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Shadow Magic (Paperback)

Shadow Magic (Paperback)

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Book 1 of the Divine Key Trilogy

Ebook Version

Audiobook Version


The High Kingdom has known twenty years of peace.

The true reason unknown to everyone save Sultan Vilos the First.

At the height of The Crown War, Vilos made a deal with a powerful sorcerer. Vilos’s reign would be secured in exchange for his first born daughter.

The sorcerer promised to come for the princess on her eighteenth birthday.

That day is today.




468 Pages


5.5 X 8.5



Publication Date

January 14, 2022


Sand Hill Publishing

The sorcerer is coming to claim his due and if he doesn’t get it, all Hell is going to break loose.

Look Inside

Sultan Vilos the First approached the walled city of Kira’s Oasis riding at the head of a double column of one hundred cavalry. The sun beat down on them without mercy. The light reflected off the white sand of the desert with such intensity it could drive a man mad. And the less said about the heat, the better.

The sultan had left his normal robes of state at the palace in favor of warrior’s garb. Magnificent leather armor engraved with sand lions covered him from neck to toe. On his brow he wore a gold circlet shaped like a coiled cobra, the symbol of his office. At his side hung Heat’s Bane, his enchanted shamshir. Even sheathed, the blade’s magic lowered the air temperature around him ten degrees, making the desert heat more bearable. His men bore equipment similar to his, though less ornate. They all rode the hardy, two-humped war camels that served the royal cavalry.

Behind the cavalry trudged eight massive warriors. The eight who walked felt no resentment toward those who rode. In fact they felt nothing at all, for these were the sultan’s stone soldiers.  Seven feet tall and weighing nearly a ton each, the golems looked like armored warriors carved from granite. The stone soldiers formed the heart of the sultan’s royal guard. Numbering twenty in total, a dozen remained behind guarding the White Palace.

Kira’s Oasis sat at the very edge of the High Kingdom and provided the only shelter for many miles. The city also served as an important rest stop for the many caravans that crisscrossed the desert.

Beyond the city walls, the nomad tribes roamed much the same as they always had, herding their camels between small oases that dotted the landscape. Sometimes, in a bad year, the tribes would raid a passing caravan. Never had they dared attack one of the kingdom’s walled cities.

Until now.

At the sultan’s approach, the city gates opened with much creaking and grinding of metal on metal. The gates shut as soon as the last golem had entered. Vilos spotted Tarik Yin-Nasir, the town’s governor and an old and loyal friend. A small man, even among the natives of the High Kingdom, Tarik stood only five foot two.  He had the typical dark hair and eyes of his people, and his skin had baked dark brown under the sun’s angry gaze.

Vilos dismounted and approached his old friend. Tarik had received the governor’s position in Kira’s Oasis several months after Vilos’s coronation, as thanks for his support during the Crown War.

Vilos clapped a hand on Tarik’s shoulder and smiled. “So, what kind of trouble have you gotten into now?”

Tarik looked up at his lord, a definite necessity as Vilos stood well over six feet tall. “A large group of nomads attacked the city eight days ago. They breached the fortress’s defenses after a short but brutal battle. My family and I used the escape portal to flee along with two score soldiers. Archers now surround the walls, preventing the nomads from escaping. After the battle, we didn’t have enough men left to retake the fortress. We’ve maintained the siege since requesting help.”

“Doesn’t sound too bad,” Vilos said. “How many nomads survived the initial assault?”

“At least a hundred and fifty plus their camels.”

Vilos nodded. “Let’s go take a look.”

The two men walked together down the street. Along both sides sat adobe and sandstone buildings. A few small shops had two stories with a living area above and a work area below, but the majority of the buildings had only one story. These buildings, with a kitchen and living space, housed the majority of the people in the High Kingdom.

Many people now crowded in doorways to watch Vilos pass by. He smiled and waved to everyone. Vilos knew he made quite a sight with his long blond hair, blue eyes, and pale skin. He appeared the polar opposite to the people he ruled.

A few steps behind Vilos, his stone soldiers stomped along ready to crush anyone foolish enough to attack their master. Vilos noted with pleasure that no one stopped cheering or cringed in fear when the golems appeared. It meant the people didn’t fear him.

