It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her. Exquisitely romantic, this companion to the highly praised Graceling has an entirely new cast of characters, save for one person who plays a pivotal role in both books. You don't need to have read Graceling to love Fire. But if you haven't, you'll be dying to read it next. This edition includes an article by and an interview with Kristin Cashore, as well as a sneak peek at her next book, Bitterblue!
Showing 1-3 of the 3 most recent reviews
1 . LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!!
Posted January 04, 2010 by Alexandra , MassachusttsFire answers a lot of questions from Graceling. I love all of the adventures that Fire takes. I think that Fire and Kasta can really relate. Also, Fire (the book) answers a lot of questions about the monster world and and Leck's past. Very interesting book and would recomend to any teen! I love this author!!!!
2 . Beautiful book
Posted December 28, 2009 by Tiffany Federspiel , Allenamazing it is better than her first. So much more romance. read read read.
3 . absolutely wonderfull!
Posted December 06, 2009 by Kelly , DavenportThis is an absolutely wonderfull book. Cashore creates a world with amazing fantasy, a tight good plot, wonderfull love story that doesn't get sticky and an amazing young women as the centre of the story. You'll love reading it (especially if you liked graceling).
October 02, 2009
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Excerpt from Fire by Kristin Cashore
Larch often thought that if it had not been for his newborn son, he never would have survived his wife Mikra's death. It was half that the infant boy needed a breathing, functioning father who got out of bed in the mornings and slogged through the day; and it was half the child himself. Such a good-natured baby, so calm. His gurgles and coos so musical, and his eyes deep brown like the eyes of his dead mother.
Larch was a game warden on the riverside estate of a minor lord in the southeastern kingdom of Monsea. When Larch returned to his quarters after a day in the saddle, he took the baby from the arms of the nursemaid almost jealously. Dirty, stinking of sweat and horses, he cradled the boy against his chest, sat in his wife's old rocker, and closed his eyes. Sometimes he cried, tears painting clean stripes down a grimy face, but always quietly, so that he would not miss the sounds the child made. The baby watched him. The baby's eyes soothed him. The nursemaid said it was unusual for a baby so young to have such focused eyes. "It's not something to be happy about," she warned, "a child with strange eyes."
Larch couldn't find it within himself to worry. The nursemaid worried enough for two. Every morning she examined the baby's eyes, as was the unspoken custom of all new parents in the seven kingdoms, and every morning she breathed more easily once she'd confirmed that nothing had changed. For the infant who fell asleep with both eyes the same color and woke with eyes of two different colors was a Graceling; and in Monsea, as in most of the kingdoms, Graceling babies immediately became the property of the king. Their families rarely saw them again.
When the first anniversary of the birth of Larch's son had come and gone with no change to the boy's brown eyes, the nursemaid still did not leave off her muttering. She'd heard tales of Graceling eyes that took more than a year to settle, and Graceling or not, the child was not normal. A year out of his mother's womb and already Immiker could say his own name. He spoke in simple sentences at fifteen months; he left his babyish pronunciation behind at a year and a half. At the beginning of her time with Larch, the nursemaid had hoped her care would gain her a husband and a strong, healthy son. Now she found the baby who conversed like a miniature adult while he drank at her breast, who made an eloquent announcement whenever his underwrappings needed to be changed, positively creepy. She resigned her post.
Larch was happy to see the sour woman go. He constructed a carrier so that the child could hang against his chest while he worked. He refused to ride on cold or rainy days; he refused to gallop his horse. He worked shorter hours and took breaks to feed Immiker, nap him, clean his messes. The baby chattered constantly, asked for the names of plants and animals, made up nonsense poems that Larch strained to hear, for the poems always made Larch laugh.
"Birdies love treetops to whirl themselves through, for inside of their heads they are birds," the boy sang absentmindedly, patting his hand on his father's arm. Then, a minute later: "Father?"
"You love the things that I love you to do, for inside of your head are my words."
Larch was utterly happy. He couldn't remember why his wife's death had saddened him so. He saw now that it was better this way, he and the boy alone in the world. He began to avoid the people of the estate, for their tiresome company bored him, and he didn't see why they should deserve to share in the delight of his son's company.
One morning when Immiker was three years old Larch opened his eyes to find his son lying awake beside him, staring at him. The boy's right eye was gray. His left eye was red. Larch shot up, terrified and heartbroken. "They'll take you," he said to his son. "They'll take you away from me."
Immiker blinked calmly. "They won't, because you'll come up with a plan to stop them."
To withhold a Graceling from the king was royal theft, punishable by imprisonment and fines Larch could never pay, but still Larch was seized by a compulsion to do what the boy said. They would have to ride east, into the rocky border mountains where hardly anyone lived, and find a patch of stone or scrub that could serve as a hiding place. As a game warden, Larch could track, hunt, build fires, and make a home for Immiker that no one would find.
