Authors: Rachel Aaron
sound of wonder went up from the crowd gathered in the small exhibition room at the base of the Spirit Court’s Tower as a gale blew past the hanging lamps, whipping their delicate white flames into miniature bonfires. The wind barreled across the stone floor, making the Spiritualists’ red robes flap like flags before turning on a pin and roaring back to the girl standing on the little platform at the room’s far end. It blew past her, blowing her curly red hair in all directions before spiraling down to the silver-chased pearl pendant she held in her outstretched palm. The moment it hit the pearl’s smooth surface, the wind vanished and the room fell still for the space of a breath before the Spiritualists burst into loud applause.
“Congratulations, Spiritualist Lyonette!” Spiritualist Krigel said, pushing ahead of the crowd so he could be the first to shake the girl’s hand. “A wind spirit is an achievement few Spiritualists will ever boast, but to take one as your third spirit, and while still an apprentice…” His voice trailed off as his wrinkled face pulled up in a wide smile. “A good omen,” he finished, squeezing her hand so hard her fingers ached. “Very good indeed. Banage chose well.”
Torn between blushing until her face caught fire or grinning until it cracked, Miranda Lyonette settled for a little of both as she returned the Assistant Rector’s handshake. “Thank you, Spiritualist Krigel,” she said. “It was hard work, but Eril was worth it.” She raised her free hand so they could both see the pendant she clutched there. “I just hope I can handle him.”
“Winds are finicky things,” said Reymond, one of the old Tower Keepers who’d been called in as a witness for her official demonstration. “Keep him close, Spiritualist.”
Like most Spiritualists, Reymond had never so much as spoken to a wind, but Miranda thanked him graciously for the advice. Right now she was so happy she would have let open insults go without a blink. That is, if she managed to hear them at all through the overwhelming joy. She’d done it. Three weeks of crouching beside a sedge-grass fire on the open plains, waiting to catch a wind in her smoke long enough to talk to it, and finally everything had come together. She could feel Eril’s breezy touch against her spirit, a light, racing presence even as he curled up in his pendant to sleep. He was worth every second she’d spent out there and more, and not just because wind spirits were useful. In the whole Court there were less than five Spiritualists who could claim a wind as their servant. Even her mentor, Master Banage, the Rector Spiritualis and greatest wizard alive, hadn’t bound his until he was twenty-five and working as a Journeyman Spiritualist. But here she was, barely twenty and still in her apprenticeship, with a wind of her own. If Eril had blown through her at that moment, she would have floated away on a cloud of beaming pride.
She might have already, actually, because Krigel had grabbed her shoulder to get her attention. “Did you hear a thing I just said?”
Miranda blinked and blushed. “No, Spiritualist,” she said, leaning back on her heels to ground herself.
Krigel shook his head. “I know you’re feeling ready to take on the world right now, but I need you to focus for a moment. The Rector wants to see you.”
That wasn’t surprising. He
her master, and she had been gone for nearly a month. But there was an edge in Krigel’s voice that made her think this wasn’t the usual sort of check-in she did whenever she came home.
“I’ll go right now,” she said, bowing. “Thank you, Spiritualist Krigel.”
It took a little pushing to get out of the room. Everyone kept trying to congratulate her, but the same compliments that had sent her over the moon a minute ago were now slowing her down. She excused herself as politely as possible, ducking past the reaching hands as she made her way toward the door. When she finally made it to the hallway, Miranda hiked up the plain red apprentice robes she’d thrown over her traveling clothes for the exhibition and ran for the large spiral staircase that spanned the full height of the Court’s enormous white Tower.
The Tower was the tallest building in Zarin and the heart of the Spirit Court. There were smaller towers in nearly every kingdom of the Council of Thrones, each watched over by a Tower Keeper who made sure the local spirits were being treated with the respect and fairness they deserved, but the Zarin Tower was the home of the Rector and the heart of the Court. For the last five years, it had been Miranda’s home as well, first when she was a novice, and then, after she’d taken her oaths, as an apprentice Spiritualist. Even so, she’d never felt she belonged here as strongly as she did now, bounding up the stairs to answer the call of her Rector with her three spirits sleeping safely in their gems, their souls like warm bodies pressed up against her own.
