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The 12th day of Wort Moon
The year 1041 K. F. (after the Fall of the Kurchal Empire)
In the palace of Duke’s Citadel, Summersea, Emelan

Lady Sandrilene fa Toren sat in the room that was her study in her uncle’s palace. In her hands she held a thread circle, one that included four lumps spaced equally apart. It was a symbol not just of her first magical working, but of the magical bond she shared with her foster-brother and two foster-sisters, who had been away from home for months. Today was Sandry’s birthday, and she missed them. Normally she could have reached out through their connection without even touching the thread, and spoken with them, magic to magic, but not in the last two years. They had traveled far beyond reach, into lands and experiences Sandry couldn’t share.

“Daja at least should have been here,” she said and sniffed. “She was supposed to come home a year ago. But no. She wanted to see more of Capchen, and Olart–“

Someone knocked on her door. Sandry hid the circle under a fold of her skirt. “Come in, please,” she called, her voice light and courteous.

A footman entered. He carried a parcel wrapped in oiled cloth and tied with ribbons secured by a large wax seal. “My lady, this has come for you,” he said with a bow.

Sandry’s mouth trembled. Her hope that the package might be from her brother or sisters evaporated at the sight of its seal. Only Ambros fer Landreg sends packages like this to me, she thought, cross. No gifts or nice, long books and letters from him. Only dreary old accounts from my estates in Namorn.

“Please set it here,” she ordered, patting her desk. The footman obeyed and left her alone with the parcel.

Other people get to have parties and presents and outings with their friends when they turn sixteen, Sandry reflected unhappily. I get another fat package of dry old reports about cherry crops and mule sales from Ambros.

I’m not being fair, she told herself. I know that. I also know I don’t want to be fair.

Wearily, she gave the thread circle a last check, pressing each lump between her thumb and forefinger. Each one stood for a friend. Each was cool to the touch. The others were too far away for their presence to even register in the circle.

Sandry tucked the thread into the pouch around her neck and hid it under her clothes. She blinked away tears as she thought, I was just fooling myself, hoping they’d be home by now.

She returned her attention to the package. Ambros probably had no idea his tedious reports would arrive today, she reminded herself in her prudent cousin’s defense, propping her chin on her hand. And Uncle Vedris and Baron Erdogun gave me presents at breakfast. There’s to be a get-together with my Summersea friends tonight. I’m just being petty, sulking over this, too. But really, who wants to go over crop reports and tax documents on her birthday?

With bright, cornflower blue eyes set over a button nose, she stared longingly out of the open windows. Her pale skin still bore the light bronze tint it always picked up in the summer, just as her light brown hair, neatly braided and pinned in a coronet on her head, was gilded with sun streaks. Her cheeks were still girlishly plump, but any touch of youthful shyness those cheeks gave her face was offset by her round and mulish chin. Even at sixteen, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knew her own mind.

She was dressed simply in a loose blue summer gown of her own weaving, sewing, and design, a gown that would never show a wrinkle or stain, no matter what she had done with her day. Sandry was a thread mage, with the right to practice as an adult. She tolerated no wayward behavior in any cloth in her presence. Her stockings never dared escape their garters, any more than her gowns dared to pick up dirt. Every woven scrap in Duke’s Citadel had learned the girl’s power since she had come to look after her great-uncle Vedris.

The day’s fading, Sandry told herself. I should do something before dinner besides pout.

She thrust the bulky package aside.

“Do you know, the only time I ever see you shirk your duty is when Ambros’s packages arrive.” While Sandry daydreamed, Duke Vedris IV had come to stand in the study’s open door. He leaned there, a fleshy-faced, powerfully built man in his mid-fifties, dressed in blue summer cotton of her weaving and stitching. While his clothes were plain and his jewelry simple, there was no denying his aura of power and authority. No one would ever mistake him for a commoner. Neither would they mistake his obvious affection for the great-niece born of his wayward nephew and a wealthy young noblewoman from Namorn.

Sandry blushed. She hated for him to see her at any less than her best. “Uncle, he’s so prosy,” she explained, hearing the dreaded sound of a whine creep into her voice. “He goes on and on about bushels of rye per acre and gross lots of candles until I want to scream. Doesn’t he understand I don’t care?”

Vedris raised his brows. “But you care about the accounts for Duke’s Citadel, which are just as thick with minutiae,” he pointed out.

“Only so you won’t,” she retorted. When Vedris smiled, she had to fight a smile of her own. “You know what I mean, Uncle! If I don’t stop you from worrying over every little detail, you might fret yourself into a second heart attack. At the rate Ambros goes on, I’m the one who will have a heart attack.”

“Ah,” said the duke. “So you need an altruistic reason to take an interest, rather than the selfish one that this is your own inheritance from your mother, and your own estates.”

Sandry opened her mouth to protest, then closed it. Something about that sounds like he just turned it head over heels on me, she thought. I just can’t put my finger on what.

“Very well, then,” Vedris continued. “I submit that by looking so conscientiously after your affairs and his own—I know he has properties in his own right—it is quite possible your cousin Ambros courts a heart attack.” He straightened. “Just because your Namornese inheritance is in land, and in Namorn, is no reason for you to treat it lightly, my dear.” He walked off down the hall.

Sandry put her hands up to cool her cheeks, which were hot with embarrassment. I’ve never gotten a scolding from him before, she thought with dismay. I don’t care for it at all!

She glared at the ribbons on the package of documents. They struggled, then ripped free of the wax seal and flew apart. With a sigh, Sandry grasped the edges of the folded wrapping and began to remove it.