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Sage Empress II

Out of war the phoenix is reborn … and this is her story.

Sage Empress II

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Release Date : June 4, 2024

ISBN Number : 978-1-63632-255-1


Kindle Reader = Mobi
Others = Epub


Out of war the phoenix is reborn … and this is her story.

Set in the tumultuous, magic-filled history of Tribute and the Phoenix Feather quartet…

The second half of the story of sixteen-year-old Lan Renti’s rise to the phoenix throne begins literally in the air, as she returns to her ship of wanderers, crying hard after leaving the brother she sought for four years. But her brother sees her as a young girl needing protection—a traditional role.

Ren begins a wandering life from one end of the Empire of a Thousand Isles to the other as she seeks to rescue her parents, unfairly imprisoned. It seems the only way to do that is to refashion the empire that has been riven by warring princes—in spite of vigorous objection by said princes. She is accompanied by Sagacious Blade, the talking sword, and a growing group of companions—leading to the discovery of romance.

The conflict between tradition and revolution, the threat of chaos and the yearning for order, is embodied in Ren, who struggles to bring to a traditional world the chance to be heard for those long kept silent. But from the fires of war the phoenix is reborn … and this is her story.

Sherwood Smith writes fantasy, SF, and historical novels.

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Spring departed, cherries fell,
and butterflies flit and flew in pairs
when she sailed in good faith
toward vaulting mountain
crowned in sunrise pink…

I must admit that some of the private amusement I find in writing this history of my own life is digging into the most pompous of the many, many poems that have appeared about me. Some are merely guilty of the official obsequiousness that seems impossible to avoid, but the most noisome are those written full of empty flattery, no doubt with an eye to largesse. I trust that in years to come they will be forgotten.

My favorites are the satiric ones. Especially the ephemera written by On Lu—when I can catch them.

Private amusement aside, I must dip my brush and continue my tale. I believe I left myself rising into the air to escape my dear brother’s well-meant intent to keep me safely stuffed in a small cabin aboard the grand prince’s fleet leader—that same brother I’d sought ever since leaving my home.

This leave-taking ripped my heart in two. I knelt on Sagacious Blade and soared over the sea, weeping with all the passion of sixteen years. After three of those years spent wondering, and worrying, and during this past year listening to travelers as I carried dishes at the Three Kingfishers Inn, I’d finally found my brother—just to leave him without so much as a farewell.

And I left Koi, who had been with me since leaving the imperial island.

When I stood on that flagship, I was so very certain I was right to escape being closed up in a cabin as supernumerary baggage, but as soon as I soared into the sky—avoiding looking down at the vast blackness of the sea—I was severely tempted to turn back.

“Did I do right to leave them?” I asked Granny Zim, who had remained silent all this time. “Ought I to go back?” As I said it, my heart knotted, for I knew that I’d be shut up on that ship, then shut up again whenever it reached Imperial Grand Uncle Yiulo’s current stronghold. “Was Koi right to stay?” Koi had relegated himself to the invisible chains of servanthood, after three years of freedom. I knew that he had made that decision out of loyalty, friendship, and conviction of its rightness.

“My Bu, if you merely seek comfort, turn not to me. Whatever you do, you still possess your wit, your heart, and your hands,” spoke the voice behind my inner ear, though Sagacious Blade, the sword in which her soul dwelt.

I had to accept the rightness of that answer. Perhaps someone more clever than I would make a success of being immured in a silken veil of feminine respectability in a fortress, but I was convinced I could only act to free my parents if I myself were free.

How? That had to be my next task.

I was so overwhelmed by my own doubts and regrets that I had paid little heed to the steadily rising wind as I sought the Pangolin, the gallant wanderer ship that a number of us had wrested from slavers and made our own. I was only aware of expending a fury of Essence to keep myself from wobbling right off that sword into the sea.

Through blurred, stinging eyes I swept the vast, dark sea until I saw our converted trader. As promised, lamps had been set out along the deck. One snuffed out by the rising wind from the oncoming storm that had begun blotting the stars from the sky. One of the crew struggled to relight the lamp as I fought the gusts in descending. I nearly crashed into a racketing sail, took my gaze briefly from the lamp on the deck—and promptly tumbled down, the sword clattering beside me. If I had not trained for a third of my sixteen years in how to fall, I might have done worse than jarring myself painfully, as a couple of crew recoiled in alarm.

“It’s Pangolin Ren,” the gunner’s eldest grandson shouted. “She’s back!” He added in a tone of question, “Alone?”

Dinek, our captain, nineteen but with years of experience aboard a tea trader behind her, dashed out of the galley. “Ren?”

