Authors: Jenna Rhodes
THE ELVEN WAYS:
THE FOUR FORGES (Book One)
THE DARK FERRYMAN (Book Two)
KING OF ASSASSINS (Book Three)
Copyright © 2014 byRhondi Vilott Salsitz.
All Rights Reserved.
Jacket art by Jody A. Lee.
Jacket design by G-Force Design.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1668.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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First Printing, November 2014
DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED
U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES
HECHO EN U.S.A.
To Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim, great publishers and even better friends, with thanks.
In memory of Patricia Teal, agent and close friend.
T IS SAID in the lands of Kerith, “It is better to have Death knock on your door than a Vaelinar.” I may well be the proof of that old Dweller proverb. I am Vaelinar, after all, or half of their blessed and cursed blood, and we are the invaders of these lands, blasted here by some magical or immortal meddling that we have not been able to decipher. Yet here we are on Kerith and many regret our coming. It is no wonder, for we arrived clad in battle gear and ready to ride into a fight and, from the feuds which exist among our various bloodlines to this day, I have no doubt we were prepared to wage war upon each other rather than some arcane enemy. Welcome or not, we carved out our places here, particularly in the western provinces known as the First Home of the continent. We found Kerith malleable to our will, for we can see the very threads of its physical being and cast, tangle, and weave those threads to our wishes in varying degrees. We have forced Ways upon the land which betray its natural laws but have given us both wealth and convenience. We remembered our old dominance and arrogance which cloaks us still, while we have forgotten the name of our mother world, and even yet plan to replace the very Gods which all mortals should respect. Then there are those like myself, born in between, who hope only to know the truth and live to see its justice.
My name is Sevryn Dardanon and I am the bastard son of the Vaelinar traitor Daravan and Mista, the Kernan witch woman he abandoned. She soon abandoned me as well, trusting that the streets would be kinder than her maternal bond to me. I looked for them both until I realized that neither of them searched for me and I was alone. The two of them left me with only anger to fire my survival. Thus was I forged.
I took to thieving like any boy hiding in the back streets until Gilgarran found me and brought me up to be his apprentice, to make a spying and killing tool of me. A spymaster himself, an occupation that is redundant for a Vaelinar, he nonetheless fostered me well in the years we had together. He told me there would be more to come in my schooling, but then he was murdered by Quendius while taking me on a quest to uncover secrets which were not ready to be revealed. His failure brought me down with him and left me enslaved. The hammer of this fate left me tempered.
For twenty-some years I worked the foundries of the smuggler and weaponmaster Quendius, living through degradation that the Gods have been kind enough to let time blur for me. I brought out of that pit, buried and sharpened inside my core, the fierce will to do what was right by the world, as sharp as any edged blade.
I was found again by the Warrior Queen Lariel and her brother Jeredon, taken in and valued. Rulers of the valley kingdom Larandaril used my Talents and gave me a home in return. But none of this compares to meeting the love of my life who restored not only my faith but my soul. What can I say of Rivergrace who rode the tide of the Silverwing River into the lives of the Dweller family called Farbranch? I met her when she was still a girl, poised on the threshold of becoming an incredible woman, and she captured my heart and holds it still in her slender hands. For Rivergrace and any of the Farbranches—Nutmeg, Tolby, Lily, and the three brothers—I would die a thousand more deaths. Rivergrace and I have died once, and it was her light that brought me back. I no longer fear death, just the separation and the pain. Her love anchors me as steady as a sheath, as the time for my wielding draws close.
I am but a weapon. I have no illusions beyond that I only question who will wield me. Will it be the queen to whom I vowed my service, or the woman to whom I gave my heart, or a shadowy, unknown figure I have yet to meet?
May the Gods treat me with the respect a good weapon deserves, show me my destination, and aim me truly. Being Vaelinar, however, I should know that the Gods never grant us anything but what we rip from Their hands . . .
