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       Firebrand, p.1

           Kristen Britain
 
Firebrand


  KRISTEN BRITAIN’S

  EXCITING TALE

  OF KARIGAN G’LADHEON:

  Green Rider

  First Rider’s Call

  The High King’s Tomb

  Blackveil

  Mirror Sight

  Firebrand

  Copyright © 2017 by Kristen Britain.

  All Rights Reserved.

  Jacket art by Donato.

  Jacket design by G-Force Design.

  Book design by Stanley S. Drate/Folio Graphics Co., Inc.

  DAW Books Collector’s No. 1750.

  Published by DAW Books, Inc.

  375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014.

  All characters in the book are fictitious.

  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  Ebook ISBN: 9780698135079

  DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

  U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

  —MARCA REGISTRADA

  HECHO EN U.S.A.

  Version_1

  CONTENTS

  Books by Kristin Britain

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Acknowledgments

  Dedication

  Map

  Arrivals

  Frostbite

  Ash Girl

  The Winter Wood

  Ghosts

  Rider Crotchety

  A Poet and Memory

  Ice and Fire

  Hot Coals and a Chandelier

  Aureas Slee

  Following Sir Karigan

  An Escape

  An Understanding

  Unfinished Business

  Eminently Suited

  Idris’ Gift

  A Leaf Upon the Breeze

  Tower of the Heavens

  Merdigen’s Cat

  A Picnic

  The Fingers of a Hand

  A New Duty

  Weapons

  The Chamber of Proving

  The Swordmaster’s Patron

  The Fire Within

  Ghosts

  A Swordmaster Trains

  The Second Sword

  Captain and Arms Master

  An Appointment With Agemon

  The Birdman’s Voice

  Aureas Slee

  Trainees

  Ash Girl and Queen

  The Queen’s Request

  The Future, Good or Bad

  A Precursor to Trouble

  Taking Flight

  Farewells

  Gray On Gray

  Eletian Ways

  Aureas Slee

  The Fingers Of A Hand

  His Cold Eyes

  In Slee’s Lair

  Dead Ends

  Just Dessert

  Eli Creek Station

  The Song Of Hadwyr And Narivanine

  Witness

  The Meddling of Eletians

  Getting Back in the Saddle

  The Interesting Problem of Anna the Ash Girl

  The Poet’s Visit

  North

  Black Arrows

  Cat-Monster-Thing

  The Strange Behavior of Zachary

  What Sir Karigan Would Do

  Beneath the Open Sky

  Intercepted

  Intuition

  Rennard of the River Unit

  Tea With the Prince

  A Calling, of a Sort

  Trading For Meat

  Song of the Starry Crossing

  Playing the Part

  From King to Thrall

  Think, Observe, Protect

  The Brawler

  Portals, Avatars, and Knitting

  The Captain’s Runner

  Two Stars and a Crown

  Spirit

  Pyre of the Dead

  Spirits in the Smoke

  Ghosts

  Leaving the Green Cloak

  A Worthy Sacrifice

  Estral’s Decision

  The Lone Forest

  The Burning Fire

  Nyssa’s Workshop

  His Little Starling

  A Story

  Ghosts

  Past Midnight

  Hillander Eyes

  Ghosts

  Falling to Pieces

  The Spirit and Soul of the Realm

  A Vision of the Avatar

  Ghosts

  Stubborn

  Singing The Healing

  Determination

  The Domain of Grandmother

  Return to Nyssa’s Workshop

  Flames Entwined

  Ghosts

  Wounds Laid Bare

  Seeking Completion

  Aureas Slee

  Firebrand

  Broken

  Seeing Through the Greenie’s Eyes

  The Torment of Karigan

  Captain Treman Arrives

  Extract of Poppy

  Being the King Again

  Ghosts

  The Day Horse

  The Aeon Iire

  Preparing For Battle

  Tokens Of Esteem

  The Uncertainty of the Wait

  Setting the Trap

  The Berserker

  Breaking the Iire

  Aureas Slee

  The Death God’s Own

  Stellar Fire

  Aureas Slee

  Dark Angel

  Rage

  Heart of Ice

  Aftermath

  The Golden Guardian

  Mister Whiskers Returns

  To Not Leave

  Zachary Departs

  Rider Ash

  Oathbreakers

  Ghallos

  Solitude

  Midhaven Harbor, Coutre Province

  About the Author

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  The creation of a book is a journey, a dangerous quest through dark forests of malevolent story threads, steaming, stinking quagmires of grammatical conundrums, and toothy mountain ranges of authorial uncertainty. Opposing forces of all kinds (including procrastination orcs) attempt to thwart the goal of the quest. (That would be the book you now hold.) The author would not overcome such obstacles without helpers along the way. This is her (my) opportunity to thank them.