Immiker was remarkably calm about their flight. He knew what a Graceling was. Larch supposed the nursemaid had told him; or perhaps Larch himself had explained it and then forgotten he'd done so. Larch was growing forgetful. He sensed parts of his memory closing up on him, like dark rooms behind doors he could no longer open. Larch attributed it to his age, for neither he nor his wife had been young when she'd died birthing their son.
"I've wondered sometimes if your Grace has anything to do with speaking," Larch said as they rode the hills east, leaving the river and their old home behind.
"It doesn't," Immiker said.
"Of course it doesn't," Larch said, unable to fathom why he'd ever thought it did. "That's all right, son, you're young yet. We'll watch out for it. We'll hope it's something useful."
Immiker didn't respond. Larch checked the straps that held the boy before him in the saddle. He bent down to kiss the top of Immiker's golden head, and urged the horse onward.
A Grace was a particular skill far surpassing the capability of a normal human being. A Grace could take any form. Most of the kings had at least one Graceling in his kitchens, a superhumanly capable bread baker or winemaker. The luckiest kings had soldiers in their armies Graced with sword fighting. A Graceling might have impossibly good hearing, run as fast as a mountain lion, calculate large sums mentally, even sense if food was poisoned. There were useless Graces, too, like the ability to twist all the way around at the waist or eat rocks without sickening. And there were eerie Graces. Some Gracelings saw events before they happened. Some could enter the minds of others and see things it was not their business to see. The Nanderan king was said to own a Graceling who could tell if a person had ever committed a crime, just by looking into his face.
The Gracelings were tools of the kings, and no more. They were not thought to be natural, and people who could avoid them did, in Monsea and in most of the other six kingdoms as well. No one wished the company of a Graceling.
Larch had once shared this attitude. Now he saw that it was cruel, unjust, and ignorant, for his son was a normal little boy who happened to be superior in many ways, not just in the way of his Grace, whatever it might turn out to be. It was all the more reason for Larch to remove his son from society. He would not send Immiker to the king's court, to be shunned and teased, and put to whatever use pleased the king.
They were not long in the mountains before Larch accepted, bitterly, that it was an impossible hiding place. It wasn't the cold that was the problem, though autumn here was as raw as midwinter had been on the lord's estate. It wasn't the terrain either, though the scrub was hard and sharp, and they slept on rock every night, and there was no place even to imagine growing vegetables or grain. It was the predators. Not a week went by that Larch didn't have to defend against some attack. Mountain lions, bears, wolves. The enormous birds, the raptors, with a wingspan twice the height of a man. Some of the creatures were territorial, all of them were vicious, and as winter closed in bleakly around Larch and Immiker, all of them were starving. Their horse was lost one day to a pair of mountain lions.
At night, inside the thorny shelter Larch had built of sticks and scrub, he would pull the boy into the warmth of his coat and listen for the howls, the tumbled stones down the slope, the screeches, that meant an animal had scented them. At the first telltale sound he would strap the sleeping boy into the carrier on his chest. He would light as powerful a torch as he had the fuel for, go out of the shelter, and stand there, holding off the attack with fire and sword. Sometimes he stood there for hours. Larch didn't get a lot of sleep.
He wasn't eating much either.
"You'll make yourself sick if you keep eating so much," Immiker said to Larch over their paltry dinner of stringy wolf meat and water.
Larch stopped chewing immediately, for sickness would make it harder to defend the boy. He handed over the majority of his portion. "Thank you for the warning, son."
They ate quietly for a while, Immiker devouring Larch's food. "What if we went higher into the mountains and crossed to the other side?" Immiker asked.
Larch looked into the boy's mismatched eyes. "Is that what you think we should do?"
Immiker shrugged his small shoulders. "Could we survive the crossing?"
"Do you think we could?" Larch asked, and then shook himself as he heard his own question. The child was three years old and knew nothing of crossing mountains. It was a sign of Larch's fatigue, that he groped so desperately and so often for his son's opinion.
"We would not survive," Larch said firmly. "I've heard of no one who has ever made it across the mountains to the east, either here or in Estill or Nander. I know nothing of the land beyond the seven kingdoms, except for tall tales the eastern people tell about rainbow-colored monsters and underground labyrinths."
"Then you'll have to bring me back down into the hills, Father, and hide me. You must protect me."
Larch's mind was foggy, tired, starved, and shot through with one lightning bolt of clarity, which was his determination to do what Immiker said.
