A healer with the talent to unravel death. A stillborn child brought to life. A father lusting for vengeance. And a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.
A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she, too, learns to heal death.
Denied a living heir, the widowed king spies from a distance. But he heeds the claims of the fiery Vicar of the Red Order—in the eyes of the Blessed One, Aster is an abomination, and to embrace the evil of resurrection will doom his rule.
As the king’s life nears its end, he defies the vicar’s warning and summons the necromancer’s daughter. For his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade. Armed with righteousness and iron-clad conviction, the Order’s brothers ride into the leas to cleanse the land of evil.
To save her father’s life, Aster leads them beyond Verdane’s wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a wilderness of dragons and barbarian tribes. Unprepared for a world rife with danger and unchecked power, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.
From best-selling fantasy author D. Wallace Peach comes a retelling of the legend of Kwan-yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. Set in a winter world of dragons, intrigue, and magic, The Necromancer’s Daughter is a story about duty, defiance, cruelty, and sacrifice— an epic tale of compassion and deep abiding love where good and evil aren’t what they seem.
“The writing is absolutely exquisite. When we say authors paint pictures with words, this is what we mean. Spellbinding, gorgeous prose, and a storyline that will hook you early.” – Martha Reynolds, author of Chocolate for Breakfast.
“With its richly detailed plot, lush descriptions, and intriguing characters, this story grips the reader right from the start and never lets go…. If you enjoy epic fantasy—tales set in richly-detailed worlds where good and evil (though not always starkly defined) battle for supremacy… where characters face impossible odds and travels are fraught with both peril and wonder—this exceptional novel is for you.” – Mae Clair, author of A Thousand Yesteryears.
The Dead Boy
Barus wrinkled his nose at the poison’s fetid stench, and his stomach bubbled into the hollow of his throat. Despite the pain crimping his swollen knuckles, his fingers clamped on the heavy jar. He held his breath and filtered the sludge through Olma’s cloth.
The old woman had draped the sagging rag above a wide-rimmed bowl, the creases at the corners of her eyes deepening as she squinted in the fumes. “It smells ripe enough.”
“It reeks.” He blinked the sting from his watery eyes, and when the jar was emptied of its foul contents, he set it aside and rubbed the cramps from his hands. “I prefer making syrups over poisons.”
“When applied wisely, my boy, poison has its uses.” Olma funneled the transparent solution into a bottle and plugged it with a waxed cork. Barus reached for their latest remedy, and the small movement shot arrows of fire through his crooked spine.
Olma’s gray eyebrows arched at his flinch. A tender smile curved her lips. “Barus, you’ve done enough. Brew a kettle of tea and rest your bones.”
With the tips of her fingers, she tucked a wisp of his black hair behind his ear and cupped his cheek with her palm. Her chin angled toward the hearth, and when he relented, she added the emerald decoction to the assortment of elixirs and tinctures already crowding their rickety shelves. The wide sleeves of her woolen robe slid up her forearms, baring paper-thin skin, cobwebbed with pink scars, scars she’d refused to explain and he no longer questioned.
The tension in his shoulders eased. With a hand pressed to his troublesome back, he limped to the hearth and tossed a few sticks into the dying fire. His layers of loose robes provided ample warmth for the mild autumn day, but his hands and feet felt as clammy as dead fish.
While the kettle heated over the flames, he chose a canister of fragrant leaves from a shelf crammed with mismatched jars and tins, only the dustiest among them unfamiliar. He’d helped the healer with her medicines since his childhood, since she’d rescued his malformed and abandoned body from the woods and carried him home.
He nudged his spectacles up from the tip of his nose, resisting the urge to rub his itchy eyes until they bruised. “Rebeka will come soon for the elderberry syrup,” he said, a gentle reminder.
“Ah, yes. For her cough. It seems more things fall out of my head these days than I can stuff back in.” Olma swept loose gray hairs from her face, curly as corkscrews, and selected a blood-red concoction from a lower shelf. “One of us loses her mind as the other loses his body. For healers, we provide questionable evidence of our skills.”
