Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)(4)

Written By: Cinda Williams Chima



Adrian felt like he’d been daggered himself. “She killed herself?”

“What would you have done, in her place?” his father asked.

Adrian shuddered. On this one point, they all agreed—it had been a blessing that Hana hadn’t been taken alive to Ardenscourt, to the dungeons of the monstrous king of Arden, Gerard Montaigne. It was one thing to break their hearts; it would have been worse if he’d held their hearts in his hands.

His father pushed bits of ham around his bowl with his spoon. “Montaigne is under considerable pressure from his thanes to finish this thing. They’ve been spending men and treasure for a quarter century with little to no results. Perhaps the king of Arden has hit on a new tactic—targeting the royal line, the queen’s family. This is a grudge match, remember. Your mother rejected him in a very public way.”

Adrian knew that story. The queen had refused to sign over her queendom in exchange for the king of Arden’s hand in marriage. “But that was twenty-five years ago,” he protested, not wanting it to be true. “He got married eventually, didn’t he, to somebody else?”

“Don’t expect it to make sense, Ash. Montaigne is a proud, nasty brute who’s used to getting his own way. My biggest regret is that I didn’t shiv the bastard when I had the chance.”

Looking into his father’s face, Adrian saw a rare glimpse of the ruthless streetlord he’d once been. Until his father ran a hand over his face, as if to wipe that person away.

Adrian’s skin prickled. It was like he felt the hand of the Maker touch the delicate thread that connected life and death. “So what can we do?”

“If we can identify who betrayed Hana, that would be a start,” his father said. “One of our eyes and ears has an informant who claims to know something. I’m supposed to meet with them in Southbridge in a little while.”

The temple church in the market sounded the quarter hour, reminding them both that time was passing. “Now,” his father said, placing his hands flat on the table. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

Adrian took a gulp of cider for courage. “You know I’ve been working as a healer with the clans the past two summers. And I’ve been helping with the Highlander cavalry string when I can.”

“So I’ve heard. If Willo had her way, she’d like you to apprentice with her year-round. She’s not as young as she used to be, and there’s never enough healers available during the marching season. General Dunedain wouldn’t hold still for it, though. She’d like to put you in charge of the military stables full-time. Everywhere I go, all I hear about is how you can work magic with horses. It’s too bad there’s only one of you.”

Right, Adrian thought. It’s too bad. So he hurried on. “I’ve also spent time in the healing halls in the city.”

“Ah,” his father said, his face hardening. “Lord Vega’s domain. I keep hoping he’ll retire.” Harriman Vega was the wizard who oversaw the healing halls in the capital, the ones wizards and most Valefolk patronized.

“That’s the problem,” Adrian said. “Willo can’t help me with high magic, and Lord Vega has no interest in clan treatments and green magic. He still thinks it’s witchery for the gullible masses. And until I graduate from Mystwerk, he won’t let me do more than make beds and do the washing up.” Mystwerk was the school for wizards at Oden’s Ford.

“And you can’t go to Mystwerk until after your sixteenth name day.”

“Right.” Adrian took a deep breath and plunged on. “I can’t get into Mystwerk at thirteen, but Spiritas accepts novices at eleven, just like Wien House.”

“Spiritas?”

“That’s the healers’ academy at Oden’s Ford. You wouldn’t remember it—it’s just three years old. They’re combining green magic, music and art therapies, clan remedies, and, eventually, wizardry.”

“Eventually?” His father raised an eyebrow.

“That’s the goal, but from what I hear, the deans at Mystwerk haven’t been eager to join in so far.”

His father snorted. “Why am I not surprised?”

“My thought was, I could go to Spiritas now, then move over to Mystwerk when I’m eligible. That way I won’t waste time watching people die who might have lived if I only had the skills.” Despite his best efforts, his voice shook.

“That’s the thing about guilt,” his father said. “It always seems like there’s enough to go around. The only ones who don’t take a share are the ones who are actually guilty.” He paused, lines of pain etched deeply into his face. “I lost my mother and sister when I wasn’t much older than you. I did my best, but my best wasn’t good enough.” He ran his fingers over his serpent amulet. “I never angled to be High Wizard. All I’ve ever wanted is to protect the people I care about. And now I’ve lost Hana, too.”

“It’s not your fault, what happened to Hana,” Adrian said. It was odd to be in the position of consoling his father. “Hana was a good fighter, and Mama is, too, and Lyss—I guess Lyss will be, when she gets older.” His younger sister, Alyssa, was only eleven.

“It’s not your fault, either,” his father said, reaching across the table and gripping Adrian’s hand. “We don’t protect them because they’re weak. We protect them because they are strong, and strong people make enemies. We just need to do our best—whatever it takes—to protect your mother and sister—the Gray Wolf line. And pray that it’s enough.”

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