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Dagger's Point

Jaellyn's mixed heritage of elfin and Kresh has given her powerful magic. But her Kresh legacy carries a heavy price: a missing portion of her soul. In a quest to make herself whole, Jaellyn must confront bloodthirsty dragons, bewitched forests, and hideous shape shifters.

Accompanied by ex-acolyte and apprentice thief Tanis, Jael sets out into unknown country to find the father who may hold the key to bringing Jael's mixed bloods into harmony.

But even if Jael can cross dangerous and unmapped lands, and find a race of people known only in legend, who knows if they can help her, or if they are even willing to try?

Book 5 of the Shadow series

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Anne Logston

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)

Reviews

4 stars

This is the sequel to Dagger's Edge, in which Jael finds out the truth about her heritage while dealing with the crisis a religious cult brings on Allanmere, the city of which she is a princess. Now, one of her siblings has been chosen as heir, and Jael is free to do as she wishes. Inspired by her "Aunt" Shadow's wandering ways and her own desire to come to terms with her exotic heritage, Jael sets out on a journey for the furthest anyone from Allanmere has ever been ... to the place where her father is from.

Mer -- Amazon



5 stars

I always loved this book and all the author's other stories. I wish she had written more books. Her characters are approachable and yet appropriately foreign. The land is just obscure enough to not be ours but yet relatable enough to make it viable. I love her humor and her characterization.

LibKat "book goddess" -- Amazon



4 Stars

I really enjoyed this book when I was younger, It's a good book for teens who like fantasy novels.

Maeve -- Amazon



5 Stars

I really enjoyed this book. It made me feel as if I was right there with Jaycllyn enjoying the story. I have not read the Shadow books yet, and am *very much* looking forward to.

Amazon
Excerpt

Chapter One

Jael dodged desperately, the breath rasping in her lungs, sweat dripping into her eyes. The sword whistled past, missing her by only a finger’s breadth. Wearily she attempted to parry, but the attacker drove her to her knees. Jael forced her sword up one more time, but her opponent’s heavier blade rang against it, and Jael’s sword dropped from numb fingers. The great sword flashed down relentlessly.

“Yeow!” Jael cried, both hands clasping her side, where she could feel the bruise already forming. “What’re you trying to do, cut me in half?”

“I’m not, but sooner or later someone will,” Donya said grimly, lowering her blunt-edged practice sword. “And if you keep thinking instead of acting, they’ll do it, too.”

“I’m doing everything you told me,” Jael exploded. She tore the light practice helmet off her head and threw it to the hard-packed soil. “I kept moving, guard up, watched your eyes and—”

“You can’t parry directly,” Weapons Master Rabin told her, joining them on the practice ground. “Her sword’s too heavy; the impact alone will take your sword right out of your hands, just like it did. Angle your blade more and guide her stroke aside, don’t meet it head-on. If your blade wasn’t made of such strong stuff, that stroke would’ve broken it right off.”

“If my blade wasn’t guarded, I’d have broken hers right off,” Jael argued, folding her arms resentfully. It was bad enough to have her mother, the High Lady of Allanmere and the most formidable swordswoman Jael had ever heard of, pounding away at her on the practice ground, but two teachers at a time was too much.

“A fancy sword’s no substitute for skill,” Donya told her sternly. “Rabin’s right. You usually do better than this, Jaellyn, with that sword. Stop trying to meet me straight on. Now put your helm back on and try again.”

“Oh, please,” Jael groaned. “I’m tired.”

“And I suppose you’re going to tell all your opponents that, and they’re politely going to say, ‘Oh, sorry, let’s take a break and let you catch your breath before I kill you’?” Donya said sarcastically. “If you waste your wind early on in a fight, you’ve got to learn to go on without it.”

“Come on, Doe, that’s enough,” Shadow said, making them all jump. As usual, no one had seen or heard the elven thief approach; now she was sitting cross-legged on the practice ground wall, delicately scratching one pointed ear with her dagger’s tip. “You already killed her; no need to trounce the corpse.”