There is a quarter of Calcort where city walls do not hold back the wilderness, and the city streets thin to nothing more than dirt lanes, and those in turn fade to stony hills landscaped with vineyards as far as the eye can see. One might presume it would be the weakest point of the city, but none have ever succeeded in invading over those hills and across those vineyards. It might be because of wards set long ago by the Mageborn before that class destroyed itself, or it might be attributed to the catacomb of caves scattered underneath the hillsides, a brittle rock strata waiting to collapse under the weight of an approaching army with its many men, its cavalry, and wagons. No one knew for certain. He didn’t know and it made him nervous. Sevryn had never trusted Calcort; his senses, his Vaelinarran nerves, told him not to. The city gates had been assailed again and again through the history of the First Home, with occasional success, yet the vineyards had stood fast. But he could not trust them to do so again. The need to stand and protect pricked at his nerves.
Sevryn walked past an aged yet well-loved farmhouse, the last true house on the lane and one which ruled the biggest of the vineyards. A beamed cider house stood to the left, with wine-making barns to the far rear of the property, sided by the barn and pastures.
“Kisses or coins?”
Against the lowering of the sun, two young women stepped out of the weathered building and smiled as they drew close. The taller of the two, by far, slipped her hand to the back of his neck and massaged him gently, repeating, “Kisses or coins for your thoughts?”
He made a noncommittal grunt. “You wouldn’t like them.” He reached back to cover her hand with his for a moment. “But I’ll take payment in kisses. Always.” Her skin was slightly cooler than his and he tried to warm her. “I’m on watch.”
Rivergrace laughed teasingly. “You are the most suspicious presence in this quarter, right now.”
“And you the most luminous.”
His gaze swept the two, her slender Vaelinar self with gleaming auburn hair that reached almost to her waist and her sister, Nutmeg, who looked not a bit like her: a Dweller who stood as tall as Grace’s elbow, with bouncing brunette hair in curls, and almost too pregnant for any one woman to bear. Nutmeg grinned up at him, Rivergrace’s sister of her heart, bonded as close as any kin could be. She did not look like she carried the heir to the throne of the Warrior Queen of Larandaril, wrapped in the hardy body of the Dweller folk, but she did. Not that she did not look pregnant, because she most certainly did, but Dwellers usually did not carry royalty. And because she did, a tension thick enough to be cut with a knife ran through this end of Calcort and through Sevryn as well. No one connected with any of the ruling Houses of Vaelinar was ever safe. He had not been able to save his friend Jeredon from blood feuds and conspiracies of the ild Fallyn, but he would lay down his life to protect Rivergrace and Nutmeg.
As for his love—she was as pure a Vaelinar as he was not: willowy, ears curving to a graceful point, hair of auburn tumbling down nearly to her waist, and eyes . . . oh, those eyes. Eyes of aquamarine, and cobalt, and sky blue, eyes that shouted of magic. Sevryn felt he could fall into those eyes forever and know that he was loved. His own plain gray eyes disguised his inheritance of Talents and abilities. For the Vaelinar it was simple: multi-hued eyes could see the very threads of the world and meddle with them, and uncomplicated eyes could not. He’d spent a lifetime making good use of the arrogance of being overlooked and underrated.
Rivergrace’s gaze swept over darkening shadows and she frowned before she sat, undoubtedly noting the three Vaelinar guards across the street who melted back into the dimming light as watchers took notice of their appearance. She looked back to Sevryn. “And you are watching them guard us?”
“No. I seem to be watching the intangible. There is that which they can’t—nor can I—quite see. I’m a half blood, but if I can feel, they ought to be able to as well. Yet I see no sign that they do. Something is not right. How can they be missing it, and what the cold hells is it I’m missing?” He longed for the touch of her withdrawn hand even as he scowled at the trio on the lane’s other side. Their watch post was next to the shop and home of the herbalist, her own yards blending into the edges of the vineyard grapes. Next to the herbalist across the way stood the cobbler’s abode, his back fence hanging with tanned leathers getting an airing before storage. Beside him, sat the pottery shed and kiln, and the small, gabled house which made up the home of the ceramics maker. Beyond those businesses, a crude sidewalk and gutter began, curving slightly and leading back into the city proper.
