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First pages

Chapter One

For once, when Cirie got no work done at lunchtime, it wasn’t because of the dueling wizards.

The wizards were there, of course, accusing each other of illegal moves in their daily game of Wending Wonce and insisting that Blanse, the serving girl, referee their disputes. Blanse had the good sense to stay out of it, although Cirie knew she could put down a mean path of tiles on the Wonce board. Eventually, the debate would rage so loud that Cirie wouldn’t be able to concentrate on her task, and would have to go over to settle things.

But not today.

“Foul!” Mondarck cried, loud enough that his voice rang up to the dark-timbered rafters of the inn’s dining hall. By and large, the other patrons ignored the outburst. “You can’t double-reverse on a ninth trump tile!”

His opponent, Kerk, gave no ground, only puffed blue smoke from his pipe. “It’s eight, you knot-bearded cretin. Eight sable-suits out there, plain as day.”

And the Princeling! The Princeling always trumps!”

“But I didn’t play him as a trump, I played him to ford the river.”

Cirie gritted her teeth as she tried to remember how many thread loops she’d turned about the charm in her hands. But it was too late – she’d lost count. With an aggravated sigh, she pushed her chair back to go and school the two middle-aged wizards in a game they’d been playing since before she was born.

Except that someone else beat her to it.

“High river or low?” asked a new voice, warm and fluid with a tone of good humor running under its calm surface.

She looked up from the charm and her tools and supplies, stopped half out of her chair. A stranger had risen from a booth near the wizards’ table. He must have come in and taken his seat while she’d been immersed in some intricate bit of fashioning – she certainly would have noticed him if she’d seen him enter the room.

Tall and clean-cut, with a spill of black locks past the collar of his shirt, the man had some indefinable presence to him. Something that immediately quieted the two combative magicians – either of whom could literally have sparks fly from the eyes if riled up enough. He stepped over to look down at the Wonce board, taking in the tile patterns with quick, precise sweeps of his gaze.

“High river,” he said, drawing a finger across the playing surface in a line. Cirie could not see what he was pointing to. “You’ve laid the river between two Iron Bulwarks. Even the Princeling can’t ford that unless you use him as a trump.”

“Hah!” exclaimed the grinning Mondarck.

The stranger rubbed his chin, not done analyzing the field of play before him. “Although frankly, gentlemen, the lay of this board suggests you’re both excellent players. I’m surprised to hear you quibbling over a straightforward rule like high river or low.”

Here, Mondarck’s triumph wavered, and he glanced Cirie’s direction – with a flash of sheepishness? Kerk looked deliberately toward the ceiling, as though taking pains not to follow Mondarck’s example.

You conspiring old lechers, she thought. You’ve been purposely luring me over from the very start.

But she didn’t hold onto her annoyance for long. Mondarck’s gaze had been noticed by the stranger, who now looked directly at her with eyes so deeply blue they swept through her like a flood. He smiled as she blinked, still neither sitting nor standing, and that smile unhooked something in her chest, so the tension went out of her and she sank back into her chair, heated and drained at the same time. There was a laugh in his blue eyes, like he knew the whole story all at once – the wizards’ endless grousing, her daily trek over to play judge to their arguments, and now her realization that they’d been duping her into leaning her pretty young form over their table every time they wrangled loudly enough. This man saw it all in an instant – but his gaze held no mockery, only friendly amusement and sympathy.

Meanwhile, Mondarck had found himself an excuse. “It’s sad what they’re in for, Kerk – the young.”

“Eh?” asked Kerk.

Mondarck tapped his temple with one finger. “Time and age. The wits may still be sharp, but the memory ... ah ...”

Kerk seemed to catch on, shaking his head ruefully. “Yes, twenty years ago we’d not have needed anyone to remind us of when the Princeling trumped and when he didn’t.”

The stranger’s eyes held Cirie’s one moment more, then broke away.

“Well, sirs,” he said, “could I pull up a chair and watch how the game plays out?”

“Certainly,” said Kerk, scratching at his wild shock of hair – white, with a blue tinge from the smoke of that pipe.

“Yes, certainly,” Mondarck agreed, though with another slight turn of his eyes in her direction. Cirie had no attention for the greying sorcerer’s gaze, though. She watched the stranger watching the game for longer than she should, then shook herself and looked back at her table full of bits and bobs and string and ribbon and sticks. The charm she was working on – a dust ward that she knew she could sell to almost any traveler passing through the inn – took her longer to finish than it had any right to.