  Any quest would be much more difficult and lonely without stalwart companions to help face the many perils encountered. Thank you to the Schoodic Peninsula Writers Group East (especially when I presented stacks of chapters for critique): Cynthia Thayer, Brian Dyer Stewart, Melinda Rice, and Bianca Lech.

  Some quests require someone with an extraordinary skill to accomplish a task in order for the protagonist to achieve her goal. In a fantasy story, that might be a thief or swordfighter. In the production of this book, it was the sharp pen-wielding expertise of my copyeditor, Annaliese Jakimides. I thank her for her skillful and sensitive touch in making this book better. Yay style sheets!

  If I am to take thi
s analogy further, there has to be a wizard, and that title I give to my editor, Betsy Wollheim, who magically brings everything together, and whose story insight I value. Working with Betsy at DAW Books are co-wizard and co-editor, Sheila Gilbert, and their wizardlings: Josh Starr, Katie Hoffman, Briar Herrera-Ludwig, Sarah Guan, Peter Stampfel, and George. I thank them all for the benevolent use of their magic on my books. And actually, they sort of sound like a rock band.

  There is often a mysterious, cloaked figure in a story who makes things happen behind the scenes. In my case, there are three. I thank my agents Russell Galen, Danny Baror, and Heather Baror-Shapiro for doing the mysterious things they do.

  Thank you also to artist Donato Giancola who has cast a magical spell of his own with yet another beautiful cover painting, as well as to his counterpart in France, Alexandre Dainche.

  I also thank wise woman Chris (Chrissy) Thompson for sitting with me in coffee shops to pursue some very odd conversations despite the concerned looks and raised eyebrows of other patrons directed our way.

  And to my readers, thank you for giving the Green Rider books a try. You are, for a writer, journey’s end. Now, where is the village tavern and its barkeep?

  • • •

  Ruth Stuart, I miss you, but I always see you in the shimmer of the stars at night.

  For

  Elizabeth Patton

  and

  Katharyn Howd Machan

  and

  all the educators

  whose encouragement lifted me

  like a leaf

  upon a wisp

  of a

  breeze

  ARRIVALS

  “I know you can do it.” Mara placed her hands on Karigan’s shoulders and squeezed.

  “But—”

  “You survived Blackveil and Mornhavon the Black. You’ve even been through time!”

  “I don’t know . . .” Karigan glanced uncertainly toward the open doors of the throne room. The guards posted there watched her with interest.

  “I know.” Mara turned her around and marched her toward the entrance.

  This had to happen sooner or later, Karigan thought, but still she resisted. Mara just pushed harder until they stood on the threshold.

  “Now be a good Green Rider and go on in there,” Mara said.

  “Easy for you to say. Aren’t you coming?”

  “Heavens no! You couldn’t drag me.”

  “Coward.” Karigan knew her friend meant well, but a little more support would not have been asking too much.

  Mara simply smiled and gave her a gentle push. Karigan took a shaky breath and stepped across the threshold into the throne room.

  “KARIGAN HELGADORF G’LADHEON!”

  It thundered like a pronouncement of doom from the gods, and she pivoted as if to run back the way she had come, but Mara, arms crossed and shaking her head, blocked her escape.

  “Helgadorf?” asked an amused voice. King Zachary.

  Karigan winced, and warmth crept into her cheeks. Mara grinned at her.

  “Named after her great grand aunt, Your Majesty,” came a crusty reply. “A prickly old banshee no one particularly liked. Why Stevic would name her after—”

  “Brini!” came a sharp warning.

  Karigan slowly turned back around. There arrayed before the king’s throne, with a frazzled-looking Captain Mapstone in their midst, were her aunts, all four of them, and standing aloof just off to the side, her father. When Mara had informed her of their arrival, she’d been caught off guard, for they’d sent no forewarning, and it was winter, when travel was difficult. Karigan, still struggling to adjust to ordinary life after her all-too-recent adventures, coupled with the accompanying darkness and sorrow, now faced a huge dose of “ordinary” in the form of her family, and it threatened to overwhelm her.

  Her aunts could exasperate even the stoutest of souls at the best of times, and she was so very tired . . .

  “Helgadorf was more a leader than anyone else on Black Island during her day,” Aunt Stace said with a sniff. “She organized the island to repel pirates and raids from the Under Kingdoms.”

  “She was still a banshee,” Aunt Brini muttered, and then whispered loud enough for all to hear, “and she still is.”

  Great Grand Aunt Helgadorf had been dead for forty years.

  Ignoring her sister, Aunt Stace, with her hands on her hips, said, “Don’t just stand there like a post without a fence, Kari girl, come here.”

