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Firewalk

Kayli, daughter of the High Lord of Bregond, is torn from her magical studies in the Temple of Inner Flame to make an arranged marriage with, Randon, Heir to the throne of Agrond, to bring the two warring countries together.

But Randon's charming brother Terralt contests Randon's claim to the throne of Agrond, and attempts on Kayli's life make her question all she has been taught, and whether she can trust Terralt, Randon -- or even herself.

Book 1 of the Firewalk 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

A wonderful book just to enjoy! It was a very well written book. You got to relate to the character and how she felt. It expressed feelings like love, integrity, and friendship.

Amazon Review

Firedance is full of great magic, interesting characters and lots of action. Once again Anne Logston leaves me spellbound with her writing, I cannot wait to read the next.

reiraven

Sexual energies combined with the magical powers of the fire awakened Kayli to the world of magic and the passions of the flesh. These pleasures introduced Kayli to the world of love-making, political intrigue, war, and most importantly, the elemental magic of the flame. I felt Kayli's struggle to learn and control the magical energies of fire. Through an arranged marriage to the enemy, she must leave her magical studies to become a ruler striving to bring peace. However, her new homeland does not welcome her, and I fear for her as more than one attempt is made to end her life. I also become afraid when, through an act of desperation, Kayli looses control of her magical abilities. Her people believe in the powerful magic of the four elements, and it is this belief that must bring peace and the calming ability to control magic. I was completely caught up in the unexpected political ploys of the characters. I could not stop myself from wanting to read more about this magical land. This is a do-not-stop-until-you-are-done read for all lovers of magical fantasy.

Amazon
Excerpt

Chapter One

Kayo intoned the eighth-level meditation chant as the assistant carefully untied the sash of Kayli’s robe, slowly sliding the coarse fabric down over her shoulders. The first seven chants, progressively deepening her concentration, had taken all morning as she’d knelt on the stone floor of the forge while the younger novices had readied the fire—very quietly, so as not to disturb her. She’d prepared for this ritual for days—a sparse but carefully balanced diet, meticulous cleansing of her body, careful examinations by her teachers to be certain no cut or scratch, no cough or itch or aching muscle might distract her at the critical moment One day, after Kayli’s Initiation, a firewalk would be a simple matter, not requiring elaborate ritual and careful concentration. But in the meantime all her training culminated in this moment, the final test of her Dedication and her discipline, and despite the importance of this ritual, neither fear nor doubt troubled her mind. Her training had been exhaustive, her preparation thorough. The Order of Inner Flame rarely lost a novice in the first firewalk; danger usually came later, when ease and success made Initiates careless. Fatally careless.

As she finished the eighth-level chant, Kayli slid her thari from its sheath on the stone before her. The most important step in her preparations for this moment had been the creation of the ceremonial dagger to be consecrated in her first firewalk. Kayli had forged dozens of blades before she’d completed one that suited her, folding and hammering the metal the prescribed ninety-nine times, quenching the hot steel in her collected tears, in her mouth, in her blood. She had carved the hilt from black horn inlaid with the symbols of the Flame and her Order in red-gold firestone. As yet the blade had no edge; when her thari was properly consecrated in her first firewalk, High Priestess Brisi would judge and bless it, and upon Kayli’s Initiation she would be allowed to sharpen it upon the temple’s blessed whetstone. The blade was perfectly forged and without flaw in its preparation—as was Kayli herself.

She stood, and the novices glided back from the forge, kneeling well back from the firepit. Once Kayli began the ninth-level chant, they were utterly forbidden to move, lest some twitch or sound break her concentration.

Kayli stepped to the edge of the forge, her thari held point up between her hands. The heat embraced her, rippling over her skin like water. The flames had mostly subsided, leaving only the hot coals, a few blue and orange tongues occasionally reaching upward. It seemed that they reached for her, hungry for her flesh.