A shadow passed across her table, and then a glass mug of cider clunked to its surface, bringing her eyes up.

“Noticed him, did you?” the inn’s serving girl asked with a grin.

Blanse looked almost every bit Cirie’s opposite: rich brown skin to Cirie’s white, dark eyes to Cirie’s green, hair a frizzy black to Cirie’s straight auburn. About all they had in common, as far as looks went, was a sprinkling of freckles and the fact that they were both attractive young women.

“How could I not?” Cirie asked. “I’ve had to arbitrate one rule or another for those two every day since ... well, I don’t know when.”

“I do,” Blanse replied. “Since two days after you moved in. But I don’t think it’s just the break from quoting Wending Wonce rules that got your attention.”

Cirie leaned closer to her friend, who’d sat down on the corner of the bench alongside her. “Who is he? A passer-through or a new-to-town?”

The dark-skinned girl shrugged. “Don’t know. But he’s paid mother a week’s board and lodging in advance, so he’ll be here at least a while – and he didn’t fret or count it closely when she named our rates, so he’s well moneyed, apparently.”

“Pff,” Cirie said, rolling her eyes. “Why are you always pointing out whether they’ve got money or not?”

“Because you’ve got none.” Blanse reached idly to one of the unfinished charms, a tripod of three sticks held together by copper wire. “You earn a handful of silver a day with these things, spend half of it buying the supplies to make more, and then turn almost all the rest over to the moneylender against a debt you’re never going to pay off. Now, mother and father will let you stay as long as you keep magicking away the bedbugs and the dust, but one day I’m going to run this inn, and then, my dear, I am going to marry you off to the first patron who’ll have you.”

“You wouldn’t,” Cirie scoffed. “And you couldn’t. I’d find some other inn that needs its sheets charmed against soiling and wrinkling, and you’d be up to your ears in bedbugs in a week.”

From the Wonce table across the room, Mondarck’s voice rose again. A milder squabble followed this time, quickly smoothed over by the stranger. Both Cirie and Blanse turned to look, but things had already quieted down.

Still eyeing the stranger, Blanse said, “He’s some kind of diplomat, I’ll lay you money.”

“Oh, he is not,” Cirie replied. “He’s much too young to be a diplomat, and if he were, he’d be staying at the Queen’s castle, not at the Southward Larch.”

Blanse made as though to argue, but at that point her mother’s voice called out from behind the bar at the far end of the hall. “Blanse! There’s six other tables to tend, or glasses to clean out or your father to help in the kitchen if you’re not carrying drinks back and forth!”

Madam Atchek was an older, burlier version of Blanse, with twice her daughter’s verve and hair cropped severely short – a woman to be ignored only at one’s peril.

Blanse sighed and rose, then struck Cirie’s shoulder with the back of her hand. “Go and talk to him when the game’s done,” she said. “What harm would it do?”

“It would delay me from making my rounds to sell these charms,” she replied. “And I don’t need a man to keep me from the poor-house. I’ve put half a hundred silver away in the bank since ...”

“Blanse!”

“Yes, mother!” The smooth, dark hand returned to Cirie’s shoulder, this time to squeeze it. “Do what you want, Cir. But make sure it’s what you want and not just what you’re telling yourself you want.”

“Go help that table over there before she throws an empty bottle at your head.”

Blanse laughed and left. Cirie finished up the cider while the Wonce game dragged on, then gave up on completing any more charms, gathered her things, and took them up to her room – carefully keeping her eyes away from the dark-haired, blue-eyed stranger as she passed him.

 

* * *

 

With her supplies put away and her basket loaded full of the day’s finished charms, Cirie went out to make her rounds. She had about two dozen newly enchanted trinkets, half of them bound for the officers’ quarters in the walled keep up on the hill. Several young lieutenants there liked to flirt with her, and the tallest of them, Willom Thirdson, had a nice laugh and a handsome chin. If she could make herself forget how he’d once laughed at her for going to the library, jibing with him might push aside, at least for a little, those bottomlessly blue eyes that the inn’s new patron had turned on her earlier.

Other stops lay between her and Castle Hill, though, so if she wished to be distracted while she made her way up through the town, she’d have to do it herself.

It being early summer, the sun stood high and hot in the afternoon sky. Pasallia’s stone-cobbled streets had been soaking up its rays since dawn, and the high buildings that lined the walks let precious little breeze through. You’ll be a sweating mess by the time you get to the barracks. Willom will sooner hold his nose than flirt today.

