Animosity runs deep between the people of LonSer, a land where magic was surrendered in the wake of technology, and the Children of Amarid who still practice sorcery, and now LonSer seeks to expand its territory.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
David B. Coe, winner of the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy or Fantasy Series for the LonTobyn Chronicle, is the author of Rules of Ascension, the first Winds of the Forelands novel. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee with his wife and daughters.
Even with the establishment of commerce between our two lands, even with seven years having passed without additional conflicts, the people of my land remain deeply distrustful of Lon-Ser. They accept the goods you send, but only because these goods ease the burdens of their daily chores. They are curious about your land and eagerly seek knowledge about your customs and society. They even acknowledge that our languages are similar and that this implies a shared ancient history. Still, they remain convinced that war with Lon-Ser is not only possible but perhaps inevitable. Many of us in the Order have tried to convince them that this is not the case, that we have little to fear from you, but even the people who live in Order towns remain skeptical. More than ten years have passed since the outlanders burned our villages and killed our people, but the scars are still fresh.
-Hawk-Mage Orris to Melyor i Lakin, Sovereign and Bearer of Bragor-Nal, Winter, God's Year 4633.
He is standing in a field he does not recognize, squinting up into a bright blue sky. Above him, two birds do battle, wheeling and stooping, talons outstretched and beaks open. They are enormous, and framed as they are against the sun and the blue, they appear almost utterly black.
For one terrifying instant he fears that the outlanders have returned. But the outlanders' birds would not fight each other, and both of these creatures are crying out stridently, something the mechanical hawks from Lon-Ser never did. So he watches, marveling at the size and grace of the winged combatants, though troubled at the sight of their slashing claws and beaks. Yet, even with his eyes riveted on the struggle taking place above him, he senses another presence in the clearing.
Tearing his gaze from the birds, he sees a woman standing on the far side of the field. She has straight brown hair and pale eyes, and there is something vaguely familiar about her. For a disorienting moment he wonders if this s his daughter, grown suddenly into a woman. But when he hears her laugh, malicious and bitter, he knows that this cannot be. He opens his mouth to ask her name, but before he can he hears a piercing wail from above.
The two birds are locked together now, their talons digging into each other's flesh and their wings beating desperately though in unison, as if even in the throes of battle they are working together to keep themselves aloft. But their efforts are in vain. Toppling one over the other, they fall to the ground, landing at his feet. They are dead, though whether from the impact or the damage they have inflicted on one another, it is impossible to tell. And seeing them at last, their carcasses bathed in the sunlight that had obscured their color and features just seconds before, he cries out in despair.
* * *
Jaryd awoke with a start and found himself immersed in darkness. He heard Alayna beside him, her breathing slow and deep, but otherwise all was still. Lying back against his pillow, he took a long, steadying breath and closed his eyes. He knew better than to try to go back to sleep. His heart was racing, and his hair was damp with sweat. He was awake for the day. He opened his eyes again and stared up toward the ceiling, although he could see nothing for the darkness.
"You up again?" Alayna asked him in a muffled, sleepy voice.
"Yes," he whispered. "Go back to sleep." She said something in reply that he couldn't make out, and a moment later her breathing slowed again.
He couldn't remember the last time he had slept through the night. It wasn't that he slept poorly. For the first several hours, he slept like the dead. But every day for weeks on end he had awakened before dawn, sometimes spontaneously and other times, as today, out of a dream. At first he had taken his sleeplessness as a sign that something was coming; that perhaps, not too long from now, he would bind again, and end this interminable wait. But slowly, as each day passed without a new familiar appearing, he began to accept that there was nothing more to it than the obvious: he was just waking up too early.
Usually during these predawn hours he tried to clear his mind using the exercises he had first learned so many years ago, when he was a Mage-Attend to his uncle Baden. If he wasn't going to sleep, he reasoned, he might as well prepare himself for his next binding. But invariably, rather than quieting his emotions and taming the confused thoughts that came to him in the darkness, the exercises only served to heighten his feelings of loss.
His hawk, Ishalla, was gone. She had been since late summer. And though he had hoped that the agony of losing his first familiar would begin to abate with time, he was forced to admit that it hadn't. He had so much in his life: a cherished wife and daughter, a brother and mother to the north whom he loved, and friends throughout the land for whom he would gladly have given his life. He had served the communities on the western shores of Tobyn-Ser for nearly a dozen years, and in return he enjoyed the respect and affection of many of those who lived there. And yet, with all this, Ishalla's absence still left a void within him that he could scarcely fathom. Even the death of his father had not affected him so.