“I’m trying to keep her from becoming a corpse,” Donya said flatly, scowling at Shadow for interfering.

“Well, if you’ll let me borrow the corpse for a few hours, I’ve got a couple of maps to show her,” Shadow said good-naturedly. “And Tanis is sitting up in the dining hall too scared to come out here and tell Jael he’s arrived.”

“Scared of what?” Donya said impatiently.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Shadow chuckled. “Maybe scared of a High Lady swinging a sword almost as tall as he is and wearing a scowl fit to fell a dragon, let alone a poor human apprentice thief. Come on, Jael; in the face of certain death I always find it wise to retreat and leave the purse for another day.”

Jael eagerly unbuckled and tossed aside her padding, but she unguarded and wiped her sword with more care before she sheathed it. She didn’t need High Lady Donya to tell her to be careful with that blade; the strange pale metal was so hard and the edge so fine that a clumsy movement could easily take her fingers off. Her mother was still scowling, but Rabin gave Jael a reassuring pat on the shoulder as she followed Shadow out of the practice field.

Ordinarily, when Shadow was back in Allanmere she preferred to stay at an inn near the center of town, convenient to the taverns and the market and only a short distance from the Thieves’ Guildhouse where she still liked to visit. This time, however, the ex-Guildmistress had accepted Donya and Argent’s offer of a room at the palace; impoverished as usual, the elven thief had maintained that she’d only be in Allanmere for a few days, and what with spending most of that time with Jael, she’d rather pocket what she had time to glean from Allanmere’s market than spend it on an inn. Jael had chuckled at that, knowing Aunt Shadow far too well—after one or two forays into the market or the Mercantile District, the elf would be laden with gold enough to live in luxury until she lost it again on a bad fall of the dice or spent it on wine or some fellow with a handsome face and a sad story. In the meantime, the elf’s empty pockets and tales of her adventures won her a comfortable suite of rooms at the palace, all the fine food and wine she could swallow, and likely a heavy purse slipped quietly into her pack when she left.

At the moment, however, Shadow’s bed, table, and press were strewn with maps—fine leather maps, rough-tanned hides, expensive parchment, and even a few clumsy bark scratch-maps. Shadow cleared the table with one sweep of her arm and rifled through the collection impatiently, looking for the particular one she wanted.

“Where did you get all these?” Jael asked curiously. “The palace archives? You must’ve cleaned the place out.”

“Mapmakers’ Guild,” Shadow corrected. “Run downstairs and fetch Tanis, will you? Whatever I tell you, you’ll have forgotten it in half a day.”

Jael grimaced but obediently trotted through the drafty corridors and stairwells to the dining hall, where she found her friend Tanis nibbling at cheese and bread and looking thoroughly ill at ease alone in the cavernous room. He smiled with relief, however, as Jael entered the room.

“There you are,” he said, running his fingers through tumbled dust-blond hair in lieu of a comb. “I thought maybe your mother was hacking you to pieces on the practice ground again.”

“She was,” Jael said ruefully. “Can’t you smell? So where was my partner to rescue me, huh?”

“What do you expect from an ex-priest turned apprentice thief?” Tanis protested. “Do you want me to give the High Lady of Allanmere a lecture on the virtue of mercy, or maybe pick her pockets?”

“That chicken’s all feathers and no meat,” Jael said sourly. “You’re better with a sword than I am, and you know it.”

“Not anymore, not when you’re using that sword,” Tanis corrected, nodding at Jael’s scabbard. “I’m out of practice, and you’ve become Baaros-blessed good with that thing. Once we’re out of town, you’re going to be giving me lessons, don’t think you’re not! But in the meantime, I thought you might like a last evening in the market before we leave. I heard somebody’s got dragon roasting at the west end of the market.”

“I’d love that,” Jael said eagerly. The thought of roast dragon dripping with spicy sauce made her mouth water. “But before we go, Aunt Shadow’s got some maps she wants us to look at.”

