Authors: Laurel Mojica
Tags: #Romance, #young adult, #fantasy
THE BRONZE MAGE
by Laurel Mojica
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
2011 by Laurel Mojica
All rights reserved. Published by Argument Null, LLC. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.
2004 by Carole Tregoning. All rights reserved.
To my husband, Jose, who kept telling me I should write a book, and graciously sacrificed the time to let me finish.
I wish to thank my mother and sister for proof-reading and encouraging me.
I gratefully acknowledge those who read the first version and assured me that it was worthwhile: Ruth Tregoning, Carole Tregoning, Kirstin Skadberg, Carmen Mojica, Maria Mojica, Ileana Martin, Cheryl Karamihas and Cindy Laramie. Also, Iris Proctor who would've read it, had I ever gotten her the copy I promised.
I also want to thank the men in my life: Jose, Alex and Andy Mojica, who gracious read or listened to portions in spite of their preferences and gave good advice and honest opinions.
For the first time since the mage had broken his promise, Princess Tabitha was alone and she could move. She slid quickly out of the bed, thankful to find herself still in her tattered dress, and quietly approached the window. As unlikely as an easy escape seemed, she had to try. Outside was a short lawn, then the forest. No one in sight. She unlatched it and pushed. It wouldn't move. She pushed harder. Nothing. It didn't even give a little. Tabitha had begun re-inspecting it, to see if there was another latch or lock she hadn't noticed when she heard the door open behind her. She arranged herself as if she were merely peering wistfully at the view, then turned to greet Mage James.
"The wizard asked me to bring you these, your highness." A woman stood in the doorway with an armload of clothes, a house servant by the look of her.
"Is he out?" Tabitha asked, trying to keep her voice neutral. Her hope of escape was made more desperate by the implications of a whole wardrobe. He wouldn't be releasing her soon.
"No, your highness. He's in the parlor settling accounts. Lunch is being prepared. It should be ready by the time you've changed." She hung the dresses in an armoire that stood next to a small vanity with a mirror. Tabitha thanked her, then waited for her to leave. The servant had come and gone without unlocking or locking the door, but there was a lock in it. Tabitha would have liked very much to have the key, even knowing it couldn't keep out the mage. It would at least give her the illusion of privacy. A quick search of the room did not produce it. Tabitha suspected she knew who possessed it.
She checked the contents of the armoire. It held everything she would need for an extended stay, but nothing for a man. Tabitha relaxed fractionally. James had his own room. She returned to the window, but still couldn't discover what held it. She feared James had sealed it with his magic, but hoped it was something more mundane. She couldn't risk the noise of breaking the window while James was in the next room, nor did she want to arouse suspicions by dallying.
Tabitha walked back to the armoire and chose one of the dresses. It took her longer than she would have liked to navigate its fastenings. It didn't help that she was hurrying. The unlocked door was making her more nervous the longer the process took. Even after she was pretty certain she had the garment on correctly, it felt odd. It was tight across her shoulders and ribs, loose in the bust. Not that Tabitha was overweight, but she had a lot more muscle than curve. The skirt ended a few inches above her ankles. Her own dresses had always been custom fit and floor-length.
Once she was decent, her urgency abandoned her. She had no desire to face James or anyone else. She glanced in the mirror and grimaced. Usually her light brown hair was arranged to soften her angular features. At least, that was the result when Tabitha was patient enough to let her maid have her way. After five days of travel and four nights sleeping on the ground, her maid's handiwork had devolved into a grimy explosion. Tabitha's skin was also several shades darker than her mid-summer tan could justify. She needed a bath. The laver on the vanity would have to make do. She removed the visible dirt on her face, hands and arms carefully, so as not to wet her dress. Tabitha's hair also desperately needed washing, but there was no way to do that here. She picked apart what remained of her coiffure and tried to brush out her hair. The brush skimmed over the matted knots. Tabitha thumped the brush back onto the table in disgust.
