Eva and Isa must find a way to work together if they want to save their queendom…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Amanda Joy’s A Queen of Gilded Horns, the conclusion to the royal fantasy duology that began with A River of Royal Blood—available March 16th from G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.
Now on the run, Eva is desperate for answers about her transformation and her true heritage. Along with Aketo, a small contingent of guards, and the sister she could not kill, Eva flees Ternain in hopes of finding friends and allies to the north—not to mention Baccha—to help her decide what to do next. Princess Isa is a difficult, unremorseful captive, and Eva knows better than to trust her sister, but she wants to. Despite their history, Eva is convinced that to survive the growing unrest in the queendom, she and her sister must make peace. Since the Entwining ceremony, Eva’s and Isa’s lives have been bonded, and each can only die by the other’s hand. This perhaps provides an opening for a truce and a more hopeful future for both the sisters and the queendom, if only Isa would see reason and give up the battle for the throne.
With the two princesses on the run, the Queendom of Myre is on the brink of a revolution. And without Baccha to guide and train her magick, Eva must find a way not only to survive her own metamorphosis, but to unite all the people of Myre, including her sister, by finally taking the Ivory Throne.
Ysai of Ariban
The sky above the sprawling camp at the foot of Mount Ariban was a bruised purple—a sign of the storms to come and the snows that would follow. This far north in the Roune Lands—the lawless territory east of Dracol and north of Myre—a handful of weeks was all it took for High Summer to turn into Far Winter.
The smaller peaks rising around the valley were limned in gold from the sun’s recent descent. The silver light of a hundred thousand stars and a sickle moon would have been enough for most in the camp to see by, despite the copper lamps hung in concentric rings around their tents. For most in this camp were khimaer—horns adorned their brows and their bodies were an elegant amalgam of animal and human—and they could see even in darkness. The few who were not khimaer were fey or bloodkin, their vision as sharp.
The lamps were magicked to keep time and would only be doused when all the day’s work was done.
Seated upon a tree stump carved with snaking vines and wildflowers, Ysai eased a narrow blade around a length of buttery noshai wood in a slow spiral.
So used to the feel of a carving knife in her hand, Ysai focused her attention solely on her students’ upturned faces and the significantly duller blades in their laps. Until her gaze slid past them to the nearest copper lamp, throwing warm light in a spray of pinpricks, waiting for it to flare and signal the end of her day.
The children of the camp took lessons well into the night after history and weaponry and magick during the day. Blessedly this group of eight-year-olds was Ysai’s last lesson in charm-making for the day.
Instead of the sacred noshai, each clutched a bit of spare wood left over from the older children’s lessons in their sticky palms. The noshai trees, the tallest and most ancient of all the beings who dwelled in the North, only grew in the A’Nir Mountains north of Myre’s borders. It was a curious thing, how many.
In millennia past, the wild fey who dwelled in these mountains offered noshai saplings to the first Queens who ruled most of Akhimar, both north of the river and south of it. Back when the realm was known by just one name, instead of the three nations it was split into now. Yet the noshai trees rarely thrived in the South, so the tradition became the offering of a charm of protection carved from the trees. In the centuries since it had been forgotten, until the Tribe fled Myre after the Great War and adapted the tradition, making carvings of their own.
Most created charms in the likeness of the animals they were akin to and hung them from the trees around their tents; the charms were a small magick, prayers and wishes to their Goddess Khimaerani bolstered by a simple offering of power. The hundreds upon hundreds around the camp created a strong ward that set off a wave of foreboding for anyone who might venture here.
“Sister Ysai,” Kisin, one of the smallest and thus most outspoken of the group, called. Lamplight caught the gold rings adorning the tips of his pronged horns, and huge sand-fox ears dominated either side of his face. His coppery skin and fur were the exact same hue, and though the spray of white freckles across his face reminded Ysai of a fawn, the boy’s expression was distinctly tricksome. All wide-eyed innocence at odds with his toothy grin. “What will you carve for us today?”
Ysai had been planning on a cunning leopard. The children, having never ventured far enough south to see the great cats of the Arym Plain and the Deadened Jungle, were fascinated with the large predators.
