Tag Archive: Chapter


Week 3, Chapter 3

Chapter Three

“The Outain commander Ustain. Do you know him?” asked Adept Belay.

Kam nodded. “I have worked with him before.”

“Good,” said Father. He glanced at me and said, “He is here for a visit.”

What did that have to do me? “I don’t understand.”

“You and Kam will be his escort while he is here,” Father announced.

Escort? I frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“Show him the city. Be a friend. Keep him out of trouble.” He paused. “Kam, you will be his military guide while he is here.”

I stared at Father. “I don’t understand what is so special about him.”

“Sir . . . Sire. May I?” said Adept Belay.

Father nodded permission to the Adept.

“He may be a rogue magician,” said Adept Belay.

I choked on my egg pastry.

Kam pounded on my back until it came flying out my mouth.

What? What?” I burst out. “You can’t expect me too – I am not going to – I am not a magician!” For the first time in my life, I was glad I wasn’t.

“Sir, she is just a girl. She can’t be expected to deal with -”

“Her mother dealt with magicians at a younger age,” Father said mildly.

“She was raised to it,” I snapped. “I am not.”

Mama’s family was one the premier magician families in the whole country. They had produced more natural magicians than anyone else, so mama had told me, and nearly all the rest were wand magicians. I wasn’t sure what the differences were, but mama had wanted to tread the boards and for that they had disowned her.

“That will be your best defense,” the adept said.

“I don’t understand,” I repeated.

He leaned forward. I tensed, leaning back, sensing the tight whiplash of magic rising from him. Not rising more than a few inches from his skin, but I wanted to keep at least an arms-length between us.

“He will know your ancestry and he will understand your enmity for all magicians.”

He would not; I had made no secret of how badly I wanted to be a magician.

“Your rejection from acceptance into the ranks of magician apprentices will only make that more believable. He will be open to trusting you,” the adept concluded. He stared at me expectantly.

“That doesn’t make me feel any safer,” I said.

“You are my daughter,” said Father gently. “Even if he is a rogue magician, he will not harm you. At least not in my city. Kam will make certain of it.”

“Yes, sir,” said Kam.

Why did he have to be so agreeable?

“He isn’t a magician either,” I protested. “He can’t-”

“No, he is not. He never will be because he, too, is related to his Majesty. However, he has had pre-apprentice schooling,” said Adept Belay.

Pre-apprentice schooling? Only children of nobility got to do that and only families who were willing to disinherit their children if they were accepted. It was a point of prestige for them and conveniently got rid of third and forth sons. Which, I realized, Kam was. He had three older brothers.

“He was expelled from apprentice rank when his mother married his Majesty,” continued Adept Belay. “But he learned enough to recognize a natural mage when he sees one.”

“But his family -”

“I adopted him formally,” said Father. “His mother did not.”

Oh. I supposed that would work. Father hadn’t disowned him and it was illegal to adopt a child you had disowned.

I glanced sideways at him. He looked stern and controlled. He’d wanted to be a magician, too. I wondered if he resented Father for that. I couldn’t tell. He was as magician like as most soldiers. How far had he gotten in his training?

“You can recognize other magicians?” I asked him.

“I know when someone is performing magic,” he said.

That wasn’t quite the same thing. But maybe it was good enough.

“Why me?” I asked Father. “There have to be others that can do this.”

“No one I trust as much I trust you. No one else has a reason to be unhappy with the Magicians’ Guild.”

Meaning no one else in the family had created such a public row about not being a magician apprentice.

I slumped in my chair. “How will I meet him?”

Father smiled. “In two days there is a soiree. Kam will be your escort.”

Perfect. I might get out of this yet. “I don’t have a dress and no seamstress will finish one so soon.”

“Madam Tari is waiting in your room. She will manage, I am sure.”

Hell. Who had thought of having Madam Tari waiting? Father couldn’t have. I am not sure he ever noticed clothes.

“Your mother is waiting with her,” he added. “She’s thinks you need more clothes for this season’s activities and I’ve decided to indulge her.”

“I’ve no space to put more clothes!” Not to mention Asa would tease me mercilessly if I showed up with ball gowns.

“They will stay in your room here,” Father said.

The room that mama used for storage now.

Father laughed. “Smile, Isi. I’ve yet to see a daughter so displeased with the prospect of new clothes. Go on, now. And, mind, don’t discuss this with anyone else.”

“I’m always smiling, Father.” I forced a smile, rising. “Good day, Father. Adept Belay.”

Kam rose, bowed to them both, rose again, walking backward to the door.

The door shut softly behind us and I found myself relaxing.

Kam glowered down at me. “Where is your room?”

“The Round Wing.” It was named for the large round tower and off to the side. It was really only connected to cellars; you had to go underground to get anywhere else. I’d loved playing games down there when I was younger. But it was not near the front public wing, not in the west servant wing, not close to the east diplomatic wing and nowhere near the rear family wing. I suppose that was part of why Father had installed us there. He didn’t want his Queen and mama to be too close.