The Rector’s office was at the very top of the Tower, and Miranda paused at the end of the stairs just long enough to catch her breath before she knocked on the Rector’s heavy wooden door.
Banage’s familiar deep voice was comforting, though he sounded a little annoyed. That wasn’t anything unusual, though, and Miranda didn’t think much of it until she opened the door.
Master Banage was sitting behind his desk as always, leaning back in the throne-like Rector’s chair with an annoyed frown on his face. In front of him was a large man in his early fifties who Miranda had never, ever expected to see in this room. His hair was as red as her own, though his was tempered with silver streaks, and his expensive suit was of the latest fashion, cut to make his chest and shoulders look broader than they actually were. He wasn’t a Spiritualist, which might explain why he thought he could stand there sneering at Etmon Banage like the Rector Spiritualis was some bumbling Council clerk, but then, Simon Lyonette could sneer at anyone.
He looked over his shoulder when the door stopped creaking, and Miranda shrank back on instinct as the furious sneer hit her. “Well,” he snapped. “It’s about time.”
Miranda almost apologized before she remembered who and where she was. She was the apprentice of the Rector Spiritualis, called here by her master. She didn’t have to bow to any man, not even this one. She closed the door behind her and marched across the room, keeping her eyes on Master Banage as she came to stand beside the man in front of the Rector’s desk. Only then did she turn and drop her head in the barest shadow of a nod.
“Don’t you ‘Hello, Father’ me!” Simon spat, looking her up and down with open disapproval. “Where are your manners, girl? We taught you better than that. Just whom do you think you are speaking to?”
Miranda had a pretty good answer to that, but fortunately Master Banage cut her off before she could make things worse.
“Thank you for your concern, Lord Lyonette,” he said. “But Miranda is a pledged Spiritualist now, and as such she is not required to bow to a lord of Zarin, or to any other nobility, in this Tower.”
“You can’t tell her she shouldn’t honor her father, Banage!” Simon said. When Master Banage arched a dark eyebrow at that, Simon dismissed him with a turn of his head. “Never mind. I’m not here to play your games. Now that Miranda is back, we’ll be going.”
” Miranda cried, outraged. “
can go whenever you like,
not going anywhere.”
“Miranda.” Banage’s voice was low, but the warning was clear, and Miranda snapped her mouth shut. Banage watched her a moment longer, and then leaned forward. “Lord Lyonette wrote me last week,” he said calmly. “He’s here to take you home. It seems your family no longer wishes for you to be in the Court’s care.”
“He said you were coming back today from a camping trip where you’d been trying to catch winds or some rotted nonsense,” Simon said, flinging out his hand like he was tossing the idea away. “I’ve been waiting here an
for you to get in, and my patience is running very thin.” He grabbed Miranda’s arm. “Come along now before it runs out completely.”
“I will do no such thing!” Miranda said, snatching her arm back. “I’m twenty years old and a sworn Spiritualist. What makes you think you can just come in here and order me around?”
“Don’t you take that tone with me, young lady!” Simon shouted. “I don’t care how old you are; you are an unmarried woman of noble blood, and that means I, as your father, am responsible for you. It’s bad enough these wizards have let you run wild all over the countryside without so much as a chaperone to ensure you weren’t making a scandal of yourself and your family, but if you dare back talk me about my rights, I will make you regret it, child, just see if I don’t.”
“You’re worried about
making a scandal?” Miranda cried. “I haven’t even seen you since you gave me to the Court seven years ago, and you want me to believe you suddenly care about my life?
. You didn’t even visit on my birthdays, which is pretty sorry considering you live a mile away.” Miranda crossed her arms and set her feet in a wide, stubborn stance. “Why are you really here, Father?”
Simon’s face went redder than Miranda’s robes. “This is not a matter to be discussed in front of outsiders,” he growled, glancing at Banage, who was starting to look a little deadly himself.
“You’re the only outsider here,” Miranda said. “And I’m not going with you.”
“That is where you are wrong,” Simon said, turning to Banage. “Do you want to tell her, or should I?”
