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Praise for the Novels of the Nine Kingdoms
The Mage’s Daughter
“Engaging characters—family, friends, and enemies—keep the story hopping along with readers relishing every word and hungering for the next installment. [A] perfect ten.” —Romance Reviews Today
“Lynn Kurland has become one of my favorite fantasy authors; I can hardly wait to see what happens next.” —Huntress Reviews
“The Mage’s Daughter, like its predecessor, Star of the Morning, is the best work Lynn Kurland has ever done. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.” —Fresh Fiction
“I couldn’t put the book down . . . The fantasy world, drawn so beautifully, is too wonderful to miss any of it. I highly recommend this book, the series, and all of Ms. Kurland’s other works. Brilliant!”
—Paranormal Romance Reviews
“This is a terrific romantic fantasy. Lynn Kurland provides a fabulous . . . tale that sets the stage for an incredible finish.”
—Midwest Book Review
Star of the Morning
“Kurland launches a stunning, rich, and poetic new trilogy. The quest is on!” —Romantic Times
“Terrific . . . Lynn Kurland provides fantasy readers with a delightful quest tale starring likable heroes . . . A magical beginning to what looks like will be a superb romantic fantasy trilogy.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Entertaining fantasy.” —Romance Reviews Today
“An enchanting writer.” —The Eternal Night
“A superbly crafted, sweetly romantic tale of adventure and magic.”
continued . . .
“I dare you to read a Kurland story and not enjoy it!”
Dreams of Stardust
“Kurland weaves another fabulous read with just the right amounts of laughter, romance, and fantasy.” —Affaire de Coeur
“Kurland crafts some of the most ingenious time-travel romances readers can find . . . Wonderfully clever and completely enchanting.”
“A masterful storyteller . . . [a] mesmerizing novel.” —Romance Junkies
“One of our most beloved time-travel authors and deservedly so. Each new book is cause for celebration!” —Fresh Fiction
A Garden in the Rain
“Kurland laces her exquisitely romantic, utterly bewitching blend of contemporary romance and time travel with a delectable touch of tart wit, leaving readers savoring every word of this superbly written romance.” —Booklist
“Kurland . . . consistently delivers the kind of stories readers dream about. Don’t miss this one.” —The Oakland (MI) Press
From This Moment On
“A disarming blend of romance, suspense, and heartwarming humor, this book is romantic comedy at its best.” —Publishers Weekly
“A deftly plotted delight.” —Booklist
My Heart Stood Still
“The essence of pure romance. Sweet, poignant, and truly magical, this is a rare treat.” —Booklist
“Kurland out-writes romance fiction’s top authors by a mile.”
If I Had You
“Kurland brings history to life . . . in this tender medieval romance.”
The More I See You
“Blends history with spellbinding passion and impressive characterization, not to mention a magnificent plot.” —Rendezvous
Another Chance to Dream
“Kurland creates a special romance.” —Publishers Weekly
The Very Thought of You
“[A] masterpiece . . . This fabulous tale will enchant anyone who reads it.” —Painted Rock Reviews
This Is All I Ask
“An exceptional read.” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Both powerful and sensitive . . . A wonderfully rich and rewarding book.”—Susan Wiggs
“A medieval of stunning intensity. Sprinkled with adventure, fantasy, and heart.”—Christina Dodd
A Dance Through Time
“An irresistibly fast and funny romp across time.”—Stella Cameron
“Vastly entertaining time travel . . . a humorous novel of feisty fun and adventure.” —A Little Romance
Titles by Lynn Kurland
STARDUST OF YESTERDAY
A DANCE THROUGH TIME
THIS IS ALL I ASK
THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU
ANOTHER CHANCE TO DREAM
THE MORE I SEE YOU
IF I HAD YOU
MY HEART STOOD STILL
FROM THIS MOMENT ON
A GARDEN IN THE RAIN
DREAMS OF STARDUST
MUCH ADO IN THE MOONLIGHT
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE
WITH EVERY BREATH
The Novels of the Nine Kingdoms
STAR OF THE MORNING
THE MAGE’S DAUGHTER
PRINCESS OF THE SWORD
THE CHRISTMAS CAT
(with Julie Beard, Barbara Bretton, and Jo Beverley)
(with Casey Claybourne, Elizabeth Bevarly, and Jenny Lykins)
VEILS OF TIME
(with Maggie Shayne, Angie Ray, and Ingrid Weaver)
(with Elizabeth Bevarly, Emily Carmichael, and Elda Minger)
LOVE CAME JUST IN TIME
A KNIGHT’S VOW
(with Patricia Potter, Deborah Simmons, and Glynnis Campbell)
(with Madeline Hunter, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Karen Marie Moning)
TO WEAVE A WEB OF MAGIC
(with Patricia A. McKillip, Sharon Shinn, and Claire Delacroix)
THE QUEEN IN WINTER
(with Sharon Shinn, Claire Delacroix, and Sarah Monette)
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2009 by Lynn Curland.
