The Nightrunners are back in this gripping novel full of Lynn Flewelling's trademark action, intrigue, and richly imagined characters.
More than the dissolute noblemen they appear to be, Alec and Seregil are skillful spies, dedicated to serving queen and country. But when they stumble across evidence of a plot pitting Queen Phoria against Princess Klia, the two Nightrunners will find their loyalties torn as never before. Even at the best of times, the royal court at Rh�minee is a serpents' nest of intrigue, but with the war against Plenimar going badly, treason simmers just below the surface.
And that's not all that poses a threat: A mysterious plague is spreading through the crowded streets of the city, striking young and old alike. Now, as panic mounts and the body count rises, hidden secrets emerge. And as Seregil and Alec are about to learn, conspiracies and plagues have one thing in common: The cure can be as deadly as the disease.
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May 29, 2012
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Excerpt from Casket of Souls by Lynn Flewelling
An Evening's Entertainment
Seregil hadn't been sure what to expect--or rather, he hadn't expected much. This sweltering, run-down little theater in Basket Street used to cater to merchants of middling means with aspirations to culture, but who had neither the purse nor polish for the likes of the Tirari in the Street of Lights across the city. This place had been shuttered last he knew. The proscenium's faded paint was peeling, its gilt dull, and the footlights flickered in the draft. Only the scrim behind the stage was new, expertly painted to suggest a dark, forbidding forest.
The theater was barely large enough for a hundred people, most of them groundlings in front of the raised stage. It was nearly full, and the smell of overheated bodies was already oppressive. It was unusual for it to be this hot so early in the summer.
"Are you certain this is the right theater?" asked Duke Malthus as he handed his wife Ania, Lady Kylith, and her niece Ysmay into their chairs.
"I was just wondering the same thing myself," Seregil remarked, settling cautiously into a rickety chair between Alec and Kylith.
"Of course it is!" Kylith chuckled, tapping them both playfully with her fan.
Malthus and Kylith were considerably older than Seregil appeared, but he'd known them both in their youth. Malthus had risen to become one of the queen's senior exchequers. He had a short cropped beard but wore his grey hair to his collar--rather daring for a man in his position. Kylith, a former lover, was one of Seregil's closest friends, and an unimpeachable source of society gossip.
Seregil dabbed the sweat delicately from his upper lip with a lace-trimmed handkerchief and scanned the crowd, acknowledging those he knew--merchants and sea captains mostly--who puffed up among their friends at his notice. Even at this level of society, whom you knew, and whom you were known to know, meant a great deal. Seregil, the infamous Aurenfaie exile, had made his living playing that game in Rhiminee for a good many years now.
He and his party were certainly attracting looks and whispers. Lady Kylith's elaborately coiffed hair sparkled with jeweled pins as she murmured something to Duke Malthus. As always, she, Ania, and Ysmay were dressed in the height of summer fashion in light silks and jewels; here they looked like swans among ducks. Seregil supposed they all must. No doubt there were a few cutpurses in the audience below, sizing them up for later.
Seregil and Alec cut quite a figure themselves, two handsome, lanky young men--one dark-haired, one fair--dressed in long linen summer coats stitched in gold, fawn breeches, and well-polished boots. Seregil's long, dark brown hair was caught back with a thin red silk ribbon that matched his coat. Alec's thick blond braid hung down the back of a coat the same dark blue as his eyes.
Half-blood ya'shels like Alec aged a bit more quickly at first, but he still looked younger than his soon-to-be twenty-one. He had something of the fine 'faie features of his mother's people, and was likewise beardless, but had his human father's coloring.
Seregil played the role of a dissolute young exile that was only half true; he wasn't particularly dissolute, though he played the part well. He and Alec were well known for carousing with the young blades of the nobility and a good many not-so-young, like Kylith and Malthus. But they managed to stay just on the boundary of respectability, and when they happened to stray outside it, Seregil's distant relation to the royal family made up the difference. Handsome, foppish, and exotic, the grey-eyed 'faie was known to be somewhat well connected but of little importance.
Their true vocation would have raised more eyebrows than their dissolute ways, if it ever came to light.
"I don't suppose you've heard the latest news from the front?" asked Malthus.
Queen Phoria was still at war with the Plenimarans; the army had left winter quarters two months ago and marched north again to the battlefields of Mycena.
Malthus leaned closer to Seregil and lowered his voice. "The heralds will be announcing it tomorrow, so I suppose there's no harm in my telling you. The Overlord sued for a parlay. Phoria refused. She's sworn to drive the enemy all the way back to Benshal and crush them on their own ground."
Seregil shook his head. "She means to end the endless conflict. Do you think she can do what her mother couldn't?"
"Prince Korathan seems cautiously optimistic."
The door opened again, and Lord Nyanis and his much rowdier party spilled in and noisily ascended to the far box. He and his companions had brought several pretty courtesans from the Street of Lights as their companions, and it was evident they'd all had a lot of wine. Among them was brown-haired Myrhichia from Eirual's brothel, with whom Alec had once spent a night. Seregil was not the jealous type, particularly since he'd taken Alec there for that very purpose. She waved to them when her partner for the evening wasn't looking, and Seregil blew her a kiss. Alec shyly waved back.
Nyanis spotted them and shouted over, "We're going gambling after this. You must come with us!"
Seregil gave him a noncommittal wave.
"I haven't been to the theater in weeks. I hope these players are all you claim, my lady," Alec was saying to Kylith.
"And that we don't go home with fleas," Seregil muttered, scratching at a persistent itch in the crook of his left arm.