Snow was falling as Larch picked his way down a sheer slope. The boy was strapped inside his coat. Larch's sword, his bow and arrows, some blankets, and bundled scraps of meat hung on his back. When the great brown raptor appeared over a distant ridge, Larch reached for his bow tiredly. But the bird lunged so fast that all in an instant it was too close to shoot. Larch stumbled away from the creature, fell, and felt himself sliding downward. He braced his arms before him to shield the child, whose screams rose above the screams of the bird: "Protect me, Father! You must protect me, Father!"
Suddenly the slope under Larch's back gave way and they were falling through darkness. An avalanche, Larch thought numbly, every nerve in his body still focused on protecting the child under his coat. His shoulder hit something sharp and Larch felt tearing flesh, and wetness, warmth. Strange, to be plunging downward like this. The drop was heady, dizzying, as if it were vertical, a free fall; and just before he slipped into unconsciousness Larch wondered if they were falling through the mountain to the floor of the earth.
Larch jackknifed awake, frantic with one thought: Immiker. The boy's body wasn't touching his, and the straps hung from his chest, empty. Larch felt around with his hands, whimpering. It was dark. The surface on which he lay was hard and slick, like slimy ice. He shifted to extend his reach and screamed suddenly, incoherently, at the pain that ripped through his shoulder and head. Nausea surged in his throat. He fought it down and lay still again, weeping helplessly and moaning the boy's name.
"All right, Father," Immiker's voice said, very close beside him. "Stop crying and get up."
Larch's weeping turned to sobs of relief.
"Get up, Father. I've explored. There's a tunnel and we must go."
"Are you hurt?"
"I'm cold and hungry. Get up."
Larch tried to lift his head, and cried out, almost blacked out. "It's no use. The pain is too great."
"The pain is not so great that you can't get up," Immiker said, and when Larch tried again he found that the boy was right. It was excruciating, and he vomited once or twice, but it was not so bad that he couldn't prop himself on his knees and his uninjured arm, and crawl across the icy surface behind his son.
"Where," he gasped, and then abandoned his question. It was too much work.
"We fell through a crack in the mountain," Immiker said. "We slid. There's a tunnel."
Larch didn't understand, and forward progress took so much concentration that he stopped trying to. The way was slippery and downhill. The place they went toward was slightly darker than the place they came from. His son's small form scuttled down the slope ahead of him.
"There's a drop," Immiker said, but comprehension came so slowly to Larch that before he understood, he fell, tumbling knees over neck off a short ledge. He landed on his injured shoulder and momentarily lost consciousness. He woke to a cold breeze and a musty smell that hurt his head. He was in a narrow space, crammed between close walls. He tried to ask whether his fall had injured the boy, but only managed a moan.
"Which way?" Immiker's voice asked.
Larch didn't know what he meant, and moaned again.
Immiker's voice was tired, and impatient. "I've told you, it's a tunnel. I've felt along the wall in both directions. Choose which way, Father. Take me out of this place."
The ways were identically dim, identically musty, but Larch needed to choose, if it was what the boy thought best. He shifted himself carefully. His head hurt less when he faced the breeze than when he turned his back to it. This decided him. They would walk toward the source of the breeze.
And that is why, after four days of bleeding, stumbling, and starving, after four days of Immiker reminding him repeatedly that he was well enough to keep walking, Larch and Immiker stepped out of the tunnel not into the light of the Monsean foothills, but into that of a strange land on the other side of the Monsean peaks. An eastern land neither of them had heard of except for foolish tales told over Monsean dinners--tales of rainbow-colored monsters and underground labyrinths.
Larch wondered sometimes if a blow to his head on the day he'd fallen through the mountain had caused some hurt to his brain. The more time he spent in this new land, the more he struggled against a fog hovering on the edge of his mind. The people here spoke differently and Larch struggled with the strange words, the strange sounds. He depended on Immiker to translate. As time passed he depended on Immiker to explain a great many things.
This land was mountainous, stormy and rough. It was called the Dells. Variations of the animals Larch had known in Monsea lived in the Dells--normal animals, with appearances and behavior Larch understood and recognized. But also in the Dells lived colorful, astonishing creatures that the Dellian people called monsters. It was their unusual coloration that identified them as monsters, because in every other physical particular they were like normal Dellian animals. They had the shape of Dellian horses, Dellian turtles, mountain lions, raptors, dragonflies, bears; but they were ranges of fuchsia, turquoise, bronze, iridescent green. A dappled gray horse in the Dells was a horse. A sunset orange horse was a monster.
Larch didn't understand these monsters. The mouse monsters, the fly and squirrel and fish and sparrow monsters, were harmless; but the bigger monsters, the man-eating monsters, were terribly dangerous, more so than their animal counterparts. They craved human flesh, and for the flesh of other monsters they were positively frantic. For Immiker's flesh they seemed frantic as well, and as soon as he was big enough to pull back the string of a bow, Immiker learned to shoot. Larch wasn't sure who taught him. Immiker always seemed to have someone, a man or a boy, who guarded him and helped him with this and that. Never the same person. The old ones always disappeared by the time Larch had learned their names, and new ones always took their places.
