Save the land, or follow his heart?
Time has run out for Lord Domlen. The Fortress of Rain has been cursed by the enemy Boa Visk, his people trapped as phantoms within its walls, and the rain ever falling across his lands. If he does not break the curse soon, the trapped spirits will become revenir, ghosts that feed upon the life force of the living. He needs a miracle. And he gets one. He learns of a ritual that can break the curse and free his people. But nothing comes without a price, and the price is one Lord Domlen cannot bring himself to pay: the ritual demands blood—royal blood. Desperate, he abducts Prince Falken of Teirlan to be his blood sacrifice on the night of the red moon and forces all gentle emotion far, far away. He must save his people, even at the cost of an innocent life. But as the time of the ritual draws near, how will he find the strength to kill an innocent man? Especially one who reignites all the emotions he believed he'd buried so deeply away?
Prince Falken, sorcerer from Teirlan, needs his magic to escape the Fortress of Rain, but the shackles on his wrists have cut him off from his power. When he discovers the servants around him are actually spirits, he understands the stronghold is bound by dark forces—a curse that somehow revolves around his grim, noble captor. There is dark magic here, but how can he help the strong, enigmatic Domlen while he's trapped, his powers bound? There is greater magic than that of the curse, and Falken has resources beyond Domlen's ken. But when the ritual goes horribly wrong, how will Falken make his enemy trust him? And how will he save the man he's coming to love?
Prince Falken stood at the narrow window in his tower room and waited to kill the man who had imprisoned him. Far below him, the rain made ripple patterns on the puddles of water all across the courtyard. Above him, the rain sounded a constant tapping on the tower roof. He’d long ago stopped truly hearing it.It never stopped raining here. There was no sun. The clouds never parted. Day in and day out, one unending, dreary storm remained overhead, sapping all the humor and light from the world.The rain was one of a hundred reasons why he hated this fortress. Why he loathed its moss-draped battlements and the gloom of the surrounding mountain peaks. But most of his hate he reserved for Lord Domlen Jadale. The grim-faced man was huge as a bear, with cold, dark eyes and such an aura of raw power that even a member of Teirlan royalty like Falken had to give him wary respect. Respect, but also hatred. The bastard had taken away Falken’s magic, cutting him off from his power by means of two locking, spell-inscribed bracers.Falken shifted the small but heavy decorative bust he gripped in his hands. The miniature marble sculpture was of Pherros, the god of love from Gondellan myth. It had been on a bookshelf in the lavishly appointed tower room when Lord Domlen had locked him here weeks ago. There it had sat merrily upon the bookshelf amid the leather-bound tomes of history, poetry, and legend. Mocking him. But it was heavy enough to smash a man’s head in, much heavier than the split wood stacked near the fireplace, and easier to conceal from sight. Although he didn’t intend for Lord Domlen to ever see him coming.He had no other choice than to use such a crude weapon against Domlen. The bracelets locked around his wrists were made of crovmane, an ensorcelled metal that nullified magic power. A disciple of magic, he was helpless without his spells. His books of mystic lore and his laboratory were lost to him. They were hundreds of leagues away in Lindermain, the seat of the royal court in Teirlan. It was as if he’d been castrated. It made him feel helpless, weak, not a man of magic, and perhaps not a man at all…Weakness. He hated the feeling. Physically, he’d always been the smallest of his family. His two older brothers were burly warrior-types who favored sword and lance. But Falken’s magic had more than evened the odds once he’d finally come into his own. Although he abhorred being seen as frail and powerless, he hoped his captor was arrogant enough to believe a prince was nothing of a threat. A blow to the head from this stone bust would change the man’s opinion in a hurry. His stomach rumbled. It was nearly time for his evening meal of slop soup. Soon Falken would have his chance at freedom.His captor regularly brought him meals, which was strange enough as it was. Prince Falken was used to being tended by servants, but not personally fed by the lord of a stronghold. He didn’t know if Domlen didn’t want him in contact with the servants and guards because Falken’s presence at this backwater, miserable swamp of a fortress needed to be kept secret, but it would be the man’s undoing. This time, when Domlen came through the door with his food, Falken would dash his brains in. Then he would flee the tower, escape through a postern gate or the fortress’s sewers. There definitely had to be sewers or moat-channels to drain off all this cursed water that