She wished now that she’d worn something shorter, lighter, cooler than the ankle-length green dress over her half-sleeve work shirt. But she hadn’t seven whole days’ worth of warm-weather clothes to her name anymore, so the dress had to get worn sometime, or she’d be alternating two skirts and some knee-trousers all summer long. None of her things looked like a pauper’s clothes – she had her charms to keep them clean and fresh and unfrayed – but she didn’t like to advertise her inability to afford more than three summer-suitable outfits in her wardrobe.

Well, you could afford it, she thought, tugged as always toward Clothier Street where it branched off the main avenue. You could get a bit of that silver out of the bank, or give Harmon Coldtill his bare minimum payment today ...

But she shook her head of crimson-brown hair firmly and strode on past the garment district. Bit by bit by bit by bit, she was going to pay down the money she’d borrowed while Yenni was still alive, and she was going to go to the Enchanter’s Collegium and become something that her old master would have been proud to see.

Her first stop came into view around a corner now – Marda the Glassblower’s place. Thankfully, as she opened the door to the sound of tinkling glass chimes, she found Marda arranging baubles on her shelves instead of working at her furnace in the back. Visiting that stifling little room would have been intolerable today.

“Aha, Cirie!” Marda keened with sparkling eyes when she saw her. The glassblower’s dark hair was pulled back in a wild, grey-streaked shock today, halfway down her back. She set a glass bell on a shelf and hurried over. “So good to see you, little girl.”

Marda always called her that, and always met her with a hug as soon as she saw her. Cirie didn’t mind either one. She’d been delivering magical trinkets to the woman since the first days of her apprenticeship, not yet quite in her teens. So she gladly let herself be pulled tight to the wiry woman’s smock where they could pat each other on the back in welcome.

“So big and so pretty,” Marda said, pulling away and brushing at Cirie’s hair with one finger. “Prettier every week, I think. Yenni would be very proud. What do you have for me today?”

She fished in her basket and brought out a charm against heat – a copper wire threaded through a sulfur-packed glass bead. “This, of course.”

Marda’s eyes rolled with relief. “Wondrous. It’s going to be a hot summer, I can tell, and business is good. I’d be baking myself over that furnace if it weren’t for you.” She took the trinket, then narrowed her eyes at Cirie’s damp forehead. “But you look like you could use one of these yourself. Am I taking your last one and sending you out in the streets to collapse from the heat?”

Cirie waved the charm away as Marda held it out. “No, no, it’s not that hot outside. And every charm I make for myself eats up time I could use to make them for customers.”

“You’ve got that one on your collar, though.”

“Yes, well, it keeps off the dirt. Every hour I spend doing laundry also eats up time I could use for making charms. Plus, I really hate doing laundry.”

Marda laughed, then paused to look about the small shop as though making sure no one else had snuck in. Lowering her voice, she said, “And do you have another one for me?”

In an equally conspiratorial tone, Cirie replied, “Indeed I do,” and reached into her basket for a second charm, this one a tiny, wax-sealed roll of paper filled with pollen. Marda had a taste for men twenty years her junior, and sometimes went through two or three paramours in a week. The pollen charm could ward off unintended consequences for a half dozen such dalliances before its magic expired, so if Marda were already eager for her next one, she obviously hadn’t been restraining her appetites lately. Cirie handed the paper cylinder over. “It really has been a busy summer, then, hasn’t it?”

The glassblower grinned. “Sweet lass, I would trade stories, but then you’d be here all afternoon.”

“And you would come up short on the trade, because lately I don’t have any stories to offer in return.”

“Oh,” Marda sympathized, frowning and squeezing Cirie’s chin. “Now how can that be? Have you made yourself a totem to hold the men off?”

“No ... although maybe I ought to ...” She quickly told the story of Mondarck and Kerk at the Wending Wonce board, and how the two wizards had finally been caught out in their trick of getting her to referee so that they could take advantage of her company. She finished up with a sigh and, “But a charm that could fend off wizards, that would take some doing.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Marda said. “This new customer at the inn – you brushed over him awfully quickly. Something you’re not telling me, girl?”

“Ugh,” Cirie said, gathering up her basket. “I don’t know who’s worse, you or Blanse. Yes, a very handsome new man has shown up at the inn. But I haven’t said as much as a word to him, and I don’t intend to. He’s not staying long, regardless.”

The crinkles at the corners of Marda’s eyes deepened, and her irises glittered like the polished glasswork all around them. “Did he look at you?”

Cirie felt herself coloring. “He did, but so what?”

