I’m working on finalizing the edit for The Castle in the Story, whilst and at the same time writing the rough draft of the sequel. For those who are curious, I have two other projects I might be working on, but next on the list is part three of The Lord’s Tale.
Just so you know.
This excerpt from The Curator’s Song (Corellion Legacy #2) is pretty early in the story. Lily’s father, Marsh of the North (her name may end up changed in the final version but her dad’s is staying), has already asked the Blademaster, an elven assassin named Rathe, to protect his daughters from an unnamed, but awful, danger as they travel back to the Northlands. Having his own troubles, Rathe turns him down, then finds out a little more about him (for example, that he’s originally from the Northlands). Between what he learns and the desperation in the man’s eyes, it’s enough to keep him interested in the family, in spite of the fact that his own problems are forcing him to leave that night.
And then this happens.
(Disclaimer: All of this could change. All of it is rough, with many mistakes. I may end up scrapping the scene entirely. Still, all rights reserved.)
Rathe had just decided it would be best if he left the city that night when he saw a hooded man knock on the door of the bookseller’s shop. Loudly. He could hear it from his apartment.
The door swung open, revealing the face of Marsh of the North, the bookseller, who paused when he saw the face Rathe could not. Then, relaxed, though he still appeared grim. He nodded, and his lips as he slowly turned back into the house appeared to say something about a message. It was difficult to tell.
The man nodded before Marsh had turned entirely, and Marsh invited him in.
The door closed and Rathe couldn’t help feeling uneasy. First, Marsh had asked him to take on the protection of his daughters, and now he was inviting what was likely another assassin. Or some other form of help. But Rathe had had enough meetings late at night that he guessed it was the first.
He stared for several moments at the door from his apartment.
This wasn’t his concern. He hadn’t been hired, and he needed to prepare to leave. It was only a matter of time before his uncle and his uncle’s friends made their way to his door. Only their distaste of humans had slowed them down this long. It wouldn’t slow them down much longer. Not if the rumors he’d heard were true.
He turned away from the window and took out a traveling bag. Stuffing what few clothes he had, along with basic necessities and a little food he’d bought earlier in the day, he closed it and stared, not quite believing that this moment had come.
He liked it here. He liked hearing the noise of the street below during the day. He liked hearing the women selling food on the street, and minstrels selling spells, and he realized he liked the sound of Lily and Vina arguing and chatting to the neighbors and sometimes, rarely, laughing. Vina laughed far more than Lily did.
And he remembered the sadness, the wistfulness, in their father’s eyes when he spoke of the darkness, and protecting his daughters from it.
Regret. And guilt. That was what he’d seen in their father’s eyes.
He lifted the bag to his shoulders, slipping his arms through the ropes that automatically closed it until it settled on his back. Tugging his cloak’s hood over his head, he made his way out the door and down the steps, practically running out into the street. But before he did, he slipping into a nearby shadow.
The world disintegrated, becoming nothing but darkness he could feel, that had weight and shape but no color, nothing he could see. All his senses became heightened, and he listened for the sound of Marsh of the North talking in the darkness.
There. Faint. He walked slowly toward it, the awful calm that came of using shadows making him feel less like himself and more a part of something else, something that only existed in the shadows. Something stronger and more potent than the true Rathe from Bina Galatdros.
That was a child, he told himself, walking closer. Now, I am the Blademaster.
Just as your uncle would have wanted, a little voice said inside him. He ignored it and walked on.
He paused at the shadow’s edge, the words clear enough without him having to actually enter.
“What you ask is impossible,” a strange man said.
“It has to be done,” Marsh of the North replied. “I cannot leave my daughters without protection.”
The strange man laughed. “Without them learning magic? If what you say is true, there is no one in the world that could keep them safe. The darkness will have them, as it had your brother and your father.”
“No!” Marsh’s shout was the cry of a man who would not move one more inch. One who had already moved too much. “It will not have them. I swore it when they were born.”
