Prince Lonn swore he’d never buy a slave. That was before he met Llias.
The Arcane Heart is about a week out from publishing – I literally cannot wait to share it with you, so chapter one is under the cut. Enjoy!
The Arcane Heart – Chapter One
Prince Lonn strode through the Varhin market, the thud of his boots and his dark glare scattering people from his path.
He hated this place; it was filled with nothing but filth, misery and thieves. Today, though, he had been drawn to it. Something that had pulled him to this place, something underneath the stench and noise that impelled him to search through the stalls and booths. He did not understand the compulsion, but he trusted his instincts, and he could not ignore it.
He let his feet take him to the back of the Varhin, where less legal and less savory goods were traded. It was no secret on Tornatt that the Varhin market allowed dealing in low magics, stolen artifacts, and slaves. Otharn tolerated it, as it was not done too openly, the traders did not cross anyone of note, and most importantly, they paid their regular tributes on time and without complaint. Lonn was a prince of Otharn; he knew how the worlds worked.
At the very back of the market, Lonn’s steps slowed. Here, rough curtains enclosed most of the stalls. Few showed their wares openly. The pull on Lonn’s awareness increased, a sensation unlike any he had ever felt before. His every nerve dragged him in one direction, bending his path towards the source. He was drawn forward as if by a magnet, by a gravitational field, by a deep, dizzying well that he could not help but peer into. His armed escort drew closer around him, but his captain, Hilde, did not speak or question her prince.
Lonn turned slowly on his heel, as though scenting the air. He paused, then walked toward a dim doorway, one among many. He knew it was the right one. Silently, Hilde darted before him and entered first, taking up a position by the door. Her keen eyes flicked to all corners of the space to check for threats in the scant moments before her prince entered.
It was a miserable place. The crystals that should have lit the cramped space were dim, some even completely dark. Only a low place indeed could not afford charged crystal lamps to provide light and warmth. This very market sold them for pennies apiece. The floor was unswept, the air stale and chill, and tattered cloth concealed half of the space.
Lonn tapped his foot and looked around. The pull was stronger than ever here, like a thread wound through his heart, but he could see nothing that might have spun such a thread. For the first time, unease crossed his mind. Was some unfriendly force at play, compelling him to this place? Was this an ambush, a trap? Hilde obviously shared his concern, and her hand lingered by the hilt of her weapon. Her second-in-command, Lieutenant Ake, stepped into the booth and took up a position on Lonn’s left, his face tense under his thick beard.
Moments passed, one thudding heartbeat after another. Lonn held up a hand for everyone to wait. Something was coming, bubbling up beneath the surface, about to break through. They stood in bated silence until shuffling footsteps preceded a hooded figure from behind the curtain. The light from the sputtering lamps did not illuminate the figure’s face. The hood was pulled down low, and a voluminous robe fell to the floor, concealing any hint of an identity. The figure looked at the three of them in turn, Lonn last, seemingly unimpressed by the tall prince standing in the pitiful emporium.
“I know what you are here to buy,” the figure said, the gravelly voice scratchy but unmistakably female. “You are almost too late.”
Lonn tasted copper in the air; the woman’s natural magic, uncontrolled, was touching him, looking for a foothold, searching for a way in. This was the height of ill-manners, and Lonn did not hesitate to shove it back. He was no trained sorcerer like his brother Vell, but he had natural strength and the ability to channel magic from the crystal realm. He would not tolerate such blatant disrespect from this strange woman. Her magic was weak, and he felt no resistance when he pushed it away.
“If you know why I am here, do not waste any more of my time,” Lonn said, impatient. He was eager to be gone from this place. It made his skin crawl, but he could not leave until he had found the force that had summoned him here. The woman laughed, twisted and mocking, and pulled back the curtain to reveal what was in the cramped space behind.
Lonn’s lip turned up in disgust. Behind the curtain, inside a filthy, confined cage was a man. The light blue of his skin told Lonn that he was from Fryst, a semi-rebellious world within Otharn’s protectorate. The man looked starved, his cheeks hollow, his skin blotchy. He huddled in the corner of his cage with knees drawn up, arms wrapped around himself, but he stared up at Lonn as the prince approached, his eyes a deep, dark blue. Lonn knew at once that the man was the source of the strange pull. It was even stronger now, drawing him closer to the cage. He crouched, and the Fryst man did not look away, meeting Lonn’s gaze despite his obvious exhaustion.
“Help me,” the man said. His voice was a rough whisper, but his gaze did not waver. “I was kidnapped from my world and brought here against my will. Help me, please.”
Lonn didn’t answer, although he was sure the man spoke the truth. Less than a quarter of the joined worlds allowed the trading of slaves, and Fryst was not among them. Whoever this man was, he was no lawful slave. Lonn touched the bars of the cage, unsurprised to feel wards thrumming through the metal. He could break them, given enough time and freedom from interference, but Lonn had a tickling suspicion that this woman was more than she seemed. He would proceed with caution.
