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Rani Trader looked through the panes of glass, grateful that the direction of the wind had shifted, that she was temporarily spared the stench of burned wood and melted stone from the city below her tower chamber. She ordered herself not to lean out the window, not to gaze into the palace courtyard and see the refugees who huddled in their makeshift tents. She drew a deep breath, fighting the urge to turn away, to close her eyes, to shut out all thoughts of the fire that had eaten its way through Moren.
No one knew how the blaze had started. There were rumors that it had begun in a tavern brawl, deep in the Soldiers' Quarter. Some said that it had sprung from an unattended fire in the Merchants' Quarter, at a sausage-maker's stall. Others said that it had begun in the Guildsmen's Quarter, or among the homeless, roving Touched.
Rani did not care how the fire had begun. She cared only that the newborn flames had been licked to full life by the spring-time winds. The blaze had fed on winter-dry wood, devouring entire streets of the city. Good people had died trying to protect their families, and fine trade goods had disappeared in smoke.
In the end, the fire was stopped only by an experimental engine created by Davin, one of King Halaravilli's retainers. That massive machine, intended for war, had saved some few Morenian lives, bringing down rows and rows of buildings with explosive charges, collapsing wood and mud and wattle so that the fire had nothing to consume, nowhere to go. Even Davin's creation might not have been sufficient,, if not for a furious spring storm that flooded the darkened and charred streets after three days of fire.
Moren was crippled, wounded almost to death. The city faced a new year and old terrors – starvation, freezing cold, madness. The Pilgrims' Bell tolled as refugees huddled in the palace courtyard, on the darkened flagstones of the old marketplace, in ramshackle doorways and unsafe structures. Children were sick, and the leeches who tended the survivors identified a new disease – firelung. The sickness was first brought on by breathing heated air or too much soot, but then it spread to others, to people who were exhausted and hopeless. Firelung killed if its victims did not receive rest and warmth and good, nourishing food. Often, it killed, even if the patients were cared for.
The only shred of grace from all the Thousand Gods, was that the cathedral had been spared. The cathedral and the Nobles' Quarter, and the palace compound. Moren had the tools to rebuild, if it dared.
Rani turned her head away and pulled the shutters closed, turning back to the tome on her whitewashed table. A JOURNEYMAN'S DUTY, she read. The letters were ornate, the parchment page ringed with fine illustrations of journeymen glasswrights going about their business of pouring glass, cutting shapes, crafting fine-drawn windows.
The book was the newest in her collection, given to her by Davin. The old man had carried it all the way to Rani's tower, breathing heavily from his exertion. He had pointed toward the heavy parchment at the beginning of the text, alerting her to the beautifully crafted pages. "Read it, girl. Read it, so that you can get on with your business."
She had bridled at his acerbic tone, but she had long ago mastered swallowing her retorts to the old inventor. Instead, she had brought a lamp closer, and she had made out the words on the page: A JOURNEYMAN'S DUTY. A Journeyman Glasswright shall exhibit all the Skills learned in his Apprenticeship. He shall show Knowledge in pouring Glass. He shall show Knowledge in cutting Glass. He shall show Knowledge in setting Glass. He shall show Leadership in teaching Apprentices. He shall show Obedience in following Masters. He shall contribute one fourth Share of all his worldly Goods to his King. Only then shall a Glasswright be recognized as Journeyman by his Guild and all the world."
Rani had read the text so many times that she had memorized the words, inuring herself to the longing that swelled in her chest. She had once been part of a complete guild – apprentices, journeymen, masters – all working toward a common goal. Now, she was the only glasswright in all of Morenia. She must prove to herself that she was ready to advance, that she was ready to stake claim to the title of journeyman. She must prove that she was ready to step forward in her bid to rebuild the glasswrights' guild.
After all, no other glasswrights were likely to trust their fates to Morenia. Not after the proud kingdom's own guild had been destroyed. Not after its guildhall was torn down, stone by painful stone. Not after its own masters and journeymen and apprentices had been executed or maimed, the supposedly lucky ones traveling far from Morenia with only scars and butchered hands to show for their devotion. If Rani were to rebuild the glasswrights' guild, she would have to start on her own, vanquishing the nightmares of the past.
And so, even after the fire, Rani began each day by reading the book's exhortation, as if the words alone would make her succeed in the face of Moren's calamity. That morning, she had set herself to work on a new window, a window illustrating the disaster of the fire. She was still trying to determine a strategy for cutting the pieces – long tongues of red and yellow and orange, streamers of color to commemorate the flames that had changed forever the world that she had known. She would immortalize Moren's destruction in glass, exorcise the memories from her own mind, and cement her claim to the title of journeyman....
She still did not have the skill to cut the long, flowing pieces. Instead, she would work on tinting the glass, creating the yellow and orange from clear glass and silver stain. She needed to determine the proper amount of gum arabic for the caustic mixture. She grunted slightly as she reached for a lead-embossed book, the first treasure that Davin had given her. That treatise held almost everything she wanted to know about glasswork, almost everything that she had taught herself in the three years since she had returned from Amanthia.
