THE KING’S SPELL, Realm and Wand, book 1
Only a king can banish sorcerers and strip enchanters of their power. Only a king is immune to spells and potions. Only a king knows the truth behind the legends. Until now.
Magic Collector Devryn Ashby may have deserved the curse that saps his magic-manipulating abilities, but it certainly won’t help him with the task King Reginald has assigned him. Instead of allowing him to continue hunting for those who stole the powerful Enchanter’s List, the king makes Devryn trainer-in-magic to the mischievous enchantress Lady Meredith Lofton.
Except for an occasional matchmaking exploit, Lady Meredith has little use for her power of enchantment—until the king asks her to train in magical warfare techniques. This both excites and terrifies her. And irks her, for she refuses to be bossed around by the critical Devryn Ashby, a man she’s not even sure she should trust.
But as dangers increase and the sorcerers’ schemes unfold, Devryn and Meredith must choose whom to follow—their own desires and prejudices or their king. Only a king knows how much the kingdom depends on their choice.
Most say there are but two sorts of people in this world—those possessing magical powers and those not. Of those possessing magical powers, there are enchanters, who use only the magic within themselves, and sorcerers, who call on the dark powers to increase their magic. But what most don’t know, or won’t admit, is that there is a third kind. Lost in legends of a dark time, they’re cursed to live half in the world of enchanters and sorcerers and half in the world of non-magics, trusting and being trusted by none.
A History of Magic in Sonser by Alec Hanshaw, seventh king of Sonser
Devryn Ashby, Marquis of Arden, son of the Duke of Maram
Gersemere, in the Kingdom of Sonser, 1764
If not a body, then what? That was the usual fare for a graveyard. I pressed deeper into the prickly cedar separating me from the enchanter with the spade, and knelt to peer under dark green limbs. The man was attacking the earth with the garden implement but not at one of the innumerable graves in Gersemere’s oldest and largest graveyard. Did the cluster of cedars mark some ancient burial mound filled with treasures? No, the trees weren’t that old.
Straining to see with only a sliver of moon and the man’s lantern, I watched in silence as the enchanter dug a roughly circular hole about a foot deep. From his gunny sack, he pulled a carved wooden bowl filled with wooden fruit and lowered it into the hole.
Fruit, I mouthed, disgusted. All this trouble to bury fruit? It could’ve at least been a worthless treasure map! What would my brother and friends say?
I started to rise, but the enchanter suddenly looked about him. I stilled and listened with thumping heart for him to approach. The silence brought no footsteps but something else: a second sense of magic. Closing my eyes, I focused my senses on the magic, just as my father had taught me. There was the enchanter beyond the cedar, loud as a foghorn, and a different sense, one of magic itself, the kind bestowed on an object or made into a spell. It was lower down, in the ground, I fancied, and was growing dimmer.
I opened my eyes as the enchanter patted the dirt and grass back into place. He peered around the graveyard—always above my level—then hurried away. I dashed around the tree, came toe-to-dirt with the macerated earth sloppily put back together, but couldn’t bring myself to dig up the bowl. I had to get to the trial, after all. I quickly carved a primitive image of a pear into the base of the forked cedar that had overseen the unorthodox burial, then quietly sprinted after the enchanter.
He lengthened his stride, the sense of his presence lessening with each of his long steps toward the graveyard’s exit. I ducked behind an obelisk-like marker as he once more twisted his lean frame to look about him. It wasn’t the possibility of a fifteen-year-old boy following him on a dare that kept the enchanter on the alert. Not that he’d shown signs of suspecting my presence. Stealth was practically a game in my family, one in which we all excelled. What did this enchanter fear then? There was no evidence of his mission on him any longer. What else?
Or who else?
I fisted my hands as a shiver tried to run down my spine. Sorcerers sometimes desecrated graveyards, the fearmongers claimed. An enchanter might fear sorcerers, but an Ashby didn’t. Not that I felt any around.
The enchanter ceased his nervous glancing and sped forward. I crept to the next covering of shadows, the grass silent under my feet.
“Grave robber! Thief! Murderer!”
