Donya's daughter is known as "Jaellyn the Unlucky" -- clumsy, seemingly frozen in childhood, and cursed to foul up any magic in her vicinity.
But when a series of strange and horrible murders in Allanmere seem to center around the handsome young priest courting her, Jael's talent for mayhem, and the secret surrounding her birth, may save the city.
Anne Logston: An Icon of the Creative Universe—A Master of Science Fiction and Fantasy Quill—Paver of Past, Present, and Future. Each of best-selling author Anne Logston's books have their own story, but can all be described as all highly character-driven with a lot of action. Her characters, especially Shadow, often have a touch of whimsy and sly humor. While still maintaining a light touch, she talks about the consequences of racism, defining your own identity, and what happens when magic becomes mixed up in everyday lives.
"I was born February 15, 1962 in Indianapolis, Indiana and grew up there and in the country in southern Indiana. I started to write fiction as soon as I could put intelligible words on paper. I quickly learned to type so I could put intelligible and LEGIBLE words on paper. I graduated from the University of Indianapolis in 1984 with an Associate's degree in computer sciences, for which I had no talent, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature, for which I had no practical use.
"After college, I spent six years masquerading by day as a bad-tempered but sane legal secretary, then coming home at night to assume my secret identity as a bad-tempered and mildly demented writer. After significant bootsole-to-buttocks encouragement from my best friend, Mary Bischoff, I reluctantly sent off my first manuscript and was blessed with a remarkably short search for a publisher. My first novel, SHADOW, saw print in 1991, and two years later I abandoned my "normal" life and descended completely into fantasy.
"I have a remarkably patient husband, Paul, who supplies the sanity in our marriage. Together we are owned by three cats, two dogs, and one snake. In my infrequent leisure time, I like to grow and/or cook strange and spicy things, and I am an avid collector of anything about vampires."
Chronological Order of the Shadow Series
Greendaughter (Prequel—Book 6)
Wild Blood (Prequel—Book 7)
Shadow (Book 1)
Shadow Hunt (Book 2)
Shadow Dance (Book 3)
Dagger's Edge (Sequel—Book 4)
Dagger's Point (Sequel—Book 5)
Jael pulled her knees up under her chin, pressing her back against the warm stone. This was her thinking place, a niche in the northeast parapet un-reachable to anyone lacking either Jael’s iron-strong fingers and toes or the inclination to creep precariously along the castle wall like a spider. In the spring, when the swamp flooded and winds wafted the swamp stench southward, her thinking place was almost unbearable, but now, in late summer, the swamp was mostly dry and the west wind was sweet. Jael felt comfortable here, surrounded on three sides by stone but able to look out over the eastern edge of the Dim Reaches where it met the forest in uneasy contest.
Right now her thinking place was the only spot in the castle where Jael could find a little peace and quiet. Today Mother and Father were meeting with the City Council, and there would be arguments and shouting; after that, Mother and Father would meet with their advisers, with more arguments and shouting. After that, if events followed their normal course, they would argue and shout at each other—or Mother would, at least; Father wasn’t the shouting sort, although council meetings always left them both prickly as an angry spineback. Then, if Jael was really unlucky and the whole council ruckus had been over her—it often was—there might be more angry words, this time directed at her.
Jael couldn’t remember having done anything too terrible in the last few days. Well, there was that unfortunate incident when she had sneaked to watch Nubric, one of the castle mages, working on the bathing springs, and the water elemental had gotten out of control and flooded the cellars. But it was hardly her fault if Nubric’s wards weren’t properly set, and nobody had caught her, anyway.
Jael sighed and shook her head mournfully. Even if she hadn’t done anything wrong, the council usually ended up talking about her anyway. If they weren’t arguing over whether or not she should be declared Heir, they were complaining about her failure to find a husband, or fretting over what people in the city were saying about her.
And the people of the city had plenty to say. Most of the city folk had seen elves aplenty, but few or none as odd-looking as she. Many elves were as short and slight as Jael, but only a very few of the Hidden Folk had such long, mobile ears as she did. Some elves had eyes as large and slanted as Jael’s, but theirs were brown or green or black, not the polished bronze of Jael’s eyes and her hair as well, which matched neither Donya’s dark brown braids nor Argent’s silver-white one. At least her boots covered her most unusual feature, the sixth toe on her left foot. Only a tiny number of the very oldest Hidden Folk had such extra digits.
If Jael’s singular appearance had given the city’s folk fuel for gossip, her single birth, almost exactly nine months after Donya and Argent’s marriage, had fanned the coals into flame. Jael didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about, but she knew that the rumors got worse ten years later, when the twins, Markus and Mera, were born. There’d been nothing but trouble ever since for Jael, and it was as likely as not that today’s council meeting, called on short notice, meant more trouble about her, or for her.
It seemed like the start of an abysmal day.
Out of the corner of her eye, Jael saw movement at the corner of the courtyard, where the secret gate led out of the castle grounds and out of the city as well. Just as she turned to look, a familiar small, dark-haired figure stepped out of the concealing bushes and strolled leisurely toward the castle.
Jael waved as vigorously as her somewhat cramped position would allow.
“Aunt Shadow!” she shouted delightedly.
The small figure looked up and waved back, and Jael took the shortcut down, scrambling dangerously down the ivy on the castle wall rather than climbing back up to the parapet and going down through the halls. Shadow met her at the bottom and suffered stoically through Jael’s energetic hug.
“Better not let your mother catch you up there,” Shadow said mildly.
“It’s the only place I can go to get away from the twins,” Jael sighed. “They follow me everywhere.”
“How old are they now? Ten?” Shadow mused. “Yes, about the age for following an older sister around, I guess. So how’s Donya and Argent?”
“Mother and Father are in council right now,” Jael said, sighing again. “And after the City Council, they’ll be meeting their advisers, and then—”
“And then arguing for another couple of hours over whether or not to pay attention to whatever those shriveled wheezers had to say,” Shadow chuckled. “Right, I know the routine. What’s the problem this time? Must be pretty dire for Doe to drag me back here.”
“When did she call the signet back?” Jael asked surprisedly, following Shadow to the secret door that entered Jael’s own rooms.
“Almost a month ago,” Shadow said. She threw herself on Jael’s bed, oblivious to the travel dirt on her clothes. “I was almost to the eastern coast. And I’m here to tell you that Fortune-be-damned ring popped off my finger at a most inconvenient time.”
