Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)(5)

Written By: Cinda Williams Chima

“My best can be better,” Adrian said, looking his father in the eyes.

His father got the point. He tilted his head. “How do you know they would take you on at Spiritas?”

“The dean of Spiritas is a Voyageur healer named Taliesin Beaugarde.” The Voyageurs were a nomadic tribe of sheepherders from the Heartfang Mountains who traveled the flatlands in colorful caravans. Flatlanders claimed they were witches. Like that was a bad thing.

“Taliesin spent some time at Marisa Pines while I was there, and we got along. I’ve been in touch with her, and she’s hot to make this happen. I would be the first wizard to attend. They’re hoping that if the deans at Mystwerk see what’s possible, then maybe they’ll come around.”

His father laughed. “You’re too much like your mother—always two steps ahead of me.” After a beat, he went on, “Speaking of the queen, what does she say?”

Adrian cleared his throat. “I haven’t talked to her about it.”

“Ah,” his father said, rubbing his chin. “Trying to slide in the back gate, are you? You know she won’t be eager to let you out of her sight after what happened to Hana.”

“I was hoping you might help me persuade her.”

His father fiddled with the flowers, knocking a few petals loose. “As you know, she’s not happy with me right now. I might not be your best advocate. Maybe if we waited a bit . . .”

“Taliesin’s here now. She came to visit family for Solstice. If I can get permission, I can go back with her.”

“So you’re in a hurry for an answer.” His father looked down at his hands and picked at a scab on his knuckles. “It sounds like a sensible plan,” he said finally. “A good use of your talents, and close to your heart. I think you should go. I’ll do whatever I can to make it happen. See if you can arrange time with your mother tonight, and I’ll be there, ready to deploy my meager weapons in your defense.”

“Thank you,” Adrian said simply. He knew his da would understand. He somehow always did.

The bells bonged out the hour.

“I’d better go,” his father said. “It’s already ten, and I don’t want to be late. I’ll see you tonight.” He swept his cloak around his shoulders, strapped on his baldric, and slid his sword into place. Every eye in the room followed him as he went out the door.

Adrian gazed after him, his gut in turmoil. His father’s theory about Hana had unsettled him. What if it were true? He’d thought of her death as tragic bad luck, a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, part of the senseless carnage of the war. But now . . .

There was something he was missing, some pattern that he wasn’t seeing. Hana had died at midsummer, an event the wolves foretold. Now it was midwinter, and the wolves were back, and his father was heading to a meeting with an unknown informant.

His father’s words came back to him. Perhaps the king of Arden has hit on a new tactic.

No. Oh, no.

“Da!” Lurching to his feet, Adrian careened out the door of the tavern. Breathlessly, he scanned the market square, but he didn’t see his father. Which street would he take to Southbridge? Since he was late, he’d probably take the most direct path, down the Way of the Queens to the river.

Fighting through the market day crowds, Adrian turned onto the Way and ran, dodging carriages and families out for a stroll. The cobbled pavement was perilous, and layered with snow and ice. It was like one of those dreams, when you try to run and your feet seem to be glued to the ground. Several times he nearly fell, and once he was nearly run down by a teamster, who swore at him as he streaked past.

Now he was almost to the river, and he still didn’t see his father. If he’d turned off into one of the side streets or alleys, Adrian would never find him in time.

When Adrian finally spotted him, far ahead, he was nearly to the bridge, the bouquet of flowers still in his hand. Adrian put on speed, already working on what he would say. I know you’re street-savvy and all, but I think you’re walking into a trap.

He was so focused on his father that he scarcely resisted when somebody grabbed him from behind and clapped a hand over his mouth. His attacker pulled a hood over his head, and began dragging him backward. Adrian could feel magic buzzing into him, no doubt an immobilization charm. But Adrian was wearing a clan talisman alongside his amulet—a pendant that absorbed attack magic.

He pretended to go limp, and when his captor adjusted his grip, Adrian came up off the balls of his feet, hearing a crunch and a screech of pain as his head smashed into cartilage.

When the grip on him loosened, Adrian twisted free and tried to dodge into the alley, but plowed straight into someone who held him tightly against his body, so Adrian couldn’t reach his amulet or yank away the hood.

Learn to use all your senses, his father always said. That way, if you’re blind, you can use your ears and your nose and your hands instead.

From the feel of the man’s body and the angle at which he held him, Adrian could tell that he was tall, spare, and gifted. He could also feel something metallic and jingling that hung at his waist under his robes. Not an amulet. But what?

“Don’t let him touch the jinxpiece,” one of them growled.

“I’m not an idiot,” Alley Man snarled. “Take the boy. Our agreement was that I wouldn’t be personally involved in this.” The voice seemed familiar, and there was a scent about him—a familiar scent—that Adrian couldn’t place.

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