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Her time has come.
Maura Woodbury only glimpsed those words before she'd been summoned to the village to tend an injured child.
Whose time? Time for what? Those questions plagued her every step of the way into Windleford, a small village in northern Umbria. Unless she had misread the message or the haunted look in Langbard's eyes, she feared she would not like the answers.
Now, as she examined the little boy's hand, she struggled to keep her mind on her task.
"I have something here that should make it feel better." She pitched her voice loud enough to carry over the boy's exhausted sobs, yet soft enough to soothe and reassure him.
Lifting a small earthenware crock from her basket, she pried off the lid, scooped out a generous dollop of green salve, then smeared it on the child's blistered skin. The wholesome tang of freshly bruised merthorn and marshwort infused the air, making Maura's nose tingle.
The boy's mother hovered close watching every move, all the while wringing her hands and looking anxious. Was it on account of her son's injury, Maura wondered, or because she had the wizard's ward under her roof?
It never seemed to bother Langbard that the villagers scarcely spoke to him or Maura unless someone was ill or injured. Then again, hardly anything ruffled the old wizard's composure . . . until an hour ago when that messenger bird had arrived.
"What happened to you?" Maura asked the boy once his tears had subsided. "Did you see something good in your mama's stew pot and try to fish it out?"
His injuries looked worse than a simple burn, somehow.
The child sniffled. "I know better 'n that. Me and my friends was playing and I seen this queer gray twig. When I picked it up, my hand took to paining worse than a hundred beestings at once!"
"A pain spike?" cried Maura. "Curse those soldiers! How dare they leave such vile things lying about? Windleford is hardly a hotbed of rebellion. Ordinary weapons do well enough to keep country folk like us under their thumb."
Since before her birth, Umbria had been ruled by the Han, invaders from the south, greedy for the perilous riches of the Blood Moon Mountains.
"Them younglings had no business playing so close to the garrison!" snapped the boy's mother, though she looked angrier at Maura than at her son. "The soldiers has to keep order, don't they? If it was a pain spike, they probably meant to use it on the outlaws. I hear tell there's a gang of 'em camping over in Betchwood, if you please."
"Perhaps so." Maura chided herself for failing to hold her tongue. If it got around Windleford that she'd voiced such rebellious sentiments, the villagers would shun her worse than they did already.
Besides, the woman's excuse might be true. Any unnatural weapons of the Hanish garrison might only be meant to combat outlaws, some of whom had grown insufferably bold of late. Maura despised their kind at least as much as she did the Han. She'd suffered more on their account than she had from the invaders.
"How does your hand feel now?" She turned her attention back to the boy. "Better?"
He had stopped crying. That was a good sign. Already his fingers looked less swollen.
The child nodded. "Still pains some, but not like it did."
Now that she understood it was no common hurt, Maura realized it would need stronger healing. "I know just the thing to put your hand right -- fresh queensbalm."
It would be blooming now. Queensbalm always bloomed on Maura's birthday. During her childhood, she and Langbard had often celebrated by packing a lunch and going gathering. Maura felt a wistful longing for those carefree days.
"I hope you learned your lesson about meddling with metal." Anxious to get home she repacked her basket in a hurry. "Some of it is not harmful, if it has been properly tempered. But most is tainted with mortcraft, which can do even worse things to you than make your hand pain. The next time you see something metal, do yourself a good turn by keeping your distance."
The boy's eyes widened at the notion of worse things than he had already suffered. Meanwhile his mother nodded in grudging agreement. Though she might not like Maura's implied censure of the Han, who used metal and mortcraft to dominate the people of Umbria, the woman clearly approved of her warning.
Rising from the low stool beside the boy's bed, Maura handed his mother the crock of salve. "Spread on more of this whenever he wants it, though mind you do not rub it in too hard. I will bring some queensbalm tomorrow."
"Don't trouble yourself." The woman shoved the crock into her apron pocket. She looked torn between gratitude and want- ing to get Maura out of her house as quickly as possible. "This looks to have done the job fine."
