The Sorcerer’s Wife, страница 1
The Sorcerer’s Wife
Also in the Hidden Lands Series
About the Author
Also by Jaclyn Dolamore
Copyright © 2016 by Jaclyn Dolamore
Photo © LiaKoltyrina/Bigstock.com
Cover Layout © 2016 Jaclyn Dolamore and Dade Bell
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
To all my wonderful readers! Your support has meant the world.
My name is Velsa Biarnan Thanneau. When I was a little girl my mother and I were thrown from a horse. My mother was killed; I was saved from the brink of death when my father had my soul placed into a Fanarlem body. He was killed by a bandit on the border when I was twelve. The neighbors took me in but they treated me little better than a slave. So when Grau came along, I was willing to pretend I was a concubine, to be with him…
“How is that for a story?” Velsa showed what she had written to Grau.
“Well,” he said. “It’s depressing.”
“It would have to be,” she said. “Lieutenant Dlara said I needed to be ready with an explanation for why I would have posed as a concubine. What self-respecting flesh and blood woman would subject herself to that?”
“Hmm.” Grau gazed for a moment into the glowing logs of the fire. He was crouched close to the warmth, as their room for their night was a drafty little place without rugs and only the barest of curtains, and outside the world was damp and cold. “This is your chance to be reborn as a new person. Some people get to write themselves a happy ending, but hardly anyone gets to rewrite a happy beginning.”
“What would you suggest?”
He took the notebook and pen, and propped up a knee to provide a writing surface. He wrote faster than her. She could read and write, but back in the House of Perfumed Ribbons, the concubines were rarely given pencils—and never pens. The ink might stain their skin.
Still, his handwriting was messier than hers. She smiled at that.
The neighbors who took me in were kind people. I had a good life playing by the river, and helping them with their clothing stall at the market. One day a handsome young sorcerer came through town looking for a new coat, and we got to talking. We talked so long that the young man stayed in Nisa an extra night so he could see me the next day, and then another day, until finally he figured he’d better ask for my hand in marriage. The only trouble was that he had already signed up to serve in the border patrol and he couldn’t bring a wife with him—but he could bring a Fanarlem concubine.
“How’s that?” he said.
“‘A handsome young sorcerer’, huh?” She smiled wryly.
“How would you describe me, then?”
“And this still isn’t the happiest of stories. My parents are still dead.”
“It’ll be harder to track your origins if your name belongs to people who have died.”
She imagined the scene: the hustle and bustle of the market tents, the haggling women and travelers. Her hands would be a little dirty; her hair tied back with a scarf. She would be harried but excited by the constant stream of people. One of those people would be Grau, walking in and giving her that look of fascination—the one he had truly exchanged with her, the night he bought her.
She could almost forget the truth, and believe she had always been free—that she was truly free now, and not just because of a lie.
“All right,” she said. “From now on, this will be our story.”
* * *
Two weeks later, their new life began in earnest, as the skyline of Nalim Ima appeared like a mystical city rising out of low morning clouds. They stood on the deck of the ship with all the other passengers, a murmur of awe passing among them. Some of the buildings must have been twenty stories tall, and more were under construction, marked by scaffolds. Steep hills rose behind the buildings, sheer rock faces with snow-dusted tops. Any other city would have been dwarfed by those hills, but Nalim Ima held its own.
Grau whistled. “I didn’t realize Nalim Ima was so big. It must be worse than Atlantis, with that many people living on top of each other.”
“Having second thoughts?” she asked.
“I didn’t say that…but you know I don’t like big cities.”
Their ship had left from Atlantis, a city Velsa had always dreamed of seeing. Grau had nothing but complaints about the narrow, dirty streets; the rumored prevalence of pickpockets; and the wealthy merchants who flaunted their shape-shifted beauty while dealing in some of the world’s darkest, most addictive magic.
She had not been there long enough to form much of an opinion. The houses along the river were charming, with arched balconies and tiled roofs, and she had never seen such an array of shops—but it was dirty and every corner seemed to have a beggar, many of them children.
Nalim Ima was something entirely different, like no place she had ever seen, even in a book. She wondered how anyone even reached the top of such tall buildings. Some of them looked like they were made of liquid silver that gleamed as the rising sun burned the clouds away.
Before long, the ship was docking. An older man stopped to bow to Grau.
“Thank you, Mr. Thanneau,” he said. “I think I might have died if you weren’t aboard!”
“I’m sure that isn’t true.” The sea voyage had been fairly boring so Grau spent a lot of time helping people who were seasick. His skill at elemental sorcery provided some small ease, as he showed people how to sense the flow of the waves.
“May you and your sweet little doll wife have good fortune at the Palace of Blessed Wings,” the man said.