His smile broadened as he remembered the day his father had taken him and his twin brothers, Nord and Kent, aside and told them the secret to ruling well. He’d said the people should never fear their lord. He should represent a source of pride for his people. Make them love you and you can sleep safe at night knowing they won’t take up arms against you. Become a tyrant and you’ll never know a moment’s peace.

In his nineteen-year rule, not a single city had turned against him. Even the merchants kept their complaints to a minimum. His daughter would inherit a rich and content land.

“Majesty, we have arrived,” Tarik said.

Mostly content, he amended, as he looked up at the fortress. Its design mirrored that of all the fortresses around the kingdom. It was surrounded on three sides by twenty-foot stone walls with the city’s wall on the fourth.

A heavy wooden door provided the only way in. The yard where the soldiers trained separated the keep from the walls. Four small outbuildings dotted the yard: two barracks, a smithy, and a storage building. A second wooden door allowed entry into the keep proper. The keep consisted of a great hall, kitchen, and servants’ quarters downstairs and living quarters for Tarik and his family upstairs.

Along the top of the wall, a number of nomads with bows stared down at them. Tarik’s remaining soldiers glared right back.

Satisfied with his survey Vilos said, “This shouldn’t take long. Captain, would you join us please?”

The commander of the sultan’s cavalry approached the two men. Dark skinned and wiry, his sharp eyes were surrounded by a mass of wrinkles brought on by a lifetime of squinting in the desert sun. The ride had left his off-white uniform dusty and plastered to his back and chest with sweat. The captain looked more like a bandit chief than a soldier in the elite cavalry.

But looks counted for nothing. Captain Yosef had served in the cavalry since Vilos’s father’s rule and his loyalty was beyond question. “Majesty?”

“Captain, I want you and your men to form a semicircle around the front of the keep in case anyone tries to flee. Keep well out of arrow range.”

“Are we not going to attack, Majesty?” Yosef sounded almost disappointed.

“The stone soldiers will deal with those in the keep. Your job is to protect the people should any escape.”

“Majesty, the golems would be much better at defending the people. Let my men and me attack the fort.” The captain’s face had tensed and his eyes narrowed to slits as he argued his case.

“Captain, the golems move too slowly to catch a man mounted on a camel, and if your men attack they’d get slaughtered. Everyone has a job to do, now get your men in position so we can do it.”

“Yes, Majesty.” Yosef retreated back to his men and Vilos could hear him shouting orders.

“Rather presumptuous of him arguing with you like that,” Tarik said.

Vilos shook his head. That had been just another skirmish in a long-running battle he’d been having with Yosef. He thought Vilos relied too much on his golems. He was probably right, but Vilos just couldn’t stand the thought of risking men’s lives without need.

“I encourage my men to speak their mind. Better to listen than to let pride do the enemy’s work for him. Don’t worry. Yosef will do his duty.”

Tarik nodded. “Now what?”

“I’ll give them one last chance to surrender.”

“They won’t,” Tarik said, his voice grim.

“I know.”

Vilos walked, calm as a desert morning, right toward the front gate. The cavalry had taken position a hundred and fifty yards from the walls. They parted to let Vilos through.

He stopped about fifty feet from the walls. “Hear me!” he shouted. “You have one last chance to surrender. Anyone leaving the fortress, unarmed, in the next two minutes, will be spared.”

One of the nomads on the wall drew back and fired an arrow right at Vilos’s head. Six inches from his face the arrow shattered. The magic of the golden cobra would allow no mundane weapon to touch him.

So be it.

“Come to me,” he said.

Six camels moved aside as the stone soldiers marched forward.

“Kill everyone inside.” Vilos pointed toward the fortress.

Arrows filled the sky as he walked around behind his cavalry. Most of them clattered against the stone soldiers, as useless as the curses hurled down by the archers.

Safe behind the cavalry, Vilos turned to watch his soldiers work.

The golems had almost reached the gate. Nomad archers continued to pelt them with arrows, though Vilos couldn’t fathom why.

When they reached the gate three golems stood side by side and raised their arms up over their heads. Like a battering ram, they struck the gate, smashing fist-sized holes in it.

Again the massive arms went up only to come down with even greater force. 

