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The Will of the Empress

Tamora Pierce

  The Will of the Empress

  Tamora Pierce



  To my intelligent, talented, idealistic, imaginative, enthusiastic fans, of all ages, of both sexes, of all religions and races and ethnic backgrounds: you give me hope for the present and future. You’re the reason why I love to keep doing what I do. Nobody—but nobody—has cooler fans than I have. Thank you so much for taking my books into your lives.

  Table of Contents

  Cover Page

  Title Page
























  Cast List




  January Wolf

  February Storm

  March Carp

  April Seed

  May Goose

  June Rose

  July Mead

  August Wort

  September Barley

  October Blood

  November Snow

  December Hearth

  Sunsday, Moonsday, Starsday, Earthsday, Airsday, Firesday, Watersday



  The 12th day of Wort Moon

  The year 1041 K. F. (after the Fall of the Kurchal Empire)

  In the palace of Duke’s Citadel, Summersea, Emelan

  Lady Sandrilene fa Toren sat in the room that was her study in her uncle’s palace. In her hands she held a thread circle, one that included four lumps spaced equally apart. It was a symbol not just of her first magical working, but of the magical bond she shared with her foster-brother and two foster-sisters, who had been away from home for many months. Today was Sandry’s birthday, and she missed them. Once she could have reached out through their connection without even touching the thread, and spoken with them, magic to magic, but not in the last two years. They had traveled far beyond reach, into lands and experiences Sandry couldn’t share.

  “Daja at least should have been here,” she said, and sniffed. “She was supposed to come home a year ago. But no. She wanted to see more of Capchen, and Olart—”

  Someone knocked on her door. Sandry hid the circle under a fold of her skirt. “Come in, please,” she called, her voice light and courteous.

  A footman entered. He carried a parcel wrapped in oiled cloth and tied with ribbons secured by a large wax seal. “My lady, this has come for you,” he said with a bow.

  Sandry’s mouth trembled. Her hope that the package might be from her brother or sisters evaporated at the sight of its seal. Only Ambros fer Landreg sends packages like this to me, she thought, cross. No gifts or nice, long books and letters from him. Only dreary old accounts from my estates in Namorn.

  “Please set it here,” she ordered, patting her desk. The footman obeyed and left her alone with the parcel.

  Other people get to have parties and presents and outings with their friends when they turn sixteen, Sandry reflected unhappily. I get another fat package of dry old reports about cherry crops and mule sales from Ambros.

  I’m not being fair, she told herself. I know that. I also know I don’t want to be fair.

  Wearily, she gave the thread circle a last check, pressing each lump between her thumb and forefinger. Each one stood for a friend. Each was cool to the touch. The others were too far away for their presence to even register in the circle.

  Sandry tucked the thread into the pouch around her neck and hid it under her clothes. She blinked away tears as she thought, I was just fooling myself, hoping they’d be home by now.

  She returned her attention to the package. Ambros probably had no idea his tedious reports would arrive today, she reminded herself in her prudent cousin’s defense, propping her chin on her hand. And Uncle Vedris and Baron Erdogun gave me presents at breakfast. There’s to be a get-together with my Summersea friends tonight. I’m just being petty, sulking over this, too. But really, who wants to go over crop reports and tax documents on her birthday?

  With bright, cornflower blue eyes set over a button nose, she stared longingly out of the open windows. Her pale skin still bore the light bronze tint it always picked up in the summer, just as her light brown hair, neatly braided and pinned in a coronet on her head, was gilded with sun streaks. Her cheeks were still girlishly plump, but any touch of youthful shyness those cheeks gave her face was offset by her round and mulish chin. Even at sixteen, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knew her own mind.

  She was dressed simply in a loose blue summer gown of her own weaving, sewing, and design, a gown that would never show a wrinkle or stain, no matter what she had done with her day. Sandry was a thread mage, with the right to practice as an adult. She tolerated no wayward behavior in any cloth in her presence. Her stockings never dared escape their garters, any more than her gowns dared to pick up dirt. Every woven scrap in Duke’s Citadel had learned the girl’s power since she had come to look after her great-uncle Vedris.

  The day’s fading, Sandry told herself. I should do something before dinner besides pout.

  She thrust the bulky package aside.

  “Do you know, the only time I ever see you shirk your duty is when Ambros’s packages arrive.” While Sandry daydreamed, Duke Vedris IV had come to stand in the study’s open door. He leaned there, a fleshy-faced, powerfully built man in his mid-fifties, dressed in blue summer cotton of her weaving and stitching. While his clothes were plain and his jewelry simple, there was no denying his aura of power and authority. No one would ever mistake him for a commoner. Neither would they mistake his obvious affection for the great-niece born of his wayward nephew and a wealthy young noblewoman from Namorn.

  Sandry blushed. She hated for him to see her at any less than her best. “Uncle, he’s so prosy,” she explained, hearing the dreaded sound of a whine creep into her voice. “He goes on and on about bushels of rye per acre and gross lots of candles until I want to scream. Doesn’t he understand I don’t care?”

  Vedris raised his brows. “But you care about the accounts for Duke’s Citadel, which are just as thick with minutiae,” he pointed out.

