Today I am delighted to be joining the Escapists Tours blog tour for Where Shadows Lie by Allegra Pescatore. I do have a review coming for this book, which is one I’d been wanting to read for ages but unfortunately I’ve been struck down with a nasty bug of some kind and as I want to do the book justice, I’m waiting until I feel less dead. So today I have a spotlight, complete with an extract and a chance to win this fantastic book for yourself.
The Chosen One is Dead.
Disabled since childhood, his little sister never expected the weight of a crown. Now, she might lose it before ever sitting on the throne. Beset by rebels, scheming politicians, and cutthroat bankers, Elenor must choose between accepting her father’s despotic rule or risking everything for her late brother’s lofty ideals.
Meanwhile, from the rainy streets of Lirin to the scorching dunes of the Mondaer Desert, the ripples of her actions have inadvertently broken a chain of events five centuries in the making. Ancient forces move in the shadows, calling in debts and striking deals. A monster with a thousand faces fingers his knife, ready to kill, and a pair of fugitives run for their lives, unaware of the danger they carry with them.
Where Shadows Lie is a non-stop epic fantasy ride, featuring an lgbtq+ and disabled protagonist and filled with court intrigue, sizzling romance, and adorable baby dragons. Dive in and get swept away!
Wilam Lirion dressed in red on the day he planned to kill his father. The hue was not remarkable—crimson and gold were the colors of the royal household—but today, he wore it with hope and pride instead of his usual revulsion. As he waited for the afternoon audiences to begin, Wil studied his parents. His mother kept her vacant eyes cast down at the embroidery frame in her lap. She sat with a straight back on her throne, her silver-blond hair pulled up under a thin veil upon which rested the crown of the ruling Lirion monarch. His father’s own circlet was smaller and less ornate, the gold stark against his graying black hair. The King was whispering to one of his advisors when he caught Wil staring. He met his son’s gaze with a tight-lipped frown.
“Where is your sister, Wilam? I’m tired of her being late. She is learning bad habits from you.”
“How should I know? Elenor and I don’t spend enough time together for her to learn anything from me,” Wil replied. Their father made sure of that, but why? Had he realized Wil sought to overthrow him? Did he want to avoid having his youngest become as stubborn and independent as his heir? Whatever the reason, Wil hoped she didn’t show up. Elenor did not need to see this.
“Well, go find her. I wish to start on time toda—”
“I’m here, father!”
Wil turned, his dark curls bouncing, and saw his sister waltz into the Throne Room with her doena on her heels.
“You’re late,” the King chided, but, as ever, his tone was gentler with her. “Sorry. I lost track of time.”
Their mother sighed, and Wilam suppressed a snort. That wasn’t bloody likely. Elenor might not always pay attention to her schedule, but Paul, her doena, was as obsessive and punctual as they got. If his sister was late, she had been up to something, no doubt with some of her troublemaking friends. Indeed, Wil noticed there was a small grass stain on Elenor’s white dress, not quite hidden despite her efforts to bunch the fabric just so.
“Don’t berate her, dearest,” their mother said in her usual almost-whisper. “She’s here, and it’s not yet noon. Children, in your seats, please so we can begin.”
Wil sighed and closed his eyes as Elenor pressed a kiss to his forehead in greeting on her way to the other side of the dais. Paul followed but did not take his customary place behind his ward. The doena wore a cross expression as he bent to whisper in Elenor’s ear. She winced, but Wil was sure Paul would smooth whatever feathers she had ruffled. That was the oath of a doena, after all: to protect their charge, even from themselves. It was never an easy job, and Paul’s was more challenging than most. Elenor had a preternatural ability to get into trouble.
When everyone had taken their seats, the Herald of the Court called for silence. The attention of the gathered nobles shifted to the first group of petitioners entering the chamber. The hall expanded outwards from the double doors, the walls forming two sides of a perfect equilateral triangle. Along those walls, walkways and balconies allowed the milling nobility to gather, make deals, and share in the gossip which was the lifeblood of the Lirinian Court. The floor was a remnant of the Empire and over five hundred years old. A kaleidoscope of marble and onyx stonework, interlocking triangles tightened to draw the eye to the third wall of the room, where a beam of sunlight fell upon the four thrones on the dais. They were visible from every point in the chamber to grand effect. Unfortunately, it didn’t make for a comfortable experience for the ruling family. The bright sunshine was already making his eyes ache, and sweat soaked his undershirt.
The first few delegations and cases passed without note. Wil, as usual, was attentive but bored. His mother never took her eyes off her embroidery except to greet each new petitioner and bid them farewell, and the King just sat tapping his foot each time a case dragged on.
Elenor’s gaze kept moving toward a gaggle of her friends then up to the clock on the far wall, her foot tapping until their mother reached over to brush her knee. Elenor shot the Queen an apologetic look before relaxing back into her seat with a long-suffering sigh. Wil couldn’t blame her. He remembered how torturous it had been to sit through these audiences before he had gotten his Water Writ. Wilam now had the right to have his opinions heard. Elenor did not.