Kayli resolutely banished that thought. Her mentors believed her ready for this step; far more important, she believed she was ready. She’d proved it to herself a thousand times in simpler tests, holding the hot coals in her hands and mouth or laying them on her eyelids, holding her arms outstretched through the forge flames. This was her last test as a novice of the Order; if she succeeded, she would be judged ready for her Initiation, and Kayli knew to the depths of her heart that she would succeed.

Kayli stared at the flames, knowing them her friend, and stepped forward—

—only to be seized from behind by gentle hands and pulled back. Her concentration collapsed, and with it her training and control; she could not stifle a single sob of frustration—so much preparation, all destroyed! By the time she turned, however, she had calmed herself. Vayavara’s own face was expressionless as always—the Second Circle Priestess, Kayli thought to herself, had the most perfect control of her emotions that could ever be achieved—but there was sympathy in the priestess’s eyes.

“Your father has come,” Vayavara told Kayli. “He would wait not a moment longer. I dared not risk that he might interrupt the ritual.”

Now Kayli had mastered herself, suppressing the surge of irrational anger Vayavara’s words had provoked. She’d been at the Order for most of her life, and her father had never set foot in the temple, although her home lay only a few hours’ ride away. Of all times for High Lord Elaasar to visit the Order, why, why the day when she was to take her first fire-walk?

She said none of this; she knew the cool Vayavara would have no sympathy for Kayli’s bout of self-pity. Respect and duty to, the family were as firm precepts in the Order as they were anywhere else in Bregondish society. If her father had come here, at this time or any other, he had good reason.

Silently Kayli retrieved her robe and the sheath for her thari and followed Vayavara from the forge.

The High Lord of Bregond seemed out of place in the comparative austerity of the Order’s simple waiting room. He rose as Kayli entered, but his smile was distracted.

“Daughter,” he said, taking her hands. His voice was heavy with relief. “I’m relieved to see you’re well. They stalled me so long I’d begun to worry.”

“I am well.” Kayli accepted a tray holding a pot of cai from one of the novices and poured two cups, offering one to her father. “I was preparing for my first firewalk. Priestess Vayavara was reluctant to disturb the ritual, but she said your business was urgent.”

“Indeed it is.” Momentarily Elaasar looked even more uncomfortable, if that was possible. “You must ready yourself to leave the Order immediately, daughter.”

A ripple troubled the surface of the cai in her cup, but Kayli remained impassive otherwise.

“Is there trouble at home?” she asked softly. “I heard nothing. Is Mother well? My sisters?”

“They’re all well. Fidaya’s preparing for her wedding with great joy.” Elaasar cleared his throat. “As I hope you will.”

Kayli was silent for a long moment. A thousand questions, a hundred thousand protests wrenched her mind momentarily into confusion. She was only the fifth-oldest daughter, and one of only two who had shown the gift of magic. Any important marriage of alliance would have been made with one of her older sisters yet unpromised. Lesser alliance marriages could surely wait for one of her younger sisters to come of marriageable age; in the meantime surely a betrothal would suffice.

Kayli had been admitted as a novice to the Order of the Inner Flame in her fourth summer, when she’d been tested for the affinity to fire and shown great promise. She had trained at the Order for the past thirteen years, dividing her time between the discipline and ritual of the temple and the elaborate dance of etiquette at court as befitted the daughter of a High Lord. Only last year had Brisi, the High Priestess of the temple, agreed that the strength of Kayli’s gift and her mastery of what she had been taught warranted sacrificing her rank at court in favor of Dedication to the Order. Her mother and father had agreed immediately, with the same pride Kayli had felt when her sister Kairi had been Dedicated to the Order of the Deep Waters four years earlier and later Initiated. At Kayli’s Dedication, her father had formally relinquished her to the temple, releasing her from her obligations at court.

All her years of preparation, the encouragement of her teachers, her ambitions within the Order—why could he possibly ask her to sacrifice what had become her whole life, and what possible marriage could require it?