“A month.” Jael shook her head. “Could be anything.”
“You?” Shadow grinned at her.
“That, too.” Jael flopped down on the bed beside Shadow. “Half the council wants me married and declared Heir, and the other half wants me quietly sent away somewhere so that everyone can forget about me.”
“Got any wine?”
“Uh-uh. Upsets my stomach. But there’s water in that jug.”
“Never mind,” she said. “I brought my own.” She rummaged through the pack and pulled out a skin of wine, drinking deeply.
“Hadn’t you better join Mother and Father in the council chambers?” Jael suggested.
“Nah. I won’t get an intelligent word out of them until they’re done with the City Council and their advisers,” Shadow said lazily. “That leaves me time for a bath and a meal, and I’ll meet them in their chambers. That is, if we can avoid the servants and the twins, so nobody rushes in and pulls Doe and Argent out of council.”
“The servants are no trouble,” Jael said negligently. “I sneak around them all the time. As for the twins, they’re lessoning in their study with either Sage Abrin or Sage Germyn until midafternoon. Then they have sword practice.”
“And what about you?” Shadow chuckled. “Shouldn’t you be having some lessons yourself?”
“Oh, I’m not very good at anything,” she said ruefully. “I can’t sit still long enough to study, and everything I try to memorize gets all mixed up in my mind. My penmanship is so clumsy that I can’t read my own script. I’m not strong enough for human-style swordfighting—I can hardly lift Mother’s sword, let alone use it—and I trip over my own feet when I try the elven way. Most of my tutors have all but given up on me. They don’t even bother anymore to complain to Mother and Father when I skip my lessons.”
“Oh, I was the same way at your age,” Shadow shrugged. “All feet and elbows. But I was surprised to see you here. Shouldn’t you still be in the Heartwood? It’s weeks yet before it starts getting too cold.”
Jael said nothing, staring at the ceiling until Shadow raised an eyebrow.
“Well, go on, little seedling,” Shadow prompted. “Let’s hear the bad news.”
“I didn’t go this summer,” Jael mumbled.
“I can see that,” Shadow said patiently. “But why not?”
“Mother thought I’d better stay home this year,” Jael said. She didn’t add that Donya’s decision had come as a considerable relief to her.
There had been quite a fuss when she was eight years old. Shadow thought, and Argent agreed, that Jael should be fostered in the forest; Donya had unexpectedly demurred, saying that Jael was too young to leave home. The balance shifted, however, only a few weeks later when Donya took Jael on her first hunt; at the moment Donya’s arrow struck the stag, Jael screamed, clutched her thin chest, and fell unconscious from her horse, breaking her left arm in two places.
“She has the makings of a beast-speaker,” Shadow had told Donya at Jael’s bedside after the healers had gone and Jael lay there feigning sleep. “It’s like her ears—as if all the old blood of the elves is coming back out in her.”
“I pray that’s what it is,” Donya said, sighing raggedly.
“If it is, she’s going to need guidance that we can’t give her,” Shadow said firmly. “All elves have at least a little magic in their blood, but Celene says there’s the makings of a mage in her, too, buried so deep it may not come out on its own. It all amounts to the same thing—she’s got to go to the forest for a teacher.”
Donya was silent for a long time, and when she spoke, it was so softly that Jael held her breath to hear the answer, peering cautiously through her lashes.
“Who were you thinking of?” the High Lady said at last.
“Let me take her to Mist,” Shadow said. “He’ll know how to deal with the wild blood in her. For her sake he’ll move closer to Inner Heart, where she can come back through the Gate whenever she needs to.”
Donya laughed ruefully.
“Are you sure, Shady, you’re not just trying to make him more accessible for your own purposes?”
“Well, I wouldn’t mind that, either. But look at it this way: The more I visit Mist, the more often I can check on her.”
“All right,” Donya said, sighing again. “I suppose it’s the best thing to do for now, at least.”
“Bet on it,” Shadow said firmly. And as the High Lady and her friend left the room, Shadow had glanced over her shoulder and grinned, winking deliberately at Jael.
The fostering had solved some of Jael’s problems. Mist was a kind and loving foster father, wise and patient with his flighty charge. He taught her all the elven skills he could—
tracking, recognition of plants as food, medicine, or even poison, learning to read the forest’s subtle signs that warned of weather changes or danger, and as much elven-style sword-fighting as Jael could manage (even Donya admitted that her own style of swordplay required a height and strength that her wiry but small daughter would never achieve). The elves accepted her wholeheartedly and never made Jael feel self-conscious about her appearance.
In many ways, however, her time in the forest was more difficult than living in the city. Jael could not hunt because the pain and fear of the prey sometimes sent her reeling, and the myriad small pains and deaths going on around her all the time often drove her to trembling tears. The control of a beast-speaker’s gift continued to elude her, despite the best teachers Mist could find.
Mist was a far more patient and less demanding teacher than Donya, but Jael knew she disappointed him with her clumsy hands and feet and seeming inability to concentrate on anything for more than a few moments at a time. Added to that was the uncanny bad luck that seemed to follow Jael, if she and Mist were preparing new furs for trade, the quick-tanning spell would as often as not leave half the skin moist and smelly. If they met other elves and stopped to share food and fire, the soupstone would unaccountably impart a rotten flavor to the stew, or the crackproofed cooking pots would develop mysterious holes and empty themselves unnoticed. If it rained, the waterproofed tent hides would drip on them all night. Mist no longer even tried to gamble when Jael was with him.
Jael’s health also suffered in the forest, despite all that the best elven healers could do for her. When the flowers bloomed, Jael’s eyes and nose ran like rivers, and in damp weather, her breath wheezed like a saw through wood. She always had to leave the forest and come home early in the autumn, before the autumn rains.
This year Donya had not sent her. The High Lady’s excuse, that the unusually wet spring had aggravated Jael’s raspy breathing and Donya feared for her health, seemed feeble; healers in the forest were as competent as those in the city, and even Mist’s temporary woven-switch camps seemed at least as good a shelter as the drafty stone castle. Jael suspected that Donya’s real reason had more to do with the debate raging over her heirship than it did the spring floods.
