Authors: Juliet Marillier
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Juvenile Fiction
ALSO BY JULIET MARILLIER
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2013 by Juliet Marillier Jacket art copyright © 2013 by Jonathan Barkat Map copyright © 2012 by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls of Inklings Calligraphy Studio
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Raven flight : a Shadowfell novel / Juliet Marillier. — 1st ed.
p. cm. — (Shadowfell; 2)
Summary: “To rescue her homeland from tyranny, Neryn must seek out the powerful Guardians to complete her training as a Caller.”
—Provided by publisher
[1. Fantasy. 2. Magic—Fiction. 3. Voyages and travels—Fiction.
4. Insurgency—Fiction. 5. Orphans—Fiction.] I. Title.
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AS THE LONE TRAVELER APPROACHED, THE FIVE Enforcers spread out in a line across his path. They waited in silence, a team of dark-cloaked warriors in full combat gear, astride their tall black horses. The fellow was roughly dressed—hooded cloak of gray felt, woolen leggings, battered old boots—and carried only a small pack and a staff. His gait was steady, though his head was bowed. He looked as if he’d been on the road awhile.
“Halt!” called Rohan Death-Blade when the traveler had come within ten paces and showed no sign of stopping. “State your name and your business in these parts!”
The man raised his head. The lower part of his face was covered by a cloth, like a crude imitation of the mask Enforcers wore on duty to conceal their identity. Above this concealment a pair of clear gray eyes gazed calmly at the interrogator. The man straightened his shoulders. “Have I been gone so long that you’ve forgotten me, Rohan?” Though harsh with exhaustion, the voice was
unmistakable. They knew him before he peeled off the makeshift mask.
“Owen! By all that’s holy!” Rohan removed his own mask, swung down from his mount, and strode forward to greet their long-absent commander. The others followed, gathering around Owen Swift-Sword. “Where’s the rest of Boar Troop? We expected you long ago. When will they be here?”
“Not today.” A long pause, as if the speaker must dig deep for the strength to say more. “I must speak to the king. Straightaway. Have you a spare mount?”
“Take Fleet,” said Rohan Death-Blade. “I’ll go up behind Tallis. You’d best get yourself cleaned up before you see the king; you stink like a midden. Don’t tell me you walked all the way from Summerfort.”
“I have … ill news. Grave news. Keldec must hear it first.”
Something in his face and in his voice halted further questioning. They knew that look; they understood the sort of news that rendered a man thus grim and taciturn.
The king’s men mounted their horses and turned for Winterfort. Their troop leader rode with them. Nobody spoke a word.
“Up, girls!” The sharp command from the doorway was familiar now. No matter how early we woke, Tali was always up before us. She stood waiting as the four of us struggled into our clothes, tied back our hair, and straightened our bedding. When folk lived at such close quarters over a long winter, keeping everything in order became second nature.
“Hurry up, Neryn.” Regan’s second-in-command leaned against the doorframe, her tattooed arms folded, observing me as if I were a tardy recruit. “I planned to put you on the Ladder later this morning, but two young fellows have turned up at the door—Black Crow only knows how they got here through the snow—and I’ll have to test them today. So you’ll be training before breakfast. It’s the only time I can fit it in.”
My heart sank. When I’d first reached the rebel base at Shadowfell, I’d been weak. Three years on the road, living rough, moving from one place of hiding to the next, had left me undernourished, sick, and slow to trust. When I was on the run, I had not understood why the king’s men were pursuing me, only that my canny gift was more curse than blessing. Indeed, I had hardly known what that gift was. It had taken a long journey and many strange meetings before I’d learned that I was a Caller, and that my gift might be key to ending King Keldec’s rule.
My first weeks at Shadowfell had been spent resting, eating what was set before me, and having occasional visits from my fey friends Sage and Red Cap, who were lodged somewhere out on the mountain. I had not been invited to join strategic discussions or to study the various maps and charts Regan kept in the chamber where he did his planning. Everyone at Shadowfell had daily work to do, but I had not been asked to do anything except recover my strength. Regan and his rebel band had treated me as they might a very special weapon—they had concentrated on returning me to top condition as swiftly as possible.
