Votive

Series: Curse of the Bond Riders (No. 2)

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Votive explores Tallow's metamorphosis from talented 'boy' apprentice to unwilling female courtesan and assassin. The Maleovellis inform Tallow they are now her patrons. Realising she is a girl, they clean her, dress her in gorgeous robes, change her name to Tarlo, and tell her she is to practice her candle making for them alone. They also tell her that they know she is an Estrattore but instead of hiding her art from them, they want her to perfect it, daring her to perform even more complex tasks. She is also taught to read, write and given lessons in history, science, politics and etiquette and the ways of the aristocracy. Tallow is to be the Maleovellis' means to power. Candles, as the most necessary item of the age, are an ideal medium through which to shift and change the hierarchical structure of the nobility. Using Tallow's talents they intend to wipe out the royal bloodline and take the throne. At first, Tallow resists the wiles and plans of the Maleovellis. But the lovely and persuasive Giaconda Maleovelli is persistent; she is also kind. Under the tutelage of various instructors, Tallow learns the arts of love, spying and disguise. All the time, she continues to create her candles, distilling different essences into the wax according to Giaconda's requests, never really knowing the subtle purposes for which they are being used. Slowly, the Maleovellis' fortunes change. Tallow has worked hard on their behalf and they reward her richly. Yet, flickering inside her are vague memories, fleeting and unstable, that taunt and challenge her apparent acceptance of her life with the Maleovellis. All the while, Serenissima prepares for certain war, building ships, making weapons and organising treaties with their nearest neighbour, Jinoa and their former enemies, the Kyprians. Tallow's feelings of disquiet about the Maleovellis are confirmed when Dante suddenly reappears in her life. He's been observing her for a long time and despairs of what she has become. A vast fleet is reported heading for the coast of Serenissima - Farrowfare is preparing to attack. Once more, an attempt is made on Tallow's life and she is very badly wounded, but Dante finds her and, in order to save her life, risks taking her into The Limen. Tallow is not the only one to enter the Limen. Unexpectedly, someone else also enters - a new Bond Rider whose Pledge is set to change the face of the world forever.