“Mmm,” Shadow mused. “One more thing to talk to your mother about. I’ll slip down to the baths, and you see if you can’t sneak me down some kind of a meal, will you?”
“All right, Aunt Shadow,” Jael said, grinning. “Under one condition.”
Shadow eyed Jael cautiously.
“What’s the price this time?”
“The story of what you were doing when Mother called the signet back.”
“Well, that’ll expand your education, that’s for certain,” Shadow said. “All right, little sapling, it’s a deal.”
“—so since there was still a day before the merchant caravan was going to leave, I got to make amends for the interruption,” Shadow finished. She dunked under the surface of the water again to rinse the soap out of her hair, knuckled water out of her eyes, and reached for another fish cake.
“Really? Head of a mercantile House, and you just walked out, just like that?” Jael was duly awed.
“Well, not ‘just like that,’“ Shadow chuckled. “I thought I already established that.”
“Well, didn’t he mind?” Jael pressed. “I mean, you’d stayed with him for two months!”
“Let me tell you something about men, little acorn,” Shadow said sagely. “They’re glad when you arrive, they’re glad while you’re there, but they’re also a little bit glad when you leave, too.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jael said crossly.
“Well, men usually don’t. But wait till you see the necklace he gave me,” Shadow grinned. “Worth a couple thousand Suns, at least. Almost makes up for all the stuff I didn’t steal from him. Hey, just wait, though, till I tell you about this gem merchant I did in Keradren—”
Jael settled herself back comfortably against the stone wall, letting Shadow ramble on, enjoying the sound of her voice while giving only slight attention to her story. She loved to hear Aunt Shadow tell stories about her travels; it wasn’t the stories themselves that were so exciting, but the way Shadow’s eyes sparkled and her voice scaled up and down excitedly and her hands flashed animatedly in gestures almost too rapid to follow. Sometimes Jael thought that Aunt Shadow had more life in her than there was in the whole city and forest put together.
Jael felt comfortable with Aunt Shadow, a rare sensation. Donya often called Shadow in when her unpredictable daughter became too much for her or asked uncomfortable questions. Shadow never flinched from a question, nor dissembled, nor talked around it, nor bothered overmuch with politeness and tact. Jael could speak plainly and frankly to the older elf about what bothered her and expect an equally frank answer in return, whether the subject was sex, death, Shadow’s own personal life, or what the peasants were saying about her. If there was a question Shadow couldn’t or wouldn’t answer, she said as much, and that was that. But she never refused to listen. Shadow even took Jael along when she gambled, and if she lost, she’d shrug and grin the same familiar grin, laugh, “It’s only coin,” and proceed to lift the winner’s purse on the way out anyway.
When Jael had first complained that she seemed to be a bone of contention to everyone in Allanmere, including her own parents, and couldn’t seem to do anything to her parents’ or instructors’ satisfaction, Shadow had pulled out a dagger and held it out, one sharp edge upright, over the table.
“See this?” Shadow said, touching the sharp edge gingerly. “Humans on the one side, elves always on the other. You can walk the dagger’s edge if your balance is good, but you’re likely to cut your feet in the walking. Allanmere tries to live on the dagger’s edge, and so do you, Jael. Right now you’re just feeling a little sore in the feet, that’s all.”
It had become their private joke, Jael’s sore feet.
One day Jael learned that Shadow was well over five hundred years old, and asked the elf why her hair was so much shorter than that of their mutual friend Aubry, the Guildmaster of the Guild of Thieves, who hadn’t even passed his first century. Shadow had been silent for a moment, and Jael wondered if she’d asked a bad question, but Shadow had grinned the same sideways grin when she answered.
“Well, little sapling,” she said, “his hair’s longer because it’s never been cut off. I cut my hair off not too long before you were born, and it’ll take a good many years to grow out
“Why did you cut it off?” Jael asked.
“I cut it off and gave it to a god,” Shadow said. “At least, I think it was a god.”
Shadow shrugged. “To swap for a cure for the Crimson Plague. You already know about the plague, don’t you?”
“But the histories say Mother and Father brought back the cure,” Jael argued.
“Well, they did, they did,” Shadow said amiably. “But not without help. Mist had a part in it, too, and so did I. Get your mother to tell you the story someday.”
“Why don’t you tell me?” Jael said practically.
“Sorry, sapling,” she said. “I think that one is your mother’s story to tell, not mine.”
But Donya had only blanched and changed the subject when Jael asked for the story. Certain questions, Jael had learned, elicited that reaction from her mother—why did Jael look the way she did, how had Donya and Argent gotten married, why had Jael been born without a twin, something unheard of in human-elven pairings.
Once she had confided in her mother that she sometimes felt so stifled in the city, as if nothing would satisfy her until she ran so far and so fast that the world fell away under her. To her dismay, Donya had gone white and hurriedly turned away, but that evening had come to Jael’s room, face taut and hands trembling, and quietly walked with her daughter out to the castle lawn and dismissed every guard on the grounds.
“Go on,” Donya told her, her voice hoarse. “Run as far as you can, as fast as ever you can, and then come back here to me.”
Jael had been puzzled and not a little frightened by her mother’s intensity, but she had obeyed, running there in the moonlight, her bare feet pounding through the grass until her breath boomed hollowly and pain stitched up her side, and when she could run no more, she staggered back to her mother, who looked tired but relieved, and Donya folded her daughter into her arms with a ragged sigh.
“Feel better now?” Donya murmured, and Jael, with no breath to spare, simply nodded.
“So do I,” Donya said strangely, bending to kiss Jael’s rumpled hair. “Let’s go back inside now.”
“So what’re you daydreaming about, little acorn?” Shadow said, squeezing the last of the water out of her hair.
“I heard one of Mother’s mages talking about me,” Jael said. “He said they’re calling me Jaellyn the Cursed in the city now. Last I heard it was just Jaellyn the Unlucky, and that was bad enough.”
“I wouldn’t take that too seriously,” Shadow comforted her. “Lady Ria, the wife of Sharl II, they called her Ria the Fey. For a while they were calling your own mother Donya the Sharp-Edged, which you could take a couple of ways if you like. For some reason humans seem to think it’s necessary to give rulers kind of doubtful nicknames.”
“Maybe I am cursed,” Jael sighed. “Everything I do seems to go wrong. And when I’m around, everything anybody else does goes wrong, too.”