Larch wasn't even certain where the people came from. He and Immiker lived in a small house, and then a bigger house, then even bigger, in a rocky clearing on the outskirts of a town, and some of Immiker's people came from the town. But others seemed to come out of crevices in the mountains and in the ground. These strange, pallid, underground people brought medicines to Larch. They healed his shoulder.
He heard there were one or two monsters of a human shape in the Dells, with brightly colored hair, but he never saw them. It was for the best, because Larch could never remember if the human monsters were friendly or not, and against monsters in general he had no defense. They were too beautiful. Their beauty was so extreme that whenever Larch came face-to-face with one of them, his mind emptied and his body froze, and Immiker and his friends had to defend him.
"It's what they do, Father," Immiker explained to him, over and over. "It's part of their monstrous power. They stun you with their beauty, and then they overwhelm your mind and make you stupid. You must learn to guard your mind against them, as I have."
Larch had no doubt Immiker was right, but still he didn't understand. "What a horrifying notion," he said. "A creature with the power to take over one's mind."
Immiker burst into delighted laughter, and threw his arm around his father. And still Larch didn't understand; but Immiker's displays of affection were rare, and they always overwhelmed Larch with a dumb happiness that numbed the discomfort of his confusion.
In his infrequent moments of mental lucidity, Larch was sure that as Immiker had grown older, Larch himself had grown stupider and more forgetful. Immiker explained to him over and over the unstable politics of this land, the military factions that divided it, the black market that flourished in the underground passages that connected it. Two different Dellian lords, Lord Mydogg in the north and Lord Gentian in the south, were trying to carve their own empires into the landscape and wrest power from the Dellian king. In the far north was a second nation of lakes and mountain peaks called Pikkia.
Larch couldn't keep it straight in his head. He knew only that there were no Gracelings here. No one would take from Larch his son whose eyes were two different colors.
Eyes of two different colors. Immiker was a Graceling. Larch thought about this sometimes, when his mind was clear enough for thought. He wondered when his son's Grace would appear.
In his clearest moments, which only came to him when Immiker left him alone for a while, Larch wondered if it already had.
Immiker had hobbies. He liked to play with little monsters. He liked to tie them down and peel away their claws, or their vividly colored scales, or clumps of their hair and feathers. One day in the boy's tenth year, Larch came upon Immiker slicing stripes down the stomach of a rabbit that was colored like the sky.
Even bleeding, even shaking and wild-eyed, the rabbit was beautiful to Larch. He stared at the creature and forgot why he'd come looking for Immiker. How sad it was, to see something so small and helpless, something so beautiful, damaged in fun. The rabbit began to make noises, horrible, panicked squeaks, and Larch heard himself whimpering.
Immiker glanced at Larch. "It doesn't hurt her, Father."
Instantly Larch felt better, knowing that the monster wasn't in pain. But then the rabbit let out a very small, very desperate whine, and Larch was confused. He looked at his son. The boy held a dagger dripping with blood before the eyes of the shaking creature, and smiled at his father.
Somewhere in the depths of Larch's mind a prick of suspicion made itself felt. Larch remembered why he'd come looking for Immiker.
"I have an idea," Larch said slowly, "about the nature of your Grace."
Immiker's eyes flicked calmly, carefully, to Larch's. "Do you?"
"You've said that the monsters take over my mind with their beauty."
Immiker lowered his knife, and tilted his head at his father. There was something odd in the boy's face. Disbelief, Larch thought, and a strange, amused smile. As if the boy were playing a game he was used to winning, and this time he'd lost.
"Sometimes I think you take over my mind," Larch said, "with your words."
Immiker's smile widened, and then he began to laugh. The laughter made Larch so happy that he began to laugh as well. How much he loved this child. The love and the laughter bubbled out of him, and when Immiker walked toward him Larch held his arms open wide. Immiker thrust his dagger into Larch's stomach. Larch dropped like a stone to the floor.
Immiker leaned over his father. "You've been delightful," he said. "I'll miss your devotion. If only it were as easy to control everyone as it is to control you. If only everyone were as stupid as you are, Father."
It was strange, to be dying. Cold and dizzying, like his fall through the Monsean mountains. But Larch knew he wasn't falling through the Monsean mountains; in death he knew clearly, for the first time in years, where he was and what was happening. His last thought was that it hadn't been stupidity that had allowed his son to enchant him so easily with words. It had been love. Larch's love had kept him from recognizing Immiker's Grace, because even before the boy's birth, when Immiker had been no more than a promise inside Mikra's body, Larch had already been enchanted.