His musings halted as the door once again opened, and a flurry of colorful robes announced the delegation he had been waiting for. The disguises on the five assassins were masterful. Wil had known and worked with these rebels for years, but even he hardly recognized them. Fay had her hair up in a bright green wrap with flowers sticking out of it. She wore an elegant but flamboyant yellow and blue robe that billowed around her feet as she walked. The round, thick lenses and heavily painted frames of her spectacles hid her eyes, and there were colorful rings on her fingers wrapped around an ornate wooden box. Her companions wore equally vivid outfits. On her right, her second in command, Gabriel, shuffled with a hunched posture that fit with his oil-slicked hair, thin glasses, and a giant pile of dossiers. It made him look every inch an ordinary pencil-pushing lackey except for the beetle-green color of his coat and trousers. Another rebel, mirroring Gabriel’s position on Fay’s left, had on a jacket so pink it caused Wil’s eyes to water. Two trailed behind, one—Ian, if Wil’s memory served him—wore orange robes, and his eyes were covered by a bandage. The last was dressed in a more sedate dark blue aides uniform and was pretending to guide Ian. No one would look at this group and see criminals sneaking into the palace to kill their monarch. Assassins, after all, rarely attempted to be an eyesore.
Fay stopped before the dais and raised her eyes to the King. Wil took in a deep breath, his hand shifting to the hilt of his rapier in a casual gesture.
“Your Majesty, thank you for receiving us after our long journey.” She bowed low with a flourish of robes, the accent perfect for the Garendaren ambassador she pretended to be.
“Welcome to Hardor, Lady Ondai. What business do you bring before the Court today?” She straightened. “We have several matters to discuss, but first, may I present a gift to Your Majesty?” She held out the carved box and flipped the latch.
“A moment, please,” the King ordered, holding his palm toward her. Wil’s heart thundered. “I am sure it is harmless, but as the rebel threat grows, we have had a retainer open all gifts, just in case.” With an imperious gesture, he called forward his chief advisor. “Eurieha, if you would.”
His father knew. There was no other explanation. None of the other offerings today had been scrutinized in this manner. Wil’s jaw tightened against the acid climbing up his throat as the retainer stepped towards Fay. His nails dug deep into his palms as he clenched his fists, but the pain didn’t even register. He fought to keep his breathing steady, the urgency of containing his reaction hammered home by every pounding heartbeat.
Fay’s face remained polite and sedate, but the fingers clutching the box were pale. Wil glanced towards the King. His dread turned to outright terror as he saw his father’s lips twitch upwards.
Gabriel inched closer to Fay, the other three shifted uncomfortably, but their expressions didn’t falter. Any question as to how entirely and unquestionably screwed they were was answered when a pair of guards at the end of the room slammed the massive double-doors shut. Do it now, Fay! NOW!
Fay must have arrived at the same conclusion. As Eurieha reached for the box containing the poisoned dart meant to plunge into the King’s chest when he opened it, Fay let it fall from her fingers. Steel flashed, and a dagger appeared in her hand before the box even clattered to the ground. Her wrist arched back, then snapped forward.
The knife flew straight at his father’s head as the guards began to move.
Fay’s aim was true.
For a single second, Wil believed it would hit. For one heartbeat, Wilam Lirion thought he would be the next ruler of Lirin. That he could save his mother and sister.
Then the second ended.
The knife thudded into the wooden back of the throne as the King threw himself to the side. Wil sprang to his feet and caught sight of Elenor doing likewise. While his sister launched herself behind the thrones and out of harm’s way, Wil drew his rapier.
He wasn’t the only one. Around the room, guards and nobles alike were catching up, raised steel shining in the filtered sunlight. Wil lunged at his father, swinging and missing as the King pushed his stunned wife out of the way before shoving the carved wooden chair towards Wil. The bulky piece of furniture tumbled down the stairs, giving his father enough time to draw his own sword and point it straight at the prince.
“I knew it! I knew you were working against me. Did you think you fooled us? Eurieha has been onto you for months.”
Wilam did not bother to answer. He vaulted over the throne and brought his blade down hard. Steel crashed on steel as his father’s sword lurched to block the blow. The ringing in his ears made it impossible to pay attention to anything but the fight at hand. Twenty-three years of anger, of frustration, of fear and hatred boiled up, giving his swings a power he had never felt before. His father’s eyes widened as the barrage of blows forced him to take one step back, then another.
“Secure the Queen,” the King shouted as he parried again. Wil’s heart was hammering as he struck once more. This is finally it. Better this way. I want the world to see him fall at my hand. I want them to know I stood up to him at last, and it wasn’t just a rebel attack. It will anger the nobility, but I don’t care.
