I have been busily typing away at the next installment of the Keepers of the Wellsprings series. Book three is well underway, and I’m confident enough to be able to announce the title: Call of Brindelier!
Not only have I broken through my writer’s block, I’m also busy with illustrations. Here’s a taste of some of the images you’ll see gracing Call of Brindelier’s pages:
A brush of cobwebs against my skin. I step into the unseen. Into the shadows. Mevyn’s gift. Valenor’s lesson. A gift is not a trick. They taught me that. Sometimes, a gift is necessary. Sometimes it’s the last hope for something better. This time, it’s for something nobody else has dreamed up yet. I adjust the blade strapped to my back. It’s longer. It stretches up over my head farther than I can reach. Flatter, too. Twisted. Perfectly worked by Sir Benen.
Zeze walks in front. Gets people to jump away or risk tripping over her. Some of them kick at her. I make a mental note of them for later. We travel this way for a while. Slinking on foot. Sticking to shadows. Out of the tucked-away street where Azi’s guild keeps their hall, past the castle, through the market. Past the lifts to the docks. I pause here. Watch the Mage at the wall as he raises his arms. Bulky muscled men crank the cranks. The lift creaks and squeals and bumps along the cliff face. Crates jostle and threaten to fall, but the Mage keeps them safe. His spell is a powerful one. It makes the load lighter. It keeps it protected. It’s necessary. Even the Princess thinks so.
This goes on all day into the dusk. Mage spells. Crates. Boxes. People. Animals. Up and down, never stopping. Workers working. Ships loaded and unloaded. Cargo in. Cargo out. In the summer, the Mages keep things light and safe. They protect from wind and rain and sea salt. In the winter, they melt the ice. Every spell drains a drop from Kythshire’s Wellspring. A drop, a stream, it doesn’t matter to them. The port gets busier. Their work needs to be done. Nobody thinks of the fairies. Why should they? To them, the fae don’t exist. Legends. Stories. Mention them and they call you a simpleton. A liar. A tall tale-teller.
I slip away from the port. When I’m done, they won’t need magic anymore for that task. My way will be better. My way will preserve the Wellsprings. Kythshire’s and Sunteri’s, too. I’ll sell my machine to them, then I’ll find another need to fill. Rian says we’ll always have a need for magic. He says the arts are getting more popular by the season. It’s harder to get into the school now. The Academy. They’re very careful about who’s allowed to learn its secrets. I’m glad. Magic is selfish and dangerous. It ruins people. It destroys things too easily. They shouldn’t trust just anyone with it.
Zeze knows the way to Redstone. I follow her without thinking past the bright white walls of the Academy. Past the dorms and the stables and the rows of merchants in the main square. Through to the poorer places. The places you don’t really notice when you first come to Cerion. The places you walk by without looking too hard. The places you try to avoid. When I first came to Cerion, I didn’t think anyone here was poor. In Zhaghen, they’re everywhere. Spread out through the city, right in the open. Begging. Coughing. Crying.
It’s different here. They have their place, neatly tucked away. Dark, stinking rows of red-brick houses. Houses so old and ignored that they might crumble to dust with one careless bump of a cart. Redstone Row. It used to be a small part of the city, but now it’s growing. The king is too distracted to pay his people the attention they need right now. Everyone’s talking about it. They say he doesn’t care. He doesn’t see them like he used to. The people aren’t important anymore. He’s too focused on his son. On the trials.
Whispers that Cerion’s age of peace is coming to an end echo from the shadows here. As I trudge through the filth of these forgotten streets I understand why. I slip from the shadows. Stop in the usual places. Unload my pockets slowly into outstretched hands. Coins. Rolls. Fruit. Trade them for smiles, for thanks. For information. Dreiya talks to me with a baby on each hip. Her husband is at a meeting. A secret rally. He’s a master stone carver. Worked for the Royal builders. They stopped working last year. Nothing left to build, they said. No orders from His Majesty for new construction.
Lots on this row are in the same boat. No work because Cerion is fading. It’s happening slowly, just like it did in Zhaghen. Just like there, the poor are the first to see it. Just like there, powerful men sit in their towers, too caught up in their own problems to care. While things are getting worse in Cerion, in Sunteri things are getting better. The new princess is helping her prince. They’re working to rebuild the kingdom. Their first step was to make strong rules against magic. Guiding the royal treasury away from the Mage scholars and into the hands of the poor.
Maybe Princess Sarabel should come back. Maybe she’d see what’s happening. Tell her father. Snap him out of his selfish misery. Show him how skinny everyone’s getting down here.
I turn the corner, straight into a gang of boys. Their backs are turned to me. Some older than I am, some younger. All dirty. Scrappy. Grouped around something. Their arms are linked together to keep whatever’s inside from getting out. I step closer and peer in. A fray. A fistfight. A girl dressed in tatters fighting a dark-skinned boy in fine clothes. He doesn’t know how to fight. He’s grabbing at her hair. Kicking. Thrashing a lot and missing. She’s better at it. She lands a punch to his gut. A kick to his hip.
“Give it back!” The rich boy huffs, grabbing at a bag slung across the girl’s chest. It doesn’t match the rest of her. It’s finer. Cleaner. Something’s inside that I can feel, but not see. Something magical. Powerful. Dangerous. Definitely not hers. The boy lunges at her and she swings up with bloodied knuckles. Uppercut to his jaw. He’s thrown back. She laughs. The circle of boys cheers. To them it’s a game. To the boy, that bag is important. He wipes blood from his lip onto his yellow silk sleeve. Pushes himself up. The rest of the boys charge him. Push him down. Kick. The girl joins in.
He doesn’t give in. He keeps trying to get up, even when the flash of a blade catches the sun. That’s when I step in. Zeze goes first. Saunters up to them. The boys in the back of the pack freeze when they see her. They tug at the others. Point. The fight dies down as nudges travel through them into the center. One of the boys tugs the girl’s arm. She shoves him away but Zeze catches her eye. She turns. Lowers the knife.
Cowered against the wall, the rich boy peeks around his upraised arms. Glances at all of them, standing with their backs to him. Staring at me. Waiting.
“What’s the word, Celli?” I ask. Casual. Like I didn’t just interrupt her almost murdering someone. She shrugs. Rolls her eyes a little. She’s my age. Fourteen, maybe fifteen. Cold eyes. Thin mouth. Broad shoulders. The look of someone who’s been fighting for a long time. The other boys step back a little. Watch between us.
“What’s that?” she points to the iron slung to my back.
“Later,” I say. “What’s that?” I point to the bag. She shrugs again.
“It’s my lord’s bag, and she stole it right out of his hands!” the rich boy cries. His accent is thick. He starts to get up, but Celli turns a fist to him and he cowers away.
“That true?” I ask her.
“Nope. This stupid clod left it lying on a stool,” Celli sneers. “So it walked. What’s in here that’s so important?” she asks. Folds open the flap. Reaches a hand inside. The rich boy jumps up. Grabs at it. She shoves him away.
“Give it back!” he shouts. “Don’t touch it!”
“Celli, no!” I try to warn her.
She doesn’t listen. She touches whatever is in there. When she does, she screams. Pulls her hand out. It’s red. Bright red, like the petals of the flowers I used to pick. The color creeps up along her arm, swirling and curling like Mage Mark. She scrambles with the bag. Yanks it from her shoulder. Throws it at the rich boy. The curls don’t stop. They stretch over the skin of her chest, sizzling. She screams. Claws at it.