Authors: Jenna Waterford
by Jenna Waterford
Copyright © 2014 by Jenna Waterford
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used, stored, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Jarlyth Denara felt naked without his s
word. Out of habit, he’d reached over his shoulder to check on it before he remembered. He pretended he’d meant only to brush something from the sleeve of his sturdy warder’s uniform, and he noted the sleeve’s lack of braid and embroidery as another loss, along with the absence of his sword’s once-familiar weight against his back.
A small group of
very young-looking lieutenants stomped noisily up the drive, almost running over him, but one of them realized their error. “Hold up,” he said in a voice that sounded as if he’d been laughing. “His duty trumps ours.”
Jarlyth gave a small nod and moved past them as quickly as he could without seeming to scurry.
He was probably younger than they were, though his uniform cast its own dignity around him, protecting him from any first-glance discovery of his youth. Yet, he envied them their elegant, formal uniforms, covered in bright gold braid and proud rank insignia and the promise of glory. The black and gold of royal service was what he’d always wanted, not the practical, dignified gray and silver of Tanara Priory. In spite of all his efforts, however, that destiny was not to be.
didn’t break stride or look around him as he neared the chaotically-busy main entrance to Karonsmoor Castle. His unyielding progress forced the long line of gleaming, luxurious carriages to wait, all crowded up nose-to-tail with each other, while he stepped between them. He almost looked back when he realized some of the carriages were horseless, but he controlled the impulse. He had to think of his warder’s dignity and not gawk like a provincial farm-boy.
carriage stepped more men and women of every possible military stripe: infantry, wizard techs, officers, air-guards, and knights. Light slanted from the tall windows lining the front of the castle on either side of the main entrance, catching glints of snow as it made a half-hearted attempt to fall and highlighting gold braid and honors as well as the well-polished side-arms so many of the guests wore. Jarlyth fought another double-take when he spotted a rare ornamental pistol holstered at someone’s side, in place of the more common heirloom sword or dress dagger. Any weapons worn to such an event would be bound with spell-locks, and the castle wizards would make sure they stayed that way.
At least they
’re still armed. Why did there have to be so many of them, tonight of all nights?
It felt as if Vail slapped him in the face, dangling the very dream she’d stolen from him right before his eyes. But he had to follow his own duty and trace his Call to its source, no matter what.
ipples of whispers and thoughts rose up as he neared the entrance and more of the party-goers began to notice him. He caught the nearest young woman’s appreciative thought that she’d like to run her fingers through his “brown-silk hair,” and he cast her a quick, crooked grin as he moved past. She giggled, her breath visible in the winter air.
The main entrance cleared quickly as those who had seen him pulled their companions aside to make way.
He strode on, deftly avoiding oblivious guests and various decorative obstacles.
The arrival of a warder was a rare event; the arrival of a warder at the castle was rarer still.
The time it took for him to climb the broad staircase up to the main entrance gave the royal guards fair warning. He passed unimpeded, stepping through the wide doorway into the cream-and-gold grand hall without so much as breaking stride.
blinked at the change from dark to light and wished again that he’d known about the gala so he could have slipped around to a side entrance and avoided the crush that met him. To follow the Call, he had to remain open and unshielded, and the sheer noise of the thoughts and sensation of dozens of conflicting emotions almost made him ill. He was still new to his power, still new to this life.
Too new. It’s too soon for me to have to do this.
ourtiers lined the walls and stood in tittle-tattling clusters, all dressed to outshine their military guests. Likely the ball was meant to honor exemplary service, but these highborn ornaments of the Court rarely enjoyed honoring any who actually worked for their glory and position.
he reminded himself as his Call took him away at last from the crush and glamour of the overdressed, overwhelming crowds and aimed him toward the depths of the vast castle’s west wing. He never felt highborn, though. His family had long ago lost the wealth that had once made the Denara name great, and now only acts of honor and bravery could maintain their dignity.
was supposed to do that. I was supposed to restore the family’s position. I was supposed to be one of the great knights and earn glory and wealth.
Instead, here he was, walking through the
high, bright, lushly-carpeted corridors of Karonsmoor Castle, heading toward a destiny he could never have imagined for himself and trying to pretend to a dignity and indifference he didn’t feel.
There were still courtiers, though fewer of them, hurrying along toward the ball.
Wisps of thought and emotion wafted past and over him, telling him they were late, worried about how they looked, and afraid the king would be angry—all the usual fears before a royal event.
Jary!” A familiar voice rang out, echoing a bit off the marble walls, and running footsteps grew louder as the voice’s owner overtook him from the direction of the ball.
He turned to see his former school-friend and sparring partner Prestlyn Carr nearly upon him, her
dress-uniform’s coattails flapping, her sword hilt thwacking against her back, and her arms thrown wide for a hug. Her realization of her error was so sharp, he heard her think—
—before she stumbled to a graceless stop, still grinning.
A pair of
dowagers hurried by, looking scandalized and muttering to each other. Prestlyn let their scorn roll off of her as if she hadn’t just about broken the law.
She held her hands up
, palms-out, and gave him a guilty grin which leant her too-angular face its own prettiness. “Sorry! Forgot. Mustn’t touch the Sensitive.”