“Aha! It was a look, wasn’t it? Not just a glance, not just a pair of eyes at their business observing things – a real look. And you looked back, didn’t you?”

Did I? she wondered. And then she remembered that awkward frozen pose, half-in and half-out of her chair. Had her mouth even been all the way closed?

She shook her head. “He’s a dashing young man. I may have gawked, but I certainly didn’t look. Not the way you mean.”

“Ah. Of course not.” But Marda continued to look pleased with herself as she made her way over to the shop’s counter, rolling her two charms about in her hand. “The usual amount for these two?”

“Yes, if you please,” Cirie said, glad to be back to business.

Marda returned quickly with a handful of coins and paid them over into Cirie’s palm. “Two for the heat charm ... three for the other ... and an extra five-piece for you to buy yourself a new dress – something light and short for summer.”

“Marda!” she said, trying to give the coin back. “I can’t –”

The glassblower bent Cirie’s fingers closed over her palm and pushed the hand back. Then she held up the paper-and-wax cylinder with a vivacious smile. “Little girl, if you knew how much more than eight silvers these things are worth to me ... well, I’d have to sell a lot more glassware to keep myself supplied with them.”

Cirie frowned – then relented and put the coins into a pocket. “All right, if you insist. Thank you, Marda.”

The glassblower waved her away. “Go on now, shoo. If your face gets any redder, I’ll have to poke a pipe in it and blow a vase from your head.”

Smiling but with her cheeks indeed burning, Cirie nodded and left the shop.

Out on the walk, she glanced back downhill toward Clothier Street. She could almost feel the extra coin in her pocket – should she take a detour and obey Marda’s orders to get herself a more suitable outfit?

After I’ve made my rounds, she decided. It had been months and months since she’d done any clothes shopping, and she doubted she could force herself to choose something quickly – especially since it would surely be months and months more before she had another chance to add to her wardrobe. Bad business to keep the customers waiting that long, and if I’m going to do Marda’s gift justice, I ought to take the time to enjoy myself with it.

Two streets further on, she stopped in at Healer Jone’s clinic. Jone was in the back when she entered, and she had to wait for the man to finish with whatever patient he was tending before she could hand over his order and take payment. If she’d had her choice, she would never enter Jone’s door again, which made her feel guilty. The healer had no personality, it was true, and lacked any ability to deliver bad news with a comforting tone. But he spent his days helping people, and he was good at it, and it wasn’t his fault Yenni’s sickness was beyond an ordinary healer’s talents – or that Yenni had waited so long to have her pain looked at.

Still, it didn’t make it any easier to look at his pale blank face every week.

His money was good as everyone else’s, though, and he always wanted at least two charms to keep his poultices and curatives and other concoctions from spoiling in their jars. She got six silver out of him today and moved on.

Stop-by-stop, Cirie drew closer to the hilltop keep with the Queen’s golden colors flying above its walls. The streets became broader as she went, the buildings taller, the paint on their walls brighter and newer. Each stop lightened her basket, each minute in the sun made perspiration run more freely down into her shoes (kept out of her clothing by the charm on her collar).

As it happened, Willom Thirdson was on duty somewhere when she arrived at the junior officers’ quarters with the last of her deliveries for the day – cleanliness trinkets much like the one that kept her from being a complete sodden, reeking mess after an afternoon spent slogging uphill in the summer heat. Even with her clothes warded, though, she could feel her face gleaming and the oiliness of her hair, and her calves were tired and her throat parched from talking with customers. So the flirting she’d thought about earlier in the day no longer interested her much.

She only charged half a silver mark apiece for the dust wards. They were easy to make and cost virtually nothing in materials. Between the twelve lieutenants with their various stripes, that added up to six coins and brought her day’s total to twenty-seven, not including Marda’s extra five-piece.

Stepping out of the castle gate and looking downhill at the town spread below her, she momentarily wondered if Blanse was right – if she’d ever manage to scrape enough money out of her charm trade to get free. Two streets down from where she stood, Harmon Coldtill’s lending shop waited. She would turn twenty of her coins over to him, half of which would go to interest. That left seven, from which she’d need to pay for tomorrow’s materials. She’d be lucky to have half a mark left to put in the bank.

And this had been a pretty good day.

Well, you could have had ten times as good a day if you’d never taken the loans out in the first place. If you’d kept the shop, not sold all the books, the tools, the supplies, your clothes. All you had to do was listen to Yenni and let her die six months earlier.

