The Fire Prince
The Seven Kingdoms are in the grip of an ancient and terrible blood curse. Thousands have died. Thousands more will die. Only one man can end the curse.
The fugitive Osgaardan prince, Harkeld, is that man—whether he likes it or not. But the bounty on Harkeld’s head is high. He has outrun his father’s soldiers, but he can’t outrun the assassins who seek him—Fithians, trained in the art of killing. Even the Sentinel mages who guide and guard him are no match for Fithian steel. Faced with the ever-present threat of death, Harkeld must learn to use his fire magic. Or die.
Meanwhile, dark plots are unfolding in Osgaard’s gold-tiled palace, snaring Princess Brigitta and those she loves. And in the eastern kingdoms, young orphan Jaumé journeys with a band of mysterious and dangerous fighters, heading north for a purpose he does not understand.
“The pacing was excellent. I find myself chomping at the bit to get my hands on book three as soon as possible.”
–Make Kay, Fresh Fiction
“Gee has done a great job turning a simple quest story into a tale of intrigue and revenge.”
–Simon Litten, Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand
Nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel Award
What are these images?
One of them is found at the head of each chapter.
- The wolf and flames marks the story of Prince Harkeld and the mages.
- The sword and crown marks the story of Princess Brigitta and her armsman, Karel.
- The footprint marks the story of young orphan Jaumé.
Jaumé rode a tough little pony with short legs and a bony spine. He used his folded blanket as a saddle. The one thing he knew he mustn’t do was complain. These men watched him, even Bennick watched, with a scant glance now and then, and they had ears for everything, without seeming to listen.
Bennick gave a grin of approval when he saw the use Jaumé put his blanket to.
The other men didn’t grin, or wink at him the way Bennick sometimes did. They were neither friendly nor hostile. Jaumé knew they’d all been what he was—orphaned—but it was Bennick who’d found him. Bennick whose charge he was.
Before dusk, Nolt led his band away from the road. They followed a stream across the fields to a small copse.
Jaumé let his pony drink, then rubbed her down, copying the actions of the men. He helped Bennick dig a firepit and ring it with stones, watching the other men unload the packhorses, seeing the way they worked together with the ease of long familiarity, hardly needing to speak. This was his second night on the road with them and he knew all their names now. Nolt. Old Maati and young Kimbel. Odil. Black-skinned Gant. Steadfast, called Stead by the others, and Ashandel, called Ash.
The men were Brothers, and Bennick had said he could be one too, if he was quick and tough and brave enough.
When the firepit was finished, Jaumé sat back on his heels and looked at Bennick.
“Now what do we need?” Bennick asked.
“Firewood,” Jaumé said promptly.
Bennick laughed and ruffled Jaumé’s hair, the way Da used to do. “Good lad.” He crossed to the pile of unloaded equipment and fished out an axe. “Come on. Help me find some wood.”
Jaumé hurried after him.
Not far into the copse they found a fallen tree. The wood was as pale and dry as bone.
Jaumé gathered the firewood Bennick chopped, stacking it in piles. After several minutes, Bennick stripped off his shirt. His chest was tanned, furred with red-blond hair. On his right bicep was a small mark, blue-black.
“A tattoo. You never seen one?”
Jaumé shook his head. “Is it a picture?”
“It’s a picture of this.” Bennick reached down to his waist, where a round pouch of dark leather was fastened. One moment his hand was empty, the next, he held a metal disk. No, not a disk, a knife with five blades.
“What is it?”
“We call it a Star.” Bennick flicked it in the air with a flashing twirl of blades and caught it again. He held it out to Jaumé.
Jaumé took the Star reverently. The metal was polished to a gleaming brightness, the blades as sharp as razors.
“The tattoo marks me for a Brother,” Bennick said. “We all have them. If you join us, you’ll have one too.”
“Will I have one of these?” Jaumé didn’t dare throw the Star as Bennick had done. Those blades would slice off his fingers.
His imagination took flight, showing him his fingers spinning in the air, like thick pink worms, and scattering across the grass at their feet.
