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Barb Hendee, J. C. Hendee

In Shade and Shadow

PROLOGUE

Well past sunset, Elias hiked up the hem of his gray sage's robe and rounded the avenue's next corner. Jeremy was close on his heels, but at his stumbling footfalls Elias glanced back. Jeremy had tripped over his too-long robe yet again.

'Will you slow down!' Jeremy grumbled.

'Let's get this finished!' Elias shot back. 'I don't want to miss Elvina at the Bang-Tankard inn. And neither should you… if she brought a friend, as promised.'

Jeremy grumbled again but quickened his pace.

Elias hurried on through sparse pools of lantern light cast upon the wet cobblestones of Calm Seatt, the king's city in Malourné. So much remained uncertain for his future in the Guild of Sagecraft.

He and Jeremy had only recently achieved journeyor status, having completed their years as initiates and then apprentices. Now they needed only be given assignments somewhere in the provinces, maybe even in neighboring Faunier or Witeny. Up to five years of duty abroad would follow, and then perhaps their skills would be recognized. They could at least petition and test for master status. One of them might even one day gain a post at a guild branch with the coveted title of domin. But Elias was worried.

Tonight he'd have to tell Elvina that he would be leaving for a while. She wasn't the kind to wait. And why hadn't he and Jeremy been given assignments yet—instead of errand duties? How insulting for a pair of journeyor sages. And why?

All because of Witless Wynn Hygeorht and her half-rotted tomes from abroad!

'Is she smart…,' Jeremy panted, 'aside from pretty?'

'What… who? Oh, of course she's pretty… she's gorgeous! You've seen Elvina.'

Trotting the last city block to their destination, Elias hopped up the steps of a small shake-wood shop. He barely noticed the hand-painted sign above the door—THE UPRIGHT QUILL. Dim light was seeping through the shop's shuttered windows, and then something thumped sharply on his back.

'Not Elvina, you bits a' brain!' Jeremy hissed. 'The other one… her friend!'

Jeremy slapped at him again, but only the cuff of his too-long sleeve connected. Elias fended it off.

'I don't know!' he whispered back.

His friend buckled over, hands on knees, trying to catch his breath. Jeremy finally straightened, his plain face slack in astonishment.

'You haven't even met her? Do you even know her name?'

'Of course I do,' Elias returned.

The last thing he needed was for Master Teagan—or worse, Master a'Seatt—to catch them in some petty argument outside the scribe shop.

'It's… it's…' he began.

But the name of Elvina's friend escaped him—or had she even told him? Either way, he wasn't about to let Jeremy ruin his evening plans. Not after all the work it'd taken to avoid Elvina's father.

'You ass!' Jeremy whispered, about to swing again.

A sharp creak of old hinges rose behind Elias.

Warm light spilled around him, illuminating Jeremy's suddenly abashed features. Elias spun about and came face-to-face with old Master Teagan.

The elder scribe glared at him from the shop's open doorway, and Elias shrank back.

'What's this nonsense?' Teagan creaked. 'And where's that timid cohort always following behind?'

'I… um…' Jeremy began.

'We're not doing anything,' Elias answered. 'Just here for the latest transcription folio… as instructed. And Nikolas wasn't assigned to come with us.'

Fortunately, as far as Elias was concerned.

As much as Elias liked the shy young man—in a general way—Nikolas had barely achieved apprentice status. He was a bit old to have advanced so little. Besides, Elvina wasn't very fond of Nervous Nikolas.

Scrawny, shriveled, and half-bald, old Teagan peered at Elias through round, thick-lensed glasses. His amplified pupils above his extended nose gave him the look of a gaunt hound sniffing out a fox beneath a chicken coop.

'Get in here,' he ordered in a crackling voice, 'before all the heat leaks out.'

Elias didn't wait for Jeremy and stepped briskly into the scribe shop's warmth.

The front room was little more than a wide and shallow space. Its long and worn counter blocked off two doorways to the shop's rear—and behind that counter stood the tall and dour Master Pawl a'Seatt.

Shining black hair hung straight to the shoulders of his charcoal suede jerkin. And although a few strands of gray graced his locks, not a single wrinkle showed on his face. It was hard to guess his age. His features were a bit squarish and never seemed to show emotion, but his brown eyes, too bright for that color, were cold and intense.

Elias didn't care for the shop's owner any more than for Master Teagan, but a'Seatt was well regarded at the guild. Elias had to be polite in all dealings with this establishment.

'Aren't you done fussing?' Teagan called.

Elias glanced back. Jeremy had sneaked in behind him, but the old master scribe wasn't looking at either of them. Teagan closed the door and impatiently watched the shop owner behind the counter.

'Another error,' Master a'Seatt returned flatly.

'What?!' Teagan squeaked, and quickly hobbled over.

Pawl a'Seatt never looked up. He scanned page after page in a stack freshly transcribed by his staff.

'Not in the scripting,' a'Seatt replied, 'in the translation.'

Teagan grumbled under his breath. 'Enough already. You think you know more than sages?'

'An error nonetheless,' a'Seatt answered.

Elias watched the shop owner dip a quill precisely in a stout ink bottle. As he scrawled something on a spare parchment sheet, the right door beyond the counter cracked open, and a small head peeked out.

'Ah, no,' Elias muttered.

Imaret was barely tall enough to peer around Master a'Seatt's back and over the counter. Her kinky brown- black hair was tied back, but too many errant strands bounced around her caroutround hamel-tinted face. And her eyes lit up at the sight of Jeremy.

Elias scowled, but Imaret didn't notice.

Why did grim Master a'Seatt have a thirteen-year-old girl working in his scriptorium?

Imaret was known on the guild grounds and had suffered more than once as she tailed Jeremy about. Instead of attending one of the four public schools run by the guild, someone, somehow, had paid for her more intense tutelage. Certainly not her father, who was only a retired sergeant of the regulars.

'Hello, Imaret,' Jeremy said politely.

Elias rolled his eyes, but again no one noticed.

Imaret dropped her gaze bashfully, opening her small mouth to speak.

'You have finished cleaning up?' Pawl a'Seatt asked, not looking up from the pages.

Imaret raised her eyes, her mouth still open.

'It's late, girl,' Teagan added. 'And I don't need another sharp word from your parents.'

Imaret's pout turned to a vinegar scowl, and she backed through the door with a last lovesick glance at Jeremy.

Pawl a'Seatt finished another notation. When he set down the quill, Teagan snatched up the sheet of notes.

'Seven?' the old scribe moaned. 'Seven corrections to the translations? I can barely read half the sages'

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