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Chapter 1

Our Duty to Kingdom and Crown

 

“Fetch me the box, child—the red one with the lock.”

Little Shiloh rose from the floor to obey. She crossed to the bookcase opposite the wood stove and smiled when she picked up the box. They had never looked at this one before, and Shiloh was a terribly curious little girl. She carried the treasure back to her master, her usual solemn expression firmly back in place. Brother Edmun liked serious girls, not silly ones.

“Tell me about the four magical elements,” the priest directed his only student.

“The four elements are earth, air, fire, and water. Each mage has a primary affinity for one of the four elements, from which the mage draws her power and through which she focuses her craft,” she recited, lisping through her missing front teeth.

“Good,” Edmun proclaimed, the praise filling Shiloh with warmth. “Now, we are going to find out how the elements react to you. Listen to me carefully, child. What I am doing here is against the law. Only with a bishop’s permission can a young person be legally tested. You cannot tell anyone, do you understand? Not even your father. Someone might overhear. I don’t want them coming for you before we are ready.”

“Yes, Master,” she replied. “But if it is against the law, then why are we doing it?” she asked, head cocked in puzzlement.

“Because the law is for ordinary people,” he replied. “And I want to know if teaching you is a waste of my precious time.”

Shiloh opened her mouth to ask another question, but the look on Edmun’s face told her to mind her tongue.

The priest unlocked the box with his wand and carefully tilted back the lid. Nestled in blue velvet sat four small spheres of glass. One was clear and colorless, filled only with air. One contained a bright flame, flickering without ceasing. One sat half full of sloshing water that moved in waves like a miniature sea. The last contained a hunk of granite speckled with pink quartz.

“They're beautiful,” Shiloh whispered. Her hand clutched her hook behind her back; she struggled to resist the urge to reach out. Edmun had long since taught her not to touch magical objects without permission; it had been a painful lesson.

“Aye,” Edmun agreed. “Now, when I tell you to, you reach out and hold your hand above the box. Do not touch the spheres. Just take a deep breath and clear your mind. Hopefully, one of the balls will react to you, just a little bit. Don't expect dramatics. It will just be a little wiggle. Go ahead, now.”

Shiloh grinned and held out her hand. She took a deep breath, as instructed. She closed her eyes. At the sound of an exclamation from Brother Edmun, they snapped back open.

All four balls had risen from their cradle and now floated an inch below her palm. She turned over her hand, and the spheres followed to sit suspended above it, rotating slowly.

She looked to her teacher, whose mouth stood gaping. “Did I do it wrong?” she whispered. Her eyes brimmed with worry.

Edmun stared back at her, incredulous. “No, poppet. You didn't bloody do it wrong. Gods above!”

He laughed loudly enough to shake the herbs hanging from the rafters, which only worried the girl more, as it was a sound from him with which she was entirely unfamiliar.

He finally calmed himself and declared, “Time to put them away. They've told us all they're going to tell.” He waved his wand, and the orbs returned to their resting places.

“What did they tell us?” Shiloh ventured.

“That we’re both going to need to work harder,” he grumped. “And that you should stop pestering me with foolish questions.”

Shiloh relaxed. That sounded more like Brother Edmun.

***

The dust betrayed them. At the end of a long, dry summer in the Teeth, the hooves of their horses stirred up a cloud that billowed like smoke as they traversed the pass. Shiloh made out a flash of blue that she reckoned must be Lord Blackmine's crest. The Lord of the Teeth's men flew a banner with a white horse on a blue field.

Not that we see it much, given his lordship’s lack of interest in defending his lands and his folk.

The spots of red up in front she supposed might be Silas Hatch's household livery: a golden hatchet on blood crimson.

At least the man embraces his infamy.

She’d been packed for weeks, waiting. She could have run. That is what Brother Edmun had urged her to do, from his deathbed . . . Edmun, who had put her in mortal peril long before he'd learned to love her like a daughter.

He had let Shiloh read all his letters to the City, the ones in which he’d begged the Hatchet to find a place for her at the Royal Academy. He had extolled Shiloh’s virtue and her gifts at length, hopeful that his favorite old pupil would have mercy on his beloved young one. But at the last, Edmun’s fear for her safety had overcome his hopes for her future, and he'd urged the girl to fly away before Hatch’s men came stomping up their mountains.

