Halfling Tildi Summerbee led a typical, unexciting life, tending the house for her brothers while they managed the family farm...until she was forced to assume the identity of her recently deceased brother and accept his position as apprentice to a great wizard.
Now she is on an important quest where the lessons of her apprenticeship pale in comparison to those learned in life-or-death situations. She has become the guardian of a very special book that can alter everything in existence… a race of centaurs gone with an editor’s pen, a mountain range flattened with a revised rune, and life as Tildi has known it changed in the blink of an eye.
Gone are her preconceptions of society and order.
Gone are her trusting ways and belief in her superiors’ honesty.
But also gone is the shrinking violet smallfolk who masqueraded as a boy to secure an apprenticeship.
Tildi has changed too, and she realizes that the fate of the world rests in her hands.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
JODY LYNN NYE lives in Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
Knights! Form ranks," ordered the Abbess Sharhava. "We ride." The imperious, pale-skinned woman in the light blue-and-white habit ignored her pain as she sat erect on her mount’s back. She raised her bandaged right hand to the sky, then pointed down the trail. The ancient and long-abandoned castle of the kingdom of Orontae lay behind them. Ahead lay the ruins of a beautiful river valley.
Tildi Summerbee slumped on Rin’s black-and-white-striped back. She scarcely sensed the bump as the dark-skinned centaur shifted her hips and began to walk, nor did she feel the cold wind whistling past them down the mountain. The smallfolk girl did not look back over the file of riders at the gaping wide doors of the once-grand entrance. The remains of stone giants that had only hours before tried to kill them had vanished with Edynn.
Her entire attention was fixed upon the bundle in her lap, a bundle nearly the size of herself. The Great Book was hers—no, not hers to keep, but hers to protect and see secured against all harm.
Around her, the Knights of the Word, the so-called Scholardom, rode in a square. They were not there to protect her so much as they intended to prevent her escape. Occasionally, they glanced at her sidelong, as though they found it hard to believe that one such as she, who was no larger than a child of their kind, with large brown eyes, and collar-length brown hair grown shaggy and rough along the trail, could be considered a woman of power, to be feared and guarded. And yet, she was. As a smallfolk girl growing up in the Quarters, in the province of Ivirenn, she had known nothing of these solemn men and women who wore armor under their blue-and-white habits, and possessed both weapons and the skills to wield them. In the last few hours she had spent in their company, she learned they were an ancient order whose purpose was to possess and protect the Great Book, whereas she, an apprentice wizard at the beginning of her training, was the only living person in all of Alada who could touch the substance of the book. Anyone else who tried was burned horribly or killed.
The book was too real for them, more real than anything else in the world, for it contained the world. The runes drawn in gold upon its pure white pages described everything, living and nonliving, that existed, changing as they changed, vanishing as they ceased to be. The runes moved of their own accord, growing larger and smaller, though no one else seemed to notice the changes when she tried to draw attention to them.
Within the sphere of the book’s influence, a radius of many yards, those same runes that described everyone and everything appeared upon that which they described. Tildi looked down upon her own rune, a complicated glyph that glowed upon her chest like a burning brand. It seemed right side up no matter from what angle she looked at it. She had become used to seeing it, but the wonder that it existed at all still sent a thrill up her spine. These runes were not mere labels; they truly described what they marked. If these runes were interfered with, they could change the shape of the thing or, terrifyingly, the person. At the rear of the file of riders, unarmed and under heavy guard, rode two soldiers who served King Halcot of Rabantae. Captain Teryn was all right, a fair-haired human woman of middle years, but Morag, her sergeant and contemporary in age, had been terribly deformed a few years before by the wizard Nemeth, he who lay dead in the castle behind them. Morag looked like a wild boar in human form, with an underthrust jaw and snaggled teeth, and thick, coarse black hair that never seemed to lie neatly no matter how long or short it was. He usually went with his head bent so no one could get a good look at his face. His hands were more difficult to conceal: thick paws with misshapen fingers. Everything he did seemed difficult. He persevered, though it surely cost him pain.
Tildi’s life had been utterly changed. A few hours before, she was a wizard’s apprentice, barely trained in the basics of her craft over the course of mere weeks by two masters. Now, though she possessed the most powerful object in the whole of the world of Alada, she was a prisoner in all but name. They had tied a rope around her waist. The other end of the cord was held firmly in the hand of the knight who rode at her right hand.
"As no one can safely touch you without sustaining injury," the abbess had said, sounding sweetly reasonable as two gigantic human males in armor had descended upon her, "we must have some means of saving you if you should fall or be carried off by some foe."