“Now, now, nothing’s gone wrong when you were with me,” Shadow chided.
“What about when you took me along to watch when you did that moneychanger and the roof fell through with you on it?” Jael countered.
“Well, that wasn’t the bad luck,” Shadow laughed. “The bad luck was your mother finding out about it.”
“I don’t think it’s funny,” Jael said crossly. The one thing that sometimes troubled her about Aunt Shadow was the elf’s occasionally overconsistent levity.
“Neither did Donya,” Shadow admitted. “Sorry, sproutling, just trying to make you feel better. But you know, Jael, that couldn’t have been your fault anyway. Lirtik just got cheap and let the waterproofing spell lapse on the roof, and the supports just rotted out.” Shadow chuckled. “You know, in the confusion, I still got a pretty good haul out of that.”
“Most of which Mother and Father made you spend paying for Lirtik’s healer and a new roof,” Jael reminded her. “And you got off easy. I was confined to my rooms for a month.”
“That’s not the point,” Shadow said patiently. “The point is that you aren’t single-handedly responsible for all the bad luck in Allanmere, although I admit sometimes it looks like you’ve got hold of Fortune’s left hand and won’t let go. I’d feel sorry for you, but it looks like you’ve got that pretty well taken care of yourself. Lend me some clean clothes, and let’s go find your parents before the twins are done with their lessons.”
In this, however, as usual, Jael’s bad luck prevailed; as soon as Shadow wrapped a towel around herself and they stepped into the corridor, Jael and Shadow all but collided
with Mera and Markus, sweaty and grimy from their sword practice but their energy unabated.
“Shadow! Shadow!” Mera shrieked, throwing her arms around the elf; Markus followed suit, enveloping Shadow in a tangle of smelly hugs. Although the twins were only ten years old, sturdy, dark-haired Mera was already as tall as Jael, and a head taller than Shadow. Markus, slender and graceful like Argent, his silver hair tucked back behind delicately pointed ears, was only a little shorter and twice as bouncy.
“Where did you go? Where have you been?” Mera cried, whirling Shadow around and around until the elf retreated to put the wall at her back.
“It’s been more than a year,” Markus added. “Why have you stayed away so long? Have you brought us back anything nice?”
“I’ve been all sorts of places,” Shadow said patiently, “and I’ve been gone a long time because those places were so far away, mostly down around the south coast. And yes, I brought you something, but you aren’t going to get it until you let me get back to my pack in Jael’s room.”
No sooner were the words out of Shadow’s mouth than the twins all but carried her down the hall to Jael’s quarters, Jael trailing exasperatedly behind.
The twins did not quite dare to pass the door—Jael had made it clear, Donya and Argent supporting her, that her room was off limits on pain of death or dismemberment—but they bounced and chattered impatiently until Shadow rummaged through her pack and produced a pouch of sweets and a pair of cunningly carved bone flutes. Mera and Markus shouted with delight and vanished down the hall, loud and mismatched notes already echoing off the stone.
“Nobody in the castle will thank you for giving them those,” Jael said wryly. “They make enough racket as it is.”
“I didn’t think about that,” Shadow admitted. “I thought if they took an interest in music it might settle them down a little. Come to think of it, I’ve got something in here for you, too.” She rummaged through the pack and tossed a small pouch to Jael.
Jael opened the pouch and examined the contents interestedly. It contained nothing but a number of polished pieces of black volcanic glass, cut into different unusual shapes.
“It’s a game,” Shadow told her. “The pieces fit together in many different ways, but if you fit them together the right way, they make a perfect cube.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jael admitted, already trying to fit some of the pieces together. It was far more difficult than it had looked originally. “Where did you find it?”
“I found this in a mage’s shop,” Shadow said. “The mage said it was to train young initiates in patience and concentration. I was there selling a potion I’d come into possession of, and this little bauble just seemed to say, ‘Buy me for Jaellyn.’ So I did, and thankfully it had been a good day in the market. I thought it might cheer you up someday when you were a little”—Shadow chuckled— “sore in the feet.”
“Oh, Aunt Shadow, it’s a wonderful gift,” Jael said, grinning to acknowledge the joke. “And maybe it’ll teach me concentration and patience, too, eh?”
“For your instructors’ sake, I hope so,” Shadow agreed. “Now hide it away before the twins see it, and find me those clothes, will you?”
Jael’s tunic and trousers were too big for Shadow, of course, but not unmanageably so, and Shadow did not look too absurd with the sleeves and trousers rolled up.
“Now I’m going to talk to your parents,” Shadow said, giving Jael’s shoulder a squeeze. “I don’t imagine they’ll want you there, so I won’t take you with me. See if you can find someone to clean my clothes, will you, and when we’re done, you can join us for supper and I’ll have a few new stories to tell you.”
“Yes, Aunt Shadow.” Jael sighed and sat down on the bed.
Shadow paused in the doorway, then turned back.
“And don’t let your mother catch you on the walls,” Shadow said sternly, belying her tone with a grin and a wink. “Yes, Aunt Shadow,” Jael said solemnly, stifling an answering grin.
As soon as Shadow was gone, Jael slipped back out the hidden door to the castle grounds. At the west end of the north wall was another hiddendoor, this one opening to astairway. The stairway took Jael to the second level of the castle; another passageway took her to the uppermost walk, and Jael quickly slipped out onto the parapets.
From the upper parapets Jael could easily work her way down to the balcony of an empty room on the third floor of the castle. Jael had used that balcony many times before; she took the knotted rope from its hiding place at the bottom of a huge stone urn, tied one end to the base of that same urn for anchoring, and slid down the rope to the second-floor parapets. From there she had only to edge quietly to her listening spot, a comfortable niche outside her parents’ sitting-room window. From here Jael could carefully, if rather awkwardly, twist around to peer through the ivy framing the window so that she had a reasonably full view of the room.
High Lady Donya, still robed in her surcoat for council, was fussing while she poured Shadow a mug of wine.
“Sorry you were worried, Doe,” Shadow said, leaning back in her chair to put her feet up on the table. “But it takes time to find merchant caravans coming north.”
“You could have taken a boat,” Donya said exasperatedly. “The Brightwater joins up with the Wirrilind not far south, and that flows straight down to the south coast. You could’ve been back here in less than two weeks.”
