Read Arrows Of Change (Book 1) Online

Authors: Honor Raconteur

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Arrows Of Change (Book 1)

BOOK: Arrows Of Change (Book 1)
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Published by Raconteur House

Manchester, TN

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

ARROWS OF CHANGE: BOOK ONE OF KINGMAKERS

 

A Raconteur House book/ published by arrangement with the
author

 

PRINTING HISTORY

Raconteur House mass-market edition/February 2015

 

Copyright © 2015 by Honor Raconteur

Cover Photograph by Przemek Koch

Cover Design by Katie Griffin

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or
distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not
participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials in
violation of the author’s rights.

Purchase only authorized editions.

For information address:

Raconteur House

164 Whispering Winds Dr.

Manchester, TN, 37355

 

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be
aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and
destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has
received any payment for this “stripped book.”

 

www.raconteurhouse.com

 

 

Other books by Honor Raconteur
Published by Raconteur House

THE ADVENT MAGE CYCLE

Book One:
Jaunten
Book Two:
Magus
Book Three:
Advent
Book Four:
Balancer
Advent Mage Compendium
The Dragon’s Mage
Lost Mage

 

Special Forces 01

The Midnight Quest

Kingslayer

 

THE ARTIFACTOR SERIES

The Child Prince
The Dreamer’s Curse

DEEPWOODS SAGA

Deepwoods

KINGMAKERS

Arrows of Change

 

 

A hero is a man who does what he can.
—Romain Rolland

 

Chapter One

Riana ducked around the side of the butcher’s shed, keeping
her profile flat as possible to the wooden planks, and eased her head around
the corner. Then she stopped short, nearly gagging on the smell. Phew, it be
ripe over here. Didn’t Old Man Coltrin believe in hosing the shed out now and
again?

Taking a deep breath and holding it to avoid the worst of
the stench, she tried again to peek around the corner. The inner square of the
village was livelier than normal, and for once, not because of market day.
Everyone was curious and wanting to meet the stranger in their midst. It took a
minute for her to spot him amongst the villagers.

The man had arrived this morning, all on his lonesome, which
was a strange thing in Cloud’s Rest. No one here went alone—anywhere. It invited
the worst kind of trouble because bandits and thieves and murderers thrived in
this place. The town itself was safe enough for a man to walk about by himself,
but take more than ten steps away from it, and that changed.

He introduced himself as Ashtian Fallbright, Court Wizard of
Estole. Riana didn’t think that half the village believed him, but she did. The
man had this…aura about him. This assurance and confidence that no matter what
danger he might face, it wouldn’t touch him. Besides, anyone that could travel
all the way up the mountain and to Cloud’s Rest without being molested
had
to be a wizard.

“—will not need to lumber much,” he was assuring Eden, their
ombudsman. His voice was smooth, cultured, and somehow kind. “The trees on this
mountain are very large, after all. I did not want to take anything without
speaking to you about it, or without offering payment first.”

Eden scratched at his scraggly beard, bloodshot eyes
narrowing. He thought himself a shrewd businessman, so no doubt he looked at
the wizard and thought
Money!
“No’ much, ye say. Ye bring any teams of
horses or the like with ye?”

“No, I did not,” Fallbright responded pleasantly. “But you
needn’t worry, I have a method of taking everything down with me.”

“Huh. That so? Well, I will charge ye one hundred deneres,
and ye can cut down trees as ye like.”

Riana gasped in outrage. One hundred deneres?! Was the man a
thief in disguise? A man could feed his family on that for three months!

Fallbright didn’t even blink, simply held out a hand to seal
the deal. “Done.”

With a gap-toothed grin, Eden accepted the hand and shook it
firmly. The man’s expression fairly oozed greedy satisfaction. Riana would lay
odds that the village would never see a single deneres from him.

Disgusted with him, she looked back at the wizard. He was
calmly counting out coins into Eden’s hand, and from the way that money pouch
of his bulged, it wouldn’t make much of a dent. Carrying that much money in the
open was a sure way to attract a horde of bandits. Really, it was a wonder that
the man had gotten all the way up here with his coat still on his back, the way
he was acting. Even if he was a wizard!

A thought struck her, and she studied him with new eyes. The
man didn’t know the lay of the land at all, and he was sure to attract bandits,
so wouldn’t it stand to reason that he’d need to hire guards? Or at the very
least, a guide? She could show him where the best trees to lumber grew. But
mayhap if she and Da approached him right, then he would hire them on as guards
as well. Heavens knew the man could spare the money, and they could sorely use
it.

“Riana!” an outraged voice squawked behind her. “Ye
benighted child, get out of here!”

