Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)
Cinda Williams Chima
To all of those writers who opened their veins and wrote the incredible
books that made me fall in love with reading. You are the ones who
kindled the hope that I might one day be a writer.
Compared to the freezing weather outside, the stable was warm and steamy and alive with the sleepy murmurings of horses.
Adrian sul’Han pulled off his fleece-lined gloves and stuffed them into his pockets. He went first to see if his father’s pony, the latest in a long line of Raggers, was still in his stall.
He was, poking his head over the stall door, looking for a handout as usual. So his father hadn’t left the city. Not yet, anyway. Adrian needed to talk to him before he did.
He walked on down the line of stalls to look in on the piebald mare. She came forward to meet him, lipping hopefully at his hand. Adrian studied her critically. Her eyes were bright, ears pricked forward, and when he ran his hand over her shoulder, he could tell that the muscles of her withers were filling in.
Sliding his free hand under his coat, he gripped his amulet and sent a tendril of power into the mare, looking for trouble. To his relief, the white-hot focus of infection was nearly gone.
“You’ll be all right,” he murmured, stroking her head, proud that it was true.
He heard Mancy’s step-and-drag footsteps behind him. “I thought that was you, boy,” she said, coming up next to him. “Here to see my Priscilly? It’s amazing, what you’ve done. I thought I had lost her, and now she’s like a brand-new horse.”
“Actually, I’m looking for my da, and I thought I’d look in on Priscilly while I’m here,” Adrian said. “Have you seen him?”
She shook her head. “Not today, no.” Worry flickered across her face. “You don’t think the High Wizard will come here, do you? See, I’m moving slow this morning, and I only just got the front stalls mucked out. I need to—”
“Don’t worry,” Adrian said, raising both hands. “I just thought he might have stopped by.”
Mancy was a soldier who’d been assigned to the stables while she recovered from a nasty leg wound courtesy of one of the kingdom of Arden’s collared mages. Now her wound drew Adrian’s attention like a poke in the eye. It wasn’t healing properly, he could tell, and he wanted to know why.
In fact, Mancy had the smell of death on her.
“Hey! Did you hear me?”
That was when Adrian realized that Mancy had asked a question. “I’m sorry,” he said, wrenching his attention back to the conversation. “What was that?”
“I said, is it all right if I put her back on her regular feed?” Mancy said, a little huffily.
“Oh. Ah. Two more days of the mash, and then she can go back,” he said. Grain was hard to find after a quarter century of war. Nobody was getting fat in Fellsmarch these days.
“I was telling Hughes at West Gate about you,” Mancy said. “I told him you was just a lytling, but you can work miracles with horses.”
I’m not a lytling, Adrian thought. Maybe I don’t have my growth, but I’m already thirteen.
“He’s got a moonblind horse that an’t getting any better, and he asked me to ask you if you might come by and take a look.”
The West Gate was two days’ ride away. And Adrian was hoping to leave town in a week.
“I can’t go out there right now, but I’ll send over an ointment that might help,” he said. He paused, clearing his throat. A lytling healer might be good enough for horses, but . . . “How’s the leg?”
Mancy grimaced. “It’s all right, I guess. It’s closed over, but it’s still giving me a lot of pain. Plus, I can’t seem to get my strength back. I been back to the healing halls three different times, but they don’t want to see me.”
Mancy’s collarbones stuck out more than before, and Adrian noticed that she leaned on the stall door for support. “Mind if I take a look?”
Mancy blinked at him. “At me? You do people, too?”
Adrian bit back the first response that came to mind. “Sometimes.”
“All right then. Be my guest.” Mancy sat down on an overturned bucket, and rolled back her uniform breeches. When he went to touch her leg, though, she flinched back. “You an’t going to—do anything, are you?”
“Hex it or something?” Valefolk were wary of wizards, for good reason.
“I’m just going to take a look, all right?” The wound was closed, the skin tight and hot, the leg puffy all the way into the ankle. Adrian brushed his fingers over it, murmuring a charm, and saw that the infection had gone into the bone. He’d seen it before, in horses, and they always had to be put down.
Adrian looked up at Mancy, chewing his lower lip. The leg would have to come off, but he knew she wouldn’t take that verdict from a thirteen-year-old untrained wizard.
“Mancy,” he said, “your leg needs to be seen right away. Go back to the healing halls, and ask for Titus Gryphon. Don’t get shuffled off to anyone else, and don’t take no for an answer. Tell him I sent you, that he needs to look at your leg. Do it now.”