PAIRED WITH HER WORST ENEMY…
Taya has risen from humble roots to become a fire seer in the Coalition of Mages. Eager to prove herself, she arrives in the town of Hrappa to locate a “jackal”—a mage operating outside the Coalition’s authority—who has murdered three people.
But in Hrappa, she discovers that the man assigned to be her bodyguard is Mandir, her nemesis from years ago. When she and Mandir were students, he bullied her so severely he was sentenced to a year of penance and moved to another temple.
When Mandir sees that he’s been partnered with Taya, all his old torment comes rushing back. He’s had a crush on Taya since the day they began their training, but he pushed her away, ashamed of his attraction to someone so far beneath his social class. He regrets that now and intends to make an honest attempt to win her heart—if she can forgive him for his past sins.
But first they must find the murderous jackal, before the jackal finds them.
WINNER OF THE DAPHNE DU MAURIER AWARD
Chapter 1: Hrappa
Taya trotted her black mare past the flat, unwelcoming stares of the Hrappan townsfolk. She faced forward, reminding herself not to take it personally. It wasn’t who she was that bothered them. It was what she represented.
The sunlight was fading as she rode up to the Hall of Judgment. A haughty-looking servant in belted indigo awaited her on the steps. Taya dropped lightly from the mare’s back and brushed the travel dust from her clothes. She’d come in Coalition regalia, as per instructions. Over her short riding pants, she wore a green robe of soft cotton. A belt of worked silver with a fire agate mounted on the buckle encircled her waist. Her hair was pulled up into a fan-shaped headdress, and her arms jangled with bracelets—silver, since her people did not wear gold.
The servant’s gaze raked her. “You must be the drain-cleaner we sent for.”
Taya blinked in surprise. “No, I’m Coalition.”
“Ah,” said the servant, taking the mare’s reins. “I never would have guessed.”
Taya’s cheeks warmed. Sometimes she didn’t notice right away when a person was being insincere.
The servant straightened. “What am I supposed to do with that?”
Lumbering up the stairs was Piru, her pack elephant. He was a dwarf variety, no larger than her mare, but tame and loyal and incredibly strong. “Put him in a stall next to the mare. Has my partner arrived?”
“He arrived yesterday.”
He. So her partner was a man. Taya didn’t care one way or another, so long as he was competent, but she’d been curious.
The servant circled the elephant dubiously. “Where’s the lead rope?”
“You don’t need one. Just take the mare and he’ll follow her. His name is Piru. Give him a good feed of hay and scratch him behind the ears.”
The servant gave her a look that said, I’d sooner rub a sand viper’s belly.
Poor Piru. Maybe Taya would be able to visit him in the stable herself. “Is my partner available for me to confer with before I see the magistrate?”
“The magistrate wants to see you immediately. Your partner is with him.” The servant pointed. “Straight inside, first hallway on the right, second door on the left.” He whistled, and a boy padded up the steps. The two of them spoke briefly, and the boy took the mare’s reins and led her away. Piru started to follow but hesitated, turning his gray head to Taya in confusion.
“Go on,” she urged, and Piru trotted off, ears flapping. Taya smiled.
She straightened her headdress, noting with exasperation that several locks of her hair had come loose. She tried shoving them back in, but other pieces fell out, and she decided just to leave it be. She wouldn’t make a perfect impression, but how could she be expected to after traveling all day?
Aside from its huge size and arched entryway, the Hall of Judgment was like most Hrappan buildings, a flat rectangle of baked brick. The building was stuffy inside, but now that the sun had dropped below the horizon, it would cool off. Taya turned into the first hallway on the right and looked for the second door on the left. It was guarded by a lightly armored man with a bronze mace at his belt. She caught the guard’s eye and he nodded, granting her permission to enter.
The room was unexpectedly large. A gentle breeze threaded through two windows overlooking a leafy courtyard. A high seat rested upon a raised dais, undoubtedly the chair from which the magistrate handed down his decisions, but it was empty. Three men sat around a table in the center of the room.
One of the men was old and sick—disturbingly so. His stomach was bloated and misshapen, his hair lank, and his face sweaty, as if sitting in a chair was a great effort for him. Taya suspected he was near death.
The man sitting next to him was young and healthy. Both bore the facial tattoos of the ruling caste and were well dressed. The third man, who had his back to her, wore Coalition green and silver and was obviously her partner. Seeing him, her anxiety about the mission eased a little. He looked like the sort of man one could depend on—tall and strong, with a confident manner. He was a quradum, one of the Coalition’s magic-using warriors, and his role was to protect and advise her. Given the hostility of the townsfolk here, she might need protection. As for advice, she welcomed any guidance on her inaugural mission. She hoped her partner was as seasoned as he looked.
The younger man stood to welcome her but the sick man only gave her an apologetic look. Taya gathered he was not capable of standing. Her partner rose, too, with leonine grace. As he turned, she moved toward him eagerly and froze in shock.
She knew that face.
Even if she had been uncertain in her recollection, the facial tattoos were unmistakable. The sunburst on his forehead and the lines just beneath his eyelids, all in dark red, marked him as a member of the royal house. She was looking at Mandir isu Sarrum. Taya felt sick.
Recognition dawned in Mandir’s eyes as well, and he went as still as an onager jack who catches the scent of a lion in the grass.
Buy The Fire Seer by Amy Raby.