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To Make the Dead Weep: The Sundered Oath, #3

To Make the Dead Weep: The Sundered Oath, #3

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To Make the Dead Weep: The Sundered Oath, #3

451 pages
6 hours
Jun 15, 2022


After a lifetime of self-sacrifice, now Ellaeva must decide if she will give up all she has left.

When Ellaeva runs afoul of the Rahmyrrim High Priestess and finds herself imprisoned, the only man who can help her is the one she vowed never to see again—Lyram Aharris. But Ellaeva's faith in her goddess is broken, and when Lyram refuses to abandon her to fate, she struggles to come to terms with what she has lost. Haunted by his broken oaths, and consumed by his quest to restore his honour, Lyram cannot help her find peace.

Together they journey into the desert to solve the riddle of their connection to each other, but their search leads into the middle of a killing field. Amidst the murdered souls, they balance on the cusp of understanding—what is the mysterious link between the Aharrises, the goddess Ahura, and the dragons?

But before they can complete the puzzle, the High Priestess attempts to bring a piece of an evil god into the world, and Ellaeva and Lyram are betrayed from all sides. If the Rahmyrrim cannot be halted, they will lose the most precious thing they have.

Ellaeva has always known her path ends at the ultimate sacrifice—but can an embittered priestess bring herself to fulfill her duty?

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the third book in "The Sundered Oath" series of dark, epic fantasies. [DRM-Free]


  • The Sundered Oath – Book 1: "In the Company of the Dead"
  • The Sundered Oath – Book 2: "On the Edge of Death"
  • The Sundered Oath – Book 3: "To Make the Dead Weep"
  • The Sundered Oath – Book 4: "To Play Death's Hand" [Coming Soon]
  • The Seven Circles of Hell – Book 1: "Confronting the Demon"
  • The Seven Circles of Hell – Book 2: "Stalking the Demon"
  • The Seven Circles of Hell – Book 3: "Becoming the Demon"
  • The Seven Circles of Hell – Book 4: "Being the Demon" [Coming Soon]


  • The "Kingdom in Chains" Series by J.W. Zulauf
  • "Shadow Swarm" by D. Robert Pease
  • The "Stormbourne Chronicles" Series by Karissa Laurel
  • The "Essence of Ohr" Series by Parris Sheets
  • The "Hellbound" Series by William LJ Galaini


Jun 15, 2022

About the author

C.J. Ballintyne grew up on a steady diet of adult epic fantasy from the age of nine, resulting in a rather confused outlook on life – believing the good guys should always win, but knowing they often don’t. C.J. is an oxymoron; an idealistic cynic. C.J.’s attempts at the craft of writing began in 1992, culminating in the publication of Confronting the Demon, the first book in “The Seven Circles of Hell” series, in 2013. In the Company of the Dead is C.J’s first book published by Evolved Publishing, and the first book in “The Sundered Oath” series. For fun, C.J. speculates about taking over the world – how hard can it really be? If C.J. could be anything, it would be a dragon, but to be honest, C.J. shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House M.D. – both the good and the bad. C.J. is a browncoat, a saltgunner, a Whedonite, a Sherlockian, a Ringer and a Whovian... OK, most major geek fandoms. C.J. holds degrees in law and accounting and is a practising financial services lawyer. C.J. lives in Sydney, Australia, with two daughters and a growing menagerie of animals that includes two horses but unfortunately no dragons.

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To Make the Dead Weep - C.J. Ballintyne


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The Sundered Oath – Book 3

Copyright © 2021 C.J. Ballintyne


ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622536053

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-605-4


Editor: Marissa van Uden

Cover Artist: Samuel Keiser

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond, with Images by Samuel Keiser



At the end of this novel of approximately 94,000 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) TRAMPLING IN THE LAND OF WOE by William LJ Galaini, the award-winning, critically-acclaimed first book in the religious fantasy adventure through Purgatory and Hell in the Hellbound series, and; 2) THE SPINNER’S WEB by Isu Yin & Fae Yang, the multiple award-winning first book in the Grims’ Truth series of epic fantasy/visionary adventures. We think you’ll enjoy these books, too, and provide these previews as a FREE extra service, which you should in no way consider a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.


eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.


