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Anvil of the Mind

Anvil of the Mind

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Anvil of the Mind

Länge:
322 Seiten
5 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Dec 20, 2015
ISBN:
9781310493287
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

A romantic fantasy set in an imaginary medieval world where a form of magic known as the Power is accepted in most places, except for the northern Kingdom of Mataram, where anyone showing the least sign of having the Power is exiled or executed.

Centuries ago, what is now known as the Great Emerald of the East was stolen from Chandelar, far across the sea of Fire and Ice, where all the mages fled when they were exiled from Mataram. Legend has it that if the Great Emerald is returned to Chandelar, peace will come to all the known world.

Great Mage Ultan has set a scheme in motion which he knows will take decades to come to fruition. Ultan marries his nephew off to the warrior-queen, Amara of Mataram. Shortly after their second daughter is born, Amara realizes her husband possesses Power and has him killed.

Years later, Sir Durand of Granvey, a spy who works for the Great Mage Ultan, meets Princess Erania of Mataram when she rescues him from freezing to death during a winter storm and nurses him back to health in the great stone castle of Ronach. She falls in love with him, but doesn’t realize that he feels the same way about her, and he quickly leaves Mataram to join Ultan.

To seal a peace treaty between Erania’s mother and Domini Gundiac, ruler of the Dominion, Amara forces Erania to wed Gundiac. She agrees only if her little sister can go into Talier Beguinage in Sapaudia. Uninterested in either girl, Amara consents and will let Erania conduct her sister to Talier because it’s on the way.

At Talier, where she’s learning to control her secret Power, Erania again meets Durand and spends a passionate hour with him, but both know she must go to Gundiac as a pure maiden.

Finally at Arakan, capital city of the Dominion, Erania meets the kindly eunuch, Relthar, and the six other wives. Gundiac proves to be so emotionally removed from all of his wives that Erania can just barely tolerate him. Whenever she’s called to attend him for a night, she hides her true self behind the protective wall of her Power, which she learned to do at Talier.

A new and most unwilling wife is brought to Gundiac. Fan-ti tries to kill him, so he kills her, instead. Erania is horrified, but must hide her feelings.
Intrigues abound in Gundiac’s harem, and soon Relthar is caught up in one of them. Falsely accused of treason, he is publicly executed while all of the wives are forced to watch. Erania is now under suspicion because she tried to help Relthar. She knows she must escape soon, or she will suffer Relthar’s fate.

Using a poppy syrup that Relthar once gave her, Erania drugs Gundiac and steals the Great Emerald, the source of his strength, which he wears bound to his left arm by a golden wire. She flees the palace and rides eastward to the Nalo Mountains, the border between Mataram and the Dominion.

She plans to find the Larak River and follow it downstream to the sea, where she can take ship for Chandelar. She knows she’ll be welcome there, for she carries the Great Emerald. But Erania’s adventures are just beginning. Can she survive the perils of the long journey and find Durand again? Will Gundiac pursue her to retrieve the Emerald? Will Amara find her errant daughter and punish her?

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Dec 20, 2015
ISBN:
9781310493287
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Flora Speer is the author of twenty-two book-length romances and two novellas, all traditionally published. The stories range from historical romances to time-travel, to futuristic. Born in southern New Jersey, she now lives in Connecticut. Her favorite activities include gardening (especially flowers and herbs used in medieval gardens,) amateur astronomy, and following the U.S. space program, which has occasionally been a source of ideas for her futuristic romances.


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Anvil of the Mind - Flora Speer

The Anvil Of The Mind

By

Flora Speer

Smashwords Edition

Published By At Smashwords

Copyright © 2015 by Flora Speer

Cover Design Copyright 2015,

Smashwords license Note:

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share it with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Dedication:

In respectful memory of Mr. Alfred Hitchcock, whose intriguing movie, Notorious, provided the inspiration that turned this story from a traditional jewel heist into something far more complex and dangerous. Hitchcock always knew how to raise the emotional stakes.

