Sydli groaned. Four days after leaving the Rover’s permanent camp they had entered Easren to find rain, rain and more rain. Shards of discontent slashed her thoughts. Instead of going to the princedom of Easren they could have traveled to Nortren. Though the doma’s reasoning made sense Sydli wanted to breeze into the palace at home. She wanted to show her father and half-brother what she had become. She and her friends would have Lodar begging for mercy.
“Jay, slow your courser,” Norie snapped. “You’re splashing me.”
“Doesn’t matter of I go fast or slow. The steed splashes even when he walks.”
"Then ride ahead of me.” Norie’s voice rose to a shrill shout.
“Enough.” Sydli drew a deep breath. For three of the past four days rain had been constant. Tempers flared. Even when no rain fell humidity dampened their skin. Yesterday they’d been forced to seek shelter when the wind-driven gusts had been so fierce they couldn’t see the road.
Today’s storm brought icy needles to sting her face and arms. Who would have thought mittens would be needed after the spring equinox? The hooves of the coursers splashed on the mud-slick surface of the road. She wondered if they would ever reach Easrenton and the hidden focus.
She turned her head to check her companions. Jay looked as though his thoughts carried him miles away. Was he using the twin bond to speak to Ky? When they made
decided to ask for news of that quartet’s progress. camp Sydli
Sydli sought her twin on the bond uniting them to find Emli distracted. By what? A picture of Toran intruded. Envy colored Sydli’s thoughts. Was Emli thinking about pairing? Years ago they had joked about finding twins to wed. For a moment Sydli considered Toran’s twin, Zand. She shook her head. He was a friend. So were Rogier, Jay and the other male members of the quartets. Perhaps those with a single affinity had no time or taste for marriage. She pushed the idea aside. There were too many real problems to think about marriage.
Rogier pulled his steed even with hers. “Any idea when we’ll reach Easrenton?”
She heard a note of impatience in his voice. Would his temper flair like Norie’s had? With Fire as his affinity she feared an explosion of flames. During the training days he had set several unintended fires before he had learned control. “I wish I knew.”
Norie edged closer. With her affinity for Water she was drawn and repelled by strong emotions. “Any news from the others?”
“All except for Ash’s group are slogging toward the foci,” Sydli said.
Jay joined them. “Ky just told me about their escape from total disaster. The bridge over the
collapsed after they entered
Easren. Kirlon and Val used their elements to help them cross.” Ruran River
Sydli frowned. “When I touched Kirlon on the winds he didn’t mention anything but rain and muddy roads.”
“When we camp I’ll tell you what they did.” Jay made a face. “She was quite proud of them.”
Do you think we’ll have to use our affinities to save ourselves?” Norie’s voice filled with anxiety.
Do you think we’ll have to use our affinities to save ourselves?” Norie’s voice filled with anxiety.
Sydli frowned. “We might. I think you need to release the emotions you’ve been collecting.”
Norie nodded. “When we make camp, I will.”
Rogier’s brow wrinkled. “We could use our affinities to make our camp site more comfortable. I could dry the ground and Norie could push the water aside.”
“Aren’t you afraid using them will alert the doms and domas to our presence?” Sydli asked.
“Not if you read the winds and learn if any of the enemy are near.”
Norie pointed to the dark clouds covering the sun. “How will we know when night comes? I can barely see the road.”
Sydli met her friend’s gaze. “We’ll ride until the coursers tire. Then we’ll seek shelter.”
“Can we try Rogier’s suggestion?”
“If it’s safe.” Sydli prodded her courser into a walk. What would they find when they reached Easrenton? Were their affinities strong enough to unravel the twists the doms and domas had placed on the elements? Though Doma Jandia said Dom Senet remained in the highlands Sydli hadn’t caught a whisper of his voice on the winds since the quartet left the keep. He could be anywhere.”
She scowled. Why hadn’t Nortren been the first of the princedoms chosen? She knew the palace and Rogier the town. They knew nothing about Easrenton.
With a shudder she recalled how her half-brother had tried to kill Emli and how he had plotted with Dom Senet. Lodar had become more important to their father than his daughters though they had lived with him all their lives. When the marriage to Lodar’s mother had ended Malena had taken her son away thus removing him from consideration as the heir. Three years later Sydli and Emli had been born.
Her hands tightened on the reins causing the courser to shy. She loosened her grip lest her angry thoughts continue. Why had her father been willing to set his daughters aside for the son he hadn’t raised? He saw nothing of Lodar’s nasty nature. Only Sydli’s affinity for Air had saved her sister from death at his hands.
Another shudder rolled along her spine. She had met Dom Senet, sat beside him at dinner and felt his attempts to slide past her mental barriers. She had used the inner ways to spy on his meeting with her half-brother. What if the dom had succeeded and could read her thoughts? He could thwart the plans of the quartets and the fault would be here.
Stop it. She pulled her churning thoughts into a knot and focused on the road.
Mile after mile they slogged. At what her stomach told her was midday they paused beneath a willah tree near what had been a brook. Uprooted trees had formed a dam and instead of a brook she saw a pond.
After remounting she continued until they found what had been a shepherd’s hut. The attached cote provided a shelter for the steeds.
