Sydney, a street urchin and pickpocket in the town of Last Hope, has managed to evade the oppressive Guild for years, but there is no escaping fate when she’s sentenced to death for associating with the resistance.
After she’s rescued by a wizard, Sydney is forced to accept that magic, long outlawed throughout the Kingdom of Thanumor, still exists and the Tuatha, a powerful faery folk, are much more than ancient myth and legend. When the wizard offers a chance to fight the Guild and bring Willem, bastard prince and champion of the Tuatha, to the throne, Sydney embraces the cause as a way to find her own redemption.
“So it has begun even here.” Oryn’s murmur was lost in the shouts of the crowd around him as the hangman tightened the rope around the condemned man’s neck. Pulling a tattered blue cloak about his shoulders, Oryn turned away and weaved through the throng gathered in the public square. The crowd grew silent. Although he didn’t look back, he pictured the man dropping and then jerking with a snap of his neck, the body now swaying back and forth. The crowd roared again.
“If only they knew what they’d started,” he said with a sigh and quickened his pace.
Oryn left the market square and cobblestoned streets that surrounded it, moving swiftly toward the other side of town. After he passed the well-kept, thatch-roofed homes of the town’s merchants and craftsmen, he came to narrow, muddy streets lined with tenements. Many of the people who lived in these hovels, often one family sharing a single room, were those who welcomed the Guild.
In the square, Oryn had listened to eager talk of the prosperity the Guild promised and a new beginning for the town of Last Hope. He saw the hope in their tired eyes, the same hope he had seen in other people’s eyes in other towns and cities. For the past two decades, he had watched the craft and merchant leagues unite throughout the kingdom, promising the same prosperity and independence they now offered the commoners of Last Hope. Most people in Last Hope did not yet understand that as the years had passed, the Guild had become a means of enforcing the oppression it had once so vehemently opposed. Common folk who needed to earn a living had no choice but to join the Guild and contribute a portion of their wages to support it. Those who spoke out against its policies, nobles and commoners alike, risked their lives.
Oryn had once thought this isolated and impoverished hellhole of a town was beneath the Guild’s interest. When the hangings began, he knew he had been mistaken.
The narrow streets led him to a block that housed several small shops and a tavern. The sign above the tavern door bore the faded image of an eagle. It’s been a long time, Oryn thought. Too long, perhaps. He opened the door and entered the dimly lit room that smelled of strong ale and stale sweat. Despite the din of voices and laughter, the stench of poverty and desperation clung to the crowd. Oryn wished he could warn the people of Last Hope of the Guild’s false promises. But he hadn’t come here to stop the Guild; he’d come on behalf of a single child.
He caught sight of a young girl sitting at the bar. At once he knew she was the child he sought. Not more than five years old, Sydney was perched on a barstool, talking earnestly with one of the serving women and jabbing her finger at something she pulled from her pocket. Her face was smudged with dirt, her hair unruly, and her skinned knees and elbows pushed through holes in her clothes. While others saw only a barefoot waif, Oryn glimpsed the threads of fate entwining this child.
He could see the interweaving strands of possibility, but the tapestry they formed constantly shifted. The slightest alteration could unravel all that was to follow. Why this child was so important to the future of not only the kingdom, but also the existence of magic, was unclear. A wizard who tried to arrange the future by altering the present could never be certain of the outcome. That was why Oryn needed to come here, in spite of the edicts against the practice of magic and wizards themselves. He had to make sure she was given the chance to fulfill her potential.
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