Prologue

Tannaris City

Chandelar

You do understand, I trust, said the Great Mage Ultan, "that you will not live to see the return of the Emerald to Chandelar. If ever anyone in Mataram learns that you possess the Power, your life will at once be forfeit. Considering all the spies that Queen Amara keeps about her, I ought to say, when, instead of, if. Make no mistake, Farron; sooner or later, someone will discover your secret. Your duty will be to postpone your death until you have completed your primary mission. Stay alive and unsuspected for as long as you can. Teach your offspring what they will need to know. Be aware that forces you are not cognizant of will be working in your behalf."

I understand. The darkly handsome face of the young Kantian nobleman bore a smile that almost outshone the silver stars embedded overhead in the black marble audience chamber of the Great Mage. All the constellations of the northern sky were represented there, and an atmosphere of magic pervaded the room. It was the same mystical atmosphere that always surrounded Ultan.

I have studied the image of Queen Amara, Lord Farron continued. She’s lovely, with that long, silver-gold hair, those blue eyes, and her pale, northern skin. She’ll be pleasant enough to bed, and I’ll see to it that she enjoys it, too. I intend to get her with child several times, just to be sure your plan will prevail over that Matarami nonsense about not allowing anyone with the Power to live in their country.

It’s not nonsense to them. Do not imagine that you will find it easy to survive as Amara’s husband, however much she may enjoy your embraces, Ultan warned. The woman was born and bred as a warrior queen, daughter of a fierce warrior king. Ludegar IV personally trained his daughter to succeed him. Never forget; the Matarami do not deal kindly with traitors.

I will give my wife no cause for concern, came the quick reply.

No doubt, Lord Farron meant every word he spoke. No doubt, he’d do the best he could. Still, Ultan was not entirely happy about the light-hearted way in which Farron was accepting the dangerous assignment. Young men were always so eager to place themselves in peril, especially men possessed of the kind of Power that Farron had inherited from his mother.

Farida, the late, older sister of Ultan, had been so skilled in the use of her remarkable Power that she could have become the Great Mage. But Farida had loved a high-ranking Kantian noble, so she had chosen marriage over life as a Lady Mage. Farron was the only child of her marriage to Lord Orran, and Ultan was fond of his nephew. Sending the young man to certain death tore at Ultan’s heart, telling him the pain of making that necessary choice was going to gnaw at him for the rest of his life. There was no other choice, no other important, unwed noble of a suitable age for the Kantians to offer as a husband to Amara.

The request from Mataram had come as a surprise, yet it was perfectly understandable in view of the treacherous feuds that threatened to tear apart the tribal affiliations of that land. Much as the Matarami detested foreigners, only someone from another country would be an acceptable consort for Queen Amara.

The king of Kantia had referred the issue of a royal husband to neighboring Chandelar, to the Great Mage, along with the suggestion that his old friend and father-in-law, Ultan, use the opportunity as he saw fit. Ultan had known just what to do. Like his predecessors, he had been laying plans, for the mages of Chandelar harbored one long-cherished goal. Beyond all considerations of family ties or affection, the legendary Great Emerald of the East must be returned to Chandelar. Ultan consoled himself with the promise offered by the ancient legend: When the Emerald returned to its place of origin, peace would descend on all of the known world.

Go with my blessing, Ultan said, embracing Farron.

When Farron bowed and departed, Ultan wiped his brimming eyes of the tears he had refused to shed in his nephew’s presence. Then he uttered a final benediction.

When the time comes, die quickly and painlessly, he whispered, and may the Great God Sebazious welcome your spirit to His cloud palace.

Part I

The Queen’s First Daughter

Chapter 1

Seventeen years later.

Western Mataram

On a grey, windy day in her sixteenth year, Erania stood on the highest battlements of the great stone pile that was Ronach Castle and gazed out at the frozen land her family claimed to rule.

