As posting the first chapter of Bound in advance of publication was fairly popular, I thought I’d do it again. Here’s the first chapter of Possession, the second book in the Mirrors of Bershan trilogy. Please note, I strongly suggest reading Bound before diving into Possession.
The clash of swords kept time with Faylanna’s pacing, but she didn’t look over at the two men who were the source of the sound. She walked up and down the path in the garden behind the prince’s house in Rianza, making sure to stay well back from the fighting that ranged around in the small courtyard. She felt Tavis’ deep concentration as he strained to hold his own against the other man, yet she made no move toward him. Her own thoughts were circling more rapidly than her feet. Every time she managed to force her thoughts from the image of her home, she’d see it again moments later.
When she tried to remember the manor as it had looked before her last visit, she couldn’t. All she could call to mind now was the horror it had become, a memory that still made her shudder months later.
A pause and then scuffling brought her attention back to the combat and she smiled. Tavis stood over Keari, using his sword guard to pin the prince’s blade back against his shoulder. She could feel Tavis’ elation at having finally won, but Faylanna doubted that he really had. She knew Prince Keari was an expert at sword-fighting, and suspected that he was still holding himself back when he trained with her partner to keep Tavis encouraged. A moment later the prince proved her right, sliding easily out from under Tavis’ sword. A few quick steps took the older man out of her partner’s range. Though the younger man said nothing, she could feel his frustration through the bond their magic created between them. She knew he needed to be careful, or he’d do something foolish, but there was no way for her to caution him. Tavis stalked forward, trying to press Keari, to keep him from having enough time to truly regroup.
In the past few months, she had come to understand just how fast Tavis learned everything as he trained at sword-fighting and magic with equal fervor and success. She sometimes wondered how much more powerful he would be if his education hadn’t been so delayed. Soon enough, it wouldn’t matter anymore. Lydia and Eliar, his mother and great-grandfather, were nearly as proud of him as Faylanna was. Even their lessons in bound magic from Lydia and Keari were going well. She found it strange to be a novice again at magic, despite her decade of education on the subject. Tavis was oddly comforted by the situation. She didn’t understand why, nor had she found a way to ask him, but she couldn’t dismiss what she sensed from him either. After only a few months of their partnership, she was still keenly aware of their bond, and of Tavis himself.
Keari slipped around Tavis again as they continued their battle, and her partner’s increasing frustration set her thoughts circling again. Every day she waited for word to come that she could go home. She wanted to begin trying to fulfill the duty that she had inherited with her father’s death, but nothing had happened yet, causing her aggravation to grow. She knew that it was unreasonable to expect the Legacy to be handled in a matter of months, given her family’s position, but there was so much to do. She needed to begin fixing the damage that had been done at Iondis as soon as possible. She began pacing again.
As she turned to come back up the path, she saw movement by the door into the kitchen and stopped. Voslin was now leaning in the doorway, his face impassive as always, but Faylanna saw something unusual in his eyes: curiosity. She hadn’t seen the man far from Keari since they had returned to Rianza. Though she knew Voslin was the prince’s bodyguard, she didn’t remember seeing him so much before their disastrous trip to her ancestral home. She decided to ask Keari about it later. Before she could resume her pacing, Voslin looked over his shoulder. Someone must have been there, because he turned around, his posture giving the appearance of a conversation. When he turned back a minute later, he had a folded sheet of paper in one hand. His other drifted away from the short sword strapped to one of his legs.
“Your Highness,” he called and the two combatants backed away from each other before turning to him. “A letter for you.”
Voslin stepped into the courtyard then, nodding to Tavis as he passed the paper to Keari and retreated back to the doorway. Faylanna had noticed the way he always remained just outside of whatever might be going on. She supposed that was one of the skills of a bodyguard; being close enough to protect without interfering. Lydia, who had been sitting on a nearby bench watching the men practice, stood up and offered both men small towels. It was summer now, and late enough in the morning that the heat and exertion had caused both men to work up a sweat. As Keari read the letter, Tavis came over to Faylanna, smiling. He stood beside her, turning back to watch his mother and the prince together.