“Boats.” Shadow grimaced. “Fortune blight the leaky things. If elves were meant to float around on the water they’d have webbed feet like a duck.”
“Well, I was worried!” Donya scolded. “And I would certainly think that in an emergency you’d—”
“All right, Doe,” Shadow said mildly, but Jael and Donya both knew that particular tone; it meant that Shadow wasn’t in the mood to take much more.
“I’m sorry.” Donya sighed raggedly. “I had a rough time in council this afternoon. Argent’s still there, talking to a few people separately.” She opened her jewel box and took out a ring, handing it to Shadow. “Here’s the signet back.”
Shadow shook her head as she slipped the ring back onto one slender finger.
“Didn’t realize what a lead rope I was tying around my neck when I agreed to keep this with me,” she said wryly. “Do you know what I was doing when this thing vanished off my finger?”
“I can imagine,” Donya said, chuckling.
“So tell me,” Shadow said, gulping her wine, “did I hopefully miss the crisis, or did my getting dragged out of my lover’s very arms have anything to do with your nasty council session, and maybe why you didn’t send Jael to the forest this summer?”
Donya shook her head amusedly.
“Gods, Shady, I suppose you know all about the temple, too?”
Jael’s ears twitched. That must be the Temple of Baaros; that particular temple figured prominently in many of Mother and Father’s late-night discussions, when they didn’t concern Jael herself.
“Temple?” Shadow asked, raising her black eyebrows. “Don’t tell me the sprout’s gone and joined one of those strange new celibate sects, and the elves are so disgusted they won’t let her visit?”
“Oh, Shady, don’t be ridiculous,” Donya chided. “No, the Temple of Baaros doesn’t have anything to do with Jaellyn— not directly, that is.”
“Well, start from the beginning, then,” Shadow said resignedly. “There’s plenty of wine. But try not to make it too long; I’ve had nothing but a bite or two, and I’m starving.”
“The Temple of Baaros opened not long after you left last year,” Donya told her. “I didn’t think anything of it at first— just another mercantile sect, god of profitable trade, you know the type. But it’s becoming a problem. The High Priest, An-karas, has been preaching that elves are soulless creatures, descended from the union of demons and animals.”
“Now, that’s imaginative,” Shadow laughed. “That explains the pointed ears, I guess, but could he explain why we don’t have tails?”
“It’s not funny,” Donya said impatiently. “Shadow, you haven’t been here, not enough to see what’s going on. The city hasn’t been the same since the Crimson Plague. You remember what happened then—humans blaming elves for the plague, riots, murders—”
“Oh, come now,” Shadow protested. “There’s always bound to be a fuss when something like that happens. After your wedding, when everybody was well again, things settled down again pretty quickly.”
“Yes, for the year before you turned the Guild over to Aubry and flew off to see the world,” Donya agreed, “it settled down. More than a third of the human population of Allanmere had died, Shady. But the resentment was still there, especially following so soon after your Guild—and consequently the elves—made such a comeback at the expense of the Council of Churches. People remembered that, Shady, especially the Council of Churches.”
“I’d have thought that lot would have gotten over it by that time,” she said. “Even old Vikram.”
“Vikram died in the Crimson Plague,” Donya told her. “And that wasn’t overlooked, either. Three years after that the elves discovered that new dye process and set the Dyers’ Guild back half its profits. Then five years later, when the elves discovered that gold up by North Heart and flooded the market with it so the value of the Sun dropped—”
“Oh, please,” Shadow chuckled. “Most of those forest elves had never held so much as a copper in their hands in their lives. Is it any wonder they threw their new wealth around foolishly?”
“Hmmm, seems I’ve seen a certain city elf do a bit of that herself, and she’d certainly had plenty of time to learn better,” Donya sniffed, but she had to chuckle at Shadow’s wide-eyed, innocent expression.
“Well, what’s this got to do with this Temple of Baaros?” Shadow asked. “And Jael, for that matter?”
“All I’m saying is that the seeds of anti-elven sentiment were planted before Jael was even born,” Donya said patiently, “and it just kept growing as one thing after the other seemed to—well, as if your Fortune had Her right hand on the elves and Her left on the humans. And then when Jaellyn was born alone, instead of twins, and the way she looks—”
“Oh, Fortune favor me,” Shadow groaned. “I thought that mess died down a few months after Jael was born.”
“Well, it did,” Donya admitted. “The general consensus was that the House of Sharl had been marrying into elven blood for so many generations that it really wasn’t the same anymore as an elf-human marriage. That caused a little consternation among the humans, but at least they stopped muttering about Jaellyn. But then when Mera and Markus were born, it all started up again, worse than ever, with the anti-elven faction shouting the loudest, of course. And of course it doesn’t help that disaster seems to follow Jaellyn around like a wolf on a trail, and that she can’t seem to master any useful skill.”
“How bad can it be?” Shadow shrugged. “I mean, Jael’s plainly got elven blood; that’s never been disputed. And there’s certainly no doubt in the world she’s your daughter, not when you went into labor in the middle of a Fortune-be-damned City Council meeting!”
“The city’s splitting apart, Shady, and Jael’s the wedge,” Donya sighed. “Argent and I have been fighting this ever since the wedding, but it just gets worse. The Temple of Baaros is growing every day. Do you know, there are shops and inns and taverns all over town that have ‘No elves admitted’ signs over their doors despite the laws and the fines, and twice as many that unofficially make elves unwelcome. The Dyers’ Guild has canceled every elven apprentice and won’t even deal with elven merchants. Elves are starting to retaliate in their own businesses, and the forest zone patrols are getting—well, even I would call it a little brutal in dealing with poachers and trespassers. The only reason trade between the forest and the city hasn’t been choked off altogether is because of Argent’s contacts and influence with the other merchants.”
“Jael,” Shadow prompted, and Jael leaned a little closer, eager to catch every word.
“It’s obvious that Jaellyn has some of the old wild blood,” Donya said wearily. “One look at her shows it. The elves see it as a sign from the Mother Forest that the elven influence in the city will grow with her as Heir. The humans see it as just another sign that their own influence is decreasing, and they want Jael bypassed as Heir and one of the twins—preferably Mera—chosen instead. It’s not without precedent; Sharl the Ninth passed over his two eldest.”