Tabitha's mother would have called the servant back and finagled a proper bath and help with her hair. Her sister, Melanie, would have managed to stay magically neat and coiffed throughout the journey. But really, what was the point? She was a prisoner, not a guest. There was no one she wanted to impress. She turned her back on the mirror and strode to the door.
The parlor consisted of a large rustic fireplace and four sturdy chairs with a few small tables scattered conveniently among them. James was seated in one, looking unreasonably handsome in his new suit. It was obvious that before he'd started "settling accounts" he had bathed and groomed. Tabitha snorted, very softly.
The mage appeared to be about the same age as Tabitha's older brother, mid-twenties, with short black hair, a medium complexion, a chiseled face and gray eyes. Living proof that beauty was only skin deep. He was speaking with an older man who stood deferentially in front of him. To Tabitha's left was a dining table, which the maidservant was laying for lunch. Straight ahead was the front door. On impulse, Tabitha walked to it.
"Tabitha, please remain inside." James's voice was casual. This led Tabitha to suspect that the others did not know she wasn't free.
"I'll just be a moment." She replied equally casually, unlatching it. She pulled. It wouldn't budge. She pulled a few more times. The stranger's back was to her, and he never turned around. Tabitha glared at James, but he ignored her and continued his quiet conversation with the man.
She allowed her shoulders to slump slightly, and wandered in apparent defeat toward the dining table. The maid was just entering with a plate of food. Tabitha wandered past her into the kitchen. As she'd hoped, there was another door here, probably leading to the kitchen garden. She tried to open it and failed. The maid re-entered the room.
"This door appears to be stuck. Can you open it for me?"
"I'm sorry, your highness. We're not to open any doors for you."
"The wizard says not and we're not likely to cross a wizard, your highness. That would be downright foolish." Her expression implied that Tabitha ought to know better herself. Irritated, Tabitha turned and yanked on the door. It might as well have been stone. So they knew she was a prisoner and had no intention of helping her. Tabitha stomped back out of the kitchen.
The man must have finished his business and left. James was sitting by the fireplace. His gray eyes tracked her.
"I'm leaving." Tabitha announced as she once again approached the front door and yanked uselessly at it. "Open this door."
She turned to face him. "You required my parole until we reached the border, on the condition that you would then release me. That was days ago. I kept my word. Keep yours."
He considered her silently another moment, then looked past her. "Lunch is ready?"
"Yes, sir." The maid replied.
James rose and walked over to Tabitha. He was barely taller than her, though average for a man. His shoulders weren't much wider than hers either, though she knew he was stronger than he looked. She backed into the door, glared defiantly at him. He took her by the shoulders and turned her toward the table. He had no need to use physical force, his magic compelled compliance. She walked to her chair and sat. James took his own seat and began to eat. The compulsion from James faded, but was replaced by one emanating from Tabitha's stomach. It had been days since she'd smelled such good food. She consoled herself with the knowledge that she would have a long, provisionless journey home if she escaped, so eating now was wise.
When the meal was over, Tabitha walked to the fireplace, angled one of the chairs near the window so that she could look out, and sat. She wanted solitude, but was uncomfortable returning to the bedroom. Now that they were in a house, the fact that she would be alone with James was more unsettling.
She heard James speaking to the maid, but his words were distorted, perhaps by another spell. Mage Crandall had often used something similar when talking with Tabitha's father. Her mind wandered back to the first two days of their journey. Why had she trusted him then? Upon re-inspection, she was forced to agree with his original assessment: he would have brought her either way. Giving her parole merely spared her the indignity of being ensorcelled. This was proved by the second half of their journey.
As they had conversed those first two days, she'd given him a lot of information about the current state of Valstadt and its neighbors. None of it was secret, but she wondered now if she ought to have remained silent. She had hoped that if he learned more that he would leave them alone. "Them" referring not just to her family, but all of Valstadt. The journey had been James's very belated escape after attempting to overthrow Tabitha's father years before. His coup had ended abruptly when his own spell had turned him into a statue. An ignominious end for an infamous villain.