Authors: Amy Raby
Tags: #fantasy romance
The Fire Seer and Her Quradum
A Coalition of Mages Novel
Copyright © 2015 by Amy Raby.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
The Fire Seer and Her Quradum/ Amy Raby. -- 1st ed.
Also by Amy Raby
The Hearts and Thrones Series
The Coalition of Mages Series
Twelve days’ travel brought Taya and her bodyguard, Mandir, into the floodplains surrounding the city of Rakigari. Since they had but one horse between them, they were riding double, while behind them lumbered the dwarf elephant, Piru.
Piru couldn’t trot for long stretches with all the weight he carried on his back, so their journey had been slow. But Taya didn’t mind. When she and Mandir had been assigned to work together on a murder case in Hrappa, she couldn’t believe the Coalition had paired her with her worst enemy, a man she’d hated and feared. And yet, by the time they’d finished the case, they’d overcome the inauspicious beginnings of their relationship and become lovers.
Twelve nights on the road they’d spent entwined in each other’s arms. Twelve nights they’d been able to forget Coalition politics and enjoy the simple pleasures of conversation and companionship and the fusing of their bodies.
Now that respite was coming to an end. This night, they would sleep not on the bank with the roar of the Lioness River in their ears, but in the Rakigari Temple.
They entered the area of the inundation. Every year, in the season of Agu, the Lioness flooded her banks, destroying roads and field markers and all the works of man. The water goddess laid low the fruits of mortal labor, but in her passing she provided for her subjects in the form of rich, fertile soil.
Now it was the season of Lalan, and the crops planted in Agu’s wake thrived. As Mandir’s blood bay gelding threaded his way through the hand-weeded rows, following a makeshift trail, Taya admired the greenery—and, occasionally, darted an admiring look at Mandir’s firm, muscled arms that held the reins on either side of her.
Soon the walls of the city came into view.
Taya was unfamiliar with this area, but she knew Mandir had finished his education here. He probably knew it well.
“Are we stopping in the city?” she asked.
“Do you want to?”
“Not especially,” said Taya. “But doesn’t Neshi live there?” Mandir had served a Year of Penance under this man Neshi, who had been an inspiration to him.
“He does, but I think we should deliver the payment first.”
Taya nodded. Mandir referred to the gold and silver sticks Piru carried as Hrappa’s annual tax payment to the Coalition of Mages. They’d hidden the wealth as best they could, wrapping it in old onion sacks, but the bandits that plagued the area had not been fooled. They’d attacked once during the twelve-day journey. The band of thin, sickly men were easily discouraged when Taya and Mandir called fire into the hilts of their bronze swords, forcing them to drop the weapons. She ought to have killed them, given what they were, but she’d felt pity for them. Who knew what circumstances had driven them to this desperate state?
The Lioness River ran hard and frothy, several feet below its banks. As the season progressed, it would fall lower still. Their route to Rakigari had been upriver, mostly to the north, but here the river bent eastward, cutting a path away from the northern foothills. Beyond those hills and far away stood mountains, an unfamiliar sight for Taya. Shrouded in haze and capped with snow, they looked like distant, silent gods.
Since the foothills were not suitable for farming, Rakigari and all its agricultural land were on the southeastern side of the river, where Taya and Mandir were traveling. Mandir directed the blood bay onto a course that passed between the river and the city walls.
“There’s a horse seller in the area,” said Mandir.
“I’ll pay him a visit tomorrow,” said Taya. Riding double had been hard on the blood bay, even at their slow pace. And much as she’d enjoyed the intimacy she’d shared with Mandir, she didn’t like being without a horse of her own.
The city was larger than Hrappa; its mud-brick walls seemed to go on for miles. But in time, the monotonous barrier came to an end, and ahead of them, on the opposite side of the river, sat the Coalition temple. Unlike the temple at Mohenjo, a free-standing building, the Rakigari temple was cleverly carved into the northern hillside. Yet its pillared entryway and the statues of the three goddesses in front made it impossible to mistake.
“We’re on the wrong side of the river,” said Taya, looking around for a boat or raft crossing. Such crossings were common in other populated areas of the river valley, but she hadn’t seen any near Rakigari.
“We can cross,” said Mandir. “There’s a trick.” He urged the blood bay forward until they came to a spot where an island split the river into two streams. “We need to divert the water to the other side of the island.”
Looking at the island and the channels on either side, Taya saw how it was to be done. In order to divert the river, they’d need to call on Agu, the Water Mother. She dismounted from the blood bay, worked the stiffness out of her legs, and walked to the water’s edge. The river flowed well below its banks, but the slope down to the water, lined with flat stones sunk into the ground, descended gently.
She dipped her foot into the water to make her presence known. Ripples swirled as Agu acknowledged and recognized her.