From Amanthia, where she had been kidnapped and forced into an army of children, children who were sold as slaves to further their dark king's evil goals. Rani had liberated that army, and she had contributed to the defeat of the evil King Sin Hazar. She had learned much on her journey to Amanthia, much about the dark power of loyalty and devotion and love.
Rani set the new book on the table, carefully bringing her lamp near and ignoring the slight tremble in her fingers. She was too aware of the power of fire. Before she could huddle over the pages of tight-written script,, the door to the tower chamber crashed open. "Mair!" Rani exclaimed. "Where have you been?"
The Touched girl grimaced. "Tending the children. Six more cases of fire-lung. All Touched." The disease was spreading, working its greatest damage among the people of Moren who had the least. Rani read Mair's concern in her friend's creased brow. Mair may have come to live in the palace, but her heart was still in the streets, with the children she had raised, with the troop she had led. With a visible effort, Mair set aside her worries, asking Rani, "What have you been up to, that you look so surprised at my coming here?"
"I was reading Davin's newest treatise, about advancement to journeyman."
"Books." Mair snorted as she glanced at the volumes on the high table. Rani knew that her Touched friend was able to read; Mair had mastered her letters at the same time that the girl was learning how to survive in the City streets. Reading and writing were tools that helped a Touched girl thrive, let her read the text of royal proclamations, let her draft markers for loans.
Mair had harnessed her skills well, Rani thought, managing a troop of children with all the aplomb of a general. The Touched leader had consistently directed her followers with a combination of maternal love and mercenary zeal – skills that were sometimes wasted in the constraints of King Halaravilli's court. Mair said, "There are more important things than books."
"Certainly there are, Mair," Rani sighed. "There are funeral pyres for all the victims who were not consumed outright by the fire. There is food to distribute. There are blankets to give out. But I can't be down there all the time. I can't watch over the damage all the time."
"They're your people, Rai."
"They're not mine!" Rani heard her voice ratchet higher, and she reminded herself to breathe, to relax her throat. "I'm a merchant girl, not a noble."
"Merchant girl, guild girl, noble." Mair shook her head. "You're whatever you decide to call yourself. The fact remains that the people need you. Your king needs you."
Rani snorted. "If he 'needed' me, he would have included me in his discussions with the ambassador from the Pepper Isles."
"You're still upset about that?"
"If I'd been there, we would have negotiated for more spices. We could have taxed the cinnamon and the pepper – we could have raised the salt tax. We'd have money to rebuild the city by the end of summer."
"Rai, he obviously didn't see it that way."
"Of course he didn't! He doesn't understand how to bargain!"
"He understands how to be a king." Mair shrugged. "He's overlord of the Pepper Isles. If he demands too much of them, they'll rebel. Morenia can hardly fight a battle now, not to keep its outlying territories in line."
Rani did not bother to respond. If she had been involved in the negotiations, the matter would never come to open rebellion. She was more skilled than that.
After all, she had been born into a merchant family. In her earliest days, she had learned how to manipulate her older brothers and sisters, how to lure customers into the family shop, how to hone the barest edge of a bargain. Negotiating was in her blood.
"In any case," Mair conceded, "the king says he wants you there tonight."
"Tonight! He's meeting with the Holy Father. He'd banish me before a messenger from the Pepper Isles but permit me to stand before the worldly representative of all the Thousand Gods?"
"Of course the king wants you there. You were the First Pilgrim."
Rani had been selected for that honor almost five years ago, when she had been caught up in the mystery of Prince Tuvashanoran's death. She had been snared by the evil Brotherhood of Justice, a cabal that had conspired to get her taken into the royal household, to have her adopted by the then-king as the First Pilgrim. The Brotherhood had wanted her to execute Halaravilli, to end his life and advance the cause of so-called Justice. Rani had freed herself from the Brotherhood a long time ago. A lifetime ago.
"The church hardly needs to be reminded of mistakes it made five years ago."
"The church made no mistakes. They got you in the palace."
"For all the good it's done Moren these past few weeks! Why does Hal want me? The Holy Father's so old that you could go in my place, and he wouldn't know the difference."
Mair ran her fingers through her always-tangled dark hair as she peered at Rani's blonde tresses. "I think he'd notice."
"He might," Rani admitted. "But Hal certainly wouldn't. He's forgotten what I look like."
"Is that what this is all about?" Mair clicked her tongue as she crossed the room. When she perched on top of a high stool, she looked like a benevolent bird of prey. "Rai, he's worried for the kingdom, for all of Morenia's future."
"Worried enough that he had to entertain that slattern of a princess from Brianta?"
"Worried enough that he sent her away." Mair's voice was surprisingly gentle. "She's not able to give him the funds he needs; her dowry isn't enough. He was put out with her, Rai, outright rude. He'll be lucky if her father doesn't revoke our right to travel along the Great Eastern Road. She left the palace this morning, and the rumors say the guards at the city gates learned a few new words, listening to her swear."
Rani had not heard that the princess was gone. Even as a victorious smile began to curve her lips, she managed to shake her head in a simulation of disgust. "That's what we need. Warfare on the eastern front. Any fool could see that this is not the time to provoke our neighbors."
