Chapter 1

Caer Adurel

Springhint 9, 2446

A whistle shrilled from on high. Evaine-sa-Orowan doffed her helmet. Sweat plastered her short, black hair to her scalp. "Gail! What is it?" Evaine's voice rang up the walls of the High Tower to her sister.

"Two great-mules," Gail shouted. "Galloping up Longbeachport Road. A man riding one. Bareback.” Evaine flinched. The man, Goddess-in-Her-Five-Aspects have mercy on him, had no sidesaddle. He might turn soprano. “I don’t see why he’s running!”

Evaine turned to her students. "Daphne, fetch the Swordmistress.” Evaine's real weapon came off the benches and looped across her back. "The rest of you, draw steel. Return here. Fast! And remember. Bureaucratics makes you stronger.” They’d been practice fencing, dulled wooden blades, Evaine taking one after the next. She was less winded than any of them, but the padding under her chain mail was still sweat-soaked. Now they got to practice being the Caer’s guards.

By and by, the Swordmistress appeared. "Steel?" she queried. Evaine formally outranked the Swordmistress, but listened carefully to the older woman's advice. Besides, they were the best of friends. They had common interests, little money, and no Circle.

"The man,” Evaine answered. “He could be chased by bandits. Better safe than sorry. Besides, it’s good practice for students to deal with the supply warden.” The greatmules, blowing heavily, slowed at the gate.

"I know that man," the Swordmistress announced. "Timothy Lottason. Dealer in spices and books. Never drunk."

The man's dry voice came faintly over the wheeze of the mules' breathing. "Demons!" the man babbled, rolling off his mule into Evaine's arms. Swordmistress helped Evaine lower him to the ground. Evaine opened her canteen, letting him swallow from the diluted vinegar. "Demons," he coughed. "All dead and ruined and sliced to pieces. Dead. Dead."

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