All rights reserved.
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BERKLEY® SENSATION and the “B” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Berkley Sensation trade paperback edition / January 2009
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Princess of the sword / Lynn Kurland.—Berkley Sensation trade pbk. ed.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01461-5
1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Princesses—Fiction. I. Title.
A dank chill filled the air, slipping down the weathered sides of A crooked buildings to pool on glistening cobblestones. It hung in great tatters against the keep that sat perched atop a bluff like a great bird of prey. In the distance, a ship’s bell tolled. The sound was muffled by the night air, as if the mist didn’t particularly care to awaken anyone who might be sleeping inside that shadowy keep.
Morgan of Melksham understood that. She had no desire to wake anything in that keep either. In fact, she had no desire to get close enough to it for any unfortunate night-time interruptions to be a possibility. Only a madman would have approached those walls, shrouded as they were in spells and other unpleasant things of a wizardly nature.
Normally, she wouldn’t have found herself anywhere near such a place. She was a very practical woman with a straightforward way of conducting her life, which generally included a fondness for sharp swords and a habit of avoiding whenever possible any associations with mages.
Or at least that had been true until the fall. It was then that her life had become something so far from what she’d expected it would be, she scarce recognized it as hers any longer.
It had all begun with a simple request from a man she loved like a father, a request to take a blade from the Island of Melksham all the way to the king’s palace on the northern border of Neroche. She had agreed, reluctantly, but knowing that she couldn’t in good conscience refuse. She’d expected the journey to be difficult, dangerous, and possibly fatal to her person.
She’d sorely underestimated the potential for all three.
The knife had revealed itself to be rather more magical than she’d been told, her travels had led her to discover things about her past she wouldn’t have dreamt in her worst nightmares, and the companions she’d collected along the way—or one of them, rather—had turned out to be substantially more magical than she’d feared.
All of which had led, in a most roundabout fashion, to her standing uneasily under the eaves of an inn and feeling an unreasonable amount of trepidation at the thought of assaulting the fortress in front of her so she could steal something that was critical to another battle she intended to fight in a place she most certainly didn’t want to go.
It wasn’t the climbing over walls that bothered her. She had, during her long and illustrious career as a mercenary, ended more than one siege by slipping into a keep and convincing the recalcitrant lord there that it would be wise for him to just give up and give in rather than face what she could promise would be a very long and unpleasant war.
It wasn’t even the theft that troubled her. Spoils were spoils and, when fairly won, really couldn’t be considered plundered goods.
What bothered her was that the castle before her was so slathered in magic that even she could feel it from where she stood fifty paces away, and she was preparing to be about her nefarious business with a man who should have known better.
“This is a terrible idea,” she said, not for the first time.
Mochriadhemiach of Neroche stood next to her with his arms folded over his chest, staring thoughtfully at the fortress in front of them. “We’ll be in and out before anyone is the wiser,” he said, also not for the first time.
“Have you ever done this before?” she asked unwillingly. “Here?”
“Aye,” he said, but offered no further details.
She supposed she didn’t want further details. She suspected he did this sort of thing on a regular basis to add to his already too-large collection of spells. At least he had the benefit of not being bothered by the magic. She wished she could say the same for herself.
But she wasn’t one to shy away from the difficult, so she turned her thoughts back to the matter at hand. The keep had to be assaulted, and she needed to know the particulars of the defenses so she wouldn’t make any mistakes in the taking of it.