fell from the sky without ceasing.Either way, once Domlen was finished and Falken was beyond the walls, he was confident he could find his way back to his homeland. When his father, King Nikolen, learned the third son of his line had been kidnapped and held captive, he would bring the full might of Teirlan down on this obscure borderland fortress and erase it from the map. Even if his father cared little for him, the king could not allow such an insult and an act of war to go unanswered.Unless his father had orchestrated the kidnapping in the first place. Or one of his brothers, Tobias or Yeznon, had ordered it done as part of some political scheme, perhaps a move against the sorcerers of Lindermain…He rubbed at one of the symbol-covered metal bracers on his wrists and shook his head. He had no time now to brood over the backstabbing politics of the royal court. Movement in the rain-drenched courtyard below attracted his eye. He leaned closer to the window, angling for a good view without drawing attention.A young man carrying a spear and wearing chain mail and leather walked under the arching battlements, careful to stay out of the rain. Falken recognized the guard because he’d seen the man on his rounds before, but he’d never spoken to him. Except for Lord Domlen, he’d never spoken to anyone in this fortress since he’d been imprisoned here. His entire world consisted of this one tower room, twenty paces by twenty paces, with a window facing east and another west. If it weren’t for the surrounding mountains and the constant, low ceiling of clouds, he could’ve at least watched the dawn and the setting sun. But even that was denied him.He switched his makeshift weapon to his other hand and watched as the guard ducked into a little alcove and set his spear aside. A moment later, a woman dressed in servant’s garb hurried along the same path the guard had taken. She turned aside into the alcove as well. Falken couldn’t help a smile as he watched the two furtively glance around the courtyard and then embrace. Potential enemies or not, there was something about them that warmed him deep inside, enough that he no longer noticed the damp, cold air creeping through the window. The guard touched her chin and gently titled her head to give him easier access to her lips. The girl was pretty, true enough, but personally, Falken would’ve been more interested in the guard. He’d always preferred the company of men for loveplay.The two lovers broke apart quickly when Lord Domlen entered the courtyard and moved into Falken’s view. Domlen’s boots slammed down into the puddles, sending up gouts of water as he stomped through the downpour. At the sight of him, Falken’s heart began to beat faster, hollow booms resounding in his chest like a man pounding on a door. The enormity of what he was about to do swept over him.He had never killed anyone before. Not in war or in self-defense. And he wouldn’t even be using the magic he’d trained and studied with; he would be using his hands. Now that the time had arrived, he realized he was terrified. He felt as if he might be sick to his stomach at any moment.No, he had to be strong. He had to be a true prince of the Teirlan royal line. He might not relish this bloodshed, but he was desperate. After all this time trapped here without his magic, he was closer to a cornered animal than a royal prince. If there had been a ransom demand sent back to Teirlan, it had not been met. There had been no promise of release if Falken met certain terms or fulfilled certain oaths. There was only this tower. And there was only Lord Domlen, the man who kept him here.Below him in the courtyard, Domlen spotted the two lovers in their alcove and paused to greet them, though Falken’s tower room was far too high to hear his words. They bowed to him. Domlen continued across the courtyard toward the tower, pulling his dark cloak closer around him. As always, he was carrying a covered, silver serving tray with Falken’s dinner.No turning back now. He hurried to the room’s heavy, iron-banded door and readied his makeshift weapon. When Domlen set foot inside, Falken would ambush him and end this once and for all.The waiting was torture as he listened for the sound of Domlen’s boots on the tower’s spiraling stone staircase. Soon enough he recognized Domlen’s heavy tread. He raised the bust over his head. His hands were shaking. His mouth felt dry as a desert.Domlen’s footfalls reached the door. There was a pause. Falken could imagine Domlen shifting the covered serving dish to his other hand. Imagine him reaching for the door handle…The handle rattled as Domlen used his key to unlock it. Falken didn’t even risk a breath. He was completely focused on his attack. The heavy door swung open. Lord Domlen stepped inside.