The man sighed. “You will need far more than human magic, then. The song-spells I know are weak. And the priests…”
“Then I’ll cast the spells.”
A long pause. “You? After all this time? What about the darkness taking you?”
“I don’t care. Not if they stay safe.”
Another, even longer pause. “Then I was told true.”
“I was told,” the strange man said, “that you were not to be trusted. That you would turn.”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
There was a shout and the sound of a scuffle began. Rathe held back. This was not his fight. He had no orders, no promise, nothing.
The shadows began to tilt, and clearly within the darkness, Rathe could hear the sound of a song-spell being chanted from someone’s heart. The strength of the spell amazed him, disoriented him, even here outside the room in a place that, as far as he knew, barely existed. One light on this dark corner and his opening would disappear.
There was an awful, sickening thud near the shadow he’d chosen. And he knew one of the men had won.
The song-spell ended in the same moment, releasing him. He heard a door, heard another thud as it hit something. And then a sound he knew all too well: the crackling of a fire.
He leaped through the shadow into the room proper. Marsh lay at his feet, blood pooling around his head. Crouching down, Rathe felt for a pulse in his neck. Nothing. The man was dead.
Rathe’s head whipped toward the gasped word, and he saw Lily staring, blood pouring down her chest, her face white. Turning to see what she saw, he realized the fire had been set among the books, probably to make sure Marsh of the North’s death was complete. He looked at the man’s face only a moment longer, remembering the emotions that had filled it when he had offered him the job. And made his decision.
“Where is your sister?” he demanded, moving away from the dead man.
“Upstairs.” She seemed transfixed by the fire. But only a moment longer. She turned and raced to a bucket in a corner of the back room, already filled with water.
There was no time. Grabbing her shoulder, the one not injured, he stopped her.. “You’re wounded.”
“Father.” She darted past him, looking quickly, and finding her father. She was about to drop to her knees when Rathe grabbed her arm.
“He’s past your help.”
She jerked away from him and he let her kneel next to to the man. Death among his own people was something mourned deeply, in spite of whatever joy found on the other side. For the chances of meeting again soon were very small. Decades, even centuries, might pass before they would see each other again.
Although the life of a human wasn’t nearly as long, Rathe found he couldn’t bring himself to pull her away, when he knew there would be no ceremony, no memorial, not given the circumstances.
And then he made his second fateful decision. “I’ll take him outside. You try to save the books.”
As if coming out of a dream, she looked behind her and saw the fire, as if for the first time. “Yes. Thank you.” And then paused. “Wait. You were here. You did this.”
“No.” And yet, how to explain why he was in the room now. “There is no time to explain, but you have to believe me, I am only here to help.”
“Of course you are.”
“Get out. Now!” And she shoved him with her puny arms, as if that would move him. He allowed it, due to her grief.
“All right.” She had just lost her father and she was wounded. She wasn’t thinking clearly. He turned and left, knowing that anyone in their right mind wouldn’t have kicked him out but would have attacked him or tried to hold him. But all her attention now was on the books, as she grabbed a bucket of water in the corner of the back room and splashed it on the fire, dimming it only a little.
And within the fire he could hear the faint echo of a continuance spell, a repeating phrase that was meant to strengthen the flames.
Magic. Yes, they wanted that man to burn, and in his own home.
If this were like other shops, the private rooms would be upstairs. He left Lily to her hopeless job and looked for Vina.
He found her asleep in a room with two beds. “Vina.” He shook her lightly on the shoulder. “You need to wake up.” Unsure how much she would understand, he said, “You need to get out. The house is on fire.
Her room was above the store. He could feel the heat from the growing flames under his boots. They didn’t have much time.
She woke up and looked at him, and he repeated himself as he gently took her arm and began leading her, staggering, toward the stairs.
She froze and he hoped she wasn’t afraid of him. Instead, she shook her head. “The book. Papa needs his book.” And she took off toward another, smaller room.