The “child” bit smarted, as Riana was now twenty years old
and a woman by anyone’s standards. But she recognized the voice all too well,
as it belonged to Eden’s wife—and a meaner, more shrewish woman didn’t exist on
this planet.

Ducking to avoid the matron’s eyes, she slipped past her and
headed for the woods that ringed the village. As she moved, the woman snarled at
her in open distaste. “I do no’ know why we even let yer family come in here, I
truly do no’. Ye heathens should no’ be allowed near anyone at all. It’d be
best if ye’d never been born!”

Riana had been hearing this since she was a child, and it
rolled right off like water on a duck’s back. She tuned the woman’s voice out
and focused instead on finding her da. If she could catch him quickly enough, mayhap
they could work out a deal with that wizard.

He wasn’t in his first favorite spot—hiding in the eaves of
the tavern—but he was in his second, sitting on a large branch that hung over
the road. Stopping just underneath it, she called up, “Da?”

“I hear ye, daughter.” Broden Ravenscroft had spent his
entire life in these woods and knew how to blend in with them well. Even she
couldn’t spot him all the time. Standing at nearly six feet tall, he had the
bulky build of a man that worked hard for a living. His swarthy skin and dark
hair hid him well, only his grey eyes truly visible.

Even with his voice guiding her, it took a second for her to
see his outline against the trunk. “Da, did ye see the blond man that came into
town this morning?”

“Aye, I did at that. Who might he be?”

“Wizard Ashtian Fallbright of Estole.” Belatedly, she added,
“Or so he says. I believe he might be.”

“Oh?”

Spreading a palm out, she shrugged. “He has the money for
it. Man just shelled out one hundred deneres so he can log trees up here.”

Broden nearly lost his balance on the branch. “That be quite
the sum of money.”

“I know it.” Quirking an eyebrow at him, she said in a
cajoling way, “And would no’ a man like that be needing guards up here against
all those nasty bandits?”

Broden’s grey eyes started twinkling. “Daughter, I like how
ye think. Has no one else in the village offered to guide him?”

She shook her head. “They seem content to take his money and
send him about his way.”

“Hmm, that so.” Stroking his chin, Broden ordered, “Go back
in and catch the man. Offer to guard and guide him, see if he takes it.”

“Me, no’ ye?” she objected. Her da didn’t have a lot of
experience in negotiating deals like this, but he had some. She, on the other
hand, had none at all. It seemed a poor choice to send her to talk to the man
alone. She didn’t even know how much to ask for.

“Men always let a pretty woman get her piece out afore
interrupting, daughter. It be best if ye ask him first. If it does no good, I
be willing to try me hand next.”

Well, alright, as long as he realized he’d probably have to
step in. “How much should I ask for?”

At this, Broden hesitated. “Offer…offer thirty deneres for
just guarding up here. Offer forty if he wants us to guard him all the way to
Estole.”

She blinked. “To Estole? Da, we’ve never left the mountain
afore.”

“Aye, I know.” Broden’s voice became grim and sad. “But,
daughter, I think we’d best do that soon, if we can.”

Oh. Considering what their treatment by the other villagers
had been recently…well, he might have a point at that. Their family had always
been outcasts of sorts in Cloud’s Rest, but recently, they were barely
tolerated at all. Being chased out of the village for just standing there and
breathing wasn’t uncommon these days. Her mouth tightened in understanding. “I
ken. I will go and speak with him.”

Turning, she hefted the bow in her hand into a slightly firmer
grip, automatically checking that her belt quiver was in place as she moved.
Her hood slipped, and she paused long enough to readjust it, hiding her
flaming-red hair. Red hair like hers was something of a rarity up here in The
Land Northward, although according to her da, she’d inherited it from her ma.
She had the green eyes and fair skin to match it. Because of her coloration,
she took care to wear layers of browns and greens to make herself blend in
better with their surroundings.

She kept an eye on the forest-shrouded road as she walked,
as she always did. Only a fool would just walk and not think to question every
shadow and movement. The air near the village was warmer than here in the
trees, where the sun had to struggle to reach the ground. It made her wish
she’d donned her gloves earlier, but she didn’t dare to stop and do it now, not
alone. Well, Da was nearby, but this bend of the road had a blind spot, and he
might not be able to see her from there.

Because of what had happened that morning with Eden’s shrew
of a wife, she didn’t think it a good idea to walk into the village again. So
she stopped ten feet shy of it, smack in the middle of the road, and waited. It
didn’t take long before the wizard came into view, walking as if he didn’t have
a care in the world.

When he saw her, he slowed his pace, and when he realized
she was looking directly at him and didn’t intend to move, he stopped
altogether three feet away from her. “Hello. Might you have some business with
me?”

