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About The Author

Mercedes LackeyMercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is the author of the bestselling Valdemar series, the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, and, also with James Mallory, the Obsidian Trilogy (The Outstretched Shadow, To Light a Candle, and When Darkness Falls) and the Enduring Flame Trilogy (The Phoenix... More

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

Called to Magic

HE’D NEVER THOUGHT he’d see a unicorn, Harrier thought crossly, and like so many things he’d thought he’d wanted to see when he was back in Armethalieh (like Elves and dragons and Wildmages) the reality was nothing like he’d expected it to be.

Oh, sure, Kareta was beautiful. In fact, she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. But he hadn’t expected her to sucker him into falling into the stream with most of his clothes on—and make him lose his shirt—and then laugh her silly head off about it just as if she were one of his idiot brothers.

Of course, maybe that was just what unicorns were like. How would he know? Nobody in human lands had seen one since... well, since the time of the Magic Unicorn Shalkan and Kellen the Poor Orphan Boy.

Thinking about Kellen, a hero out of the Nine Cities’ most ancient legends, made Harrier shiver just a little, and not with cold (although he was soaking wet, and the walk back to the wagon from the woods wasn’t that pleasant in wet clothes), but because only a fortnight ago, he’d been talking to the person who’d taught that very hero to hold a sword. Who’d helped the Wild Magic turn Kellen into a Knight-Mage, a great warrior who could defeat the Endarkened.

With that thought, the red leather satchel he had slung over his shoulder, small as it was, suddenly seemed incredibly heavy. Because it contained the Three Books of the Wild Magic, brought to him (not to Tiercel, to him) by the unicorn Kareta, and if Harrier could believe her (did unicorns tell lies?) he hadn’t been granted the opportunity to become just an ordinary Wildmage—as if there could be such a thing— but a Knight-Mage.

Just like the hero Kellen had been.

Nobody knew how Kellen’s story ended, though everyone knew how it began, and everyone knew the ending of his sister’s, the Blessed Saint Idalia’s. She married the King of the Elves (so the tales went), was granted immortality by the Light, and lived forever in the Elven Lands. But over the last several moonturns, Harrier had learned a lot about how the stories he’d always taken for granted as being, well, wondertales (which meant they were sort-of true and sort-of not) were completely wrong about all the important things. Jermayan wasn’t King of the Elves, just to begin with. And Elves certainly didn’t live forever.

And having fought Goblins, and seen magical things that he had no name for, met Elves and dragons and all sorts of Otherfolk that had left the lands of Men in the time of the Great Flowering, Harrier’d thought he’d gotten used to things being strange by now. He and Tiercel had left Armethalieh almost four moonturns ago, at the beginning of summer, looking for a Wildmage who could put an end to Tiercel’s little problem, as Harrier had thought of it then. Tiercel said he was having visions. Harrier thought Tiercel was having bad dreams.

But they really were visions, and that was only the start of problems that just got worse and worse. At least they had Ancaladar with them now, because the Elves had cast an incredibly powerful spell (that they hadn’t been sure at the time was even going to work) to transfer Ancaladar’s Bond from Jermayan to Tiercel, because otherwise Tiercel, whether he was a High Mage or not, wouldn’t have the power he needed to cast his spells. So now Tiercel had the power, and all he had to do was learn all those spells, so when he’d gotten up this morning, Harrier had thought they only had two problems to deal with.

One was the fact that Tiercel kept saying that it took about twenty or thirty years to train a High Mage (and he also kept saying that they didn’t have that long before the Darkness came back), and the other was that they really had no idea of where they were going to find it and fight it, because nobody recognized the landscape from Tiercel’s visions.

Now they had a third one.

Harrier really didn’t like magic. It was weird. It made him uncomfortable. It wasn’t that it was wrong or evil or bad, but . . . he was the youngest son of the Portmaster of Armethalieh, for the Light’s sake! And he would have made a really rotten Portmaster, and he was glad now that he’d left because that meant his older brother Brelt would be Portmaster instead, and Brelt would make a wonderful Portmaster, but what he was supposed to be doing out here was the same thing he’d been doing for moonturns: keeping Tiercel out of trouble, and watching his back, and making sure that there was food and that Tiercel came in out of the rain and that nobody took advantage of him because Tiercel was much too easygoing for Harrier’s peace of mind. And sure, Ancaladar could do some of that, but not all of it. And how was Harrier supposed to do any of it if he was being a Knight-Mage?