Yet Kisin, she knew, would request a fox, like he had the last few lessons.
“I haven’t yet decided. Perhaps Tosin can help us,” Ysai murmured, offering a smile to the fox boy’s twin sister.
Unlike her brother, Tosin never spoke unless prompted. Her big, glossy black eyes were always slightly out of focus, lost in a dreamland. Ysai hoped that meant her imagination would be a bit more well developed than her brother’s.
The girl blinked a few times, fox ears twitching, before she explained, “Mother Moriya told us about the krakai in the desert.”
Ysai’s heart sank. She had learned the stories of the krakai that crawled up from the sea into the desert, but she had no sense of what the creatures truly looked like, having never been more than fifteen miles beyond the Myrean border, let alone thousands of leagues south to the Kremir Sands. “I think I would require a larger canvas to carve a krakai, Tosin. Maybe another time.” Then she pitched her voice low. “But I do know another story, and it’s Mother Moriya’s favorite. Has she ever told you about the leopard who was so clever it trapped a snake and tied its tail into a knot?”
The children giggled and inched forward until they were practically atop Ysai’s boots, tugging on her skirt. Mother Moriya was the leader of the Tribe, but Ysai rarely used the honorific, as Moriya was actually her mother.
She’d been in the South for two months on what was meant to be a quick raid across the Myrean border, and yet Ysai tried not to worry. Moriya would be safe; the other Tribesfolk with her on the incursion would die to keep her safe.
Ysai began to tell the story as she carved the body of the pouncing cat. She used magick to shift her throat and mouth until she had the growling voice of the leopard. She snarled and hissed at her students when she could tell she was losing their attention. Until she felt the deep vibration of hoofbeats beneath her feet and relief coursed through her, golden as good Myrean wine. She quickly finished the story and sent her students running for the cook fire at the center of camp.
Though darkness had long ago fallen, the camp was in a flurry of motion. Horned, fanged, and pointy-eared folk spilled from their tents, anticipating the return of the raiding party. Only humans were truly unwelcome here. When Moriya became the Mother of the Tribe near sixty years ago, she began seeking out any Myrean exiles who ventured north into the Roune Lands and welcomed them into the Tribe. That had swelled their numbers from less than a hundred to the near two hundred and fifty members now.
Ysai considered going to the tent she and her mother shared and sleeping until her mother had finished being welcomed home. But she wanted to hear firsthand what excuse Moriya would offer to her people about the length of the trip.
Would she admit that this journey had been more of a fact-finding mission than a pure raid? Or would she continue to hide her true plan to venture south and take back the throne?
Ysai was betting on more deception. The Tribesfolk and Elderi Council were notoriously fearful about any plans to return to Myre; they were exiles for a reason, and without a clear plan, they would be facing annihilation from the human Queen’s armies.
But now that Moriya had a vast network of spies in place, she believed the time was more right than ever. Ripe for revolution.
Or so her mother believed. Ysai herself was not so certain.
The human queens were merciless and powerful. Their entire nobility heartless enough to require fratricide as a stepping-stone to the throne.
She did not dare long for the throne, not when seeking it endangered everything she had ever known. The Tribe has remained safely hidden for centuries, and yet any attempt to complete their original purpose—to lie in wait until the time was right to take back the throne—might very well mean their destruction.
It was a risk their ancestors expected them to take. When all hope of victory in the Great War was lost, the original thirteen Elderi who had served the last khimaer Queen crossed the A’Nir Mountains to preserve their race. All in the hope that they could one day take back their ancestral home. Eight generations had passed—while eight unlawful human queens sat on the Ivory Throne—and they had made no real progress on that goal. The humans had armies numbering in the tens of thousands and they were a few people, hiding in the mountains, longing to return to a country that had forgotten they existed.
Ysai fell into step with the rest of the Tribesfolk making their way to the front of camp. The large, circular clearing in the shadow of Ariban had been reinforced with a wall of trees bound with twine and packed with mud on the slim chance any of the other raiding bands in the Roune Lands made it past their wards and sentries.