Book 1: In the Company of the Dead

Book 2: On the Edge of Death

Book 3: To Make the Dead Weep

Book 4: To Play Death’s Hand (Coming Soon)



Book 1: Confronting the Demon

Book 2: Stalking the Demon

Book 3: Becoming the Demon

Book 4: Being the Demon (Coming Soon)





"Some of the most notable fantasy authors create powerful reads with slower beginnings that lead up to a crescendo of gripping action—such as this story... Much like the acclaimed fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss’s productions, In the Company of the Dead evolves slowly for the first few chapters... perfect for the fantasy fan seeking depth, who appreciates a slow build-up before the fiery action begins. Such an audience will find this perfectly fits the definition of an epic saga: sweeping, complex, and ultimately engrossing." ~ Midwest Book Review, D. Donavan, Sr. Reviewer


"The clash of the gods, political scheming, a castle under siege, and a hidden enemy make the premise solid. The action scenes with the element of magic and spells are vivid and suspenseful. The prose is wonderfully evocative and the plot has good twists and is well-paced; the story doesn’t take too much time to unfold, but doesn’t hurtle too quickly to the end either. In the Company of the Dead is an engrossing read, a good choice for fantasy fans who like a meaty storyline." ~ Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews, Lit Amri (5 STARS)


"In the Company of the Dead was absolutely fantastic. This story line had me guessing from beginning to end about what was going to happen next. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters were written with such depth and description that you feel as though you are right there with them while reading. I could not put this book down. This is definitely a must read." ~ Hannah Valance (5 STARS)


I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and two thumbs up. The author has really done a great job with this story. ~ Vine Voice, Seraphia


The author had plenty of action, but more than that it was carefully spun so that the characters always seemed true to the backgrounds provided. There were enough sub plots to keep my interest, but they didn’t overpower the main plot line. Yes, there was a lot of blood and gore, but it wasn’t glorified. It was just something the evil used to advance its agenda. I stayed up until almost 3am to finish this it was such a page turner and I’d easily recommend it for any fan of this genre. ~ ‘Avid Reader’ (5 STARS)




...a powerful epic fantasy production worthy of reading, re-reading, and recommendation. ~ Midwest Book Review, D. Donavan, Sr. Reviewer


...Ballintyne fantastically creates this other world in every word, pulls you in and leaves you panting for more by the time you reach the final page. A truly satisfying read that will leave you ready for the next adventure. ~ Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews, Natasha Jackson


...the writing is quite brilliant; the descriptions give an excellent description of the world and people while not being overly verbose. ...A truly great fantasy series. ~ Vine Voice, Mainer


I preface this review with the fact that I rarely give five star ratings. A novel really has to wow me to earn five stars, and this one did. ~ HR Duby

We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.


In the first preview, you’ll enjoy the First 3 Chapters of William LJ Galaini’s TRAMPLING IN THE LAND OF WOE, the award-winning, critically-acclaimed first book in the religious fantasy adventure through Purgatory and Hell in the Hellbound series.





HELLBOUND Series at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy the prologue and first chapter of THE SPINNER’S WEB. This multiple award-winning first book sets the stage for the broad Grims’ Truth series of epic fantasy/visionary & metaphysical adventures, which is unlike any other you’ve encountered.



"...among the best written, most imaginative, and intricately plotted fantasy stories I’ve had the pleasure to read since The Lord of the Rings. ...a character driven story, supported by a covert revolution, ingenious metaphysical attributes and events, and an imaginary world complete with a new language, concepts of universal laws, and a wonderfully orchestrated villain." ~ Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews (5 STARS)




