War Child Excerpt

War Child

Melnae heard pounding hoof beats. She felt the vibrations in the dirt and squinted toward the road for only a moment before settling the wire-rimmed frames better on her face. As much as she cursed the black-haired wizard for dabbling in magic like their enemy, he’d done well in giving her these contraptions. The magic glass slid down again, and she tugged the earpieces. He couldn’t fix the cursed fog that clouded her vision at the most awkward moments, but at least through the spectacles what she needed to see became clear.Her temples ached, not just from the unaccustomed vision but also from the sense of change. Using Telenk’s desire glass, she could make out silver and scarlet livery.“A soldier’s coming, Melnae,” one of the village children cried as he ran toward her. “Can you see him?”The boy stumbled, a flush coloring his sun-dark skin, but Melnae tapped the frame. “Yes, yes, I can. It’s one of the shahran’s men. The question is not who, though, but why. Assemble the village elders.”He didn’t move at first, caught between his embarrassment and the desire to see the newcomer, but Melnae waved him on. She might not be as old as the village council, but they respected her for who she’d been, an oath that weighed heavily as she watched the soldier’s approach.Once, long ago, she’d stood before the shahran himself with others drawn from the valley settlements in uniforms loose on their still-growing frames. He spoke of protecting the helpless, of forcing back the demon wizards who burned down houses with children trapped inside. His inspiration resonated as strongly now as it had on that day when she’d knelt to give her word for all that she’d left the warrior’s life behind to plant land won from their enemy.Her left hand itched for the weight of a sword hilt, her right for a dagger. If her eyes hadn’t given out … She shook her head and turned to thrust aside the thick black cloth that shielded her home from public view.She would have left the shahran’s army anyway. The way of the warrior might have called her once, but she wouldn’t have her child dragged through the bloodstained remnants of battlefields. And she couldn’t chance the soldiers comparing her daughter’s orange hair with the flame-red locks of the mountain folk’s wizards. Had she stayed, even those in her own command would have slaughtered her daughter right there in the makeshift crib for fear she’d become one of the enemy.Melnae flinched, her weatherworn face settling into a scowl. She ducked inside, knowing little time remained now, with the shahran’s man going from hut to hut.As if conjured by the thought of her, Melnae’s daughter rose to her feet, slender, small in every way her mother was not, and yet of a height to match her mother shoulder to shoulder. Melnae wanted to curse the gods who gave her daughter a fire-eater’s frame, curse them for letting the enemy plant his seed, though she couldn’t find the conviction to regret what had sprouted there.“I’m scared.” Ralen’s face grew even paler than usual. “I hear them coming.”Melnae tilted her head to one side and pulled her lips into a smile. “I heard as well. It’s but one soldier.” Her oath tore at Melnae, but one soldier sent here could have only one meaning. Someone had made mention of Ralen where the wrong ears were listening. “You must gather your things.” She tried to keep her voice from trembling. She couldn’t fight this, wouldn’t take her daughter and run as much as she wanted to. She’d sworn to fight the shahran’s wars, to protect his people, to do his bidding. She’d known a soldier would come as soon as the magic had started leaking from her newborn daughter’s pores, one more inheritance from Ralen’s thrice-cursed father. No place was far enough to hide from the shahran, though as long as he did not ask, she could pretend he had no need of her half-breed daughter even though Ralen was steeped in enough magic to steal the sight from Melnae’s eyes while still in the womb.Ralen shivered. “Not the man, Mother. It’s those who come after.” fantasyscenetiny2

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