Click to Enlarge

Mistress Of The Wind
Arucadi: The Beginning - Book One
Click one of the above links to purchase an eBook.

ISBN-10: 1-77115-044-0
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 279 Pages
Published: November 2012

From inside the flap

Windspeaker Kyla Cren gathers news from the wind and passes on to her village its warnings about mindstealers, creatures that rob human minds, leaving their victims insensible and helpless. Because Kyla’s parents were victims of mindstealers, the need for revenge consumes her. She attacks two mindstealers and rescues their victim, but gets no satisfaction from the act. The ungrateful victim, a powerful mage, thrusts upon her the care of Claid, who appears to be an appealing young child. He’s not a child, the Mage Alair declares, and challenges her to discover what Claid really is. That challenge sends her from her native village on a journey of discovery that takes her into the wider world beyond her isolated valley, a world in which machines have replaced magic. Harrowing experiences teach her more about herself than about Claid and eventually bring her back to Mage Alair, whom she joins in a scheme to destroy the mindstealers, a plan which might result in tragedy but which could also lead Kyla to the full truth about Claid’s nature and her own.

Mistress Of The Wind (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

WINDSPEAKER

Kyla raced up the steep path. She should have been at the trysting place at dawn. Hampered by her tight-fitting cotton shift, she had to stop to catch her breath before hurrying on.

Just below the crest of Rial Hill, where the path narrowed and the incline sharpened, Kyla stumbled and almost fell. A raging red wind rushed around her, pushing her up the last difficult steps onto the flat, bare summit. Raising eddies of dust and pebbles, it tore about, whipping her long hair around her face and twisting it into a blindfold across her eyes.

"No, stop!" she gasped, sinking to her knees. "I’m sorry I’m late. I slept right through all the crowing of Turley Beal’s roosters."

When the wind did not lift her off the ground in a joyous burst of power as it so often did, she could almost believe it was angry with her for being late. Its coldness as it plastered the thin shift to her body made her shiver. She tried to calm it by singing, but it ripped her breath away, and she could only wait until its anger abated.

No, not anger. As an apprentice, Kyla had debated with her teacher, Mistress Forythe, who believed that a windspeaker was not only an interpreter of the wind but a lover and confidante as well. Kyla had argued that it was wrong to attribute human emotions to the wind, but at times like this it was difficult to believe the wind was impartial and unfeeling.

Finally her hair fell away from her eyes and drifted back across her shoulders, letting her see that the wind was calming. It was safe to stand and sing.

She lifted her voice in a wordless croon that mimicked the wind’s own sounds. Now a deep rose color, the wind joined its song to hers, and the windspeaking began.

The wind’s airy fingers drew on her body pictures of scenes it had passed on its sweep down from the Starmist Mountains and through Noster Valley. It whispered of whipping through trees, scattering leaves, spreading seeds, stirring waters, rippling grassy fields. The scents it had gathered filled her nostrils.

Most of what it conveyed would not interest the villagers. If Kyla caught the scent of a ferebeast herd descending on the valley, or felt the ripples from a run of prized graufish in the Damin River, or heard the rush of wings as shalkors swooped down from the Haverly Hills to snatch newborn lambs, that knowledge would be valuable. Then Kyla’s report would send hunters out to scatter the herd before it could trample the crops, or men would leave their chores, grab up fishing nets, and head for the Damin River to snare a feast, or farmers would arm themselves with slings and stones to drive off the wide-winged shalkors. Today the wind told of nothing like that.

Her most important task was to warn her village of the presence of mindstealers, who sometimes swarmed down out of the hills to capture a lone traveler or an unwary farmer alone in his field, draw out his mind, and leave him alive but forever incapable of thought.

Today the wind carried no hint of the hideous creatures. Instead, it mimicked how it had lifted off hunters’ caps and sent them flying, then whistled and chased the hares into fleeing to safety while the men raced after their caps. She laughed. "That story I’ll keep to myself. The village men won’t think it’s funny."

By the time the wind tired of its play, she’d gleaned only two items worth reporting to the Townmaster: Widow Lee’s cow had wandered into Sedder Sims’ apple orchard again, and a fine crop of mushrooms had sprouted on the shaded eastern slope of Shalkor Hill.

