Greatest of the young Wizards in the Enclave, Allowed to do the Least
Alstera is desperate to join the war against the sorcerers and shape-shifting wyre of Frost Clime, but the chief wizards refuse. Denied her wish, Alstera explores other ways to increase power.
Rumors of the forbidden linkage to increase power tempt her, but wizards who explore the forbidden Nexus are punished.As her friend Nevil is.
An Excerpt from Chapter 10
Alstera did not escape the reception as easily as she wished.
Trapped in conversation with a courtier her brother had introduced, she listened to his rattle about the prince’s newest pursuits and watched Camisse and Faone slip away. After the courtier, her brother’s fiancée waylaid her. A facile smile welcomed Lucrece, and soon Alstera’s ears filled with lace and beading and tulle and silk. They debated the rival merits of ribbons over ruffles until Lucrece had decided for ice-blue ribbons to complement her silvery wedding gown. She promised to attend a fitting for her attendant’s gown in three days’ time.
“Ice-blue again,” Lucrece promised. “You are right. Ribbons are much better, and the ice blue is appropriate since I am allying to Clan Letheina after the wedding.”
“I cannot wait to see the design for your wedding gown.”
“As long as you say nothing to your brother.”
“I might steer Romert to select ice-blue for his robe. You should be the only person wearing silver and white. Ice crystals in summer.”
“The perfect décor for the reception. I am so glad we talked. I rarely have an opportunity to see you. Does your great-uncle keep you so focused on the deeper studies?”
Alstera rolled her eyes. “He finds gaps in my earlier training.”
“Romert has said that you and he raced each other through your earliest lessons. What could you have missed?”
“I have no idea, but if Rombrey insists that I re-learn it, then re-learn it I shall.”
“He must want you to be the repository of all things magical, as he is.”
Living in that enclosed tower, consulted but rarely venturing forth—the walls closed in so tightly Alstera couldn’t breathe. “I cannot. I refuse.”
“Someone must replace him in due time. How old is Rombrey?”
“Seventy. Still younger than our ArchClan.”
Lucrece looked rueful. “Yes, she is older. Do you think the ArchClan’s age is the reason your aunt Camisse was recalled?”
She might be her brother’s fiancée, but until she married him, Lucrece remained d’Aulnois clan. Alstera didn’t gossip about the clan to someone outside the clan.
And they spoke with no Shield.
Her name in that tone was warning enough for the young woman, more evidence that she was a great partner for Romert. “I know I should not have asked that.”
And Alstera could not help asking for herself. “Is that what Romert thinks?”
She stepped closer. “He spoke in confidence. I did not intend to mention it, only—.”
“I see that I need to take afternoon tea with my brother and you.”
“When have you time from your studies? Perhaps after your fitting?”
At Alstera’s nod, Lucrece smiled brilliantly. She wasn’t pretty until she smiled, and Alstera—who often wondered about her brother’s choice of wife—realized yet again that Romert saw more than most gave him credit for, the ‘most’ being Raigeis. Lucrece was only an adept. Her family had no real standing in d’Aulnois clan. She didn’t attract attention. Yet she had quick wits. Her innate kindness was a rare commodity in Clan Letheina. And had probably attracted Romert first. As court liaison, he had learned to look past the way the Enclave measured people.
“I will tell Romert. Hopefully, this is far enough in advance that he can avoid court duties for an afternoon.” She gave Alstera a spontaneous hug. “Until then, Alstera.”
She infused joy in her response before Lucrece flitted away.
Then her smile dropped, and a frown creased her brow.
Alstera hadn’t considered her own future after Letheina died and the clan chose a new leader. After excelling at her Trials, she had expected a celebration. Letheina had merely announced that she would continue her studies with Rombrey. The plan allowed Alstera to pursue her own interests, so she obediently followed the order. Rombrey let swing her from subject to subject or delve so deeply she passed even his understanding—until last Yule, she realized. His watch on her interests had sharpened then. His orders to re-learn the accepted tenets and the forbidden spells had started then.