Tildi felt the rough sisal chafe at her skin through her clothes, but didn’t dare to put it off. The Scholardom had seen her use magic to climb the air like a ladder. They were taking no chances that the object of their desire should take itself out of their reach in that fashion. She was not robust enough to take any of these gigantic humans on physically. Later, she promised the book. Later, she and her friends would find a way to free themselves and find a way to safety. More than anything, she wanted the book to be safe. Faintly, she felt that she should be frightened for herself, but her feelings were dimmed and removed from her as though they belonged to someone else.
"Let me pass!"
The wizardess Serafina pushed her way in between two of the knights. Her dark eyes flashed with anger. The knights regarded her with suspicion, but they did not challenge her. The abbess Sharhava must have instructed them not to interfere with any of Tildi’s friends who wished to speak with her, so long as they did not try to remove her from the protective circle. The book must not be harmed.
Tildi glanced up at her. Her long dark hair was spread out over the shoulders of the moss-green cloak she wore over her white wizard’s robe. She looked as neat as if she had just stepped out of a boudoir rather than in the aftermath of a few hours of a magicians’ battle and many days hard travel. Tildi felt like a rag doll in comparison.
"Are you all right?" Serafina asked, her voice carefully even.
"I think so," Tildi said.
The young wizardess patted her upon the shoulder, then snatched her hand back. Tildi breathed in a hiss of sympathy. Serafina’s golden skin reddened and puffed as if blistered by the brief contact. The wizardess touched the irritated digits with her other hand, and the color returned to normal.
"It’s nothing to be concerned with," she assured the smallfolk girl.
"I don’t want you hurt," Tildi said.
"Don’t worry about me." Serafina said hastily. Their exchange had two meanings, as well Tildi knew. Tildi envied her easy skill of healing the body. Neither she nor Serafina had the means to heal their hearts. Serafina had lost her mother, Edynn, and had become the de facto head of their party—if one did not take into consideration the mistress of the company of armed scholars surrounding them. None of them had had the chance to work through the many changes and sorrows they had suffered in only a few hours. Tildi knew, as though she could read on a page, that the wizardess was angry, frightened, and overwhelmed. She regretted that she might be the cause of any of Serafina’s pain, but she could not help it. Things were happening to her, rather than by her own effort. All of them were caught up in a fierce tide of fate. Who knew where it would cast them ashore?
"We must do something to balance the power flowing through you. Rin, are you in any discomfort?"
"I will bear it," the centaur said, shaking her head until the jeweled ribbons in her thick hair were a colorful blur. "Your spell gives me some protection, and I am acquiring a tolerance. Not as great as the little one, here, but enough. I am a Windmane, and we do not shrink from a challenge. I will carry Tildi and her new treasure as far and as long as she needs me."
Serafina turned her worried gaze back to the smallfolk girl. Tildi was aware of her scrutiny—indeed, she was aware of the world in a way that she never thought possible—but her awareness came with a sense of distance, as if she only lightly touched the surface of it. The book occupied too much of her mind at the moment. The voices coming from it enthralled her. She wanted to pay attention to what was going on around her, but they were so interesting ...
"Hold fast, Tildi," Serafina said, laying a hand on her shoulder. The touch brought the smallfolk girl back from the inner world to which she was succumbing. "And do not do any magic. I am concerned you would have too much of a result, rather than too little. Do you understand me?"
Tildi pulled herself together enough to smile up at the young wizardess.
Serafina nodded sharply and fell in alongside Rin.
Tildi felt grateful to her. The wound they both carried in their hearts at the loss of Serafina’s mother, the great wizard Edynn, was so fresh that neither could speak of it yet. Tildi wanted to take the girl’s hand and let her pour out her sorrow, but she dared not. Serafina might feel that her sympathy wasn’t genuine, though it was. Edynn had been so kind to her, a runaway from her homeland, orphaned by the winged demons called thraiks. Serafina had carried the knowledge for years that the day would come when her mother was taken from her, and when the prophecy had come to pass Edynn had made her choice, and it had saved all their lives.
The threat of thraiks, however, still hung over them. The way that they had taken to reach the castle had been largely underground, but that road was closed off now for good. Tildi scanned the overcast skies. No shapes were silhouetted against the clouds, but they could appear at any moment. She feared them more than any other nightmare. They had killed the rest of her family. She was the only one left.