The long shadows of late afternoon had cloaked most of Pasallia City in purple and grey. Cirie took a deep breath. Up here, on the open plaza before Queen Laurica’s castle, the valley breeze could finally get hold of her hair, and the softening rays of the sun no longer beat the air into such an oppressive mantle.

She forced herself to decide that it had been a pretty good day. In fact, it could end up as a very good day, now that her basket was empty and she could stop along Clothier Street to spend Marda’s gift coin.

And if the stranger with his blue, blue eyes should come into the Southward Larch’s dining hall while she ate her dinner, so much the better. She didn’t need him, but if life was handing out pretty things to her today, why should she refuse?

Squaring her shoulders, she set out for the lender’s office, and beyond it, the dress shops she hadn’t visited in half a year.

Chapter Two

The lamp had already been lit outside the door of the Southward Larch when Cirie arrived, her basket on her arm and a bright yellow sundress folded inside it. Krislynne the Dressmaker had insisted on keeping her store open until Cirie decided between the yellow dress and an orange-and-blue one that she finally admitted didn’t go with her hair. She’d tried the two on three or four times each in front of Krislynne’s mirrors while the plump seamstress remarked how beautifully they both complimented her but also subtly steered her toward the yellow one.

Now she opened the inn’s front door with almost full dark behind her and the hustle-bustle of the dinner crowd in roaring swing within. She stood a moment in the foyer, debating whether to poke her head into the noisy dining hall to the right or climb the stairs to the lodging floor on her left and drop her basket off or even change into the dress.

If you put on the dress, you know Blanse is going to accuse you of buying it just to impress him. Come to think of it, even if you just go and wash your face and tidy your hair, she’s going to say the same thing. So she turned right and went straight into the hall.

“Cirie!” She barely had time to register how remarkably busy the dining room was before the sound of her name turned her toward the bar, where Eloyse Atchek waved her over with one hand and then returned to pouring drinks. Cirie stepped to the bar and squeezed between two patrons who weren’t quite as shoulder-to-shoulder as the rest. Madam Atchek handed out several mugs and shot-glasses along the bar, moving quickly despite her substantial frame, then returned to where Cirie awaited her.

“Yes, Eloyse?”

“Here!” A wineglass thumped to the bar in front of her, quickly filled with a pale pink berry-wine. “We’re busy tonight and Blanse will take an age to get you anything. Tuck yourself into any spot you can find!”

The woman had an exasperated look as she said it, but her eyes, dark and lively like her daughter’s, made Cirie feel welcomed and at home. She thanked her, took the glass with her right hand and placed it in her left, keeping that arm bent to support the basket’s handle in the crook of her elbow. Then she turned to the hall itself, with its half-dozen tables clustered in the central space and booths along two walls. The last wall, opposite the bar, held the Wonce table and an area for darts.

At a glance, it looked like every space was full, either with townsfolk or with travelers given away by their clothing, whether drab and road-worn or fanciful and strangely styled in the manner of kingdoms far beyond Pasallia’s borders.

Then the kitchen door swung open at the opposite end of the bar, and Blanse came out with a tray full of serving plates and food. She spotted Cirie right away, raised her eyebrows and pointed with an emphatic smile toward the Wonce board across the way.

Its top had been covered over for the dinner hour, and one of its two chairs stood empty.

In the other, spooning stew from a bowl, sat the stranger.

Cirie scowled at her grinning friend and double-checked the rest of the room. Unless she wanted to ask someone to scoot down along one of the booth benches, she had no options. And with the wineglass in her hand she couldn’t exactly turn and retreat to her bedroom.

Well maybe this is just the bit of fortune to round the day out as pleasantly as possible, she thought. But she also couldn’t help suspecting that Blanse had somehow deliberately seated people so that the dark-haired, handsomely dressed object of their earlier conversation would be alone at the only available table.

She wove her way through the other diners slowly, keeping an eye out for anyone on the verge of finishing up and leaving. No luck there.

And then she was at the Wending Wonce table, annoyed to find her pulse a little faster and her breath a little shorter than it ought to have been. More annoyed to find herself wondering just how out-of-place her hair was and whether her face looked as grimy with the day’s sweat as it suddenly felt.

He was watching the competitors at the darts board when she arrived, so she put her fingers to the corner of the table next to its empty chair.

“Is this taken? Do you mind?”

The evening-blue eyes turned up to her, and the face with its strong, straight nose and clean-shaven jaw. When those eyes touched hers, a smile moved his lips just slightly, which moved her stomach just more than slightly. He quickly stood from his chair and gestured to the other one.