“Oh, please,” Shadow groaned. “He did that because he had no choice; Rulia was barren and crippled, too, and Romal the Black never took anybody but stableboys and the occasional goat to his bed. Everybody in the city knows that.”
“That’s not the point,” Donya told her. “Half the council wants Jael declared Heir immediately, and preferably betrothed even sooner, and the other half wants me to send her quietly off to some distant city to be fostered, wait a decent interval, and then choose one of the twins. Either way, somebody will be very, very upset. Every day I wait, they push a little harder. I was afraid to send Jael to the forest this summer, for fear either the elves or the humans would see it as significant.”
“Well, it sounds to me as if the Temple of Baaros is the bellows that fans the fire,” Shadow speculated. “Don’t forget that anti-elven preachings mean Argent, and you, too, Doe. It could grow into covert or even open rebellion against the ruling line because of your elven blood. Do something about them, first.”
“What should we do?” Donya asked helplessly. “We have no precedent for interfering with any temple’s doctrines when they aren’t actually breaking city law, and acting against the Temple of Baaros will be seen as taking the elves’ side against the humans. According to Ankaras, two days from now the Temple of Baaros will be holding their Lesser Summoning. That’s when Baaros himself will appear to instruct the faithful in the signs he’ll send prior to his manifestation at the Grand Summoning. It’s reaching a crisis point. I’ve sent messengers to other cities with elven and human populations to see if they’ve had any trouble with this particular temple, and how they’ve dealt with it. I still haven’t heard from a few, but most say the temple has caused no trouble. Our problem seems unique.”
“Well, I have to admit that Jael doesn’t seem to have much of Argent in her,” Shadow said slowly. “Doe, has it ever occurred to you that—”
“At least three times an hour,” Donya said miserably. “But how can I know? Argent has some Hidden Folk ancestry; so does my mother.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” Shadow said gently.
“I know.” Donya reached for a goblet of wine, and Jael saw, to her amazement, that her mother’s hands were shaking. “But it’s impossible, Shady. Just look at her. Her ears, her height—”
“Her coloring,” Shadow said softly. “Her foot.”
Jael leaned a little closer, careful not to rustle the ivy. This was getting interesting. What in the world were they talking about?
“I tell you, it’s not possible,” Donya insisted. “I took that goldenroot potion every single day until the day of my wedding.”
“But you had the plague,” Shadow persisted. “I’ve seen severe illness make the goldenroot ineffective. Not to mention all the healing potions Argent gave you, plus the potion that cured the plague, plus all the strange magic at that temple. Any of those things could have made a difference.”
“Damn all, Shady, one toe doesn’t prove anything,” Donya exclaimed angrily. “It could just as likely have happened at that elven festival just a few days before.”
“Have you talked to Jaellyn about any of this?” Shadow asked gently.
“No, I haven’t, and I don’t want you to, either,” Donya said adamantly.
“Don’t you think she’s got a right to know?” Shadow pressed. “Doe, she’s the one who’s being insulted—and she knows it, too, even if she doesn’t really understand.”
“I said no, and I meant it,” Donya said stonily. “Not a word, Shady, not a hint.”
“Well, what if it turns out that Argent isn’t really—”
Jael leaned a little closer, just a little—
—and her bracing foot slipped, and Jael teetered precariously for just a moment before she tumbled off her perch. One flailing hand barely caught the ivy, and for a few moments Jael hung there under the window, praying that just for once her luck would hold and that her mother hadn’t heard the noise.
Once more her luck failed her; she could hear Donya’s quick footsteps toward the window. Just in time, Jael found a toehold in the stone and slid under the projection of the window. Donya leaned out the window, but overlooked Jael’s small form under the ledge in the darkness.
“What’s the matter?” Shadow said, joining the High Lady at the window.
“I thought I heard something,” Donya said. She leaned a little farther out, and Jael ground her teeth, wishing she could melt into the comfortable solidity of the stone wall.
“You surely did,” Shadow said. “Look there. That’s a good storm building up to the north. I can already hear the thunder. I’d say no more than half an hour, maybe less, till it gets here.”
Donya let Shadow coax her back from the window, and Jael allowed herself a silent sigh of relief, then climbed back to her perch as quietly and carefully as she could.
“Have you asked Jael what she wants?” Shadow asked.
“Oh, be reasonable, Shady,” Donya said irritably. “In truth, it just doesn’t matter what the children of nobility want, does it? I wouldn’t be here if it did. Jaellyn can’t sit still for half an hour, she can’t seem to master any of her lessons, and everything she touches either breaks or falls on her. She’d be utterly miserable as High Lady, probably even more miserable than me. Mera or Markus would be a better choice, there’s no avoiding it.”
Jael barely stifled a huge sigh of relief. She’d been heartily dreading the day she would be declared Heir.
“But if I pass Jaellyn over,” Donya continued, “the elves will complain, and the humans who have objected to her will feel that they’ve forced me to choose in their favor, and where will that end once it starts?”
Shadow sighed exasperatedly.
“Donya, just what did you want me to do?”
“I don’t know,” Donya said, more softly. “I don’t know that there’s anything you can do. I just wanted your advice.”
“Well, you don’t want to listen when I give it,” Shadow said impatiently. “Are you listening to yourself? I’ve heard about the Temple of Baaros, I’ve heard about the humans, I’ve heard about the elves. The city’s falling apart, the world’s a mess. This was all supposed to be about Jael, but you’ve talked to me about everything but her. I think you’re looking at this whole thing tail end first.”
“What do you mean?” Donya asked suspiciously.
“Start with the smaller problems first. I think first of all we need to get Celene to pay a visit,” Shadow said. “Your mother once said she thought there was magery in Jael. Let’s find out just what Jael’s trouble is. With that much wild blood in her, she’s more than likely barren, and then you’ll have to pass her by; even the elves will understand that. At least it gives you a place to start.”
“Well, that’s sound enough,” Donya admitted cautiously.
Jael ground her teeth with frustration. This wasn’t what she’d been wanting to hear, not at all.
“And in the meantime,” Shadow said firmly, “let’s dig Argent out of council chambers, send for the children, and have supper.”
“And stop thinking about it in the meantime, right?” Donya said sarcastically. “Just like pinching out a candle.”
“Think about it all you like,” Shadow laughed. “Just don’t keep talking about it, or you’ll spoil our supper.”