He smiled at the wry truth and lowered himself onto a stool by the fire. What would either of them do without the other? The Blessed One filled their home with love and kindness, but she couldn’t straighten his bones, improve Olma’s memory, or assist with a myriad of household tasks.
Their single-room home squatted on the seaside leas, scarcely sturdier than a hovel and pestered by mice and their noisy traps. Cracks in the wooden walls needed mending, and the thatch on the low roof had worn so thin that rain puddled on the dirt floor. His crooked back and unsparing pain left the tricky work of repairs to Olma, and neither of them mentioned how much of it remained undone.
With a thump, Olma shut her leather-bound book of herbal craft and hefted her prized tome onto the stone mantel. Until a decade ago, it had rested on a chair, boosting Barus’s tiny broken body so his chin might reach the table. At twenty, it had required half of his life to rid himself of the book’s hard seat.
Olma rubbed an oily salve into Barus’s tender knuckles and sore back while a mellow sun slanted across the meadow, turning the white swale of asters gold. A cool sea wind strayed through the garden and rustled the cherry trees. It clattered on the shutters and stole its way inside, carrying subtle fragrances of brine, chrysanthemums, and chimney smoke.
Rebeka came and went, a jar of lamp oil bartered for the syrup, and after a supper of soup, Olma dozed in her chair by the hearth, mouth slack, eyelids delicate as petals. A blue shawl spun of soft wool draped her shoulders, the finest gift Barus had ever given her, earned in trade for bundles of honeyed sweets Rebeka had helped him make. When the fire dwindled into scarlet embers, he padded to his piled mats at the far wall.
Behind the wind, a voice called, a lost sound like the hoot of a faraway owl.
He turned toward Olma and paused, listening. The voice called again, nearer, harsher, rising over the rattle of wagon wheels. He limped to the old woman and touched her shoulder. “Someone comes.”
Olma rose from her chair. “I’ll light a lantern. See who it is.” She unhooked their oil lamp from a peg and knelt by the fire.
Barus shuffled to the door. Nighttime visitors weren’t uncommon, but any ailment or injury requiring travel through the dark leas didn’t bode well. He unlatched the cord and slid the panel aside. Beneath a gibbous moon, a horse and wagon charged toward him. He jerked backward and clawed at a chair for balance.
Wild-eyed and frothing, the horse veered only moments before it smashed into the dwelling, and the wagon juddered to a halt. A tall man jumped from the bench. “I need the necromancer.” He darted to the wagon’s bed, lifted out a small body, and dashed for the door.
Olma pulled Barus from the stranger’s path before the onslaught knocked him down. The man, dressed in a soldier’s brown robe and flowing trousers, barged into the home, a dead boy in his arms.
“Lay the child here.” Olma patted the table. “Let me see him.”
The man rested the crumpled body before her. Sweat glistened on his forehead and streaked his shirt. “I need help. He’s….” A cry lodged in his chest. “He’s dead.”
A well-built man with a tuft of beard jutting from his chin, the soldier paced in a tight circle, almost spinning as he raked his windblown hair. Eyes the color of rusted iron darted from the cluttered shelves to Olma, to Barus, to the herbs hung from the tangled branches holding up the thatch. Anywhere but at the child. “He’s dead. A horse kicked him. It’s my fault; I shouldn’t have let him near. I never meant it to happen, and I need you to heal him.”
Barus stared at the dead child, the bloodless skin waxy and ghostly pale. A horse’s hoof had bashed in the side of his face, his skull shattered into blood and brain and chips of white bone. Barus’s heart lurched into his throat, and his eyes welled at the loss of so young a life, at the man’s desperation. Could such a death be undone?
Barus had never seen Olma restore a life, let alone one so damaged. Necromancy was a guarded skill, an art she held close, and not one she practiced at home. He met her gaze before she placed a gentle hand on the child’s chest and peered at the soldier, the creases in her ancient face brimming with wordless sympathy.
The boy’s father ceased his pacing. Alarm piled on top of the fear already blanching his skin. “Which of you is the necromancer? Why aren’t you doing something?”
“I am the one you seek,” Olma said. “But I cannot heal him. He is beyond life, his injury too severe.”