“It is not and I most certainly do not.”

She felt flushed and looked first at her wineglass as she set it down, then at the chair as she pulled it out to try to compose herself. Finally, she lowered the basket to the floor and scooted it beneath the corner of the table where Blanse wouldn’t trip on it if she happened by.

Then she sat up to find him watching her.

“You’ve had a busy day, then?” he asked, still smiling.

Ugh, wonderful, she thought, her hands going instinctively to her hair to smooth it. “Do I look that much a mess?”

He laughed. She saw that he had put his spoon down while she’d been fiddling with her chair and the basket.

“No, not at all,” he said. His voice was warm, reassuring in tone, touched with humor. “I just figure you know the place well, so if you’re trailing in at the peak dinner rush, you must have had things to do.”

She relaxed a little, though her fingers hadn’t been pleased with the state of her hair as they’d run across it.

“I did, in fact. The inn isn’t the only place with plenty of business going on.” Picking up her glass, she drank quickly, maybe too quickly, feeling the wine shimmer down her throat and then put a simmer in her belly, which already felt strange enough just sitting across from him. Best not sip too much of that before Blanse can get me something to eat. “And you? Was your afternoon occupied as well, or have you been here at the Wonce board the whole time since lunch?”

He leaned back, lifting his glass mug full of mead, deep and golden. “Occupied, I’m afraid. But it might have been just as productive if I’d stayed here and found myself a few Wonce matches instead. I’m in town tying up some family matters, and they look to be more complicated than I’d hoped.”

She watched him drink, noticing that he did not take his spoon back up when his glass returned to the table. “You’re not waiting on me to eat, are you? Blanse hasn’t even come by to ask me what I want.”

“I’m not necessarily waiting on you to eat. But it might be a little rude to start slurping from my spoon before you’ve even told me your name.”

“I believe it’s generally considered rude to slurp whether you’ve traded names or not. Unless things are different wherever you’re from than in Pasallia. The Atcheks tell me in the Southlands, it’s boorish not to make noise when you’re eating. The chefs there don’t like having it implied that their food can be eaten slowly and carefully.”

He smiled and stirred at his bowl. “I should only eat stew in the Southlands, if that’s the case. I don’t seem to have the knack of eating it quietly.”

“Are you going to, then?” she asked as the spoon went round and round.

“Are you going to tell me your name?”

“Eventually, I guess. But I’m not sure about it, if my reward for telling you is a noisy guzzling of soup. Why don’t you go first?”

“First telling names, or first embarrassing myself with my dinner manners?”

“Either one.”

He set the spoon back against the rim of his bowl and held out his hand, the palm slightly up.

“Lanton. Lanton Orisant.”

The hand was very clean, the nails trimmed, no heavy calluses to be seen. She wondered if he meant to shake hers or draw it across the table and kiss the fingers. She also wondered which one she really wanted him to do.

She set her fingertips against his palm.

“Cirie,” she said.

As it happened, he didn’t do either of the things she expected. Instead, he turned her hand over, bringing his left up to support it and tracing the fingers of his right along the lines from her wrist up past the base of her thumb then across toward the heel of the palm.

“Do you believe people’s fates and futures can be read in their hands?” he asked, keeping his eyes on hers. That left hand felt strong yet gentle under the back of hers, and his fingertips left a tingle across the lines of her palm.

“I’d have to ask Mondarck or Kerk,” she said, not breaking from his gaze. “What I know of magic is all charms and wards. But whether it can be done or not, I think most of the people who claim it aren’t schooled in magic at all.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Herb Mallette lives with his family in south-central Texas, land of a thousand allergens and, if we’re being generous, maybe a thousand drivers able to navigate the roads after a freeze. He has been writing fantasy novels for over a decade, and expects to continue doing so for some time.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Several of my previous books featured romantic sub-plots, and as I pondered what to do for my next project, I realized those sub-plots had been some of my favorite elements to write. So I decided to build a story in which the romance took center stage, and these characters sprang into my head.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Most of my books are, in some way or another, about heroism. In this book, though, I wanted to convey that heroism isn't necessarily about fighting evil or performing mighty deeds. Sometimes it's as simple as who you choose to keep in your life and how you treat them.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
This book drove me to write at a much faster pace usual, and I spent so much time at the computer every day that by the halfway point my neck and the tendons in my hands and forearms started giving me fiery pains. So I had to finish the last third or so in longhand and type it out after I rested up.

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