Her friends had taken so many different paths. A few were contracted for their magical skills to cities and countries far beyond Mont Nouris. Several were stationed to border outposts and fought Frost Clime. A handful—like her brother—were attached to the Enclave legation to the palace. Many of those had wedded and were building a family.
She had drifted. She realized it, now. Her freedom was only a glass cage. She could see out, but she didn’t go beyond the Enclave’s walls. Her liaisons with various men were approved, but she could hear Letheina and Raigeis and even Rombrey poking gentle fun at the men. Their mockery persuaded her to move to someone new. Researching spells amused her, but she never did anything significant with those spells. She had wanted to win her grandmother’s approval by seeking methods to increase a wizard’s puissance; instead, she had been played at the end of a line. A line that her great-uncle had jerked several times in the past weeks.
Did Rombrey prepare her to replace him? Romert must think so, or Lucrece wouldn’t have mentioned it?
She pressed her fingers to the frown, but she could not smooth the lines away. She did not want to sit in a tower, imparting information to new wizards, training the best with deeper spells, emerging when the ArchClan or the Aged Sages needed facts about the past or about power. Gods, how boring.
Had Letheina planned years ago for Alstera to take Rombrey’s place as the sage for the entire Enclave?
How little her grandmother knew her.
Or cared about her.
She turned, and as she turned, a hand grasped her arm. She felt a Shield descend. Power sparkled in her fingers at this presumption—then died as she saw who had grabbed her.
He dropped his hold. “They’ve arrested Nevil.”
She looked up at her friend’s father and didn’t know what to say. “Yes. I discovered it this morning.” She did not mention her eavesdropping.
“They have him in a cell at Moot Hall. They won’t let me visit him.”
“You know what he was engaged in, don’t you?”
“He sought a method to increase our puissance, to defeat Frost Clime.”
“And Dragon Rising.”
Even with the Shield up, she worried about his open statement of Dragon Rising. No one mentioned the dragons openly. Banished to the Wastes after Dragon Dark centuries upon centuries ago, the dragons were more legend than history.
Sweat beaded Crispin’s brow. “Nevil was seeking information about the Nexus, the very linkage that the Fae have urged the Enclave to resume since the first comeis was bound to the ArchClan. He wasn’t stealing power from anyone. He would have been better served to have gone to the Wastes and reported back.”
“If he survived.”
“Nevil would survive. I know my son.” He glared at the dais where the ArchClan still sat, a queen in state. “She will never admit Dragon Rising, will she?”
His gaze pinned her, squirming like a bug in a child’s insect box. “Nevil said once that you are also investigating how to increase power. In her own house! How have you kept it secret? Or do they know and turn a blind eye to you while they imprison my son?”
She lied. She didn’t know what else to do. “I gave up my investigations into that. It led nowhere helpful. Nevil should have admitted that once he discovered the only method was the forbidden Nexus.”
“Nevil discovered—the people he trusted lied. They claimed he worked the Nexus. He didn’t. My son wouldn’t touch the forbidden. I have heard, though, of another method.”
“What other method?”
“Do you think I’ll tell you? I’ll find myself in a cell alongside my son when you report it to your uncle the magister.”
“I didn’t report Nevil to my uncle, Crispin. Or to anyone else. We talked, last spring, about our defeats by Frost Clime. Not about Dragon Rising. It was after all those wizards were killed at Iscleft.” The older man nodded, remembering, matching what she said to what his son must have told him. “We have no defense against wyre, and they were fools to confront them without backing by the Fae and their swords. That’s when we talked of it, Crispin. Both of us thought a linkage would work. I wish he’d given up when I did,” she lied again, hoping the truth that preceded it would bolster the lie. “Did Nevil find a linkage before his arrest?”
