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Sandry's Book

Tamora Pierce


  Circle of Magic

  Sandry’s Book

  To Gwen E. Meeks,

  who gave me the original title of this book,

  which served me through three drafts—

  may your writing be as rewarding for you

  as mine has been for me




  Title Page

















  About the Author

  The Circle of Magic Books




  In the Palace of Black Swans, Zakdin, capital of Hatar:

  Blue eyes wide, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren watched her near-empty oil lamp. Her small mouth quivered as the flame at the end of the wick danced and shrank, throwing grim shadows on the barrels of food and water that shared her prison. When that flame was gone, she would be without light in this windowless storeroom.

  “I’ll go crazy,” she said flatly. “When they come to rescue me, I’ll be raving mad.” She refused to admit that, with this room locked from the outside and hidden by magic, a rescue was hopeless.

  “I’ll draw the mob away from here, far away,” Pirisi had whispered through the keyhole, speaking in her native Tradertalk. “You’ll be safe until the smallpox has run its course. Then I’ll return for you.” But her nurse had never returned. Right outside the door, the mob had caught and killed her because she was a hated Trader. With Pirisi dead, no one would even know where Sandry had spent her last days.

  Her light wobbled and shrank.

  “If only I could catch it in something!” she cried. “Like Trader-wizards catch the winds in their nets—

  “A net is string,” she interrupted herself. “And string is thread—”

  She had thread in the workbasket she had grabbed when Pirisi dragged her from her room. The basket’s contents had kept her from giving up completely before this, as she embroidered until her eyes refused to focus. She had thread aplenty, in coils and in her work.

  “I’m no mage,” she argued, resting her head on one hand. “I’m just a girl—a noble girl, worse yet. Like that maid said, ‘Good f’r naught but to be waited on and to marry.’ Good-for-naught, that’s me—”

  Tears filled her eyes, making the lamp flame quiver even more.

  “Crying won’t help!” she snapped. “I have to do something! Something besides weep and talk to myself!” She dragged her workbasket over. Fumbling, she yanked out three coils of silk, one green, one pale gray, one bright red. Swiftly, she arranged them: one in her lap, one to her left, one to her right.

  The light was down to a blue core and its wavering orange skirt.

  Gathering the ends of the threads in her left hand, she pulled them together in a knot, tying it as snugly as she could. Finding long dressmaker’s pins in her basket, she pinned the knot to a barrel to anchor it. Her fingers shook; sweat crawled down her face. She didn’t want to think of what would happen if this didn’t work.

  Worse, there was no reason for it to work. Pirisi, the Trader and servant, had magic. Lady Sandrilene fa Toren was good only to be waited on and to marry.

  “Nothing to lose,” she said, and took a deep breath. “Nothing at all.” Aboard the Trader ships their mimanders—mages—called to the winds as if they were friends who could be invited to stay. “Come on,” she told the dying flame. “Come here, won’t you? You’ll last in these threads longer than you will in that lamp.”

  That lamp guttered. The flame was gobbling the few drops of oil that remained in its bowl.

  The girl started her braid. The green thread wrapped around her fingers like a strangling vine. The gray slithered to the floor like a snake. The red tangled with itself.

  “Uvumi—patience. It is everything,” Pirisi had often told Sandry. “Without patience magic would be undiscovered—in rushing everything, we would never hear its whisper inside.”

  “Uvumi,” Sandry whispered in Tradertalk. She straightened the threads, one on each side, one in her lap. Closing her eyes, she found that she was much calmer when she couldn’t see her work or the lamp. She didn’t really need to see, to do something as easy as a braid. In her mind, her threads gleamed brightly. They called specks of light from all around her and tangled them in their strands.

  The flickering lamp went out; she opened her eyes. The wick was dead and black. Through and around her braid, light shone steadily, filling the room with a soft, pearly glow.

  “Did I know I could do that?” she whispered.

  The braid-light wavered.

