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One never knows who that person is, where he might be, or what decision he might make. She leaned in closer to him, and the boy felt her slender body mold against his, soft and flower-scented and delightful. His heart pounded more quickly, and his knees felt weak. Amara rode atop the swaying back of the towering old gargant bull, going over the plan in her head.
The morning sun shone down on her, taking the chill out of the misty air and warming the dark wool of her skirts. Behind her, the axles of the cart squeaked and groaned beneath their loads. The slave collar she wore had begun to chafe her skin, and she made an irritated mental note to wear one for a few days in order to grow used to it, before the next mission. A tremor of nervous fear ran down her spine and made her shoulders tighten. He wore the plain clothes of a peddler: brown leggings, sturdy sandals, with a padded jacket over his shirt, dark green on homespun.
A long cape, tattered green without embroidery, had been cast over one shoulder as the sun rose higher. It would cheapen your performance. You were so shocked when you found out that the Cursors did more than deliver missives. She looked down at him archly. Armies need iron. You heard there was a market out this way, and you came to see what money could be made. Fidelias chuckled.
So, we approach this renegade Legion with our precious ore. Your trip is being watched, and if the results are good, others might be willing to bring supplies as well. Good, bad, or indifferent? She glanced down at him. One can hardly keep an entire Legion secret for long. I decided it was too brainless and predictable. But once whoever is running this camp knows that they have been observed by the Cursors, they will simply disperse and move their operations elsewhere. The Crown will simply spend money and effort and lives to pin them down again—and even then, whoever is putting out the money to field their own army might simply get away.
Fidelias glanced up at her and let out a low whistle. Very dangerous, too. In the second, you will need your full attention to play your role. Get close and slip into the camp after dark. He blew out a breath. If allowed, the humpbacked beast would wander into the richest forage and graze, but Fidelias handled it with a sure and calm hand, keeping the beast moving along the road, while he marched at the quickstep beside it. She tried to remind herself of her role — that of a bored slave, sleepy and tired from days of travel — but it was all she could do to keep the mounting tension from rising in her shoulders and back.
What if the Legion turned out to be nothing more than rumor, and her intelligence gathering mission, so carefully outlined and planned, turned out to be a costly waste of time? Would the First Lord think less of her? Would the other Cursors? It would be a paltry introduction into the ranks, indeed, if she stepped forth from the Academy and straight into a monumental blunder.
Her anxiety grew, like bands of iron stretching across her shoulders and back, and her head started to pound from the tension and the glare of the sun. Had they made a wrong turn? The old trail they followed seemed too well-worn to be an abandoned lumber track, but she could be wrong. Amara was on the verge of leaning down to call to Fidelias, to ask his advice, when a man in dark tunic and leggings and a gleaming breastplate and helmet melted into view beneath the shadows of a tree on the road no more than ten strides in front of them.
He appeared without a warning of any kind, without a flicker of movement — furycrafting involved, then, and a fairly skilled woodworking at that. He was a giant of a man, nearly seven feet tall, and he bore a heavy blade at his side. Fidelias clucked to the gargant bull, slowing the beast to a stop after several steps. The wagon creaked and groaned, settling onto its wheels beneath the weight of the ore.
The senior Cursor doffed his hat and clutched it in his slightly trembling hands. His tone was dull, almost sleepy, but he laid a hand on the hilt of his weapon. Turn around. Fidelias glanced back at him. The dark man shrugged. The man grunted, eyeing the beast, and swept his gaze up it, to Amara. His voice took on a cringing, wheedling tone. The man snorted. It would have been smarter for you to travel alone. Take your beast and follow me. Fidelias stared at the soldier and then swallowed, an almost audible gulp. Come on old boy. The soldier grunted and turned to start walking back down the road.
He let out a sharp whistle, and a dozen men armed with bows appeared from the shadows and brush on the sides of the trail, just as he had a moment before. Amara focused on that one. The men all wore the same outfits: black tunics and breeches with surcoats of dark green and dark brown. The speaker, in addition, wore a black sash around his waist—as the first soldier had. Amara checked around, but none of the other men wore a sash — only those two. She made a mental note of it. One of them had to have been a strong woodcrafter, to have hidden so many men so thoroughly.
Crows, she thought. What if this rebel Legion turns out to have a full contingent of Knights to go with it? With that many men, that many powerful furycrafters, they could be a threat to any city in Alera. And, as a corollary, it would mean that the Legion had powerful backing. Any furycrafter strong enough to be a Knight could command virtually what price he wished for his services.
They could not be casually bought by any disgruntled merchant set to convince his Lord or High Lord to lower taxes. Only the nobility could afford the cost of hiring a few Knights, let alone a contingent of them. Amara shivered. If one of the High Lords was preparing to turn against the First Lord, then there were dark days ahead indeed.
She looked down at Fidelias, and he glanced up at her, his face troubled. She thought she could see the reflection of her own thoughts and fears there in his eyes. There, the camp spread out before them. Her mind took down details as she stared. Tents of white fabric had been erected within, row after row of them, too many for easy counting, laid out in neat, precise rows. Two gates, opposite one another, led into the camp. On a practice field beside the camp, entire cohorts of men were drilling in formation combat and maneuvers, ordered about by bawling centurions or men in black sashes mounted on horseback.