With two blows they had reduced the top of the gate to splinters. Vilos could see spear shafts poking through the hole only to snap off against the unyielding stone juggernauts.

The top of the gate lay in ruins, so the golems reared back and kicked the bottom. The gate burst in, knocking half a dozen nomads to the ground.

Before they could recover, the stone soldiers walked over them. Weighing over a ton each, the golems pulped the nomads like a winemaker crushing grapes.

The stone soldiers had moved out of sight, but Vilos could still hear the shriek of steel on stone.

The sound set his teeth on edge.

A few minutes after the golems had entered the fortress a score of nomads came racing out on camelback. They appeared eager to take a run at flesh-and-blood opponents and charged straight at the cavalry.

Half the soldiers rode forward to meet them while the rest closed the gaps in their formation in case more appeared.

The loud ring of steel on steel filled the air as the two forces came together.

The nomads had the advantage of momentum from their short charge and they forced the sultan’s men back.

His royal cavalry gave ground absorbing the initial burst then began pushing the nomads toward the keep wall.

The nomads hacked at their opponents with wild abandon while controlling their mounts with an ease and precision born of a lifetime in the saddle.

A pair of cavalrymen fell from their mounts. The sight of their comrades falling seemed to galvanize the others and they bore into the nomads with renewed fury.

One on one, even the finest cavalryman was no match for the superior skill of the nomads who were basically born in the saddle, but fighting as a unit they soon dropped a few of the warriors. Superior numbers and equipment finally decided the day and the last of the nomads fell.

The uninjured cavalrymen rejoined their fellows while the injured, including the two that had lost their seats, retreated behind the line. No more nomads appeared and soon the sounds of battle within the fortress faded. Vilos allowed another five minutes before he stepped up to the demolished gates. “Stone soldiers, to me!” he yelled.

Thundering steps heralded the stone soldiers’ arrival. The golems bore a red coat of gore from the battle but showed no damage. Vilos nodded once and waved Tarik and Yosef up to join him.  “Tarik,” he said, “have some of your servants clean the golems. In this heat it won’t take long for them to start stinking.”

“At once, Majesty.” Tarik hurried off to find his servants.

Vilos turned to Yosef. “The golems did well, did they not, Captain?”

“Yes, Majesty, they did.”

“Then why were you so keen to send your men into a battle they couldn’t win?” Vilos asked.

Yosef grimaced. “May I speak plainly, Majesty?”


“I’m getting old. I served your father and fought in many battles. Since you defeated your brothers in the Crown War, there hasn’t been a battle worthy of the name.”

Vilos frowned, not understanding where this was going. “You consider that a bad thing?”

“No, Majesty, it just... ahh. Someday you may have to fight a battle in which the stone soldiers will be of little use. If that day comes, may heaven forbid, you’ll have no core of battle-hardened warriors to call upon.”

“What type of battle could my stone soldiers not win?” Vilos asked. He could truly think of no battle the mighty warriors would lose.

“It seems to me, Majesty, that in a running battle in the open desert they would be of little use. As you said yourself, they couldn’t keep up with a running camel.”

Vilos looked thoughtful. Perhaps there was more to what Yosef said than he’d thought.

“I admit my men wouldn’t have done well invading the fortress,” Yosef said. “Still, I beg you to consider my words.”

Vilos laid a hand on Yosef’s shoulder. “I shall, Captain, I shall. Now you had best see to your wounded.”

* * *

The night after the battle, Vilos joined Tarik and his family for dinner at their temporary home. Though he wished to return to the White Palace as soon as possible, he would never dishonor his friend by refusing to join him for a meal.

Vilos currently rested on a large pillow at the head of a large, low rectangular table. Along each side sat Tarik’s twenty children and four wives. His friend sat at the far end facing him. The table bowed under the weight of the food placed on it.  Steaming tureens of bean soup and plates of fresh dates and figs sat beside slabs of roast camel meat and a tower of baklava. Vilos hated the bean soup that was a staple of his people’s diet, so he contented himself with fruit and baklava.

As he sat munching Vilos said, “I see a new addition to your family since you last visited the palace.”

Ever the doting father, Tarik took his little girl out of his youngest wife’s lap and held her up. “Beautiful, isn’t she? My little Sasha.”