Fifteen minutes later Larch's body and his house were on fire and Immiker was on his pony's back, picking his way through the caves to the north. It was a relief to be moving on. His surroundings and his neighbors had become tedious of late, and he was restless. Ready for something more.
He decided to mark this new era in his life with a change of his foolish, sentimental name. The people of this land had an odd way of pronouncing Larch's name, and Immiker had always liked the sound of it.
He changed his name to Leck.
A year passed.
It did not surprise Fire that the man in the forest shot her. What surprised her was that he shot her by accident.
The arrow whacked her square in the arm and threw her sideways against a boulder, which knocked the air out of her. The pain was too great to ignore, but behind it she focused her mind, made it cold and sharp, like a single star in a black winter sky. If he was a cool man, certain in what he was doing, he would be guarded against her, but Fire rarely encountered this type. More often the men who tried to hurt her were angry or arrogant or frightened enough that she could find a crack in the fortress of their thoughts, and ease her way in.
She found this man's mind instantly--so open, so welcoming, even, that she wondered if he could be a simpleton hired by someone else. She fumbled for the knife in her boot. His footfalls, and then his breath, sounded through the trees. She had no time to waste, for he would shoot her again as soon as he found her. You don't want to kill me. You've changed your mind.
Then he rounded a tree and his blue eyes caught hold of her, and widened in astonishment and horror.
"Not a girl!" he cried out.
Fire's thoughts scrambled. Had he not meant to strike her? Did he not know who she was? Had he meant to murder Archer? She forced her voice calm. "Who was your target?"
"Not who," he said. "What. Your cloak is brown pelt. Your dress is brown. Rocks alive, girl," he said in a burst of exasperation. He marched toward her and inspected the arrow embedded in her upper arm, the blood that soaked her cloak, her sleeve, her headscarf. "A fellow would think you were hoping to be shot by a hunter."
More accurately, a poacher, since Archer forbade hunting in these woods at this time of day, just so that Fire could pass through here dressed this way. Besides, she'd never seen this shortish, tawny-haired, light-eyed man before. Well. If he was not only a poacher, but a poacher who'd accidentally shot Fire while hunting illegally, then he would not want to turn himself in to Archer's famous temper; but that was what she was going to have to make him want to do. She was losing blood, and she was beginning to feel lightheaded. She would need his assistance to get home.
"Now I'll have to kill you," he said glumly. And then, before she could begin to address that rather bizarre statement: "Wait. Who are you? Tell me you're not her."
"Not who?" she hedged, reaching again for his mind, and finding it still strangely blank, as if his intentions were floating, lost in a fog.
"Your hair is covered," he said. "Your eyes, your face--oh, save me." He backed away from her. "Your eyes are so green. I'm a dead man."
He was an odd one, with his talk of killing her, and himself dying, and his peculiar floating brain; and now he looked ready to bolt, which Fire must not allow. She grasped at his thoughts and slid them into place. You don't find my eyes or my face to be all that remarkable.
The man squinted at her, puzzled.
The more you look at me the more you see I'm just an ordinary girl. You've found an ordinary girl injured in the forest, and now you must rescue me. You must take me to Lord Archer.
Here Fire encountered a small resistance in the form of the man's fear. She pulled harder at his mind, and smiled at him, the most gorgeous smile she could muster while throbbing with pain and dying of blood loss. Lord Archer will reward you and keep you safe, and you will be honored as a hero.
There was no hesitation. He eased her quiver and her fiddle case from her back and slung them over his shoulder against his own quiver. He took up both of their bows in one hand and wrapped her right arm, her uninjured arm, around his neck. "Come along, miss," he said. He half led her, half carried her, through the trees toward Archer's holding.
He knows the way, she thought tiredly, and then she let the thought go. It didn't matter who he was or where he came from. It only mattered that she stay awake and inside his head until he'd gotten her home and Archer's people had seized him. She kept her eyes and ears and her mind alert for monsters, for neither her headscarf nor her own mental guard against them would hide her from them if they smelled her blood.
At least she could count on this poacher to be a decent shot.
Archer brought down a raptor monster as Fire and the poacher stumbled out of the trees. A beautiful, long shot from the upper terrace that Fire was in no state to admire, but that caused the poacher to murmur something under his breath about the appropriateness of the young lord's nickname. The monster plummeted from the sky and crashed onto the pathway to the door. Its color was the rich orange-gold of a sunflower.