“You can have as many Stars as you want.” Bennick’s blue eyes smiled the way Da’s had used to. “Do you want that, lad?”
Bennick held out his hand for the Star.
Jaumé gave it back reluctantly. “Will you teach me to spin it, the way you did?”
Bennick laughed as he slipped the Star into the pouch again, showing a flash of white teeth. “You need to learn how to throw a knife first, lad. Once you’ve done that you can think about Stars.”
“Will you teach me how to throw a knife?”
“I have the one I made when I was your age. If I let you use it, you’ll have to look after it. Sharpen it. Oil the blade. You can only throw a knife when you know it well enough. But now, let’s shift this wood.”
That night, after they’d eaten, Bennick went to his pack and took out a small bundle wrapped in soft leather. He sat down by Jaumé and folded the leather back. Inside was a plain cowhide sheath, with a white bone handle poking out the top.
Jaumé’s fingers went out, almost as if the bone handle pulled them towards it. “Can I…?”
Jaumé wrapped his hand round the handle. It was cold, but the shape seemed welcoming. He felt his fingers fit in the shallow grooves Bennick had cut for his own fingers long ago. He didn’t ask if he could pull the blade out; already, the knife was shifting from Bennick to him. He felt it. The bone seemed to take warmth from his skin and return it. He drew out the blade. It shone in the firelight.
“You made this?” he said with awe.
“Made the handle, chose the blade, put the two together,” Bennick said. “That’ll be one of your first lessons when you reach Fith.”
“How old were you?”
“Same as you. Eight.”
Jaumé felt a thrill of excitement. He wanted to make a knife like this.
“How does it feel?” Bennick asked.
“Good. Is it…?” Mine? He glanced at Bennick, asked the question silently.
“You can use it. If it lets you.”
“Practice. Touch the blade. Careful, now.”
Jaumé put his finger on the sharp edge. At once he felt a sting of pain. He drew his finger back and saw a drop of blood form.
“It cut me.”
“No, you cut yourself. You went too fast. There’s no easy way. There’s only hard work. Can you do that?”
“Yes.” Jaumé turned the knife over in his hand. “Can I give it a name?”
“No,” Bennick said. “It’s a knife.” He patted the pouch at his waist. “And these are Stars. They’re not for games. They’re tools. You learn what they can do, then you make them do it.”
Jaumé nodded. A knife is a tool.
Carefully, he wiped the faint mark of his blood from the blade and fitted it back in the sheath. I’ll work hard. I want to be a Brother.
* * *
They crossed into Sault on the ninth day out of Cornas, moving through throngs of refugees. The soldiers manning the border post made no attempt to control the press of dusty, ragged people and carts piled high with household goods. Here was the same smell Jaumé had smelled in Cornas—sweat, with a sour undertone of fear. The curse seemed suddenly real again. He heard howling laughter, heard the crackle of flames. Rosa’s scream echoed in his head. The smell of Mam’s blood was in his nose.
Terror wrapped its fingers around his heart, squeezing.
And then he looked at Bennick, sitting easily on his horse, and the terror vanished. While he was with Bennick and the Brothers, he was safe.
Mid-afternoon they rode over the pass into Ankeny. Harkeld halted and looked back. Dry, rocky hills hid the Masse desert. The red sand and the ruined city, the catacombs, were ten days behind them. “Do you see something?” his armsman, Justen, asked. “Someone following?”
Harkeld shook his head. The only people behind them were dead. Lundegaard’s soldiers in their fresh graves. The Fithian assassins lying where they’d fallen. The ancient desert dwellers crumbling in their tombs.
The long string of packhorses passed them. Ebril rode last, whistling, his red hair glinting in the sun. “All right?” he called.
Harkeld nodded. He unstoppered his waterskin and swallowed a mouthful of lukewarm water.
Justen wiped dust from his face. “Prince Tomas should be at the escarpment by now.”
Harkeld grunted. In another week, Tomas would be at King Magnas’s castle. Telling the king I’m a witch.