She had considered it. As she'd wept into Edmun’s blankets after he'd finally breathed his last, she'd considered it. As she’d watched his wands crumble to dust as they died with him, she’d considered it. As she’d prepared him for burial, as she’d put him in the ground, as she had waited for weeks . . .

And, yet, here she stood, waiting patiently for an infamous, ruthless stranger to spirit her away.

As she watched the cloud of dust move ever closer to her home, she considered her choice one last time. Her options were limited. No other village would ever accept a hexborn stranger, and a bastard foundling at that. Her own had only tolerated her because they’d feared to cross Edmun and her father, and because her skills had made her useful. She was surprised they hadn’t tried to drive her out of town since her men had died.

If not a village, then where? Living as a hermit in the woods lacked appeal, not least because her ill health turned every winter into mortal combat. Besides, the Feralfolk were not exactly fond of her. She would be easily caught if she ventured any further west, closer to the City. She had not the money to go abroad, to Estany.

Thus, she waited, and she hoped that all of her work, and all Edmun’s plotting, had not been in vain. She wondered how the soldiers would react if her village failed to produce her.

Not well, she thought.

It would serve them right.

***

Before Hatch and his men entered the village of Smoke Valley, there they were: a half-dozen charred skulls on pikes at the edge of the road leading down from the pass, a warning to outlaws to steer clear of the settlement. He squinted and held out a gloved hand as if feeling for heat. A muscle in his face twitched.

“Looks like they’re holding their own against the Feralfolk,” Perce observed. The men grunted with approval after they traced superstitious circles on their foreheads.

“She, not they. Magic killed them all,” Hatch countered grimly, before prodding his horse to continue past the macabre display. He heard retching behind him and turned to find Wilar, the young priest sent to replace Edmun, vomiting into the brush.

Hatch shook his head. These high country folk are going to walk all over him. Let’s hope he doesn’t pass out the first time he sees one of them chop the head from a chicken.

“A little girl from the Teeth, all by her lonesome, killed six grown men?” Perce asked skeptically. “A girl who hasn’t even been to the Academy yet? Isn’t it more likely this Brother Edmun did them in?”

Hatch fixed his sharp eyes upon his companion. “That is possible, but as poor as his health has been these last years, I find it unlikely. The rumors all say the girl killed them. As to the child’s education, Brother Edmun was the finest professor at the Royal Academy for decades before the war started. He was the youngest headmaster ever appointed. She’ll know more walking through the door than many of our most gifted noblemen know when they finish their studies. You underestimate her at your peril.”

Perce held up his hands in surrender. “Yes, Uncle. It’s just . . . it’s a lot to believe. A hexborn kid that he found in the woods grows up and kills grown Feralfolk without even having a wand to use?”

“She might have used one of his. Stranger things have happened,” Hatch replied. “And my source in South Lake has proved reliable in the past. Evidently, the Feralfolk had just killed her father when the . . . incident . . . occurred. That is certainly plausible motivation.

“You’re not old enough to have been in the war. I saw grieving wizards slaughter entire companies of men after losing a beloved companion on the battlefield; some of them were barely older than this foundling. Power comes in unlikely packages, and rage can unlock any box you try to hide it in.”

“Where do you suppose she even came from?” Perce asked.

“There are a number of possibilities. She was born in the last days of the war. Many of the monks and nuns drafted into the fighting broke their vows in those days. Of those who bore children from such illicit unions, some abandoned or killed them in the hopes of hiding their guilt. Some ran off and became Feralfolk along with their offspring,” Silas explained patiently.

“It is fortunate that the girl was found by someone interested in proving his loyalty. Had she been raised a Feral, or spirited out of the country by the king’s enemies, she could have become a significant problem for the realm. A weapon like that, in hostile hands,” Silas concluded, “could be devastating.”

“Do you think she’ll come quietly, Uncle Silas?”

