Unguilded, p.1

Unguilded, page 1

 

Unguilded
 



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Unguilded


  Unguilded

  Published by Tyche Books Ltd.

  www.TycheBooks.com

  Copyright © 2015 Jane Glatt

  First Tyche Books Ltd Edition 2015

  Print ISBN: 978-1-928025-25-2

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-928025-26-9

  Cover Art by Artist: Niken Anindita

  Cover Layout by Lucia Starkey

  Interior Layout by Ryah Deines

  Editorial by M. L. D. Curelas

  Author photograph: Eugene Choi

  Echo1 Photography

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage & retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright holder, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

  The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third party websites or their content.

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this story are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Any resemblance to persons living or dead would be really cool, but is purely coincidental.

  This book was funded in part by a grant from the Alberta Media Fund.

  Dedication

  I want to thank my mom for gifting me with a love of stories. She always has a book close by.

  Chapter one

  “HURRY!”

  Kara Fonti scrambled up the narrow stairs after her mother.

  “Which room is yours?”

  “Here.” Kara brushed past her mother’s rigid figure to the small door at the end of the hall. She opened the door, revealing an even steeper set of steps. “Be careful,” she told her mother. “The ceiling is low.” Uneasy, she paused on the stairs. Her mother had wanted to see her room—to watch the sunset, she’d said—but Kara didn’t think she’d travelled so far for a view.

  “Keep moving,” her mother said, her hands firm on her daughter’s back.

  Kara stumbled up the half dozen stairs that led to her room, ducking to avoid the low ceiling.

  Kara’s room was the smallest in the house, barely large enough to hold her pallet and small desk and chair. The low sloping ceiling had been perfect for the eight-year-old Kara, the Kara who’d held such promise, the Kara they’d all had such hopes for.

  Now she could only stand up straight when she stood at the foot of her bed. At sixteen, she’d outgrown her room—and everyone’s hope.

  Her mother, Arabella Fonti, frowned and, with eyes so dark they looked black, scanned the cramped space. With more grace than Kara had ever managed, she glided to the chair.

  “So,” her mother said as she settled herself. “You’ve failed again.”

  “I’m sorry, Mother,” Kara said, gazing at her feet. She was used to the shame of failure—or so she’d thought before she’d had to face her mother.

  “Don’t call me that,” her mother snapped. “You may call me Donna Fonti or Donna Arabella.”

  “Yes, Donna,” Kara said. Her mother had come to visit—for the first time ever—but it wasn’t out of love.

  Arabella Fonti was even more beautiful than Kara had imagined. She was tall, although not quite as tall as Kara, and her long black hair gleamed against pale, smooth skin. Her mother turned her head and in the sunlight that streamed in through the small window, her eyes flashed a deep purple.

  Resigned, Kara looked down at the smooth orange tiles of the floor. Her mother was here—filled with disapproval and disdain—because she’d failed the test, again. And now that she was sixteen she had no more chances.

  “Now I have to come back here, to the villa I’d hoped to never set foot in again.” Arabella glared at her, and a purple mist swirled around her angry features.

  “I’m sorry,” Kara repeated.

  And she was. Every year since she’d turned eight she’d waited for the Guild Tester to come. Every year she was sure that this year would be different—this year her talent would show itself. Instead, every year the Guild Tester left in a shimmer of blue with a promise to return next year. And Kara was left to deal with the disappointment of her father and the bitterness of his not-quite wife.

  “You’re sorry,” Arabella said.

  Kara flinched at the venom in her mother’s voice.

  “Guild Law meant I had to bear a child before I could leave this villa—I had to leave someone with potential behind.” Arabella frowned and shook her elegant head. “I thought my talent strong enough to breed true, and Banio Fonti agreed to raise you and let me leave. I should have chosen someone other than him—there is no magic in his family. So you are your father’s child—without magic—but my problem.”

  “Papa always said he married you because you were so beautiful,” Kara whispered.

  He used to say that, when Kara was little and still had hope of finding her talent. He’d stopped saying it when he met Noula. Noula, who was bitter because Kara’s mother had everything she didn’t—magic, beauty, and legal marriage to Banio Fonti.

  “Pah,” Arabella said. “I had the strongest magic seen in this villa for generations and my father was Villa Primus of Mage Guild. I know exactly why your father married me.”

  Kara knew too. Because of his marriage to Arabella, her father was an important man in Villa Larona—Guild Secundus in the villa’s Mage Guild. He had no magic of his own, but a marriage—even in name only—to a strong Mage and a daughter who would inherit her mother’s talent was enough in this small villa.

  At least it had been.

  “We don’t have much time. Get some clothes together,” Arabella said. “You’re leaving.”

  “What about the guild?” Kara asked. “And Mage Guild Secundus Valendi?” By right of Guild Law, Mage Guild would determine her fate. Before today she’d assumed that the villa Guildsmen would make the decision—then her mother had arrived with the second most powerful man in Mage Guild.

  Though she had no magic Kara could still be useful to the guild—she’d assumed they’d want her to continue teaching. But in the two weeks since her final failure, Noula, more malicious than ever, had taken great pleasure in telling Kara that her only use now was as a breeder. Her mother was a powerful Mage, someone would take her, Noula taunted, some old man willing to feed and house her so he could bed her and get children on her in the hopes that at least one child had magic.