"Psst!" The voice belonged to Lakanta. The blond-braided trader clung to the back of her stout little horse in the file ahead of Tildi and Rin. As one of the imperious guards glanced down at her, the dwarf woman gave him a cheeky grin. He raised a hand as if he might deal her a blow, then turned hastily away. His expression of mixed horror and disgust made Tildi shiver. The knights hated her—indeed, all of them—for what they were. The abbess had assured her that they didn’t, but she could read it in their runes. The book in her arms was the work of the great magicians of old, the Shining Ones, human beings who had brought into existence the sentient peoples known as dwarves, centaurs, merfolk, werewolves, bearkin, smallfolk, and perhaps more of whom she had not yet heard. Tildi shook her head. All her folk had believed for centuries that they had come about naturally, engendered by time and nature. The truth, which she had learned only a couple of months before, that only humans and elves were of normal origin, had been long forgotten. Perhaps the elders in the Quarters knew, but kept the terrible knowledge to themselves. They disapproved of all things magical. They would see Tildi as eternally disgraced for her participation in that anathema.
"I ask you again to turn back and postpone this journey," Serafina said, spurring her steed forward to confront the abbess. "Allow us to return to shelter until others of my order can come to augment us. Night comes soon. We are in danger. You did not hear the warning Nemeth gave us before he died. Others seek to possess the Great Book, others who have great power. I am not strong enough to protect a group of this size."
Sharhava did not rein back her horse. She leveled an authoritative eye upon the young woman. "I have told you, I have nothing more to say on this subject. We have agreed that the Scholardom will protect you upon your journey. The chapter house is much closer than any of your other safe havens. The sooner we reach it, the better. We must go quickly. The book and its guardian"—she aimed her gaze at Tildi—"must be protected."
"I tell you again," Serafina said, narrowly containing her fury, "you do not understand the book’s powers. You will cause harm to yourselves, to everyone around you, if you do not take greater precautions than you are."
Sharhava did not seek to bridle her own anger.
"Do not lecture me! I know more of it than you do. Our order has studied ancient records and scraps of copies for millennia. The book is sacred to nature. We are ready to take on its stewardship... until it reaches its final destination."
Serafina’s shoulders stiffened. She let her horse drop back, and was permitted to ride alongside Rin within the guarded circle. Even Tildi, feeling far away from emotion, knew that she was beaten for the moment.
"It sounds to me like you are just finding excuses for doing everything wrong," Lakanta said.
Sharhava rounded upon her, sea-blue eyes glowing.
"You might as well ask my horse not to eat oats," the stocky merchant said, imperturbably. "I talk. It’s something I do. When you are on the road as long and as often as I am, you exercise your voice, or it tends not to work when you get where you are going, and for a trader, that’s as good as losing money. If I say what I think a bit more than you’re comfortable hearing, then don’t listen!"
Rin let out a snort of laughter. Sharhava’s fair skin reddened.
"You forget yourself."
"No, highborn lady, it’s you who’s forgetting what just happened, not half a day ago. That boy back there"—Lakanta aimed her chin at Magpie, who was listening openly with every evidence of delight—"suffered a terrible hurt. That madman back there turned him into a monster—no offense to you, Morag—and little Tildi there turned him back again. Then you pop up through the floor like a mole burrowing into a greensward and say, just as boldly as you please, ‘You risked your lives for that book, but give it to me anyhow.’ The wonder is that you have the squeak to act so fearlessly about it when it bit you hard."
Only Lakanta was daring enough to speak openly of what had happened. Tildi saw astonishment written upon all of the knights, though none of her friends were surprised.
Nemeth had lain dead in the smoke-filled chamber only minutes when the knights forced their way in and surrounded them all.
Fire seared her memory. In her mind’s eye, Tildi saw the flames again, the blazing ring that Nemeth had thrown up to protect himself from her and her companions. He had made lightning and handfuls of flame like blazing coals that he had flung at them. Tildi felt her skin sear as she dared to jump through the blaze to reach the book. She had wrapped her small self around it to protect it. Once she had touched it, all the pain was worthwhile. She could do wonders with it near her. On the stone floor, Magpie had lain, perverted in shape like poor Morag. Then the scholar-knights had burst into the chamber, demanding to know what was going on.
Tildi was still coming to terms with the wonders of the magic of which she was now capable. To her own astonishment and the awe of the others, she restored Magpie to his normal appearance from the freakish caricature of humanity into which the mad wizard had rendered him. Tildi still could not believe that he had retained that little scrap of parchment with his rune that she had drawn for him back in Master Wizard Olen’s home months ago. It felt as if it had been years. She was relieved to be able to have helped him. Not only was he a kind man, but a very good-looking one, with his curious yellow-green eyes, his tawny skin, and his long dark hair streaked with russet and white. She was torn between wanting to look at the book and wanting to reassure herself that she had not made any mistakes, that Magpie was going to be all right.