Memory swept over him: fire igniting in his chest, flames bursting from his skin, an inferno roaring in his ears. With memory came a surge of panic. He’d not been able to control the fire, had been on the point of bursting into flames—
Harkeld shoved the memory aside. He rammed the stopper into the waterskin.
“We’d best not get too far behind,” Justen said. “Those cursed assassins…”
The back of Harkeld’s neck tightened at the words. He nudged his horse forward. It picked its way between the rocks. Far to the north the sea glittered. Somewhere in that glitter was a port town called Stanic, and more witches sent to strengthen their numbers. The most powerful of the shapeshifters, Innis, had gone in search of them two days ago.
To the southeast were mountains, the long range called the Palisades that cut Ankeny off from the sea. The mountains marched into the distance, snowcapped. Ahead were forested highlands, a tufted green carpet that stretched east as far as he could see. Tomorrow they’d be down there, in among the trees. How long since he’d last stood beneath a tree? Three weeks? Four?
He yearned for green leaves and damp earth and cool shade, but that dense forest also made him uneasy. How many assassins did it hide?
* * *
They camped beside a riverbed. No water flowed, but in a deep hollow was a stagnant pool. They unloaded the packhorses, let them drink, fed them the grain carried from Lundegaard. Harkeld helped Justen pitch the tents, then fashioned a rough firepit and piled the last of their wood into it.
Cora, the most senior of the witches, crouched alongside him and snapped her fingers. Harkeld flinched as the branches flared alight. The memory of flames stung his skin.
He shook his head sharply, angry with himself, and glanced around. Had anyone noticed him flinch?
No. Justen was laying out bedrolls and blankets in the tents and Ebril was rubbing down the horses. Of the other shapeshifters, there was no sign. They’d be somewhere in the gathering dusk, keeping watch for danger.
Harkeld looked back at Cora, with her plain, weary face and thick plait of graying sandy hair. “Cora?”
“Yes?” She didn’t look up from unpacking the cooking pots.
“Dareus said that Sentinels can strip witches of their magic.”
Cora stopped what she was doing. She looked at him. “If a mage misuses his magic, then yes, Sentinels will strip him of it.”
“Can you strip me of my mine?” Please.
Cora surveyed him for several seconds. Had she heard the desperation in his voice? “Myself? No. Only healers can do it. Innis could do it.”
Innis? He felt his face stiffen. Memory swooped back: the catacombs, a smoking torch, skeletal corpses jostling each other as they guarded the anchor stone. He heard Innis’s voice clearly in his head: I thought you were braver than this.
“Not someone else?” Harkeld said. “Not Petrus?”
Cora shook her head and went back to unpacking the pots. “He’s not a strong enough healer. Some of the Sentinels who’re joining us should be. We asked for more healers.”
Harkeld watched her sort through the bundles of dried food. Her hands were brisk, competent, short-fingered. If no new healers come…
He clenched his teeth together. If it had to be Innis, he’d do it. He’d get down on his knees and beg her. Anything to be rid of the fire inside him. “How is it done? Will I still be able to travel?”
Cora laid down the bundles and met his gaze squarely. “Prince Harkeld, you’re an extremely strong fire mage. Stronger than I am, at a guess—”
“I don’t want to be a witch.”
“Whether you want to or not is irrelevant. You are one.”
He shook his head.
She looked at him for a long moment, as if weighing options. He saw a decision firm her mouth. “Once the third anchor stone is destroyed, we’ll strip you of your magic. But until then, you must use it.”
“What?” He shook his head, pushed to his feet. “No!”
“Your magic saved your life in the canyon. And from what Innis tells me, it saved you both in the catacombs.”
He didn’t look at her, didn’t acknowledge her words. He stared at the sun sinking behind the horizon.
“We need every advantage we can get, sire. Surely you see that? If you die…”
If I die, so could everyone on this continent.
“Fire magic is frightening,” Cora said matter-of-factly. “And the more magic one has, the more frightening it is. Until one learns to control it.”