Even leaving aside that he didn’t know the first thing about being a Knight-Mage, except that if you were one you were supposed to be an incredible warrior and a great leader of men. And he really wasn’t.

BY the time Harrier got back to the wagon, Kareta was already there. Her pale golden coat shimmered in the late-morning sunlight as if it were actual gold, and the long spiraling horn that grew from the center of her forehead glowed with the soft white iridescence of the inside of a seashell. Even as irritated as he was, Harrier couldn’t help stopping to stare at her for just a moment: an actual unicorn—most beautiful of the Otherfolk!

But she was tapping one small pink hoof in irritation as she waited for him, and kept glancing back over her shoulder toward him, interrupting her conversation with Tiercel and Ancaladar to do so. At least Ancaladar was having a conversation. Tiercel, Harrier was pleased to see, looked just as flummoxed as he had upon his first sight of Kareta.

Harrier wondered if the two of them had shown up of their own accord, or if Kareta had gone and gotten them—he really didn’t put anything past her at this point, because even though he’d only talked to her for about five minutes, Harrier already knew that she was just as pushy and managing as any of his sisters-in-law. But maybe Ancaladar and Tiercel had just been drawn by—for lack of a better term—the scent of magic. Were unicorns magic in the same way that dragons were? He knew that they were Otherfolk, and creatures of the Light (as little as Kareta had been acting like one just now), but nobody really knew all that much about them; they hadn’t been seen in human lands since the Great Flowering.

"There you are!" Kareta said, tossing her head. "Well it took you long enough—did you stop to take a bath after all? Come on! We’ve got a lot to talk about!"

"My clothes are wet. I’m going to change," Harrier said sulkily.

He wanted to toss the satchel with the Three Books down on the ground just to show Kareta what he thought of her bright idea that he should become a Knight-Mage, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Whatever he thought of the idea of becoming one, a Knight-Mage was a Wildmage, and Wildmages were guardians of the Great Balance, and Harrier worshipped at the Shrine of the Eternal Light—the Great Balance as it was venerated in the Nine Cities—just like everyone else in Armethalieh. The Light might be known by different names in different places: as Leaf and Star to the Elves, as the Herdsman to the Centaurs, as the Huntsman and the Forest Wife back in the Hills, and even in some places as the Good Goddess, but it was all the same Light, the same way as the sun was the same sun, no matter where you went. Without another word, he sighed, and settled the satchel firmly on his shoulder as he walked past the other three and climbed the steps into the wagon.

He ducked his head as he stepped up and inside. "You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it." That was one of his father’s favorite sayings, and it had gotten Harrier through many an afternoon of tedious chores. He wasn’t entirely sure that Antarans Gillain had ever meant it to apply to his youngest son becoming a Wildmage, though.

Well, maybe there was a way out. He was sure Ancaladar would know.

He closed the door of the wagon behind him, and bolted it too, just to make sure he had a little time alone to think. He kept his head ducked; Tiercel could stand upright in here, but Harrier was a good half-head taller than Tiercel was, and he’d already collected more than his fair share of bruises from the ceiling and doorframe of the wagon.

THE true purpose of the wagon wasn’t actually to provide him and Tiercel with a place to sleep, but to provide Tiercel with a portable workroom, for unlike the Wild Magic, the High Magick required a large number of ingredients, and research books, and tools. But at the moment it also held all their belongings, for though the boys had arrived at Karahelanderialigor, city of the Elven Mages, with little more than the clothes on their backs, they had left it fully-provisioned, thanks to the generosity of House Malkirinath.