Serafina left her to tend to the others who had sustained wounds in the fight, but returned immediately to her side when the abbess came to loom over her. Tildi had traveled with humans, and lived in Olen’s company. All those people treated her with respect, even kindness. Sharhava was a different and most compelling figure. She seemed larger than all the other humans as she towered over Tildi. The smallfolk girl saw greed and excitement in her as well as anticipation of triumph. The combination was so overwhelming that she cowered. How could she, so small and frail, withstand her?
"The book!" Sharhava exclaimed, her voice trembling with emotion. "Give it to me, girl!"
Tildi closed her arms more tightly around the scroll. The voices coming from it whispered, almost drowning out all other noises. The room was cramped now, filled with enormous humans in blue and white, all looking down upon her with avid, hungry faces. She felt overwhelmed. Every word had the force of a stone thrown at her.
"Give me the book!" Sharhava had commanded, her voice rising to shrill tones.
Rin immediately leaped between the abbess and the smallfolk girl.
"Leave her be," the centaur said, flaring her nostrils.
Impatient of every wasted moment, Sharhava attempted to outmaneuver the centaur, but Rin had twice as many feet to put in her way. Sharhava glared over the striped back at Tildi. "Give it to me! Now! You have no right to touch it. It is sacred to nature!"
"It’s an abomination," Rin said, calmly matching her movements until the abbess was red-faced with fury. "If that is the thing that you believe gives your kind sway over mine."
"That’s not its purpose at all," Serafina said, trying to defuse the rising feelings. "Rin, the Great Book is an invention of the same people who formed the centaurs. It is but another tool of their devising. No one owns you but yourselves."
"As long as she understands it is no certificate of ownership," Rin snorted. "You may outnumber us, but that gives you no right to make demands."
The abbess looked from one to another as if amazed at their protests. "My order has sought this tome for thousands of years. You cannot expect us to wait a heartbeat more when it is before us!"
The Rabantavian soldiers flanked the centaur. Captain Teryn laid her hand upon her sword hilt, though she did not draw it. Morag held his polearm firmly in both hands.
"It was our mission to secure this book," Teryn said. "My orders are to escort it and these honorables to the proper place for its bestowal."
"Our sacred duty overtakes your mission!" Sharhava shrieked. She held up a hand. "Knights! To me!" The Scholardom became a wall of blue and white, surrounding Tildi. She bent over the book, as if to protect it from the sight.
"We have done battle," Rin said, snatching her whip from her saddlebag, to which she had just restored it. She wound it around and around her arm. The tassled end was still shiny with blood. "I still have fight in me. Have you enough strength left to withstand me?"
Sharhava let out a trill of laughter. "So few against so many of us?" she asked.
"I would test the mettle of a Windmane princess against a thousand of your kind!"
"And she doesn’t stand alone," Lakanta said, ducking under Rin’s front legs to face Sharhava, though she had to tilt her head far back to do it. Her blond braids were askew, her clothes were burned and torn, and soot stained her fair cheeks, but she bore a hefty rock in one hand. She beckoned with the other. "You’ll come through me as well."
"Your challenge amuses me," Sharhava said, holding her head high.
"Stop all this!" Magpie said, moving in between them. He was still somewhat unsteady on his feet. His tunic and trousers, travel-worn, were torn and burned, and his tricolored hair remained askew. The small lady with blue-green eyes started toward him to offer her support, but was urged back to her place by a brief glare from the abbess. "You would harm them after coming to their aid?"
"It was for the sake of the Great Book that we came!" Sharhava’s lieutenant Loisan exclaimed. "You cannot care for it as we can."
"You can’t take it from Tildi," Magpie said. "She is the chosen representative of the Council of Elders led by Master Wizard Olen."
"Do not presume to dictate to me!"
"You cannot take the book," Lakanta said. "You forget that Tildi is not alone."
"You see that we outnumber you greatly," the abbess said, unimpressed. "You may kill or disable some of us, but we are seasoned warriors, trained over the centuries for the sole purpose of protecting that book." She pointed to the scroll in Tildi’s lap. "Give it to us. It is ours by right."
Rin unrolled the whip at her side and tapped it speculatively in her palms. "It is only yours because you say it is yours. We say it is ours, under the authority of the council that sent us. Take it if you dare."
Sharhava glared at the Windmane, and signed to the knights. They all drew their swords and advanced upon the company.
"Be reasonable, Lady Sharhava," Magpie said. He sought to put a hand on her arm, but she threw it off.
"Do not touch me, you vagabond!"
The sudden movement made Magpie take a step backward. He staggered. The uniformed girl hurried to support him. Sharhava’s eyes went wide with indignation. "Lar Inbecca! Come away from him. Rejoin your companions."
The girl started. "But, Aunt."