Time and again, he had watched people he loved, Baden, Trahn, Radomil, cope with the loss of their familiars. Orris had lost two familiars in the time Jaryd had known him, both of them as a result of violence. The first, a large impressive hawk, had been killed at Theron's Grove by the great owl carried by the traitor, Sartol. And the second, a dark falcon, died just over three years ago during one of Orris's many battles with members of the League, who had decided long ago that the burly mage deserved to die for what they viewed as his betrayal of the land.
Most recently, Alayna had lost Fylimar, the great grey hawk who had looked so much like Jaryd's Ishalla, that many in the Order had said that in sending them such similar familiars, the gods had marked Jaryd and Alayna for each other. Like Ishalla, Fylimar had died a natural death, one she had earned after a life of service to the land. This, of course, had not softened the blow for Alayna, any more than it had for Jaryd. But Alayna found a new familiar quite soon after Fylimar's death.
And what a binding it had been. She had left their home early in the day, leaving Jaryd to care for Myn, their daughter, and when she returned late that afternoon, she bore on her shoulder a large, yellow-eyed owl with great ear tufts. It was the same kind of bird to which Sartol, her mentor, had been bound, and it occurred to both Jaryd and Alayna that the gods were offering her a chance at redemption. "Sartol failed the land," they seemed to be saying. "Go now and make right all that he made wrong."
The others had bound again as well. Indeed, Trahn's binding to an owl had come just a few days after the death of his hawk, prompting Orris to suggest that owls had actually been waiting in line to become Trahn's familiar. Orris, too, had found his new familiar rather quickly. He was bound now to another falcon, this one larger than his last bird and as white as snow.
None of his friends had spent more than a season un-bound. Yet here was Jaryd, still without a familiar after nearly half a year. Alayna assured him that, notwithstanding her experience or Trahn's, being unbound for long stretches was a normal part of being a mage. And Baden, who communicated with him periodically using the Ceryll-Var, reminded him during one merging that Owl-Sage Jessamyn, Myn's namesake, who had been leader of the Order when Jaryd received his cloak, had spent more than a year unbound.
Such reassurances helped, but only a little. Certainly he didn't begrudge the others their bindings. He was deeply proud of Alayna, who had become the youngest Owl-Master within memory. But he could not help but wonder if he was ever going to bind again, or if he was destined to die unbound and become yet another victim of Theron's Curse.
He had spoken with Phelan, the Wolf-Master. He had endured the terrors of Theron's Grove, and he now carried Theron's staff as his own. He had seen what it was to be unsettled, and the very idea of it filled him with a cold, penetrating dread. But after all this time without finding a new familiar, Jaryd was forced to acknowledge that this might be his fate, that the sense of foreboding that hovered at his shoulder all day, and followed him to bed at night, might carry the weight of prophecy.
After struggling with his fears privately for some time, he mentioned this possibility to Alayna, who reacted predictably.
"That's ridiculous," she told him. "We're all afraid of Theron's Curse. That's just part of being a mage. It certainly doesn't mean that you're fated to become one of the Unsettled."
He nodded silently, accepting the logic of what she said. But later that day he noticed her watching him, concern etched on her delicate features. And he knew what she was thinking. He has been unbound for such a long time...
Oddly, Jaryd found comfort not in anything Alayna or Baden said to him, but rather in a lesson he had learned long ago from his father. Jaryd had never been very close to his father, and the distance between them had only increased after Jaryd became a mage. But while Bernel had been brusque and taciturn, he also had possessed a pragmatic wisdom that had manifested itself late in his life in terse, pointed maxims that he offered without warning to anyone who cared to listen.
One of these Jaryd heard for the first time when he took Alayna and Myn to Accalia so that his mother and father could meet their granddaughter for the first time. During the journey, Myn slept poorly, often refusing to nurse, and Jaryd and Alayna worried that something might be wrong with her.
"Worrying's a fine way to waste some time," Bernel finally said, after listening to them fret for an entire afternoon, "but it sure doesn't accomplish very much, except to annoy the rest of us."
Alayna had taken offense, prompting Drina to scold her husband for the balance of the day. But lying now in his bed, watching the room he and Alayna shared brighten slowly with the first grey glimmerings of daylight, Jaryd could only smile at the memory.