“When did Shadow get back into town?” Tanis asked in surprise, following Jael. “Guildmaster Aubry didn’t say anything, and she always visits the Guild when she’s around.”

“Yesterday morning,” Jael told him. “She sneaked into the palace by the secret back entrance as usual. She’s only passing through on her way south, but wanted to see me before we left. Besides, her purse is empty and she needs to run the market.”

Tanis shook his head.

“How the former Guildmistress of the Guild of Thieves and the best thief I’ve ever heard of always manages to be so poor, only Baaros knows,” he said. “I’m hardly out of my apprenticeship, but I’ve always got a few coins in my sleeve to get by on.”

“Aunt Shadow would rather live like a High Lady for three nights than ‘get by’ for a year,” Jael laughed. “And if you’ll tell her she’s the best thief you’ve ever heard of and flash those big blue eyes at her, she’ll probably give you whatever coin she’s got left. Plus teach you a few of her tricks, if you’re lucky.”

When they arrived in Shadow’s room, however, Shadow seemed completely absorbed in the scroll she’d spread out over the table.

“Pour yourself a goblet and come look,” she said.

There were a dozen partially filled jugs of wine to choose from amidst a jumble of empty jugs, bottles, and wineskins. Tanis and Jael exchanged a grin, and Tanis poured a goblet full of wine before joining Shadow at the table. Jael filled her own cup from the water pitcher.

“I knew when I went north last year that I wouldn’t find anything,” Shadow said, tapping a dot that marked the city of Ramant near the far north edge of the map. Beyond that point, only a jumble of mountainous peaks had been marked on the map’s edge, and Shadow herself had drawn in a winding road and the suggestion of a valley village amidst the peaks. “Twenty-two years ago Jael’s father, Farryn, returned to his people in the far northern mountains. He said they’d go west to find the other clans of the Kresh, from which his own clan had separated centuries earlier. What with all the trouble he said his folk had had up there in the mountains, earthquakes and rockfall and barbarians from the lands north of the mountains, I knew they’d have left not long after he returned to them. If so, they’d be long gone after two decades. So I didn’t bother chasing off into the mountains; I started looking for rumors in Ramant, and I found them.

“About twenty years ago a legend sprang up,” Shadow continued, drawing a gold pin from the tall coil of her black braid and idly scratching one delicately pointed ear with it. “There was talk about a mysterious band of people who would abruptly appear in an area, stay for a night or two, and just as abruptly disappear. No one had traded with them, no one had spoken with them, and if anyone saw one of them alone and approached, he’d just disappear. Like magic.”

“Disappear?” Tanis repeated. “Like a mage, you mean?”

Shadow turned to glance with surprise at Jael.

“You never told him?”

“Jael told me that her true father—that Farryn—was one of these Kresh folk,” Tanis told her. “That’s why she can melt stone sometimes, right?”

Jael rolled her eyes. Shadow grinned sympathetically, but made no effort to explain for her.

“I’ll tell you the whole thing again later,” Jael sighed. “We’re going to have months of evenings to talk over campfires. Can we just look at the maps now, please?”

Tanis raised his eyebrows in surprise, but turned back to the map to examine the spot where Shadow’s finger still rested.

“So you didn’t go north of Ramant?” he asked.

“I didn’t go, no,” Shadow confirmed. “Luckily or unluckily, I arrived in Ramant just in time for the first winter storms, so I had weeks to question the merchants as they came in. A few of the mountain nomads who had come to Ramant to trade were snowed in, too, and like most folk, they were willing to talk with a few mugs of ale in their belly and a few coins in their purse. They knew of the Kresh, all right, although they called them by another word in their own language—windwalkers, or something very like it—but the nomads said they’d left about twenty years before, just picked up and left, leaving behind everything they couldn’t easily carry on their backs. There was some fine scavenging in their old village, and the nomads still use the houses occasionally, so the story hasn’t gotten old and stale yet.