Sharhava’s eyes blazed. "Are you sworn to me, or are you not? Do your vows mean nothing to you? Get in line!"
The young woman, whose pale skin and chestnut hair marked her as a close relative of the imperious abbess, shamefacedly let go of Magpie’s hand.
She took her place in the ranks at the rear of the file. She was a princess, Tildi knew, but how she had come to be among the knights, she did not yet know. So much had gone on around her in the last hours. She had absorbed little but the wonder of holding the object of her search at last. It was dear to her.
"Please!" Serafina protested. Her voice sounded thin and hoarse. She pressed her way through the crowd to the center, confronting Magpie and the indignant Sharhava. "We have all been through so much. There is no need for fighting."
"No, there is not," the abbess said. "Our claim is clear. Our order was founded to take special care of this book once it was found. We are under no obligation to respect your so-called mission. You take more upon yourself than you should. You are too young to know a true calling."
"Ooh," Lakanta said. "She should not have attempted to tease that dog."
Serafina, tired as she was, straightened until her back was as erect as a poplar tree and fixed Sharhava with a baleful look.
"You want the book?" she asked. "Then, take it."
"No, Serafina!" Tildi protested.
Serafina pushed in between the two groups. "No! If you want it, Abbess, take it. Tildi, let her have it."
"I am your teacher now. Listen to me."
Tildi gawked at her.
"Go on, child." There was a smoldering fire in her eyes. Tildi didn’t understand the changes in her rune, but she did not choose to question it. "Give it to her."
The voices protested mightily, but Tildi lifted the Great Book in her hands and held it up. She could scarcely bear to watch it being taken away. In moments, it had become as dear to her as a friend. What would Master Olen say? What would Edynn have said?
The abbess, triumphant, lunged for the big scroll.
"At last, at last!" she crowed. "Brothers and sisters, behold! All these years... aaaggh!" She screamed and sprang backward. The scroll fell from her hands. Tildi dove for it.
The smell of burning flesh took them all by surprise. Tildi felt the acrid scent singe her nostrils as she gathered the book back into her lap. It had unwound partway and nearly bounced out of her hands. Miraculously, she had managed to save it before it touched the ground. She rerolled the long parchment and patted it back into place on the spindle, cooing to it to soothe it from the indignity. Only then did she look up at the others.
Sharhava had dropped to her knees. She held up her shaking hands and stared at them. In an instant they had burned to blackened claws. Her eyes were filled with tears as she glared at Serafina.
"You cast a spell upon it, sorceress!"
"Of course I have not," Serafina said. She handed her staff to Rin and knelt beside the abbess. She took Sharhava’s left hand between hers and bathed it in a ball of cool light. "It is the book’s nature that puts it out of the reach of ordinary beings."
Slowly, the hand returned to its ordinary color and shape. Serafina reached for the other one.
In that brief interval, Sharhava had recovered her dignity.
"Don’t touch me, sorceress!" Sharhava thrust her away. "Take her!" Two knights grasped her by the arms and dragged her upright.
"Let me go!" Serafina protested. Four knights rushed to assist the abbess to stand.
"Take the book," the abbess ordered. A huge, burly man with a knobbly face like a rockfall stalked to Tildi and attempted to lift the scroll. He only touched the spindle with one hand, then jumped back as if a snake had bitten him.
"Black sorcery!" he exclaimed, holding his scorched and reddened hand up for the others to see. He tried again. Tildi had to admire his strength of will, though it was fruitless. He could never close his fingers around the parchment. His hand seemed to stop by itself an inch or more from its surface. The voices in her mind grew agitated every time he tried.
"You are hurting it!" Tildi protested.
"Never for the world!" the man said, but he withdrew at last. He shook his head at the abbess.
Trembling with rage and pain, Sharhava thrust her face at Serafina.
"You have put a spell on the Great Book," Sharhava hissed, her eyes full of hatred. "You dare!"
"No, this is the book’s nature," Serafina said, pulling free of the knights’ grasp. "It is more real than we are."
"Then how can that child hold it?" the abbess asked, almost accusingly.
Serafina knelt beside Tildi. "Her immunity is the result of a chain of events that no one among you would ever want to duplicate. Not I or any of my order can do what she does. Only she can return the book to its place of safety." She looked at Sharhava’s still-blackened right hand. "Let me help you, Abbess. I can heal that as well."
"Do not touch me again!" Sharhava hissed. "I do not need aid from such as you."
The words were delivered like a whiplash of hatred. Serafina’s face was still. "As you please. I only wish to ease your suffering. You see that the book has defenses. They extend to Tildi as well."
"Does it protect her from swords and spears?" Sharhava asked suddenly.