“I’ll get him one of these days,” he said with a mix of exasperation and respect. She kept her silence on the matter. She doubted Tavis had any idea what he was up against in that pursuit. He wiped off the worst of the sweat and tossed the towel onto his shoulder. He slid a hand across her back before pulling her close and wrapping his arms around her. The effect of his touch still amazed her, undiminished in the months they’d known each other. The small, electric warmth delighted her as much now as it had the first time he had kissed her.
“I must say, you make it hard to win a fight. It’s difficult to concentrate,” he said softly into her ear, “with you pacing your way through the stones the whole time.”
“It’s just that I need to go back.”
“I know. I don’t like it, but I understand it’s how you feel.”
Faylanna turned in the circle of his arms. “Do you? Can you? There are people who live on the estates still, and they depend on House Derrion to ensure they have the means to survive, particularly in the cold season. That means they depend on me now.”
“You’ve explained it enough times that even this ignorant farmer can understand.” His smile took enough of the sting out of the self-criticism that she didn’t try to argue with him about it. “I won’t lie and tell you I have no issue with taking you back there after all we went through. You wouldn’t believe me and I refuse to try in any case. But I understand that it’s important to you, so we’ll go. And I’m sure it’ll happen soon. A little patience, Faylanna, that’s all I’m asking. There’s time. It’s only summer, and I can help you get the late season crops sorted. That much I know quite a bit about, maybe even more than you.”
He smiled down at her and she could feel both his concern and his love for her. It soothed her restless anxiety in a way nothing else did, but she suspected that if she had to wait much longer, even that wouldn’t work anymore. “Maybe I should ask Keari again.”
Tavis hesitated, something unusual for him, particularly in the months since their bonding. “I’d wait on that. I think he’s had a lot on his mind lately. Don’t ask how I know, because I’m not sure. It’s just a feeling I get. The only time I see him not looking distracted is when he’s teaching me, either swords or… the other.”
It was still hard for both of them to keep from speaking about the one secret they were forbidden to ever utter aloud. Keari had made it clear to Tavis that the Emperor would be displeased if a single word passed either of their lips about the prince being a Magicia. The Law of Succession, one of the oldest statutes in the empire, stated quite plainly that no Magicia may ever rule. Faylanna already suspected that the Emperor had no intention of following that particular law.
“Maybe in a few days,” she said, trying to ignore the way her impatience spiked at the idea of waiting for anything.
“Faylanna,” Keari called, waving them over. “We’re expected at the palace. An official visit, which we are all to attend.”
Tavis let his arms drop and they both walked into the square. Full of wild hope, she asked, “Is it what I’ve been waiting for?”
Keari smiled at her. “I can’t say for certain, but it’s possible. Perhaps you and Tavis would like to change before we leave? I’ll have to—”
“Keari, I need to speak with you about this visit. Now,” Lydia interrupted, her voice sharp.
He turned to his partner, clearly surprised. “Lydia, the letter is fairly specific. Exactly what is there to discuss?”
“Now. Privately,” she repeated tensely. Faylanna was surprised to hear the older woman snap at the prince, whom she had loved since they were both children. She saw the circles under Lydia’s eyes and the way her entire face was drawn. Something was wrong, but she decided it wasn’t the time to ask.
“Of course. Tavis, Faylanna, could you wait here? I’m sure we won’t be long.” Keari led Lydia back into the house as Faylanna and Tavis exchanged a look. Voslin remained by the doorway, though he’d turned to watch the prince and Lydia disappear into the house.
“The palace, hmm. You might need to help me pick out the right clothing, especially if it’s an official visit, whatever difference that makes.” Faylanna could hear in Tavis’ words how nervous he was and took one of his hands in hers.
“You’ll be fine. Truthfully, I’m likely to garner most of the attention. Changes in the leadership of a House, even minor ones like mine, are infrequent enough that people will be there to watch it, to watch me,” she said unhappily, the truth coming home to her as she spoke.
“You won’t be facing it alone though. All three of us will be there, Eliar too if he gets back before we have to leave.” He hesitated. “I’ve never seen a palace before. I mean, I’ve seen something over the rooftops here, but it’s hard to tell much from that little bit. Is it like the academy?”