  Karigan glanced over her shoulder. Mara had not lingered to witness the reunion. She considered making a run for it, but doing so would only prolong the inevitable. Best to face them now. She took a deep breath and started walking slowly down the runner like a swimmer reluctant to dive into icy water. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see her family—she loved them more than anything—but she didn’t want to face their questions about the expedition into Blackveil, about how she’d gone missing and was presumed dead. She didn’t want to speak of the future and her experiences there because to do so was to relive the dark. And her memories of Cade? Those were hers, and hers alone, and not a casual topic of conversation. Knowing her aunts, however, they would pick and pry until they stripped the carcass to the bone.

  When she had written them after her return just over a month ago, she’d been characteristically terse, reassuring them she was alive and well, but avoiding the painful details. Captain Mapstone had also written her father, but she had no idea what had been said. Her aunts’ questions would come, she knew, from a place of love and concern, but she was not ready or willing to encourage them with additional fodder.

  And then there was the subject of her eye, about which she had said nothing, and about which they were bound to make an issue. She touched the leather patch that covered it, her right eye, and took another determined breath and picked up her pace. When she reached her aunts, they swarmed her with crushing hugs and kisses and complaints.

  “You are too skinny!”

  “We were told you were dead!”

  “Thank the gods you came back to us.”

  Aunt Gretta stared at her critically, her head canted to the side. “What is wrong with your eye?”

  “Got something in it, is all,” Karigan replied.

  “Let me see.” Aunt Gretta reached for her eyepatch.

  “No!” Karigan backed away.

  “I just want to see what’s wrong with your eye,” Aunt Gretta said in a stung voice.

  Karigan covered it with her hand. “No.”

  “Removing the patch,” Captain Mapstone said, “causes her eye pain.”

  That was very true, but it was so much more than that.

  Because the captain had spoken up, all four aunts now turned on her demanding explanations. The captain must have known this would happen, and Karigan made a mental note to thank her at the next opportunity.

  Her father, who had stood remote, used the distraction to finally reach for her, his arms wide open. She stepped into his embrace and hugged him hard. “We had to come and see you,” he murmured. “Nothing could stop us. We thought we had lost you.”

  “I know,” she said, “but I came back. I am too stubborn to be lost. Stubborn, like you.”

  When they parted, he rubbed his eyes. Karigan stared, astonished. Had she ever seen him cry before? He took a rattling breath and collected himself. “I would like the complete story of what happened to you. The captain,” and now his voice tightened, “was vague on the subject, and your letter was, shall we say, rather lacking?”

  “I, uh—”

  At that moment, a hand rested on her sleeve. Startled, she looked up. The king. He had descended from his throne chair and approached from her blind side. She’d never get used to the loss of her peripheral vision in that eye.

  “Your Majesty,” she said a little breathlessly. She l
ooked down, unable to meet his gaze, for it held so much that remained unresolved between them.

  “I believe your captain requires rescuing.”

  She glanced at her besieged captain. All four aunts were still chivvying her about Karigan’s appearance, and didn’t she take better care of the people under her command? Thankfully, Karigan thought, they could not see her other scars, those of the flesh hidden by her uniform, as well as the invisible wounds within.

  “Enough,” she told them firmly. “Captain Mapstone is not to blame for anything.” When this failed to quell their outrage, she added, “And do not forget you are in the king’s presence.”

  That silenced them, and quite suddenly they each looked ashamed and started curtsying to the king and uttering chastened apologies. Captain Mapstone simply looked relieved.

  “Sir Karigan,” the king said, “We are releasing you from duty so you may spend a couple days with your family. We hope you will be able to satisfy their curiosity about your most recent exploits. And to your family, We say, know that Sir Karigan has Our highest esteem. She has served this realm well and courageously time and again. She should receive no reproach from her closest kin, only praise and honor.”

  Karigan stared at him in surprise. First, he had used the royal “we,” which she had rarely, if ever, heard from him. Then there was the rest of his speech. Her aunts looked astonished and her father very proud. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t known the king regarded her highly; he had knighted her, after all, but it must have made more of an impression on them coming directly from his mouth. It certainly impressed Karigan.

  Her father bowed. “Thank you, sire. I have always considered my daughter exceptional, and it pleases me she has served Your Majesty well. But we have been enough of a distraction to you, as you must have important matters of state to attend to.”

  As if his words had been prescient, there was a brief commotion at the throne room entrance, and a moment later, Neff, the herald, bolted down the length of the room and bowed before the king. “Your Majesty, visitors from—”

  He didn’t have to complete his sentence for them to know where the visitors were from. Three of them, cloaked in shimmering gray against the winter, entered the throne room. The dim afternoon light seemed to stretch through the tall windows for the singular purpose of brightening their presence. The trio glided down the runner with long, matched strides. Not too fast, not too slow.

 
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