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Authors: Jaclyn Dolamore

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BOOK: Magic Under Stone
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Tamin’s eyes narrowed slightly. “A jinn, eh? I’m surprised you made it out of the ruins alive, Belin.”

“Well, I did,” Belin said with cool hostility. Luka gave him a
sharp look, and he bowed quickly. “Father, I shall leave you to enjoy your gift.”

“Thank you, Belin.” Luka smiled almost apologetically at Tamin. “Big risks must be rewarded, you know.”

Tamin’s nostrils flared. He didn’t say anything; he merely tapped Ilsin on the shoulder and both of them left. Only Elsana said good-bye.

Luka resumed his stroll through the gardens. Vegetables grew alongside flower bushes. A young woman in a plain lilac dress walked the edge with a watering can. Vines, some of them as thick as a wrist with age, climbed the surrounding walls on all sides.

“Is Belin your youngest son?” Ifra asked, not entirely understanding the exchange he had just seen. Ifra imagined he must be the youngest, to be allowed to travel to the vast ruins, full of caved-in corridors, narrow tunnels, and traps, where all jinn dwelt until they were freed or permanently enslaved. Once a jinn finished his or her service, his or her lamp or vessel reappeared in the depths of the ruins. Over time, a city had built up around them, an entire tourist trade catering to intrepid adventurers and desperate men who wanted three wishes. Thousands of people braved the ruins, so while some jinn still slept for decades, waiting to be found, most jinn were awakened every few years. Ifra hadn’t gone six months without a new master.

“By some minutes, yes. The boys are triplets.”

“What fortune!” said Ifra. With the ranks of jinn ever dwindling, news of twins born to a jinn mother might travel for hundreds of miles.

Luka grunted. “It killed their mother. She was already dead when the midwife took Belin from her womb. And it hasn’t made things easy for me. Who do I give the kingdom to when I’m gone?
That’s why I told them each to go forth and bring me back a gift, just like in the old days. Whoever’s gift was the greatest treasure would inherit. It’ll go to Belin, now. His brothers returned a good year or two before him, one with a very fine antique sword and one with a sacred wine cup that never runs dry. But I’d say a jinn beats them both. Swords and wine, I have.”

“Ah ...” Now Ifra understood the hostility from Tamin. “I’m sorry about your wife.”

“Probably better for her,” Luka answered. “They were certainly a trio of little scamps, and they all wanted the throne like they want everything, but if something isn’t done, none of them will have it.”

They had crossed the covered path cutting through the garden’s center, and now entered a common hall. While the throne room had been hushed and ancient, this equally vast room bustled with life—a crackling hearth, gentlemen playing cards, ladies in gowns of trailing silk strolling past the carved wooden support columns in close conversation, a harpist in the corner providing gentle music, even a palm reader tracing the lines of a girl’s hand. Even here, small trees and flowers sprung from breaks in the tiled floors.

“How do the trees grow indoors?” Ifra asked, still curious about the throne room.

“Oh, the trees in the Hall of Oak and Ash have an ancient lineage. When we came across the ocean five hundred years ago, fleeing the humans, we had to leave the old trees behind, but we brought saplings. Those trees grew from the saplings. As long as anyone can remember, the throne of our people has been protected by the sacred trees. The king’s trees. They don’t need light or water to grow, only the presence of their king, and they lend him wisdom to assure that the king always acts for the good of his
people—if he’s not too stubborn to listen. The last Tanharrow king ...” Luka scoffed.

“What did he do?”

“Well, you must understand, we were on this continent first. The humans in the old world were running us out of the forests for the lumber and the animals, so we came here. We had almost two hundred peaceful years before human greed and human ships caught up to us. They’ve driven us out of the eastern ports over the years, and then thirty years ago, we went to war and lost our trade route up the Great Serpent River. Now all we have is the southern passage. The Tanharrow family was working toward a truce when the humans wiped them out. But the humans don’t really want peace and neither do I. It’s us or them. My sons will inherit a conflict that won’t end until we wipe them off the continent.”

Ifra had followed Luka down a hall to a smaller chamber. Now Luka drew keys from his pocket and unlocked the door to an office. A map was spread across a table, and a desk was strewn with papers.

“Which brings me to you,” Luka said.