Once inside the hut they discovered the thatch leaked. Several inches of water puddled on the floor. After Sydli read the winds Norie used her affinity to draw the water outside. Rogier called fire to dry and harden the mud. He drew the heat into his sword to warm water for their evening meal. Sydli cooled the steamy atmosphere and played the hiding song to conceal their presence. Jay pitched the tent in the rear of the hut.
Sydli filled a bowl with stew and joined the others in the tent where the random drip of water on the oil treated canvas made a melody. Hisses sounded when drops hit the fire. She studied her companions. “When we reach Easrenton we’ll need a place to stay until the other groups are in place.”
Rogier looked up. “No inn.”
“Why not?” Norie asked.
“Doms and domas.” Rogier scraped his bowl. “If they learn of our presence they’ll tell Dom Senet and try to stop us.”
Jay leaned forward. “Any ideas about where to stay?”
Rogier grinned. “I don’t know Eastenton but I know towns. We can find shelter in the poor section. There are always empty houses there. At least there were in Norden.”
“I think we should find a way into the palace,” Sydli said.
“Why?” Jay asked.
“To discover a way to rid the princedom of Mandir. If he remains at the palace Marli will be in danger.”
Norie shook her head. “How can we enter in secret? I’ve no desire to announce myself.”
Jay looked up. “In Cedris the palace had secret passages and inner rooms.”
“So did the Norden palace,” Sydli said.
“Then we search for them,” Rogier said. “Could that be where the focus lies?”
Norie refilled her bowl. “We’ll have to wait for our stones to show the way. Bran thinks we must be at the focus when the time to break the web arrives.”
Sydli nodded. “I agree but we can’t worry until we reach the town.” She cleaned her bowl and retreated to her sleep saque. She considered seeking Emli but another rebuff would hurt. Instead she randomly searched the winds. The voices she heard caused her to listen carefully to the speakers.
Why Easrenton? The voice snapped like burning wood.
A second speaker babbled like rushing water. To argue with the oldies there. I hate that. Just because they have all four elements doesn’t mean they’re better than we are. Our lord and master should summon them himself.
The third voice rose like a blast of icy wind. He’s afraid that doma will hear him. Remember those three boys who came with her to the training place. When they escaped we were blamed and punished.
None of them had Air. The deep voice insisted. Remember how Dom Manton shook with fear when we returned without them.
I do.” The windy voice blew hot. After we send the doms and domas from the four princedoms what will we do?
Laughter flared. We find a way to free ourselves from his rule. Then each of us will claim a princedom. No one can defeat us.
Sydli gasped. Jay, Rogier and Norie popped into the tent. “Are we in danger?” Jay asked.
Sydli shook her head. “I heard four voices on the winds. I think they belong to a quartet sworn to Dom Senet.” She related what she’d heard.
Jay leaned forward. “I know them. They’re halflings. The dom controls them. Zand, Bran and I fought then. They don’t believe girls can have affinities. One of them is the dom’s son and Geni’s twin.”
Rogier grasped the hilt of his sword. “Can he reach her through the twin bond?”
Jay shook his head. “Doma Jandia closed the link and only Geni can open it.”
“What about Dom Senet?” Norie asked. “As her father there must be some connection.”
“He has no idea she exists. On the day her mother gave birth the son came first. The dom took the boy before Geni was born.” Jay moved to his sleep saque. “We should sleep. We’ve another long dreary day of travel tomorrow.”
The next morning when they left the hut Sydli’s thoughts were as gloomy as the weather. How much longer must they slog before they reached their goal and discovered a way to stop the rains?
Rogier’s cry pulled her from her reverie. She stared at the road ahead. He had vanished. Cautiously she edged her courser forward. Then she saw him climb from a hole in the road. “Jay, Norie, come quickly.” She reached Rogier. “What happened?”
“Sinkhole, Full of water. Courser trapped.”
“Is he injured?”
Rogier shrugged. “Won’t know until we get him out. The problem is figuring how.”
Jay and Norie arrived and dismounted. Jay walked to the edge of the pit. Several clumps of mud fell and sent spouts of water into the air. The courser’s squeal of terror hurt her ears.
Jay looked up. “Calm him. I have an idea that might work.”
Sydli watched Rogier’s brow wrinkle as though in concentration. The courser quieted. “What should I do?” she asked.
“Stand by to lend your strength if I need it.” Jay turned to Norie. “I’m going to shape the soil into a ramp. Draw water from the earth so the surface will be firm."
“Ah,” she sighed. “Then Rogier can lead him out.”
Sydli watched as the hole enlarged, not deeper but one side slanted toward the road like a ramp. Once the path seemed solid Rogier entered the hole. He placed a hand on the courser’s neck. The steed began the slow climb upward. When Rogier and the animal reached the road she released the breath she held. Muddy water poured from the panniers. Would they lose the supplies and the courser?
Norie knelt and sluiced mud from the courser’s legs. She ran her hands along each leg. “The water must have buoyed him and prevented any breaks. I’ve reduced the swelling and I need to wrap his legs.”
Jay brought her strips of linen. Rogier removed the panniers and used heat from his sword to dry the contents. “Looks like I’ll walk.”
“Just today,” Norie said.Sydli frowned. Another delay. “We’ll make camp as soon as we find a place.” She turned to Jay. “Ride ahead and check the road for more weaknesses