“I think the chances are good. Edmun claims that she is as devout and patriotic a lass as could be found anywhere. Even if that is an exaggeration, if she were not clever, Edmun would not have bothered with her. He never was an easy man to impress. I doubt he gentled with age,” Silas opined.

“And if she seems like a threat, once we have her in hand?” his nephew asked.

Silas turned his intimidating gaze upon Perce once again. “Then we shall fulfill our duty to kingdom and crown. Why do you suppose King Rischar sent me to handle this myself?”

***

For an object of near universal fear and loathing, Shiloh found Silas Hatch to be rather unremarkable in appearance. Average in height and build, he was blessed with unblemished skin of warm bronze and a full head of curly, dark hair. His eyes were his most striking feature; green and sharp, they gave the impression of missing nothing. His clothing, all black as befit a barrister, was well-made and showed no signs of wear. His boots looked fine enough to provoke envy in a lord. The king’s patronage was, evidently, lucrative.

The king’s man was accompanied by about three dozen soldiers, a nervous young priest in robes of brown, and a young man dressed in City clothes. Shiloh assumed he was another courtier or an assistant of some sort. He had a pampered air about him, and a rather punchable face, she thought.

“My name is Silas Hatch. I am here, in the service of the king, to collect a girl named Shiloh Teethborn,” the king’s man cried, projecting his voice to be heard by the entire crowd.

Shiloh had thought she’d been prepared to hear those words, but her breath still caught anxiously at the sound of them. Hatch’s voice was deep as a mineshaft and promised twice the danger.

The townsfolk gathered in the square said nothing, even surrounded as they were by dozens of armed men. They might have spit and cast signs every time Shiloh walked by, and called her a freak under their breaths on the daily, but she was their freak, and they weren’t going to rat her out to some rich courtier from the City if they could help it.

“The girl will not be harmed,” Hatch assured them, seemingly misreading their spiteful reluctance as actual concern. “She has been offered a place at the Royal Academy of Mages. It is a tremendous honor to be thus invited into royal service.”

Still, they said nothing.

“If we cannot locate her, I will order these men to start burning down houses after they tear them apart looking for her,” Hatch warned, changing tack. “I would rather not be forced to do you harm.”

“That won’t be necessary, my lord. I am ready to go,” Shiloh replied, stepping out of a shadow next to the Temple, her bag on her shoulder. Her neighbors all traced circles on their foreheads. Their relief at her timely appearance on this particular occasion was, nevertheless, obvious.

Hatch eyed her appraisingly, lingering on her hook. “I am not a lord. I am but a simple barrister, blessed to be in the king’s service,” he replied before demanding, “Show me your eyes.”

She obeyed, stepping into the light and pushing back her hood to reveal the unnaturally colored eyes that were one of the hallmarks of her condition. She squinted in the bright sunlight, her pink irises glowing. Finally, he nodded, seemingly satisfied as to her identity.

“Good. We shall leave immediately. I want to make our last camp before dark.”

His gaze fell upon the steel hook that served as Shiloh’s left hand.

“First, I shall need to take your weapon,” he added.

“Well, master barrister, this isn’t a weapon. It’s my hand,” she calmly replied.

“Nevertheless,” Hatch countered, implacable, but his eyes betrayed some sympathy.

Shiloh pressed her lips together until they nearly disappeared. Wordlessly, she turned and began stalking off toward the trees.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Hatch demanded.

Shiloh wheeled on him with a glare that could have cut his throat. “I don’t know how they behave in the City, but here in the hills, a woman does not disrobe in public. I will return presently. You need not fear.”

She straightened her back, lifted her chin, and strode quickly away. A few of the townspeople snickered.

“If you run, they will be punished, and so will you be,” Hatch warned loudly. She made no reply.

***

Silas Hatch waited for the girl to return, his eyes never leaving the spot where she’d crossed into the forest. He was not a man to take chances. He didn’t want anything even resembling a weapon on her person, just in case she decided that she liked him about as much as she liked Feralfolk.

He looked over the crowd of villagers. Typical of the Teeth, the child’s neighbors were a sullen and suspicious bunch, most of the children lacking shoes, along with a fair number of the adults. Prosperity in the rest of the kingdom of Bryn never quite managed to make it up into the mountains.