By the time the tide of the crowd carried Ysai to the front of the wall, the front gates were swinging open. The sound of thundering hoofbeats rang in the air and Ysai’s stomach clenched as she caught sight of the first rider.
Anosh, her mother’s second, a man of eagle wings and storm-cleaving magick in his veins, rode not a horse like most of the folks behind him. He sat astride one of the shahana, a rare antelope found only in the far north. Like all shahana, the massive beast was a few hands taller than a horse, with long nimble legs and splayed hooves perfect for navigating the snow and ice of upper reaches of the mountains. White spiraled horns sprang from the sides of her triangular head and her pitch-black fur was flecked with snow-white spots. A crest of equally snowy fur covered her chest.
Ysai knew the beast well, for it was her mother’s mount. She pushed through the crowd gathering at the gate as an uneasy silence spread.
It was shattered a few moments later as two men carrying a stretcher came into view.
Ysai broke into a sprint as the crowd opened before her. Roaring filled her ears, and between one blink and the next, she was on her knees in the dirt as the stretcher was laid on the ground.
Only to be greeted by her mother’s smile. The silver hair and antlers Ysai had inherited were bright in the dark night. Ysai scanned her mother’s face—the only sign of pain was faint tightness around her eyes—before turning her attention to the arrow protruding from Moriya’s waist. A deep crimson stain bloomed around the wound.
Before she could say a word, the Mother of the Tribe crooned, “It is not so fearsome as it seems. I was shot as we crossed the border.” Moriya reached up to catch a single fallen tear on Ysai’s cheek. “Do not worry.”
Moriya’s smile slackened to a painful grimace as she reached within the heavy folds of her woolen cloak to pull out a journal. She pressed it into Ysai’s hands.
“Do you understand?” Moriya asked. “I need you to be strong now.”
Fear clanged through Ysai. She knelt there frozen in the dirt until someone, she did not notice who, hauled her to her feet.
She followed the path Moriya’s stretcher cut through the gathering khimaer, barely hearing the explanations from the dismounting warriors.
We were ambushed at the border . . .
Be assured . . . the Mother will be well.
Human scum . . . cowards waited until we . . .
Ysai tuned it all out, numbly trudging after her mother as she held tight to the book.
She knew Moriya wouldn’t have given her this book unless things were truly dire. It was deceptively plain, hand-bound in twine with a Godling symbol inscribed on the cover. One of the dozens of journals Moriya kept, but never once before let Ysai look within.
Finally Ysai skidded to a stop before one of the white canvas tents where the Tribe’s healers worked. Sentries waited out front, blocking the entrance. Only patients were allowed within, and it wouldn’t do to disturb their work. Still fear writhed in her gut like an eel.
She settled on the ground, close enough to the lanterns hanging outside each tent to read. She flipped through the pages until she reached the last entry.
At the top of the page were notes written in a cypher; not written for Ysai’s eyes, though she would attempt to translate them in time. She ran her fingers over a splotch of blood staining the corner. It had seeped into several pages.
In the center of the page, her mother’s sloping handwriting switched to plain Khimaeran.
My mother once told me I would know my death when it came to me. She said all women gifted with Khimaerani’s power do. I didn’t take her warning seriously. But as soon as the bolt struck, I knew I’d been wrong. I could feel my death rushing toward me; I knew I wouldn’t survive the healing required to save my life. Already I feel weakness seeping through me like poison, and every one of my hundred years weighing upon me like stones. There is chaos in the South, chaos that will serve our plans. Learn the cypher, you will see. And call the Hunter home; he will be essential. There is one last thing. Someone else has inherited the gift we share. You must lead our Tribe south, free the khimaer in the Enclosures, and you will find her there. She will be Queen.
The words were rushed and sloppy. Ysai could barely make sense of it. Her eyes were still scanning the page as she climbed to her feet.
She wiped the tears gathering beneath her eyes and approached the guards. “Please, I need to speak with the Mother. It’s urgent.”
Excerpted from A Queen of Gilded Horns, copyright 2021 by Amanda Joy.