Though her mother, Queen Amara, would never admit it and would almost certainly call Erania a traitor for even daring to think such a thing, the family claim was specious, for the Matarami people despised the very idea that anyone would dare to impose a government of any kind upon them. Even so, Western Mataram had been subdued by Erania’s grandfather, Ludegar IV, and held under tight control ever since. Eastern Mataram remained stubbornly opposed to any loss of independence.

Which was why Queen Amara had led her army eastward to deal with the latest uprising before the snow melted and the ground became too swampy to support horses or warcarts. Amara never seemed to tire of the endless campaigns or of the intrigues that filled the brief intervals between battles.

Erania hated all of it, the fighting and bloodshed and death, the abominable schemes and treacherous political maneuvering, and every nefarious detail of governing that her mother attempted to teach her. Amara often complained that she did not know her elder daughter’s thoughts. Erania had decided at a young age that she never would.

Wrapped in her heaviest cloak, Erania gazed with longing over the icy meadows to the sea, those turbulent waters known in the Old Language as Fiuris Okkan, the Sea of Fire and Ice. Across that sea lay the mystic land of Chandelar, where it was said the Great Mage Ultan ruled with wisdom – and with magic. Above all else, Erania yearned to travel to Chandelar and study in the famous school the mages had established.

That yearning was her deepest secret, which she never dared to reveal, for the Matarami hated and feared magic. In this one trait Eastern and Western Mataram were united; anyone who displayed the slightest hint of the Power was severely punished with exile or death.

Erania squinted, seeking the faint smudge in the sky that signaled the volcanoes guarding the largest harbor of Chandelar. She saw no smoke, only a dark haze just above the sea. With the sensitivity to weather that was an inheritance from her father, she knew a storm was on its way.

More ice and snow, she murmured. Sighing, she looked southward across the tidal marshes, which appeared to be frozen solid. She knew their appearance was deceptive. Twice a day seawater covered the marshes, ebbing and flowing so the grasses lay salt-rimed all winter long, though the muddy land never really froze. Many a foolish soul had perished in the mud and cold after mistaking the marshes for solid ground.

On this inclement day someone was trying to ride a horse across the dangerous area. Erania saw the animal stumble, nearly throwing its rider. After a moment the rider regained control and urged the horse forward.

What fool is that? exclaimed Sir Boso, seneschal and captain of the castle guard. He shook his head in disgust as he came to stand next to Erania. Certainly not a Matarami, but who except a Matarami travels this land in wintertime?

If not a Matarami, then a foreigner, Erania responded, pointing out the obvious. She knew Boso for an honest and dependable man, but he was not particularly intelligent. At such a distance even her sharp young eyes could not make out the difference between her countrymen and outsiders.

If a foreigner, then dangerous, Boso said, quoting an old adage that Erania had heard her mother use many times.

Or, possibly a messenger, Erania suggested with quickening interest. Someone unfamiliar with the land, who is in a great hurry.

A fool, Boso repeated. Look, his horse has foundered and the man has broken through the ice. Now I suppose you’ll want us to send someone out to rescue him.

Do it at once, Erania ordered. If we delay, he’ll die of the cold and we’ll never learn who he is or why he’s coming here.

We ought to let him freeze, Boso grumbled, adding yet again, He’s a fool.

Any further comment died on Boso’s lips under the glare that Erania sent his way. As the queen’s First Daughter, she was the highest ranking person at Ronach. Until her mother returned Erania acted as castle chatelaine. Knowing the Matarami hatred of all restrictions she seldom issued orders, preferring to allow the domestic servants and the men of the castle garrison to carry on as they wished. This occasion was different.

She waited only until Boso leaned over the parapet to call down instructions to the men-at-arms in the bailey, before she sped to the steps and headed for the keep.