It doesn’t help that Lord Blackmine has barely set foot above a thousand feet of elevation since King Rischar made him Lord of the Teeth.

It was hard for him to picture Edmun living in this sad place. After all, the priest had been a royal bastard, one of old King Jerroh’s many illegitimate spawn. He’d grown up serving at court, surrounded by wealth and education, rising by virtue of his genius to become headmaster of the Academy. Then the war had come . . .

Silas knew that Edmun was lucky he’d even kept his head, probably because no one had been brave enough to hike up there to take it . . . But to think of him here, with only one student to occupy his brilliant mind, spending his final years literally out in the cold, leading peasants in worship and mediating disputes between shepherds . . . It was appalling.

Silas was curious about the girl who had earned his old mentor’s respect. Elder and Babe above, they’d all been terrified of him in their school days. During the war, Silas had thought the man might’ve been made of stone. And yet, it seemed he had adored this girl, if his letters could be trusted.

Silas felt a twinge of pity. Whether it was for Edmun or for the girl, he couldn’t say.

I do hope I won’t have to kill her.

***

Muttering curses, covering her humiliated tears with whispered words of rage, Shiloh's hand shook as she undid the hooks holding her jacket closed beneath her heavy cloak. Cold weather came early to the Teeth, and she was accordingly dressed for a winter journey. Beneath her quilted leather jacket was a sweater of wool, and beneath that a tunic of embroidered linen that fell to her knees. They did not wear corsets in the Teeth; corsets were a vanity for the irreligious of the flatlands.

Her skirt was calf-length, as was the mountain custom, the better to keep it out of the snow and mud. She wore wool leggings beneath, attached to a garter, and knee-high boots. Her boots were starting to look worn, but they were sturdy and whole and would make it through the winter.

Everything she wore was dark in color: warm browns, deep greens, rich blues. Only small children were permitted rowdy reds, yellows, and pastels. No one dressed in purple, of course. The only thing she wore that caught the light was the hook that served as her left hand.

A curl of pale pink hair fell in front of her eyes, and she tucked it impatiently back behind her ear. Like all the women she knew, she covered her hair year-round when outside the home, most often with a hood, but sometimes with a scarf in warm weather.

The leather straps that held her prosthesis buckled beneath her sweater and over her linen, looped beneath the opposite arm, and crossed her upper back before moving down her half-formed left arm, which ended a few inches below the elbow. Her father had taken great pride in crafting her false limbs as she’d grown, experimenting with different materials and different shapes of hooks, always seeking beauty and improvement. She smiled through her tears, thinking of him.

Shiloh wiped her running nose and then pulled back on her sweater and jacket. She folded the left sleeves and used her teeth to place a long pin to hold them neatly in place, so they wouldn't drag along, empty and forlorn. She pulled her warm cloak back around her, as if its bulk could protect her from feeling small, and she walked back to the man who held her life in his hands.

She shoved her hook toward Hatch, looking determinedly past his left ear. Her eyes were dry; her expression revealed nothing, but she could not hide the red nose that betrayed her earlier tears.

Hatch cleared his throat. “I will take care with it,” he assured her. “Do you have any other weapons?” he asked.

Shiloh bent down to pull a knife from her boot and handed it over. A sling and a bag of round pebbles followed from her pocket. Then came a set of knitting needles and a small roll of wool yarn. Laughter rippled through the crowd.

“Is your terror of me now alleviated, Master?” she asked softly. She heard chuckles behind her back.

“You ought to learn to mind your tongue,” one of the men retorted, “before I decide to tan your hide. Maybe you ought to concentrate on praying that Master Hatch doesn’t lock you in the High Tower for the rest of your miserable life.”

“That is sufficient, Perce,” Hatch scolded the young man, his tone and eyes both ice cold. He glanced at the now muttering villagers. “Let's get moving. Captain Pike, you may start setting up your garrison on the edge of town. Brother Wilar, the village of Smoke Valley is now yours to govern. Their loyalty to lord, crown, and the Holy Family is now your responsibility. The king is counting on you both.”