“As I said, I talked to some of these nomads. Nobody knew where the Kresh had gone, but it wasn’t hard to puzzle out. North was impossible. Once there had been a pass through the mountains leading to the frozen lands, and the northern barbarians occasionally tried to fight their way through that pass and invade the southern lands—you two remember this from your histories of the Black Wars. But a huge rockfall had completely blocked the pass only a year or two before Farryn left his valley, so they couldn’t have gone north—and even if they could, why would they walk right into their enemies’ land? South was impossible, too, or they’d have been seen; the land’s too settled here for them to pass completely through without stopping somewhere. East’s the same, only worse, and before they got too far, they’d just run into the sea. So that only left west, the way Farryn said they’d go.”

Jael leafed through the other maps scattered around the room.

“None of these maps show the lands very far west of Allanmere,” she said.

“No; the west, after a point, has hardly been settled,” Shadow told her. “There aren’t many merchant trains to or from the western lands, either, and it was hard getting much news. But when spring came and I was able to move on, I found the stories I’d been looking for.

“Western folk called them ‘ghost people.’ Sometimes folk would see their fires, hear their songs from a distance, and in the morning they were gone as if they’d never been there, no tracks leading to the campsite or away from it. Sometimes folk even saw them traveling, mere flickers of movement like the beat of a dragonfly’s wing, running so fast and so light they could dance right across a lake’s surface like that same dragonfly.” Shadow shook her head. I’d give a good many Suns to have seen it myself.”

The elf sighed regretfully and turned back to the map.

“Here, here, and here,” she said, tapping three points on the map. “Here’s where I heard the stories. It wasn’t city folk who had seen them, of course—Fortune knows the Kresh would’ve avoided the cities—but cities are where the stories live, in taverns and inns and brothels, and that’s where I went hunting them. The Kresh traveled fast, but they were limited by the young, the old, and the sick, and they had to hunt occasionally, and when they stopped, they were seen. Now look at this.”

Shadow picked up a strip of thong and laid one end of it on the spot she’d marked in the northern mountains. “Put your finger on that.” She stretched the thong westward; the three cities she had indicated formed an almost straight line under the thong’s length.

“Allowing a bit for the fact they were seen outside the cities, the Kresh traveled in almost a perfectly straight line,” Shadow told them. “Not straight west, but west and south a bit from the mountains north of Ramant. Drawing a line along that trail, you can get a pretty good prediction of their course beyond that. I’ll draw that on a traveling map for you. At some point you’ll begin reaching lands that aren’t mapped, and this may be the only thing you have to guide you. Fortune knows that even if they’d left tracks, two decades would have eaten the traces. Whenever you can find a city or a village, find the old folk and ask about the rumors. As long as you’re on the right track, there’ll be someone who saw them.”

Tanis traced a fingertip along the western edge of the map.

“How far beyond this might they have gone?” he asked. “Do you have any notion where this homeland they’re seeking is, or even what it’s like?”

Shadow shook her head.

“Farryn told us the story of his ancestors traveling east,” she said. “He said they came through a land of plains and low, rocky hills, and he mentioned mountains, I think, but I’ve got to tell you, stories get mightily twisted around over the course of twenty centuries, and that’s how long his folk had been gone from their homeland. There’s plains aplenty to the west across the Brightwater, but after a point you start getting forest instead, and I’ve never heard anything of rocky hills or any western mountains. If the Kresh liked to live among the mountains here, though, it makes sense that they’d have come from a similar land.”

“Months,” Tanis said slowly. “We’re talking about months of travel.”

“Months of travel in bad country,” Donya interrupted, stepping into the room. The High Lady had exchanged her ragged practice leathers for one of the ornate gowns she so hated, but had to wear for official functions. “Shadow showed me her maps earlier. The farther west you go, the more vague the maps become and the less populated the land. The trade roads, such as they are, will be prowled by brigands and the like. Before you get too far, there may not be any roads at all.”