He turned his head to look down at her.
“Only a fool wouldn’t be afraid.” Cora held out a large iron pot. “Can you fill this with water, please?”
Harkeld walked down to the stagnant pool, filled the pot, brought it back to the fire. Cora looked at the scum floating in it and wrinkled her nose. “We’ll strain it.” She took another pot and laid a strip of cloth over it. “You pour.”
Harkeld hefted the heavy pot.
“I’ll teach you to use your fire magic,” Cora said, as the dirty water splashed onto the cloth. “So you can use it to protect yourself. And once the curse is broken, one of the healers will strip you of it. If that’s what you wish.”
Use it again?
He remembered the canyon, red cliffs towering over him, the assassin screaming as he burned. He remembered the catacombs, the ocean of fire, the deafening roar of flame.
“Innis told me what happened in the catacombs,” Cora said as he lowered the empty pot. “She was right; fire was the only way through, but the risk… You’re lucky the two of you are still alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“If my guess is correct, you’re strong enough to set stone on fire. You could have burned everything. Not just the corpses, but the entire catacombs. There would have been nothing left. You and Innis…” She made a sharp gesture with one hand. “Incinerated. And then what would have happened? We wouldn’t even have had your body.”
And the curse would never be broken. And everyone in the Seven Kingdoms would die.
Cora hung the pot on an iron tripod over the fire. Harkeld’s eyes followed the movement of her hands, but his mind was back in Masse. He saw a gray dawn, a smoky battlefield, Dareus lying broken-necked. If you’d used your magic, you sniveling coward, he’d still be alive! The voice was Gerit’s, hoarse with rage and exhaustion. He’s dead because of you!
He’d felt the truth of the words then, and he felt them still. Dareus would be alive if he’d dared to use his magic.
“If… if I agree to learn…” The words were astonishingly difficult to utter; they clogged in his throat and stuck on his tongue. Harkeld swallowed. “If I agree—”
“If you agree, you have my word that one of our healers will strip your magic from you once the curse is destroyed.”
The word of a witch. What was that worth?
He stared at Cora. She wasn’t Dareus, whom he’d grudgingly trusted, but Dareus was dead, buried beneath the desert sand, and Cora led them now. She was… perhaps not completely human, but not the monster he’d once thought witches were.
Harkeld took a deep breath, ignored the panic churning in his stomach, and nodded. “I agree.”
“Good. Can you fill that pot again, please? We need to boil some water to drink.”
They strained a second pot of water and set it on the fire. Cora opened bundles of dried meat. “We’ll start small. Can you fetch a candle?”
“What? Now?” Harkeld rocked back on his heels, alarmed.
“Why not?” She looked at him, her eyes reflecting the firelight. “You want to be able to control it, don’t you?”
“Uh… I should really help with the packhorses.” He gestured to where Ebril and Justen worked.
Her voice wasn’t scornful, as Innis’s had been. She sounded sympathetic, motherly. As if I’m a child, not a man of twenty-four.
Harkeld flushed. He pushed to his feet and went to fetch a candle. Fear built in his chest as he brought it back to the fire. The first pot was simmering. He watched Cora put in handfuls of dried meat, dried vegetables, a scattering of dried herbs; nearly the last of the supplies they’d brought from Lundegaard. She dusted her palms one against the other. “Sit down beside me.”
He did, his legs stiff with reluctance.
“We’ll start with this.” Cora snapped her fingers. A single flame flared on one fingertip, and then went out. “Fire magic is inside me, in my blood, and I choose to release it. I could have it come out my nose if I wanted to, but this…”—she snapped her fingers again—“is simple and safe. My magic is focused on one point that I can see. I’m not going to accidentally burn myself or anyone else.”
She looked at him as if expecting a response. Harkeld nodded.
“When I was learning, I found it easiest to visualize a tinderbox. Flint strikes steel and you have a spark.” Cora snapped her fingers, the flame flared again for an instant. “You try. Concentrate on your hand. Try to feel the magic in your blood. Imagine that it’s warm and stings a little.”