In most castles the kitchen sat next to the great hall, yet at some distance from it so as to avoid fire damage. The builders of Ronach had taken the frigid climate into consideration and had located the kitchen beneath the hall, so the heat from the cooking fires would rise to warm the upper room. A clever arrangement of pulleys and hide ropes attached to a huge wooden tray allowed food to be raised from the kitchen to the hall so quickly that meals carried aloft by the mechanism were always warm when they arrived at the table.

Erania burst into the hall, pulling off her cloak as she ran and flinging it into the hands of a maidservant.

Clear the food tray, she ordered.

It’s already empty, a squire responded in the usual sulky manner that followed any command she gave. After a look at her face, he added, What’s wrong?

The men are bringing in a traveler who fell into the tidal marsh, Erania said. Go down to the kitchen and give the cook the following instructions.

Curiosity overcame sullen reluctance, so when Erania finished speaking the squire at once departed on his errand. By the time two men-at-arms appeared bearing the stranger between them, the preparations were complete.

Someone is seeing to the horse, a man-at-arms answered Erania’s first question. The beast may die, and this fellow almost certainly will. Why would anyone travel alone and without a guide at this time of year?

Perhaps his companions were lost along the way, Erania said. Lay him on the tray and lower it. I’ll be in the kitchen. I’ll need another squire. She heard the usual grumbling behind her, the men-at-arms not caring much for the notion of a mere girl issuing orders to them or to their squires.

Either out of fear of Queen Amara, or from understanding how important speed was in warming a body half-frozen, they unfastened the ropes that held the food tray in position and began to lower it.

By the time the tray reached the kitchen, Erania was waiting for it in the warmth of three huge fireplaces that long ago had heated the stone walls of the room. The fires were never allowed to go out, so the kitchen never completely cooled.

Undress him, she ordered, pushing back the hood and reaching for the clasp that held the stranger’s cloak. It was stiff with ice and snow, as were his boots, his tunic and hose, and the leather belt that held his sword and his eating knife. The squires fumbled awkwardly with the garments. Even the man’s linen underclothes were damp and cold. His slim, yet well-muscled body seemed carved from ice.

The tub is ready, the cook said.

At Erania’s direction the squires lifted the naked stranger and laid him a long wooden tub that was filled with hot water. His head fell back against the end of the tub, offering a view of a face so still and pale it looked dead already and a shock of reddish-brown hair that was frozen into lank strands. The closed eyes were sunken, the firm lips blue.

He’s young and looks strong. Perhaps he’ll survive, the cook said, hands on her wide hips and a frown on her homely face. She had six sons of her own and was used to dealing with the accidental hurts from youthful adventures.

He carries a knight’s sword, one of the squires spoke up. A fine blade and recently used, by the stains on it.

Clean it, Erania said, and oil the leather scabbard and belt so they don’t crack.

The young man in the tub moaned.

That’s a good sign, said the cook. Where’s the hot drink I told you to make? she demanded of one of the kitchen maids.

A cup wafting steam and the fragrance of herbs was produced, the stranger’s mouth was forced open by one of the squires, and the cook began to spoon the liquid into the man. Erania ordered the cooling water in the tub drawn off and more hot water added.

You’re taking a lot of trouble over a stranger, Boso declared, stomping into the kitchen.

He may be a messenger from my mother, Erania said, adding in a steely tone, as if Boso didn’t know, my mother, the queen.

The queen rode east; this fellow came from the south, Boso stated, his harsh features proclaiming his disapproval of the efforts being expended on a person none of them knew.

We cannot guess what his business at Ronach is until he revives enough to speak, Erania said. Wanting to assure Boso that she had not forgotten her duties, she asked, Have you checked with the other sentries? Have they noticed anyone else approaching the castle?

I’ll find out. Boso headed for the stairs, then paused to look back at those gathered around the inert stranger. I hope we don’t regret this. If you’ve made a mistake, Erania, the queen will have all of our hides.