Maura glanced at the boy whose eyelids were beginning to droop. "It will ease his pain, not cure it. That salve would have done well enough for an ordinary burn or a pest bite. Mortcraft needs something stronger to combat it."
She headed for the door. "If you would rather not have me seen coming to your house again, I can ask Sorsha Swinley to fetch the queensbalm here."
"That would be far better!" The woman immediately repented her hurtful eagerness. "I am sorry, Mistress Woodbury. I do not mean to sound ungrateful. It was good of you to come so quick. Poor little Noll hurt so bad, I was beside myself. It's just . . . well . . . I expect you know how it is."
"Aye." The word wafted out of Maura on a sigh.
Part of her did understand. Wizards and their kin could be dangerous folk to know. Healers of any kind were frowned upon by the Han, who lived according to a harsh creed: The strong thrive as they deserve and none should mourn the weak who perish.
That knowledge did not make it any easier to be kept so firmly at arm's length.
"I m glad you're not offended." The woman slid her door ajar just wide enough to peer out. Then she had a quick look up and down the road before throwing it open for Maura. "I'd be much obliged if you would send that other balm when you get it."
She spoke the words in a rush and when Maura turned reply, she found the door already shut tight behind her.
Telling herself she must not mind it, she pulled up her wrap to cover her head and set off back to the snug thatched cottage north of town where she had lived for as much of her twenty-one years as she could remember.
Had she ever lived anywhere else? How had she come into Langbard's care? Who were her parents and what had happened to them? For years Langbard had gently but firmly discouraged such questions. Because he was the only family she had and because he was so good to her in every other way, Maura had grudgingly reconciled herself to ignorance about her past. That had not stopped her from wondering and guessing.
Now she wondered if Langbard's mysterious message had anything to do with her mysterious past.
As she neared the edge of the village, Maura spied her friend Sorsha some distance ahead. She opened her mouth to call, but before she could get the words out, a pair of Hanish soldiers turned onto the main road, talking together in their own language. To Maura's ears it had a jarring, strident sound.
They were taller than most Umbrians, with the hard, muscular build of their race and long, pale manes of hair they pulled through holes in the tops of their helmets to trail like plumes.
Maura lowered her head and averted her gaze, as Langbard taught her. She did not slow her step, but neither did she walk faster. Though the soldiers passed quite close, they did not aware of her at all, for which she was grateful.
Once they had past, she broke into a run and soon caught up with Sorsha, who was returning home from market.
"Maura!" she cried. "If I had known you were in town, I would have waited for you."
When Maura explained about her errand in Windleford, Sorsha nodded, her generous mouth pursed in a disapproving frown.
She was shorter than Maura, and after three babies in rapid succession, a fair bit stouter. Her wild tumble of curls was ruddier than Maura's and she had a splash of freckles over the bridge of her nose. Perhaps her most attractive feature was her air of exuberant sociability.
Better one Sorsha for a friend, Maura had often thought, than four or five others . . . not that she'd ever had a choice.
"The gall of that Prin Howen!" huffed Sorsha. "I will give her the sharp edge of my tongue when I see her tomorrow. If young Noll hasn't sense enough to keep from picking up things he shouldn't, she ought not to let him out of her sight. Then to treat you so rude after you came to help. Fair makes me boil!"
"Do not say anything, Sorsha, please! That will only make it worse. Langbard has never been anxious for me to make friends in the village, anyway."
Sorsha did not protest . . . but neither did she agree. Instead, as was her wont, she steered their talk to another subject. "Will you come up to my place for a cup of tea? The younglings are always so anxious for you to visit."
"Another day." Maura shook her head reluctantly. "I must get home now. A message came for Langbard just before I was summoned to Howen's. I have never seen him look so worried."
"Langbard worried? It must be serious." Sorsha's brow furrowed. "I always thought he could walk over hot coals without turning a hair . . . not that he has much to turn, on top. Who did the message come from? Someone in the village?"
"I do not know who sent it, but I reckon it came from far away. A messenger bird brought it."