“Prince Falken, your meal is—” Domlen began to say, but then Falken stepped out from behind the door and swung the bust at his head.Lord Domlen reacted instantaneously. He shoved the serving tray at Falken, driving it into the path of Falken’s blow. Scalding-hot soup spilled all over him. The unexpected counterattack completely threw off Falken’s aim. Instead of crushing Domlen’s head, his attack put a huge dent in the serving tray cover and sent it careening against the wall.Falken hissed in pain as the hot liquid burned him, soaking through his breeches and into his tunic. Fear reached up to choke him as Domlen’s cold stare found him and held him. How had he missed? The man couldn’t have seen the attack coming.The depth of his desperation threatened to drown him as he realized his best chance at escape was quickly evaporating. Or was already gone. He tried to recover and press his attack, even though he’d lost the element of surprise—his single advantage with his magic lost to him.Domlen easily blocked the second attack. His block hit Falken’s forearm so hard that the stone bust flew out of his hands and shattered against the floor. He snarled a curse and tried to punch his captor in the jaw.Again, Domlen swept aside his blow almost contemptuously. But this time Domlen grabbed him by the front of his tunic and hurled him across the room. Falken hit the floor hard and slid along the stone surface until he crashed into the writing table.Lord Domlen eyed him coldly. Falken lay there in a heap where he’d been thrown, panting hard, momentarily stunned. The blow to his ego had hurt far more than the pain of hitting the ground. He pushed himself to a sitting position, watching the other man warily. There would certainly be reprisals and punishment. He didn’t believe Domlen would kill him for the ambush. After all, he must have some value, or why keep him alive in this tower? But he expected a severe beating or worse.But Domlen only closed the door behind him without a word. He turned to scowl at the spilled food and the dented serving dish. Then he walked over and picked up the tray.Under other circumstances, Prince Falken might have found his captor attractive in his way, certainly memorable. Domlen wore a cloak so purple it was nearly black. His doublet was black slashed with gray. His breeches matched the color, tucked into knee-high leather boots still wet from outside and gleaming in the candlelight Falken used to drive off the gloom. A single gold chain adorned his neck, with a golden sword pendant set along a symbol Falken didn’t recognize. His rings were plain gold. His face, however, was the face of a hard, merciless man.Domlen’s eyes were the same dark gray as the storm clouds that plagued this land. His jaw was as rigid as a shield, his dark hair kept short, his shoulders almost twice as wide as Falken’s. The man’s face resembled something chiseled out of a mountainside by an artist with more enthusiasm than talent. Everything about him gave off a sense of power, strength, and ruthlessness. He had the look of a leader who had seen war and hadn’t yielded.Had Falken truly believed he could defeat this man so easily, without access to his magic? His lips twisted into a sour smile. He’d been desperate. Still was. Desperate men fooled themselves better than anyone.It didn’t matter now. His gambit had failed. His captor was frighteningly strong. He’d flung Falken across the room as if he were made of straw and easily outweighed him by at least seven stone. It would’ve been a different tale if Falken still had access to his magic. Domlen would be nothing more than a hated memory. But neither wishes nor ifs could help him now.Finally, the man spoke, so emotionless the sound sent a chill down Falken’s spine. “You spilled your dinner.”He glanced down at himself. He was covered in the remnants of the meal Domlen had brought. He had no idea how to reply. He’d expected curses. Threats. Anything but that simple observation.When Falken didn’t answer, Lord Domlen narrowed his eyes. “Clean yourself. I’ll get you more food. Do not hide by the door again or you will regret it.” With that, he turned on his heel and left, slamming the heavy door and locking it behind him.Falken sagged back against the floor, his body shaking from reaction. He felt as if he’d attempted to swim a flood-swollen river and had bounced off a few of the rocks before going over a waterfall. To top it all off, his stomach grumbled again.He managed a smirk as he pushed himself to his feet and began to strip off his stained and wet clothing. He flung them on the floor and walked naked to the washbasin near the room’s small mirror.The heat from the fireplace kept him warm enough, despite the damp and the cold rain outside. His mind was a tumble of thoughts and fears. He had a difficult time making sense of them. Why hadn’t Domlen done anything more than fling him across the room—and that only when Falken had continued to attack him? Perhaps more punishment was coming. Or did his captor not want to damage a potential ransom?Well, Falken wasn’t about to argue with him there. Either way, it didn’t matter. He would be able to take whatever the man dished out. He’d suffered through the torments of his older brothers, the “games” they had liked to play when they were young