“You said something about magic guarding the walls,” she said, suppressing the urge to shiver from a cold that came from more than just evening mist. “You should tell me of it again.” She looked up at Miach. “I wasn’t listening when you tried before.”
He smiled as he turned her to him and pulled her cloak up closer to her chin. “I imagine you weren’t, so here is the tale. Several centuries ago, the headmaster, whose job it is to see to these sorts of things, determined that it would serve the wizards of Buidseachd to know who walked in and out of their gates.”
“Or over their walls,” she added.
“Aye, that too, I daresay,” he agreed. “Master Ceannard crafted a spell that sets off an alarm in his chambers if any but he who has presented himself to the gatekeeper uses any sort of magic within the boundaries of the castle. Keeps the rabble out, I daresay.”
“I daresay,” she muttered.
He studied her for a moment or two before he reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “You know, I wouldn’t think any less of you if you stayed here.”
“I can scale a wall as proficiently as you, my lord.”
He smiled briefly. “You know that isn’t what I’m talking about.” He glanced at the keep, then looked back at her. “I fear, Morgan, that I will walk places tonight where you won’t want to go.”
She looked up at him, his face cast in deep shadows, and supposed she could have told him that what lay before them was the least of her worries, but she imagined he already knew that. She also could have reminded him that he was braving the place in front of them to fetch a spell for her use, not his, but she supposed he knew that already as well. This was merely another in a very long list of things he had done for her benefit alone. The least she could do was go with him and see that he didn’t find himself with a sword thrust into his back.
No matter where his path led.
“I don’t fear what’s inside those walls,” she said, wondering if saying it often enough would at some point lead her to believe the lie. “Just tell me how we’re going to avoid that alarm.”
He looked at her for another moment in silence, then sighed. “We’re not going to use any magic as we’re about our business.”
“And just who you are won’t set bells to ringing?”
“I’m going to hide who—and what—I am.” He paused. “You’ll need to do the same.”
She knew she shouldn’t have been surprised by how dry her mouth had suddenly become, but she was. She had faced countless men over blades and never once doubted her skill, yet there she was, terrified just the same.
Magic was, as her former swordmaster Scrymgeour Weger had said on more than one occasion, a very dodgy business indeed.
“I’m going to give you a Duriallian spell,” Miach continued. “I think it will do for our purposes tonight.”
“I didn’t think the dwarves had any spells.”
“They don’t have very many, and they are, as you might imagine, exceptionally reluctant to share the ones they do have.”
“Find yourself locked in some dwarvish solar without anything to do save poke about in books you shouldn’t have been reading?” she asked pointedly.
He smiled. “I might have.”
“Miach, someday you’re going to get caught.” Just please don’t let it be tonight.
“I always have a good excuse for being where I’m not supposed to be,” he assured her. “Now, the spell I’m going to give you is particularly useful when you want to hide something. A cache of gems, or perhaps piles of gold. Or yourself.” He paused. “Or, rather, merely a part of yourself. As in, just your magic.”
“But how can I use one of their spells?” she protested faintly. “I thought you could only use what magic you had in your blood.” Well, unless you happened to be the archmage of some realm or other and then she supposed anything was possible.
“Magic is generally responsive only to what the mage has in his veins,” he agreed, “but ’tis possible to use things you aren’t entitled to by birth if you have enough power.” He smiled faintly. “Are you truly curious, or merely stalling?”
“Stalling, if you can believe it.” She purposely avoided looking to her right. “And I never stall.”
He rubbed her arms briskly. “Then let’s be about this before we think on it any longer,” he said. “I’ll give you the spell, then tell you two ways to undo it. One takes a handful of words; the other a single word only. I wouldn’t use the second unless you’ve absolutely no other choice.”
“Because it will release all your power at once, much like a dam bursting. Everyone for miles will feel the echo of it.”
She swallowed with difficulty. “And alarm bells will go off?”
“Probably in the throne room of Tor Neroche,” he said dryly. “So please, be ginger. Now, the spell is laid thus—”
“Aren’t you going to do it for me?” she asked in surprise.
He hesitated. “I could, but I don’t think you’d care for it. You have power enough to use the spell successfully on your own.”
“But if I make a mistake, we are lost.”
He closed his eyes briefly. “All right, I’ll see to it. But stop me if you find you can’t breathe, aye?”