She smiled. “Even more beautiful, actually. Extensive gardens surround it and the palace itself is a masterpiece. Or at least, it was the last time I saw it. I couldn’t see so well on my previous trip. Keari had that hood down over my face nearly the whole time. I haven’t been for an official visit since the ball my father took me to.”
They lapsed into silence for a while, each with their own nervousness. Faylanna kept expecting Keari and Lydia to come back, but as the minutes stretched, her impatience reasserted itself. She turned to Tavis. “I’m going to start getting ready. When Keari comes back, would you let him know?” She took a step then stopped and turned back. “You should wear the new shirt and coat Soval made you last week. I think that would be perfect.”
His smile and clear satisfaction suggested he was remembering her reaction when she had insisted he try them on. Her cheeks flushed at her own memory. She turned and walked quickly back into the manor, grinning as she heard him chuckle behind her.
She had barely taken a step into the hall leading from the kitchen to the staircase when she heard raised voices. She stopped to listen. They were coming from behind the closed door of Keari’s study. She couldn’t make out the words, but could sense the shield that had been cast to keep their words private. Suddenly the words grew loud and distinct. The spell had unraveled, but she wasn’t sure if it had been done intentionally or not.
“Ever since our return, he’s been insistent that he must meet Tavis. How long do you think this stubbornness will work? He won’t be denied for much longer, Lydia. You have to know that.”
“We are not taking him with us. There is no reason for it. I refuse to take him to the palace. If need be, I’ll stay behind. Now, I have to go tell my son the news before Faylanna gets him dressed up for it.”
The door to the study was wrenched open and Lydia came storming out, going down the hall toward the kitchen. Faylanna barely had time to get out of the way, but as Lydia passed her, she thought the other woman was crying. Faylanna remained frozen where she stood, her back to the wall. A few footsteps and then a soft creak came from inside the study, the door still open. Undecided, she balanced between her need to get ready and a desire to follow Lydia in hopes of finding out what was going on. A deep sigh from the study made her aware of a third possibility and she took it. She walked over to the door and knocked gently on the frame.
“Faylanna?” Keari called out, sounding more weary than she could ever remember.
She took a step in and glanced around. The prince sat in one of the armchairs by the fireplace, leaning forward with his head in his hands. She was so used to his normally self-assured manner that this image of him took her by surprise. “Is everything all right? I- Well, I overheard…”
He raised his head to offer her a faint smile. “Lydia has been fighting the idea of taking Tavis to see my father. I don’t understand why. I know she’s worried about something, but I haven’t been able to convince her to tell me what. It’s occurred to me that she’s concerned he’ll become involved in palace intrigues he won’t fully understand, but I can’t believe she thinks that’s likely. He’s too intelligent to get himself in any real trouble that way, and quite honestly not important enough in his own right for most serious players to bother with him. I’ve tried to reassure her, but it never makes any difference. She’s adamant on the subject.”
“Would it help if I talked to her? She might listen to me, or at least tell me what the problem is.”
Keari cocked his head to the side slightly, considering, before he rubbed his eyes. “I don’t think so. I appreciate the offer, but I doubt there’s an argument you could make that I haven’t already tried. I meant what I told her though. My father will not be put off forever. He wishes to meet your partner, I suspect to ensure that you’ll be treated well. If she continues to refuse these more polite, subtle invitations for that meeting to take place, he will summon Tavis directly. I fear that would be a less friendly situation, with the Emperor requesting an explanation for their refusal to see him.”
“But he doesn’t know about this, or at least I don’t think he does. Certainly he’s not the one refusing. He’s nervous about the idea of going to the palace, seeing the Emperor, but he’s willing to go. How can he be blamed for this?”
Keari must have heard her alarm, because he smiled and waved dismissively. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure it doesn’t come to that. I can hardly protect you if I let something befall your partner, now can I? Besides, I like him. He’s a fine young man, a credit to Lydia. I won’t let her obstinacy cause him trouble. Now, we should both go prepare to leave. Will an hour suffice, or do you need more time?”