“I have no use for a half-dead slave,” he declared, forcing himself to stand and step back, his teeth clenched with the effort of it.
“Indeed,” the cloaked woman replied, “surely you do not. Why then, did you come here?”
The presence of the man in the cage was burning into Lonn’s senses. His natural magic pulled at him like a dog on a leash, stronger than he had ever felt it, desperate to be close, to twist around the man and soothe and protect him. Lonn controlled it. He would swear it did not show on his face, but the woman cocked her cloaked head at him, knowing.
Lonn ground his teeth. This woman knew she had something special in her trap, something that would summon a magic user such as himself to bargain with her. He would not get the man out of her clutches cheaply, but he was not unfamiliar with negotiation, having sat with his father at many a treaty table. He would not name a price before she did.
“It has been three days,” the woman said, her harsh voice low. “I would suggest you do not delay. How much longer do you think he can survive without food or water?”
Lonn’s temper flared at her words, her ruthlessness. He had little idea how long Fryst people could last without eating or drinking, but judging by the man’s appearance it would not be much longer. Lonn glanced back to the cage. The man’s desperate blue eyes were still on him, but half-lidded now, as though the effort of maintaining his gaze was too much. He did not speak again. Perhaps he judged that getting out of the cage was more important than protesting the fact that he was in it. Lonn could sense the man’s heartbeat, his natural magic pulsing in time with it, dangerously labored.
“Release him, woman,” he growled, his anger rising as the heartbeat slowed. He stepped towards her, grabbing a handful of her robes in his clenched fist. The woman gasped and a poorly cast repulsion spell sputtered and failed under Lonn’s fingers where they twisted in her robe. Lonn was no mage, but he was protected from such feeble tricks by the strength of his connection to the crystal realm. Arcane energy filled him, soaked into his very bones. It defended itself, and him.
“Release him, or I will strike you down!” Lonn shoved the witch away, and she flew back, hitting the wall with a bitten-back moan of pain, her body lighter than Lonn had expected. Despite her fall, her hood was not dislodged. Even her hands were covered by black gloves. Not an inch of flesh showed.
“I will sell him to you,” she offered hastily, scrambling back to her feet.
Lonn nodded, his face like thunder. Perhaps the witch finally understood the seriousness of her situation. She might have somehow acquired a cage with powerful wards, but her weak castings had little use here. She was overpowered, and she should take her chance to escape with a few coins and her head still on her shoulders. Lonn would claim his prize from her, he had no doubt about that.
She named a price, and Lonn laughed out loud. Perhaps his father could empty his vaults and pay such a price, but for a random magic-user, even a wealthy one such as she took him to be, it was ridiculous. He folded his arms and waited. He would not counter such an offer. Let her argue herself to a reasonable price. It was a strategy his ever-patient brother had shared with him. People hate silence and will scramble to fill it. If you can remain silent long enough, the person across the table will start to negotiate on your behalf.
Sure enough, she relented after less than half a minute.
“Very well,” she said, and named a far more reasonable rate, adding, “And you will owe me one favor.”
Lonn pushed on her price. He offered different quantities of gems, precious metals, artifacts, until both were satisfied with the deal. He had enough funds to cover the purchase without needing to sell anything that would cause his mother, Queen Anlira, to question him. He cared little about the favor. He would pay her child’s dowry or find an apprenticeship for them or get the witch out of whatever jail she inevitably ended up in. Whatever she decided to ask for. It was no matter to him.
The witch glided forward, her haughty demeanor restored at their successful negotiation. She turned back the sleeve of her robe and tugged off her glove to reveal a hand already glittering with oath-magic.
“Swear to it, then,” the witch said.
Lonn clasped her hand without hesitation, biting back a hiss as the magic burrowed into his arm, binding them both to the oath. One Fryst slave, in exchange for a good amount of coin and one favor. The oath magic was strong, and Lonn was unsettled the power of the bond compared to the witch’s feeble attempt at repulsion. The witch’s skin felt rough under Lonn’s hand and he looked down, surprised. Her hand and arm were livid with burns, some scarred over but most still red and raw. No wonder she covered herself, Lonn thought, if the rest of her looks like that.
As soon as the bond completed, the cage door clicked and swung open. Lonn’s magical energy rushed inside, toward the Fryst man, eager to be close to him, to connect with him and envelop him. Lonn reeled as the tendrils of his magic found their target. He kept his feet by force of will, refusing to let the slaver-woman see him in a weakened state. He crouched again by the cage, his head spinning with the force of his magic as it swirled around the man. The man was still conscious, but barely, and Lonn half-helped, half-dragged him out of the cage, steadying him as he stumbled, weak from days without sustenance. Lonn needed to take him to his garrison camp where he could rest and recover. Without a backward glance at the witch, Lonn and his new possession left the booth.
The Arcane Heart is publishing on May 15th – maybe it’s already published by the time you’re reading this! I can’t wait to hear what you think of it – message me below 🙂