Elsewhere, archers riddled distant targets with their arrows, while furymasters drilled other recruits in the application of their basic warcraftings. Women moved among the camp, as well—washing clothes at a stream that passed by, mending uniforms, tending fires, or simply enjoying the morning sunlight. Amara saw a couple of women wearing sashes of black, on horseback, riding toward the practice field.
Dogs wandered about the camp and set up a tinny racket of barking upon scenting the gargant as it came over the hill. To one side of the camp, not far from the stream, men and women had established what looked like a small market, vendors hawking wares from makeshift stalls and spreading them upon blankets on the ground. The soldier grunted. It stays here. Your interests are no longer an issue, are they? Fidelias licked his lips. Then shot a glance up at Amara.
Get down. Amara slid down off of the back of the beast, using the leather straps to help lower herself down its flanks. Fidelias clucked to it and jerked down on its straps, and the gargant settled lazily to earth with a contented rumble that shook the ground nearby.
Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera Series #1) by Jim Butcher, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
It leaned its great head over, tore up a mouthful of grass, and began chewing on it, huge eyes half-closed. Do you understand? They followed the soldier then and crossed the stream at a shallow ford. She shivered, gooseflesh racing up and down her legs and arms, but kept pace with Fidelias and the soldier.
Professional military. Is it enough for the First Lord to bring it to the Council? We have to have something that incriminates someone behind it.
I saw his duel with Araris Valerian. Amara glanced up at the man ahead of them, careful to keep her voice down. Not another word. They walked in silence, then, into the camp. A large tent sat there, and two legionares stood outside it, breastplates gleaming, armed with spears in their hands and swords at their belts.
Aldrik nodded to one of them and went inside. Come inside. The commander wants to speak to you. Fidelias stepped forward, and Amara moved to follow him. Not the slave. Fidelias blinked. It could be dangerous. A warning. Get inside. Fidelias looked back at her and licked his lips. Then he stepped forward into the tent. Aldrick looked at Amara for a moment, his eyes distant, cool.
Then he stepped back inside. A moment later, he came back to the opening of the tent, dragging a girl with him. The collar around her neck, even on its smallest sizing, hung loosely. Her brown hair looked dry, brittle as hay, and she had dust on her skirts, though her feet were clean enough. The girl tumbled to the ground, along with a woven basket, and landed with a soft cry in a tangle of basket and skirts and frizzy hair. She rose shakily to her feet and kicked a puff of dust at the tent with her toe.
She glanced around her, licking her lips, and thought for a moment. She needed to see more of the camp. Try to find something she could take with her. Optionally, we could get a drink of water. Amara caught up with her, eyes flicking around. A troop of soldiers came jogging by, boots striking the ground in rhythm, and the two girls had to skip back, between two tents, to let them pass.
Odiana looked at her with an amused smile. And the men never change. This is it. The soldiers passed, and the girls stepped out onto the track again. Odiana shrugged. Crows, soldiers are so messy. But at least the legionares keep their tents clean. Then an apple core, from which she took a judicious nibble before wrinkling up her nose and tossing it into the stream.
Next came a piece of paper, which she hardly glanced at before flicking it aside. Amara turned and stomped the paper flat with her foot, before the wind could catch it. Then she bent over and picked it up. Amara picked up the paper. She tilted her head to one side, watching, as Amara unfolded the paper and studied the writing inside. She read the note, and her hands started shaking as she did. You are hereby ordered to strike camp and make for the rendezvous point. You should arrive no later than the tenth full moon of the year, in preparation for winter.
Maintain drilling until you march, and dispatch the men in the usual manner. Her fears were true. Put these in the stream. Who ask questions about troop movements. And who are also politically learned enough to realize the wider implications of one little note.
Pain flashed through her, dull and hot. The wasted-seeming girl had far more strength than Amara would have credited to her, and the blow stunned Amara and sent her tumbling back into the stream. She stood up out of it, shaking water from her face and eyes and drawing in a breath to cry out to her furies—but water rushed down into her mouth and nose as she inhaled, and she began choking. She struggled and choked, but only more water rushed in, coating her like a layer of oil. The world began to glaze over with darkness, and she grew dizzy. She made it to the bank before the water filling her lungs made her collapse.
Amara looked up as the wasted slave girl stared down at her, a gentle smile on her face. And she began to change.
Her sunken cheeks filled out. The gangling limbs gained rondure, beauty. Hips and breasts began to curve in enticing lines, filling out the clothes she wore. Her hair grew a bit longer, lustrous, darker, and she shook it out with a little laugh, before kneeling down next to Amara. We need you. Just go to sleep, Amara.
It will be so much easier. And then I can send all the water back and let you breathe again. Amara struggled and fought for simple breath, but none came. Darkness gathered, points of light appearing before her eyes. She clutched at Odiana, but her fingers had gone nerveless and weak.
