Authors: Julie E. Czerneda
The Finest in DAW Science Fiction and Fantasy
by JULIE E. CZERNEDA:
A TURN OF LIGHT (#1)
A PLAY OF SHADOW (#2)
THE CLAN CHRONICLES:
REAP THE WILD WIND (#1)
RIDERS OF THE STORM (#2)
RIFT IN THE SKY (#3)
The Trade Pact Universe:
A THOUSAND WORDS FOR STRANGER (#1)
TIES OF POWER (#2)
TO TRADE THE STARS (#3)
THIS GULF OF TIME AND STARS (#1)*
Also available in a new trade paperback
BEHOLDER’S EYE (#1)
CHANGING VISION (#2)
HIDDEN IN SIGHT (#3)
IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS
*Coming soon from DAW Books
Copyright © 2014 by Julie E. Czerneda.
All Rights Reserved.
Jacket art by Matt Stawicki.
Jacket designed by G-Force Design.
Maps drawn by Julie E. Czerneda.
Photographs by Roger Czerneda.
DAW Book Collectors No. 1671.
DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).
Book designed by Jackson Typesetting Co.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61054-1
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WENTY-THREE YEARS AGO,
Within the World of Roses and Rabbits . . .
Prince Ordo Arselical of Rhoth dipped his quill in the golden inkpot reserved for matters of state. Tapping off any excess ink, he pursed his plump lips in concentration and scrawled his name below the rest. His secretary dripped a precise glob of fragrant red wax and the prince pressed his ring to it with a grunt of satisfaction, affixing the royal seal.
There. It was done.
He leaned back, arms crossed over his ample belly. From their court portraits, his predecessors watched history being made. The fools. Ordo smiled triumphantly at his great-grandfather, who’d caved to Mellynne and given up so much of Avyo, the great capital of Rhoth, without a whimper. At his grandfather, who’d squandered more wealth building roads to places no one wanted to go. Last, but not least, at his own father, whose extra chins rested on stiff lace and who’d exacerbated matters with Ansnor until their domains had plunged into an undeclared, expensive war.
Fools, the lot.
His secretary eased the next copy into place. The prince signed and sealed it, then waved off the man’s attempt to collect the document. He rested his extra chins on a beringed finger to admire his accomplishment.
Let Mellynne complain. He’d signed and sealed the document to scour that domain’s influence from Avyo’s heart. The prince chuckled. Found use for that blighted road north, hadn’t he?
Stiff with seals and fine print, approved by a thin majority of the House of Keys and a sufficiency of the House of Commons, today he, Prince Ordo Arselical of Rhoth, legally reclaimed wealth and property that should, after all, be in truly Rhothan hands. There might not be rejoicing in the streets, the populous at large more confounded than pleased, but behind closed doors?
Debt, that most useful of currencies.
Some repaid, so their owners believed, by yesterday’s vote, for he’d chosen those Rhothan hands with great care. Others to wait, their obligation settled in place like unseen chains. With this pen and document, he’d begun the elevation of those who would—who must—support his ultimate goal.
The conquest of Ansnor.
Years it would take, perhaps the rest of his life, but was he not patient? And such a grand game, this, one to savor.
Ordo touched the now-hard wax and smiled.
Rhoth’s future, and his legacy as its greatest prince, would be assured.
Time to commission his own portrait.
Four Hundred and Seventy Years Ago, Within the World of Toads and Dragons . . .
There was magic, enough. Beings who used it, or were it, or both. There was sky and earth and seasons, of a sort, though it didn’t snow. How could it? Water stayed where it was summoned, in fountains and wells, and what rained from sky to earth in its seasons was mimrol. Silver and warm, mimrol carved rivers and filled lakes, spreading magic as it flowed.
Dragons hunted the air, kruar the ground, and toads, though cousins, stayed out of sight. Terst farmed and built, bringing peace where it could flourish, and avoided dragons and kruar too. All had their place, whatever they thought of it, or if they even did.
But there were those, the sei, who thought a great deal. Sei pondered what was beyond the ken of others, being as curious as they were powerful, and one fateful day the sei wondered . . . was there more?
And one day wondered . . . could they touch it?
And all would have remained as it was, with magic enough and peace, but on a day when the light of an unseen sun dimmed, on a day when anything seemed possible, one sei reached from the world of dragons and toads, into that of roses and rabbits . . .
Tearing both worlds open.
Making both worlds bleed.
The sei mended that tear, as best it could. Used itself like thread. Held on, accepting that penance.
While dragons and toads, as well as kruar and terst, explored what the sei had wrought.
Today . . .
There’s a world of roses and rabbits.
There’s a world of dragons and toads.
Writhing through both is the edge where they meet, for the sei holds, still.
Magic, wild and potent, lives there.
And so does Jenn Nalynn.