She knew he was trying to change the subject, but decided not to argue. Her impatience was already seeping back around the worry over this new problem. “I think I can be ready in that time, yes. Shall I meet you at the door?”
Keari nodded and she went upstairs.
Voslin had gone back inside the house, but Tavis was still waiting in the garden, sitting on the bench where his mother had watched them practice. She looked composed when she came out, but he noticed the redness of her eyes, the slight puffiness under them where the dark circles were. He was sure she had been crying, though she was clearly trying to hide it from him.
“Is it time to get ready, Mother?” he tried to keep his concern for her out of his voice.
“We’re not going with Faylanna and Keari.” Her voice was brittle as she spoke.
“Oh. But I thought Keari said all of us were expected.”
“Let it be, Tavis,” she said, an edge in her tone that he’d been hearing more with every day since they’d come back to Rianza.
“I’m sorry. I was just curious. I guess I figured that, with Faylanna and I- Well, I’ve never seen a palace.” He tried to keep his voice even. He wasn’t happy with the idea of Faylanna being so far from him, even for a short while. He’d told her that he would always protect her, but how could he do that from the house?
“That life isn’t for you, Tavis. It’s impossible for both of us,” she snapped.
He held his silence, carefully controlling his face while he let his temper cool instead of reacting to hers. She sat down next to him on the bench. When she spoke into the silence, he heard only contrition and was amazed that her temper could be extinguished as quickly and unexpectedly as it had flared. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“You’re ashamed of me.” It was the only reason he could think of, the only one that fit everything that had happened. He couldn’t look her in the eye, but went on before she could speak. “That’s why you never came back for me, even after you were here in Rianza. You’re ashamed of the peasant farmer you married and the child you had with him.”
She gasped, but he couldn’t make himself take the words back. Tavis didn’t think he was wrong. “No, never. Tavis, I wanted to. I missed you every day after I left. I wanted to go back, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t take you with me. I thought you understood that.”
The hurt in her voice mirrored his own feelings and made him doubt his conclusion, even though he couldn’t think of any other explanation. He looked up at her. “I don’t understand any of it. You’ve never explained anything, Mother. I love you, and I can understand why you left Father. I don’t blame you for that, but why did you leave me with him?”
“Tavis, you need to trust me in this. You can’t go to the palace, and you can’t see the Emperor. You can never be part of that world, any more than I can. I wish I could explain it to you, but there are reasons.” She put her arm around his shoulders and he suppressed the urge to shake her off. “I love you, my son. You were the one thing that kept me going during the years we were apart. I used to try to imagine how tall you were growing and I would remember your smile. Please, whatever you think of me for leaving, remember that I love you, that I left you there because of that.”
He wanted to be angry with her, for the love that hadn’t been enough, and for the way she seemed determined to keep him hidden. Yet he couldn’t, not matter how hard he tried. “I know. If I’m not going to the palace, then I think I’ll stay here in the garden and practice a little. I’m still having some trouble with water. I can’t seem to make it hold the shape I want.”
Lydia hesitated, then nodded, though she looked a little crestfallen at the implicit request to be alone. She got up from the bench and returned to the house without another word. Tavis went down the path to the fountain. He looked over his shoulder to ensure he was completely hidden there. Someone might come out into the garden, but he was certain he’d be have plenty of warning with his hearing amplified if they came his way.
He glanced down at the water in the pool around the fountain and constructed his desire carefully in thoughts, intent and magic. As the slender stream of water rose out of the pool, he was surprised and happy to note how much easier this exercise was coming to him now.
Reshaping the pattern of thoughts, he manipulated the water, bending it around itself. Carefully, slowly, he drew it along like a thread. The tricky part was trying to tie it into a knot without the whole thing becoming a ball of indistinct water. He hadn’t technically lied to his mother. He’d simply let her assume what he meant by shape, based on the lessons she had helped teach him a month ago. This was much more difficult than the cone shapes from that lesson, but he found the finer touches he was learning from the exercise more beneficial than anything else they had taught him. They were always trying to keep him to the pace of learning they thought appropriate, but he felt a constant pressure to go faster, to try to catch up to Faylanna.