Mags, Herald Spy of Valdemar, and his wife, Amily, the King’s Own Herald, are happily married with three kids. Their daughter, Abidela, dreams of building on her parents' legacy by joining her father's network of spies, hoping to offset her seeming lack of a Gift.
But when Abi senses the imminent collapse of a bridge only moments before it happens, she saves countless lives, including that of her best friend, Princess Katiana. The experience, though harrowing, uncovers her unique Gift—an ability to sense the physical strains in objects.
Intrigued by the potential of her Gift, the Artificers seek to claim her as their own—but only the Healers can train her. Through training with both of them, Abi discovers unique facets of her Gift, including a synesthetic connection to objects that allows her to “see” as well as feel the strains.
Her Gift may also grant her a distinct advantage as a spy—there won’t be a building in the entire kingdom of Valdemar with a secret room that she doesn’t know about. With the help of her mentors, she must hone her gift to uncover the hidden secrets in the depths of Valdemar.
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"Remind me again why we came out in this weather," Abi grumbled, as the cold rain found the seam in the hood of her waterproof gray cloak and dripped onto her neck. A dismal gray sky poured down water that was just short of being ice. It was not raining hard enough that Abi had even a prayer of persuading Kat to turn back, but it was raining hard enough to give Abi, at least, a miserable ride. She so envied the people in the expensive mansions they were riding past right now . . . not because of the expensive mansions, but because of the simple fact that they were in there and not out here.
"Because Mama is pregnant and feeling horrid, she has a craving for Ma Sendle's tart apple jelly, and the old lady won't give the Palace cook the recipe," Kat said agreeably. "And we're both going so we can buy the old girl out and won't have to go down into Haven again for it until after the baby's born."
"Hopefully," Abi groaned.
"Hopefully," Kat agreed.
Abi glanced over at her best friend, riding easily on her Companion, Dylia, and grimaced. "I am never getting pregnant." Personally, she was not a big fan of marriage right now either, but it didn't do to ever say that out loud. As one of her father's agents in and around the Court, she reckoned that for every one happy marriage there were a dozen that ranged from "distantly friendly" to "armed truce." While the King and Queen and Mama and Papa were definitely in happy marriages, with few exceptions, the rest of the courtiers were not exactly an advertisement for matrimony.
Princess Katiana, known as "Kat," or now, "Herald Trainee Kat," answered her with a wry smile. Kat didn't seem at all bothered by the rain. Then again, Kat didn't seem at all bothered by much anymore, now that she'd been Chosen. Of all of the Royal siblings, she was the most even-tempered, and she didn't look like either of her parents. In fact, Abi would have said, if she'd been asked, that if the Palace portraits were accurate, she looked like an exact copy of her great-grandmother: medium brown hair the color of autumn leaves, dark eyes, oval face. Kat's expression was generally cheerful though, and the old Queen's had been sad and sober, at least in the painting.
One advantage of being a Princess rather than just a regular Trainee was that Kat's uniforms had been custom-made for her, so maybe her cloak was a bit more waterproof than the one Abi had purloined from the storage room. Actually, now that Abi thought about it, Kat's cloak not only was probably quite waterproof, but she knew for a fact it had a woolen lining, something Abi's lacked. No wonder Kat looked unfazed by the rain.
So unfair . . .
Abi wasn't a Herald Trainee, but Rolan, her mama's Companion, had offered to carry her on this errand because the weather was so bad, and she wasn't going to turn that down. So she'd dressed in gray and swiped a Trainee cloak from the spares, figuring in weather like this no one was going to look too hard and realize one of the Trainees-wasn't. That might have been a bad miscalculation. I probably should have asked to borrow Trey's cloak instead. He certainly isn't going anywhere outside today. The last she'd seen of Trey, he'd been firmly ensconced in front of the fire in the Royal Suite, deep in a history lesson, and not about to be shaken out of it by anything less important than dinner.
My own fault for trying to pose as a Trainee without thinking things through.
