“Cas Peace’s Artesans of Albia series immediately sweeps you away to a
world so deftly written. These nesting novels are evocative, hauntingly
real. Smart. Powerful. Compelling.”
Janet E Morris: Bestselling sci-fi and fantasy author of: Thieves World,
The Sacred Band of Stepsons series; the Dream Dancer series; I, the Sun;
Outpassage; The Silistra Quartet; and editor of the Bangsian In Hell
“A thoroughly believable and hauntingly evocative tale portraying one of
the best magical systems ever devised. What are you waiting for? Step
through the veil and immerse yourselves in the worlds of the Artesan
Andrew P. Weston – Author of the internationally bestselling “IX Series”
The red-haired man who had once been Othal, swordsman of Lerric’s personal guard, looked about him in confusion. He had somehow traveled through a misty, shimmering cloud to this strange place, and he had a task. He had a vague recollection of something dreadful happening to him, something violating, invasive, and agonizing, but had no clear memory of what. Or who had done it. He could not even remember what he had done yesterday. His life before this moment was a blur. All he knew was he hurt and an imperative existed in his mind. If he did not carry out his orders to exacting standards, he would suffer horribly.
Shivering in fear, he scratched at his chest, yelping when his dirty nails caught on a painful spot. He glanced down at his clothing, pulling it away with one hand. The raw, running sore that met his eyes nearly provoked a memory, but it left as quickly as it came. As he readjusted his clothing, Othal forgot both pain and sore.
He hid among winter-bare woodlands, close by a worn path. Evergreen shrubs surrounded black-limbed trees, affording him cover from the wind and the cold, as well as casual eyes. Not that there were any. He had been here since dawn without seeing a soul.
His eyes, prickling from the cold, gazed at the rope. One end was tied to the bole of a tree opposite; the other lay at his feet. He had brushed snow over its length with a branch, also wiping out his own tracks. His subjugated mind did not question what he had done. His actions were automatic. All he needed to do now was wait.
There it was. The thump of hoof beats. His own heart pounded as he readied himself. He took up the free end of the rope, eyeing the pathway to his right, from whence the rider would come. Courage and sure-footedness were prerequisites for runners and their horses. The pair would be moving fast.
Othal had orders not to permanently damage horse or rider. It was vital they be fit to carry out their duties. He must time his attack to perfection. Too early and the horse might see the rope in time to jump it cleanly. Too late and it might tangle its limbs, breaking a leg or its neck. Neither was acceptable. Othal desired the horse to swerve abruptly, throwing its rider, who should land softly on the recent fall of snow.
Well, that was the plan.
The muffling snow was playing tricks on him and the pair was closer than Othal had thought. He was nearly too late with the rope. He jerked it tight at the last moment, but still the horse tripped over it. Squealing in fear and pain, the beast thudded to the ground in a flurry of legs, kicking out and scattering snow. Taken by surprise, the rider yelled, pitching over the horse’s shoulder to land heavily at the base of a tree.
Othal leaped from hiding, another shorter length of rope in his hands. He sped to the dazed rider as the horse scrambled upright. He knelt beside the groaning rider and pulled the young man’s arms tight behind his back.
The rider yelped again, but Othal took no notice. The youth’s eyes flew open, fastening on Othal as the ropes bit. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he rasped, his pale face spattered with dirty snow. “I’m a King’s runner. You risk death by harming me. I carry nothing of interest to you, scum, so you might as well let me go. And my horse is branded, so you won’t be able to sell it.”
Othal knew this. He knew all about Elias’s runner system and how it operated. He had heard Lerric’s grudgingly admiring comments many a time, and his sullen laments about not having the funds to set up a similar service himself. Othal ignored the rider and crossed to the shivering horse. He caught its reins, soothing it with a murmured word. He ran a practiced hand down its slender legs, relieved to find no heat in the tendons. He led it forward a few steps. It was sound.
He breathed a sigh of relief. He had fulfilled the first part of his orders. Going back to the young man, who was still trying to convince his captor to let him go, Othal stared down at him. The youth was barely more than a boy, and Othal felt a twinge of doubt. Would the lad be old enough? Would he have the knowledge his master required? What if he wasn’t a local? But that was not likely. This place was so remote, so isolated. No one in their right mind would come here looking for employment if they lived far away. Many did not even know of its existence.
Bending to the lad, Othal tapped him below one ear with the butt of his dagger. The youth collapsed, unconscious. Checking that the precious message pouch was still secure on the runner’s belt, Othal picked him up and slung him across his horse’s saddle. Using the rope he had brought the beast down with, Othal fashioned long reins to the horse’s bit. He walked behind the animal, driving it like a plow horse, stepping in the prints of its hooves to mask his tracks as he made for his hiding place. Now all he had to do was wait for his master’s call.