He followed her and watched as she looked around the desk. “In his pocket,” she said. “Where’s Papa?” she asked Rathe. “The key’s in his pocket. For the book.”
She couldn’t see her father. It would horrify her. “I’ll get it. But you need to leave now.” Unwilling to put her safety below her fear anymore, he grabbed her arm.
“I’ll get the book. Where is it and what does it look like?” It would focus her on something other than fighting him.
“Blue cover with gold letters. And pretty stones. And it locks. It’s in the drawer of the nightstand. Papa put a spell on it. Only us can open it.”
Rathe clenched his jaw. “Of course,” he muttered. “I know spells. I’ll get it.”
“Lily!” Vina tore away from his grip and raced into the room where her sister was battling the flames as if nothing else existed. “Where’s Papa!”
“We need the key.”
“Didn’t you hear me, Vina. Papa’s dead! Do you not understand!” And that was when he noticed the tear stains on her cheeks. “Help me save what he built!”
What he built, what he was most concerned with saving, Rathe couldn’t help thinking, was you and your sister. And that was when he made his second fateful decision.
Running in, he grabbed Lily by the waist and without another word, swung her over his shoulder.
Vina, as he’d expected, cried out and followed her sister, who in spite of her wound was pounding his back with one arm, her strength rapidly fading now that the rush of the moment was being taken away from her. “The book!” Vina was crying now. “We have to get the book!”
Rathe took her through the back door and through the alleyway until they were in the street. A small crowd had gathered. Setting Lily down, he easily evaded her swinging fists. Grabbing her arms, he said, “Stay here.” Turning to Vina, he said, “I’m going to get the book. Make sure she stays here.”
Lily got up, but as he turned away, he heard Vina saying, “No. He said to stay.”
Thankfully, their argument faded into the distance as he raced back inside their home, using the back door once again.
Flames surrounded him now, racing up the walls, filling the air with acrid smoke that made his eyes water. The doorway to the store was nothing but flames, and he knew the house would collapse very soon.
Hoping for a shadow, he slipped inside one flickering under the table. Within the darkness, the heat of the flames barely registered. Without sound, he looked instead for the song-spell that was consuming the room in fire. There. He searched for a small shadow, anything that might stretch enough to allow him to pass without much discomfort. He reached out into the darkness and found only one place that he trusted.
Angling Marsh of the North, he lifted him as he jumped out of the shadow underneath the body. Sliding him to the side, he searched the man’s clothing, finally finding the key in a small pouch he kept under the overrobe most merchants wore. And with it, a small parchment with marks on it that looked similar to the marks his uncle had never let him decipher.
Cursing his uncle and Marsh of the North, he took the key upstairs, ignoring the groan of the wood as the building’s structure began to suffer. He raced back to the room Vina had entered and went straight to the lock in the nightstand.
The feel of magic curled around him, the song-spell jarring his thoughts, confusing them and filling them with noise.
This, however, he could handle without knowing any cryptic marks. He opened his mouth and let the Song flow through him, altering the noise until it became harmony, until it uncurled itself and left him alone. Confusion, he could almost hear his uncle say, always makes way at the presence of the True Song.
He fitted the key in the lock, turned it, and pulled out an enormous, heavy book, locked with a smaller lock and with golden characters on blue leather.
Tucking it under his cloak, Rathe turned to leave when the floor gave out under his feet.
Rolling toward a shadow, Rathe disappeared into the darkness with the book still in hand, though he had no key for it. Ah, well, he thought. They had only wanted the book, and locks could be broken given the right tools. If they even wanted to read it. And as he prepared to leave the darkness for the shadows surrounding a nearby building, he wondered what kind of book would have been so vital that at least one of the daughters had focused on nothing else.
He slipped out of the shadow and heard Lily say, “That’s him. The one who killed my father.”
What do you think?