This second disclosure, though good news for the villagers, caused a quickly suppressed pang of grief.

Kyla descended Rial Hill and took the most direct way to her cottage, not wanting to be seen in the wispy dress she wore for windspeaking. Because the thin garment allowed the wind more access to her body, it gave better results than she could obtain in heavier clothing, but the village elders disapproved of a woman’s wearing such a revealing dress. She usually wore a tunic and trousers to climb the hill and changed when she reached the summit. Today she’d had to slip into the windspeaking shift at home and run as though Dire Lords were pursuing her.

Where the mountain path merged into cobbled lane, she broke into a run and dashed over the cobblestones until she reached her small cottage.

There she put on a long skirt and high-necked, long-sleeved blouse like a proper village woman. When she’d brushed and bound up her hair, she left to make her daily report to the Townmaster and to claim the fresh-baked bread, eggs, and vegetables that her morning’s work had earned.

The Townmaster’s gabled house stood opposite the town square. One of the few homes of more than one story, it always gave Kyla the impression of sneering down on its humbler neighbors. Perhaps she was merely attributing to the house the attitude of its occupant, a vain, supercilious man with a tendency to take to his bed with some imagined illness when there was hard work to be done or an unpopular decision to face. The Townmaster was often the butt of jokes, yet every three years he was reelected to office with no opposition.

"The Townmaster knows everyone’s private business," an old woman had once whispered to Kyla. "People are too afraid of the tales he might tell if we turn him out of office."

Reaching the house, Kyla climbed the four steps leading to the front door and used the ornate brass knocker. The Townmaster boasted that it was very old, a legacy from his great-great-grandfather, who had come to Noster Valley from Another Place. Kyla understood that to mean that his ancestor had come from beyond Rim Canyon, a claim she considered unlikely even if the canyon was not as uncrossable as most claimed.

The Townmaster swung open the door. His formal morning coat and cravat hung loosely on his scrawny frame. Kyla thought his dress a silly affectation for this small farm community. With a curt greeting, he led her into his parlor and took his seat at a high escritoire. She perched on the edge of a fragile-looking chair and made her report.

"Not much of value today," he said with a sniff.

Kyla stiffened. "Isn’t it of value to know there are no mindstealers about?"

"Oh, of course," he huffed. "That’s a comfort, certainly. One hopes for profitable news, however. News of more ... ah ... substance. Though Sedder Sims will be glad to know about the cow, if he hasn’t already discovered it. He’ll thank you with apples, I don’t doubt. The Widow Lee must be warned about letting Tizzy wander."

"Some of the men could help mend her fence," Kyla suggested. "And the mushrooms can be profitable."

"I’ll get Mistress Carver’s boys to gather them," the Townmaster said, nodding. "If they come back with a good amount, I’ll see you’re sent a share."

"Please-you know I don’t eat mushrooms."

He had the good grace to look flustered and murmur an apology, ending with "I’d forgotten."

Kyla could never forget. That day seven years ago was etched into her soul.

Her parents had gone early to gather mushrooms on the slopes of the Rocky Hills. She’d expected them back by late morning. When they failed to return, she’d gone alone to the hills to search for them.

Nothing prepared her for the horrifying sight of her beautiful mother running aimlessly along the cliffs above the sea, keening like a child. Tears flooded her eyes as she remembered trying to catch her, only to see her mother plunge over the precipice onto the rocks below.

On her way down to recover the battered body, she’d found her father huddled on the ground, slack-jawed, unaware. The blood streaming from his ears revealed the awful truth. Her parents were the victims of mindstealers.

She’d been a child, twelve years old, but on that day she grew up. Since that day she had not eaten mushrooms.

"You’ve heard my report," Kyla told the Townmaster coldly. "Now I’d like your authorization for my supplies." She hated this daily ritual. Having to ask for the note made her feel like a beggar.

He gazed at her as if considering whether she did indeed deserve payment for her morning’s work, then slowly took a quill pen from its holder, dipped it into the inkwell, and scrawled his signature on a small square of paper. The note affirmed that she had carried out her windspeaking duty for the day and was entitled to compensation in food and other supplies. He held it out to her as though bestowing a magnanimous gift. She took it and rose to leave.