“But there are a few blessings,” Shadow said, shrugging. “Languages move west with settlers and you should be able to make yourself understood most of the time. It’d be otherwise, I can promise you, if you went too far south. At the same time, Donya’s right. Sparsely settled country breeds desperate types. I’d keep your noble birth a close secret, Jael, and keep your money hidden. Use small coins when you spend. It’s safer, too, to travel with well-guarded merchant caravans as long as you can—more comfortable, too, bet on it, and you’ll eat better. For Fortune’s sake, Tanis, you don’t want to tell the merchants you’re a novice thief.”

“I probably could have worked that out myself,” Tanis said wryly. “But coming from a Mercantile House and serving a trade god for so many years, I won’t have much difficulty convincing anyone that I’m the younger son of a House, gone west to make a start for myself. The way Jael looks, she could be any elf with the wandering itch.”

Shadow gave Tanis a crooked grin at his last comment.

“Well, there aren’t so many of us wandering the world as all that,” she warned. “Elves out of the Heartwood look odd compared with the eastern city elves, especially those of us with the old wild blood showing in their faces like Jael. She looks a little remarkable even to the other elves hereabouts.”

“There’s one thing,” Donya said firmly, “and I’m not taking any argument about it, Jaellyn. I’ve asked Shadow to ride with the two of you for the first couple of days, just to see that you get started safely.”

Jael opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again at a warning frown from Shadow. The elf herself appeared equally irritated but resigned, and Jael could well imagine tnat despite ner

love of Jael and her long and dear friendship with Donya, Shadow would far rather spend the days in an inn with plenty of wine and some handsome fellow than riding days out of her way. Jael swallowed her protest; if Donya had been able to push Shadow into this errand, she was utterly determined and there was nothing Jael could say that would change her mind.

“I wish you’d take one of those mirrors with the farspeaking spell,” Donya said with a scowl. “I don’t like the thought of wondering for so long where you are, what’s happening to you.”

Jael fought back a retort that the last thing in the world she wanted was to have to use the magical mirrors her grandmother Celene had invented to call her parents every night.

“How do you think I’m going to use one of those?” Jael asked impatiently. “The minute I touch it, I’ll ruin the spell.”

“If it doesn’t explode in your hand,” Shadow chuckled in agreement. Jael winced. She found the warping effect that she had on magic much less amusing than Shadow did.

“We could give the mirror to Tanis,” Donya said. “He could use it.”

“Mother, light globes explode across the room from me,” Jael said, a little irritated by the High Lady’s persistence in treating her like the child she appeared, but was not. “Sometimes in other rooms, as you know very well. How far away from me do you want Tanis to ride—a mile? Two?”

“All right, all right,” Shadow said mildly. “Travelers have been getting by without farspeaking spells for a good many centuries, including you and me, Doe. Pull the reins in much tighter on this filly, and she’s going to buck hard enough to throw you.”

“You’re right.” Donya sighed and shrugged. “At her age I’d have said, ‘Whatever you want, Mother,’ and then accidentally dropped the mirror on the first rock I found. Jaellyn, I wasn’t really eavesdropping on your plans. I just wanted to let you know that Argent would like to see you before supper. Now I’ll leave you be. I’m in audience this afternoon, anyway.”

“Looked like it,” Shadow said sympathetically, gesturing at Donya’s gown. “What is it this time, poachers in the Heartwood or squabbles between the temples?”

“Neither,” Donya said wearily. “City Council meeting.” She turned away without another word.

Jael was sorry she had snapped at her mother, knowing that Donya’s brusqueness was only her way or hiding her worry, but she was more than a little relieved when the High Lady left. If Donya had her way, Jael wouldn’t be leaving at all; failing that, Donya would settle for making her leave-taking as difficult and miserable as possible.

“You go ahead to Argent,” Shadow told Jael kindly. “I’ll give Tanis the maps and tell him what I know about the lands to the west. No need wasting your time with it. You could get lost in your own bedchambers, little sapling, I’m afraid.”