The enchanter dashed away as the cry broke the silence of the night and heavy blows rained on my back. I spun around, raising my arms to block the blows and confront my attacker. But the graveyard was empty save for its monuments and the thick cedars and dogwoods dispersed among them.
“Grave robber! Thief! Murderer!” A girl—a girl—cried.
A strike to my exposed side sent me reeling onto the gravel path. Son of a rogue spell. Where was she? It wasn’t that dark. A sense, more like a dull headache than the clear sense of an enchanter, edged into my mind, and was then nearly knocked out along with everything else. “Oomph. That was my ear! Why you little—”
“Grave robber! Thief! Murd—”
“Enough! I’m not a murderer.” I lunged forward and grabbed at the air, somehow knowing where to find her weapon. My hand closed around wooden strips bound with fabric. It tingled in my hand.
No wonder I couldn’t see it, or her. The angry sprite had to be an enchantress. Why wasn’t the sense as clear as the enchanter’s I’d followed?
“Adensum. Come to me,” I whispered, commanding the magic to leave its object and reveal my attacker. I’d never taken magic like this by myself before—in the wild, so to speak.
But no warmth of enchantment flowed to my palm. Horror blasted my pride. Had I lost my skill? Or was it dependent on my father’s presence? You know you can take magic on your own, Devryn. Relax and think. Locking the panicked thoughts away, I took a deep breath and tried again. Still no magic came from the fabric to me, but I felt a tug, as if some wanted to come but was held back. Once again my pulse quickened, but with wonder this time. Magic was woven into this thing’s very being; it was no ordinary item covered by a cast spell I could take. Yet, there was a faint sense of a spell, of magic that could be taken. I grabbed at that thread of magic and called it.
My palm warmed as the enchantment passed to me. I tightened my grip on whatever it was and tugged. Out of the shadows stumbled a girl. She gasped, sucking in air like a backwards scream. She gaped at me across the now-visible club, a narrow tube capped with a closed canopy of dusty grey fabric stretched across thin ribs.
“An umbrella?” Disdain dripped from my voice like the rain and sunlight that were supposed to drip from these odd contraptions—in the eastern countries. They were scarce in Sonser. Sensible people preferred a cloak or hat so they’d have both hands free.
For defending themselves.
She nodded, her mouth agape. “How did—”
“Never mind,” I snapped, remembering Father’s admonition of Never reveal what you are. Our people have suffered too much to trust any save the king with our talents.
“What are you doing out here?” I continued. “Wandering around a graveyard at night by yourself and ambushing folks with umbrellas?” I jerked the thing forward, trying to wrest it from her grasp. “You’re just a girl.” Eleven at most. Surely she wasn’t the reason for the enchanter’s wary behavior, though I could understand why he wouldn’t want to meet with that umbrella of hers.
She stumbled forward a step but didn’t lose her grip. “I … I…” she straightened, drawing her shoulders up, “I am here on a personal and confidential matter that is none of your concern, young man. Now, if you’ll excuse me?” She jerked right back on the umbrella with surprising strength.
But it was a useless effort. “You’re not running away from home, are you?”
“Certainly not.” Her nose went higher in the air, but she ceased her tugging.
Tree frogs erupted in song, and she glanced around the lonely place, her shoulders sinking until she gazed at the ground. “If you must know, I was…” she threw a sideways glance at an elegantly carved monument a few feet away with young grass growing in front of it, “…visiting my mother.”
“Oh.” Devryn Ashby, you fool. Did you want to make the girl cry? “Well, look. Don’t cry. I wasn’t going to steal anything from your mother’s grave, or from anyone else’s. I’m not a grave robber. No shovel or weapon. See?” I raised one hand, palm open.
Whatever that enchanter had buried, he’d buried under a tree, not in a grave, so even if I did come back for it—it’d be an amazing start to my very own magic collection—I wouldn’t technically be robbing a grave.
“What about the man you were following—the one who passed by a moment ago?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t hurt anyone.” She’d realized I was following him? The thought put an unmanly break in my voice. I cleared my throat and held up my palm again. “No weapon. No tools. Remember? I just like walking at night.” That was true, but certainly not the whole truth.