He sat down on one of the chests to remove his boots, setting the satchel carefully aside. The boots were durable leather, made for hard use (and even for wading into a stream, if need be), but it would take them hours to dry. He set them in a corner. He’d oil them later, to keep them from stiffening as they dried. Then he dragged off his overtunic (his shirt was floating downstream, but if he was lucky, it had caught on a branch, and he’d be able to retrieve it later; he had others, but that was his favorite) and got to his feet to rummage through the chest for a change of clothes. At least he’d packed up the camp this morning before he’d gone off for his ill-advised morning swim, so he was able to lay hands on a drying cloth and his camp boots without tearing the whole organization of the wagon to bits. All of Tiercel’s High Magick stuff was carefully packed away out of reach, and he’d told Harrier over and over that it was completely harmless: without a High Mage’s will and power, nearly all of it was nothing more than objects, and Harrier could do them more harm, actually, than they could do him. But Harrier still didn’t like the thought of touching them. And it was the "nearly" part that bothered him. It would be just his luck to bump into the one item in Tiercel’s collection of weird new gimcracks that could turn him into a tree, or something.

A few minutes later, dressed in dry clothes, but no more ready to talk about this than he had been before, Harrier opened the door of the wagon—and nearly skewered himself on Kareta’s horn.

"Hey!" he yelped, jumping back. He hadn’t expected her to be there. He straightened up quickly and fetched his head a painful thump on the ceiling of the wagon.

Kareta shook her head violently. A unicorn’s face couldn’t have much expression, but Harrier just knew she was trying—and not very hard—not to laugh.

"If I’d known that humans could be this much fun, I would have gotten one a long time ago," she said unsteadily.

Harrier glared at her until she backed up. He came down the steps, ducking carefully.

"You forgot your Books," Kareta said. She sounded just like one of Tiercel’s sisters when she was pretending to be helpful but actually trying to get him into trouble.

"They’re fine where they are," he said. He walked around the side of the wagon.

Tiercel and Ancaladar were waiting for him. A dragon’s face was even less capable of showing expression than a unicorn’s, but somehow Harrier never had any trouble telling what Ancaladar was thinking. Right now, Ancaladar was waiting to see what would happen. Harrier supposed that when you got to be as old as Ancaladar was, you developed patience.

He didn’t know precisely how old the great black dragon was, and he doubted that Tiercel did either. He knew that Ancaladar was at least a thousand years old, because he wasn’t just any black dragon named Ancaladar, he was the Ancaladar: Ancaladar Star-Crowned, who had fought against the Endarkened. But Ancaladar had said once that he’d seen the start of the war that had come before that one, and Tiercel said that war had been a thousand years before the Great Flowering, so Ancaladar was...older than anything Harrier could easily imagine. Older, even than Armethalieh, and Harrier had grown up knowing that he lived in the oldest and most famous of the Nine Cities.

He walked over and sat down, using Ancaladar’s shoulder for a backrest. Ancaladar might be an ancient creature of magic, but in the short time he’d known him, Ancaladar had also become Harrier’s friend. He glanced over at Tiercel, who still had the vague look on his face that meant he wasn’t paying attention to anything in particular. Harrier stretched out a hand and snapped his fingers in front of Tiercel’s face.

Tiercel jumped, and his eyes focused. He looked around for Kareta (who was standing facing them, and if she’d been human Harrier was pretty sure she’d have her arms folded over her chest and be tapping her foot) and then looked at Harrier.

"You’re going to be a Wildmage," he said in tones of disbelief.

"A Knight-Mage," Kareta said. "And he can still refuse, you know. People have refused to become Wildmages."

Harrier wondered how she knew.

"But this is different," Tiercel said slowly. "A Knight-Mage isn’t just any ordinary Wildmage. They’re special. They do things no ordinary Wildmage can do. Wildmages keep the Great Balance, and do the work of the Wild Magic, but Knight-Mages... make things happen."

"Will you stop talking about this as if it were something interesting that didn’t really matter?" Harrier demanded. "This is me! And I can’t be a Knight-Mage!"

"Why not?" Ancaladar asked, before either Kareta could argue or Tiercel could ask the same question.

"Well," Harrier said slowly, "Knight-Mages have to be able to fight, don’t they? That’s why they’re called Knight-Mages. And I don’t know anything about fighting."

But Roneida—the Wildmage that they’d met on the Great Plains, the one who had told them to go to the Elves—had given him a sword. She’d brought gifts for all of them, but she’d brought only Harrier a sword. He wondered if she’d known, all that time ago, if this might happen.