GRIMS’ TRUTH Series at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents


Books by C.J. Ballintyne

What Others Are Saying


Table of Contents




Chapter 1—Down in the Pit

Chapter 2—Indigestion

Chapter 3—The Failed Battle Priestess

Chapter 4—Machinations of the Court

Chapter 5—The High Priest of Chalon

Chapter 6—Conversations with the Dead

Chapter 7—Unpleasant Answers

Chapter 8—Broken

Chapter 9—Liars in the Castle

Chapter 10—The Importance of an Oath

Chapter 11—Bad Decisions

Chapter 12—Taking Up the Sword

Chapter 13—Mysteries in the Snow

Chapter 14—Down Among the Dragons

Chapter 15—The Haystack

Chapter 16—The Grand Experiment

Chapter 17—Theft

Chapter 18—Exposed

Chapter 19—Aftershocks

Chapter 20—Campfire Conversations

Chapter 21—Run to Ground

Chapter 22—Cutting the Strings

Chapter 23—Girl and Gate

Chapter 24—Flight

Chapter 25—Rescue

Chapter 26—Sealed In

Chapter 27—Funeral Dirge



About the Author

What’s Next?

More from C.J. Ballintyne

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: TRAMPLING IN THE LAND OF WOE by William LJ Galaini

Special Sneak Preview: THE SPINNER’S WEB by Isu Yin & Fae Yang

In loving memory of Robert Lumsden. You were one of a kind and your loss will always be a hole in my heart.

The cave stretched before Ellaeva, as dark, cold, and empty as her life, reminding, always reminding, this is all a Battle Priestess can have.

She eased into it, her drawn blade held before her and her eyes raking the deep darkness of the shadows. The cave had so little illumination that it was no more than dark angles and deeper patches of midnight. Only a faint glow from a tunnel on the far side provided any light. The cool air prickled the skin of her arms, left bare between pieces of cuir bouilli and her ragged robes, covering her in gooseflesh. A pack stocked with fewer supplies than she’d like dragged at her shoulders. If they didn’t find their quarry soon, they would need to abandon this hunt to replenish their food.

Irlena strode alongside, her girlish shape grown long and lean with adolescence. She carried a short sword before her, the length of steel reflecting a sliver of light from the far exit. Somewhere nearby, water dripped steadily, persistently, a stalactite falling to meet the stalagmite rising below it. The only other sound was the soft whisper of their breath.

Ellaeva stubbed a small stone in the darkness, sending it rattling away across the stone floor and shattering the stillness. Movement caught her eye, and a dark shape dashed away, its form fluid and flapping in the sudden rush of motion.

She broke into a run, racing through the dark cave and into the tunnel mouth, her boots thundering on the stone as she leapt across gullies and cracks in the rough floor. Her foot came down awkwardly on an uneven stone, and she stumbled, caught herself, and ploughed onwards. The green glow of some organism on the cave roof cast a strange luminescence over the scene.

Ahead, their quarry ducked around a corner, cloak flapping and distorting the shape. Ellaeva plunged after, drawing ahead of Irlena. She hesitated at the corner, cautious of the blind turn, and rounded the bend. A sword swung in a sharp vicious arc, and she threw herself to the ground, hitting the mud-smeared rock floor in a blaze of pain. She forced herself to roll, the attacking blade clanging off the stones where moments before her head had been. Somewhere in the whirl, she lost her sword.

Then Irlena was there, attacking the shadowy figure with a flurry of blows from her short sword, her small, twelve-year-old face drawn into a snarl. Ellaeva flung herself to her feet, snatched up her blade from where it lay in a pool of green light, and spun to face their attacker.

The woman broke off from battling Irlena and backed away, putting yards between them and holding her sword aloft. The green light revealed little, but the other woman’s face was easily recognisable within her open-faced helm: Kylarien.

After all this time, Ellaeva had finally tracked her to this dank, muddy cave at the far northern edge of the Thorn Wall. She cared less for the Rahmyrrim High Priestess than she did for the Gate. That Kylarien hadn’t used it in three years meant nothing, except that she’d not yet learned how. As soon as she did, she would open it, no doubt.

Where is the Gate? Ellaeva asked, her breathing still ragged from the chase through the dark tunnels. Is it here in these mountains somewhere? I know you’ve spent most of your time north of the Thorn Wall, so don’t bother trying to lie.