"So now you're calling your king a fool?"
"If he acts like one, that's what I'll call him." Rani tugged at the sleeves of her gown, forcing her attention back to the formula for silver stain.
Mair laughed. "Treason, and within the palace's very walls."
"Is it treason if it's true?"
"It is treason if you speak against your king. It is treason if you leave him alone in his apartments and let him be outfoxed by the Holy Father, who was negotiating contracts before King Halaravilli was born. The church now says that we'll have to pay a delivery fee of one gold ingot for every shipment of food they bring in."
"An ingot! Why only an idiot –"
"Mind your tongue," Mair interrupted, laughing. "His Majesty commands you to attend him in his apartments."
Mair's words shot through Rani, jamming against her spine and stealing away her breath. "He asked for me?"
"So, now that he needs me, he can keep a civil tongue in his head."
"Let it rest! You pushed him this morning. You know that you did. Your feelings were hurt that he sent you out of the room while he spoke privately with the ambassador from the Pepper Isles."
"He dismissed me like a servant."
"He dismissed you like a friend. Like a trusted comrade who would understand that he needed to honor a guest who is narrow-minded, pompous, and rich." Mair hopped down from her stool. "Oh, stop frowning at me. You know perfectly well that the king can't take any chances on tonight's negotiations with the church, especially after he came up short dealing with the Pepper Isles. He needs more money, and faster. There are more than two hundred children who have fire-lung now, and the number of new cases increases every day. The Touched are going to die if they continue to live in dilapidated tents. The Touched, all of them, and other castes too. They need shelter, and food, and clothing. And if the merchants don't get trade goods for the summer fairs, it will be even worse come the autumn."
"You don't need to explain the marketplace to me, Mair."
"I'm not explaining it to you. I'm reminding you that your stubbornness can kill. Your stiff neck will hurt children, mothers, fathers, all of Morenia."
"This isn't my fault!"
"The fire isn't your fault. Anything you do to keep Morenia from rebuilding ... now that's another tale."
"Mair, you're not being fair!"
"Nothing is ever fair, Rai. Your king needs you to attend him."
"It's hardly necessary –"
"It's hardly necessary for you to sulk up here with your glass and your treatises. You need to leave this tower. You need to walk down the stairs, to your own apartments. You need to put on your mourning gown and attend your king and his guest in his apartments."
Rani sighed and shoved away all her other arguments. There had been no reason for Hal to embarrass Rani in public. There had been no reason for him to turn his back on her, no reason for him to treat her like a dismissed servant, while he primped and preened for that Pepper Isles lackey, for the Briantan princess.
Nevertheless, in her heart, Rani knew that Mair was right. Hal was frightened. His kingdom needed to rebuild immediately. He needed to protect his subjects. If Hal could not, there were too many restless border lords who would try. Border lords, or foreign kings from the lands to the east and the south, restless neighbors who would look at Morenia's troubles as a wide-open door to opportunity.
Rani could show Hal just how wrongly he had treated her if she helped him complete his negotiations with the Holy Father. She held on to that thought as she accompanied Mair down the stairs. She let the Touched girl help her into her stiff gown of black mourning silk. As Mair combed out Rani's gleaming hair, arranging it to fall straight and clean like a maiden's, Rani reminded herself that Morenia deserved her negotiating skill.
She'd show Hal. She'd show him just how narrow-minded and foolish he'd been to ignore her, when she only had Morenia's best interest at heart....
"Thank you." Rani managed to smile at her friend.
"My pleasure, yer ladyship," Mair drawled, slipping back into the Touched patois of her youth. "If ye think ye're prepared t' take on yer king...."
Excerpted from The Glasswrights' Journeyman by Mindy L. Klasky. Copyright © 2010 Mindy L. Klasky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 9, 2008
In the kingdom of Moren, the capital city of Morenia is almost burnt to the ground by a fire whose origins are shrouded in mystery. King Hal, once thought daft by his own people, wants to rebuild the city but his coffers are practically bare. The people who helped put the fire out are suffering and dying from a plague known as firelung. <P>When the disease spreads to other castes and classes, Hal borrows money from the church at usury rates. To pay the loan off on time, Hal accedes to his councilors¿ wishes that he marry. He courts Princess Berylina of Liantine and begs Rani Trader to accompany him to negotiate on his behalf. She agrees even though she wants Hal to commit to rebuilding the Glasswright¿s Guild that his father dismantled. When they arrive in Liantine, their well thought out plans fall apart. Rani negotiates harder than she has ever done before to save her kingdom and Hal¿s throne. <P>This is the third Rani Trader book and it is the best book in the series. The protagonist has grown into a mature woman who realizes there is no such thing as instant gratification. Her friendship with the king is based on loyalty, honor and trust even when she doesn¿t agree with him. The bond is so strong no outsider can break it. The king¿s concern for his people and the sacrifices he is willing to make to alleviate their suffering is a beautiful thing to behold. Mindy j. Klasky has written a juicy epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Mercedes Lackey. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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