  “Only so you won’t,” she retorted. When Vedris smiled, she had to fight a smile of her own. “You know what I mean, Uncle! If I don’t stop you from worrying over every little detail, you might fret yourself into a second heart attack. At the rate Ambros goes on, I’m the one who will have a heart attack.”

  “Ah,” said the duke. “So you need an altruistic reason to take an interest, rather than the selfish one that this is your own inheritance from your mother, and your own estates.”

  Sandry opened her mouth to protest, then closed it. Something about that sounds like he just turned it head over heels on me, she thought. I just can’t put my finger on what.

  “Very well, then,” Vedris continued. “I submit that by looking so conscientiously after your affairs and his own—I know he has properties in his own right—it is quite possible your cousin Ambros courts a heart attack.” He straightened. “Just because your Namornese inheritance is in land, and in Namorn, is no reason for you to treat it lightly, my dear.” He walked off down the hall.

  Sandry put her hands up to cool her cheeks, which were hot with embarrassment. I’ve never gotten a scolding from him before, she thought with dismay. I don’t care for it at all!

  She glared at the ribbons on the pac
kage of documents. They struggled, then ripped free of the wax seal and flew apart. With a sigh, Sandry grasped the edges of the folded wrapping and began to remove it.

  The 18th day of Blood Moon

  The year 1041 K. F.

  The Anderran/Emelan border

  After several side trips following their original journey to Kugisko in Namorn, Dedicate Initiate Frostpine of Winding Circle temple and his student Daja Kisubo finally crossed back into Emelan. Although it was late in the year, the weather still held fine. The skies were a brilliant blue without a single cloud, the breeze crisp without being cold. Daja sighed happily.

  “Another week and we’ll be home,” she commented, turning her broad, dark face up to the sun. She was a big young woman with glossy brown skin, a wide mouth, and large, perceptive brown eyes. She wore her wiry black hair in masses of long, thin braids wrapped, coiled, and pinned at the back of her head, an elegant style that drew attention to the muscled column of her neck. Her traveling garments were light brown wool with orange patterns, sewn into a tunic and leggings in the style of her native people, the Traders. “I’ll be close enough to mind-speak with Sandry any day—well, I could now, but I’d have to strain to do it, and I’d rather wait. She’ll have a million questions, I know.”

  Frostpine grinned. He was brown like Daja, but where her build was solid, his was wiry, his muscles cables that lined his long body. He wore his hair wild around a perfectly bald crown and kept his beard in the same exuberant style. His Fire dedicate’s crimson robes were every bit as travel worn as hers. “You can’t blame Sandry,” he pointed out. “We were supposed to be home the summer before this.”

  “She’d have questions anyway,” Daja said comfortably. Before Sandry had moved to Duke’s Citadel, she had shared a house at Winding Circle with Daja and their other foster-brother and foster-sister, Briar and Tris. “She always has questions. Well, she’s going to have to come to Discipline for answers. I won’t spend forever mind-speaking, and once I get back in my own room, I’m not coming out for a week.”

  Frostpine reined his horse up. “Discipline?”

  Daja halted her own mount and turned to smile at her scatterbrained teacher. “Discipline cottage?” she asked, gently reminding him. “My foster-mother Lark? I live there when you’re not dragging me everywhere between the Syth and the Pebbled Sea?”

  Frostpine ran a big hand through his flyaway hair. “Daja, how old are you?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Sixteen,” she said even more patiently. “On the thirtieth of Seed Moon, the same day I mark for my birth every year.”

  “I should have thought of it sooner,” he said mournfully. “But I swear, as I get older, the harder it gets to think…Daja, Winding Circle has rules.”

  She waited, running a finger over the bright piece of brass that wrapped the palm and back of one hand. The metal was as warm and supple as living skin, a remnant of a forest fire, powerful magics, and Daja’s ill-fated second Trader staff.

  Frostpine said, “You probably know the rule already, at least for most of the temple boarding students. At sixteen, they must take vows, pay for their boarding and classes, or leave. And only those who have not attended temple school as children may attend as paying adults.”

  “Of course,” Daja said. “There’s a ceremony, and they give the residents of the dormitories papers to show they’ve studied at Winding Circle. But that’s not for Sandry or Briar or Tris or me. We aren’t temple students. We study with some temple dedicates, but not all of our teachers are temple. We live with Lark and Rosethorn at Discipline, not in the dormitories. And we’re proper mages. We’re—we’re different.”

  Frostpine was shaking his head. “My dear, if you four still needed a firm education, we might be able to make a case, at least until you earned a medallion as the adult mages do,” he said quietly. “But the fact is that you have your mage’s medallion. As these things are measured, you were considered to be adult mages when you received them, fit to practice and to teach. Of course, you were too young to live on your own then. But now? Unless you are prepared to give your vows to the gods of the Living Circle, you will not be permitted to stay at Discipline.”