By this time, the two friends had reached the foot of the lane that wound up to Hoghill Farm. Maura's gaze strayed toward the low hill that shielded Langbard's cottage from view of the north road. "I hope he will confide in me. He does not seem to realize I have grown up."
"Older folk are like that and I reckon we will be too when our time comes." Sorsha reached for her friend's hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "You know, if there is anything Newlyn and I can do to help, you have only to ask. We owe Langbard a good deal after all he did to help us."
"I know we can count on you both."
The last time Maura had been this worried about anything was when her friend had gotten involved with a dangerous fugitive from the living death of the Blood Moon mines. It had all turned out better than she'd dared hope between Sorsha and her husband, the man now known as Newlyn.
But as she waved goodbye to Sorsha and started over the hill, Maura recalled the levelheaded ease with which Langbard had handled that whole perilous situation. Suddenly the spring sun seemed to sparkle with a false brightness and the brisk breeze sent a chill up her back. Anything that caused Langbard to fret must be ominous indeed.
Stifling that worrisome thought, Maura hurried toward the cottage. She found Langbard sitting in his favorite chair in front of the hearth, clutching the scrap of parchment he had peeled off the bird's leg.
He was a tall man, taller than many of the Han, but lank of figure and gaunt of face. The crown of his head was bald, but the thick gray fringe around it grew long enough to braid into plait that hung down his back.
He glanced up with a preoccupied smile of welcome when Maura entered. "The child -- how is he?"
"The poor little fellow got hold of a pain spike." She set down her basket. "But he should be fine once I make a queensbalm ointment for him."
Langbard winced at the mention of the pain spike, then nodded to endorse Maura's choice of treatment.
She knelt by his chair. "Before I go off to Betchwood gathering queensbalm, you must tell me about the message you received. I have been so worried."
"Gathering queensbalm?" Langbard surged out of his chair. "Why, it is your birthday!"
"So it is, Uncle . . . but the message?"
"All in good time, my dear, I promise you." Langbard took Maura's hand and helped her to her feet. "Let us pack a lunch and go gathering in Betchwood, like we used to."
The melancholy tenderness of his smile was impossible to resist.
"We do have some mutton sausages in the cold hatch," she said, "and I made oatloaf fresh this morning. Unless you have been foraging, there should be some marshberry tart left, too."
"Splendid!" Langbard cried. "A wonderful birthday feast. You pack the basket and I will make ready."
"On one condition, Uncle."
"What might that be?"
Maura lifted the trap door to the cold hatch. "On the way to Betchwood, I want you to tell me what that message meant."
"Of course, my dear." Langbard glanced down at the scrap of parchment in his hand, as if he had forgotten it for a moment and regretted being reminded.
More to himself than to her, he murmured, "I cannot put it off any longer."
He gazed around the large room that served as both kitchen and parlor. "It seems like only yesterday you were a wee thing, crawling around the cottage floor, popping everything into your mouth. No wonder you have such an apt hand for magic -- you ate enough potion ingredients before you could walk!"
While Maura climbed down into the cold hatch to repack her basket with food, Langbard hunted up his walking staff, his cloak, his hat and the many-pocketed sash he wore whenever he went any distance from the cottage. It held emergency supplies of vitcraft ingredients most necessary for healing and defense.
A while later, as they cut across the Swinley's north pasture, heading for Betchwood, Maura asked Langbard once more about cryptic message. "Who sent it to you? It is bad news, isn't it?"
Though Langbard shook his head, he still looked too anxious ease Maura's fears. "Grave, perhaps, but not bad. Indeed, it be the best possible news for the people of Umbria. Perhaps it is selfish of me not to welcome it as such."
If he meant the words to reassure her, they did not. "Please, Uncle, you are talking in riddles."
"Your pardon, my dear. I do not mean to. Only, it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps I should have begun preparing long ago, but I dared not take the chance you might let a careless word slip. And you were always such a happy child, I not bear to burden you with it until I had no choice."
"Goodness, Uncle, you make these tidings sound very dire." How could anything that concerned her be something other than quiet and commonplace?