  I would rather die, Kara had thought, never expecting it to come to that. Then she’d met Mage Guild Secundus Valendi. He’d stared at her so intensely that she’d had to suppress a shiver. And admit that Noula was right. Mage Guild would use her as a breeder—Valerio Valendi would use her as a breeder.

  “I’ll deal with the guild and Valerio Valendi,” Arabella said. “Pack your things.”

  Kara knelt by the trunk that held her extra clothes. Her mother’s steady gaze made her jumpy, and she fumbled as she opened the chest. She scooped the contents into a pile and stuffed everything into a small pack. It wasn’t much. Her winter stockings, a skirt that was too short, a faded blue shirt, a second set of smallclothes, and an old pair of her father’s trousers, threadbare at the knees, which she wore while tending the herbs.

  “Do you have any guilders?” Arabella asked. “Jewelry?”

  Kara shook her head. As the years passed and she continued to fail her test, fewer items of value had been given to her.

  “Nothing? I thought you were teaching the younger ones?”

  “Noula has Mage Guild pay her directly,” Kara said. “To cover the expense of keeping me.”

  “That donnina,” Arabella said. “Here.” She untied a small bag from the belt at her waist. “It’s not much. You’ll have t
o earn your own guilders as soon as possible.”

  “Where are we going?” Kara asked warily.

  “Not we, you,” Arabella replied.

  Kara’s skin prickled. Her mother wasn’t going to take her away—she was going to send her away.

  “Where? Will the guild approve?”

  “Leave Tregella and go to Wulmar, or maybe Terenia,” Arabella said. “Of course the guild won’t approve.” Her mother smiled a small, tight smile. “But I will give them no choice. Time to go. We only have a few more moments before someone comes looking for us.”

  Kara didn’t move, couldn’t move. Leave the country, leave the guild? She’d never imagined such a thing. Living outside of the guild was as good as being dead, wasn’t it? But living as a breeder would be worse than being dead.

  “Come,” Arabella said. She put her arm around Kara’s shoulder. “It will be a great adventure. Besides, if you stay with the guild when you have no magic you will become a woman such as Noula.”

  Kara shook her head. Become like Noula? Powerless and bitter? Never.

  “The guild is intrigued with my power,” her mother continued. “They plan to pair you with a powerful Mage to see if my magic will be inherited by your children.”

  Kara closed her eyes. It wasn’t much of a choice, but it was a choice.

  “I’ll leave,” Kara said. “If you’re sure they won’t let me stay here with Papa and teach.” She knew they wouldn’t let her—Valerio Valendi wouldn’t let her—but she had to ask. The safe life she’d assumed would be hers seemed so far away now.

  “No,” Arabella said. “The guild will not allow that. Besides, now that you’re an adult, my marriage to Banio Fonti is no longer necessary.”

  Her mother’s thin smile chilled Kara. Her father would be stripped of his high position in the guild and given another, lower role. Kara’s laugh was sharp and bitter.

  “You find this amusing?” her mother asked.

  “Noula will finally be able to marry Papa,” she said, her eyes on the floor and her expression blank.

  “I doubt he’ll have her. Banio used marriage once to gain status—I expect he will try that again. Noula will be at Mage Guild’s mercy just as we all are.”

  Numb, Kara let herself be steered toward the door. She had no pity for Noula. Overly proud of being the not-quite wife of the Villa Mage Guild Secundus, she would find few friends among those who were to decide her fate.

  “You cannot go out the front door,” Arabella said. “I saw the little bridge that connects the second floor to your neighbour’s house—you will leave that way.”

  Kara stumbled on the top step. “What will I do?” She clutched her pack against her chest as if to slow her racing heartbeat. She knew it was better than staying, but she was afraid all the same.

  “You will teach,” Arabella said calmly. “Mage Guild has educated you far beyond most people. You will find a place.”

  Kara could only stare at her, at the woman who had given birth to her but had not raised her. And who now was telling her to leave the only home she’d ever known. But she was right. Kara didn’t have a place—at least not one that she wanted. Not in the guild, not in Villa Larona, not even, so it seemed, in Tregella. Did she belong anywhere? She did, she had to believe that, but it was up to her to find out where.

  “You will be fine,” Arabella said. “Here.” She slipped her silver bracelet off a delicate wrist, unpinned the matching brooch from her scarf, and shoved them into Kara’s hands. “Take these. Now go.”

  Kara took a steadying breath and stuffed the jewelry into the bottom of her pack. With her bag slung over one shoulder, she grabbed her shawl from the peg by the door and wrapped it loosely around herself. She descended the stairs, pausing at the bottom to look up at her mother.

  A purple mist wafted around Arabella and Kara reached a hand toward it. It circled her mother gently, in contrast to the grey-black cloud that had pulsated threateningly around Mage Guild Secundus Valendi.

  It took all of her will but she turned and ducked out into the hallway. Nothing about her first—and likely only—meeting with her mother had been what she’d anticipated. She hadn’t expected love, exactly, but perhaps a measure of regret for the babe she’d been forced to leave behind. Instead, all she’d felt from the woman who’d given birth to her was indifference.