  “All right,” she said, gathering the threads once more. “But I have to sleep, you know.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. With a whispered “uvumi,” Sandrilene fa Toren went back to work.

  In the southeastern Pebbled Sea:

  When she sat up and looked at herself, Daja thought she was a ghost. Her skin was all sparkly white. Had an enemy mimander turned her from a brown Trader into a white one? Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?

  She ran her swollen tongue over cracked lips, tasted salt, and grimaced at her own foolishness. This was no mimander’s doing. It was what happened when a sea-soaked girl went to sleep and didn’t wake until the sun was high overhead. She brushed herself off, salt flakes dropping onto her makeshift raft. White grains got into her many cuts and scrapes, where they burned like fire.

  Her family ship was gone, sunk in a storm that their mimander could not stop or get rid of. The Trader god, Koma, known for peculiar acts, had chosen Daja to be the only one left alive, floating on a square wooden hatch cover.

  All around her lay a spreading pool of wreckage. She saw tangles of rope and lumber, shattered crates, smears of color that were precious dyes from their cargo. Bodies also drifted there, the silent remains of her family. Daja’s lips trembled. How long would it be until she joined them? Should she jump into the water now and end it? Drowning was quicker than starvation.

  Something thumped nearby: an open leather chest slammed against a mast. Again it thumped against the wood as water swelled, then flattened beneath it. She could just glimpse its contents, some bundles and dark glass bottles. It was what Traders called a suraku—a survival box. They were kept everywhere on the ships. She had to get it, and she prayed that its contents weren’t soaked or ruined.

  Daja reached out. The box was beyond her grasp. She looked around for a long piece of wood to grab it—with no luck. Water surged in another slow roll, and her raft moved away from the wreckage. The box stayed behind.

  “No!” she cried. “No!” She strained to grab that precious thing, though yards now lay between her and it. “Come here! Come on, I—I order you!” She half-laughed, half-cried to hear such foolishness. “Come on,” she whispered, as she had when she coaxed the ship’s dogs to come to their food bowls. She was not very old, after all—she did not want to die. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she reached out and twitched her fingers as if she were beckoning to her pets.

  Later she would wonder if she had just imagined it, being crazy with the sun and terrified of death. Now she stared, jaw dropping, as the box pulled away from the mast and floated toward her. It stopped twice along the way. Both times she wiggled her fingers, afraid to move anything else. Both times the box came forward, until it bumped her hand.

  Very, very carefully, she drew her prize onto the hatch cover. It was indeed a suraku, lined with copper to keep the damp out and life in. The bundles were o
iled cloth, to keep their contents dry. The corks in the bottles had wax seals. Gently she felt through everything and grabbed a bottle. It took nearly all her strength to wriggle the cork out. When it popped free, liquid sprayed onto her face. Fresh water! Greedily, she drank most of that bottle before she came to her senses. If she guzzled it all now, there would be less for tomorrow. She had to save it. She fumbled to put the cork back in. Inspecting the other bottles, she saw they also held water.

  “Thank you, Trader Koma,” she whispered to the god of deals and rewards.

  In the bundles she found cheese, bread, apples. She ate carefully, in tiny bites, as her lips cracked open and bled. All thought of the future had vanished: for right now, she was gloriously alive.

  The suraku lasted for three days, and might have kept her for two more if she ate less than ever. In all that time, she saw no sign of ships. It was still early in the trading season—captains more cautious than her mother were still in port.

  Knowing her food was nearly gone, she tried to strike a deal with Koma and his wife, Bookkeeper Oti. “I don’t look like much now,” she told them, her voice only a thin croak, “but I’m a better deal than you think! I’m strong, I know most seaman’s knots—except maybe the pinned sheepshank, but I’ll work on that.” She bit her lip. She didn’t dare cry—it would mean losing water, with none to replace it.

  Far away, so far that it didn’t seem real, she heard the crack of canvas. Was it a dream? Slowly, she turned her head. She was in the trench of a swell—all she could see were the peaks of water on either side.