Vilos grinned at his friend. “Takes after her mother.”  He’d said it more to tease Tarik than anything, but as he looked at Tarik’s youngest wife he could see the truth in his words. Blessed with the ample curves common to women of the kingdom, Tarik’s wife also had long dark hair down to her waist and deep-brown almond eyes. She looked so much like Ayia, his late wife, that it made him ache to look at her and at the same time he didn’t want to turn away.

Vilos realized his friend had continued talking and that he’d been staring. “I’m sorry, old friend.  What did you say?”

“I said has your daughter found any suitors to her liking yet?”

Vilos chuckled. “No, that’s why I’ve invited every eligible prince I could think of to her birthday party next month.  Eighteen years, by heaven, where has the time gone?”

The meal finished, Tarik and Vilos went to the lounge to finish their coffee. Soft camelhide chairs welcomed the weary men. Vilos sipped his coffee and sighed. Strong but sweet, just the way he liked it. “What do you think prompted the nomad’s attack?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea, Vilos. We’ve been trading in peace with them for years. Then, like a sand drake, they attack without warning.”

“Whatever the reason, I don’t like it. I have a few friends among the nomads.  I’ll contact them when I get home.” Unable to stand it any longer Vilos said, “Tell me about your new wife.”

Tarik laughed. “I wondered how long it would take before you asked. Tara certainly draws the men’s eyes.”

“I didn’t think I was quite so obvious. She looks so much like Ayia when we first met…”

Tarik nodded. “I hadn’t realized it myself, but now that you point it out the resemblance is obvious. I hope seeing her didn’t cause you pain.”

Vilos smiled at his friend’s concern. Not the false worry of a nobleman who might have offended his lord but the genuine concern of an old friend. It made Vilos realize just how few true friends he had. “Don’t worry, seeing her was a surprise, but a pleasant one.”

“You know, Vilos, if you ever thought of remarrying, Tara isn’t really my wife.”

Vilos raised an eyebrow at this. “Oh?”

“She’s the daughter of another old friend, a merchant. His wife wanted to arrange a marriage to a nobleman in the north known to beat his wives. When my friend heard he claimed he’d already promised Tara to me. His wife wasn’t pleased, but since I outranked the other nobleman she agreed. I learned this by messenger three days later. I didn’t really want to marry her.”

Vilos thought of the beautiful young woman and offered his friend an incredulous look.

“Truth. I swear I was quite content, and it seemed strange, after all I have a daughter two years older than Tara. Still I wished the young lady no harm, so I agreed. We haven’t even consummated the marriage. That was two years ago.”

“But the child.”

Tarik smiled. “My granddaughter. We pretend she’s Tara’s when we have guests, just to keep up appearances.”

“Quite a story. Tara is a lucky young woman. Plenty of men would have taken advantage of her situation.”

Tarik nodded. “Another reason her father chose me. So you see, if you wished to remarry, I would give her up.  Since the marriage never really began there would be no dishonor. I saw how you looked at her.”

Vilos smiled but shook his head. “I may have looked at her but I didn’t see her, I saw a ghost. I appreciate your offer, but it wouldn’t be fair to Tara. The comparison to Ayia would always be there and it wouldn’t be a fair one to make. Better for all if she stays here.”

“As you wish. Now, speaking of family tell me of yours. Where are Nord and Kent?”

“My brothers? Last I heard Nord had joined a mercenary band fighting in the duchies to the north. That was five years ago. Kent I hear news of almost weekly. His merchant company operates out of Port Haydrien. He’s gained a great deal of wealth and now sits on the merchants’ council.”

“Haydrien, that’s about as far as you can get from the White Palace and still remain in the High Kingdom,” Tarik said.

Vilos sighed, feeling the familiar sadness as they spoke of his brothers. “They both hate me. I fear my family will never be restored.”

“There’s still Shara,” Tarik said.

Just the mention of his daughter brought a smile to Vilos’s face. “Shara’s a good girl.”

Tarik returned his friend’s smile. “Didn’t her alchemy tutor once call her a thrice-damned hell spawn?”

Vilos winced. “She isn’t that bad. He just got angry because she blew up his lab.”

“Twice,” Tarik crowed.

Vilos shot him a pained look. “Twice.”

He hoped he’d find the White Palace still standing when he got back.

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