he would not intrude. For all the faerie blood in his veins, her son had no magic about him. He was mortal, but Lara would teach him well.

1

LARA HAD BROUGHT THE convenience of faerie post to Terah many years before. Now she marshaled the tiny messengers, sending them throughout Terah announcing the unexpected death of the Dominus Magnus Hauk. The leaders of all the villages were instructed to gather at a central meeting

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