“Of course you are. Where else would you be?” He held out his arm, like he had before, looking at me expectantly.

What? Did he think he was going to come into my rooms with me? “Good day, my lord.”

I tucked my hands behind my back and walked down the hall to Father’s library. The cellars were easy to get to from there.

His footsteps were loud behind me, than his fingers closed on my right wrist and jerked me around. I stumbled back and glared at him. “Let go! You have no -”

He loosened his grip, but didn’t let go. “You,” he said slowly, “will not keep me from doing my duty.”

“I am not! I don’t want to!” I jerked my wrists, but he held them tight. “You are hurting me.”

“No, I am not. Did you hear what his Majesty said?”

I scowled at him. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get free until he was good and ready. “That I am to get new clothes. Now.”

“He ordered me to be your bodyguard.”

I shook my head. “No, he didn’t, he just said that -”

“That’s what he meant,” said Kam.

“No, he -” I cut myself off. Obviously, he wouldn’t believe me. “I will go ask him. Right now.”

He studied me, than nodded and let me go. I marched back into Father’s little study. The adept was just getting up and he sat back down when he saw me.

Father looked quizzically at me. “Yes, Isi?”

“Kam thinks you ordered him to be my bodyguard,” I burst out.

After a moment, Father said, “I did.”

I took a deep breath and tried to sound reasonable. “You told him to watch over me, but that’s not the same thing as being a bodyguard. And I don’t anyone hovering over me when I am in class or rehearsing. It’s not necessary and he’ll be in the way and I will be safe enough. This rogue magician isn’t going to do anything and I’ll be safe enough.”

“You’re going to be contending with a rogue magician. Yes, contending. Isi, make no mistake, this will not be easy, and Kam will assist you as much as he can. Won’t you?” Father looked behind me to Kam.

Kam had closed the door and was leaning against it. “Yes, sir, I will. Though I wish you would reconsider. She is just a girl.”

“Another reason why he is likely to trust her,” Father said. “Go on, now.”

Kam was a large, imposing presence. He looked very out of place in mama’s living room, covered as it was by fabric and lace and bowls of shiny beads. He had insisted on being here and now looked deeply uncomfortable. I hoped he rotted in his discomfort.

Mama had roped Kam into pushing the table to the side so there would be room for me. I stood, barefoot on the slightly dusty floor and dressed only in new linen shift. My stone was safely hidden in mama’s bedroom, under a pile of clothes. The windows were open to the kitchen gardens and the scent of fresh herbs relaxed me enough to ignore Kam. Yards of bright blue lacy cotton and the lighter silk lining lay crumpled at my feet. More fabric was draped and pined about my body. Madam Tari bustled about me, making marks and sometimes snipping with a pair of small scissors. Her assistants sat in the corner, preparing lengths of silk ribbon with beads.

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Week 2, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

He handed me into the carriage and settled down beside me. The driver was a young soldier, maybe two years older than me, and he set off the moment we were seated.

I ignored the passerby and turned my attention to Kam. “When did you get back, my lord?”

“Seven days ago. You weren’t at the ziggurat yesterday,” he said.

Kam went to the royal ziggurat. Usually mama went, too, always on Father’s arm. The priest couldn’t deny Father, but he was a prissy idiot and glowered at me every time I went with him. I had no idea if he objected to me because I was Father’s bastard daughter or because I was an entertainer apprentice. I never went because of him and if Father asked, that’s what I would say. “I had studying to do.”

Kam curled his lip. “Of course you did.”

“You -” I started, but another carriage rolled up beside ours and my heart sank. My step-mother.

Our carriage came to a stop. The driver recognized her, too.

Two of her daughters were inside with her. She wore a cream and gold dress. It set off her dusky skin beautifully. Her gold and ruby crown gleamed in the morning sun. She always wore the crown, as if she needed its reassurance she really was Father’s wife. I suspected she even wore it to bed. She eyed me like I was the dirtiest mongrel she had ever seen.

“Kam, what are you doing with this – this -”

“Taking her somewhere, mother,” he said, voice mild. “I would appreciate if you didn’t stop us.”

“You must not -”

“I must do my duty, mother. Now, driver, if you please.”

Our carriage started again and I breathed a sigh of relief. She was another reason I avoided the ziggurat. The woman practically lived there.

I studied Kam and wondered at how short he had been with his mother. Only now did I see tension in the lines of his body. His face, too, his usual mask was less causal than I remembered.

“You’ve never spoken that way to your mother before.”

He snorted. “I doubt you have ever heard me speak to my mother before.”

I had, always in public. Kam was unfailingly polite, even when his mother was throwing a screaming fit.

Kam felt no need to make conversion and I was very aware of the silence between us. I didn’t say anything else, just watched the palace come closer.

The palace was large enough to see from almost anywhere; at least its walls are. Good luck trying to see past them or get beyond them.