“What do you ask of me?”

Luka crossed the room, opening a drawer. He rummaged there a moment, then drew a nearby chair underneath him to sit while he continued his search.

“For five hundred years on this continent and beyond,” Luka said, “this kingdom passed from father to son—or sometimes daughter—an unbroken chain of Tanharrows. Remarkable, isn’t it?

“But the Tanharrow clan—every last one of them—died in the war. Or so everyone supposed. The soul of Erris Tanharrow, the ninth son, was trapped in the body of a clockwork man. He has recently been found and the clockwork given gruesome animation.
But it’s not really life. He could hardly be fit to rule. He was five years younger than me when he was trapped, so he’s never had a chance to grow beyond the seventeen-year-old dandy I remember. Besides that, I doubt he has the strength of character to hold up under trying circumstances.”

Seventeen ... and trapped. I know what that feels like
. Ifra, like all jinn, had gone into his vessel to begin granting wishes on his seventeenth birthday. Now he aged only while he was granting wishes. If he continued to live a month here and a month there, hundreds of years might pass before he died of old age, and it would be a life without attachments, without family. While Luka spoke, Ifra gazed out the window, at a view of gently sloped land covered in forest. A young couple walked hand in hand on a sun-dappled path woven through the woods.

“Still,” Luka continued, “those who disagree with the way I’ve handled things think the restoration of the Tanharrows would solve all our problems. My first request of you is to bring Erris Tanharrow to me, intact and unharmed, without alerting anyone to your mission. Can you do that?”

Ifra turned from the window—and briefly started when he saw not Luka, but a man with pallid skin clinging to delicate bones, his red hair cropped to his skull and peppered with white. And then it was gone, a trick of the eye.

Ifra remembered to answer. “I—I should be able to manage it. Does Erris Tanharrow have any magic I should be wary of?”

“Oh, he never paid attention to his studies. I highly doubt he’ll be a threat, but he was staying in the human city with the new ambassador of magic, Dr. Greinfern, who is a necromancer. If he’s still there, you might have some work ahead of you, but if he tries to come back here ... You should be able to nab him in our borders.”

Luka frowned. “You see through my glamour, don’t you?” His voice was low.

“Only ... glimpses,” Ifra admitted. “You don’t look well, sir.”

“I’m not. I have a wasting sickness and none of the healers know how to fix it. But I’m not on my deathbed quite yet.”

“You won’t use one of your wishes for your health? I might be able to—” Ifra shut his mouth.
A jinn should never suggest wishes to his master
.

“It doesn’t matter to me if I die. I’m ready to join my wife. I have a lot of burdens here, and death seems the only way to lay them down. I just want to make sure my sons will take care of things and protect the kingdom.” Luka stood, and what Ifra had taken for stately movements now seemed merely the slowness of age. “I think they know what needs to be done.”

“What will you do with Erris Tanharrow when you find him?”

“Depends what shape he’s in.” Luka sounded weary, but beneath it was hard resolve. “Why don’t you bring him here first, and then I’ll decide.”

Chapter 1

I’m not sure what is worse: failing to save someone or saving him only halfway. That question kept me awake nights and followed me into the mornings, when I awoke to the weight of a silver key around my neck.

I still wore my nightgown as I slipped from my room into his. Erris was sleeping—if you could call it that—on his stomach, clothed except for his jacket. His shirt was slit down the back to expose a keyhole surrounded by clockwork that was mostly concealed by the shirt.

It was hard to believe that just weeks ago, he had been a true automaton, with a painted wooden face and articulated fingers that moved stiffly along the keys of a piano. His soul, the soul of the lost fairy prince, had been trapped inside, unable to speak. He had been my secret, a tragic secret that tore at my heart, and yet I had never had a secret like that. It made me feel alive. I would be
the one to set him free from his prison. I would be the one to summon the Queen of the Dead and give Erris life.

I hadn’t realized my efforts would gain him only a half life and make me the keeper of his prison. His face and hands looked supple as flesh, felt supple as flesh, and he moved like a living man, but beneath his clothes he was still just clockwork, and every night when he wound down, he had to trust that I would be there in the morning to help him wake. It was not exactly the romance I had hoped for.