A lucky strike drew blood along his father’s upper arm, but the older man reacted too fast for Wil to capitalize on it. A growl of frustration passed Wil’s clenched teeth as his opponent retreated. Why was the bastard not standing his ground? Wasn’t he the one who had always taught Wil that only cowards ran from a fight?
Too late, he realized this was no retreat. It was a lure.
The King’s bodyguard charged Wil from the side, and he went from pressing the advantage against his father to getting outflanked by a professional whose skill he could not hope to match. Rivulets of sweat coursed down his cheek as his feet scrambled for purchase on the stairs of the dais. Block, parry, dodge and—
With a savage grunt, the bodyguard drove the wooden heel of his heavy boot into Wil’s knee. Sparks of pain exploded in his vision as he toppled down the steps, his back striking them hard enough to drive a grunt from his lungs. Wil squeezed his eyes shut, not ready for the pain or to see the killing blow.
Steel rang above his head. Wilam chanced a peek and saw a flurry of orange robes. Eyes no longer bandaged and glinting their peculiar red, Ian’s scimitar locked with the King’s. Wil tried to rise, to help his ally, but the guard’s sword came to rest on his exposed throat.
“Keep him down. I can deal with this one myself,” his father ordered, fury deepening his voice to a growl.
Wil bared his teeth in defiance, but when he tried to move, the press of the steel edge against his windpipe intensified. Beyond the man holding him down, he saw Ian dodge and lunge, nearly impaling the King on his blade. The blow caught on his father’s coat and ripped it, but a lucky step to the side kept it from being a killing blow. A flurry of swings followed, and Wil held his breath.
Yells bounced off the walls of the Throne Room as the rebel feinted to the left, then dropped into a crouch and kicked outward. The prince watched in amazement as his father fell, and Ian straightened. Guards were running in their direction, but none would get there in time, not before Ian could end it.
“This is for Lily,” Ian yelled as he raised his scimitar.
This is it.
Ian stumbled, a strangled cry escaping his lips. His descending swing paused, arms suddenly limp. The sword fell from his hands as they clutched at a growing red spot on his chest and the tiny point of a dagger poking through his robes. The old rebel turned, and an unsteady half-step to the side exposed the person who had doomed them all.
Wil’s little sister stood there, eyes wide, staring at the blood coating her hands. She instinctively caught Ian as his knees gave way, both dropping to the marble floor.
“Elenor, no …” Wil whispered.
She mouthed something, perhaps a prayer or apology, but Wilam couldn’t make it out. Ian’s hand rose to her cheek, the blood staining her pale skin and loose golden hair a deep crimson as his eyes closed.
Wil’s father yanked the man away from her and, as Ian tumbled to the floor, the King finished the deed.
Elenor remained kneeling, her shoulders shaking and head bowed. Their father pulled his bloody sword from the limp body and walked over to Wil, Ian’s blood dribbling onto the white marble with every step.
“You always were a disappointment, Wilam,” he murmured.
Wil knew what was coming. Not wanting his last sight to be of the man he hated, his gaze found his sister. Her eyes locked with Wil’s, and time stood still.
I’m sorry, Elenor.
Wil had just enough time to see Gabriel appear behind his sister and yank her to her feet, before his father’s blade pressed against his neck.
“Stop! Kill him, and she dies too,” his friend shouted, a knife flashing in the light from the windows as Gabriel lifted it to Elenor’s throat, but it was too late to avoid what was coming.
“Murdering me won’t stop—” But Wil never finished. There was a flash of pain, a moment of pure agony, and for the first time in Wilam’s life, his father did something merciful. When the darkness came, it w1as swift and sure. His last thought before his heart stuttered to a halt was, It’s up to you now, El
Allegra grew up in a small village in northern Tuscany as the daughter of two artists. She was raised on the works of J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Frank Herbert, and many others, all read aloud to her while she drew and played make-believe. She began to write at the age of eight and hasn’t stopped since.
After many moves and dozens of countries visited, she now lives in a cozy cottage in Western PA. She is accompanied in her current adventures by husband Job, co-conspirator and long-time writing partner Tobias, and a small army of furry and scaly pets. When not writing or daydreaming, Allegra rules her kitchen with an iron first and feeds everyone who walks through her door. She also gardens, dabbles in various art forms, and spins stories for her tabletop gaming group.
As a disabled woman and staunch LGBTQ ally, Allegra hopes to write engaging, diverse, and representative Fantasy and Science Fiction, where people who do not often see themselves center stage get the chance to shine.
Her debut book, Where Shadows Lie, was an SPFBO Semi-Finalist and is a CIBA award finalist. It is the first book of The Last Gift series, and the first title of Project Ao, by Ao Collective Publishing. Other titles in Project Ao include NACL: Eye of the Storm (2021 SPFBO Semi-Finalist) and A Bond of Thread.
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