that often left Falken bleeding, bruised, and crying. He’d endured the rigorous training of the mind necessary to become a sorcerer. The long hours, the exhaustion, the grinding nights spent studying, and the constant demand for focus. He might not be as big or powerful as this Lord Domlen, but he was strong enough to face the man who had imprisoned him. He was strong enough to escape. This was only a small setback.A grin turned up the corners of his lips. Yes, if his captor was reluctant to harm him even after Falken had tried to dash his brains in, then Domlen was nothing more than a toothless dragon. All roar, no bite. All smoke and no fire.He was still rinsing his body with a wet cloth when the lock rattled again, meaning Domlen had returned with more food. Outside, the gloom had deepened. Now the glow of the few candles and the flames from the hearth bathed the tower room in warm light. This time, Domlen opened the door carefully and let it swing inward before he entered. He took a step inside, his gaze landing on Falken, and then he stopped dead.Falken paused in the act of running the wet cloth up his inner thigh, cleaning away the soup broth. Domlen’s unusual reaction made him wonder if his captor intended to punish him after all. But Domlen was only staring at him…and something had changed. His gray eyes had lost that coldness they always held. As Falken stared back, he was both surprised and strangely gratified when Domlen’s gaze trailed down the length of his body. Lingering like a visual caress…What was this? The man couldn’t be offended by his nudity. Or…surely Domlen could not be attracted to him…? Did Domlen love men the way Falken loved men? And why had his captor hidden it? Or, more precisely, why had the man not exploited it? Falken was helpless enough with the bracers on, suppressing his magic. Domlen had driven that point home easily enough. The lord of the fortress was large and heavily muscled. He could easily take whatever he wanted.But there was no denying the flash of heat in the other man’s eyes. Not fury. Not hatred. But lust. Desire.Finally, Domlen looked away. He carried Falken’s meal to the table and set it down. His jaw was clenched, his movements rigid. He appeared far more upset than he had after Falken had attacked him.“Here is your dinner,” Lord Domlen said, staring at the door instead of Falken. “I bid you a good evening.”“I’m not certain how it could be better,” Falken replied, his tone dripping acid. “It never stops raining. The food is not worthy of maggots. And I’m a prisoner in your bloody tower.”Domlen still didn’t look at him. He only nodded—nodding to the door instead of Falken, as though the door had been the one complaining—and then he left. His shoulders were so broad they nearly filled the doorway as he passed through. The sound of the key in the lock and his retreating footsteps told Falken he was alone at last.He couldn’t help but glance at the broken pieces of the bust lying on the floor as he padded across the room, still naked. Had he really believed he could kill the man with that? He needed something a whole lot bigger. Perhaps he could get Domlen to stand beneath a life-sized granite gargoyle and then hold still as Falken shoved it over onto him…The meal was no surprise he discovered when he removed the cover. It was soupy, gritty concoction of grains, unidentifiable pickled vegetables, and chunks of salt mutton. The same as every meal. This place was truly hell. Rain that never ended, at best tapering off to a dreary drizzle. Abominable food. A huge and dangerous man who had kidnapped him from beneath the noses of the royal guard. His capture might not have had anything to do with the deadly, backstabbing politics of court or the treachery of Falken’s older brothers, but that was little comfort. He’d take both of those possibilities in an instant if it meant being ransomed back to his father again, returning to the palace, and eating meals that didn’t seem as if they’d been scraped from the bottom of someone’s boot. Seeing the sun lifting for the dawn, or the moons traveling overhead, using magic again…The need, the yearning to use magic pulled a groan of pure longing from deep inside him. If he had no other reason to hate Domlen, the man’s choice to bar him from his magic was cause enough.As he started to eat, a plan began to form in his mind. If he hadn’t been mistaken and it had been a flash of desire in his captor’s eyes, then that was something he could use at last. He might not be able to overpower the man without magic, but if he could seduce him… If he could tempt Lord Domlen into falling for him…Well, that would change things completely. He grinned without humor as he spooned in the lukewarm slop. That sealed it. He would seduce his cold-hearted captor, no matter what he had to do, no matter what it might cost him. Lure him, entice him, persuade him to trust. And then, when Lord Domlen least expected it, Falken would let the jaws of the trap spring closed and he’d escape this horrible place forever.