She nodded, but she couldn’t help but think he was underestimating her ability to endure things that were difficult.
Or, at least she did until he started weaving his spell.
All her power, the power she’d spent weeks denying, then yet more time trying to accept—all that power didn’t so much leave her as it was drawn into itself, then dropped down into some fathomless well. She looked over the edge of that well, fearing she had lost what she had never wanted but had so recently come to appreciate, but there it all lay, shining there in the dark like a treasure that was so lovely and so desirable, it almost brought tears to her eyes.
She had to pull away mentally from the sight. She was appalled to find how accustomed she’d become to that sparkle of magic cascading through her veins. It was the same sort of magic that whispered through the trees and sang as it fell down onto the ground like sunlight in her grandfather’s garden at Seanagarra.
It was beautiful.
She looked up to find Miach watching her silently, his eyes full of what she’d seen.
“If your grandfather could see your face right now,” he said quietly, “he would weep.”
She took a deep breath. “I never intended . . . I didn’t realize . . .”
“Not all magic is evil, Morgan, is it?”
She shook her head, because she couldn’t speak. She could only go into his arms, hold him tightly for a moment or two, then step back before she gave into the urge to display some womanly emotion that wouldn’t serve either of them. She waved him on to his business without further comment. She would think about magic, and mages, and other things that unbalanced her later. For now, ’twas best to do what had to be done.
Miach gave her both ways to undo his spell, and she memorized each faithfully. She didn’t hear him say anything on his own behalf, but she felt his power disappear as surely as if he’d snuffed out a candle—or dropped all his magic into a well and then capped it.
She wasn’t too fond of that last image, truth be told.
“Let’s go,” he said.
She nodded, then turned to slip through the shadows with him, giving no more thought to what she was doing than she would have any other offensive. They would be over the walls, find what they needed, then be back outside the keep before any of the mutterers inside were the wiser.
The outer walls of Buidseachd were relatively easy to scale, though very high. Heights didn’t bother her, so she didn’t trouble herself over them. She dropped onto the parapet with Miach, hid in the shadows as a sleepy sentry shuffled by, then followed him as he wound his way through towers and passages and up and down stairs. She didn’t ask him where he was going, and he didn’t volunteer any information.
Bells weren’t ringing—save the one tolling the hour that almost sent her tripping into Miach’s back—and students weren’t pouring out of their bedchambers with spells of death on their lips. Perhaps they would manage their business after all.
They passed others, but those lads seemed to find nothing unusual about two cloaked and hooded figures wandering the halls in the middle of the night. Miach had told her that it was common to see both students and masters in the passageways at all hours, studying or thinking or working on some perplexing magical tangle of some sort or another. Morgan wondered how anyone bore the place. Despite her attempts to ignore it, the magic was almost stifling. She could feel it rising up from the ground like a foul mist. In time, she realized she was gasping.
Miach stopped suddenly and pulled her into an alcove with him. “We’ll rest for a moment.”
She leaned back against the wall instead of collapsing there, but doing so took almost more of her self-discipline than she had to spare. “Thank you.”
“You’re doing well.”
She didn’t think she was doing well at all. She never should have set foot inside the accursed place—never mind what she thought she owed Miach, never mind that she’d come over the walls fully expecting to not take a decent breath whilst she was there.
She had actually listened to Miach earlier when he’d said that Buidseachd was built on a spring of magic, and three thousand years of wizards puttering about inside it had added innumerable layers to what had already been there. She had stopped listening once Miach and her grandfather had begun discussing the wizardly mischief that had dredged up things under Buidseachd’s foundations that perhaps had been better left alone, things that had left Sìle and Eulasaid of Camanaë and Proìseil of Ainneamh very nervous centuries ago. Perhaps she should have paid more attention to what those things had been. If she had, she might have been less likely to trust her ability to endure things far beyond what another might be able to.
She touched Weger’s mark over her brow, the mark that had exacted an excruciating price in discipline to win, then forced herself to take a pair of deep, even breaths. She looked up at Miach. “None of this troubles you, does it?”
“I suppose that depends on where I find myself. There are places even here—” He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “Nay, it doesn’t, for the most part, but I’ve been here before. We’ll be swift.”