Jael left reluctantly, more than a little vexed by Aunt Shadow’s typically blunt comment. It was unfortunately all too true, only one of the legacies of the uneasy mixture of her true father’s Kresh blood and her mother’s elf and human ancestry. Jael had spent almost every summer of her life with her foster father Mist in the Heartwood, trying to learn all the elven arts, but she could still manage to get lost less than a mile from their camp, just as she could likely find something to trip over standing stock still on a bare stone floor. She was so tired of her clumsiness, her inability to remember the simplest lessons from one day to the next, of the strange missing part of her soul that warped any spell in her vicinity and left her seemingly frozen in childhood. More than anything else, however, she was tired of the bad luck that seemed to follow her like a wolf on the trail of a deer. It was worth almost anything to hope that her father’s people could help her gain the missing part of her soul; certainly it was worth a couple of months of travel in new and exciting places, exploring wild and unknown lands. Mother and Shadow might moan about danger and discomfort; Jael could hardly wait to leave. Nothing could possibly be worse than living like this, caught between worlds, neither one thing or the other.

High Lord Argent was in his study, or rather the study; High Lady Donya, not of a scholarly bent, was far likelier to spend her time in the practice yard than poring over old books and scrolls, so Argent had turned the study attached to their rooms to his own use. Missing the herbal store which his sister Elaria now managed alone, Argent had created his own herbal workshop, where he could putter in his few free hours.

Allanmere’s High Lord was as tall as his wife, but he was pale where she was sun-browned, slender where she was muscular, his features delicate where Donya’s were strong, his braid silver-white where Donya’s was almost as black as Shadow’s.

At the moment Argent was grinding something pungent-smelling with a mortar and pestle while reading out of an ancient herbal. His sharp elven hearing, however, was not dulled by his concentration, and he looked up, smiling, as Jael stepped through the doorway.

“Good afternoon, Jaellyn,” he said warmly. “Sit down for a moment. I’m almost finished.”

Jael took her usual seat on the edge of the table. She loved to watch her father work; as his herbal preparations seldom involved magic, his workshop was one place where her presence didn’t invite disaster—as long as she didn’t move and send fifteen bottles and vials crashing to the floor, at least.

Argent finished blending the paste in the mortar and scraped it carefully into a clay jar. He cleaned the mortar and pestle meticulously before he turned to face Jael.

“How are you faring this spring?” he asked. “Your breathing doesn’t sound much better.”

Jael shrugged in resignation. The fact that Argent could hear her raspy wheezing from that distance was answer enough. Argent understood, if Donya didn’t, that part of the reason Jael lost her wind so quickly was because breathing was difficult in the damp springtime air. Her eyes and nose ran like the Brightwater River, too, all spring long. She’d have some relief in summer, if the weather was dry and there weren’t too many flowers in bloom, but she’d be miserable again once the leaves fell and the autumn rains started.

“I have two new mixtures for you to try,” Argent said. He handed her the jar he’d just filled and a flask filled with greenish liquid. “Put five drops of the potion in your goblet at suppertime and see how you feel this evening. Rub the paste on your chest tonight. It should help your breathing.” He handed her another jar. “And this is for the aches and pains your mother left you with today.”

“Salve to ease my pains?” Jael chuckled. “And I thought she wanted me to ache at every step, just to remind me of my lessons. At least she didn’t bruise my bottom, not for want of trying.”

“Your mother would rather see you bruised than dead, and so would I,” Argent said kindly. “If she’s a little zealous lately in that regard, it’s only because she loves you and worries about you so much. Sometimes it’s difficult for her to say those things with her mouth, so she tries to say them with her sword instead.”

Jael sighed, again regretting her sharp remarks. It wasn’t as if anything Donya had said wasn’t true. Unlike Argent, however, Jael had no excess of patience to compensate for Donya’s occasionally sharp-edged manner.