But in the end, family was family, and duty was duty, and the answers to those questions did not really matter. At last she set her cup down quietly.

“Is there no alternative?” she asked evenly.

“I have thought of none.” Elaasar sipped his cai, shrugging. “When you asked to enter the Order, your mother and I had no reason to deny you. We had eight daughters, after all, and two of your older sisters were already betrothed to bring us good alliances. Jaenira’s marriage to Lord Alkap has doubled our ikada wool trade. Fidaya’s marriage to Lord Dannar will open new trade routes to the west. But there remains the north. And the east.”

Sarkond and Agrond. Once the Three Kingdoms had been one great country instead of three small, until eastern mercantile families had sent mercenary armies to drive the proud Bregondish plainsmen out of what was now Agrond to the east, until Sarkondish raiders had swept down from the northern steppes to carve their own territory out of the rocky hills to the north. In the generations since, Bregond had fought fiercely to hold the arid plains that were its only remaining territory. Agrond had made no further military push—it became too expensive to hire mercenaries to meet Bregondish troops when the stories spread that the invaders had lost three soldiers to each Bregondish warrior who fell—but Sarkondish raiders still swept down from the north, attacking not in force but in stealth, avoiding Bregondish patrols like ghosts, ravaging villages and departing as silently as they’d come.

“High Lord Terendal has two sons,” Kayli said slowly. “But the eldest is wed already, is he not?”

“Terralt is five years wed, with two sons and a daughter, and another child in the making,” Elaasar said, nodding. “But it’s Terendal’s younger son, Randon, who has been named Heir.”

Kayli sipped quietly at the cai, saying nothing. Whatever she’d heard about Agrond’s politics had been long forgotten in the intensity of her studies. For the year since her Dedication, the outside world had ceased to exist for her.

“It’s a complicated matter,” Elaasar said slowly. “Terralt is an acknowledged bastard, but Terendal always favored him and so have most of the lords of Agrond. He’s been the High Lord’s right hand for ten years now. Everyone expected him to be named Heir. Randon’s a rogue of sorts, charming enough, but found more often in taverns and brothels or in the saddle than in court. But a few months ago Terendal sent envoys to me, the first delegates to cross our borders in decades. He wanted peace and trade between Agrond and Bregond and offered military support against Sarkond—I’ve long believed that white our patrols watch the Sarkondish borders, the raiders pass through the northwestern portion of Agrond and attack from there—if I’d agree to a marriage between one of my daughters and Randon, whom he’d name as Heir. After long negotiations I agreed.”

Kayli nodded. Her father would have been foolish to do otherwise. There was no greater alliance he could hope for, unless it was with Sarkond itself, and that would never be. Besides the much-needed military support, peace with Agrond would mean the opening of valued trade routes to the east, a great influx of new goods, plus access to the merchant caravans, which would in turn carry Bregond’s goods to new markets. Why, the great trade river itself, the Dezarin, ran through the southeast part of Agrond not far from Tarkesh, the capital.

“While we were negotiating the terms of the marriage,” Elaasar continued, “Terendal fell ill. He continued to fail despite the attentions of his mage, who I’m told is a fair healer. He signed and sealed the final agreement on his very deathbed, his councilors witnessing while he proclaimed Randon Heir. Now Agrond’s in an uproar, factions splitting off. Randon’s got some support, mostly among the guilds—as I said, he’s a charmer—but Terralt’s got a far larger following among the nobility. He’s formally challenging Terendal’s choice of Heir.”

“I rejoice at the good fortune of our country in securing such an alliance,” Kayli said quietly. “But still I do not understand—”

“Why I chose you?” Elaasar sighed. “Your mother and I felt you alone were suitable for such a marriage. Jaenira’s wed and Fidaya promised. Laalen is frail and her lungs labor even in our good dry air. She’d sicken in the wetlands of Agrond, maybe die there. Danine, Melia, and Kirsa aren’t of child-bearing age yet, nor are they old and wise enough for such an important match.”