“I might,” she allowed. It really depended on him. “I be Riana
Ravenscroft. May harmony find ye, Wizard Fallbright.”

He blinked. “Ah, how do you know who I am?”

She snorted. “Ye make that grand an entrance in the village,
people mark it.”

“That was a grand entrance, eh?” Amused, he shrugged and
didn’t argue. “I greet you, Riana Ravenscroft. Now, what can I do for you?”

“I be a-thinking it be more what I can do for
ye
. Did
Eden tell ye a good place to get yer lumber?”

His eyes narrowed slightly. “To the south, he said, near the
road.”

Riana rolled her eyes. “That cheap old goat. No, Wizard,
that no’ be the best place. He told ye that to clear the space around the road
a little more, to make it harder for bandits to ambush travelers.”

“Oh? So where would you suggest?”

She promptly turned and pointed toward the east. “There.
There be a good crop of virgin trees that grow straight and tall. Perfect for
building things.”

His eyebrows rose a hair. “You surely didn’t come over here just
to tell me that.”

“No,” she allowed, hoping that she’d paved the way enough
that he’d hear her out. “Wizard, to be frank, it be dangerous, what ye be
doing. Going about in those fine clothes, with that much money jingling on yer
belt, well…ye be a prime target for thieves. It would no’ be the best of ideas
to go into the forest alone.” Actually, it’d be downright foolish, but it never
went well if you told someone to their face that they were being stupid. It
seemed a poor business tactic to say it that way. “Me Da and I, we be good
archers. Best up here, in fact. We know the woods, we know the roads, and we
can get ye in and out with yer hide intact.”

“You want me to hire the two of you as guards?” The way he
said this suggested he was open to the possibility. “Just for up here?”

“We be willing to take ye all the way to Estole,” she
offered hesitantly. “Or at least all the way down the mountain.”

An unreadable mask fell over his face. “How much for the
trip to Estole?”

“Forty deneres,” she answered promptly and prayed her da was
right to put that much money on the line.

His eyes widened a notch. “That little? I just paid more
than twice that to log up here.”

“Ye got robbed,” she told him bluntly. “Eden does no’ own
any property or rights to the road leading up here. Cloud’s Rest will no’ see a
single deneres in its coffers.”

Fallbright looked more amused by this than peeved. “I
thought that might be the case. Zounds, I should have listened to my instincts
and bartered with him.” Blowing out a resigned sigh, he let this go with a wave
of the hand. “Well, I admit that you give me a fair bargain, Miss Ravenscroft.
But I
am
a wizard, you know. I can protect myself quite handily.”

“That so?” Cernunnos take it, she’d been afraid of this. How
was she to prove to him that he needed them? She thought hard and fast before
asking, “Wizard Fallbright, be we alone?”

He blinked at her. “I’m sorry?”

“Be we alone? Right now?” she pressed.

Taking a look around them, he paused for a long moment
before answering slowly, “I believe we are. Why?”

Riana lifted her head a little and called out, “Da?”

Not a second later, an arrow whizzed past with a whistle of
displaced air and landed in the ground between them.

Fallbright jumped back a good three feet, swearing, eyes
glued to the arrow that quivered ever so slightly in the dirt. Then his eyes
slowly came back up to meet hers. In a faint voice, he said, “I take your
point.”

She grinned but didn’t mock him. Gently, she asked, “Would
ye be wanting to work while keeping both eyes over yer shoulder, sir?”

“Not in the least. If you would call your father down here?”

Riana put two fingers to her lips and let out a sharp
whistle.

There was the sound of rustling leaves and then a faint
thump as Broden came down from his lofty perch. It took another moment or two,
but he finally melted out of the woods and into plain view. When he was within
reach, he offered a hand. “Broden Ravenscroft.”

Fallbright took the hand and smiled slightly. “You and your
daughter proved your point admirably. Forty deneres all the way to Estole, she
said. What if I just need you to get down this mountain?”

“Thirty.”

“The price isn’t much different even though you’re going a
shorter distance. You’ve deliberately made it only ten deneres more for an
additional two days’ journey.” Fallbright’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Why is
that?”

Broden inclined his head toward Riana. “Gives her experience
on the road. She has never been that direction afore.”

“Ah.” Fallbright clearly didn’t take that explanation at
face value, but he didn’t ask any further questions. “I understand. Well, let’s
say to the foot of the mountain for now, and see how things go. If I feel like
I truly need you, we’ll go all the way to Estole.”

“Fair enough.” Broden gestured toward the eastern section of
the mountain. “Then follow us, Wizard.”

BOOK: Arrows Of Change (Book 1)
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