Read An Excerpt
General Fantasy, Fantasy
The magic was a mighty wave that rose with terrifying swiftness toward the sky, hovered there for an eternal moment, then crashed down again to earth, washing over everything in its path.
The lad who had been standing at the edge of a glade watched with horror as the wave rushed toward him. He started forward to save his mother from being washed away only to remember that he had another task laid to his charge. He took hold of his younger sister’s hand only to feel her fingers slip through his grasp despite his efforts to hold onto her. He shouted for her, but his calls were lost in the roaring of the evil as it engulfed him, sending him tumbling along with it. He groped blindly for his sister in that uncontrollable wave—
Only to realize he wasn’t a lad of ten winters, but a man of a score-and-ten, and it wasn’t his younger sister Mhorghain he was so desperately seeking.
It was Sarah of Doìre.
And it wasn’t a wave of evil from a well he was running from, it was a terrible storm washing down the hill from the castle that had collapsed in on itself, the castle at Ceangail where his sire had lived for centuries, endlessly honing spells that never should have been created . . .
Ruith woke with a gasp.
He forced himself to remain motionless and breathe shallowly, simply because it was his habit. When one had to rely on more pedestrian means of protecting himself than magic, one learned early on to not give an attacker any more advantage than necessary.
It took him longer than it might have otherwise simply because he was still fighting against the memories that flooded back in a rush that was unpleasantly similar to the wave of spell that had overcome him in his dream, and, it would seem, in his waking life. He kept his eyes closed and felt for Sarah’s hand—
Only to realize that he couldn’t move.
But that could have been because he was sitting with his hands tied tightly around the tree behind him. He opened his eyes a slit, then fully when he found that no one was watching him. His companions were none but a trio of rough-looking lads who stood twenty paces away, arguing not over the best way to put him to death, but the quality of his weapons and how they might reasonably poach the same without harm to themselves. He prayed their discussion might go on for quite some time so he might determine where he was and why he seemed to be the only one within earshot who wasn’t talking about his knives. He took another slow, careful breath, then looked around himself.
There was no one else there.
He suppressed the urge to panic. Anything could have happened to her. She could have been lying where he couldn’t see her, or been slain, or carried off beyond his reach. There were any number of mages infesting not only the keep up the way, but now no doubt the woods surrounding the keep, mages who would have taken her and . . .
He wrenched his thoughts back from that unhelpful place. He couldn’t rescue her if he were dead, so the most sensible thing to do was get himself free and make certain he remained alive. Sensible sounded so much more reasonable than frankly terrified at the thought of what could have befallen her, which he was.
He quickly assessed his own situation. His knives were both still down his boots and two others were still strapped to his back—not that he could have reached either set at the moment, but he would remedy that as quickly as possible. He also still had his magic, safely buried inside himself in an impenetrable well capped with illusion and distraction that he knew from recent experience was impervious to all assault. Lastly, and perhaps most fortuitously, the lads in front of him weren’t paying him any heed.
He kept those lads in his sights as he focused on his hands, working the rope binding them against the bark of the tree and finding the knots poorly tied indeed. If he had been in the market for potential guardsmen, he would have invited them to tie a knot or two so he might examine their work before entrusting them with anything more complicated than securing a bedroll to a saddle—
The rope gave way without warning. He froze, partly because he didn’t want to reveal what he’d just managed to accomplish and partly because the pain of blood rushing back into his hands was so intense, it almost rendered him senseless. He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing evenly until his hands stopped throbbing enough that he could think clearly again. And once he could, he turned his mind quickly to how best to escape.
Fortunately, luck was with him. The lads were so involved in their conversation, they weren’t paying him any heed. Then again, they hadn’t paid heed to the mage standing just outside the circle of their torchlight either.
Damn it anyway.
It was Amitán of Ceangail who stood there, watching silently. Ruith held out no hope that his bastard brother hadn’t seen him. He was only surprised Amitán hadn’t already plunged a knife into his chest.
Then again, that might have been because it would have been deflected by a spell of protection Ruith suddenly realized he was covered by. It was, he had to admit, a rather elegant thing, fashioned from Olc—if such grace were possible from that vile, unwholesome magic. He was so surprised to find it there, he could only stare at it in silence for several moments. Given that he certainly hadn’t provided the like for himself, he had to wonder who had. Obviously someone wanted him alive and unharmed.
He wasn’t sure he dared speculate on who that might be.
He supposed he could at least eliminate from the list his half brother, who stepped close to the spell, had a look at it, then swore at him in a furious whisper.
“Don’t think that will save your sorry self,” Amitán hissed. “Once I have what I want from you, I’ll kill you in spite of that rot. And once you’re dead, I’ll find that pretty little wench of yours and have what I want from her as well.”
“But she has no power,” Ruith said, because it was true. Sarah had no magic, and the sooner he convinced everyone within earshot of that, the safer she would be.
“You fool,” Amitán said scornfully, “she sees spells. Did you think we hadn’t noticed?”
Ruith didn’t have a chance to respond before Amitán strode out into the light cast by the fire. Aye, he’d very much hoped his bastard brothers hadn’t noticed what Sarah could do. But if they had and if they thought they could force her to use that gift to further their own ends . . .
He pushed aside his absolute dread that he would find her too late and concentrated on freeing himself so he could find her before his brothers did.
Because he knew they wouldn’t be the only ones looking for her.