The Twelve Kingdoms
Genre: Fantasy, Fantasy Romance
Date of Publication: May 26, 2015
ISBN: 13: 978-0-7582-9447-0
ISBN: 10: 0-7582-9447-6
Number of pages: 438
Word Count: ~130K
Cover Artist: Design by Kristine Mills,
Illustration by Don Sipley
Three daughters were born to High King Uorsin, in place of the son he wanted. The youngest, lovely and sweet. The middle, pretty and subtle, with an air of magic. And the eldest, the Heir. A girl grudgingly honed to leadership, not beauty, to bear the sword and honor of the king.
Ursula’s loyalty is as ingrained as her straight warrior’s spine. She protects the peace of the Twelve Kingdoms with sweat and blood, her sisters from threats far and near. And she protects her father to prove her worth. But she never imagined her loyalty would become an open question on palace grounds. That her father would receive her with a foreign witch at one side and a hireling captain at the other—that soldiers would look on her as a woman, not as a warrior. She also never expected to decide the destiny of her sisters, of her people, of the Twelve Kingdoms and the Thirteenth. Not with her father still on the throne and war in the air. But the choice is before her. And the Heir must lead…
Too unsettled to rest now, and since I was already in the barracks courtyard, I decided a light workout might do me the most good. Burn off some nervous energy and maybe loosen up my back muscles.
With the afternoon waning, most of the troops had cleared the practice yard. Finding an open corner, I stood quietly for a moment, centering myself and asking Danu’s blessing for a clear mind and a bright blade.
Drawing my sword, I held it upright before me, hilt down and point up. This moment always gave me a measure of peace, the gathering pause before the flow of motion. Danu’s spirit filled me and I moved into the first and simplest of her sword forms.
Most children begin with her first form, Midnight. I’d learned it younger than most, at five, clonking myself regularly with the wooden practice blade. Salena had just given birth to Andi, and Uorsin had been raging through Ordnung in the hours since.
I’d heard his bellowing summons long before he burst into the nursery. Though I remembered little else about that time—other than feeling bereft, summarily dismissed from my mother’s attention—that memory blazed bright in my mind. My father, who already frightened me more than a little, standing like a giant amid the miniature toys of the nursery, his red-gold hair bright and blue eyes blazing.
“Curtsy for the High King,” my nurse prompted, poking me with a shaking hand, but I’d stood frozen, clutching the doll my mother had just given me, so I would have a baby to play with, too.
“What is this?” Uorsin yanked the doll out of my hands and threw it across the room. With contempt, he took in the little table and tiny teacups I’d set out for my doll and me to share and dashed a big hand through them, sending china shards flying. “You are my heir, Ursula, whether I like it or not—and here you are fussing about with dolls and fripperies.”
Even then I knew better than to let him see me cry. Mother told me to save the tears, tuck them away, and take them out later. They were for me, not for him. She did the same.
“Come with me, Daughter. It’s high time you learned something useful, if you’re to be a credit to the throne. Do you know how many people died so you can sit here in your pretty rooms playing with pretty things?”
“No, my King.”
“Thousands. Tens of thousands. Are you worthy of their sacrifice? Of my sacrifice?”
“No. But you can be. Your mother has a new daughter now and has cast you aside. I’m all you have. Understand?”
I did understand. Then and in the days since. He took me down to the practice yard and started teaching me how to hold a blade. When I tripped over my dress, he ridiculed me. When I fell, he made me get up on my own. My dolls and dresses were packed away, replaced with practice daggers and wooden swords, pants and shirts better suited for drilling.
While Uorsin continued to oversee my progress, another instructor took over my daily training. A priestess of Danu, Kaedrin taught me the twelve sword forms, starting with the Midnight form. My father’s brute-force techniques would never serve me well, she said. Kaedrin showed me how to use the strength of my lower body, the speed and flexibility of my lighter physique.
The twelfth form—the most complicated and demanding—finishes at Noon pose, one that took me two full years to master. It’s one of Danu’s tests that she demands the most strenuous postures and intricate maneuvers of the blade after you’ve already executed eleven other forms and your muscles are weeping from exhaustion.
I held Noon pose, up on the toes of one foot, the other leg poised in front of me to protect and deflect with a snap kick, my sword high above and behind, ready to slice into Snake Strike, my other hand palm out, steady. Danu’s salute.
My back sang with the strain, but I refused to drop before the count of twelve, as Kaedrin would have expected of me. As I lowered body and blade, my gaze snagged on the intent stare of the Dasnarian captain. He showed no sign of overt aggression, but I moved my sword and self into a defensive posture, ready. A slight smile twitched at his grim mouth. He raised his short blade—a wide, bevel-edged hunting knife—and held the flat against his forehead.
Then he strode away, leaving me wondering. Challenge or salute—or both?
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.
Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and has been nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose, has been nominated for best fantasy romance of the year. A fifth series, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, released starting with Going Under, followed by Under His Touch and Under Contract.
She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.
Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Connor Goldsmith of Fuse Literary.