"Are you threatening her?" Magpie asked, aghast. "A child?"
Sharhava stilled. A moment passed and her face changed. "Of course I do not threaten her. I merely ask for clarification as to the limits of the power she bears. All our fears that the Great Book would fall into enemy hands are groundless. But to see a mere infant in possession of the most important tome of this or any age? How can this be?"
"She is not an infant," Serafina said. "She is a smallfolk. You see her feet?"
Tildi felt keenly embarrassed as everyone in the room looked at her feet, still bare and filthy with soot. She curled her legs up underneath the big scroll to hide them. It would have been a terrible breach of manners in the Quarters to have drawn attention to a person’s physical appearance, especially a woman’s.
The news of Tildi’s race seemed to come as a terrible shock to the knights. Sharhava’s face, too, had gone blank for a moment, and part of her rune seemed to manifest itself more strongly. She and her brethren did not like smallfolk, for whatever reason. Tildi was surprised and dismayed at the deep distaste that the knights manifested then sought to conceal. She knew, though. Her enhanced sight uncovered many secrets that she knew the owners wished to keep hidden.
"So, she is one of the toeless ones," Sharhava said, recovering magnificently. "My studies do not show them to possess unusual magical talents, especially ones as powerful as hers!"
"Her ability comes as the result of events I would hope can never be duplicated," Serafina explained. "She has made greater sacrifices than all... than most." Her voice trembled. Tildi put out a hand to touch her knee, then drew it hastily back when her fingertips left burn marks on the girl’s gown.
"Then, she will bear the Great Book for us," the abbess said. "It will go back to our Scriptorium. Consider, Tildi," she said, kneeling down. "My order has sought this book for many long centuries. We would be grateful for the chance to study it. You will have a place of honor among us as the one who will make it possible to elicit the greatest good from the book. You shall have a title and quarters befitting your status." She reached to touch Tildi’s shoulder, but withdrew the shaking black claw that was her right hand. "Help us preserve the treasure of the age!"
"It has to go to the south," Tildi said, trying to figure out what the difference in the rune meant. She was afraid of the woman. Sharhava made her think of some of the wives of the elders in her home village of Clearbeck, who tried to run one’s life through sheer willpower, though their husbands were the ones in authority, not they. As a motherless girl, Tildi had withstood many like her over the years, but she was tired—so tired. "It is the only way to make it safe."
"That is what your masters have told you, chi—smallfolk," the abbess said, her blue-green eyes boring into Tildi’s. "How far is it to your destination?"
"I...I do not know." Tildi looked up at Serafina for support. The wizardess held out her staff and a map appeared upon the air.
"Our destination lies a hundred miles from the north coast of Sheatovra," Serafina said. "I may not be more specific than that."
"Why not?" Sharhava said, beaming maternally upon them all. "We can be allies. Let us assist you, at least as far as the chapter house in Orontae. You have a long way to go. Your journey could take months."
"Months!" Serafina exclaimed.
Sharhava was quick to pick up on her dubious mien.
"Yes, of course. You are not used to the road, are you? Winter is coming. It will be slow going, and you will need to travel in stages. We are experts at foraging and making a camp secure against beasts and intruders at night. You can be safe in our hands."
Magpie frowned. "A moment ago you were ready to snatch the book out of their hands and leave them here. Why the sudden offer of aid?"
Sharhava turned her brilliant gaze upon him. "There is no need to mistrust me, my dear Eremilandur. You have said that there are powerful foes opposing this mission."
"You were among those foes," Magpie pointed out.
"But that was before we saw what powers the Great Book bestowed upon its favored ones," Sharhava said. "How can we speak against its Word? You shall travel to the south, with us as your guardians. We should go at once."
The young man’s green-gold eyes were alight with wariness.
"I would prefer to await Olen and the rest of the council here," Serafina said. "I can summon him. He is watching for signs. It is too dangerous to travel openly. Nemeth spoke of voices..."
"Voices? What of that? He was mad; you said so yourself," the abbess said, interrupting her impatiently. "Was the man not dismissed from your father’s service, Eremilandur? For incompetence during the war with Rabantae?"
"My father’s reasons were an excuse," Magpie said hoarsely. Clearly he did not want to discuss what he had told Tildi. None of them looked back at the sad bundle on the floor, where Nemeth’s body sprawled underneath Morag’s discarded cloak. "Nemeth was a true seer. He said he heard voices, and I believe him."
"We should leave here as soon as we can. You will see how unsafe it is to remain here any longer. This place is unstable."
"How?" Magpie challenged her. "It has stood for a hundred centuries."
Sharhava shook her head, as if he were a foolish child.
