I’m posting the first chapter of Bound as a bit of a teaser, a way for people to read a bit and see if they want more, which of course would be delightful to this author. No pressure though, all right?
The voices led Fay down the darkened corridor. She pretended not to notice them falter as she entered the small, sparse room that usually served as storage space. She walked casually to her place near the beginning of the line. It was alphabetical by first name since few students at the Voleno Academy possessed a surname. The chatter quickly resumed and the hum in the room rose with the passing minutes and growing excitement. Graduation day, Fay reflected wistfully. She would be the only one walking across the stage solo, but that didn’t bother her. She was used to doing things on her own after ten years of magical education. Still, her hands twisted the fabric of her skirt, then played with her loose, dark blond curls. She forced them to stillness.
Nerves like this were unusual for her and she wondered if it was about the future. Most of her peers had positions lined up already, but none of her inquiries had yielded anything more than polite refusals or deferment. She knew it was because she lacked a partner, and yet it didn’t change her feelings on the matter. She was sure something would come along for her eventually. It had to. She forced her foot to stop tapping, impatient for the ceremony to be over with.
Her teachers had remarked throughout her schooling that her magical talents were exceptional, yet there had always been a subtle pressure from everyone around her to choose a partner, something she had stubbornly resisted. Every other student in her year had chosen someone to bind their magic and therefore their life to, but she had not.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have reasons for her decision, ones she was certain would be accepted by anyone if she were to articulate them. Except in her own mind, they felt thin, unconvincing. She had considered the idea that it was pure perversity on her part, her reaction to the way everyone insisted that she needed a partner, especially her father. Calder Derrion’s infrequent letters mentioned little else. She was to select a partner worthy of her talents and not to settle for anything less. Fay had decided years ago that he was more interested in the prestige and advancement of their House than her happiness. She no longer paid attention to his advice. So what was the true source of her resistance?
Movement caught her attention as plump, smiling Professor Aliestra walked into the room and looked around. She nodded. “Come on, now. It’s time to get into position. They’re almost ready to begin.”
Aliestra led the graduates to the darkened wing of the stage. Unseen, Professor Siveth, the headmaster gave some specific notices regarding the school and the reception that was to follow the ceremony. The line quickly shortened as people moved to stand beside their partner. Several long minutes went by before Professor Aliestra moved the first pair into position at the edge of the curtain.
Professor Siveth announced, “And graduating from the Voleno Academy this year, I have the honor and pleasure of presenting,” he paused, and Fay was certain he was consulting his notes. “Amira Friant and Soriol.”
There was a polite applause, the line moved ahead a step, and then Siveth’s voice called out Annesh and Zuri. Cianto and Koron Ollial, then Dagon and Inia. With each name called, she came closer to the front, mounting the few steps up into the wing. Eivan and Hallis. And then there was no one in front of her.
She forced herself to step out from behind the curtain, her head held high. Keeping her eyes focused on the headmaster, she ignored the buzz from the watching families and friends of the graduates. With great effort, she kept her hands and arms still at her sides. Her father would be out there, but she would not turn to look for him. He wouldn’t be smiling. He wasn’t applauding her, because she would have heard it. No one was clapping for her as she made her way across a stage that hadn’t seemed so large moments ago. She reached Professor Siveth, who shook her hand and smiled at her.
“I am so glad to see you here today, Fay. It has truly been a pleasure to have you at my school, and I look forward to watching you continue to confound the expectations of everyone who has underestimated you.” She hadn’t expected such a warm, personal comment and gave a stunned smile in response. He reached up and placed the first two fingers of his left hand on her forehead. She’d known this was coming, but was still surprised by the tightness that stretched along her hairline from one temple to the other. The pressure eased as the spell settled into her skin. The headmaster withdrew his hand. He shook hers once more and released her to walk past him.
She had gotten only a few steps when a child’s voice rang out above the still-buzzing conversation her solitude had evoked from the audience. “But I don’t understand. Why is she alone? Doesn’t she know you can’t do real magic alone?”
Fay nearly froze as the child’s voice was swallowed by a crescendo in the audience’s babble. She forced herself to keep walking, though she could hardly feel her legs now, and saw someone waiting for her that made her heart swell with gratitude. Her mentor, Professor Samell Ganson stood with a rueful smile, yet she knew the pride in his eyes was for her alone. She resisted the urge to run the rest of the way to him, walking into the wing and he pulled her into a strong hug.