Of recent days I had insisted on helping Fingal in the
infirmary, where I could make myself useful preparing salves and tinctures, rolling bandages, and performing additional routine tasks. That freed Shadowfell’s healer for other work. Tali’s tough winter training regime resulted in a steady stream of sprains, cuts, and bruises for her brother to tend to.
And now, at last, I had been declared well enough to begin that training myself. For my canny gift, so valuable to the rebels, was not enough on its own; Regan would not allow me to work for the rebellion unless I had at least basic skills as a fighter. I would never be a warrior like Tali or Andra or the other women who shared the sleeping quarters. My years on the road had made me tough, but I was too small and slight to be much use in a fight. Still, I needed to be able to defend myself until someone could step in to help me. That was what Regan had said.
“Good luck,” muttered Sula, who had tied up her hair with practiced speed and was heading for the door.
“You’ll be fine, Neryn,” murmured Dervla as she passed me. Finet thrust her feet into her boots and followed the others out while I was still pulling on my skirt. Andra had been on night guard and had not yet come in. Despite our remote location, Shadowfell’s entry was constantly patrolled.
“You can’t wear that.” Tali’s dark eyes were not hostile, exactly, but they were not friendly either. Even now, when I had been at Shadowfell long enough to be accepted by everyone else, it was plain she still had reservations about me. “Hasn’t Eva found you some trousers? Get them on,
hurry up, and wear your boots, not those soft slippers, or you’ll end up injuring your ankles.”
I made myself breathe calmly as I changed skirt for trousers. Eva, who along with Milla was in charge of domestic matters at Shadowfell, had indeed made me the required garment, since all the female fighters wore male attire for active duty. I should have thought of this. Tackling the Ladder in a skirt would be impossible.
I put on my boots. I plaited my hair. I wondered if Tali would let me go to the privy before we began.
“That was much too slow,” she said now. “If we were sleeping in the open and there was an ambush, you’d be dead before you could pick up your weapon at that rate. We can’t afford any weak links.”
There were things I could have said about the numerous times Father and I had melted away into the woods when Enforcers came near. I could have mentioned that we had managed three years on the run without being caught, until the terrible night when the Cull came to Darkwater and my father perished. But I said nothing. Tali’s job was to keep us all fit enough to fight on, to survive, to spread the message of freedom out across Alban. For now, my job was to learn.
“Go to the privy,” Tali said, “then meet me at the Ladder. We’ve got it to ourselves until breakfast is over, and I want to make the most of that. Don’t dawdle.”
“Ready? Fifty steps this time, and I want it quicker. One, two, three, go!”
I climbed. Tali followed, apparently tireless, staying
a few steps behind and keeping a rapid count. My thighs burned with pain. My chest ached. I hardly had the strength to hate her, only to keep on going.
“… forty-nine, fifty!”
I bent over, hands on knees, chest heaving. Tali stepped up behind me, not in the least out of breath. Now I really did hate her.
“Rest to the count of ten. One, two …”
The precipitous stone steps known as the Ladder lay at the end of a long, winding passageway, part of the network of cavelike chambers that was Shadowfell. Who had made the place, nobody knew. It was old and uncanny. From time to time it changed its shape, forming new caverns or hallways, or opening new doors and windows to the outside. There was a clan of Good Folk here, the fey folk of Alban whom the king had decreed human men and women should shun. They lived in the mountain beneath the rebel headquarters, or so my small friend Sage believed. Without the useful gifts they left, the human folk of Shadowfell could not have survived the harsh highland winters. Firewood. Freshly killed livestock. Vegetables that could not grow here on the mountain. The Good Folk teased the rebels with their closeness, but never showed themselves. When I’d first come here, I’d thought it might be easy for me to find and befriend them. My gift as a Caller allowed me to see and speak to uncanny folk of every kind. At least it had in the past. But these particular folk were proving as hard to coax from their bolt-hole as a hazelnut is to prize from its shell.