Hands of Magic Series by JulieAnn Corbin
Book 1 – Dawn of Allies
A Mother’s Wish
“There are those immune to your magic, Son. You haven’t encountered them yet, but you will. If by some rare chance one of them is a pretty young woman, then you will have met your match.”
The remnants of those words were constantly running through the mind of the man named Brenderin Waylen. Though the person who had spoken them was someone he loved more dearly than himself, their consequences never failed to anger him. The speaker had been his mother, Brialla. He could still see her fair hair shining in the afternoon sun as she stretched her lean body over his bed, her hands tucking in freshly washed sheets. The sheets had smelled so strongly of the sweet soap she had used it still made his nose itch.
He had been bragging about his latest trespasses into the thoughts of schoolmates and the advantage it gave him in class-for he had always found his mother far more understanding than his strict father-and her response had been those cautionary words about the limits of his magic. That warning and her subsequent light-hearted conclusion about the proper girl for him, had begun to change the course of his destiny years before her sorrowful death. Bren had tried to comfort himself with the knowledge that “a pretty young woman” immune to his magical ability to read thoughts could not possibly exist. In his eighteen years of life he still had yet to meet anyone resistant to his power, despite searching his entire home continent of Kran and its neighboring lands. Nevertheless, he knew better than to doubt the plans his mother had laid for him with her subtle yet powerful magic.
It had been eight years since his mother’s death from illness and in that time he had grown progressively resentful toward his father, Dyrk Waylen, feeling that the man should have been able to save her. Dyrk was the town healer and Bren’s belief that the man could work miracles had been shattered by Brialla’s passing. The shared loss had created a rift between father and son, and Bren had been spending less time home each passing year. With the distance between himself and what remained of his family, he had started to believe that he had escaped his mother’s idea of a proper destiny. Life had seemed within the control of his own hands for so long that he was more than a little irritated when his apparent mastery of fate swiftly fled from him.
He had begun to feel the overdue shift in his existence almost a week ago and while he stood on the edge of a small familiar town called Bordres, he frowned. A change in the wind chilled the air and stirred his long brown leather coat about his legs. Leaning forward against the wooden staff he used as both weapon and walking stick, a sigh escaped him. Time was pressing ever heavier upon him, for the north wind promised something much more unwelcome than snow. His predetermined path loomed and its chill was colder than anything nature could create.
Bren had visited this particular town more times than he could count, but he knew somehow that this visit would not end as it usually did. Though he had not yet met the girl his mother had suggested for him, there were few pretty young ladies who could resist the allure of his six-foot height, long brown hair, mahogany skin, handsome features and the shadows lurking around his dark eyes. He never promised more than he was willing to give. If the girls wanted to toy with the tresses he kept mostly tied back at the nape of his neck or peer into his face trying to discern the color of his eyes, he let them and invited them to further explore whatever else might please them. In the end, the darkness claimed the man and his lovers without regrets, but he felt that this trip would not conclude nearly as pleasantly if his mother’s magical meddling had its way.
Why must it be a north wind? The only thing that lay north of his present location were the snow covered mountains of Corlan, the iciest region on the continent of Kran, and within them was only one small settlement that shared the name of the range. It was a place for those who sought solitude and isolation from the rest of the world and often where they died alone and recluse. For a man with his magic it could have been ideal for Bren, but the bitter temperatures and constant winter sounded far more intolerable than enduring the petty thoughts of everyone he encountered. He did not need to hide in a nearly uninhabitable range of mountains. He had perfected the sad art of concealing his soul within walls stronger than any tower of earth. As held true for Bren’s heart, little escaped Corlan, and he knew that the arrival of its icy air was an ill omen indeed.
The wagon piled with straw rolled away and Larc leaned heavily against one of the low trees, barely noticing the slight breeze that stirred the short brown hair atop her head. She focused her ice-blue eyes on the poorly made wooden sign before her and could just barely make out the words “Town of Bordres.” If the sign was any indication of the condition of the town, it held little appeal. She could just turn away from the town and keep walking down the dusty road in search of her true destination of Tranquil, but she had eaten all of the food she had packed and did not relish the idea of sleeping on the hard ground. Remembering the coins in the pouch at her waist, she wondered if the town might have an inn with a soft bed where she could spend the night. She decided to enter and hoped she would not later regret the idea.
Larc’s short height worked to her advantage as she made her way along the street, dodging swiftly around the clumps of people and animals. She would occasionally peek into open doors or touch the wares the street vendors were shouting so loudly about. People eyed her diminutive stature and lean build with disdain and frowned at her oversized gray tunic, trousers and boots. She tried to ignore them, having little concern for what strangers thought of her.
Residents of her former home settlement all lived in small one-level cabins, but this town was almost totally filled with two-story homes and shops. She wondered why the people needed so much space to live in. Though she had known that streets in towns outside of her mountain home were more than packed snow, walking on such hard pathways was a new experience to her. The stones were more abusive than snow and her feet were already sore from even that small amount of walking. The hard material made every movement louder, horseshoe steps seemed to echo forever and the street amplified the surprising morning bustle of the town.
The noise level made her ears hurt and she was soon forced to dodge into a small alley where the clamor was not quite so overwhelming. Leaning against the wall as her travel pack, short bow and quiver of arrows pressed into her back, Larc took in a deep breath. She regretted that action when a strange stench reached her nose. Grimacing, she stood straight and gazed down the debris-filled back street to see a one-story building built behind the two shops that formed the alley. There seemed to be only men going in and out of the structure and it did not have much light coming from it. As hard as she stared, she could not discern what the place was. It was not as neatly built as the rest of the town. The windows were so dirty she could not see in at all and the only appeal it held was the lack of noise coming from within. Yet something was definitely drawing her toward it. Deciding anything was better than facing that street again, she approached the building.
As Larc neared the structure, she began to hear the sounds of low voices talking in hushed tones and the noise of glass hitting glass. Gripping the straps of her travel pack, she slowed her pace and tried to peer through the heavy door whenever someone went in or out. When that did her no good, she swiftly stepped through the door behind a man as he entered. Once inside, she hid off to the side next to the door and gazed around her only to discover to her dismay that the unusual stench had been coming from this building.
Larc’s immediate instinct was to flee but that odd pull within her remained and she stayed where she was to take in her surroundings. There were lamps hanging on the wall but they were too few in number to do much to light the large room within. To the right of the entrance there was a long high table with a man standing behind it giving the patrons glasses of some dark liquid. Smoke filled the air from men using pipes and the din of low conversations seemed to rumble through her head. Unexplainable gut feeling or not, she began to think that perhaps this building was not the best place for her.
Sensing more than hearing the double doors of the tavern open, Bren raised his dark eyes from where they’d been glaring into the drink in his hand. He’d chosen a seat by the large hearth at the back of the building to avoid notice. Craning his neck up slightly to see over the crowded tables, he frowned as a waif of a person entered the tavern. The child’s short hair and skinny figure might have fooled most into believing that it was a boy, but as Bren was more perceptive than nearly everyone on Aindar, he knew the truth. The new arrival was a young woman older than the child she appeared to be, yet still too young to suit his tastes. Stretching his leather-booted feet up onto the table before him, Bren sat back and waited for the inevitable drama of this stranger’s appearance to unfold.