“Surely Kairi is the best choice,” Kayli murmured, “being water-Dedicated and three years older than myself.”

“Kairi,” Elaasar corrected, “would be wholly unsuitable, as you should know, daughter.”

Kayli stared blankly for a moment until she realized what her father meant. Kairi was an Initiate; she’d already undergone the great and solemn ritual in which a chosen priest had Awakened her body and her gift. Doubtless there had been other lovers since that time, too; the currents of magic and desire ran closely together. More, Kairi would have been long taking the powerful temple potions which inhibited conception; she would not be able to bear the needed heir for some time, if ever. And with the throne of Agrond in dispute, there was little doubt that Randon’s bride must be virgin in order to present Randon with an heir of unquestionable legitimacy.

Kayli closed her eyes. Legally, she had the right to refuse. Her father had formally relinquished her to the temple; he had no legal claim on her now. If she refused, the Order would stand publicly behind her decision. But by placing her own wishes above the welfare of her country, Kayli would betray the precepts at the very foundation of the Orders. Her father was right; there was no other choice. No use to protest. No use to bewail the death of her dreams.

“I will prepare to leave immediately,” Kayli said quietly. “I have few belongings to gather. May I have a little time to take leave of my mentors?”

Elaasar laid his hand over his daughter’s on the table, squeezing her fingers.

“Take what time you need,” he said kindly. “I’ll ride ahead with half the guards and begin the preparations at home. As long as you leave by midday, you should arrive home safely by dark, but wait no longer than that, or delay your departure until tomorrow. The decision to make peace with Agrond is not popular among all our people, and I’d see you safe within walls before dark. With luck, the escort from Agrond will arrive within a sevenday or so.”

A sevenday. So little time to take leave of everything she had ever known. Or perhaps too much time—time enough for regrets.

Kayli stood, bowing formally to her father.

“I will be ready to leave by midday,” she agreed. That was a lie in one sense at least, and they both knew it, but what else was there to say? “I look forward to seeing my family again, if only briefly.” That, at least, was true.

Elaasar gave her a short bow in return, respecting her need for temple formality at this moment. He left quickly, kindly giving Kayli the empty waiting room and the time to compose herself before she must face others. When Kayli opened the door, however, she found Vayavara waiting for her.

“Novices are packing your belongings,” the priestess said impassively. “Come. The High Priestess wishes to speak with you immediately.”

Kayli stifled a sigh. She was still barefoot, dressed only in her plain robe, her skin sticky with sweat and grimed with smoke from the forge, and ashes in her hair. It was hardly respectful to appear before the High Priestess in such a manner. But the High Priestess must know already what had transpired.

Although High Priestess Brisi had personally taken Kayli’s teaching in hand since her Dedication, Kayli had entered her private chambers only twice: once when she was accepted into the temple, and once when the High Priestess had summoned her to announce that she had been selected for Dedication to the Order. Those had been the greatest moments of her life.

Now she was returning to these rooms only to give up all she had gained.

Brisi was waiting, cai already poured. The High Priestess smiled when Kayli bowed, then motioned her to sit beside her. Kayli sat, involuntary pride and regret warring in her mind. She’d always sat at Brisi’s feet as a novice.

“I spoke with your father when he arrived,” the High Priestess said without preamble. “It pains me to lose you as a novice of the Order. Your gift is strong, very strong, but more importantly, your determination and your hunger to learn are great. It is rare to find both strengths to such a degree in our novices. You would have risen far within the temple. I had it in my mind to train you as my successor.”

A fierce pain stabbed at Kayli’s heart. High Priestess Brisi was not given to praise of her novices, but the mere fact that she’d personally taken Kayli as a student had been a great honor. Kayli wanted to weep.