She nodded, pushed away from the wall, then put her head down and merely watched his feet as he walked without haste in front of her. She was almost grateful when she felt a chill blow across her face.
Until she realized where the chill was coming from.
Miach continued to walk, though, and she continued to follow him because she could do nothing else. If he was affected by what was rapidly turning into bone-numbing cold, he didn’t show it.
He finally stopped in front of a doorway that was so full of darkness, she could hardly make out where a doorknob might be located. It was enough to know that this was the source of the coldness. Miach was still for quite some time, as if he listened. Morgan wished he would hurry. The longer she stood there, the more she dreaded going inside. At one point, as he picked the lock with skill even her most crafty mercenary companions would have been impressed by, she almost suggested that they return back the way they’d come.
But he opened the door before she could open her mouth and whatever else she might have been, she was no coward. If Miach could go inside, then so could she.
Though it took far more of her strength of will to cross that threshold than it should have.
The chamber was less dark than she’d feared it might be. A fire burned in the fireplace that faced the door and a servant slept on its hearth. Morgan jumped a bit when she felt Miach’s hand on her arm, but he was only pointing toward a corner. She happily made her way there and stood in the absolute dark, grateful for its concealment. She could leap out at any moment and guard Miach’s back. And given where they found themselves, she wasn’t completely sure that wouldn’t be necessary.
She didn’t need anyone to tell her where she was, for she could feel the magic that lingered behind in the chamber like a vile odor.
She could scarce believe this was where Miach intended to begin his search, but apparently he had a better idea of what sort of spell they needed than she did.
She forced herself to keep her focus part on Miach and part on the lad who lay snoring in front of the fire. The lad didn’t rouse, but Miach gave him no reason to. He was absolutely silent as he walked around the chamber, investigating nooks and crannies, running his finger over books on shelves.
She watched him stop in front of a desk layered with manuscripts. She wondered how he could even touch things that made her ill just by being in the same chamber with them. Olc was an evil magic. She’d seen it worked—and worked it herself a time or two, unfortunately—and that had been enough to convince her that she wanted nothing to do with it.
Mochriadhemiach of Neroche had, she had decided in the past month, a depth to him that she suspected she would never plumb. It was reassuring somehow to have an idea of what he could endure.
And how quickly he could move.
She realized he’d leapt across the chamber only because he was shoving her back into a wardrobe—and he was doing that because there were voices that had stopped outside the chamber door and a key was being fitted into the lock. The doorknob squeaked as it turned. Morgan found herself backed into a coat hook and had to put her hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp of pain. She didn’t dare move after that.
Actually, remaining still wasn’t all that difficult. She was so terrified—she who had fought countless battles and never once puked in fear—that all she could do was stand there, hunched over and frozen, and pray she would live to see the other side of the next half hour without giving herself away by some untoward noise. At least Miach had managed to pull the door almost completely to so they wouldn’t be easily seen. Unfortunately, she could still easily hear the voices on the other side of the heavy wood.
It would appear the master of the chamber had come back for the night. Morgan closed her eyes and wondered if she should have worked a bit harder to convince Miach this was a very bad idea indeed. She remembered vividly the conversation they’d had as they’d been leaving the safety of the inn.
And if they find you’ve slipped over the walls? she’d asked.
And if they do, she’d insisted. What then?
He’d been long in answering. He had finally sighed heavily and looked at her. Death.
Even for you? she’d asked in surprise.
I can stand against many, Morgan, but not against all the masters of Buidseachd at once.
He hadn’t offered any other details, but she hadn’t needed him to. If he was caught, he would be thrown to the masters of Buidseachd and they would fall upon him mercilessly. She had no doubt she would defend him as best she could, but in the end, she supposed she would be overpowered as well, then they would both be subjected to whatever wizardly punishment the masters thought fit.
Death, she suspected, might be the more pleasant alternative.
The hook poking into her shoulder was terribly painful, but she ignored it. Harder to ignore was the stiffening of her back and the cramping of the muscles of her legs. She didn’t move, though. She also didn’t dare hope that the master of Olc would suddenly lose interest in retiring to his very comfortable solar for the night. She imagined he would soon be finished arguing with whomever he’d brought with him, then settle onto his sofa with a glass of wine and consider in a leisurely fashion all the ways he could make the final moments of intruders as miserable as possible.