Some time later the stranger awakened. Silver-grey eyes, cold as shards of ice, stared into Erania’s eyes. He moved, splashing water out of the tub in his attempt to sit up.

You are safe here at Ronach Castle, Erania told him, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. Please don’t struggle. We are trying to help you. She motioned to the maid, who began to pour yet another bucket of hot water into the tub.

Hurts. The single word was a rasping whisper.

I expect it does. I have never been as near to frozen as you were, but when my fingers turn waxy-white each winter, they ache and tingle as they warm up again. That’s probably what is happening to your entire body right now. Will you tell us your name?

Dure – Dure— He stopped, clamping his mouth shut and appearing to Erania as if he thought he’d said more than he ought to say. Occasionally, though rarely, her mother revealed that same closed and wary expression.

By the quality of your sword, we are assuming you are a knight, Erania told him. Well then, Sir Dure, stay where you are and allow us to help you recover. If you have something urgent to say, speak now, for I believe the cook is about to offer a cup of sleeping brew.

No! He almost exploded out of the tub until, with a great splashing of warm water, the squires pushed him back. Mustn’t sleep.

Of course, you must, Erania told him, having noted how his struggle against the squires was pathetically weak. A long night’s rest in a warm bed, and good, hot food in the morning. That’s what you need.

Must – reach— He stopped, swallowing hard and looking to Erania as if he had just remembered something important. Or, something else he ought not to say.

Where were you going? she asked, bending toward him and speaking in a voice too soft for the others to hear.

Those penetrating, silvery eyes stared into hers for a long moment before he answered.

To Chandelar, he said.

"At this stormy time of year few boats sale across Fiuris Okkan," she told him. And then only from Larak.

Just then Boso stamped back into the kitchen.

We got you inside just in time, he said with a hard frown at the man in the tub. The storm has arrived. Ice, snow, wind – you’d be dead before darkness if we hadn’t found you and brought you inside.

There, you see, Sir Dure, Erania said, you cannot leave until the weather is calmer. You will be safe with us. No one in Ronach will harm you. She beckoned to the kitchen maids to pour yet more hot water into the tub to replenish what had been splashed out during Sir Dure’s brief attempt to fight the squires. The cook produced another mug of steamy herbal brew and began to feed it to him.

Boso had been rummaging through Sir Dure’s clothing as the maids began to wring out cloak and tunic and hose before spreading them to dry. Now he held up a packet.

What’s this? he demanded.

Mine. Sir Dure choked on the hot liquid he was trying to swallow. Give it – to me. More coughing interrupted his protest.

Boso. Erania lifted her hand, palm up, in a signal to give the packet to her.

No, child, Boso said. You are too young to understand who this young fool may be, or what he may be carrying.

I am the queen’s First Daughter, Erania reminded him in her coldest voice. "She left me in charge of Ronach Castle. Hand that packet over now."

In Boso’s eyes she saw the fire of rebellion. No Matarami reacted well to a direct order, certainly not to an order issued by a sixteen-year-old girl. But Queen Amara was known for her fierce and sometimes bloody rule and what Erania said was true. Amara had left her in charge. When Boso continued to hesitate Erania loosed a tiny particle of Power against him.

She had only recently discovered that she possessed any Power at all. Knowing she would at the very least be sent into exile to fend for herself in a strange land if anyone found out and not wanting to be parted from her little sister, she had been doing her best to conceal the unexpected change. Thus, she was still unpracticed in the actual use of her Power. But she was weary of having to argue with someone every time she made a decision and she was more than a little annoyed with Boso. She kept her gaze on him, hoping he’d put his compliance down to the force of her royal character.

I am as curious as you, she said in a milder tone. I do appreciate your honesty and your loyalty. But think, Boso; what harm can one cold-weakened lad do against a castle peopled by strong fighting men? With a storm raging outside, no one else is likely to arrive here, and by the time the weather clears Sir Dure will be recovered enough that we can question him. You know that my mother would wait until she had learned all she could from him before deciding whether to imprison him or send him on his way.

