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Authors: Moira J. Moore

Heroes' Reward

BOOK: Heroes' Reward
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HEROES’ REWARD

By

MOIRA J. MOORE

 

 

Copyright 2012 Moira J. Moore

I am granting permission to read this material and print
this material for the purpose of reading. I am not waiving any copyright
rights, which include but are not limited to the following:

-Protection from the sale of this material by any person,
corporation, entity, etc, not authorized – in writing – by me to do so.

-Protection from
plagiarism

-Protection from
any person, corporation, entity, etc, claiming to have written this book

-Moral rights

-Any other
rights granted to me by legislation and/or case law or any other legal
authority.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used
fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The writer does
not have control over and does not assume any responsibility for third party
websites or their content.

Edited by Debby Turner Harris

Cover Art by Judy Bullard

I’m not sure what to call what Tracy McQuoid and Kathy
McCracken did, but it involved reading a very raw, early, long draft of the
book and providing encouragement and criticism, as well as telling me when
something I was doing was driving them nuts.

 

 

Dedicated to Tracy McQuoid and Kathy McCracken, because they’re
FABULOUS!

 

Heroes’ Reward is the final book in the series, which is
sometimes called the Hero or Heroes series. The first six books, in order, are:

Resenting the Hero

The
Hero Strikes Back

Heroes
Adrift (Despite the insinuation presented by the cover, this book doesn’t
involve pirates. Sorry.)

Heroes
at Risk

Heroes
Return

Heroes
at Odds

 

Chapter One

“We’re going to
cut the property in half,” Fiona announced. “These documents are a mess. I’ve
had three solicitors look at them.” At Fiona’s expense. She didn’t say so, but
everyone knew it, so both the plaintiff and the respondent had better be damned
grateful. “There have been so many purchases back and forth, so many allowances
over the decades, it is simply impossible to determine who owns what. So we’re
going to start all over. Each of you own half. The boundary is at the eighth
mark. I expect you both to have proper surveys drafted and to respect them, and
the next time I hear of any kind of sabotage, someone’s getting fined.”

Neither party
liked that. Their eyes were narrowed, their jaws clenched. Both had hoped to
get the whole piece of land. But neither voiced their objections, and they both
bowed deeply. “Thank you, my lady,” one said, and then the other. At her nod,
they strode to the door, maintaining a significant distance between them.

It was Decision
Day, held once every week, when Fiona Keplar, Duchess of Westsea, heard the
complaints and disputes of her tenants and tried to settle them without anyone
losing their minds over the results. When she had first taken on the
responsibility, more than seven years before, she had been uncertain in her
abilities, and the tenants had often challenged her rulings. Sometimes with
fists. Since then, she had become adept at it, and while her tenants didn’t
always like her decisions, they complied with them, and with better grace than
they’d shown at first.

It probably
helped that Westsea had become extremely prosperous over the last several
years. Fish and whales were abundant and crops were rich. The weather had been
kind. Traders from far afield came to Flown Raven to sell rare goods and pay
coin for food, shelter, and stock. Everyone profited.

I had noticed
that people confident about having well-constructed roofs and a quantity of good
food were less fractious. Not entirely, of course. There were always crazy,
unreasonable people, quality of life notwithstanding, but Decision Days had
certainly become less violent.

There was a
brief pause as we waited for any further plaintiffs to step forward. When none
did, Fiona announced, “I call Decision Day closed. From this until next Day,
leave your concerns with Solicitor Panimus.”

In the seats
along the wall of the courtroom, the spectators – local gentry and others who
had nothing better to do with their time than watch the legal squabbles of
others – rustled and spoke together in whispers, dissecting Fiona’s decisions
and the behaviour of the parties.

“So, what do you
think?” Fiona asked me as we climbed up the stairs to the second floor of her
manor.

I smiled. “You
ask me that every week.”

“I value your
opinion. You’ve lived here almost as long as I have.”

I shrugged. “All
of your decisions seem sound to me.” I didn’t always agree with her rulings,
but there was always well-constructed reasoning behind them. And if there
weren’t, I would never say so. It wasn’t my place.

I was a Shield,
and a Shield’s only task was to protect her Source, not tell leaders how to
fulfill their responsibilities.