Archer stood tall and graceful on the stone terrace, eyes raised to the sky, longbow lightly in hand. He reached to the quiver on his back, notched another arrow, and swept the treetops. Then he saw them, the man dragging her bleeding from the forest. He turned on his heel and ran into the house, and even down here, even from this distance and stone walls between them, Fire could hear him yelling. She sent words and feeling into his mind, not mind control, only a message. Don't worry. Seize him and disarm him, but don't hurt him. Please, she added, for whatever it was worth with Archer. He's a nice man and I've had to trick him.
Archer burst through the great front door with his captain Palla, his healer, and five of his guard. He leapt over the raptor and ran to Fire. "I found her in the forest," the poacher cried. "I found her. I saved her life."
Once the guards had taken hold of the poacher, Fire released his mind. The relief of it weakened her knees and she slumped against Archer.
"Fire," her friend was saying. "Fire. Are you all right? Where else are you hurt?"
She couldn't stand. Archer grasped her, lowered her to the ground. She shook her head numbly. "Nowhere."
"Let her sit," the healer said. "Let her lie down. I must stop the flow of blood."
Archer was wild. "Will she be all right?"
"Most certainly," the healer said curtly, "if you will get out of my way and let me stop the flow of blood. My lord."
Archer let out a ragged breath and kissed Fire's forehead. He untangled himself from her body and crouched on his heels, clenching and unclenching his fists. Then he turned to peer at the poacher held by his guards, and Fire thought warningly, Archer, for she knew that with his anxieties unsoothed, Archer was transitioning now to fury.
"A nice man who must nonetheless be seized," he hissed at the poacher, standing. "I can see that the arrow in her arm came from your quiver. Who are you and who sent you?"
The poacher barely noticed Archer. He stared down at Fire, boggle-eyed. "She's beautiful again," he said. "I'm a dead man."
"He won't kill you," Fire told him soothingly. "He doesn't kill poachers, and anyway, you saved me."
"If you shot her I'll kill you with pleasure," Archer said.
"It makes no difference what you do," the poacher said.
Archer glared down at the man. "And if you were so intent on rescuing her, why didn't you remove the arrow yourself and bind the wound before dragging her half across the world?"
"Archer," Fire said, and then stopped, choking back a cry as the healer ripped off her bloody sleeve. "He was under my control, and I didn't think of it. Leave him alone."
Archer swung on her. "And why didn't you think of it? Where is your common sense?"
"Lord Archer," the healer said testily. "There will be no yelling at people who are bleeding themselves to unconsciousness. Make yourself useful. Hold her down, will you, while I remove this arrow; and then you'll do best to look to the skies."
Archer knelt beside her and took hold of her shoulders. His face was wooden but his voice shook with emotion. "Forgive me, Fire." To the healer: "We're mad to be doing this outside. They smell the blood."
And then sudden pain, blinding and brilliant. Fire wrenched her head and fought against the healer, against Archer's heavy strength. Her scarf slipped off and released the shimmering prism of her hair: sunrise, poppy, copper, fuchsia, flame. Red, brighter than the blood soaking the pathway.
She ate dinner in her own stone house, which was just beyond Archer's and under the protection of his guard. He had sent the dead raptor monster to her kitchen. Archer was one of very few people who made her feel no shame for craving the taste of monster meat.
She ate in bed, and he sat with her. He cut her meat and encouraged her. Eating hurt, everything hurt.
The poacher was jailed in one of the outdoor monster cages Fire's father, Lord Cansrel, had built into the hill behind the house. "I hope there's a lightning storm," Archer said. "I hope for a flood. I would like the ground under your poacher to crack open and swallow him."
She ignored him. She knew it was only hot air.
"I passed Donal in your hall," he said, "sneaking out with a pile of blankets and pillows. You're building your assassin a bed out there, aren't you? And probably feeding him as well as you feed yourself."
"He's not an assassin, only a poacher with fuzzy eyesight."
"You believe that even less than I do."
"All right, but I do believe that when he shot me, he thought I was a deer."
Archer sat back and crossed his arms. "Perhaps. We'll talk to him again tomorrow. We'll have his story from him."
"I would rather not help."
"I would rather not ask you, darling, but I need to know who this man is and who sent him. He's the second stranger to be seen on my land these two weeks."
Fire lay back, closed her eyes, forced her jaw to chew. Everyone was a stranger. Strangers came out of the rocks, the hills, and it was impossible to know everyone's truth. She didn't want to know--nor did she want to use her powers to find out. It was one thing to take over a man's mind to prevent her own death, and another thing entirely to steal his secrets.
When she turned to Archer again, he was watching her quietly. His white-blond hair and his deep brown eyes, his proud mouth. The familiar features she'd known since she was a toddler and he was a child, always carrying a bow around as long as his own height. It was she who'd first modified his real name, Arklin, to Archer, and he had taught her to shoot. And looking into his face now, the face of a grown man responsible for a northern estate, its money, its farms, its people, she understood his anxiety. It was not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King's City, young King Nash was clinging, with some desperation, to the throne, while rebel lords like Lord Mydogg in the north and Lord Gentian in the south built armies and thought about how to unseat him.