She wasn’t sure being trapped hunched over in a wardrobe shouldn’t have had a prominent place on that list, but she wasn’t about to suggest it to him. She closed her eyes and thought about Gobhann, about the bitter wind that blew there eleven months out of the year and the harsh summer sunshine that beat upon the rocks during the lone month of warmth. She thought about the strictures she’d learned from Weger and how he would have looked at her in disgust to learn she’d even given heed to any ache or pain she might have felt in her frail womanly frame. That helped, but not overmuch.
She and Miach were trapped.
And the only way out lay past a man who would never let them go willingly.
Miach suspected he might have indulged in a bit of plunder once too often.
He had slipped in and out of Buidseachd quite successfully before, but never with anyone else. It was also one thing to intend to have just a peek in the library downstairs. Assaulting the chamber of Droch of Saothair, the master of Olc, was another thing entirely. He should have insisted that Morgan remain behind.
Unfortunately, it was too late at present for regrets. All he could do now was decide what he might attempt if they were discovered. As he had told Morgan earlier, he could stand easily against one of the masters of Buidseachd, less easily against two or three, but not against all of them together.
At last count, there were ten wizards at the school, each the acknowledged master of his craft. Miach wasn’t in the habit of doubting his own abilities, but there came a point where a man had to admit what his limitations were.
Even if he released his power, fought his way out of Droch’s solar, and escaped the keep, he would be forced to slink back to Tor Neroche, shamed, ostracized, spoken of with disgust for centuries to come.
Which he would do without hesitation, if it came to a choice between that and Morgan’s life. At least she might still care for him if he were disgraced. Better disgraced than dead.
But better undetected than disgraced. He would get them out without incident if he could manage it.
He fought to quiet his breath and his mind. He didn’t dare reach behind him for Morgan’s hand lest he brush something and give away their presence. Morgan was absolutely still, though her fingers were digging into his back, which told him she hadn’t fainted from fright. He would have to tell her that the last thought had crossed his mind—later, when she could invite him outside and repay him for the slight with her sword.
“Give me tidings,” Droch commanded, “and pray make them something useful.”
“Aye, my lord,” another voice said quickly. “Of course, my lord, there are the usual tales about those creatures that are wandering all over Neroche—”
“I know that already!”
Miach didn’t doubt it. Droch wasn’t one to leave his comfortable lodgings at Buidseachd very often, but he more than made up for it with the quantity and quality of his spies. Miach had encountered them on more than one occasion in places he wouldn’t have thought to find them.
“But those monsters have been seen east of the Sgùrrachs,” the man added gingerly. “There is no definite word on who sends them, but the rumor is that Lothar—”
“Lothar of Wychweald?” Droch said with a derisive snort. “He isn’t capable of creating what roams through the Nine Kingdoms at present.”
“But his art—”
“Art,” Droch sneered. “I have art. He has a cobbled-together, inelegant patchwork of rubbish that works only because he’s stumbled upon spells a child could master and puts a bit of flair behind them.”
Miach might have smiled had the situation not been so dire. It was a well-known fact that there was no love lost between Droch and the black mage of Wychweald. He himself had perhaps a different opinion of the latter’s power, though he certainly had to agree with Droch’s assessment of Lothar’s technique.
“What else do you have?” Droch demanded. “It had best be worth the gold I’ve given you, for what you’ve told me so far certainly isn’t.”
“There was a battle, Master,” the man offered hastily, “less than a se’nnight ago, on the plains of Ailean. Many of those strange creatures were slain and ’tis said that the archmage of Neroche was slain with them. His runes were written in fire—”
“I saw his sign myself,” Droch said coldly. “And if you think he allowed himself to be killed, you are a fool. He may be young, but he’s neither stupid nor powerless. He hasn’t skill to match mine, of course, but he shouldn’t be underestimated.” He made a noise of impatience. “These are not new tidings—”
“Then hear these,” the man blurted out with the desperation of one truly terrified of whom he served. “There is a report that the king of Tòrr Dòrainn is staying at the Uneasy Dragon with his youngest son.”