Without permission,” he corrected and grinned with her as they shared a quick embrace, thumping each other on the back a couple of times in an echo of their old one-upsmanship games.
You have your Call already?” she asked as they parted, still grinning.
He nodded and took a couple of involuntary steps backward,
the Call’s power drawing him on toward whatever awaited him at its other end.
Sorry again.” She started to follow him, and he automatically sped up. “Go! I was just so excited to see you.”
’d been following in the Call’s wake for days, stopping only to have something to eat or snatch a few hours’ sleep. He felt desperate to talk to somebody. “Can you walk with me for a bit?”
Of course. I can be late.” She could do what she wanted, uniform or not. Everyone indulged her, for she was a powerful wizard, a talented warrior, and, most importantly, a foreign-born princess, betrothed since birth for the diplomatic interests of all to Crown Prince Durran.
the prince’s name had its usual effect, and Jarlyth smiled slightly as Durran’s prince-name whispered through his head. Another gift from Vail, though this one, at least, wasn’t his.
How is our Prince of Daggers?” he asked, trying to reverse the interrogation before Prestlyn started asking all the usual questions.
Durran’s fine. He’s at the ball flirting with everyone already. His father’s busy,” she added, and she gave him an odd, arch look. “So he’s stuck hosting.”
Shouldn’t you be helping him, then?” Queen Vedalanna couldn’t, after all. Everyone knew the king’s second wife was very, very...
Lyn...please tell me...is Veda—?”
In labor?” Prestlyn supplied. Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “Yes, she is.”
Shize!” he exclaimed, unable to control himself. They’d just crossed another corridor where more late courtiers were scurrying.
Can you believe it?” she almost squealed. “You’re going to be warder to a
This is all Vail
He broke into a run, allowing the Call to hurtle him through now seemingly-endless corridors toward the royal birthing room.
Prestlyn ran after him, shouting for him to wait.
’t fair. Everything was going to plan!
To slow him down, s
he grabbed his arm, apparently taking permission once as permission for always—
I’ll have to tell her that isn’t how it works
—but he was too dismayed to read any of her thoughts in spite of the contact.
Calm down! Vail Over Us, what’s the matter?”
He glared at her, breathing hard.
He wanted to scream.
Everyone thinks the goddess is so great and blessed and wondrous. But they’ve never met her.
When he said nothing, her smile faded away completely.
“I’m sorry, Jary. I thought you’d be happy.”
I was the best apprentice the Templars had ever seen, and now I’m going to be a glorified nursemaid for the next ten years of my life.
He wished he could say this out loud to someone—anyone—but even his parents had acted as if they were proud of him. Touched by the Hand of Vail, everyone said.
took a deep breath and began walking again. “I know I should be happy. I know it’s a gift and an honor. I
She must have glimpsed the unspoken in his eyes.
“But you wanted to be a Templar.”
I know I’m being stupid, Lyn. I know this is a great thing.”
You aren’t being stupid. It isn’t easy to let go of a dream.” She spoke as if she knew this from personal experience, and if he had been in a different mood, he would have asked for her story. But he couldn’t stop focusing on himself.
My family put every last hope they had in me, and I let them down.
He’d worked so hard to be the best. And he had been. His skill with the sword had rivaled even that of his greatest teachers. He’d blazed through his training almost a year ahead of his contemporaries. His destiny seemed sure.
My family would have been able to
hold their heads up at Court again and not have to beg charity from my useless, stuck-up relatives just to participate in Society.
Prestlyn asked the question everyone asked.
“What was it like, meeting Vail? Was she scary?”
He suppressed a snort with difficulty and wondered just how nikking deep into the castle he was going to have to walk to find this damned birthing room.
No, she was...”
Indescribable. At least I could never tell anyone what she was really like. They’d think I was being blasphemous.
He wanted to be blasphemous, sometimes.
I was so close. But I just had to check one more time, even though my master told me I could move on to the next street.
The raiders had decimated the village,
taking everything of value and burning the rest. The Templars had arrived too late to do anything except search for survivors to save or stragglers to kill.
It was my very first mission.
If I’d had more experience, I wouldn’t have been so soft. I wouldn’t have gone back.
Even now, when he saw the
little girl with her warder, he almost hated her for ruining his life.
If I’d never heard her crying—
A too-familiar, exasperated voice filled his head almost to bursting.
She would have died, you idiot.
Jarlyth sighed, and sent the goddess a quickly-thought apology.
To Prestlyn, he said, “Vail is very overwhelming.”
He could sense his friend wanted more, but he paused and smiled at her.
“I need to go on alone, now. Thanks for walking with me, Lyn. It was great to see you.”
Her smile faded around
the edges, and it held a note of sympathy he hoped wasn’t pity in disguise. “You’ll be great, Jary. You always are. At everything.” And with that, she whirled and ran back toward the ball.
Don’t make me Manifest and kick your whiny ass, Jarlyth Denara.
Good. Now straighten up. You’re about to meet your nikking destiny.
:. And Vail was gone again.
He rolled his eyes.
Oh, how the deacons would weep to know their goddess swore like a dock-worker.
I guess that’s my destiny—to follow Calls with babies at the ends of them.