“Not Nevil, no. I heard of it last week, after that wizard was killed. And that’s another problem your grandmother and your uncle are ignoring. Two killed, here inside Enclave walls. A wizard and an adept. By wyre.”
“We have no proof of the wyre. My uncle says so.”
“Your uncle says so,” he mocked.
“What have you heard?”
“I won’t answer that. I can’t. I will say this: don’t go out on a moon-turn night, Alstera, not without a swordsman to guard you. My family will have heavy protection, I promise you.”
“Crispin—.” But he had left her nothing to say except, “My thanks for the warning.”
“Heed it, Alstera.”
“I will. Can you tell me anything more of this other method?”
“I know nothing. Nothing definite. And your uncle will only want what’s definite.”
“I don’t run to my uncle. Ask Nevil; he knows.”
“I would if I could,” he retorted, and once again she saw the pain in his eyes. “They won’t let me talk to my own son.”
She brushed her hand down his arm. “Then know this: My uncle thinks nothing good of me or of anyone except his own children.”
He laughed. “That’s ripe, it is, since his daughter—.” Then he clamped his mouth shut.
“Was Malinde your source?”
He relented. “No. Briella.”
“My cousin Briella? Raigeis’ daughter? She is a minor adept.”
“A minor adept, the very ones who are desperate to unlock their powers.”
Startled at words so similar to Faone’s, Alstera gaped.
“Yes, they think their powers are locked.”
“How can their powers be locked? They are trained in all the elements. They are tested in all the elements. Their tutors would have to collude somehow.”
“I do not know that. Konarr said—.”
Konarr was a d’Aulnois adept, courting Briella while Raigeis frowned. But Briella was six years past her Trials. She would never be more than a clumsy adept. Raigeis, therefore, had not forbade the couple’s attachment. “I thought Briella was your source.”
“Konarr told me what Briella was doing, after Nevil was arrested. He wanted to warn me, but Nevil wasn’t using the method he described.”
She felt Crispin test his Shield’s strength. Even though it felt intact to her, the man backed off his earlier candor. “I have said too much. Talk to Briella.”
“If you want me to intervene on Nevil’s behalf—.”
“Can you? Did you not just say that your uncle thinks nothing good of you?”
“I can tell Rombrey. His word holds weight with his sister. What do you know of this method to unlock puissance?”
“They are channeling power in their own lifesparks.”
“Lifesparks? That sounds like blood spells, Crispin. That is also forbidden.”
“Not blood spells. I do not know the particulars. Konarr did not. Briella didn’t—couldn’t show him. But this method allowed her to channel power she didn’t know she had.”
“How can Briella have power that she cannot wield?”
“Talk to Briella. She is in your own house. If she’ll talk to you. She has no reason to share her information with the greatest wizard in the Enclave. And talk to your great-uncle Rombrey. You are right; the ArchClan will listen to her brother. She has certainly not listened to my mater Charanaise,” he added bitterly.
“Crispin.” Yet what could she say?
“No more.” He dropped the Shield and walked away even as she reached to stop him.
People flowed past while Alstera tried to sort thought all he had said—and not said.
I will go with Faone. I’ll go alone if I must. I will meet this outlander Sanglier and discover how he has so impressed her. Sanglier’s lies about a training designed to cripple wielders of power had to be stopped.
And she needed access to Nevil. If the Enclave guards had instructions to prevent visits from his family, they would block her visit as well. Unless she had approval from the ArchClan herself or one of the Aged Sages, who decided the fate of those who broke the tenets or meddled with the forbidden.
Perrault’s magisters kept a tight grip on his visitors. The Drakon had no liking for Clan Letheina. Of the remaining three Aged Sages, the only one who might bend the no-visitors edict for her would be Galfrons. Her grandmother would be an easier approach.
Would she taint Rombrey’s approach on Nevil’s behalf if she made her request tonight?
Could she even guarantee that Rombrey would intercede for Nevil?
What a coil.