  Her nostrils flared. The wind blew as the trench she was in rose and flattened. New smells drifted into her nose. Breathing deep, she recognized the dull odor of brass riding on the back of the deep, rusty tang of iron.

  Metal meant people, didn’t it? Metal—except for the bands on her raft, and in the box at her side—went straight to the bottom without a ship to hold it up.

  “Ahoy!” A man’s voice sounded over the water. “Ahoy! Are you alive?”

  “Yes!” Daja cried. She kept a hand on her beautiful suraku. The other she stretched as high as she dared and waved carefully. If she fell in now, she was far too weak to swim.

  She lost track of time. It seemed like forever until she heard the splash of oars and saw a longboat come alongside. In its bow sat a lean white man. His large, dark eyes were set deep under thick brows and a heavy fringe of black lashes. He wore long, silver-and-black hair tied back. A Trader to the bone, she noted that his yellow shirt and gray breeches were linen and well made, not a sailor’s usual cheap wool.

  “Hello there,” he said, as casually as if they’d met at the marketplace. “My name is Niko—Niklaren—Goldeye. I’ve been looking for you. I’m sorry not to have found you sooner.” As sailors guided the boat closer, he reached for Daja and pulled her into the boat. Someone held a flask of water to her lips.

  “Wait!” she cried, voice rasping, as she fought to sit up. “My—my box! There!” She pointed. “Please—save it!”

  The sailors looked at Niko, who nodded. Only when they had brought the chest into the boat and stowed it next to her did she relax and drink their water.

  In Hajra, port city of Sotat:

  The first time the Hajran Street Guard caught Roach with a hand on someone else’s purse, they tattooed a X on the web of skin between his right thumb and forefinger, then tossed him into a big holding cell overnight. Nursing his sore hand, Roach went straight to the far edge of the chamber, where a watery beam of sunshine reached down from an opening in the wall. Patches of cushiony moss grew there. Sitting on the floor, Roach found that one of them made a fine pillow.

  Months later, a shopkeeper grabbed Roach as the boy helped himself to a few scarves. The Hajran Street Guard took him, tattooed an X on the web of his left hand, and tossed him into the same holding cell. The moss had grown to cover most of a corner. It made a soft couch where he could sleep and wait to be released in the morning.

  Roach’s current visit was his third: the guard had nabbed his entire gang of street rats in a jeweler’s shop. Most of them already had two X tattoos, which meant they got no third release from justice. All of them were thrown into the great holding cell. His moss now covered the entire corner and a good amount of floor as well. It was the most comfortable bed that he’d ever had, with room left over for the rest of his gang-mates to use it for a pillow.

  As others scrambled for a share of the slop the guard called supper, Roach whispered to his moss. “I won’t be back,” he explained. “Third time’s cursed. I’ll get the mines, or galleys, or shipyards. ‘Less I break out, it’s for life.” He smiled faintly. Life was a short thing now. No one lived more than two years in those places, and escapes were rare.

  For all that, he slept well. When he woke, it was Judging Day in Hajra.

  “Weevil,” brayed a guard at the door. Roach’s gang-mates sat up. “Dancer. Alleycat. Viper. Slug.”

  Roach hissed angrily. It was Slug that got them all in this fix, watching them steal instead of looking out for street guards. “Cheater. Turtle. Roach.”

  Roach hesitated. Should he make them come get him?

  A guard cracked a whip, looking at him. Roach decided to avoid the beating he’d get if the man had to drag him. With two X’s on his hands, he’d receive plenty of beatings in the future as it was. “Thank you,” he told the moss, and joined the rest of his gang.

  They were quick-marched past other cells, then up a long flight of stairs. On the level floors, the guard began to trot, urging the captives along with their whips. Roach was gasping when they were driven into a huge, echoing chamber.