Each morning, a wave of profound loneliness swept over me. The key was a burden no one would understand.

He was still, like someone who had passed away in his sleep. Not a breath or a twitch. I put the key in the keyhole and twisted five and a half times, the length we had determined would give him a full day before he wound down. The key, as always, almost seemed to have a mind of its own once it was slotted in place. There was none of the tension a clockwork toy would have.

I pulled out the key and slipped from the room. I was out the door in three ticks.

I used to wait while he awoke. I thought he would want to see a friendly face. But sometimes he cried out as if he had seen something awful in the realm of dreams. Other times he lay motionless, haunted eyes staring before they met mine. He never seemed to come to peacefully. At first, he would try to smile and tell me of his nightmares, of his lost family or being chased by strange beasts or any number of other awful things, but one day he snapped at me not to ask him what he saw ever again. So I started to leave and he didn’t tell me to come back. I think it made it easier for him to pretend he woke like a normal person.

I returned to my room. Karstor’s maid helped me dress in a fetching silk gown of dark blue with green velvet trim and cummerbund and pulled my hair back in soft wings over my ears, with a knot at the nape of my neck. Even fine clothes weren’t enough to make things feel proper and normal anymore.

I joined Karstor at the breakfast table. He had a book opened against the rim of his plate, but he looked up from it when I entered the room.

“Good morning, Nimira.”

“Good morning, Dr. Greinfern.” Erris called him Karstor, and that was how I thought of him, but of course I was not so presumptuous to refer to the head of the Sorcerer’s Council, the ambassador of magic, by his given name.

The table was already spread with good, simple food: a basket of bread, a plate of large slices of golden cheese, a crock of yellow butter, and a pot of coffee. I could hear the cook, Birte, singing in the kitchen as she often did.

Erris wouldn’t join us; his clockwork innards would not accept food.

“Ready to set out tomorrow?” Karstor asked.

“I suppose so. I will miss you, sir.” I had known, of course, that Karstor was a busy man. He had just ascended to the head of the Sorcerer’s Council after the revelation of the crimes of his predecessor, Mr. Smollings. He had never expected to take in boarders, I was sure, especially not a long-lost fairy prince. It would likely be a conflict of interest, considering the political tension between the people of Lorinar and the fairies. Still, some deep-down part of me had hoped he would look upon us as the children he never had, because it stung to go away.

“I will miss you too,” he said softly. “But Ordorio Valdana will know more than I do.”

“Is he the most powerful sorcerer in Lorinar, do you think?”

“He is, at least, the most powerful necromancer,” Karstor said. “And that is what you will want. Besides that, he was involved in the war when Erris was cursed. Maybe he will know something.”

I put my hand to Hollin’s letter. I kept it in my dress pocket at all times, even though I knew every word by heart now.
If anyone knows how to help Erris, it might be Mr. Valdana
. They were not the most hopeful words, with the “if” and the “might.” The suggestion had come from Hollin’s wife, Annalie, who could commune with the spirits.
The spirits told Annalie that Mr. Valdana was once married to a fairy woman. Melia Tanharrow ... Erris’s sister
.

I wished it were Erris’s sister we were going to see, but she was dead. His whole family had died during his years imprisoned in an automaton.

“Don’t despair,” Karstor said, noticing how I had begun to pick at my food. “Look how much you have already done. You have helped Erris so now he can move and speak.”

“Yes, but ...” I stopped. How stupid I would sound, to say what I worried was true—that Erris seemed to care for me more
before
I helped him.

“He needs time to grieve,” Karstor said. “It takes time.” Karstor had lost something too, I reminded myself. His dear friend Garvin had been murdered by Smollings.

I almost wished I had something solid to grieve. Every day I told myself to be strong for Erris, but it was hard to be strong so unceasingly. “I know,” I said.

“It’s not all you have done. You helped prove that Smollings
murdered Garvin, and removed him from the council. You can’t know how much that means to me, Nimira. Have I ever thanked you properly?”

I made a vague sound. I couldn’t remember. “I didn’t do anything with the thought of being thanked.”

“Of course,” he agreed. “But you should remember that your bravery helped more people than just Erris. You brought me peace, knowing that Garvin was avenged, and that is no small thing.”

BOOK: Magic Under Stone
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ads

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