The two women turned toward the door, and Jael scrambled quickly back to her room. It took a little longer than she liked, and she collided with the maid sent to summon her in the hall rather than meeting her at Jael’s room, but the servants were used to crashing into Jael in the halls anyway. Jael took only a moment to struggle into a clean tunic and rake a comb through her short, tangled bronze curls before she raced headlong down the halls and stairs to the dining hall.
She stopped outside the dining hall and hesitated outside the door, hoping to hear something more, but at that moment the twins appeared and swept her through the door in a wave of giggles. Jael disgustedly took her seat, glowering at Markus and Mera, who blithely kept up a nonstop racket until Argent silenced them with a stern glance.
Jael usually managed to dodge post-council family suppers. Mother and Father were invariably in a terrible mood, and Markus and Mera equally invariably filled the uncomfortable silence with irritating chatter. With Shadow present, however, supper became a game, Shadow’s lively stories of her adventures cheering Jael’s parents and keeping the twins silently enthralled. Jael ate ravenously, content to sit quietly and listen to Aunt Shadow spin stories of faraway lands, glad to see Mother lose her worried frown and Father his air of patient resignation. Even the servants lingered to hear the stories, refilling goblets a little more frequently than was really necessary; by the time supper was over, Mother and Father had had a little too much wine and were in a far more jovial mood.
Jael, however, was feeling anything but jovial. The wine only made her feel dizzy and queasy, unlike everyone else she knew. Once more she had failed to find out exactly what about her so concerned her mother and the City Council, and now here she was at the dining table feeling sick and head-spun while Aunt Shadow and the family enjoyed themselves.
Jael stared resolutely at the nearest light globe in its cup, the only object on the table that didn’t make her feel like spewing her supper. The light globes were simple magic but infinitely useful, and Allanmere had traded for the spell as soon as it had been developed in Northreach. They could be extinguished with a word and relit with another, and unlike candles, they didn’t drip wax into the food. She could feel their steady magic, quiet and unobtrusive, solid as stone. If Grandmother Celene was right and Jael had the makings of a mage, maybe one day she’d be able to create spells like the light globes. It would be pleasant to be around magic all day long; its presence started a rather pleasurable humming sensation somewhere under her breastbone—
—and the globe exploded.
Jael was under the table almost without thinking; she found Shadow there already. Argent and the twins followed quickly, Donya hesitating until Argent pulled her down. Before any of them had time to speak, however, there were six more loud pops, and glass and food rained down over the sides of the table. The six of them exchanged glances, waiting, but there was nothing further. Donya first, they peered cautiously over the tabletop.
All seven light globes had exploded, littering the tabletop with sparkling shards of glass. Donya sighed and brushed a clear path through the debris on the floor with her foot, then helped the twins through the clear path and out of the glass-strewn area. She reached for Jael, but Jael had already jumped over the circle of sharp fragments.
“Supper and entertainment,” Shadow said mildly, sighing over the glass in her wine goblet. “Argent, have you been underpaying your mages?”
Argent chuckled weakly.
“Celene did all the castle globes herself,” he said. “Is everyone all right?”
They all were. The servants quietly cleared the ruined food and broken glass from the table. Donya, Argent, and Shadow retired to one of the smaller halls to talk, and the twins followed, eager to hear Shadow’s stories, but for once Jael had no desire to accompany them. Nothing important would be said in the twins’ presence, and she felt miserably ill, both from the wine and from knowing that the light globes had exploded because of her. Mother and Father had been too kind to say it, but such incidents were far from rare—when Jael was there, at least.
Jael didn’t need to return to her room and open the shutters to know that the storm had started; the air had already grown noticeably damper and her breathing had thickened. She threw herself onto the cushions at the window nook and peered irritably through the shutters at the lightning.
She didn’t like to admit it, but she was sorry she hadn’t gone to the forest this year. It wasn’t precisely that she wanted to go to the forest so much; it was just that she wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t here. She was always restless around the castle, and this summer she hadn’t even had the respite of a visit to the Heartwood. Sometimes she felt she couldn’t bear it another minute—
“Enjoy the dark that much, sapling, or just afraid to light another globe?” Shadow said cheerfully, joining Jael on the window seat. She had a flagon of wine in her hand, and she drank directly from it, not bothering with a mug.
“Isn’t everybody waiting for you?” Jael said sourly.
“Actually the twins are rather tipsy and have gone to bed, and Argent thought you might need a friendly ear to fill.” Shadow pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “Want to talk about it?”
“Aunt Shadow, will you be going away again soon?” Jael asked.
“Well, I don’t know about ‘soon,’” Shadow shrugged. Lightning silvered the edge of one pointed ear. “I don’t see that there’s all that much I can do here, but I’ll probably stay for a few days, anyway.”
“When you go, would you take me with you?” Jael said suddenly, daringly.
“I don’t think Doe’s going to agree to that, sapling,” Shadow said gently. “And your health’s a bit fragile, too. You’ve lived too soft for the kind of traveling I do. What’s the matter, little acorn, feeling rather bloody in the feet?”
“The dagger’s edge gets sharper all the time,” Jael sighed. “But it’d just be easier on Mother and Father if I was gone. Then they could declare Markus or Mera Heir and be done with it, and the elves wouldn’t blame them if I’d run off on my own. Mother started traveling on her own when she was only fifteen years old, five years younger than I am now. As for my health, I get sick here, too, and I can buy healing potions to take with me. And I know as much about taking care of myself as Mist could teach me.”
“Hmmm.” Shadow’s eyes narrowed. “You look so much like a half-grown fawn, sapling, that I forget sometimes you have two decades in that skinny body. Truth to tell, Jael, surviving in the Heartwood’s nothing like surviving in the human wilderness—foreign cities full of people you can’t trust, people who sometimes don’t even speak any language you can understand—”
‘Truth to tell, I’d be a weight around your feet,” Jael said bitterly. “That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it?”
“I suppose I am.” Shadow laughed ruefully. “But the other part’s true, too. And your mother would never forgive me— and I do mean never, sapling. But I’ll make you a bargain, eh?”
“What kind of bargain?” Jael said suspiciously.
“It’s true that your mother set out when she was younger than you,” Shadow told her. “But she wasn’t Heir, she wasn’t leaving her city and her family in a mess, and she was one Fortune-be-damned good swordswoman. She’d been taking care of herself for a good many months before I met up with her, so I didn’t have to spend all my time looking out for her.