Mandir stepped up to the water’s edge, leading the blood bay, and put his foot in the water as well. Piru the elephant slapped the water playfully with his trunk.
,” Taya said softly, asking rather than demanding.
,” repeated Mandir.
Taya had diverted water many times—it was the first skill a temple initiate learned—but always on a small scale: a trickle of a stream, or an irrigation canal. Never had she tried to shift an entire river. Nonetheless, the principle was the same, and the river obediently altered its course. The water level in the far channel rose, while that of the channel in front of them dropped lower and lower until it dried to mere puddles, exposing the riverbed and a few flopping fish. The riverbed, like the bank, was lined with more flat stones, and Taya realized the stones formed a path, previously hidden, that continued onto the island.
Taya walked down the stony bank into the riverbed, a little apprehensive. If Agu changed her mind about granting their request and flooded the channel again, she and Mandir would be swept away. But Mandir didn’t seem worried. Taya stepped around a gasping fish and continued on her way. The residents of Rakigari Temple must cross like this all the time.
When they emerged from the riverbed onto the island, Taya waited for Piru to catch up. Then she turned to Mandir to see what to do next. He turned around and said, “
,” so she did the same.
Water tumbled with violence into the empty channel they’d just crossed. It rose so high over its banks and onto the island that she had to take a few steps back. But on the other side of the island, the water drained away, baring the riverbed that lay between them and the temple. This side, too, was paved with stones.
Once again, she and Mandir stepped down into the riverbed. The blood bay rolled his eyes only a little, taking the experience with unusual aplomb for a horse. It seemed the gelding knew this crossing well.
As they climbed up the bank onto the far side of the river, Taya heard a rush of water behind her. Piru snorted and hurried up the bank. Taya started when she saw the river tumbling back to fill the space it had vacated. Mother Agu would restrain the mighty river only for as long as it took her children to pass.
“I’m guessing this temple is seldom attacked from the south,” she said to Mandir.
Mandir smiled. “You guess correctly.”
They proceeded up the temple steps and through the pillared entryway, where they came face to face with the statues of the goddesses. Mother Agu, on the left, was carved to depict a gown of rippling water, which descended to the ground and splashed upward, forming cresting waves. On the right, Lalan the Life Mother stood with eyes downcast, forever grieving. Collared doves, rendered in stone, flew up around her body. She held one of them gently in her hands; its outstretched wings covered her breasts.
But Taya’s gaze was drawn to Isatis, the Fire Mother of whom she was a disciple. Isatis was depicted walking forward with arms outstretched. Her teeth were bared, and stone renderings of flames exploded all around her. This was angry Isatis, the Isatis who in her fury had burned the city of Zhaerath to the ground.
Taya shivered as they passed.
She and Mandir entered a wide, dusty courtyard. Here a woman wearing the brown robes of the
, the temple’s service staff, ran up to take the blood bay.
tried to take Piru, the pack elephant, but Taya raised a hand to stop him. “The elephant carries Hrappa’s tax payment. Bring the auditor.”
nodded and ran off.
For a moment, they were alone in the courtyard with only Piru. The setting sun cast long shadows on the courtyard, giving it a striped appearance. Taya took a moment to straighten her headdress. After their long journey, she and Mandir looked rather disheveled. For her, that was not uncommon, but for Mandir, who made every attempt to present a neat appearance, it was out of character. His hair was longer than she’d ever seen it and beginning to curl a bit at the edges. Though he’d shaved this morning, Taya knew by now that he regrew his whiskers more quickly than most men, and preferred to shave twice a day when he could. He hadn’t gotten to it yet this evening and was showing a bit of scruff.
Even his shirt had ridden up, exposing a tantalizing slice of coppery skin near his waist. She couldn’t help but stare at it. The fact that he hadn’t straightened his clothes suggested that he was preoccupied. No doubt he was worried about his reception here at Rakigari.
Taya was worried too. She expected to be welcomed here, possibly even revered since she was a fire seer, but she and Mandir had broken a few laws back in Hrappa, and while nobody at the temple here knew about that, she feared her guilt might show on her face.
Mandir reached out and took her hand. She squeezed his fingers.
They let go of each other’s hands as two men and a woman, dressed in the customary green and silver of
, entered the courtyard. One man introduced himself as the auditor. He slipped a bit of rope around one of Piru’s stubby tusks and led him off toward the stable.
The woman spoke. “I’m Elder Bahu, and this is Elder Sisit. Mandir, welcome home. And are you Taya, the fire seer Mandir was on assignment with?”
“Yes, Elder,” said Taya.
The elder reached forward, and they touched fingers in greeting. “Rakigari Temple welcomes the honored disciple of Isatis. Was your mission a success? Did you destroy the jackal in Hrappa?”