  Daja put her hand on the front of her tunic. Under it, hanging on a cord around her neck, was the gold medallion that proved that the wearer was a true mage, certified by Winding Circle to practice magic as an adult. She, Sandry, Tris, and Briar had agreed not to show it until they were eighteen unless they had to prove they were accredited mages. It was almost unheard-of for one thirteen-year-old to receive it, let alone four. Their teachers had been careful to let them know they had gotten it not only because they were as powerful and controlled as adults. Possession of a medallion also meant they had to answer to the laws and governing mages of Winding Circle and the university at Lightsbridge. “A leash,” Briar had described it, “to prove to the law we won’t run loose and pee on their bushes.” Their teacher Niko had replied that his description was “crude, but accurate.” Given that warning, and the fuss people made when they learned she had the medallion, Daja showed it as little as possible.

  Frostpine bit his lip, then went on. “I can put you up over my forge for a week or two, but after that they’ll make a fuss. You should be able to stay with Lark for a couple of nights, but she does have at least one new student living with her. Perhaps you could go to Sandry’s?”

  Daja was a smith, with intense bonds to fire, but for all that, she was normally slow to anger. Something in what he had said lit the tiniest of sparks. I don’t know if he realizes it sounds like he wants me out of the way, she thought, heat tingling in her cheeks. Or like I can throw myself on my foster-sister’s charity. Of course he didn’t mean it to sound as if he wants me out of the way. Even if we have been living in each other’s pockets for longer than we’d first expected to. We didn’t intend to stay so long in Olart, or Capchen, or Anderran. We didn’t plan to spend a whole extra year and a half away after Namorn.

  “Daja?” Frostpine asked hesitantly.

  I can’t look at him, she thought. I don’t want to cry. I feel all…lost. Funny.

  “We should get moving,” she said, nudging her horse into motion. The sky remained cloudless, but now the day felt gray. Her eagerness to go back had faded.

  “Daja, please talk to me,” Frostpine said. “You can stay with me or with Sandry. Frankly, I had expected you would want a house, perhaps even a forge, of your own, since you’re of age. Certainly you can afford it. You haven’t taken vows of poverty.”

  He’s smiling at me—I can hear it in his voice, she thought. I should smile back, not worry him. But I feel empty. Lost, like when the Traders declared me outcast because I was the only survivor of that shipwreck. Why didn’t Sandry warn me, all those letters she’s been writing? She babbled of the duke’s health and something or other Lark wove or she embroidered, but wrote no word of not being able to return to Discipline. Of course not. She has family. The duke, and her cousins in Namorn. But me…I’m cast out of my home. If I don’t have Winding Circle, what do I have?

  Briar and Tris will be in the same basket when they come home, Daja realized. They’ll be outcasts, too.

  I suppose my lady Sandrilene thought we’d be happy to live as poor relatives. She doesn’t know what it’s like, always being on the edge of homelessness. She’ll expect us to be one cozy little family again, only living on her money, until she marries, or His Grace dies…And I’ll be left with no home again.

  Daja shook her head. It was all a mess, one she didn’t want to discuss.

  She forced herself to smile at Frostpine. “Where do we stop tonight?” she asked. “Let’s worry about the other business when we’re closer to Summersea, all right?”

  The 26th day of Blood Moon

  The year 1041 K. F.

  Summersea, Emelan

  The first visitor to the house and forge at Number 6 Cheeseman Street was Sandry. Daja could feel her nearness through the magical connection they shared, though Daja�
�s heart had been in such turmoil that she had refused to open that connection to speak to her foster-sister. Now, feeling both apprehensive and angry, she waited for the housemaid to show Sandry into her study.

  Sandry thanked the maid and waited for her to leave before she turned on Daja. “I have to learn from your teacher that not only have you been in Emelan two weeks, but you went and bought a house of your own?”

  Daja scowled at the shorter girl. “Spare me the ballads,” she replied. “You knew very well I was close. I could hardly sleep for you bothering me to open my mind.”

  “Why didn’t you let me in? Why didn’t you tell me anything?” cried Sandry.

  Daja had bottled up her feelings since Frostpine had said that the home she looked forward to was home no longer. During the ride to Winding Circle and her reunion with her foster-mother Lark and her temple friends, Daja had shown a smooth and smiling face. She had quietly found a Summersea house with a smith’s forge already attached, then picked out furnishings so she could move in as soon as possible. To everyone—merchants, dedicates, the old smith whose home she had bought, her new servants—she had pretended that setting up her own household was just what she had in mind.

  She was tired of pretending. “Tell you that I was being cast out of Winding Circle because I no longer fit?” she asked quietly. “Tell you so you might offer me charity, or so His Grace might offer me charity? How long until that charity ran out, and I was left on my own again, Sandry? First I lose my family, then the Traders, then Winding Circle. I need my own place. A home no one can take from me.”

  Sandry’s lips trembled. “So you cast me out. You said I was your saati.” A saati was a true friend of the heart, someone who was trusted without reserve. “I thought the friendship of saatis lasted forever.”

  “But first I need to heal. I can’t have you picking and prying and worrying inside my mind,” Daja said, her face and voice still under control. “I need to tend to myself.” Her voice rose slightly. “You didn’t even warn me. You’ve been to Discipline. Did anyone ever say, well, you’re sixteen, you can’t move back here even if you wish?”