With obvious reluctance Boso laid the packet into her hand. It was of folded leather, fastened with leather thongs and the whole had been dipped into wax, which protected it from water and also prevented anyone from opening it without the bearer or the ultimate recipient noticing. Erania turned the packet over, trying to think of all the reasons why a person would need to seal a message or an object so thoroughly.

If he should prove to be a danger, Boso began, apparently considering the same reasons that had occurred to Erania.

If he should, Queen Amara would not hesitate to have him executed, and neither will I, Erania told him.

In fact, she would not allow the stranger to be put to death. She had already made that decision. But she intended to question him closely, for he had said he was going to Chandelar and she wanted to know why.

She knew she’d have to be careful. The Matarami disapproved of the Power so completely that long centuries in the past they had driven out every mage in the land. Some of those exiles had survived to reach Chandelar, where they founded their capital city of Tannaris. There they had prospered and refined the art of using the Power.

And there Erania’s heart longed to be. In the school at Tannaris she could learn to use and not just to conceal the Power that had burgeoned in her since her body changed and her monthly courses had begun. That was how it usually happened, or so she had learned from a tattered and cracked scroll she had found locked away in an unused room along with the rest of her late father’s belongings. At the time of her discovery she had wondered by her mother hadn’t burned all of his possessions along with his bloodied body. Perhaps Amara had cared more for her husband than she ever showed.

When the changes began in her body and then in her mind and soul, Erania had wondered if Lord Farron had possessed the Power and if that fact had led to his downfall and death. If so, she had probably inherited the Power from him.

She couldn’t ask anyone. Her questions would be repeated to Queen Amara, who had her own methods of obtaining the information she wanted. So Erania studied in her father’s scroll various ways of concealing the Power until she knew those ways by heart. Then she returned the scroll to the room where she had found it and carefully resealed the door.

As a result of what she’d read she understood that her very life could depend on never letting anyone know about her Power. Nor was concealment only for her own benefit. She thought it was likely that her younger sister, Mrisia, would also develop the Power as she grew older. If so, Mrisia would need Erania’s help to survive, for the child was frail and prone to tears and wild imaginings. The chances were slight that Mrisia could learn to hide her inheritance as Erania had done. Their mother despised her Second Daughter even more than she loathed Erania, which meant that Erania felt compelled to protect her sister. She knew no one else would.

They kept Sir Dure on a pallet next to the kitchen fire that night, because it was the warmest spot in the castle. By morning he could stand and walk so long as he had someone to lean on. With the two squires who had helped with him earlier assisting, Erania took him to the lone guest chamber that Ronach boasted. Luckily, it was a small chamber and she ordered the fire made up to warm it.

Neither he, nor she, mentioned the sealed packet, which she had secreted in her own chamber.

You are kind, he said when he was settled in bed and the squires were dismissed.

I am practical, she responded. Will you tell me now why you are in Mataram during wintertime?

I cannot.

Are you a messenger, as we first supposed?

I – not exactly.

You hesitate. Why is that, Sir Dure?

I will sleep now, he said and closed his eyes.

Thinking he was likely exhausted from his ordeal in the cold and from the effort of climbing from the kitchen to the third level of the keep, she left him, latching his door on the outside so he couldn’t leave his room. She nodded briskly to the sentry whom Boso had posted outside the door.

Have you learned anything from him? Boso asked as they waited in the great hall for the midday meal to arrive on the food tray.

He is sleeping, and I can understand why, Erania said.

I can make him talk. Boso fingered his eating knife.

He is a guest, she protested.

That’s soft-hearted nonsense and you know it, Boso growled. If the weather were calmer, I’d send someone to report to Queen Amara.

I see no point in disturbing her over one weakened man, Erania said. The queen has more important matters to consider.

Boso’s reaction to that statement was a snort

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