"Not with stone giants pounding upon its walls, nor a malign lightning storm striking bolts upon it," she said, waving her good hand at the cracks in the high stone ceiling. "The monsters are dead, but the walls could collapse in upon us at any moment. The winds could return!"
"Now, that is a practical consideration," Lakanta said, eyeing the stonework with the air of an expert. "But for that, we can find a nice cave or a village to shelter in for a while until Olen comes."
"There are no villages nearby now," Sharhava said. "We saw only destruction on our way here."
"Nemeth’s spell," Serafina said, looking pale. "He wiped them out. Can we return to the caverns?"
Lakanta looked shamefaced. "Well, now, I wouldn’t count upon my kin for much. You know that we dwarves like our privacy."
"The dwarfhollows are closed to us now, are they not?" Rin asked gently.
"You know, I just can’t ask them to let a lot of humans go tramping through," Lakanta said, her cheeks red. Tildi saw how deeply embarrassed she was not to be able to offer them the hospitality of her kin, but the words to offer comfort just wouldn’t come. It seemed all the strength in her body went to holding the book in her lap.
"What would you have us do, Tildi?" Sharhava asked, ignoring the others.
The voice seemed to come from far away, interrupting the voices. Tildi looked up at her dreamily.
"Serafina is our leader. She will decide."
"But you are the one who carries the Great Book!"
Tildi shook her head.
"You are all weary. Let me take this burden for you," Sharhava said persuasively. "We will go now, before sunset, away from this place. We will make for our haven. There I can gather more of my knights. The Great Book shall have a mighty escort befitting its importance! Come, now!" She stood up. "We will make ready to ride at once. I will lead you to safety."
"Wait," Serafina said. "Not so soon. Give me a few hours. I must try to make contact with Master Olen. I must tell him..."
"If we wait too long, it will be nightfall," Sharhava said, overpowering her. "I cannot speak as to the safety of any of your party in this building overnight, let alone for an extended wait. We can be traveling toward Olen. That makes more sense, does it not? Come," she said persuasively, putting her good arm around Serafina’s waist, "let me speak to you as I would to a daughter."
"Oh, come now!" Magpie exclaimed. "This is a transformation so thorough that a butterfly that had just finished turning from a grub would be impressed with you."
"Eremi, don’t speak to my aunt that way!" Inbecca protested, but she did not look straight at him. Tildi could tell that she was torn between believing him or Sharhava. Tildi could tell by her rune that she was wavering. Magpie and Princess-Knight Inbecca were looking and not looking at each other. Tildi saw volumes of meaning in the runes that adorned them, then looked away, ashamed to be able to read their feelings so readily. Moments ago she had been blind to everyone’s deepest thoughts. Now she could not help it. She longed for rest. None of this was really happening to her. Everything felt like it was happening in a distant haze.
In the Great Book, she found the story of a girl named Tildi, who was just like herself. But it was all so unbelievable! If she had read it at home, she would have put the book aside as a drunken tale.
Home. She felt pangs for lost home, loved ones, safety, comforts. But the book made up for a lot of her loss. She hugged it to herself. Over her head, the argument went on. Sharhava put her hand, her good hand, on Serafina’s shoulder.
"You need time to think and to heal. Let those of us with more experience take a hand. We will make ready to go. The sooner we leave, the more distance we can put behind us before dark. As soon as I consider that we are in a safe place, you may contact Olen and tell him where to find us. Loisan!"
The gray-haired knight presented himself at her side. "Yes, my lady?"
"Gather up the horses. We leave within the hour."
And that was that, Tildi realized. Serafina, coping with her own grief and the exhaustion from healing so many wounds, had been overwhelmed by the abbess. In fact, she agreed with the imperious woman many more times than Tildi would have thought she might if she were not so tired. The others were also too tired or disheartened to put up much of an argument in reply. Sharhava was triumphant. Tildi saw it in her rune. She knew Serafina could see it, too. Sharhava was a masterful woman.
Within less time than she would have believed, the horses were found and groomed, including Magpie’s Tessera, Serafina’s white mare, and Melune, Lakanta’s obstreperous pony.
No food was to be found in the castle, nor would any of them have trusted it, but Nemeth’s reconstruction of the ancient building appeared to have included the wellheads. A couple of volunteers from among Sharhava’s force tested it and found the water not only good but sweet. They filled bottles and canteens, and washed off the dust and blood of battle.
The book spoke of all these things to Tildi, even when she could not see them. She found she could spin automatically to the page she wanted to see, though much of which she wished to know was on the few leaves surrounding the gaping wound where Nemeth had ripped pieces away. She touched the torn edges. It would take strength to tear the parchment. Although it was old, it was as sound as the day it had been made. Such a beautiful thing. She could not help but stroke it, even though the touch still sent fire racing through her fingertips. It did not burn as painfully as it had in the beginning.