Argent picked up another bottle, this one half-filled with bright blue liquid of a rather syrupy consistency.

“Were you planning to take any of this with you?”

Jael hesitated, then nodded.

“Two bottles, just for emergencies,” she said. “It’s either the Bluebright or that elven dreaming potion you made for me before, and that puts me to sleep for hours. I’m taking some of the Calidwyn black tea, too. It settles my stomach.”

Argent nodded, sighing.

“The Bluebright does seem to temporarily relieve many of your problems—allows you to use your Kresh stone-shaping ability, keeps you from warping magic around you—but I don’t like you using it,” he said slowly. “I haven’t been able to find out where it came from or what it’s made of, and that makes me uneasy. The fact that it has an aphrodisiac effect worries me even more. At least I know the tea is harmless.”

“Well, Bluebright can’t be magical, or it wouldn’t work on me, especially since I want it to work,” Jael said practically. “So what’s the harm?”

“A snake’s venom isn’t magical, but that would be small comfort after it killed you,” Argent said patiently. “Potions powerful enough to affect the soul can have unforeseen effects, or they can create dependence. Do you trust the Bluebright, knowing who brought it?”

Jael grimaced. Like Donya, Argent had a way of driving home a point—but unlike the High Lady, he didn’t need a sword to do it. She didn’t like to be reminded that the Bluebright had been brought to Allanmere by a false priest planning to raise one of the Greater Darklings, or that Jael had been so won over by his charming manner that she had all but handed herself over to him as the very sacrifice needed to bring his master into the world. Where Urien might have come by the Bluebright, or from what he might have made it, were questions Jael didn’t like to ask herself.

“The Bluebright couldn’t have been meant just for me,” Jael said after a long moment’s thought. “He offered it to all of you, and I saw him use it himself. He was going to trade it in Allanmere if Mother would have let him. If the Bluebright had any strange effects, it would have drawn attention to him, and he didn’t want that. And you haven’t come up with anything that works any better for me.”

“That’s true.” Argent looked at the bottle in his hand and sighed again. “I’ve tried several doses myself with no apparent ill effects. So has your mother. But, Jaellyn, even if the potion itself isn’t magical, I have a strong suspicion it was magically made, and any magic that Urien might have used was without doubt drawing on the demonic realm. That’s probably why I haven’t been able to determine what it’s made of; demonic magic isn’t my field of knowledge, or that of any legitimate mage in this city. I’d be relieved if you would promise me that you won’t use it unnecessarily.”

“I promise,” Jael assured him without hesitation. She wouldn’t use the Bluebright unless it was necessary—but she would be the one to decide when it was.

“I’ve prepared a kit,” Argent continued. “If the potion and salve I just gave you are helpful, I can easily mix more before you leave. There are other salves in the kit, for infections, for that weed rash you get sometimes, potions for fever and headache and such as that, and a little dreamweed. If you and Tanis want to get silly over a campfire, use the dreamweed, not Bluebright, please.” He hesitated. “There are bandages, of course, and needle and sinew. I know Mist has fully educated you in field medicine, but I don’t know what kind of training Tanis has had.”

Jael chuckled.

“Tanis knows how to tend wounds, dig firepits, build a trail shelter, use a lodestone or the stars—”

“Can he hunt?” Argent asked sharply. “Can he feed you both if merchant caravans fail you and your supplies run out? Remember that many of the food plants you know here won’t be available farther west.”

“He’s no shot with a bow,” Jael admitted. “But he can set snares and lines well enough. I can set snares and lines, if it comes to that, and get far away before the animal’s caught so I won’t have to feel it die. We should be able to get by. Please, Father. You’re starting to sound like Mother.”

“Well, we won’t be badgering you too much longer, so try to bear with us.” Argent smiled and hesitated a moment. “Jaellyn, I truly hope you are successful in finding your—your father. I want you to know that.”

