Authors: Katrina Archer
Tags: #fantasy, #Juvenile Fiction, #young adult, #Middle Grade
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
2014 Ganache Media Kindle edition
Copyright © 2014 by Katrina Archer
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Heather McDougal
Maps by Katrina Archer and Heather McDougal
One little word. How could one little word sound so big? So huge there was no getting around it?
“But …” Saroya cast about for something—anything!—that might change the verdict.
“There are no ‘buts’,” Doyenne Ganarra said. Her stern, lined face brooked no argument. “Three Tests. That’s all anyone gets. Your results are consistent, at least.” The doyenne handed back Saroya’s test slate and chalk. Saroya took them with the same enthusiasm she would a live, venomous snake. “Within the month,” the doyenne continued, “you will gather your possessions and leave the cloister. Perhaps the mines will take you.”
Saroya caught a fleeting glance of pity on the other examiner’s face before both Adepts swept from the room. She looked around but there was nothing lying in reach to throw at Doyenne Ganarra’s retreating head—but who was she kidding? As if she’d ever work up that much courage. A glint of gilt thread on the woman’s headdress winked back, taunting her.
Drained, Saroya leaned against the window. The Testing seemed to go so well! Instead—
Untalented. Too scattered …
The stone of the frame cooled her temple. The sun shone outside, but the cheeriness outdoors eluded her. She wished the two happy, chattering students crossing the courtyard would shut up. Couldn’t they tell her world had just ended? Her hand shaking, Saroya worried at a strand of copper hair.
Leave! Saroya tallied up in her head what little money she’d saved. Not enough for getting by even in tiny Adram Vale. No guild would take her now, not without a certificate of Talent with the seal of the Order of Adepts. Even if she evaded hard labor in the mines and found other work, it would take months to earn enough on a servant or field hand’s stipend to leave the village. What would she do in a town full of strangers? Better strangers, though, than a tiny village where everybody knew just what she was.
Untalented. Saroya shuddered.
The healer led Isolte into the queen’s inner room. Isolte wrinkled her nose. The air was close and smelled of stale sheets, perspiration, and healing herbs.
Isolte stiffened. Queen Padvai’s once shining auburn hair clung in lank tendrils to her forehead. Her eyes glittered with fever. Beads of moisture formed on her nose, cheeks, and forehead. The gauntness of her face left no doubt that this was no simple spring cold. Padvai lay in the rumpled bed, fighting for her life.
Isolte brushed past the Healer and leaned over the bed. Padvai’s eyes zagged back and forth, unseeing. She labored to breathe.
“Padvai,” Isolte said. “Sister. I am here.”
Padvai’s gaze locked onto Isolte’s, and she clutched her sister’s hand. “Isolte? Where’s Dhilain? I asked for Dhilain …”
Isolte sniffed. Why must she always play second fiddle to brother dearest?
“Isolte. The child. You must tell the family about the child.”
Isolte drew back, startled, but Padvai’s grip was stronger than she would have guessed.
“What child?” Was there something she was forgetting? Isolte wracked her brain.
“The Adepts. In the vale. Adram Vale.”
“Padvai, you’re confused. If you sleep, it will all be better in the morning.”
“No.” Her sister’s breathing grew shallower. She squeezed Isolte’s fingers harder. “Not confused. In Adram Vale.” She paused, hoarse. “
Isolte gasped, and glanced at the healer. Had he overheard? No.
Padvai pleaded with her. “Promise me. Tell Dhilain. But—” A fit of coughing seized her. “Urdig. Urdig must not know.”
“Of course.” Isolte patted Padvai’s hand, hoping to soothe her and get her own hand back. “A child, Padvai. Such interesting news. Was that all you wished to tell me?” Doubt crept into Padvai’s face. “No more sins to confess while we are about it? The identity of King Urdig’s cuckold, perhaps?”
Padvai moaned. The healer rushed to the bed and shooed Isolte away. “That’s enough for now. You may visit again tomorrow if you wish.”
Isolte acquiesced. She was coming away with more than she’d expected, anyway. “Good night, sister. Sweet dreams.”
One could be civil in one’s little victories, after all.
Life had been easy before the Testing sealed her fate, but the next morning Saroya got a taste of things to come. Entering her builder’s class, she dropped her slate on her desk. The other students filing in avoided looking at her.
The Adept teacher handed back the granary design grades. Saroya was especially pleased with her idea for keeping out vermin. Rats could only jump so high. She’d clad the base of every wall and beam in her mockup with flattened iron pilfered from the smithy. The slippery metal foiled the rats’ grip on wood. Saroya frowned down at her paper. There must be some mistake! She approached the Adept after class.
“Beg pardon, but I think you forgot to grade my granary design,” Saroya said, careful to keep her tone polite.
Seated at his desk, he still managed to look down his nose at her. “Not worth my time—grading the papers of a student not moving on to the Builder’s Guild.”
“But—” She was saying that an awful lot, lately.