That's not to say that Abi wasn't training in something. She was training, at least in the sense that she was learning a lot of things, all the time. Her papa, Herald Mags, was the King's Spy, and all three of his children had been learning the craft from the time they were able to understand what that was. Partly, that had been to keep them out of mischief. But that had also been because they played with and fundamentally lived with the royal children, and Papa and Mama counted on them to help keep the royals safe-and to notice what went on and was said around them. And finally, it was to impress on them how important it was that no one else should know that "good old solid Mags," whose glory days of being a Kirball champion were long past, and who mostly did boring work in the law courts, was in fact the King's Spy and thanks to the rigors of the job could probably run every current Kirball champion into the ground and dance on them afterward.
Actually, the training now had gone far past that. Once they were old enough to understand exactly why they were getting this sort of training, Papa had asked them if they actually wanted to help him.
Her older brother Peregrine had said "yes," and after a fantastic adventure in the Pelagirs that had turned out to be way more exciting than anyone had guessed it would be, had settled right in as one of Papa's regular agents. She had said "yes" but had yet to do anything to come close to Perry's adventure; mostly she was just collecting Court gossip. Tory was still too young to be asked, but she was pretty sure he would say "yes" too.
To be absolutely honest, right now there really wasn't anything else she did want to do with her life, though how long she was going to be useful as Kat's best friend was debatable, and how else she could serve as a spy was unknown. Unless, perhaps, she could take over Aunty Minda's brood of orphaned and abandoned street younglings and oversee that part of her father's "business."
But almost anyone could do that. She just wished she could think of something that would suit her uniquely.
She was only sure of one thing. She absolutely, positively, did not want to have babies. The poor Queen looked absolutely miserable, as if someone had grafted a melon to the front of her. And as if that wasn't bad enough, her feet and back hurt all the time, the first part of her pregnancy had involved a lot of throwing up, there were still foods she could not stand to have around, and Abi wouldn't have been in her shoes for all the crowns of all the Kingdoms she could name-and she could name quite a lot.
So she did little things for Papa, and she spent the rest of the time learning things. She took classes at all three of the Collegia. She trained in weapons-work with the Collegia Weaponsmaster and with Master Leandro, who had trained her father. Her father trained her in spycraft, her mother in statecraft-in the latter case, mostly by allowing her to observe what went on in Council meetings and other business of the King. She did that by serving as a page-a heavily armed page. In effect, as the sort of guard that an attacker would probably overlook, should anyone be stupid enough to try anything in a Council meeting. And she had about as much leisure time as any of the Trainees, which was to say, quite a bit more than most girls her age, who were already hard at work every waking hour either as servants or working on a farm. And she made a point of enjoying every minute of that leisure, because she had the feeling that when she figured out what it was she wanted to do with the rest of her life, most of that leisure time would vanish like snow in a fire.
Today, however, she was not enjoying her "leisure." Then again, this wasn't so much leisure as it was a chore.
At the moment, they were riding on a cobblestoned street that ran past all the fine mansions of the merely rich (as opposed to the rich and highborn). The road was practically deserted; there wasn't a soul in sight who didn't have to be out in this weather. But from the windows of these varied manses came warm, golden light that looked very inviting right now, and Abi wished she were inside, toasting her toes in front of a nice fire, preferably with a book.
She didn't envy the people her age who were in those houses though; the ones who weren't already apprentices in the businesses that had made their families wealthy were involved in a complicated and sometimes cutthroat social dance to acquire the perfect spouse, and that brought her right back to marriage and babies and . . . ugh.
She really envied Perry right now. He was snug in the pawn shop, and if he wanted anything, he could send one of the littles from Aunty Minda's next door out after it; they were either runners or runners-in-training (also in Papa's employ) and completely expected to be asked to do things like that. He probably wouldn't do that, though. He'd go fetch it himself rather than make a child trudge around Haven in miserable weather.
Which, really, was why she and Kat were out here. The Queen wouldn't make a page go out in this muck, no matter how urgent her cravings were. But Kat knew how badly she wanted that fruit jelly-Kat had Mindspeech and a touch of Empathy-so Kat had volunteered, and the Queen wasn't about to let Kat go down there alone, even on her Companion. So it had to be at least one bodyguard from the Royal Guard or Abi, and Abi would be a lot less conspicuous. Having a Trainee accompanied by a Guard pretty much shouted Oh, look, the Princess! Having Abi along looked as if two Trainees had been sent on an errand down into Haven.