Kylarien merely watched her, pale face sickly in the green glow, her dark hair pulled back in a severe horsetail that mirrored Ellaeva’s own. She looked better fed and better equipped than Ellaeva or the girl apprentice, and, as if to remind her of their rapidly diminishing trail rations, Ellaeva’s stomach grumbled loud in the yawing silence of the caves.

I don’t know whether to be impressed by your persistence in following me for so long or to consider it a sign of your foolishness. Kylarien gave an amused smirk. "Then again, perhaps you’ve given much thought to our last conversation. Perhaps it is that which has driven you to pursue me so relentlessly. It does not look like the goddess has been kind to you."

Ellaeva hesitated, unwilling to admit the truth of it but armed with no ready answer. It had been almost three years since the priestesses of Ahura declared her apostate and anathema to the goddess, since she’d been forced to flee Ahlleyn into the Thorn Wall, passing from civilisation and into the wilds. The goddess had not spoken to her for even longer: almost four years since that night in Kylarien’s prison cell in Ellair. She’d given up everything—and everyone—she cared about most and been forced to flee the lands she called home. Occasionally she had ventured back, when Kylarien’s trail led south, and then at great personal risk. If not for her parents and Irlena, she’d have been alone. And for what? To save a people who had been whipped into an angry mob against her, who bayed for her blood?

Ah. Kylarien nodded, lowering her sword. She wore a simple hauberk under a surcoat of black, making her outline hard to see in the green light, though her open-faced helm left her expression easy enough to read. I warned you that you would give and give and give until there was nothing left of you. What more do you have now, save your life? Her eyes flickered to Irlena. And the girl’s.

Ellaeva tightened her grip on Ahura’s blade, bringing the silvery sword up menacingly. A stolen weapon in the hands of a discredited Battle Priestess, or so the Temple claimed. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. Do not threaten her.

I’ll stab you myself, given a chance, piped the girl. She swung her own short blade in a threatening, glittering arc.

Years of training had given a sure edge to Irlena’s raw talent. She was a match for any average adult swordsman, but not for the Rahmyrrim High Priestess, and Ellaeva took a deliberate step sideways to shield her, ignoring the glare on the girl’s face.

Kylarien smiled almost fondly at the girl. "I wouldn’t dream of hurting a hair on her head. Some are too talented to destroy, especially if they can be used instead. I could use you by my side, Ellaeva. I have more to offer you than Ahura does ­— more than loneliness and bitter anger."

No. The word came out raw and raspy, so she said it again, firmer, as if to convince herself of its truth. No.

Think about it, Kylarien said. We are alike, you and me. Don’t you see it?

All she sees is some bitch who is angry at a god and wants to give her a whack any way she can. Irlena spat into the mud. And you don’t care who else gets hurt along the way.

No. Kylarien shook her head, her lips thinning and face hardening. "No. I was wronged. Misled. Lied to. I gave up everything, and now you’re doing the same! We are the same."

We are not the same. You turned your back on all that you stood for. Ellaeva straightened consciously, drawing herself to her full height, refusing to let defeat or her heavy burdens put a slump in her shoulders. I will not. Not if every hand in the world turns against me, not if I never get a word of thanks. I’m not a shopkeeper, peddling whatever is in demand today. I stand for justice, even if no one wants it—especially if no one wants it—because who else will?

Kylarien’s mouth dropped open. Her sword started to come up, but Ellaeva was already striking. The Rahmyrrim twisted away awkwardly, then turned and fled.

Why is she running? The thought made Ellaeva hesitate, and then she raced after. The tattered remnants of her Battle Priestess’s robes flared about her as she ran, Irlena at her side.

The Gate! she yelled. We need to find the Gate. Don’t let her get away.

The injured ankle buckled beneath her, and she swore again, catching herself against the rough wall. Rock gouged her palm, and she cradled the hand to her chest a moment. The ball of her hand was damp with blood welling from the graze. She wiped it against the filthy cloth of her robe before pushing onwards into a huge cavern, its faceted walls reflecting shards of red light. There was no discernible source for the glow, but the running figures ahead drew her on without time to pause. The roof of the cavern disappeared into shadow as she ventured deeper, and the pattering of running feet receded before her.