  The hallway was dark. She and her mother had sat through one of Villa Larona’s spectacular sunsets, and neither of them had noticed. That was the reason they’d given for their trip to Kara’s room in the first place—so Arabella could see the sun paint the sky before it dipped behind the mountain. Now that it was dusk the others would be expecting them downstairs.

  In the small alcove Kara eased open the window and stepped out onto the narrow whitewashed bridge that spanned the cobbled street.

  It had been years since she’d used this bridge—as a child she’d spent hours on it, lying flat and peering over the edge to spy on villagers below. That was before Noula had come to live with them, before she’d been forbidden to spend time with their neighbour, Donna Jonella. The kindly widow had been ancient even then and, unlike her own family, she’d always made Kara feel wanted.

  Kara reached up to the handle and gently lifted the latch of the small door that led into Donna Jonella’s house. She cocked her head to listen. There was no sound from within the house so she shouldered aside the door and crawled inside.

  The upstairs hallway was dark and dusty as though it had not been used for a long time, and Kara quickly made her way to the stairs. She crept down, her feet silent on the smooth tiles. At the bottom she paused to orient herself.

  There. A sliver of light outlined the kitchen window.

  A cough came from the main room, and Kara froze. Donna Jonella was sleeping downstairs. Careful not to stumble into furniture, Kara glided a foot forward. One more gliding step and she was in the kitchen with its stale odours of cooked onions and garlic.

  A small knife glinted on the counter, and she grabbed it and put it in her pack. She felt a twinge of guilt at stealing from a woman who had always been kind to her, but she forced it aside. Donna Jonella likely had other knives, but this one could be the difference between Kara living or dying.

  She eased the door latch up out of its bracket and stepped outside into the night.

  In the dim moonlight the neglect of the curved, white adobe wall that sheltered her from the street was evident. Tufts of grasses sprouted from the white-washed walls, and large sections had crumbled, leaving clumps of dried clay scattered on the ground.

  She reached out and dislodged a small piece of adobe. The wall was in such poor repair that she should be able to climb it. She glanced at the path that led to the street out front. It would be better if she didn’t have to pass her father’s house. She might be missed by now, and someone could be looking out the window.

  Kara stuffed her shawl into her pack and placed one shoe on the crumbling wall, shifting her foot from side to side until she found a solid foothold. She reached up, grabbed a tuft of grass, and tugged hard. It held. She pulled herself up and peered over the top of the wall into another small, much better kept, garden. It was empty so she swung first one leg over, then the other. Fingers digging into the crumbling adobe, she lowered herself as far as she could before she let go. She landed in a heap at the bottom, and quickly untangled her skirt, and got to her feet. No faces peered out the curtained window, and no raised voices broke the silence as she ran from the garden to the street.

  ARABELLA SAT IN the small room until she could no longer hear any sounds from the second floor. The girl—even to herself she refused to call her daughter—should be well away. She smoothed a hand along her skirt. She would have to manage Valerio Valendi now. She smiled. They had grown close during the journey to this Gyda-forsaken villa—just as she’d planned. Her smile faltered. She hadn’t expected the Mage Guild Secundus to be so obviously interested in the girl.

  She’d told the truth—Mage Guil
d was intrigued with her bloodline. There was no history of such power in Villa Larona or in either of her parents’ families. That was why, even though she found her magic early, she was an adult before the Guild realized just how strong her talent was. And then only because she made the bargain with Banio Fonti that let her leave the villa and travel to Rillidi.

  “Donna Fonti?” a woman’s voice called up from the second floor. “Kara? Are you there? The Mage Secundus is asking for you.”

  Banio Fonti’s woman. She’d let her call again, call for the woman who had the title she longed for.

  “Donna Fonti?”

  “Did the girl not return?” Arabella asked. “She left the room a few moments ago. I wanted to watch the sunset in peace.”

  “She did not return to the main room,” was the worried reply. “I’ll see if she’s in one of the rooms on this floor.”

  Arabella stood and carefully smoothed her skirts before stepping over to the stairs. She heard doors open and close on the floor below her and then a muffled sob as the woman of the house realized that she had to relay bad news to the Mage Guild Secundus. Kara Fonti was gone.

  Arabella descended to the main floor, wrapping her scarf around her shoulders. She shouldn’t have given the girl her jewelry, she realized. That had been a mistake. Now she had to make sure the girl had time to get far enough away that she—her body—was never found.

  “Arabella.”

  “Secundus.” Arabella inclined her head. “Have you made a decision about the girl?”

  It hadn’t mattered to her who the Mage Secundus decided to breed the girl to. Until she saw the way he’d looked at Kara Fonti. She could not let him have her.

  When she’d arrived on Mage Guild Island all those years ago, others her age had been Journeymen or full Mages. But she’d had a formidable talent as well as beauty and charm, which she’d used to secure the best mentors she could. She’d never had a mentor as powerful and connected as Valerio Valendi, though, so she’d told the girl to flee. She would not allow a talentless girl to interfere with her plans.

 
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