Harkeld took a deep breath. He looked at his right hand. His mind gave him images of what might happen: his hand engulfed in flames, becoming a blackened claw. “What if my hand catches fire?”
“I’ll put it out.”
His gaze jerked to her face. “It can happen?”
“It’s extremely rare for fire mages to burn themselves. It’s… how can I put it? The magic is in your blood, and your blood is in your body, and it’s as if the magic knows it shouldn’t burn itself. Does that make sense?”
“I saw someone make fire come out of his ears once,” Cora said. “A student fooling around. His hair caught alight. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen a mage hurt himself with his own fire.”
His mind shied away from the image her words conjured.
“I doubt you’ll burn yourself, Prince Harkeld, but if you do, I’ll put it out.”
Harkeld tried to swallow his fear, but it stuck in his throat, a choking lump. Stop being such a baby, he told himself. He gritted his teeth and stared at his right hand, trying to feel the magic in his blood. Warm and stinging, Cora had said.
The magic hadn’t been warm and stinging in the catacombs. It had been hot, a searing pain that had roared through him.
In a rush, he felt it again: fire sizzling along his veins.
“Can you feel it?”
Harkeld nodded, his jaw clenched. His hand felt so hot the skin should be blistering, smoking.
“Now imagine your hand is a tinderbox and snap your fingers.”
He was sweating, afraid. It was stupidly difficult to breathe. “You’ll put it out if…”
“I’ll put it out.”
Harkeld gulped a breath, visualized a tinderbox—flint striking against steel—and snapped his fingers.
Flame roared high, white-hot, lighting up the campsite like a flash of lightning.
Panic burst in his chest. He rocked backwards, thrusting his hand away from himself. His mouth opened in a shout, but before it was uttered, Cora laid her hand over his, quenching the flame.
Harkeld stared at her, his mouth still open, his heart beating wildly. Behind Cora he saw Justen and Ebril turn their heads, startled. The horses moved uneasily, one half-rearing.
Cora’s lips twitched in a smile. “I see I shall have to teach you how to dampen your magic.”
He closed his mouth, found his voice. “Dampen?”
“You don’t need that much magic to light a candle. Just a tiny amount.” She released his hand. “Now, try again. Feel the magic in your blood.”
I don’t want to. Harkeld took a deep breath. He looked at his hand again and tried to sense magic there. This time it came quickly, a painful flood of heat.
“Is it hot?”
He nodded, gritting his teeth.
“How?” His voice was tight with pain.
Harkeld snarled at the uselessness of this advice. Not so hot, he said in his head. Not so hot. But it didn’t make any difference. His skin felt like it was sizzling, his blood boiling. Panic rose in him. Any moment now his hand would burst into flames and—
“Not working?” Cora reached out and took his wrist. “Come with me.”
Harkeld stumbled to his feet and followed her, down into the riverbed. Her fingers pinched his wrist, pinched back his panic. Curse it, but his hand burned—
Cora crouched, pulling him to his knees, and plunged his hand into the stagnant pool.
Harkeld hissed. He half expected to see steam rise.
“Keep telling your magic that you don’t need all of it,” Cora said. “You only need enough to light a candle.”
He did, over and over in his head. Not so hot. I only need a little. Just enough for a candle. The water helped. His hand began to cool. His panic trickled away, leaving him feeling foolish.
Cora released his wrist. He could barely see her in the dusk. “Now, try snapping your fingers again.”
Harkeld lifted his hand from the water. He felt the magic in his blood, warm, pulsing in time to his heartbeat.
He shook off the drops and took a deep breath. Just enough for a candle. He imagined his hand was a tinderbox and snapped his fingers.
A flame appeared, steady and orange, dancing on the end of his forefinger. The light it cast showed him Cora’s face. She smiled. “See? You control your magic, Prince Harkeld. It doesn’t control you.”
He nodded, too relieved to be able to speak.
“You have the candle?”