"Foo! That’s simple!" Kareta said. "Cast a spell and summon yourself up a teacher! The Mageprice shouldn’t be too great for that!"

Harrier did his best not to recoil in horror. Cast a spell? Okay, that’s what Wildmages did (and there must be some kind of directions on how to do it in the Three Books), but . . . he still hadn’t agreed to any of this.

And that wasn’t the only problem he had with becoming a Knight-Mage.

This morning, he’d known what his place in the scheme of things was. Take care of Tiercel. Take care of Ancaladar, too (as much as he needed taking care of). How was he supposed to do that if he had magickal things to do too? He was thinking back to all the stories he’d ever heard about Kellen the Poor Orphan Boy—Kellen who’d had his own unicorn (and Shalkan had probably been much nicer than Kareta was, Harrier thought darkly); Kellen who’d been the greatest warrior— human or Elven—the world had ever seen; Kellen who had slain hordes of monsters with an Elven-forged sword that only he could wield; Kellen who’d gathered together a great army and led it against the En-darkened.

If anybody’s safety depended on Harrier’s ability to do anything even remotely like any of those things, the world was doomed.

"WELL, he doesn’t have to do that right this minute, does he?" Tiercel asked hesitantly.

The golden unicorn was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen— well, next to Ancaladar, of course—and that made it slightly hard to concentrate while he was staring at her. But she did seem just a little bit... pushy.

And he’d gotten a good look at Harrier’s face as he’d stomped off into the wagon to change clothes. He’d known Harrier almost all their lives, and that was quite long enough for Tiercel to know when Harrier was scared to death about something and would rather die than admit it. And Tiercel knew how Harrier felt about him having magic. He’d barely gotten used to the idea in half a year, and it still made him nervous.

"Of course not!" Kareta said sarcastically, tossing her head. "He can just stand around and dither—even though he’s the first Knight-Mage chosen by the Wild Magic since the time of Kellen Tavadon!"

Harrier sighed. "Well, can’t it just choose someone else?" he asked hopefully. He sighed again, more deeply. "Only...I don’t know of anyone who’s ever refused the Three Books. Do you?"

He stared firmly at Kareta, so Tiercel did too. He wasn’t sure what made him think so, but Tiercel almost got the feeling she looked... embarrassed. Finally she looked away.

"Not...forever," she finally admitted.

"Well, there you are," Harrier said gloomily. He looked at Tiercel. "We both know—the Light teaches—that the Wild Magic never gives you a gift if you aren’t going to really need it. Which is why you’ve got that High Mage magick. But there were High Mages a lot more recently than there were Knight-Mages, weren’t there?"

According to everything Tiercel had read back in Karahelanderialigor, High Magic had just sort of... died out slowly in the centuries following the Great Flowering. He’d told Harrier that, of course, but he hadn’t thought his friend had been listening.

"I told you! You’re the first one chosen since Kellen! You should be pleased!" Kareta said brightly.

"Yeah," Harrier said, sounding anything but. "Okay. Fine. But I’m not going to go around casting a bunch of spells just because you think I ought to. And I might change my mind. But . . . come on. We should probably get a move on. We’ve wasted enough of the day already."

He got to his feet and walked over to where the horses were waiting, hitched on a loose rope to the side of the wagon. He began harnessing them for the day’s journey. In Harrier’s mind, obviously, the discussion was over.

BUT Tiercel knew that even if his friend didn’t want to talk about it anymore, the matter was far from settled, and for that reason, Tiercel continued to brood about the morning’s strange turn of events, even after they’d finally started down the road at last.

The world was a strange and beautiful place as seen from the back of a dragon. Tiercel had always been terrified of heights—even climbing a ladder would make him nervous, and as for climbing into a ship’s rigging (something Harrier had often urged him to do, back in the days when, as children, they’d been able to amuse themselves by running around the Port of Armethalieh, not quite getting into trouble), well, that was something he’d found completely impossible. So logically, riding on the back of a dragon, hundreds of feet higher than the tallest ship or the tallest tower in Armethalieh, should have terrified him.

But it didn’t.