“No. That can’t be. You’re a necromancer.” The soldier’s panic surged into slit-eyed rage. His jaw hardened, and his fist hammered on the table. “No! He died less than a day ago. He’s barely cold. You can save him. I order you to try.”
“What is your name?” Olma asked, her serenity undaunted by the furious command.
“And your son?”
“My eldest, also Tamus.”
Olma brushed the child’s ebony hair from his forehead as the soldier held his breath. “Tamus Graeger, your son’s injuries are beyond a sustainable life. He would never be whole. You must remember him as he was, a young and vibrant child. Grieve his passing, cherish your memories, and continue with your life.”
Tears glistened in the soldier’s eyes. His tragedy dragged down his cheeks and cut furrows in his skin, aging him beyond his years. “I’ll pay whatever you ask. Anything. You’re a necromancer. You know how to do this. I beg you. Please, I beg you.”
“I am sorry, Tamus. There is no life here I can save.” Olma placed the boy’s hands one atop the other in the manner of a body mourned.
“No! Don’t touch him.” The soldier thrust Olma from the table and knocked his son’s folded hands aside. “I should have known you’d refuse. You’re a witch and a liar, and this place is thick with evil.”
He stalked toward her, teeth gritted, and she reached out a hand to console him or ward him away. Barus hung onto the back of a chair. Fear babbled from his tongue and rooted him to the floor like a twisted tree.
The soldier’s fist flew up and punched Olma in the face. She lurched back, flailing, and her head pounded against the wall. Blood ran from her shattered nose as she slid to the floor.
A cry ripped from Barus’s throat, and he hobbled toward her, misshapen hands raised as if he could protect her from further assault. He stumbled into the table. Graeger pivoted and shoved him in the chest. Barus stepped on his robe’s hem and tumbled backward onto the stone hearth like a sack of clattering sticks. A yelp burst from his lungs as his spine wrenched.
The soldier swept his hand across the shelves, casting jars and tins to the floor. He hurled containers at the walls. Glass bottles shattered. Healing tinctures and poisonous distillates splattered the room, their droplets reflecting the fire’s embers like beads of rolling blood. Barus cowered by the hearth, helpless to stop the destruction.
With a roar, the towering man smashed a chair and flipped over the table. His son’s body rolled against Barus’s legs, a flopping, boneless husk. A child’s shriek, keen as a razor, sliced through the clamor.
The rampage halted. Graeger stood motionless in the lantern light, lungs heaving with the power of a bellows as he seemed to grasp his desecration, the brutality of what he’d done. He gazed at his son’s dead body, eyebrows locked together in confusion as if expecting the boy to leap, smiling and whole, into his arms.
The child screamed again, a longer, thinner, knife-edged wail of terror. The soldier spun toward the open doorway. A young boy of three or four years tottered on the threshold, framed by silver moonlight.
A second son.
The child’s mouth hung open, eyes deep pools of horror, body trembling as if his joints might shake loose and bones fall into a hundred pieces. Shards of glass lay scattered at his feet. He crumpled to the dirt floor and howled as the wreckage sliced his hand.
The soldier glanced across the shattered room. His lips parted as though he meant to speak, and when nothing emerged, he pressed them closed, no sign of regret or grief in the grim lines framing his mouth. The lantern sputtered, casting the contours of his face in sharp-boned shadows. He staggered toward the door, snatched up the bleeding child, and disappeared into the desolation of the cold autumn night.
Barus crawled to the overturned table. He wheezed through his teeth as he hung onto the edge and climbed to his feet. Glass crunched beneath his wood-soled shoes as he limped to Olma.
She slumped against the wall, gazing through the open door, bloodied lips between her teeth and brow furrowed. He held her hand, breathing through his terror and guilt, his dismay at all they’d lost, and his helplessness to stop it. Any of it. Scattered leaves soaked in spilled liquid, and the broken chair lay in a pool of glittering glass. “Do not worry, Olma. I will clean it up.”
As the wagon rattled into silence, her gaze turned to the boy’s limp body resting by the hearth. “Remember the soldier’s face, Barus. One day, Tamus Graeger will return.”