Fiona grinned at
me. “You always say that.”

“It’s always
true. You perform your duty well.” Certainly better than those who had held the
title before her.

That seemed to
satisfy her. “Have you got time for coffee?”

“Browne is
expecting me.”

“You’re not ill,
are you?”

“It’s just a
lesson.”

“Why, Dunleavy Mallorough,
are you running around violating the law again?”

I held up a
finger. “Technically, not violating a law.”

“Any argument
that includes the word technically is a doomed one.”

Aye, pretty
much. “Do you need me for anything? I can always – ”

“No, no.” Fiona
waved her hand. “Go have fun with Browne.”

I trotted up to
the third floor, where I shared a suite with Taro. It had been recently
redecorated – new furniture, carpets, draperies – at Fiona’s insistence and
according to Taro’s taste. He’d had no problem accepting such an expensive
gift. Generosity of that nature made me itchy, but no one listened to me when
it came to that sort of thing. Fiona had claimed it was the least she could do
in repayment for our services, some of which had had nothing to do with our
duties as a Pair. For this same reason, Fiona also gave us the best of clothing
to wear and the finest of horses to ride.

As members of
the Source and Shield Service – more commonly known as the Triple S – Taro and
I had the right to requisition goods from merchants and trades people, as we
weren’t paid for our work. This didn’t endear us to the people required to
fulfill our requests. The locals appreciated Fiona paying for these items on
our behalf. This was no doubt another reason they had developed as much
affection for her as they had, and perhaps resented Taro and me less than they
would in other circumstances.

I entered the
suite and then the bedchamber, where I removed the front of the overmantle.
This was where I hid most of my spell casting supplies. I had little reason to
believe they wouldn’t be safe if I left them out, even for our maid to see, but
Imperial Guards had once ransacked our suite while Taro and I weren’t there,
looking for casting tools. It was possible they could show up out of the blue
and do so again.

According to the
law, casting didn’t truly exist. There was only the pretence of it, used to
bilk the gullible. There were punishments for owning the alleged tools of
casting, and for behaving as though one were casting a spell, but none for
actually casting spells, because such a thing was said to be impossible. Even
though more and more people were learning that it wasn’t, and more and more
people were actually doing it.

The law could be
quite stupid.

I removed the
book Browne and I were currently working on, put it into a bag, and put the
overmantle back together.

I heard the door
to the suite open and close, rather loudly, which told me it was Taro. Our maid
would never make so much noise.

Source Shintaro
Karish was one of the few who could tame the horrific earthquakes, tornadoes,
and other destructive natural events that destroyed cities, swallowed crops,
and killed thousands. He was able to access the forces behind the events with
his mind and direct them into harmless patterns, keeping land and water still.

Unfortunately,
those forces were powerful enough to kill him, tearing his mind apart, driving
his blood to flow fast enough to rupture his heart and veins. I was his Shield.
It was my task to keep him safe as he worked, to use our Bond to keep his mind
and his blood calm.

Taro was a
beautiful man, and our eight years as a Bonded Pair had not diminished my
enjoyment in looking at him. He was slight and fine-featured, with gorgeous
golden skin, lovely slanted black eyes, and wavy black hair. Though still
inclined to swift changes in mood, he had acquired a deeper aura of dignity
over the years, and this was a joy to see.

That aura of
dignity was a little lessened right then by the fact that his hair was half out
of the tie at the back of his neck, his eyes were shining, and his grin was
huge.

“Steeple
chasing?” I guessed.

His answer was a
kiss, not a brief one. “I won, too.”

I hated his
steeple chasing. It was stupidly dangerous. But he loved it, and I wasn’t going
to get in the way of that. “Of course, you did. You wouldn’t be you if you
didn’t.”

He kissed me
again, and I smiled through it. “I’m meeting Browne,” I told him, suddenly
wishing I didn’t have to go.

“Can’t you do
that long distance communication cast thing?” he wheedled. “Tell her you’re
delayed.”

“Browne is a
woman with many commitments. I can’t cancel a lesson immediately before it is
to begin. You wouldn’t have me treat her with anything less than the respect
she is due.”