She closed the gap. Kylarien had vanished from view, but Irlena was only a few steps ahead, exiting the cavern into another tunnel. Ellaeva raced hard on her heels.

As she reached the mouth of the tunnel, a sheet of red light crackled into existence in front of her. She tried to stop, blinded by the glare, but struck the wall of red light in a sizzle of energy that knocked her off her feet and threw her through the air. White hot pain exploded in her skull, and the darkness consumed everything.

Gradually, sight began to return in the form of large, purple blotches across her vision. She heard nothing but the ringing in her ears. She was sprawled awkwardly on her side, her head half-hanging off a small ledge. Every part of her body ached where it wasn’t singing with agony, and she gritted her teeth and rolled onto her back. A groan escaped at the movement. Her pack was gone.

Kylarien must have set a trap, a nasty surprise designed to throw pursuit off her trail and block off the tunnel mouth. Well, it had worked, and unless Irlena was still chasing her—a dangerous proposition for the girl on her own—the Rahmyrrim High Priestess was long gone.

After an interminable period, the purple blotches faded and her vision began to resolve, first into a hazy red scene with no details and then finally into the refracted red facets of the cavern wall. The light was stronger than it had been, grown into a steady, dull glow. Somewhere in the distance of memory, a bell tolled. Where had she read about red light like that?

Despite the general pain, her worst injury still seemed to be the wrenched ankle. Everything else was a morass of lesions and grazes, some of them oozing blood. A lump had formed on the back of her head, but no blood matted her hair.

With another groan, she sat up. The cavern spun around her, and she clutched at a small rock formation to steady herself. When it had settled again, she scoured the dim redness. Her pack lay nearby, the straps torn and useless. In another direction, shards of red light reflected from her blade, lying in a shallow depression.

Across the cavern, the tunnel mouth was filled with a sheet of red light. She glanced back the way she had come. Another wall of red light stood there. A few others shone at intervals around the walls, no doubt blocking access to tunnels she hadn’t seen before.

She climbed to her feet, her legs shaking as the movement sent fresh pain racing through her nerves. That memory itched harder, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

At the tunnel mouth where she’d been thrown from her feet, a dark shape moved on the other side of the red light. She headed in that direction, stooping to pick up her sword. Her head spun again when she bent over, and she crouched, waiting for it to pass.

As she drew closer, more details of the shape came into focus: Irlena, her face distorted by the pane of light and cast into a hellish glow. Her mouth moved, but there was no sound.

Frowning, Ellaeva drew closer and stretched out a hand to explore the light. There was no heat, but as her hand approached the threshold, the light firmed into a sheet as hard and slick as glass. She pushed at it, the gnawing of panic starting deep in her gut, but the light resisted. The harder she pushed, the more the light solidified, and then finally started to crackle alarmingly. The hairs on her arm lifted.

She drew a deep breath, trying to hang on to her iron-hard control, but there was a raggedness to her breathing. On the other side, Irlena pushed on the wall of light, her face twisting with a frantic fear. With each shove, the light sheeted and crackled menacingly, tingling unpleasantly through Ellaeva’s hand, though not enough to hurt. She let it fall. This place was familiar for a reason. The memory stole back like a thief in the night, set to plunder all hope.

This was the Pit of Damnation, an impregnable prison built to contain powerful enemies of the Order of Ahura. The Battle Priestess Yumani had died building it. If she had made a record of the location, it must have been in the journal she had on her when she died, but she had written down its functions and structure in a completed diary she’d filed with the records of all the other Battle Priestesses that came before. Ellaeva had read this record as part of her training, and it was from these descriptions that she now recognised the interior of her prison, which had never been used.

Until now. Until Kylarien had apparently found it and primed it, awaiting use. That last rumour Ellaeva had discovered, the one that drew her this way in pursuit of Kylarien, had been planted, for sure. Her face twisted at the realisation.