Langbard heaved a regretful sigh. "Perhaps I was wrong not to tell you as much as I knew about your parents when you asked."
Her parents? Was she going to find out about them at last?
She had been quite an age when she'd come to realize that most had mothers and fathers to look after them. From there it had been a short step to wonder if her parents had given her away because they'd been displeased with her. Sorsha had been quick to soothe her worries on that score, suggesting the more dramatic possibility -- that Maura's parents might have been murdered by outlaws.
For years Maura had preferred to believe it over the likelihood that she'd been abandoned. Deep in her heart, though, the gnawing doubt had never quite gone away.
Langbard gazed off toward Betchwood, yet Maura sensed he was looking back into the past. "This might all make more sense if I begin at the beginning. Do you remember the stories I used to tell you about King Elzaban?"
"Of course, I do. They were always my favorites."
Long ago, perhaps a thousand years, Elzaban, the Margrave of Tarsh, had forged the provinces of Umbria into one strong, proud nation. Many heroic tales were told of his brief but glorious reign. One in particular had stirred Maura's fancy.
"Then," said Langbard, "you recall he disappeared during the Battle of the Three Castles and was never seen again?"
"Yes, Uncle." Did he truly suppose she could forget? "King Elzaban had taken a mortal wound in the fighting. But his beloved Abrielle spirited him away and wove a powerful sleeping spell around him to hold back death and time."
Maura could not keep a tender, dreamy note from her voice. Her only knowledge of such passionate attachment between a man and a woman came from such tales. Often she had fallen asleep picturing herself as Abrielle. Only in her dreams, she always found a way to heal her dying lover, so they could wed and enjoy a long lifetime of happiness.
"Do not forget the most important part of the story." Langbard's deep, resonant voice intruded on Maura's fanciful musings. "In his country's hour of greatest need, the Waiting King will be woken from his magical slumber by his Destined Queen. Together, they will reclaim and restore his, kingdom."
Under her breath Maura muttered, "I wish they would hurry,up about it."
She had thought that often over the years. Whenever she saw Hanish soldiers harassing villagers in the market. When she had heard of what Sorsha's husband had suffered in the mines. Just this morning, when she had seen the boy hurt by a pain spike. What was keeping the Waiting King and his Destined Queen?
Copyright © 2004 Deborah Hale
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Once the Kingdom of Umbria was a peaceful pastoral place where magic healed and helped the people. Then the Han invaded Umbria, destroying its customs and culture, and forbidding magic to be practiced at all. Those who do use magic are shunned by people except when they are needed to heal a hurt. Maura Woodbury, the Enchantress of Windleford, is used to being ignored because she has the love of her mentor the wizard Langbard. One day the wizard tells his ward that she is the Destined Queen who will wake her future husband the Waiting King from his unnatural sleep and then he will deal with the army of occupation. Before she can adjust to her fate, an outlaw is in danger of being killed by the Han and using magic Maura rescues him. Langbard convinces Ratho accompany Maura to Prum where she will find a map that will lead her to the Waiting King. During the journey, Maura and Rath fall in love but there is nothing they can do about it because her destiny lies in a direction away from him. The Han are aware of their quest and send their most powerful mages and warriors to stop them. Deborah Hale has written a delightful, exciting and memorable romantic fantasy about a heroine who believes in all the old legends and a hero who believe only in himself. Together they make a powerful fighting force in their quest to rid their country of the conquerors who wish that the pages of THE WIZARD¿S WARD. This fantastic novel will also appeal to fans of sword and sorcery novels. Harriet Klausner
I loved this book; the ending is great.
The plot was pretty much telegraphed in the first few pages. Young Woman is the hidden queen, old geezer who is her guardian is killed by the nasty wizard from the opressing race, rogue with heart-of-gold is convinced to help her search for the hidden king.
This was a most very awesome book! I loved it!
OMG, OMG, OMG! I love this books! If you love to read Fantasy stories and young adult romance, this is the book for you!!