  A woman in the gray robes of a magistrate sat behind a long table. People in street clothes stood in back of her. Clerks sat on each end of the table, scribbling as guards and civilians testified against criminals. Roach ignored the testimony that concerned his gang. These grand folk had already judged him, so why listen to their cackle?

  When the testimony was done, a clerk called out, “Weevil.” The gang leader was shoved in front of the judge.

  “Hands,” he ordered. The guards slammed Weevil’s hands down on the table, holding them so the X-shaped tattoos were visible. Like Roach, Weevil had two of them.

  “Mines,” the judge said. A guard shoved Weevil into a wooden holding pen at the rear of the chamber.

  Roach shut out the rest as the law officers worked their way through the gang. Instead he thought of those plants in the cell, how peacefully green the moss showed when even a tiny bit of sun touched it. Give him a green like that from a living plant over the light that danced in emeralds. That was hard color; the moss-glow was soft. The plant didn’t seem to need much earth to grow in, though it liked water. He’d given it part of his water ration when no one was looking. He didn’t mind being good to growing things, but he did object when others made fun of him for doing it.

  Twin pairs of rough hands picked him up, then dropped him in front of the magistrate’s table, jarring his ankles. He growled and fought as the guards dragged his hands out in front of him. He knew it was useless, but he didn’t care—they’d remember him, at least!

  The judge didn’t look at his face, only his hands. “Docks,” she said, and yawned.

  They were dragging Roach to a separate pen from the one that held Weevil and Viper when a light male voice said, “A moment.”

  It was not a request, but a command. The guards looked back. Roach did not.

  “May I see the boy again?” the man inquired.

  “Bring him.” The judge sounded bored.

  Roach was hauled back to stand in front of a civilian. This was no lawyer or soldier. His long, loose over-robe was a deep blue, dyed cloth that cost a silver penny the yard on Draper’s Lane. It was worn open over loose gray breeches, a pale gray shirt, and good boots. He carried only a dagger; it hung next to the purse on his belt.

  This was a Money-Bag, then, or an officer. Somebody big, for certain. Somebody who wore power lik
e a cloak.

  The Bag whispered to the judge, who made a face. He held something before her eyes, a letter with a beribboned seal on it. The judge glared at Roach, but nodded, and the Bag stepped away from her. “Their Majesties are inclined to mercy, as you are but a youth.” The judge rattled it off fast, a speech learned by heart. “You have a choice—the docks, or exile from Sotat and service at the—” She faltered.

  The Bag bent down to whisper, long, gray-streaked black hair tumbling forward to hide his face. Roach wondered if he was looking for a cute little servant boy, and grinned. Men who liked play-toys always regretted meeting him.

  The man straightened and looked around until his dark eyes caught and held Roach’s gray-green ones. There was something in that black gaze, something that had nothing to do with human play-toys. Roach’s sense of power held in check grew threefold when he met those eyes. They warned—and comforted—at the same time.

  Roach looked down.

  “You have a choice of the docks, or apprenticeship to the Winding Circle Temple in Emelan,” the judge went on, “until you take formal vows at the temple, or until its governing council rules that you are fit to enter society. Temple or docks, boy. Choose.”

  Choose? There were guards on the docks, nasty, wary fellows. What temple could hang onto a smart rat like him? Better yet, Emelan was far to the north of Sotat, fresh territory where no one knew who he was. “Temple,” he replied.

  “Make out transfer papers,” the judge told a clerk. “Master Niklaren”—this was to the blue-robed man—”will you take charge of him?”

  “Of course.”

  For a moment Roach’s heart raced: he might be able to run before he ever saw Emelan! Then he met the Bag’s eyes and gave up that idea. The man—Master Niklaren?—looked too wise to fall for any dodge he might pull.

  “I can’t make out papers for a ‘Roach,’” whined the clerk. “Not to a temple.”

  “This is a chance, lad.” Niklaren’s voice was light in tone for a man’s. “You can pick a name, one that’s yours alone. You can choose how you will be seen from now on.”