"One moment, Mistress Kyla," he said, motioning her back to her seat.

She sank down, her apprehension returning. Had she not, after all, escaped notice when she ran home in her windspeaking shift?

The Townmaster cleared his throat. "The elders feel we are not getting fair exchange for the unlimited goods we authorize as your payment."

Kyla hadn’t expected this. "Hardly unlimited, Townmaster," she said. "You made it clear from the beginning that I was to live simply, and I do. The furniture in my home was brought from my parents’ house. The town has supplied none. I exchange these notes only for food and enough cloth to sew one new tunic, one skirt, and one blouse each year. I am not extravagant."

"No doubt, mistress, no doubt." The Townmaster adjusted his cravat. "Yet the authorization you receive each day permits you to claim any supplies you wish. Some on the council feel that the authorization should be for specific items, those items to be determined by the amount or worth of the news you bring."

Kyla could scarcely believe what she was hearing. She had never been greedy, had always taken less than she considered her right. Mistress Forythe, windspeaker to a smaller town than Waddams, enjoyed far greater luxuries. True, she was much younger than Mistress Forythe, but why should she be valued less highly? She had grown up in Waddams, and the members of the council had known her from her infancy.

"In that case," she said icily, "what would you award me for today’s news?"

He rubbed his chin. "The necessary items, naturally. Butter, eggs, a loaf of bread. Perhaps a bit of bacon."

"The only other thing I would have asked for is one of Mistress Laron’s sweetcakes. But if a day free from worry about an attack by mindstealers is worth only butter, eggs, and bread, I’ll be content with those items." Glaring, she stood and marched to the front door.

"Now, Mistress Kyla, you needn’t-"

She closed the door on his words, her teeth clenched in fury. For a windspeaker to be so little appreciated, so little honored ...

Her father, a scribe and an educated man, had always been regarded as an outsider, but the villagers had respected him and rewarded him well for his services. Her mother, too, had been held in high esteem for her healing skills. Their house was one of the finest in Waddams, and she and her parents had lacked nothing.

Nothing except friendship. Kyla remembered too well sitting with her parents on the fringe of such social events as weddings, town dances, and picnics. She had hoped becoming a windspeaker would break that pattern.

Maybe she should seek work in some other place, but where? The three good-sized towns in Noster Valley-Weaversville, Fenley, and her own town of Waddams-already had windspeakers. The small villages could not afford their own, but received information from the nearest town. That left only scattered mountain settlements, all much too small to support a windspeaker. The fishing villages along the coast could band together to hire a windspeaker, but so far they never had.

The paucity of opportunities was probably what made the council feel free to change her working agreement. Her world was restricted to this single valley with its surrounding mountains and canyons. She often wondered about the world beyond Rim Canyon, what it was like, and whether she could find the opportunities there that were denied her here. Although the canyon that deepened and divided at Nine Falls to form a V, with both sides continuing from there to the sea, enclosing and isolating the valley area, was considered impassible, at least one person must have found a way to cross it. The man who’d bought her parents’ home had paid her in gold disks he said were valuable coins beyond the Rim. Most scoffed at his claim to come from beyond Rim Canyon, but the gold disks convinced Kyla. Their design and lettering had an official look, and nothing of the sort was known in Noster Valley. She’d had the coins tested; the gold had proved to be genuine.

The man had refused to tell her how he’d crossed the canyon. Perhaps he had not done so. Perhaps he’d made the perilous journey by sea, sailing far out to sea to get around the treacherous rocky shoals flung from the canyon. She’d heard vague rumors about some brave souls who had attempted that trip, but those rumors also said that all who tried had died in the attempt. She would never dare take that route.

Deep in thought, she made the rounds for her butter, eggs, and bread, exchanging a few words with Turley Beal, who supplied the eggs, and Ida Keller, whose cows produced the creamiest milk in Waddams. At the bakery she meant to have little to say to Mistress Laron. She owed no explanation of why she was passing up her cherished sweet roll and taking only a loaf of barley bread.

Mistress Laron picked up the loaf but did not hand it to Kyla. Scowling, she said, "My nephew Elwyn says he saw you run through town this morning wearing next to nothing. I s’pose you had on that little thing you wear for windspeaking, but you got no call to wear it where decent folks can see you."