A Queen of Gilded Horns (A River of Royal Blood #2) - Amanda Joy Page 0,1

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