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Excerpt from the Prologue
Camp of the Dyadd Morgaine, Coracin
"But WHY must I get up, AMA?"
The boy rubbed his eyes as his mother gently lifted him from the warm, silken cushions on which he'd been so peacefully sleeping only moments before.
"Sshhhhh," Elara cautioned him, pressing a finger to her lips. The boy looked around the darkened tent that he shared with his sisters and heard the deep and heavy breathing that meant he and his mother were the only ones awake. Despite his fatigue, his curiosity began to be piqued. Though he never felt deprived of love, he was rarely singled out. Women held the power in hisfamily, he knew.
But tonight, his mother seemed to want him for something. Just him, without his sisters. Pride and pleasure swelled in his small eight-year-old chest. Straightening to look into Elara's golden eyes, he gave a sharp nod. He caught just a flash of amusement in her gaze before she pressed a quick kiss to his forehead.
"Come, Bastian," she said softly, and with her humor already vanished, he saw the troubled crease between her eyes that was hardly ever there, except when Rowan had done something particularly bad. Like the time she'd singed off the ends of Reya's hair. Bastian grinned at the memory. He loved Rowan almost as much as he loved his mother. And his troublesome sister was excellent cover for getting into less-noticeable mischief
of his own.
His grin faded quickly as Elara turned to lead him from the tent, moving with the grace of a goddess despite the belly swollen with what Bastian was certain would be yet another sister to run him ragged. He had been told that there would be no more boys; that there had never been a boy born to the Dyana an Morgaine but him. Sometimes that made him feel special.
More often it made him feel lonely.
Elara lifted the flap of the tent, and the two of them emerged into the moonlit quiet of the camp, with its dozens of high-peaked tents adorned with pennants that flapped lazily in the warm night breeze. She turned to look back at him only once, and the sorrow that flickered across her lovely face, just for an instant, gave Bastian pause. Maybe he didn't want to be the special one tonight. Maybe his Ama could pick a sister for whatever she was doing instead. After all, there were four of those and only one of him. And Lari had thrown mud at him earlier.
He opened his mouth to suggest a replacement, but his mother was moving away again, the fabric of her night robe shimmering like a ghostly beacon. Bastian shivered in his thin tunic, though the night was not cold, and ran on skinny legs to catch up. He was having the feeling again, the one he sometimes got before something really bad, or really good, was about to happen. It crackled all around him, like the sparks Rowan sometimes gave off when she was mad, prickling across his skin and making the tiny hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
He had felt this way the morning before his cousin Marisin had drowned in the river. But he'd also felt it the first time he'd found one of the secret magic places, the ones no one could get to but him. The wonderful and the terrible, though no one else seemed to be able to sense either coming.
Somehow, he thought tonight might contain a bit of both.
Instead of heading for the Great Tent, which was Elara's domain, his mother surprised him by heading for the edge of camp where the striped hershas that pulled their wagons slept peacefully in the long grass. The two of them made no sound as they walked on bare feet toward the trees ringing the clearing that was the Dyadd's current home. Soon they would depart for another part of the endless forests of the Carith Noor, in the bright whirl of color and sound that was an integral part of who they were. It was their way. This Bastian knew and accepted. But sometimes, he wondered what it would be like to just... stay.