The captain nodded smartly. The priest squared his narrow shoulders and tried to look resolute.

“A garrison? We'd be glad of some protection from the Feralfolk; Gods know we've lost souls to them enough, but our town is too poor to house and feed a whole garrison,” a village elder protested. “Winter is on the way. There's been a drought. A few men, sure, but three dozen? We’ll starve.”

Hatch shook his head almost sympathetically. “The orders come from the Earl of Blackmine and from your king. It is out of my hands.” The villagers shuffled anxiously, eying the men and grabbing hold of their daughters.

“You may wish to buy some furs from them before we leave, sir,” Shiloh advised softly. “It's going to snow tomorrow, and none of you look to be dressed for it.”

“Are ya daft, girlie?” one of the guards asked. “It's barely autumn.”

Shiloh held Hatch’s eyes, but said nothing more. If he chose not to believe her, it was his funeral.

Hatch sighed. “All right, Miss Teethborn, tell me with whom I must haggle.”

***

Hatch knelt to help Shiloh mount his horse. She didn’t weigh more than a bundle of twigs. At least she had decent shoes, and her skirt was loose enough to accommodate her riding astride. Her father had been a smith with a reputation for skill and fair dealing, according to one of his sources. She’d have been more financially comfortable than her neighbors, he supposed.

He could feel her tension when he swung his leg over to settle behind her. Frightened and brave. To his surprise, she didn’t turn around once as they left her home behind them. Perhaps she had already said her goodbyes. Perhaps there was no one left to whom she would wish to say them.

Silas thought back to the day he’d left his own home behind, headed for the City. He’d been thrilled to leave the monastery to make his fortune at court. He’d felt some fear as well, of course, and some shame for his poverty. But watching that dock fade into the distance had been one of the happiest moments of his life.

A drop of water fell onto one of Hatch’s leather gloves. He looked up, searching for clouds in the clear blue sky, then realized that the splash had been a silent tear from his passenger. He considered offering some words of comfort, but he decided that she might not welcome such an acknowledgment. She didn’t strike him as the kind of girl who would wish to show weakness to a stranger. Perhaps she hadn’t yet realized that tears could be a woman’s weapon.

She remained silent as they made their way. Whether this was Edmun’s influence, her own turn of mind, or pain at her departure, Silas could not say. He wondered how she would adapt to the girls at court, with their ceaseless chatter and ringing laughter.

Of course, they may well not deign to speak to her. If she is lucky, she’ll be novel enough to gain a little popularity, at least among the bastards and the lesser gentry. The lords know courtiers are prone to boredom, having so little actual work to do.

He did not imagine that the king’s new wife would be interested in having an Unclean maid in waiting, and one unskilled in the entertainments of court at that.

We’ll have to find something for her to do when she isn’t at study. Perhaps one of the professors can use her help with something. She is probably a diligent worker, given how demanding a master Edmun always was. The library can always use some tending, or the Temple, or the gardens. Assuming she is physically strong enough for such work.

Now, her health or lack thereof . . . that was a topic of great interest to Hatch. As a student of dark magic, and a creature with a naturally morbid temperament, he had read a great deal about the effect a mother’s curses could have on an unborn child. He’d had occasion, over the years, to examine a few such unfortunate children; unhappily, they had already died before he’d gotten his hands on them.

The autopsies had proved less enlightening than he had hoped. Two of them had been born dead, or so the mothers had plausibly claimed at trial. The third had obviously been strangled in the family’s unsuccessful effort to hide his birth. They’d hanged the mother at a crossroads, as he recalled.

He’d only met a live one once, during his years abroad, where they were not so fussy about such accidents. The girl’s parents had been disinclined to allow him to examine the child in detail, alas. All of the specimens had shared hair and eyes of bright colors along with significant anatomical abnormalities. The live one had also possessed an accumulation of scars.

Hatch had pressed Edmun for details about Shiloh’s condition, to little avail. The priest had admitted that the child had suffered from bouts of affliction from time to time, illnesses whose symptoms matched the results of certain hexes that had been popular during the war. However, Edmun had offered little beyond the fact that the girl had come close to death on more than one occasion.