He glanced over at Alayna, who was still asleep. Her long dark hair was streaked with strands of silver, and her face was leaner than it had been when they first met eleven years ago. But the passage of the years had not diminished her beauty.
I can worry about becoming one of the Unsettled, Jaryd told himself. Or I can enjoy what the gods have given me until they decide that I'm ready for my next binding.
He smiled in the silver light. It didn't strike him as a difficult choice.
He leaned over and kissed Alayna lightly on her forehead. Then he silently slipped out of bed, dressed, and wrapped his green cloak tightly around himself. Spring was approaching, but there was still a chill in the air.
He started toward the common room, intending to light a fire in the hearth, but as he walked past Myn's room he glanced inside and saw his daughter sitting beside her small window, bundled in a thick blanket, and reading a worn book of Cearbhall's fables.
"Good morning, Love," Jaryd said in a whisper.
She looked up from the book and smiled at him. With her long chestnut hair, perfect features, and dazzling smile she was the image of Alayna. All except her eyes, which were pale grey, just like Jaryd's and those of his own mother.
"Good morning, Papa!" she said.
Jaryd held a ringer to his lips and pointed back toward his bedroom. Myn covered her mouth, her eyes wide.
"What are you doing up so early?" he asked her quietly.
"I always wake up when you do," she whispered.
"How do you know when I wake up?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. I just do."
Jaryd gazed at her for several seconds, then nodded. That she showed signs of having the Sight, already, at the age of six, did not surprise them. Both he and Alayna had understood from the beginning that their child would not be ordinary. But she was attuned to both of her parents in strange and wondrous ways, some of them remarkably subtle and completely unexpected.
Jaryd stood in her doorway for another moment, watching her and grinning. She just looked back at him, saying nothing.
"I was going to make a fire and have some breakfast," he finally told her. "Are you hungry?"
She nodded, put the book on her bed, and, keeping the blanket around her shoulders as if it were an overly large cloak, followed him into the common room.
After lighting the fire, Jaryd cut two large pieces of the dark currant bread he had made the day before and covered them with sweet butter. They sat in the kitchen, and as they ate, Myn told him about the fable she had been working her way through when he found her. She was just learning to read, and Cearbhall's work was not the easiest to figure out. The fable she had been reading, however, was one of his favorites, The Fox and the Skunk, and he had read it to her many times when she was younger.
"It was smart of you to start with one you know already," he said, still speaking in a whisper.
She smiled, her mouth full of bread. "Mama picked it out."
Jaryd laughed. "Well, then it was smart of her."
He got up to cut some more bread, and as he did he heard the rustling of blankets in the other room.
"I think your mother's awake."
"She has been for a little while," Myn said. "I think she was listening to us."
Jaryd turned to look at her again.
"How did you know that, Myn-Myn?" Alayna asked, appearing in the kitchen doorway with Wyrinva, her great owl, sitting on her shoulder.
Myn looked at her mother and then at Jaryd, a shy smile on her lips. "I just know," she said, seeming embarrassed. "I can feel it when you're awake. Both of you."
Alayna glanced up at Jaryd and grinned.
"Is it bad that I can tell?"
"Not at all," Jaryd said.
"Does it mean I'm going to be a mage?"
Jaryd suppressed a laugh.
"I'd be very surprised if you weren't a mage," Alayna said, her eyes still on Jaryd. "And so would everyone else in Tobyn-Ser."
This time Jaryd couldn't help but laugh out loud. Since before she could walk, Orris and Baden had been saying that she was destined to be Owl-Sage, and though Jaryd and Alayna were determined to let Myn find her own path, neither of them doubted that she would bind someday, probably to Amarid's Hawk, just as they both had. The question was: would she join the Order or the League? Indeed, Jaryd could not even be certain that both would still exist by the time Myn was ready to choose. He shook his head. It was not a line of thought he cared to pursue just then.
"Good," Myn said. "I want to be a mage. I like going to Amarid."
"I'm glad you like going there," Alayna said, crossing to the bread and picking up the knife to cut herself a piece. "We like it, too."
"That's why I'm happy today."
Alayna turned to look at Myn, the knife poised over the loaf. "What do you mean, Myn-Myn?"
"I'm happy because we're going to Amarid soon."
"No, we're not, Love," Jaryd said gently. "It's still winter. The Gathering isn't until summer."
Myn smiled at him as if he were a child. "I know ...
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