I got painfully to my feet—and the wind nearly flattened me again.

“Inside,” she shouted.

We bent into the gale, me clutching Sagacious Blade until we reached the galley. The other Pangolins not on duty had gathered there, staring back.

“Where’s the sailboat?” Fan, our marine captain, asked.

“Where’s Brother Koi?” Jai demanded. Even taller than Fan, who was otherwise our largest Pangolin, Jai was nearly my age, and as volatile as a landslide. “Did you abandon him? And where did you come from—?”

Dinek held up a hand. She barely reached the middle of Jai’s chest, her round face dominated by prominent rabbit teeth, and her voice was quite high, but there was a tautness to her posture that halted everyone, as the sound of the wind rose to a wail. The ship had begun to rise and plunge through increasing waves.

Fan said urgently, “This storm is coming on fast.”

“The crew has it in hand. I’ll go out to con the ship when I need to, but first I want to understand what happened.” Dinek turned a furrowed brow to me. “We all left the Tiger Islands to stop at Dawn’s Placid Sea Harbor so that you could warn Governor Huyun about some imperial prince being there, disguised as a general. We expected you to return to us as soon as you passed on the message. Instead, you vanished, and On came to get us. He said we had to sail before the duke’s entire fleet chased us, and you were off to Tiger Island again, flying on your sword.”

I turned to On, who lounged against a wall, his arms crossed, his long hair lying damp and tousled over his arms. Had he been outside, watching for Koi’s and my return? In my exhaustion, I could not fight against that strange sense of the world of spirits and Essence and other things humans usually lived without awareness of, as his un-foxlike face was overlaid with the insouciant grin of the fox-spirit that lay in his ancestry.

“You didn’t tell me not to,” he said lightly.

“Why should she keep that from us?” Dinek asked.

Outside a wave crashed over the rail, sending foaming water streaming down the deck. A few worried looks turned Dinek’s way. “The crew has the ship,” she said shortly. And to me, “Pangolin Ren, I need to understand. We all agreed to rescue Aku Orchid from being forced into marriage. Then, within a day, suddenly we might be chased by the duke of the very island we regard as our home port, because you think he’s plotting against a couple of the warring imperial princes, and you have to save them? This was not our decision.”

Dinek and Fan stood shoulder to shoulder, one tall and broad, one short, their expressions similar: not just wariness, but hurt.

I was far too tired to think. I tucked my cold fingers in my armpits as I said, “This wretched fool begs forgiveness.” I began to bow, and staggered.

Fan reached forward and caught my elbow. “None of that courtly nonsense, Ren—ay! You’re shivering! It’s not that cold out. Are you sick?”

“Not sick. Tired.” I spilled words as rapidly as breath and tongue permitted: “Koi stayed to protect my brother, who was on the grand prince’s ship. I—we—were afraid that he was to be sent to that false peace conference, instead of the grand prince’s grandson. And we were right. I’m sure it was no peace conference.”

“But what has that to do with us?” Jai muttered. “The imperials can kill each other and I’d stand by and cheer.”

“That’s right!”


“Except it’s not just them. It’s all the innocent people of Tiger Eye Bay.” I scrubbed my hands over my face, and turned back to Dinek, who seemed determined to hold this tribunal before going out to command the ship. “I believe that Governor Huyun Shandek used the pretense of a peace conference to plot against both the grand prince’s representative—who I was more sure by the hour would be my brother, in the place of the grand prince’s precious grandson—and the imperial crown prince. Which, if successful, would provoke the emperor into retaliating against Ji Jiang and his innocent island.”

Dinek nodded slowly, bracing herself against a barrel. “I can see saving an innocent town. And I understand filial loyalty. But why did you never tell us about this missing brother?”

“Your brother being…?” On prompted, with a wicked smile.

He knew very well that I was hiding my identity. As I was certain he was doing. But he had not put the Pangolins into this new, precarious position. However inadvertently, I had dragged them very near the whirlpool of imperial conflict, and I owed them the truth.

“Lan Banti.” I sighed, then said, “I may as well confess that I am Lan Renti.”

“But…Lan is the name of the imperial dynasty,” one of the Hat brothers said.

“That makes you…” Fan said slowly.

“A princess?” Dinek asked.

“Fifth rank. The lowest.”

“Then Pangolin is not your family? But the sword? Ay! It’s a charmed sword, is that it? Inherited?”

“Yes. And yes, though the imperial family does not know about it. Charmed swords are forbidden to anyone but the emperor. It came down through my mother’s family—”

The wind rose to a shriek as the ship shuddered.

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