“Come on,” he said quietly as the ceremony continued and the audience clapped for the next pair of graduates. “Let’s go to the reception. I’ve seen Calder here already, so we might as well get it over with. He didn’t look to be in a good humor and that little remark won’t have helped the situation any.”
He released her from the embrace but took her elbow and began guiding her along the corridor that led away from the stage. “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Fay.”
She laughed but was dismayed to find her voice unsteady. “Why? Do you imagine I don’t hear the things the other students say about me? That I somehow missed my father’s comments on the few occasions I’ve seen him since I was transferred here? Or the ones in his letters? Professor Ganson.” She stopped, forcing him to face her. “Do you think I don’t ask myself the same question?”
Pairs of students were walking past them as they came from the stage, some running their fingers over the new narrow black strip of symbols imprinted into their skin. She could still feel the tingling of her own Mark, which told the world she was a fully trained Magicia. Pulling her attention back to this unexpected conversation, she forced herself to say out loud the things that had been running through her head constantly for most of this final year. “I wonder every day why, with all the people out there, I can’t bring myself to accept any of them as a partner. What am I waiting for? Am I being too picky, or just pigheaded? It’s not like I haven’t met others who would gladly take the offer if I made it. But every time I meet someone and consider it, something holds me back, some sense that they aren’t the right one and I don’t know why. I’ve already discovered that having a future rests on having a partner, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I simply can’t imagine making the offer or accepting one from anyone I’ve met.”
There was more to it, things he didn’t know and she didn’t want to say. Ganson reached out, took one of her clenched hands in his and said, “Come on. I just saw Merinda and Vroste go by, which means that they’re nearly done in there. The reception will be starting soon and we will be expected to be there when it begins. There’s time for this discussion later, perhaps tomorrow. I’ve wanted to talk with you about this for some time, yet you always seemed unwilling. I’d like you to join me for dinner before you leave the academy in any case, and we will talk about it then.”
Fay allowed him to draw her along the corridor and into the large hall just outside the auditorium. The chamber’s two-story ceiling echoed with the voices of the gathered graduates and most of the teachers. It was early evening and lessons for the younger students, days away from their own release, were over. This allowed the entire faculty to join the celebration. Tables with food had been set up already on either side of the room. The thought of eating made her stomach clench. Her father would be coming out of the auditorium soon and she didn’t know what to say to him. She was sure he would be angry after the child’s remark. He’d been angry every time she’d seen him since the Council Magicia had announced their decision to transfer her here from the academy in Rianza. No one had explained the reason for the transfer to her, but it had felt like a small gift in some ways, though it took her away from every home she had ever known. Her father’s constant reminders to seek only her equal to bond with had become tiresome long ago. Professor Ganson’s immediate acceptance and regard for her had contrasted sharply with this, only intensifying her feeling of happiness at the time. He had been her only teacher in Voleno, as the lessons in the academy had begun to focus almost exclusively on bound magic at the time, something she was unable to study herself. Rather than feeling excluded from the other students, she’d felt privileged by the attention of such a famous and accomplished Magicia.
By the time the double doors of the auditorium opened, Fay was too nervous to speak, even though the wait was brief. People flowed down the steps and dispersed through the room to find their graduate. Many of them ignored her, and those who watched were trying not to be obvious about it. She pretended not to notice. She thought she heard that same child’s raised voice through the crowd’s babble, though mercifully not talking about her this time.
She looked up the stairs, waiting for her father to make his presence known. And there he was, appearing at the top. Their eyes met and even at a distance, she could see that he wasn’t angry. His face was impassive as he walked down the stairs, but as he drew closer she realized it was anxiety she saw in his eyes. She could hardly credit the idea, but it was undeniable. His gaze flickered around incessantly as he walked toward her. There were shadows under his eyes that hadn’t been there when she had last seen him a year earlier. Only when he stopped in front of her did his attention focus on her, but one of his hands still played restlessly with the cane he had carried with him as a curious affectation over the two last years.
His voice was steady as ever when he spoke, his tone disdainful. “Still hovering over her like a nervous guard dog, I see, Samell. As I have explained to you before, I seek only the best for my daughter.”
Professor Ganson was standing a little behind her so she couldn’t see him, but she wished she could. She was close enough to feel the tension radiating from him, so unlike his usual calm. When he spoke, he used the formal, dispassionate tone Fay had always thought of as his Ambassador’s voice. “Yes, so you have said, Viscount Derrion, but I have seen enough evidence to the contrary that I am not about to leave you alone with this bright, independent young woman. You are not a man I would make the mistake of trusting.”