It was not all that good. I mean thier were some good parts in this book, but not many. I was able to understand it, but it was dry and needed more entertainment. The end was disapointing and did not go with the feel of the story.
This book seemed a little too romance and not enough fantasy for my tastes. It was OK. I did get through the entire book but i felt like someone took characters from a romance and dropped them into a fantasy novel. Not my favorite.
Fun, fast read. Lots of action. The author did a good job in not making the wording overly dramatic and has just enough flare. The transition between chapters wouldn't let me put it down. Although the plot was predictable, the entire time I was still hoping I was wrong and that things would turn out differently. The ending was cut short and feels rushed. Overall it's a good romantic fantasy, which are hard to find.
This book was one of the best I've ever read and I haven't written a review because i just got my computer back. And they just came out with the second one and i can't wait to get it. It's called the Destined Queen and it's about Maura again. I can't wait!!
I debated for a while about purchasing this book....and now I kick myself for waiting so long! From the moment I picked it up, until the end of the book...I was captivated. This book was wonderfully and creatively plotted , and was set at just the right pace. It was kind of predictable how it would end...but still a fantastically incredible read!
I would recommend this book as a quick easy read that is quite enjoyable I finished it within one sitting. The lead characters are loveable and one truly wants them to be able to establish the love they so long to embrace. The story is centered on the development of these two characters while the reader does not get a feel for the new world they are cast into. With the exception of an underdeveloped world and a predictable, abrupt ending, Wizard's Ward is a great read and worth the time invested in reading it.
I picked up this book, because it was published by LUNA, which claims to publish Fantasy Romance. While Ms. Hale made a great start a creating a wonderfully magical world, it was left rather 2-dimensional. I never really feared the 'enemy' or felt true sympathy for the 'good' side. I also have to wonder how the story works out after the ending...for me the ending was rather sudden, and there was no true resolution to the problem of freeing Maura's 'people'. However, I did enjoy both the main characters, and felt that they were very well developed. I do recommend the book, but I feel you will enjoy it more if you term yourself more a Romance reader than a Fantasy reader. (hehe, I'm Fantasy, if you couldn't tell. *wink*)
This book was really good, though for me the ending was rather predictable. Though the rest of the book was terrific. You should really go out and read because even though the ending was predictable, it was still a really good book.
I loved this book! It was enchanting but not too much. I loved all the twists and turnes in this book. I loved the charactures and magical things like the cuddy bird feathers. The ending was a little predictable though. This is one of my favorite books I've ever read!!!
I may only be 13 but I love a good fantasy-romance anytime. A bunch of my Books are just that.
Fans of Deborah Hale's historical romances will no doubt be lining up to buy her first fantasy novel, The Wizard's Ward, and they won't be disappointed. This was a wonderful debut, with all the usual Deb Hale treats - realistic characters, a fast moving plot and heaps of atmosphere. It's all here in this adventure story that is both exciting and tender right up to the satisfying end.
The Wizards Ward was a truly breath-taking novel. I was kept on the edge of my seat and couldn't tear myself away from the pages of adventure, romance, and becomming. Maura in this novel was a great personality match with the handsome outlaw Rath. She needed someone completely opposite of her. Rath Talward not only stole items on his and Maura's trip to the Secret Glade, he also stole her heart. Maura got him back though, she softened his heart of stone and made him change his ideas of only caring for himself. I write stories on the computer (I'm only fourteen) and i always end up stopping a little ways in one book to start another with some idea i have that just doesn't fit in with what i'm writing. I have many unfinished stories. Although i do have to give myself credit for finsihing quite a few short stories. But whenever i try to write a novel i get stuck or get a new idea so i write a whole new story! But after reading Wizards Ward and its sequel Destined Queen i got an idea for a novel that i am making sure i finsh. I got the idea from this but its a completely different plotline and everything, there isn't any plagerism, i would NEVER do that. It's called 'The Search of Crystalyne's King' But back to the review i thought that the Wizards Ward and it's sequel Destined Queen were phenomenal novels and there should be a third book. But they were truly amazing.