Miach closed his eyes briefly. Damn it. He’d known something like this would happen from the moment he’d taken the elven king to be fitted with discreet traveler’s gear and Sìle had instructed the poor tailor to look a bit harder for silk instead of homespun. At the very least, he should have locked Sìle in the chamber at the inn, or insisted he conceal who he was beyond merely dressing plainly. Perhaps he should have demanded that Morgan’s grandfather go back home to Seanagarra instead of coming with them to Beinn òrain.
But then Miach wouldn’t have had the pleasure of Morgan’s company for the past se’nnight, and he wouldn’t have found himself betrothed to the woman who was as still as death behind him.
He hoped they didn’t pay a steep price for the concession.
“His younger son, you imbecile,” Droch said. “He only has a pair of them. And what would Sìle of Seanagarra be doing here? We rid ourselves of his prying self centuries ago.”
“He was trying to pass himself off as a mere traveler, but that isn’t the interesting bit,” the other man said, beginning to warm to his topic. “One of my local lads says he saw three others with them, one of whom he thought might have resembled the archmage of Neroche—”
The crack of a hand across a face echoed in the chamber. “Now you waste my time,” Droch snarled. “The day the king of Tòrr Dòrainn endures the company of that brat from Neroche will be the day I sit down for tea with Eulasaid of Camanaë.”
“I could continue to look—”
There was a bit of gurgling, then the unmistakable sound of a man being dragged across the room and thrown out the door. “Bring me proof of the elven king’s presence here and I’ll think about letting you live.”
“Aye, my lo—”
The slamming of that door made the door of the wardrobe creak thanks to its breeze. Miach would have pushed himself back harder against Morgan, but he didn’t dare do even that. He merely remained motionless and listened to Droch rage for a moment or two about gold wasted and the stupidity of local ne’er-do-wells. Miach closed his eyes and cursed. Even if Droch didn’t believe the tidings at present, he would consider them when he’d calmed down a bit, and then he would begin to think things he shouldn’t. Miach listened as Droch strode angrily around his chamber, then slowed to a halt in front of his desk.
He suddenly became very still.
Miach knew this because he could see a sliver of a reflection of the man in the enormous mirror hanging over the hearth. Droch ran his hand over his books, stopped, then turned and looked in the mirror.
Miach knew it wasn’t possible that Droch could see him, not even through the slit left by the partially open wardrobe door, but even so his heart began to pound forcefully. He knew it was only in his own ears that it sounded so appallingly loud, but there was no comfort in that.
Droch walked over to the hearth and hauled his servant to his feet. The boy woke with a squeak.
“Has anyone been in here?” Droch demanded.
“Nay, milord,” the lad gasped. “Nay, not a soul.”
“Are you certain?”
“Aye, milord. My life upon it, milord. I just laid down but a moment ago.”
Droch took the boy by the scruff of the neck and shoved him away. “Begone. I want privacy.”
The serving lad scrambled with all due haste across the chamber. The door was wrenched open, then pulled shut behind him with a bang. Miach listened to Droch wander about the chamber, investigating corners and patches of dark that gave way to his werelight only reluctantly. He paused, then walked back over to his table and studied the books there. Miach had sensed no spell covering any of them—well, other than the usual bit of vileness that crawled over whatever tome contained Olc. Surely nothing that should have given his own presence away.
The master of the art came to a stop in front of his solar door. Miach could no longer see him, but he could hear him as he moved again, his boots very light against the stone of the floor. He walked to a spot directly in front of the wardrobe and stopped.
Miach was suddenly so overcome by the desire to fling open the door, he almost caught his breath. He wasn’t sure if it was his own will faltering or if it were some sort of wretched spell that Droch was casting silently. That he couldn’t tell spoke volumes, no doubt.
Droch stepped back suddenly, out of sight again. Miach didn’t dare hope that would be the end of it. Morgan’s fingers in his back didn’t relax either, so perhaps she had the same thought. He closed his eyes and listened to Droch pace about the chamber several more times, pausing each time to linger in front of the wardrobe. Miach supposed they wouldn’t be fortunate enough for Droch to wear himself out, then go have a little rest on that sofa long enough for them to escape.
Droch suddenly walked in the direction of the door. Miach didn’t have to wonder for long what he intended, for he heard the words of a spell clearly enough. In time, he saw something begin to form itself in the middle of the chamber. Droch clapped his hands and the pile of what he’d created began to first shimmer, then take shape.