She sniffled again and slowly looked up, her face a dim outline in the bleak light from the one lamppost keeping watch over this section of the graveyard. She had a curious little face, not particularly pretty, more the kind “that grew on one,” as my mother would say.
“I like walking at night too.” She sniffled again, and I used my free hand to give her my handkerchief, which she gladly accepted. “I’m sorry I hit you. You scared me, that’s all.”
I scared her? Yet she pounced on me to protect the enchanter instead of staying hidden. Why? There was a tremble to her voice suggesting a bravado that could be hiding real fear. Why had she hurled those particular accusations against me? Had she reason to fear for the enchanter and herself? Or was I imagining things? Letting the darkness and the peculiar location unnerve me?
“Grave robbers, thieves, murderers, indeed.” I accented each word with a poke of the umbrella still connecting us. She huffed and tensed against the pokes.
“You’re lucky I wasn’t one,” I continued, pleased she’d conquered her sniffles. “Now, which path will lead me to the palace, umbrella-toter? I have an appointment there.” I was late already, having detoured to follow the enchanter.
She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times before pursing her lips and pointing in the direction from which I’d come. I shook my head. She looked around again, changed hands on the umbrella, and pointed to my left.
“I’m going to the palace too,” she said, “to … to the trial.”
“No, you’re not. Farris was a professor at the boys’ school. We all agreed no girls allowed.”
“Johnny said sisters could tag along if we promised not to start crying.”
“He did, did he? Who is this Johnny?” Uncle Angus, an advisor to the king, was the one to set up the secret room for the boys to watch the trial of one of the most popular professors at our school. We’d had to swear not to tell a soul what we heard.
“My brother, Jonathan Lofton.”
“Oh.” I knew him from school. Enchanter, proud and quiet.
“I’m Meredith Lofton.”
“Devryn Ashby.” We shook hands over the umbrella.
“Johnny said he and my cousins Charlie and Tristan would pass this way, and I could follow them. I haven’t seen them. I should have told him I was coming early and would meet him here.”
“Maybe he meant to lose you.”
She stiffened. “He’d do no such thing.”
I shrugged. “Anyway, my group’s gone ahead too. You should go home.” Or follow me. I’d never live it down if I invited the kid. Especially if she hit someone.
Mouth set in a firm line, she eyed me over the umbrella in a calculating way. I stared back, but my attention wandered to the umbrella. Its sturdy fabric, reminiscent of an old travel cloak, felt sadly cool against my palm, as if mourning its magic. I must have taken some sort of magical switch that allowed the enchantress to decide whether the object was invisible or not. She might have need of its power of invisibility, especially if she didn’t follow me to the palace and went home on her own.
With a sigh, I banished dreams of proudly depositing the magic in my family’s magic collection and focused on the odd version of the legendary invisibility cloak. “Recursus. Return from whence you came.” The umbrella slowly disappeared, its texture and a sense of magic all that remained.
“Good night.” I released the umbrella as I turned away. Such a pity to lose it. Collecting was the only way for us to gain magic. Once we had it though, we could manipulate it better even than the enchanters could.
Something clicked. I spun around, bracing for another blow, but none came. She was invisible again.
If I remembered rightly, umbrella roughly meant “little shadow.” How very apt. She had vanished like a shadow when a lantern bursts to life.
For the first time on that muggy, cloudy night, I smiled. I could sense enchantments and collect and return them at will—I’d have a place among my people. A place of honor. And the boys at school couldn’t say I’d gotten it because of my birth order. I’d earn respect as a half-magic, a future duke, and in any position I chose.
With light steps on the grass beside the path, I started toward the secret—well, little known—entrance of the palace. Footsteps followed, crunching on the gravel walkway.
The Little Shadow. That umbrella might hide her from sight, but it did nothing in the sound area. She was making enough noise to raise the … dead. A sudden breeze chilled my skin, and I glanced around at the towering monuments and the burial plots over which they cast their shadows. I picked up my pace, as did the enchantress behind me in her noisy fashion. My chest swelled. I was a knight escorting a damsel—on the sly.