She should present a fascinating case study, when the time comes.

Assuming, of course, that no misfortune intervenes.

Chapter 2

One of Us Had Better Be Praying

 

A shoeless Silas stood in the front yard, a bundle of sticks in his arms. He’d been gathering them for the fire, for his Ma. He could hear them fighting again, his mother and her man. The baby girls were sleeping, but they wouldn’t be for long, the way the two of them were going at it.

His stepfather’s name was Vin Hatch. He was a butcher by trade, when he wasn’t too drunk to work. He was also a butcher recreationally, truth be told.

“The money they send me is to take care of Silas. I got to pay for his school. He needs to go to the monastery. He’s got the magic in ‘im. Our lord’s gold is not for buyin’ your devil liquor,” his mother screamed.

“You’re lucky I consented to keep the little bastard in my house and give him my name so’s you wouldn’t have to bear the shame of callin’ him Vineborn. He’s none of my blood, and he don’t deserve no better than our children just ‘cause you spread your legs for an earl when you were still pretty.”

“You go to hell, Vin—” she began. Silas heard her cry out and fall to the ground, and he knew that his stepfather had decided to end the argument with his fists, as was his custom.

Silas dropped all but one of the sticks. He brushed a tear out of his eye and walked slowly toward the open door, all four feet nothing of him. He stepped inside. Vin kicked his mother again. Blood poured out of her nose.

“Stop it,” Silas whispered.

Vin turned. “Mind yer business, brat.”

“Leave her alone,” Silas replied, his voice stronger. His mother sobbed on the floor.

“Get out of my sight, boy, or ye’ll be next,” Vin snarled.

The stick in Silas’s hand burst into flame. A wisp of a smile appeared on his dirty face, then vanished like smoke. The boy pointed his improvised weapon at his stepfather, whose eyes grew wide.

“I believe my mother told you to go to hell,” Silas observed. The air crackled around him.

It was Vin’s turn to sob on the floor.

***

Shiloh forced herself not to look away when they rode by what was left of the Feralfolk who’d attacked the previous winter. Edmun would have wanted her to face the truth. Their bodies had been mostly consumed by the fireball, but the scorched bones had been left behind. The elders had insisted on mounting the skulls for a warning, and Edmun had gone along with them.

So far, it had been effective. There hadn’t been a raid in eight months. Not so much as a single goat had gone missing. Shiloh wondered if the warning would continue to work once word got around that the pink-haired monster had left town.

“You have to accept what happened,” Edmun had insisted. She’d spent days after her father’s death sitting in the dark, neither eating nor sleeping, neither weeping nor raging. She’d just sat, like a stone. He had insisted on dragging her out into the light. “I know it is terribly painful, my dear poppet, but you simply must.”

It had been so strange, to watch her teacher puttering around her father’s house, doing her chores, fixing her meals, taking care of her as she had him for the previous decade. Watching the frail old man trying his damndest to prepare her a bath had finally broken through her ice and allowed her to cry.

And she had faced it all, in the end. She had buried her father properly, with all the rites. She had faced the pile of smoldering corpses she’d produced in her paroxysm of grief. She had faced her terrified neighbors at Temple and at market. She had faced Edmun every morning, faced his sad eyes and his declining health. At least Edmun hadn’t been afraid of her, even after the Feralfolk.

She wondered how the people at court would see her. Would she just be a country mouse, poor and ignored by her betters? Would she be taunted for her condition, as she had been in her village? Would they learn to both fear her and need her, as her neighbors had? Would they know what she had done?

Will the king decide he doesn’t want me alive after all?

They made Hatch’s camp just before dark. It was a flat little meadow with enough trees to provide a bit of a wind break, which was welcome as cold air began to pour in from the north. On one side, it was a few paces off of the road. On the other, the ground fell steeply away, offering a view of the Great Lake.

The superstitious guards had refused to ride with Shiloh, as had the hostile Perce, so Hatch had taken her on his own horse. It had taken her an hour to relax. She’d never been so close to a man who wasn’t her father or her teacher, much less a man of his reputation. She hoped he hadn't noticed her silent tears as they'd left behind the only home she had ever known.