He could feel Ancaladar’s amusement through the Bond that they shared. Ancaladar could always tell what he was thinking, though he’d said (quite matter-of-factly) that Tiercel wouldn’t live long enough for the opposite to ever become true. It was one more reminder that from Ancaladar’s point of view, their relationship, even though it would last the rest of Tiercel’s life, would be a brief one. And it would end in Ancaladar’s death, for both halves of a Bonding died at the same moment. Without the Great Spell cast by Sandalon Elvenking, Ancaladar would be dead now.

"Do not think of such things, Tiercel," Ancaladar said aloud. "It is the nature of the Great Bargain struck on behalf of my kind by Tannetarie the White with Great Queen Vieliessar Farcarinon in the morning of the world. I do not regret the opportunity to know you. And you are more worried about another matter, I think, than this one, which is something we have discussed before," he added reprovingly.

"Harrier," Tiercel said, and Ancaladar snorted in understanding.

Tiercel glanced over Ancaladar’s shoulder, down at the ground below. The road they were following was a pale tracery against the green of the landscape around. Through the trees, Tiercel could see the sparkle of the stream; the road paralleled it. In the distance, he could see a plume of smoke rising into the sky; Ancaladar said it was another Elven settlement—a farm—and that they should reach it tomorrow or the next day.

Almost directly below them (Ancaladar flew in great sweeping circles in order to pace himself to the wagon’s slower rate of travel) Tiercel could see the wagon that contained all of his and Harrier’s possessions, and, moving along beside it, the golden spark that must be Kareta. Harrier had done his best to convince her to go away, since she’d already delivered the Three Books, and Kareta had insisted (she was just as stubborn as Harrier was, Tiercel thought) that he was much too entertaining to leave behind just yet. So now they were traveling with a unicorn as well as with a dragon. He wondered how long that would go on. Did all Knight-Mages have unicorns? It wasn’t really as if there were anyone he could ask. Ancaladar had been alive in a world filled with both Knight-Mages and unicorns—during the Great War—but he’d spent that war in hiding in order to keep from Bonding. Because in the Great War, dragons and their Bonded had died—quickly—in the fight against the Endarkened.

"And those who were not Bonded died as well," Ancaladar said. Even after two thousand years, his voice still held sadness. "I should have stayed to fight instead of hiding."

"If you had, you wouldn’t have been there when Jermayan needed you," Tiercel said. It felt so strange to be talking about ancient legends as if they were ordinary people—and Elves—but of course they had been once.

"They were always ordinary people," Ancaladar admonished, changing the subject. "It is you who have made them into legends and wondertale heroes. Kellen was much like Harrier. At the beginning and at the end."

"What?" Tiercel said. "He refused to become a Knight-Mage? Or do magick?"

"He doubted his ability to be what the Wild Magic wished him to be," Ancaladar said simply.

But Tiercel knew that there was much more behind Harrier’s reluctance than just doubt in his own abilities and distrust of magic. He knew that Harrier had "decided" that his purpose was to take care of everything in the way of day-to-day chores—and everything else he could manage to do—so that Tiercel "only" had to worry about turning himself into a High Mage.

And that was another part of the problem.

Tiercel knew he couldn’t do that. Yes, he had Ancaladar, he had the Magegift, but what he didn’t have was time: the decades to spend in study and meditation to make himself into someone who completely understood the complicated system of the High Magick; someone who not only had committed hundreds of spells to memory, but all the complicated details of how and when and why to cast each one.

Harrier didn’t know this, of course, but Tiercel was pretty sure that he sensed it at some level, and that was why (Tiercel knew) Harrier hadn’t argued longer or louder or harder against becoming a Knight-Mage. He wanted to be able to help Tiercel, and protect him, too. And because of that, Harrier was going to take on something he didn’t want, and didn’t feel ready for, and still try to do everything else as well.

Tiercel didn’t have the faintest idea of what you needed to do to become a Knight-Mage, but what he did know was that Kellen the Poor Orphan Boy hadn’t been trying to take care of a bunch of other people while he did it. He’d had a bunch of other people taking care of him.

Which is exactly what we need, and don’t have, Tiercel thought with an exasperated huff. An army.

He knew Ancaladar could hear him, but the great black dragon said nothing at all.

Excerpted from The Phoenix Endangered by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Copyright © 2008 by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Published in September 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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