The sick feeling in her stomach threatened to resolve into actual vomit, but she clutched at the rock wall until the facets drew blood. The pain distracted her from the nausea enough that her stomach settled.

There would be a way out. There must be. Yumani had built it to be inescapable, but no one had tested it. There would be a way. She had to believe this, if only to keep despair from knotting her belly. She just had to find it.

On the other side of the light, Irlena had subsided finally, her shoulders slumped, and her face fallen into a miserable frown.

Wait here, Ellaeva said, but the girl couldn’t hear her. Frustrated, Ellaeva raised her hands in the gesture to wait, then rushed to her pack. She pulled things free quickly, searching for something to write but careful not to scatter the contents. One part of her mind catalogued her stores: she had trail rations for perhaps a week, and two waterskins, one almost empty. A soft dripping sound in the middle distance suggested there might be water in this cave, though there were no guarantees it was accessible. Surviving long enough to find a way to escape might be the bigger problem.

At the bottom of her pack, she found her travel journal and a piece of charcoal. She seized it and raced back to the mouth of the tunnel, favouring her injured ankle. Irlena was waiting with the journal Ellaeva made her keep already in her hand—smart girl. She held it up to Ellaeva.

She squinted, trying to read the words in the dim red light.

I’ll get you out, I promise.

Ellaeva sighed and knuckled her eyes, wiping away the beginning of tears forming. Irlena was the closest thing to a daughter she was ever likely to be allowed. After their flight from Jerrek, the girl had turned to her for comfort and instruction, making her both a mother and mentor. For a year, Irlena had insisted she would be the next Battle Priestess, until suddenly she seemed to reach the age where she realised that wasn’t how the institution worked. Then she’d resolved to be Ellaeva’s good right hand, a warrior woman she could always depend on. She hadn’t yet realised that Ellaeva’s remaining lifespan was likely numbered in fewer years than the girl had fingers on one hand. She needed to prepare for a future which did not contain Ellaeva.

It wasn’t the best situation to have this talk, but there were things she didn’t dare leave unsaid, things she would regret later, alone in the dark, if it came about that there would not be another chance. If this was the end, she didn’t want to go home to Ahura with regret in her soul.

She scribbled on a blank page of her journal and held it up to the wall of light.

Irlena leaned closer, trying to make out the words.

Find help if you can. But this is the Pit of Damnation—there may not be a way out. I love you, Irlena, as near a mother loves her daughter. But I won’t always be here for you. You are strong enough to walk forward into the future alone, if you must. Trust in yourself. Decide who you will be and then be true to yourself. I have faith in you, and I am proud.

Irlena’s hand flew to her mouth and her tears glistened in the red light. Finally, she drew herself up like a soldier about to salute and placed her hand carefully against the light for a long moment in farewell. She mouthed something Ellaeva could easily read on her lips—I love you— then whirled and raced away down the tunnel.

Ellaeva slumped to the cavern floor. If Irlena took too long to find her parents, who were already headed north to meet them in the desert, the only thing left here to greet them would be her bones.

Fear, sharp and black, clenched Lyram Aharris’s stomach into a tight knot. The fear was not his own.

He jerked erect, dropping his fork, and spreading scrambled eggs across the snowy linen of the tablecloth. A piece of bacon fell to the floor, only to be devoured by the wolfhound lurking beneath the table.

At the foot of the breakfast table, Narrawen hesitated, her own fork poised daintily before her lips. The green plaid of the dress she wore today matched her eyes. Something troubling you, my love?

He suppressed a grimace, snatched the serviette from the table and wiped his mouth. My love. As if there was any such emotion in their marriage. Between them, three-year-old Ellie smashed her own eggs against the wooden tray of her baby chair, and he smiled at her to avoid looking at Narrawen. The little girl was the only light in his family time.

Indigestion, he lied, trying to hide his urgency. The knot of fear only grew tighter, spurring him on: Ellaeva’s fear, and the first he’d felt since their link had broken in Ellair. He made to rise.