He fished in his pocket with his left hand.
He did. It became even easier to see Cora’s face. “Well done,” she said.
He felt no sense of accomplishment. The flame burning quietly at the end of his finger, the lit candle—they weren’t things to be proud of; they were the first steps to becoming what he’d reviled all his life: a witch.
No. It was the first step to having the magic stripped from his blood. The first step to not being a witch.
Cora stood. “Let’s get back to the fire. I think the stew’s about to boil over.”
The flame still burned on the end of Harkeld’s forefinger. “How do I put his out? Douse it in water?”
“Pinch your thumb and finger together and imagine you’re snuffing a candle.”
He did. The flame vanished.
“You won’t always need to use imagery like that,” Cora said, as he followed her back to the fire. “But for now it’s easiest. Like the tinderbox.” She crouched and stirred the stew. “Put out that candle and try lighting it again.”
“But the pool—“
“You shouldn’t need water to dampen your magic, now that you know you can do it. That’s a lot of what magic’s about. Knowing what you can and can’t do. If you doubt yourself, if you’re afraid, it becomes a lot harder. Magic is in the blood, but our ability to use it comes from up here.” Cora tapped her forehead.
A black owl glided low over the camp and landed beside the tents.
“Ah, Innis is back. She’ll need her clothes.” Cora gave him the wooden spoon. “Keep stirring. And once that drinking water’s boiled for five minutes, take it off.”
Harkeld had just removed the water pot from the fire when Cora returned with Innis. The girl’s face was pale and tired beneath her tangled black curls.
“You must be starving, Innis.” Cora rummaged among the bundles of food. “Here, have these nuts.”
His own stomach gave a quiet rumble, but Innis would be hungrier than he was; witches were forbidden to eat when they were in another shape, and she’d flown more than a hundred miles today.
“The water’s too hot to drink. Wait, I’ll fetch my waterskin.” Cora hurried off into the darkness.
Which left just him and Innis at the fire. Harkeld put all his concentration into stirring the stew, ignoring Innis sitting on the other side of the orange flames.
He kept his eyes on the pot for a moment, then glanced at her. It was the first time they’d been alone together since the anchor stone, when she’d shoved his cowardice in his face. She’d been fierce then, her gray eyes blazing at him. Now she looked fragile and exhausted.
“I want to apologize for what I said to you in the catacombs.”
He frowned. “What?”
“I apologize,” Innis said. “I was trying to make you angry enough to use your magic.”
Harkeld looked back at the stew. It was bubbling. Lumps of meat jostled one another, pieces of carrot, peas. “It worked,” he said flatly.
He tried not to remember, but it was impossible not to. Her words had been like slaps across his face: I thought you were braver than this, sire.
Harkeld stabbed the stew with the wooden spoon. She’d been right to call him a coward.
“What I said wasn’t true. I shouldn’t have said it.”
He lifted his head and glared at her. “It was true.”
“What? No! How can you think that? I was there when your father said he’d cut out your tongue if you disobeyed him. Even when he said he’d take your hands and your head, you stood up to him! You did what was right.”
Harkeld looked back at the pot.
“And in the Graytooth Mountains, at the pass, you came back to fight, even though Dareus told you not to.”
Harkeld stirred the stew slowly.
“What I said in the catacombs—it was to make you angry, sire. And I apologize. It was badly done of me.”
Innis meant what she said. He could hear it in her voice.
Harkeld looked up, met her eyes and nodded.
The apology shouldn’t matter—she was only a witch after all; what did he care about her opinion of him? But somehow it did.
Innis held the nuts in her hand, uneaten. She seemed thinner, as if she’d lost weight in the three days she’d been gone. “Eat,” Harkeld told her brusquely, and turned his attention to the pot again.
* * *
Innis had two bowls of stew, trying to eat slowly and not shovel it into her mouth. She was still hungry when she’d finished, but a glance at the pot told her it had been scraped clean.
“Tell us about Stanic,” Cora said. “Who was there?”