“I never doubted it.” Jael closed the distance between them in one step, let him fold her in his arms, taking comfort in his warm embrace and familiar scent as she had always done. “And I hope you know that no matter what I find, you’ll always be my father, really—in every way that matters.”

“I never doubted it,” he said quietly, and Jael could hear the smile in his voice. “Now, listen to me for a moment, please.”

Jael stepped back a little, surprised by the sudden tension in his voice.

“Your mother and I have come to a decision,” Argent said, and the look in his eyes told Jael that she was speaking to the High Lord of Allanmere, not her father. “After you’ve left, we’ll wait a few days to make sure you’re safely off. Then we’re going to officially announce our selection of Markus as Heir.”

Jael gaped for a moment, then let out her breath in an explosive sigh of relief.

“Thank the gods,” she grinned. “You waited so long, I thought you and Mother were going to stick me with it after all.”

Argent chuckled.

“I thought the news would please you,” he said. “But we weren’t sure you would be happy that we were doing it in conjunction with your leaving, as if—”

“What, as if you were giving me up for dead?” Jael returned. In fact, that was, she realized, likely what her parents were doing. It was a fair strategic move. Her thirteen-year-old brother Markus— half-brother, really, although the citizens of Allanmere would never know that—was far more elven in appearance and by nature than his twin sister Mera, although both twins had the same half-human blood. The elves would be pleased that the more elven of the twins was chosen, and the remaining anti-elven faction in Allanmere, dwindling but still vocal, would be pleased that firstborn Jael, so extremely elven in appearance and a subject of great controversy throughout the city, had been bypassed.

“Well, nobody really knows Tanis and I are leaving,” Jael said thoughtfully. “We were planning to go at dawn day after tomorrow, but we can easily sneak off a few hours earlier. That should help make it look less planned.”

“That’s a good suggestion,” Argent agreed. “Yes, it would make things easier. I wonder that your mother didn’t think of it. After all, it’s exactly what she would have done herself. Well, why don’t you work it out with Tanis, and see if he can stay to sup with us tonight? In fact, he may want to stay here at the palace until you’re ready to leave.”

“That’s a good idea, too,” Jael agreed, an idea forming in her own mind. Why not sneak away in truth? It would save her the obligatory final lectures and warnings, and even better, the next day’s sword practice. Much as she loved Shadow, too, she resented the elf seeing them off like a pair of children on their first stroll in the forest. She already had most of her belongings packed, and the horses were ready—Donya had checked them four times. Trail food had already been packed and was waiting in the cellar storerooms. A little quiet preparation that night, and they could easily slip away before dawn.

Argent squeezed Jael’s shoulder.

“Don’t let your mother’s worries bother you,” he said. “She’s thinking back to her days on the road with Shadow. She claims Shadow was forever dragging her into one scrape or another, although Shadow tells it somewhat differently. I doubt myself that you’ll get into such chilling escapades as Shadow likes to tell about, and if you do, I believe you’re capable of dealing with them. There’s more to you than Donya knows—likely more to you than you know yourself, and I think this time and this journey is exactly what you need.”

“I can hardly wait,” Jael admitted.

Argent chuckled.

“I think you have a little of Shadow’s wandering itch,” he said gently. “I hope the open road proves as sweet a wine to you as it is to her. But, Jaellyn—” He laid both hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him. “Don’t become drunk on that wine. Remember where your home and your family is, and remember that we’ll be waiting and wondering every day while you’re gone.”

Jael smiled and let him embrace her again.

“How could I ever forget?” she said, chuckling. “The bruises alone will last for weeks. Don’t worry, Father, I’ll be back, safe and sound and likely with stories even Shadow can’t best.”

Argent smiled. “Frankly, I hope you come back to us with nothing more interesting to tell us than how bad the weather was and how sick you became of dried meat and hard bread.”

“Well, I never could tell a story like Aunt Shadow anyway,” Jael said wryly. “Likely there’ll be nothing to tell.”

But I hope not, she thought.