If it had been anyone but her father in front of her, she would have turned around in shock at Ganson’s words. They hinted at communications she had never heard of before, and a side of her father she knew nothing of. Her father said, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, Samell. I wish to help her find her place in the world, that is all.”
Calder turned his eyes to Fay. She waited for his tirade about the embarrassment he had suffered at the ceremony because of the child’s words, perhaps another lecture about finding a suitably strong and well-bred partner, or an exhortation that she must listen to his advice above all others, as he had told her in several letters.
“It’s time for you to come home with me, Faylanna. All else must wait. Go gather your things. I can help you with that if you need, but we must leave for Iondis tonight.”
His words were so counter to her expectations that it took a minute for her to make sense of them. Even his voice, softer, more of an entreaty than a demand, confused her. As she tried to digest this strange request, Ganson said, “There’s no need for such haste, Calder, particularly as it’s already dark out. The morning should be soon enough for her to pack and begin such a long journey. If she wishes to go.”
Her father ground his teeth and then answered stiffly, “Faylanna hasn’t been home for years. Of course she wishes to go. However, none of this is your concern. She is and always will be my daughter, Samell. I will thank you to leave while I have a private word with her.”
Fay finally shook off her confusion and responded before Ganson could respond. “I would prefer he stay, Father. Anything you have to say to me can be said in front of Professor Ganson. If it can’t, then it isn’t something I care to hear.”
Calder’s eyes bulged slightly. She had never spoken to him like this and found it refreshing to assert her own will. When he finally found his voice again, it was the tense, unhappy tone she had heard so often in recent years. “I am your father, Faylanna, and you will obey me. Now go pack your things. Or we can leave right now and have the academy send your things on later. Those are your choices.”
“While I didn’t see you at the ceremony, Father, I’m sure you were there. Even if you somehow missed that I have now graduated, this,” she pointed up to the new markings around her hairline, similar to his own, “is not something you can ignore. I am now a fully qualified Magicia, with all of the rights and privileges that entails. It means that I do not, in fact, have to do what you tell me. I am, under Imperial law, now responsible for myself. Do you understand?”
The explosion she expected didn’t come. Instead, her father returned to the same quiet tone of entreaty he had used before. “I need you to come with me. It is time for you to prepare. All of these years, the sacrifices, now is when it all comes to fruition, Faylanna. There can be no further delay, no deferral. Now is the time.”
She had to fight the urge to shake off the hand Ganson placed on her shoulder as she frowned at her father. “I don’t understand, Father. Prepare for what? What are you talking about?”
“This is a matter for private discussion. You need to trust me in this.”
She laughed bitterly. “As you’ve trusted me? Why won’t you tell me what this is about?”
Calder didn’t speak, only stared at her with those anxious, now-pleading eyes. It was Ganson who broke the silence, his voice uneasy. “Fay is not going anywhere with you, Calder. Not tonight, certainly, and not ever if she doesn’t want to. I mislike anything you might have to say that is intended for no ear beyond hers, and I will not let you endanger her.”
Fay thought she heard a hidden message in the words, but didn’t understand what it might be. Her father’s jaw muscles flexed as he ground his teeth in frustration. His eyes became tight, but she thought she saw an edge of something entirely unlikely there: fear and pain. “You have no idea what you’re risking, either of you. If you won’t come with me, Faylanna, then at least come to Iondis. You must come, you must be ready. I can help you, make it easier for you.”
Fay felt bewildered again by his words. It seemed like they should make sense, but they didn’t. “Make what easier?”
“You need to do this my way. The alternative… No, mustn’t go that route. The risk if you do that, you’ve no idea.” As he spoke, the words came faster, almost running together. “Come along, Faylanna, you must come with me.”
She read a strange panic in his eyes at her simple refusal. He spun on his heel and strode from the hall, seemingly oblivious to the many people watching him leave. Fay gave him several long minutes to depart entirely from the building before turning to Ganson.
“I think I’ve had enough of this party. I’d like to leave now.” Her hands and voice were shaking and she wasn’t surprised this time. “Could you please escort me to my room?”
He looked into her eyes, his own concerned and disturbed, and then nodded. They left the room together, his arm around her shoulders. Such a wonderful graduation day, Fay thought bitterly as they departed.