He growled.
“Fine.” He kissed my forehead. “I’ll have to find something else to do. I’ll
hold you responsible for any shenanigans I get into.”

I tapped his
cheek, not at all concerned. For all his reputation as a wild one, someone who
drank and gambled too much and slept with almost everyone he met, he’d never
committed any real mischief. Not that his restraint had any impact on the
rumours, which both of us found aggravating. Nothing to be done about it,
though.

I jogged out of
the manor into the sort of slightly cool, damp day so common in Flown Raven. At
first, I’d found the nearly constantly overcast sky and frequent drizzle
oppressive, but it had come to feel restful to me. It seemed to encourage
contemplation and serenity.

I reached
Browne’s cottage and knocked on the door. I didn’t know whether she would
actually be able to meet with me, despite our arrangement. Browne was a healer
– that was her true vocation – and obviously, any patients would have priority
over me.

But she was
alone in her cottage, and as soon as I stepped through the door, she handed me
a cup of tea. “Have you been practising?”

It wasn’t as
though I had a whole lot else to do. “Every day.”

Browne gestured
at me, indicating I should sit at the table. And then we started, as we did
every lesson, by beginning with the simplest of casts to get my head thinking
in the right way. Children’s spells from which Browne and her casters had
eliminated any need for any ingredients at all, shortened to only a few words.
Fewer demands to put foul things in my mouth, fewer embarrassing gestures, less
bad poetry. Some of the vocabulary chosen to replace the poetry didn’t fall
smoothly off the tongue, but, just like almost everything else, practise made
it easier.

Then we moved on
to significantly more difficult spells, the ones described in the book I had
brought with me, those for which we hadn’t been able to cut out all of the
annoying steps, though at least we had simplified most of them. Part of the
process of learning new casts included searching Browne’s cottage – under her
supervision, of course – to find the right ingredients in the appropriate
amount and of the right quality before performing the cast. I tended to do
well. I spent a lot of time working through the procedures and I’d been gifted
with a fair amount of talent.

Though not as
much as Browne. She was phenomenal, performing any cast beautifully, and even
devising new ones. Creating new casts was not a normal practice. People bought
books – surreptitiously – or learned old spells from others. They didn’t
usually create their own.

Unfortunately,
Browne was not the only innovator in the area of spell casting. In the past, we
had encountered casters who’d created spells that could kill. Those experiences
had forced Browne and her colleagues to change their approach to casting, from
hobby to necessity, from tool to weapon.

It was
disturbing to learn to hurt others, to set up ingredients and memorize words
meant to do physical harm. This was nowhere near the sphere of knowledge a
Shield should possess.

But I studied.
After all, it wasn’t as though I’d never killed anyone before.

“Good,” said
Browne, and I felt like I was back at the Shield Academy. She opened an
enormous book and turned it to me. “This one.”

Ooh, I liked
this one.

I collected the
ingredients. I put them on the table before Browne, who nodded.

“Guard me
from light.”

I poured ebony
dust into my palm.


Let the
light flow.”

I carefully
rubbed finely powdered glass into the ebony dust.

“Let their
gaze slide.”

Using the yellow
powder from the wings of a rikkor butterfly, I drew on my forehead a triangle,
and then a horizontal line across it, just under the tip. That had been a
difficult part of the cast, drawing the symbol properly without being able to
see it. A problem easily solved by a mirror, of course, and I had done so the
first few times I had practised the cast, but Browne hadn’t allowed me to rely
on that for long.

“Let them not
know.”

I drew stripes
of the powdered mixture along one sleeve of my shirt, one leg of my trousers,
and both of my boots. I rubbed some into my hair.

Something
happened. I could feel it – a sort of buzzing in my brain that had once
disturbed me but had come to be almost pleasant.

“It looks good
to me,” said Browne. “Let’s see if it works on everyone else.”

We left the
cottage and walked along the closest lane, deeper into the village.

“Healer Browne,”
the first person we encountered greeted. “Fair day to you.”

“Fair day to
you,” Browne responded, and we all passed each other.

Shortly
thereafter, one of the village blacksmiths offered a small bow. “Healer
Browne.”

Browne nodded.
“Smith Doyle.”

BOOK: Heroes' Reward
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