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The last thing she saw was the beautiful watercrafter leaning down to place a gentle kiss upon her forehead. Amara woke, buried to her armpits in the earth. Loose dirt had been piled over her arms and into her hair. Her face felt thick, heavy, and after a moment, she realized that her entire head had been liberally smeared with mud. She struggled to gather her wits through a pounding headache, piecing together fragments of memories and perceptions until, with a dizzying rush of clarity, she remembered where she was and what had happened to her.
She opened her eyes, and bits of dirt fell into them, so that she had to blink quickly. Tears formed to wash the dirt out. After a few moments, she was able to see. She was in a tent. She turned her head, trying to look. She could barely see Fidelias out of the corner of her eye, but he was there, hanging in a cage of iron bars by straps around his shoulders and outstretched arms, leaving his feet dangling a good ten inches off of the floor.
He had a swelling bruise on his face, and his lip had been split and was crusted with dry blood. Apart from being beaten, captured, and scheduled for torture and interrogation. Amara felt her mouth curve into a smile, despite the circumstances. Fidelias tried to smile. The effort split his lip some more, and fresh blood welled.
She barely succeeded in freeing her arms enough to move them — and even so, they were thickly encrusted with dirt. Come pull me out. Then he banged his foot against the iron bars of his cage. Fidelias closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. The words hit Amara like hammers. She swallowed and felt more tears rising, but blinked them away with a flash of anger. She was a Cursor. She thought for a fleeting moment of her home, the small apartment back in the capital, of her family, not so far away, in Parcia by the sea.
More tears threatened.
She took up her memories, one by one, and shut them away into a dark, quiet place in her mind. She put everything in there. If given to the Minister of Intelligence , Cipher Nine can choose to erase their identity. If given to the Sith, Nine will have a place in the new Sith Intelligence.
If the agent let Ardun Kothe escape at the end of chapter 2, Cipher Nine can also give the codex to him and become a double agent for the SIS. Finally, Cipher Nine may also choose to destroy the Black Codex and all its contents to prevent anyone else from using it to their advantage. Sort order. Apr 14, Cara M rated it liked it Shelves: extra-sentients , heroine. Jul 08, rivka rated it liked it Shelves: other-spec-fic. Original review from several years ago: Not done yet, but so far quite good.
A bit dark for my taste overall, but not all the stories suffer from an overdose of angst. Even among those that do, excellent writing. Easy to see why these are considered the up-and-comers of speculative fiction. Nov 02, Pat MacEwen rated it really liked it. A wide-ranging collection of science fiction and fantasy stories which had been languishing in my TBR stack for far too long. The individual stories do not strongly trend toward hard sf but include selections with a fairy tale focus Rampion, by Mary Robinette Kowal , a consideration of true justice as it applies to Prince Charming Sister of the Hedge, by Jim Hines , and a different take on the French magician, Robert-Eugene Houdin yes, that's Harry Houdini's namesake and his famous contest w A wide-ranging collection of science fiction and fantasy stories which had been languishing in my TBR stack for far too long.
The individual stories do not strongly trend toward hard sf but include selections with a fairy tale focus Rampion, by Mary Robinette Kowal , a consideration of true justice as it applies to Prince Charming Sister of the Hedge, by Jim Hines , and a different take on the French magician, Robert-Eugene Houdin yes, that's Harry Houdini's namesake and his famous contest with Algerian conjurors during a nascent rebellion against the French. The Disenchantment of Kivron Ox-Master, by Elaine Isaak, was charming in some unexpected ways, especially when an ox and a camel wind up outshining the humans involved.
My favorites among the sf stories included Tick Tock Girl, by Cat Rambo, wherein an automaton constructed by a suffragette continues her maker's quest. The best of the lot? Hard to choose, but I'd have to say it's Ruth Nestvold's story, The Rainmakers, all about the difficulties of diplomacy on an alien world and what it means to "take the weather with you. Aug 14, Marie rated it really liked it. An excellent anthology of emergent and post-emergent science fiction and fantasy stars, including a gorgeous story by Tobias Buckell which was my personal favorite. What shocked me as a member of the Codex online forum was that these were my predecessors to that group, and it was exciting to read how the group came about in the forward.
I'm very glad I picked this slender volume up. Oct 16, Paul rated it really liked it Shelves: anthologies. This anthology contains a strong selection of stories by names that are positively to remain staples in the field for years to come. Prime Codex has a bit of everything as well: from crisp offerings of science fiction to haunting tales of pure, magical fantasy, everything within is worthwhile.
An excellent debut from Paper Golem, with smart choices from Lawrence M. Schoen and Michael Livingston. Jun 07, E. Includes my short story, "Button by Button. Apr 26, Mike Shultz rated it really liked it Shelves: science-fiction. One of my stories is in this one. Kelly rated it really liked it Nov 25, Joe rated it really liked it Feb 10, Meg Pontecorvo rated it really liked it Dec 17, Najib rated it liked it Jul 18, Barry Hill rated it really liked it Jan 30, Alana marked it as to-read Jul 10, Barbara added it Sep 01, Haengbok92 marked it as to-read Sep 02, Samuel marked it as to-read Nov 30, Nicole Bunge is currently reading it Mar 21, Amber marked it as to-read Apr 24,