Miranda didn’t like the smug tone of his voice one bit, and she turned to her Rector. “Master Banage?”
Banage heaved a long sigh. “Your father is within his rights,” he said. “It’s against our doctrine to go against local laws. Though the Spirit Court is a neutral body, you are still a noble lady of Zarin, and he is still your father. Until you marry, the law is unfortunately on his side. However.” Banage’s hand came up, cutting off Miranda’s outburst before it could start. When he was sure she would stay quiet, he turned and focused the whole of his cold disdain on Lord Simon Lyonette. “This is still my Court. While I have no authority to keep Lady Miranda from you, you cannot order the schedule of my Spiritualists. So far I’ve heard no emergency dire enough to send away Spiritualist Lyonette when she has just returned home from a long trip.” He leaned back and picked up his pen, looking down at his papers as he made a series of short notes not so much because they needed noting, but because the action told Lord Simon this conversation was over. “Your daughter will be delivered to you safe and sound tomorrow morning,” Banage said without looking up. “I believe you know your way out.”
Simon just stood there, his jaw hanging open in outrage while his face grew redder and redder until Miranda was sure he was going to pop. But then he turned on his heel and marched out of the Rector’s office. “We will have words about this in the morning, Miranda,” he said when he reached the door. “See you’re not late.”
And then he was gone, stomping off down the stairs. Banage kept writing until the lord’s banging footsteps vanished, and then he threw down his pen.
“Master Banage,” Miranda said, whirling back around. “How could you—?”
“I didn’t want to,” Master Banage said, rubbing his temples. “But the truth is as you heard. He has the law on his side, Miranda. If I hold you here, he’ll get the Whitefalls on my head. That’s a level of trouble we can’t afford right now, especially since Alber will just order me to release you to your father anyway.”
“This is absurd!” Miranda cried. “I’m an adult, a
; he can’t just order me around like I’m five!”
“He can and he has,” Master Banage said. “But think a moment, Miranda. Your family was more than eager to give you to the Court the moment you met our age requirement. You said yourself that your father hasn’t sent you so much as a note in the seven years you’ve been with us. Why is he suddenly demanding your return?”
“I don’t know!” Miranda shouted, stalking back and forth across the Rector’s wide office. “Maybe he suddenly remembered I wasn’t hiding somewhere spending every moment thinking how I could please him.” She huffed out a furious breath. “Overbearing idiot.”
Master Banage shook his head. “I don’t think it’s that simple. I think there’s something he wants, something he needs you to get.”
Miranda stopped midstep. “What?”
“I don’t know yet,” Master Banage confessed. But when Miranda threw up her arms in frustration, he held out his hands. “I don’t know what he wants, but I am certain of one thing. For all Lord Lyonette’s bluster, you will never be the sort of docile, tractable daughter a noble like him needs. They gave you to us for a reason, Miranda, and it wasn’t because you were a talented wizard.”
Miranda blinked, cheeks coloring. “Are you saying I was a problem child?”
“I’m saying you are a stubborn, outspoken young lady,” Banage said, his overly serious face breaking into one of his rare smiles. “A talented wizard and exactly the sort of headstrong girl who will never, ever fit into any of the limited roles your father could think of for you. Now, do you want to hear my plan for how you’re getting out from under his thumb or not?”
Miranda motioned for him to go ahead.
Banage stood up and walked around to sit on his desk, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “We have no choice but to give you up. So, you’ll go with him as he wants, and then, you just be yourself. I give it three days before Lord Lyonette begs us to take you back and you won’t have to worry about him for another seven years.”
“Or I could just run away and save everyone the trouble,” Miranda countered. “I bet if I went spirit hunting for a few months, the old windbag would forget all about me.”
” The word came so fast and loud it made her wince. Master Banage’s smile was gone, and he was staring at her with an expression so old, hurt, and angry she didn’t know what to make of it.
“Never run away from your parents,” he said, his voice soft now, but the lowered volume didn’t lower the intensity of the words. “
. No matter how angry you may be with them. No father, no matter how terrible, deserves the pain of not knowing if his child is alive and safe.”