“Nonetheless the marriage that your father has arranged is crucial to Bregond,” Brisi said calmly, “and service to our country is the only purpose of this Order and all within it. I have been asked to release you from your vows to the Order.”

Kayli slid the temple ring from the middle finger of her left hand and held it out silently.

Brisi smiled and took Kayli’s hand, folding her fingers back around the ring.

“I have refused,” she said.

Kayli was shocked to inner stillness. Her duty—but if the temple would not release her—she must—but—“Novice Kayli, discipline your thoughts,” Brisi said sternly. “You discredit your teachings.”

Kayli took a deep breath and cleared her mind.

“Forgive me, High Priestess,” she murmured. A slow, cautious hope began to glow in her heart.

“You must leave us,” Brisi said plainly, crushing the frail hope. “You must marry the Heir to Agrond as your father has said. But most of our priests and priestesses leave the temple in time to serve Bregond as mages, and the Order does not release them. Therefore, Novice Kayli, I do not release you. In serving Bregond, you remain in service to the Order. You will continue your studies on your own, and I do not doubt you will be a credit to us as you are to your family and your country.”

Once again, Kayli was shocked to silence. Novices never left the temple for any appreciable length of time unless they renounced their vows or were, as Kayli had expected to be, released from those vows. Even Initiates remained at the temple until their training was complete and they ascended to the rank of priest or priestess.  How could she continue on her own without a teacher? How could she continue at all, un- Awakened?

“Your eyes are scrolls written in a child’s simple words,” Brisi said gently. “Come with me.” She rose and led Kayli to a nearby table, where a large chest lay open.

“Your novice journals have been wrapped for the journey,” Brisi told her. “After your Initiation, as you learned the greater rituals, you would have copied them from your teacher’s grimoire—mine—into a grimoire of your own, as I copied from my mentor before me. My grimoire is in this chest for you to copy as you learn. I trust you to gauge your own progress carefully and not too ambitiously. When you have completed your own training, return my grimoire to me. In the meantime I have the use of the temple originals.”

Such a monumental gesture of trust awed Kayli.

“I pray I will do justice to this honor,” Kayli said softly. “But my Awakening—”

Brisi nodded.

“I am loath to see you Initiated without passing your first firewalk,” she said, “but have no doubt that you would have succeeded. Kayli, do you know why we allow a novice to select the priest or priestess for his or her Awakening, even a new Initiate?”

“No, High Priestess,” Kayli said, confused. Vayavara had told her that the fire magic in her own heart would seek and find the proper priest, but it was rumored among the novices that that was only dogma, that it was the Flame Itself and not the priest, who was merely Its vessel, who Awakened the Initiate. Bowing her head, Kayli repeated what she’d been told.

“Both are right, and neither,” Brisi said gently. “The truth is that it is the Flame within you that Awakens you. Close contact with the mage-gift of another Awakens your own, together with the kindling of your sexual energies, as a spark from a fire may light a new flame. This is why all Dedicates to the temple drink the morning tea that calms and suppresses those energies, that they may not be Awakened before they have learned the techniques to harness their magic. High Lady Ianora of Agrond was a mage, and it is likely that her son bears at least a spark of the mage-gift; and by rumor he is at least a practiced lover,” Brisi added wryly. “It is likely that he can Awaken you.”

Awakened by a stranger not of her choosing—somehow it seemed worse than marrying that same stranger and taking him to her bed. But even so, to continue her training!

“You know the required preparations for Initiation,” Brisi continued. “I have packed the necessary herbs, potions, and ointments. Your father is sending with you your family’s midwife, Endra, who trained in one of the healing Orders herself, and a Bregondish priest as well, that whatever outlandish wedding ritual Agrond requires, you may also be properly blood-bound. If you begin your purification when you leave for Agrond, you should be ready for Awakening on your wedding night. If your Awakening takes several days, be patient. As Agrond will require an heir promptly, I doubt,” Brisi added wryly, “that your new husband will be less than attentive.”