War was coming. And the mountains and forests swarmed with spies and thieves and other lawless men. Strangers were always alarming.
Archer's voice was soft. "You won't be able to go outside alone until you can shoot again. The raptors are out of control. I'm sorry, Fire."
Fire swallowed. She'd been trying not to think about this particular bleakness. "It makes no difference. I can't play fiddle, either, or harp or flute or any of my instruments. I have no need to leave home."
"We'll send word to your students." He sighed and rubbed his neck. "And I'll see whom I can place in their houses in your stead. Until you heal, we'll be forced to trust our neighbors without the help of your insight." For trust was not assumed these days, even among long-standing neighbors, and one of Fire's jobs as she gave music lessons was to keep her eyes and ears open. Occasionally she learned something--information, conversation, the sense of something wrong--that was a help to Archer and his father, Brocker, both loyal allies of the king.
It was also a long time for Fire to live without the comfort of her own music. She closed her eyes again and breathed slowly. These were always the worst injuries, the ones that left her unable to play her fiddle.
She hummed to herself, a song they both knew about the northern Dells, a song that Archer's father always liked her to play when she sat with him.
Archer took the hand of her uninjured arm, and kissed it. He kissed her fingers, her wrist. His lips brushed her forearm.
She stopped humming. She opened her eyes to the sight of his, mischievous and brown, smiling into hers.
You can't be serious, she thought to him.
He touched her hair, which shone against the blankets. "You look unhappy."
Archer. It hurts to move.
"You don't have to move. And I can erase your pain."
She smiled, despite herself, and spoke aloud. "No doubt. But so can sleep. Go home, Archer. I'm sure you can find someone else's pain to erase."
"So callous," he said teasingly, "when you know how worried I was for you today."
She did know how worried. She merely doubted that the worry had changed his nature.
Of course, after he'd gone, she did not sleep. She tried, but nightmares brought her awake over and over again. Her nightmares were always worse on days when she'd spent time down among the cages, for that was where her father had died.
Cansrel, her beautiful monster father. Monsters in the Dells came from monsters. A monster could breed with a non-monster of its species--her mother had not been a monster--but the progeny was always monstrous. Cansrel had had glittery silver hair with glints of blue, and deep, dark blue eyes. His body, his face breathtaking, smooth and beautifully cut, like crystal reflecting light, glowing with that intangible something that all monsters have. He had been the most stunning man alive when he'd lived, or at least Fire had found him so. He had been better than she at controlling the minds of humans. He had had a great deal more practice.
Fire lay in her bed and fought off the dream memory. The growling leopard monster, midnight blue with gold spots, astride her father. The smell of her father's blood, his gorgeous eyes on her, disbelieving. Dying.
She wished now that she hadn't sent Archer home. Archer understood the nightmares, and Archer was alive and passionate. She wanted his company, his vitality.
In her bed she grew more and more restless, and finally she did a thing that would have turned Archer livid. She dragged herself to her closets and dressed herself, slowly, painfully, in coat and trousers, dark browns and blacks to match the night. Her attempt to wrap her hair almost sent her back to bed, since she needed both arms to do it and lifting her left arm was an agony. Somehow she managed, capitulating at one point to the use of a mirror to be sure that no hair was showing in back. Generally she avoided mirrors. It embarrassed her to lose her own breath at the sight of herself.
She stuck a knife in her belt and hefted a spear and ignored her own conscience calling, singing, screaming to her that she couldn't even protect herself from a porcupine tonight, let alone a monster raptor or monster wolf.
Next was the hardest part of all, one armed. She had to sneak out of her own house by way of the tree outside her window, for Archer's guards stood at all her doorways, and they would never allow her to wander the hills injured and alone. Unless she used her power to control them, and that she would not do. Archer's guards trusted her.
Archer had been the one to notice how closely this ancient tree hugged the house and how easily he could climb it in the dark, two years ago, when Cansrel had still been alive, and Archer had been eighteen and Fire had been fifteen and their friendship had evolved in a manner Cansrel's guards hadn't needed to know the particulars of. A manner that had been unexpected to her, and sweet, and boosted her small list of happinesses. What Archer hadn't known was that Fire had begun to use the route herself, almost immediately, first to skirt Cansrel's men and then, after Cansrel was dead, Archer's own. Not to do anything shocking or forbidden; just to walk at night by herself, without everyone knowing.