“I don’t think anyone on this ship ever learned my name,” Velsa said as he moved on.
Grau took her hand. “You give a girl freedom and suddenly she wants a name and everything. What next? Respect?”
He was trying to make her laugh, but she couldn’t hide genuine disappointment. “I guess I’m showing my ignorance. All of us concubines thought that wives were very respected.”
“I’m sure part of it is that you’re a Fanarlem,” Grau said. “Flesh-born Fanarlem are so rare that even when people know you’re my wife, they have a hard time separating your appearance from reality.”
“Reality,” she said, with a faint scoff.
“History is riddled with lies,” he said, “and this one doesn’t hurt anyone. But you do look so little and feminine.”
“I look like a concubine. How surprising.”
“Should I get you a new, tough-looking face?”
“No!” But she fretted. “Do you think it’s all right?”
It was still better to be called a sweet little doll wife than to have men openly leering at her and congratulating Grau on his purchase…but how would she react to it if she really had been born of flesh? If she had been turned into a Fanarlem as a little girl, would she have simply gotten used to being treated differently from other girls? Or would she feel entitled to be more authoritative, like Grau’s sister?
These were the questions no one could answer for her. She had no guidebook for how a flesh-born Fanarlem girl would feel. She could only imagine this fictional clothing merchant’s daughter. Velsa Biarnan would be called ‘doll’ every day, and much worse. Many customers would assume she was a well-constructed slave. Her telepathic powers would always be on the alert for danger.
A flesh-born Fanarlem girl would have to be tough, or be eaten alive.
When they were allowed to disembark, as they walked down the gangway, up ahead it looked like some authorities were separating the men and women and sending them off to separate doorways.
“Please have your identity papers in hand!” a man was shouting.
Grau pulled their papers out of the inner pocket of his coat.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Just an inspection before they let us in. I didn’t think they’d need to separate us, but…”
“What will they inspect?” she asked, panic rising. What if they interrogated her about her past?
“They’ll want to be sure we don’t have any diseases.”
“I certainly can’t have any diseases!”
“I know. I’m sure it’ll be fast.”
They reached the end of the gangway.
“Does your slave have papers?” one of the officials asked.
“She’s my wife,” Grau said.
“Oh,” the man said. “I’m terribly sorry. So rarely do I see flesh-born Fanarlem. You’ll have to go this way, miss.” The man pointed her at the door where all the other women were shuffled.
If she was a concubine, apparently she would have been allowed to stay with Grau.
“See you soon,” she told him, trying to sound casual like the other women parting from their husbands. I’m free, she told herself. I’m a real woman. This is where I belong. Don’t panic.
Inside the door, another official stopped her. “Can you read and write?” she asked.
“Yes,” Velsa said.
“Then, please, fill this out, this way.” The official handed her a few papers and pointed her toward a room, where several long tables held jars full of pencils. Some of the women stopped to gape at the high ceilings before taking a seat, and Velsa had to do the same. Soaring windows looked out over the ship docks. Every direction she turned, Velsa saw strange things: steel ships with smokestacks, women wearing the fashions of lands unknown, little glass lights on the walls of the room that shone even though the sun was coming through the windows.
She didn’t want to dawdle and keep Grau waiting and worrying, although then again, she wouldn’t be surprised if he dawdled longer than she did. She took the paper to one of the tables and glanced the simple questions, like where she was from, her parents’ names, her birthday.
She had her official papers stating all these things already. But Lieutenant Dlara had forged those papers. This was the first time she had to write down the lies herself.
It’s not a sin, she told herself. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have a real life.
On the wall, a large framed print of Kalan Jherin oversaw the room. Kalan Jherin, the High Sorcerer, the Wodrenarune—who supposedly spoke to the fates. Every Wodrenarune, as far back as history had recorded, agreed that anyone born a Fanarlem was a tainted soul and intended by fate to be a slave.
Velsa quickly wrote down her answers, and certainly she didn’t have to check any of the boxes about having a strange cough or a rash, vision troubles or fever.
“All filled out?” The woman at the door—there was someone in uniform waiting no matter where she turned—pointed her down another hall. “Next they will give you a simple medical examination.”
“But—I’m a Fanarlem.”
“They will still want to weigh you and check a few things.”
Velsa wondered if they would ask her to take off her clothes. Under her trousers she was still wearing the chemise and stockings she came with when Grau bought her. Did flesh and blood women wear the same underthings as concubines? Did flesh-born Fanarlem girls have a button sewn onto the back of their legs to keep their stockings up, and satin ribbons tied around their thighs?
She had a feeling they didn’t.
But my story was that I posed as a concubine to join Grau at camp. So why shouldn’t I?