Kayli bowed her head.

“I will remember what you have told me, High Priestess.”

“Of that I have no doubt.” Brisi took two pouches from the chest. “This potion will increase fertility. Drink one sip morning and evening until you conceive, and mind you miss not a single dose, young one!”

“Yes, High Priestess,” Kayli said obediently. She’d begin taking the potion that very night. The sooner she conceived, the fewer demands would be made on her. Perhaps if she conceived quickly, the toad would leave her to her studies until his heir was born. Jaenira had once confided to Kayli that her husband, Lord Alkap, hardly passed a word with her for weeks at a time.

“The potion I give you, as is my duty to our people,” Brisi said quietly. “This I give as teacher to novice. It is a speaking crystal.”

Kayli’s fingers shook as she drew the small, irregular crystal from the pouch. Speaking crystals were rare, created only by the most powerful magic. More man the value of the gift, however, the gesture of faith in her ability warmed Kayli’s heart. Speaking crystals could be used only by those whose gift had been Awakened.

“You will require guidance long before you master fire-scrying, so use the crystal when you need my advice,” Brisi told her. “The ritual is detailed in my grimoire.” Her face softened just a little. “Perhaps you will feel less alone in a strange place.”

Kayli tucked both pouches back into the chest. At last she raised her eyes daringly.

“High Priestess,” she began slowly, “how have you done so much in the short time since my father arrived? Was this somehow known to you before?”

“‘This’?” Brisi said gently. “The Flame has called you to a great destiny, young Kayli. Such a calling, in one form or another, was not unexpected. Do you think that because we live within walls that we close our eyes and ears as well? One does not learn, my student, by barring doors, but by opening them. Now, give me your thari.”

Kayli obeyed The High Priestess held the dagger up to the lamp, examining blade and hilt minutely. At last she nodded and stepped back to Kayli, holding the hilt of the thari in born hands, blade outward. Kayli clasped the blade of the dagger between her palms, her eyes joined with Brisi’s. The blade grew warm, then hot between her palms, but she had held the unquenched steel in her hands when it glowed white-hot from the forge, and she did not wince now.

“I judge this blade well forged,” the High Priestess intoned. “I gift this blade with the heart of fire and consecrate it to the Inner Flame. May it burn true and serve our people well and honorably. May the power of the Flame never fail to answer its call.”

“I accept this thari in the service of the Temple of Inner Flame,” Kayli responded. “May we burn as one in truth with the Flame. May I prove a worthy blade, well forged and strong in the service of the Flame and my people.”

Brisi turned the dagger, handing it to Kayli hilt first.

“You will need an edge on that blade,” the High Priestess said. She drew a small rectangle of stone from her pocket and handed it to Kayli. “Every mage who leaves this temple is given a whetstone cut from the blessed stone at the center of the temple. It is a bit premature to give you one, of course”—Brisi smiled—“but there you are. You will, of course, require a sharpened thari for your bloodbonding, as your Agrondish lordling will have none.”

“Thank you, High Priestess,” Kayli whispered, slipping the stone into her pocket. She’d make a special pouch for it and prepare a small vial of blessed oil this very night.

“Now go to your family, young one,” Brisi said firmly, “and do not rage so against the path the Flame has burned for you. It is a great calling.”

Kayli bowed.

“Thank you, High Priestess,” she whispered.

Brisi smoothed one hand over Kayli’s hair.

“Fare well, my student,” she said. “Call me when you have mastered the speaking stone, and remember that the Order is not a set of walls you may enter or leave; the Order is a temple to the Flame within yourself. As long as you feed that flame and keep it sacred, you will never leave us, or we you.” She touched Kayli’s cheek. “This blade, too, is well forged.”

“I will remember,” Kayli said steadily. “Fare well, High Priestess.”

When she walked from High Priestess Brisi’s quarters, she did not look back.