She pitched her spear out the window. What followed was an ordeal that involved much swearing and tearing of cloth and fingernails. On solid ground, sweating and shaking and appreciating fully now what a foolish idea this had been, she used her spear as a cane and limped away from the house. She didn't want to go far, just out of the trees so that she could see the stars. They always eased her lonesomeness. She thought of them as beautiful creatures, burning and cold; each solitary, and bleak, and silent like her.
Tonight they were clear and perfect in the sky.
Standing on a rocky patch that rose beyond Cansrel's monster cages, she bathed in the light of the stars and tried to soak up some of their quiet. Breathing deep, she rubbed the place in her hip that still ached sometimes from an arrow scar that was months old. Always one of the trials of a new wound: All the old wounds liked to rise up and start hurting again, too.
She'd never been injured accidentally before. It was hard to know how to categorize this attack in her mind; it almost seemed funny. She had a dagger scar on one forearm, another on her belly. An arrow gouge from years ago in her back. It was a thing that happened now and then. For every peaceful man, there was a man who wanted to hurt her, even kill her, because she was a gorgeous thing he could not have, or because he'd despised her father. And for every attack that had left a scar there were five or six other attacks she'd managed to stop.
Tooth marks on one wrist: a wolf monster. Claw marks at one shoulder: a raptor monster. Other wounds, too, the small, invisible kind. Just this morning, in the town, a man's hot eyes on her body, and the man's wife beside him, burning at Fire with jealousy and hatred. Or the monthly humiliation of needing a guard during her woman's bleedings to protect her from monsters who could smell her blood.
"The attention shouldn't embarrass you," Cansrel would have said. "It should gladden you. Don't you feel it, the joy of having an effect on everyone and everything simply by being?"
Cansrel had never found any of it humiliating. He'd kept predator monsters as pets--a silvery lavender raptor, a blood-purple mountain lion, a grass-colored bear glinting with gold, the midnight blue leopard with gold spots. He'd underfed them on purpose and walked among their cages, his hair uncovered, scratching his own skin with a knife so that his blood beaded on the surface. It had been one of his favorite things to make his monsters scream and roar and scrape their teeth on the metal bars, wild with their desire for his monster body.
She couldn't begin to imagine feeling that way, without fear, or shame.
The air was turning damp and cold, and peace was too far away for her to reach tonight.
Slowly she headed back to her tree. She tried to grab hold and climb, but it didn't take much scrabbling at the trunk for her to understand that she was not, under any circumstances, going to be able to enter her bedroom the way she'd exited.
Leaning into the tree, sore and weary, Fire cursed her stupidity. She had two options now, and neither was acceptable. Either she must turn herself in to the guards at her doors and tomorrow wage a battle over her freedom with Archer, or she must enter the mind of one of those guards and trick his thoughts.
She reached out tentatively to see who was around. The poacher's mind bobbed against hers, asleep in his cage. Guarding her house were a number of men whose minds she recognized. At her side entrance was an older fellow named Krell who was something of a friend to her--or would have been, did he not have the tendency to admire her too much. He was a musician, easily as talented as she and more experienced, and they played together sometimes, Fire on her fiddle and Krell on flute or whistle. Too convinced of her perfection, Krell, ever to suspect her. An easy mark.
Fire sighed. Archer was a better friend when he did not know every detail of her life and mind. She would have to do this.
She slipped up to the house and into the trees near the side door. The feeling of a monster reaching for the gates of one's mind was subtle. A strong and practiced person could learn to recognize the encroachment and slam the gates shut. Tonight Krell's mind was alert for trespassers but not for this type of invasion; he was open and bored, and she crept her way in. He noticed a change and adjusted his focus, startled, but she worked quickly to distract him. You heard something. There it is, can you hear it again? Shouts, near the front of the house. Step away from the door and turn to look.
Without pause he moved from the entrance and turned his back to her. She crept out of the trees toward the door.
You hear nothing behind you, only before you. The door behind you is closed.
He never swung around to check, never even doubted the thoughts she'd implanted in his mind. She opened the door behind him, slipped through, and shut herself in, then leaned against the wall of her hallway for a moment, oddly depressed at how easy that had been. It seemed to her that it shouldn't be so easy to make a man into a fool.
Rather bleak now with self-disgust, she slumped her way upstairs to her room. A particular song was stuck in her head, dully playing itself over and over, though she couldn't think why. It was the funeral lament sung in the Dells to mourn the waste of a life.
She supposed thoughts of her father had brought the song to mind. She had never sung it for him or played it on her fiddle. She'd been too numb with grief and confusion to play anything after he'd died. A fire had been lit for him, but she had not gone to see it.
It had been a gift from Cansrel, her fiddle. One of his strange kindnesses, for he'd never had patience for her music. And now Fire was alone, the only remaining human monster in the Dells, and her fiddle was one of few happy things she had to remember him by.