Kat was armed, and perfectly capable of using those arms . . . but Abi was armed to the teeth, and before Kat, for all her training, noticed that something was not quite right, Abi would already have decided what weapon to use, whether to be lethal or nonlethal, and dealt with the problem.
Another trickle of cold water made it inside her hood, sending a shudder down her body. I should have let the Guard come after all. Or borrowed Trey's cloak.
"Maybe we should turn back," Kat said, giving Abi a sidelong glance. Abi gritted her teeth, and shook her head.
"No, we promised your mother her jelly, and by the gods she'll get her jelly," she replied stoutly. "It's just a leak in my hood, it's not going to kill me."
"Yes, but I'd rather it didn't make you sick," Kat protested. Kat's Companion Dylia nodded her head in emphatic agreement.
"If Rolan thought I was going to be sick from this, he'd have already said something." As the Companion to the King's Own, Rolan was able to make anyone hear him, even those, like Abi, without Mindspeech. And he hadn't said a peep. "He hasn't said anything to you, has he?"
Rolan cocked his head back at her a little and snorted. Kat smothered a laugh.
"Rolan says you are nowhere near sweet enough to melt in the rain," Kat choked.
Abi stared at the Companion's one blue eye looking at her. Was he smirking? He's smirking, she decided. "No pocket pies for you, horse," she told him. He snorted again, knowing very well that he could cozen all the pocket pies he wanted out of virtually anyone in the stable. After all, he was the King's Own's Companion, and what he wanted, he usually got.
He made a noise that sounded exactly like a smirky laugh. Kat laughed too. Abi decided not to ask what Rolan had said.
The mansions and stately homes of the highborn behind them had each been set in their own expanse of gardens and lawns behind their fences and walls. In this part of the road, the slightly less impressive homes of the very wealthy were closer together and had a lot less in the way of greenspace. A few lengths more and they had passed another unspoken but very visible divide. These two- and three-story houses were owned by the "merely" wealthy, and were separated by just enough space for a wall between them, and room between the wall and the houses on either side for a human to walk. And ahead of them, where the houses of the well-off rather than wealthy were, the homes were packed so closely together that neighbors could pass things from the window of one to the window of another without straining. And ahead of that-
Was her least favorite bridge in all of Haven.
If you asked anyone else, they'd probably tell you that it was a very fine bridge indeed, a good, stout stone bridge big enough and strong enough that two lanes of large drays could use it, bringing up oversized goods to the wealthier parts of Haven and even the Palace itself. The parapets at either side were barely knee high, and she never liked crossing it even in the best of weather. This was the only bridge like it in the entire city and the only place where the river could be crossed by such oversized vehicles. The river was on a downhill slope at this point in town, one of the places where the water ran really fast when it was high, and looking at the foaming water from the roadbed of stone always made her feel as if she were likely to topple into it. Given the choice, she'd go halfway across town to avoid crossing it.
Partly that was because this was where her grandfather, Herald Nikolas, had died. He'd come back to life again, thanks to her father, but he had died for a few moments. Papa's good friend Bear had taught Mags what to do with a drowning victim, or he would have stayed dead.
That was when Rolan had Chosen his daughter, Kat's mother; then a new Companion had Chosen Grandpapa, and for the first time ever, the former King's Own and the new King's Own had been alive at the same time. And that near-death was what people told her was the reason for her unease. But she knew the truth; all that really had very little to do with how she felt about the bridge. If anything, she would have felt pretty good about the whole thing; after all it was a story with a very happy ending.
No, she hated this bridge for a different reason altogether.
Even in the best of weather, when the river flowed smoothly under it, the bridge had always felt wrong to Abi. As if it were sick. It made her a little nauseated to cross it, as if it were moving under her when of course it wasn't. And in weather like this, when the river raged beneath it? It felt to her as if it were shaking itself to bits, even when other people would just remark it was vibrating a bit.