It all sounded very thin. She wouldn’t be able to explain without a quiver in her voice. And then they would know.
But she had to proceed. And she certainly could not allow any quivers.
The next door led to a waiting room, hard wooden chairs filled with more nervous women, who were called back through the doors one by one. The pace was quick—Velsa didn’t even wait five minutes before it was her turn. A woman in a plain white dress led her to a scale and asked her to step on. She nodded. “Can you tell me what materials you’re made of? Wooden skeleton?”
Velsa had never heard of any Fanarlem with a skeleton that wasn’t wood. “Yes. Wool stuffing and cotton skin. Lots of spells, of course.” Velsa’s skin barely resembled fabric, thanks to all the spells applied to give her the illusion of life.
The woman pointed Velsa to a small room with a padded table. “Wait there a moment. The magic tester will be here to see you. You’re almost done.”
Velsa paced the small room, trying not to look too nervous.
Velsa had been born with telepathy, but her powers had been locked away by a golden suppression band around her neck all her life, until Grau unlocked the band. In her new life as a flesh-born Fanarlem, she was allowed to have magic, even telepathy—but Daramons were wary of telepaths. Only the Miralem were telepathic, and Halnari Miralem were the only ones willing to work with Daramons. So they would see her as having the soul of a Miralem.
The door finally opened. A beautiful woman stepped in, her braided hair falling mid-thigh, her long sheer dress overlaying a shorter tunic. Her narrow waist, clearly shape-shifted to an unnatural curve, was cinched by a wide sash embroidered with blue and purple flowers.
Halnari Miralem were famous for their antiquated beauty, which had been the height of style centuries ago in Atlantis and other cities, but had long since been abandoned everywhere else. Velsa couldn’t help but glance at the woman’s feet, which were shaped very narrow, with large bows tied at her ankles to make her feet look even smaller. This gave her a particular gait, like she was balancing on a rope. The heeled slippers she wore added to this willful vulnerability.
For once, Velsa was staring at someone more than they stared at her.
Then again, the woman stared too—especially at Velsa’s dirty, travel-worn clothing. Her eyes narrowed with distaste.
How did she expect Velsa to be dressed, coming from an ocean voyage?
“Good afternoon,” she said, pleasantly enough, although her eyes still picked over a small stain on Velsa’s sleeve and the wear on her boots. “I apologize for making you wait. I am the only telepath here today. Your papers say your mother was a Halnari, so I just want to do a brief test of your telepathic abilities.” She held up a crystal and ran it along Velsa’s body, sensing the layers of spells that had created her, then jotted down a few notes on Velsa’s papers.
Velsa tried not to look too stiff, but she obviously failed, because the woman said, “No need to be nervous. Have you had any training in telepathy?”
“No. My mother died when I was a little girl.”
“I’m afraid not.”
The woman held out her pale hand. Her skin was almost white against Velsa’s olive complexion. “Let me feel your energies.”
Velsa took the hand, with reluctance. Telepaths could hardly help but read some emotions at times, but it was deeply unethical to read thoughts. Surely the woman wouldn’t do it—but if she did, the game would already be over.
“You’re not controlled, but there is a nice little kick of power there. Let’s try a resistance test.”
Suddenly, the woman jumped into Velsa’s mind
In one swift move, she was dangerously close to Velsa’s secrets. It was a shock, like reaching into a box and feeling a spider race across her arm. Velsa pushed her out before she could even think.
“Ah! Very good!” the woman said. She wrote something else on Velsa’s papers. “Now, I want you to try and read my mind.”
The very idea was repellent. Reading another person’s mind seemed to go against some basic rule of decency.
The woman looked patient. Reluctantly, Velsa reached out to meet her thoughts.
Resistance was immediate, like hitting a wall. Velsa backed off.
“No, keep pushing,” the woman said. “You won’t be able to break through, but you need to try so I can gauge your power.”
Velsa straightened her posture—her whole body had to be with her if she was going to do this. The woman sounded so sure that Velsa couldn’t read her mind, that Velsa wanted to try. She reached out for that mental wall, clenching her fists.
Her temples were pounding. She was weakening quickly, and freshly aware that she wanted to be good at this. It was the only power she had; maybe the only power she would ever have, in a world where she was seen as a sweet little doll.
She felt something give in the woman’s mind. A crack in her shield. A sharp flash of anger pushed her back out.
“Stop,” the woman said. She wiped sweat from her brow. “Very good indeed… I’m going to say you’re about a six on the scale. And you’re untrained, so you can only improve from here.” She put Velsa through a few more basic tests, mostly attempts to levitate small objects, and jotted down notes. “What are your plans here in Nalim Ima?”