Innis put down her bowl. The food was a pleasant warmth in her stomach. Her eyes caught movement overhead. A russet-breasted owl glided over the campsite, its feathers shimmering with shapeshifter’s magic. Ebril, keeping watch. He drifted out of sight into the darkness. “Five Sentinels.”
“Only five?” Gerit scowled, his beard bristling. “We need more’n that.”
“Who are they?” Cora asked.
“Susa and Katlen. Hew. Rand and Frane.” A yawn caught her on the last name.
“Don’t know most of ’em.” Gerit’s scowl deepened. “What are they?”
“Frane’s a healer, Hew’s a shapeshifter, and Susa’s a fire mage. They’ve just finished their Journeys and taken their oaths. Rand’s a healer. He says he knows you and Cora. And Katlen’s a fire mage. She was an instructor at the Academy.”
“Only one shapeshifter.” Gerit spat into the fire. “Don’t they know we need more’n that? What with that bounty and those thrice-cursed assassins.” He scowled at Prince Harkeld, as if it was the prince’s fault he had a bounty on his head.
Prince Harkeld ignored him. Cora did too. “Two healers, two fire mages, and a shapeshifter?” she asked Innis.
Innis nodded. “Rand said the Council’s calling in all the Sentinels they can. More will join us after the second anchor stone.”
“At the delta, if a ship can get close enough. He said something about shallows making it dangerous. Otherwise, Krelinsk.”
“Dangerous?” Gerit snorted. “It’s not rutting shallows that are dangerous, it’s those Fithian bastards and their throwing stars.” He pushed to his feet and stamped off towards the tents. Across the fire, Justen—Petrus—rolled his eyes at her.
“So once they join us, we’ll be ten Sentinels,” Cora said, seemingly unruffled by Gerit’s bad temper. “Double what we are now. Good.”
“I gave them the list of supplies we need.” Innis tried to smother another yawn. “They’ll meet us the day after tomorrow outside Hradik. I told them you’d like to avoid the town, because of the prince.”
She glanced at Prince Harkeld. He didn’t appear to be listening. His face was half turned away, shadowed. He looked like a peasant, unshaven, dark hair chopped roughly short, clothes travel-stained, but he didn’t hold himself like a peasant, didn’t move or ride like one, and his face—the square brow and jaw, the strong nose and cheekbones—was memorable. Someone might recognize him as Osgaard’s missing prince.
“Rand said the Council think the curse will already be in Sault when we get there. They reckon we’ll need a lot of Sentinels for that.”
“We will.” But Cora didn’t sound worried.
“They’re trying to find us a strong water mage.”
“Good. We’ll need one of those. Now get off to bed. You must be exhausted.”
“Shall I take a shift tonight?” Innis flicked a glance in Justen’s direction, trying to convey the silent question: Or be Justen?
“No.” Cora stood. “I’ll take the second watch. You can share my tent.”
Innis rose to her feet. Her muscles had stiffened while she sat. She followed Cora across the stony ground.
“You told Rand and the others about you shapeshifters being Justen?” Cora asked in a low whisper.
“They were shocked. Breaking a Primary Law…”
“But they understood why? The shapeshifter—Hew?—he’ll do it?”
“Good.” She heard relief in Cora’s voice.
Innis glanced back at Justen and Prince Harkeld beside the fire. “Has Petrus been Justen all day? Do you need me to swap with him?”
“He’s all right for now. Less tired than you, at any rate.”
“You can go back to being Justen most of the time.” Cora held open a tent flap. “The bedroll on the left is yours.”
“It’s good to have you back, Innis. We’ve been stretched without you.” Cora turned to go, then halted. “Oh… the prince and I have made a deal. If he learns to use his magic, we’ll strip him of it once the curse is destroyed.”
“What?” Her mouth fell open. “Learn to use his magic? He agreed?”
Innis shook her head. Impossible. “But he’s so afraid of it!”
“With good reason. I’ve never seen a fire mage with more raw power. Until he learns to control it, he’s dangerous.”