“Now, here’s what I’ll do. You see your mother and father through this crisis. It won’t be long before they have to declare an Heir, either you or one of the twins. Behave yourself and apply yourself to your defense skills, at least. I’ll come back by your next birthday—not this midwinter, but the next—and if you haven’t been declared Heir and if you can prove to me that you can defend yourself, I’ll take you with me on my next trip if you want, whether your parents like it or not. All right?”
“Aunt Shady, I’ll make you a bargain. If I’m still here in the city on my birthday and you think I’m ready, I’ll go with you. But I won’t promise I’ll be here.”
“Well, I can’t protect you from your own foolishness,” Shadow sighed. “You’re your mother’s daughter, plain enough, and Fortune knows I’m no better example. Do what you want, Jaellyn. Just learn to use a sword or a dagger before you do it. A young girl—especially one who looks like a half-grown child—is an easy mark in a strange city.”
Jael said nothing, but opened one shutter so she could watch the storm. She didn’t tell Shadow, but it wasn’t strange cities she was looking for. It was wild places she wanted to see, sweeping plains, tall mountains, maybe even the endless ocean Shadow had spoken of. She wanted to drink cold mountain water that didn’t taste of sulfur from the hot springs. She wanted to breathe air that wasn’t thick and wet and full of smells. Shadow, who loved busy cities with noisy taverns, soft beds, and hot supper with wine, would never understand. And Shadow was right about one thing: Jael couldn’t defend herself; she couldn’t even hunt. She could set traps and snares, but that wouldn’t protect her from brigands or hungry wolves.
“So tell me,” Shadow said, changing the subject adroitly, “all about this Temple of Baaros.”
Jael glanced sideways at the elf.
“What makes you think I know anything about it?”
“Oh, please,” Shadow grinned. “Telling you that you aren’t allowed in someplace is like issuing an invitation.”
Jael laughed, her bad mood vanishing. Aunt Shadow always had that effect. In fact, Jael had been inside the Temple of Baaros twice now. Consulting the castle archives, Jael had found that the Temple of Baaros and the neighboring Temple of Learon the Twisted, now empty, had once been a single building, which had been divided to make room for two separate temples. The original cellars were, however, intact, although a wooden wall had been built to divide the two areas. Jael had had no difficulty cutting a small hole in the thin wooden wall, which was easily concealed by pushing some of the storage crates and barrels that the Temple of Baaros had in its cellars in front of the opening; the only difficulty had been avoiding the beggars and other indigents who made the abandoned temple their home.
The next day Jael used her new entrance to creep into the Temple of Baaros before the morning service. She’d hidden behind a large urn in the main temple, and after watching the service, couldn’t understand what all the excitement was about. It was just another wrinkly priest intoning nonsense and putting his followers to sleep—and Jael with them. She was discovered afterward by Tanis, Ankaras’s fair-haired, wiry young acolyte. To the utter amazement of both of them, they became fast friends almost without reservation—almost, because both of them knew, although neither would admit, that they stood on opposite sides of something important to both of them.
Jael had met Tanis surreptitiously several times in the market, and the next time she returned to the Temple of Baaros, it was with his help. Tanis showed Jael a special hiding place, a secret passage that had once run from the wall behind the altar to the cellars but which had fallen in years before. There was still room enough, however, for Jael to settle herself comfortably inside for a perfect view of the proceedings.
This second service had been more interesting. Ankaras had gone on for quite a time on the dangers of sharing the city with elves. Those trading for elven goods were risking contamination. Those who lay with elves were committing bestiality or worse. This had interested Jael very much; she’d never heard anyone in the city utter such thinly veiled treason.
Jael had heard, too, about the Lesser Summoning to take place soon. Ankaras had encourage his followers to bring friends, relatives, neighbors—all of human blood, of course —to hear the message from Baaros’s own lips. Jael had reported the whole thing to her mother, not telling Donya that she had been there herself, of course; Donya believed that Jael had a friend among the worshippers, which was true, in a sense. To Jael’s disappointment, however, Donya and Argent had taken no action, only cautioning Jael that it might be best to avoid the worshippers of Baaros until more was known about the temple’s aims.
“So I haven’t gone back since then,” Jael shrugged. “I thought Mother and Father didn’t think it was very important, or they would have done something.”
“Time was, your mother would have been in there with sword a-swinging,” Shadow chuckled. “I guess she’s picked up caution and diplomacy from your father. She surely didn’t learn it from me. So are you planning on seeing this Lesser Summoning?”
“Uh-huh.” Jael grinned. “I’ve never seen a god before. Want to sneak in with me?”
“Sunrise day after tomorrow? I’m afraid not,” Shadow said regretfully. “I promised Doe I’d go through the Gate and bring Celene back with me, and I’ve got to stop and at least visit Mist while I’m there. I don’t see how I could make it back in time. Besides, your mother’s sure to have sent a few people in to watch.”
Jael was silent for a moment, watching the storm.
“Aunt Shadow,” she said at last, “there’s something wrong with me, isn’t there? Really wrong, I mean, besides my nose running all the time and getting sick when it’s wet out.”
“Well, nothing that’s going to send you back to the Mother Forest before your time,” Shadow laughed. “Not unless the temple collapses on you, which wouldn’t surprise me too much. Don’t fret, sapling. You worry almost as much as your mother. Want to skip the temple and come to the Heartwood with me instead?”
The thought was tempting, but Jael shook her head. Indeed, her parents would undoubtedly have people at the summoning, but Jael doubted she’d get to hear whatever they reported, and Mother and Father certainly wouldn’t talk to them in their bedroom where Jael could conveniently eavesdrop.
“All right. Well, if you don’t need to talk about anything else right now, your parents do,” Shadow said, giving Jael a quick hug. “Get some sleep. I’ll be leaving in the morning, but I’ll be back in a couple of days with Celene.”
“All right,” Jael sighed. “Thanks for listening.”
Shadow raised the flagon and waved it as she walked toward the door.
“For wine this good,” she grinned, “I can listen a long time.” She hesitated at the door. “And by the way, remember next time not to trust the Fortune-be-damned ivy. I taught you better than that.”
Jael had to laugh.
“Yes, Aunt Shadow,” she said. “You surely did.”