Then the feeling faded, leaving him halfway to his feet and all imperative to flee gone.

For lack of anything else to do, he rose all the way, but Narrawen’s eyes narrowed. Had he hesitated in the middle? Betrayed his own sudden indecision?

The door opened, admitting Everard to the breakfast room. Though his formal court dress—great kilt and snowy linen shirt—were as impeccable as ever, his glasses were askew and his eyes alight with excitement. Sir!

Everard hesitated, looking at the tableau: Narrawen seated before the huge glass windows overlooking the courtyard, her lips pursed in disapproval at Everard’s failure to use your majesty; Lyram standing with his hand poised to lift his swordbelt from the back of his breakfast chair; and Ellie busy running her egg-smeared fingers through her shoulder-length black hair.

Lyram smiled. Convincing Everard to continue addressing him as sir in private, against Narrawen’s wishes, was one of the few victories in his unhappy marriage.

Everard’s already precisely erect posture stiffened, and he pulled the wireframe glasses from his face to wipe needlessly at the lenses. May I have a word, sir?

Lyram jerked his head towards the side of the room farthest from the extravagant bay windows overlooking the security of the courtyard and therefore farthest from Narrawen. He gave a small inclination of his head to Narrawen. My queen, he murmured and went to join his aide, leaving the sword where it hung.

You look... piqued, sir, Everard said. If you don’t mind me saying. Is everything all right?

Fine, Everard. Lyram ran his fingers through his auburn hair, not yet pulled back into the day’s queue, then forced his hand to his side as his gaze fell on Ellie and her egg-laden hair. She was waving her spoon at Narrawen now and chanting, Nar-wen, Nar-wen. It was her best approximation of Narrawen, and he’d never heard her call Narrawen mama, though Narrawen still tried to coax her into it.

He caught Everard staring sceptically at him and mustered up what he hoped was a more convincing smile.

As fine as it ever is, Everard. He needn’t say more; Everard understood he was ruling a kingdom he didn’t want with a queen he didn’t want and couldn’t trust. What’s brought you here at this early hour?

He willed Everard to hurry, conscious the morning had left him with unanswered questions. Did Ellaeva need him? Where was she? And why now, after four years, was their connection suddenly restored—and then lost again?

Can you do without me for a few days, sir? I need to leave the city for a short time.

Lyram opened his mouth to ask why, then changed his mind. Everard was long-winded at the best of times, and his concerns about Ellaeva played on his mind. Losing the connection hadn’t allowed the cold fear in his belly to thaw. It wasn’t her fear now but his —fear over what might be happening, what she might be facing, and his inability to aid her in any way.

Yes, he said abruptly, realising the silence had stretched and Narrawen was watching them still. Whatever you need.

Everard executed a courtly bow, marred only by a slight jerkiness betraying his extreme excitement, then performed a crisp about-face and departed.

What was he doing that had him so excited? Perhaps it was a new lover. All the best to Everard if it was—it had been too long. Lyram shrugged, retrieved his sword, and buckled it over his formal kilt.

He stooped to kiss Ellie’s dark locks. As he straightened, his gaze met Narrawen’s for a moment, then he wheeled and made for the door.

"It was her, wasn’t it?"

Lyram froze with his hand on the latch.

"You felt something. Is this the first time, or only the first time you’ve not been able to hide it from me?"

He gritted his teeth and turned back to face her. You presume to question me in this regard?

"I am your wife and queen." She lifted her chin haughtily, but she also gripped the table, her knuckles whitening.

Lyram glanced at Ellie. Her presence meant choosing his words wisely to maintain the illusion of a normal family, an illusion he’d built carefully for her sake. His stomach churned, filling him with that background nausea that characterised so many of his interactions with his queen. Nothing has changed, Narrawen. I’ve told you before, you can’t take back what you did.

Narrawen stiffened in her seat. What I did? Allying myself to you, ordering my troops to march side by side with yours, ending a civil war before it started?

He closed his eyes and counted to ten. It didn’t help. "All fine acts. But not enough to

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