One of the guards was always a magician. This time she was an upper journeyman; I knew because she had a gold half-moon pinned to her uniform. A lower journeyman would have had a silver moon.

She examined both the driver and Kam, to make sure they were both really real. Everyone is examined, even the Queen, so it is no insult. But higher ranking people usually get higher ranking magicians to test them, but Kam was not bothered by having a mere journeyman test him. He’d told me once that his military rank was more important than his noble rank.

She examined me too. Her fingers were cool on my brow and and I had to keep from tensing. My breath was slow and deep, like they’d taught us to relax and make the body look as natural as possible.

Her magic trailed down my body. It felt like icy drizzles of rain. I willed my stone not to respond. It became a cold hard lump between my breasts. No way to tell if it was responding to her magic or to me.

She nodded to Kam and stepped away, signaling. I slumped in my cushioned seat in relief. Thank god.

The palace was large and imposing. Made of an ugly gray stone, it gave the impression of a squatting, growling wolf.

The driver dropped us at the front steps and went back to wherever carriage drivers go.

The stairs were wide enough for only one person and a guard stood next to each step. Kam motioned for me to go first. So I lifted my terribly wrinkled rose silk dress and climbed. I ignored the guards as thoroughly as I could.

The inside of the palace wasn’t any more reassuring, filled as it was with dour stone statues and paintings of battles. Kam took firm hold of my elbow – I suppose he didn’t want me wandering around – and led me forward.

He took me up to the second floor, past filigreed balconies, the throne room, the grand ballroom and the smaller receiving room. The second floor had smaller versions of everything on the first floor and a few studies besides for the use of Father’s ministers.

Father waited for me in the small sitting room adjacent to his personal library. I don’t know if he ever used the library. Father’s wasn’t really the scholarly type and the library probably suffered because of it. But I did know he used this sitting room for informal, yet official meetings.

The room was wooden. Wooden table, wooden carvings decorated the walls, wooden slats covered the glass windows. It had pale green silk curtains, too, but the covered the slats.

Breakfast covered the table. Father looked up from a plate of sweet cakes and smiled. His smile lit up his face and I couldn’t help but smile back.

“Isi,” he said, holding out an arm.

I hugged him and his solid bulk was still reassuring, for all that I wasn’t a child anymore.

He let go and surveyed me. “Has that guild of yours feeding you right? You are too thin. Sit, eat. I had the kitchen make your favorite egg pastry and spicy bread.”

I laughed. “They do well enough.”

Now that Father had pointed them put, I saw a whole platter of egg pastries. My mouth watered.

“Kam, you – ah, my lord magician, excellent timing.”

My heart stopped and my mouth dried up. Hell and damnation. I hadn’t expected to deal with magicions. Not beyond the gates.

I looked up and found myself staring at the full crimson robes of an adept. The symbol of his rank, a large gold circle crossed by a sword, was pinned to his chest. A heartbeat later I recognized his craggy seamed face. He was the Magician Minister. I’d seen him eating through a window last night.

Oh, this was bad.

Father patted my hand. “He’s harmless, Isi. Sit. Eat. You, too, Kam.”

I realized that Kam had been watching the magician warily, like a man watching a serpent someone had told him was harmless.

“Yes, sir,” he said and dutifully took the chair beside me. Calmly, he filled a plate with spicy bread and the pepper spread.

I decided to follow his example.

When the magician decided to sit with us, I kept my eyes on my own plate and prayed no one would notice me. No such luck.

“Isi,” said Father.

I looked up. “Father?”

“This is Adept Belay. Adept Belay, my daughter Ising, my step-son Kam.”

I nodded at him, not trusting myself to speak. Tam gave one short, brisk nod.

“Such verbose children you have, sire,” he said.

Father snorted. “There is no need to be afraid,” he said to us.

I looked down at my plate.

“Yes, sir,” Kam said.

“You shall see,” said Father.

I hoped I never would.

“Isi, how much do you know about Outain?”

I blinked. Outain was a northern province, nestled inside the mountains and the way there wasn’t easy. They were an odd people and for all that they belonged to this country, their ways were supposed to be very different. Sometimes I dreamed I’d been born there, because the children of their nobility had all the freedoms of the peasants. Even their bastards. Maybe especially their bastards, because they were counted among the peasants. Here, bastards weren’t. But we weren’t nobility either. We didn’t have the freedom of the peasants or the privilege of the nobility. Most of us ended up either in the army or working as an entertainer; both places could have people from any class.

“Just that their ways are different, Father. I’ve never met one,” I said.

“Kam?”

“Their soldiers are among the best. They have no peer with the bow, the sword and the staff. They are as disciplined any officer can ask for. They lack education and are rather provincial.  In addition, they are very willful and stubborn.” Kam’s voice was cold and precise.

Adept  Belay brows rose. “You have Outain soldiers under you?”

“I have commanded Outain soldiers, yes,” said Kam.

I wondered at the differences in how they said that.