She remained sitting on the floor where she had stopped after helping Magpie. The knights were careful to give her room. She sensed odd emotions from them, almost as if she could hear their thoughts. They were angry, in a way. She felt fierceness from them. They... hated her, or so it seemed, but why? She had never done any harm, and they were offering to help her accomplish her goal. She thought she understood all of it when she saw open envy on the face of one lanky young man. That was it: she could do what they could not. She couldn’t do anything about that, nor could she help their feelings.
Her friends spoke to her now and again. She thought she replied to them, but so much seemed imaginary now that she was not certain if she had spoken or only thought about speaking.
With no duties and no responsibilities at hand, Serafina had settled in one of the big white thrones where she could see Tildi. Her rune was almost spinning. Tildi knew she had much to think about. So much had happened. So much.
Then it had been time to go. Tildi had seen the impatience in the knights’ runes on the page of the Great Book. She did not need to look up to see how many of them stood around her, waiting for her to rise. She rolled the enormous scroll up and prepared to leave. Heat seemed to roll from her in waves. It was lessening every moment, but it still made the others step well back. They formed a double row that led to the hole in the floor.
She had looked down through it, and her heart quailed. The stone blocks had been a graceful staircase, then Nemeth’s monstrous army lay scattered in heaps on the floor of the huge reception room far below. The knights had been pulling themselves up by means of rope ladders. Tildi did not like heights. If only the stairs were still there! Only a fragment of the uppermost end of the flight remained. Two stairs still clung together upon the section of the arch that had held them aloft. The rune, though slightly damaged, was largely intact. If that was how those parts were made, then it stood to reason that the other steps would have had similar if not identical runes.
At that moment Tildi had been certain she could see how the stairs ought to fit together all the way down. The voices coming from the book assured her that her vision was true. She put out a small hand.
"Votaf," she said.
With a crash like a thousand bolts of lightning, the stones flew together. Tildi blinked. The stairs were complete. Well, nearly complete. Some pieces still lay in heaps on the floor below, but an entire flight did now stretch down from here to there. She gazed at it in astonishment, then looked at her hand. How had she done that? What did votaf mean? Where had the word come from? She had looked up to see Serafina studying her curiously. The knights were positively agog.
"Could you do that again?" Serafina asked.
"I don’t know how I did it this time," Tildi admitted.
"It was well done, no matter how," Rin said, trotting down the flight ahead of them.
"Aye, I agree," Lakanta said, taking the tall steps sideways to accommodate her short legs. "I didn’t like the idea of swinging down a rope like a spider, though I would have done it."
Tildi’s legs were shorter yet, but somehow she managed to get down without falling or dropping the precious scroll.
Excerpted from A Forthcoming Wizard by Jody Lynn Nye.
Copyright © 2009 by Jody Lynn Nye.
Published in April 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
After the events that occurred in AN UNEXPECTED APPRENTICE, smallfolk Tildi Summerbee possesses the Great Book. She knows the responsibly is awe-inspiring as the guardian of the tome that includes the Runes that control the Runes of every living thing or object; a species can be extinct with a simple written deletion. Tildi vows to keep the sacred icon safe while the Knights of the Word vow to keep the guardian from escaping their surveillance of her.
However though Tildi understands she holds something incredibly powerful, she remains ignorant of the awesome supremacy of the Great Book until a knight dies while trying to alter his individual Rune. Tildi¿s so-called protector Abbess Sharhava wants to take the Great Book from her to bring to her order¿s scriptorium while Knemet the Maker has other plans for using the tome; their motives vary as does their means, but both plan to take the Great Book from Tildi in some way. Although frightened with her responsibility and filled with doubts that a halfling smallfolk like her can do the job, Tildi surrounded by a loyal protective circle of friends especially Rin the centaur and her former mentor Serafina the wizard, refuses to yield the tome to anyone; instead she keeps the Great Book under her control to insure it is used with moral principles and not to further someone¿s corrupt affluence.
Although this engaging fantasy takes a bit long to get past the introduction to Tildi¿s new world order, A FORTHCOMING WIZARD is a fascinating thriller. Once the stage is set, the story line accelerates into a fast-paced read. Tildi remains the center holding the plot together as she has come a long way from her days disguised as her late brother serving as AN UNEXPECTED APPRENTICE to Serafina. Fans with some patience will appreciate Joy Lynn Nye¿s second Great Book saga.
as good as the first book.
Want to read more about Tilda and her friends