Her words warmed him. “If you worry, then I will worry. I trust your instincts.”
“Mmmm.” Sevryn ran his hand through his hair. “I’m walking,” he said. “I can’t stand here and do nothing.”
She watched him stride off, shedding energy like tiny sparks as he did, like a firebrand being carried through twilight. Nutmeg put her hand on Rivergrace’s arm to steady herself a bit as she sat down with a muffled sigh.
“What was that all about?”
“Just a feeling. A shiver down the back of the neck. A pinch in the gut. Nothing definite and yet . . . something awry.”
“I thought you weren’t superstitious.” Nutmeg leaned upon Rivergrace slightly.
“Of course I am, I was raised Dweller!” She pinched her sister. “But neither am I flinching at shadows. You?”
“No idea what I am at th’ moment, except one big stomach.” Nutmeg folded her hands about her abdomen. She looked down at it solemnly, her curls bouncing about to settle in a gentle cascade upon her shoulders.
There was nothing palpable upon the air that Rivergrace sighted, except a very slight darkness flowing where darkness should not be despite the coming evening, and moving against the wind. How could shadows move against the wind? Perhaps a trick of the light as it changed how it fell upon the street, or the way the buildings shifted in its reflection, or did she even see such a thing? Sevryn had gone in a different direction, but had he doubled back and could that be his elusive form she almost saw? She didn’t think so. She knew the way he moved, even when he could only be seen in the corner of the eye or the sigh of the twilight. Every fiber of her being was attuned to him, as it should be, for all that they shared including death.
Rivergrace didn’t discount what she thought she saw, any more than she would Sevryn’s restlessness, for Vaelinars viewed the world in a different way. If she concentrated, she could perceive the tiny strands of light that made up the falling dusk. She could see the edges of every tiny grain of dirt that went into the brickwork, the fibers of the wood cut into planks and shingles. She could sense the water in the air, nearly gossamer drops of dew waiting to coalesce into something heavier, more substantial as nighttime fell. She could feel the pull of water in the bodies across the way, coursing in their blood, collecting in their tissues. More, she could sense the potency and the wiles of the River Goddess of the Silverwing, the Goddess whose being had become inexplicably and inexorably intertwined within her own essence. Life was water and it called to her, drop by drop, stream by stream. Grace blinked, shedding her inner sensing of the world, before she felt compelled to pluck at its strands and . . . do what? Create havoc? Call the water to her when she had no right to do so? How would that help anything? With a sigh of her own, she tried to shake off the mood Sevryn had handed to her. Her attention dropped to Nutmeg and the commanding size of her stomach as her sister contemplated herself. The sight halted her and led to another thought entirely.
Without preamble, Rivergrace said, “What
“Only that I was in love.” Nutmeg rubbed the palm of her hand over her ample tummy and sat back wryly. “It seemed enough at th’ time. But it was never a kind of lusty, must scratch that itch kind of love. It was a gentle, nurturing love. He needed me.” She shrugged and cast a sideways glance. “I was wonderin’ when you’d ask.”
Rivergrace leaned against her Dweller sister. In every way but blood she counted, she was more than adopted into the Farbranch family, she was bonded, woven into the very fabric of their lives as skillfully as Lily and Nutmeg Farbranch’s hands upon a loom could weave true. Nutmeg hadn’t known whom she rescued that day from a small raft on the raging River Silverwing and, if she had, Rivergrace did not think her sister would have acted any differently. Nutmeg had pulled her sister into her family and woven her firmly into its fabric. Such impetuousness had always ruled her bold sister’s life. “I wasn’t going to ask.”