She fingered the bronze medal around her neck, the talisman of the Mother. She reached into her pocket to touch Brother Edmun’s prayer beads, its semi-precious stones worn smooth from his years of use. The familiar words moved on her lips as she silently repeated an old prayer.

Blessed Mother, keep me in your arms. Bid the Elder to cover me in wisdom. Bid the Father to protect me. Bid the Maiden to walk with me. Bid the Youth to cheer me. Bid the Babe to smile upon me. Most of all, dear Mother, fill me with your courage, that brings forth life into this wicked world, that I may walk in the way of the Holy Family, all of my days.

She looked up to see that one of the guards, Riloh, had started a fire. Another, Gil, began a stew, grumbling all the while.

“What is the use of a woman too unclean to cook for ye or to screw ye,” he muttered. “Useless little weirdling.”

Shiloh pretended not to hear, like she always did. She simply gazed up at the sky.

“Looking for something?” Hatch asked. He sat down next to her and handed her a hard biscuit.

She nodded her thanks and replied, “I was looking for him,” just as a falcon dove from the sky, a rabbit in his talons. He dropped it next to Gil by the fire, then landed on Shiloh’s shoulder.

“You're welcome,” she called over to the cook, smirking.

She then turned to thank the bird. “Thank you, Honey,” she told him. “You are a good friend.” He rubbed his head against her hood.

“Is that your familiar?” Hatch asked. Honey turned to glare at him suspiciously. Shiloh said nothing. She looked down at the sails of the fishermen on the lake, tacking for home at the end of their day.

“You hardly have to pretend you don't have powers. If Brother Edmun hadn’t told us everything, I wouldn't be here,” Hatch replied.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked plainly. “Am I really going to the Academy?”

“Yes,” he answered. “You will be educated with pure-blooded noble children and your fellow mixed-blooded illegitimate offspring. Your power is too great to be managed at a monastery, or else you’d just be tossed into holy orders like most of us. If Brother Edmun was correct in his assessments, you will be one of the greatest sorcerers at court for the rest of your many comfortable days.”

“Because if you're planning to kill me, this is the place I would choose,” she continued, as though he’d said nothing. “It’s pretty here. I'd prefer my bones rest in my own land, close to my Da and Brother Edmun, if it's all the same to the king.”

Hatch raised an eyebrow. “Is that what you think? That King Rischar sent me because he means to kill you?”

She shrugged. “That's what Brother Edmun feared. He told me to run. Sometimes.”

“Why do you suppose he asked us to save you a place at the Academy, then? If he feared for your safety in our hands?” Hatch asked.

“He knew I needed to finish my education, and that I need a proper wand of my own. And Brother Edmun seemed sure you would do right by me, right up until he got sick. As the end approached, his fear won out."

“It tends to do that.” After a silence, Hatch asked, “Why didn't you? Run, I mean.”

“I was afraid you'd punish the villagers if you couldn't find me. Which, apparently, you would have.”

“But they must have treated you terribly,” Hatch argued. “I saw the way they looked at you.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A.M. Manay is an award-winning fantasy author in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also a former inner-city chemistry teacher, a wife and mother in a multi-racial family, a lover of comic book movies, a Lupus warrior, a Clerk of Session in the Presbyterian Church, and a 9Round enthusiast. She loves to write page-turning stories with complex, diverse characters who inhabit fascinating worlds.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Your disability or chronic condition does not mean that you are not beautiful and gifted. If your peers reject you for being different, the loss is theirs. The people who recognize your value are the ones who really matter, and you can make a difference even in a world that scorns you.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
Selena Gomez would be an amazing Shiloh. Because she deals with the complex challenges of living with a life-threatening case of Lupus, I feel she would understand Shiloh’s difficulties and determination. As for Silas,Tom Hiddleston could easily embody his peculiar combination of heart and menace.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I was interested in exploring an intertwined religious and political conflict in a magical world, and I wanted to mash up the “boarding school” young adult trope with the “court intrigue” fantasy trope. I love historical fiction and drew ideas from the Tudor dynasty and the English Reformation.

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