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Chapter Four

“A ducat for your thoughts, Pirate Kate.”

I shook myself, realizing that I hadn’t uttered a word since we’d left Mother and Gran at the heart of the Wood.

“I was wondering why Artie wanted me to have that rooster, particularly,” I said. “I was wondering who else of the trenvay isn’t exactly trustworthy, and I was wondering why I took this job.” I shrugged, and threw him a glance, meeting the blue flames in his eyes. “Hardly worth a penny, much less a man’s good gold.”

“No, I think I’ve received value,” Mr. Ignat’ said slowly, as we took the short cut across Gentleman Johnny’s Mini-Golf’s parking lot.

We went on another half-dozen steps in silence.

“You took the job of Guardian,” he said slowly, “because your grandmother rightly judged that you needed occupation, and a new direction, after Zephyr brought you away from the Land of the Flowers. You were young for it—but you had been raised as royalty; duty was no stranger to you, and you were of the blood—here. Archers Beach had been without a Guardian since Lydia accepted Aeronymous’ bargain and crossed into the Land of the Flowers as his consort. The land had been losing its virtue…for some period of time.”

I blinked at him, pieces snapping into place with such authority that I was sure he heard them. All the stories of the old days, when Archers Beach had been bigger, brighter, better. Then, slowly at first, then faster as entropy had its way, things began to slide downhill.

By the time Princess Kaederon came onto the Beach to take up life as Kate Archer, all that was left was the twelve-week Season, and the inevitable slide downhill…

The old ones—Gran and her friends—they never said right out why this had happened, because—well, it was implicit, right? To everyone except Kate Archer, who knew the Beach’s history, and Lydia’s story, too, and still failed to put two and two together.

If I had, I might not have…

Well, no. Knowing that the Guardian was responsible for not only the land, but the town’s prosperity wouldn’t have made any difference in my decision to leave Archers Beach when I did, given my reasons.

But before I’d gone, after the land had accepted me—those few years when I’d been…happy. During those years, there had been a slight uptick in the fortunes of Archers Beach. Now, I knew why. Back then—I’d just figured that these things went through cycles, if I thought about it at all.

Gran, though.

Gran had known the reason for the decline—and she known what to do to perk things up again.

She wasn’t exactly a disinterested party, either. The Pepperidges and the Archers go ’way, ’way back, to the first Archer’s landing at the foot of Heath Hill, which event piqued the interest of a certain tree…

“So I was a sacrifice,” I said, and felt Mr. Ignat’s glance warm the side of my face.

I raised my hand before he could speak.

“No, that’s all right. I was raised to be a princess—and Aeronymous started statecraft lessons early.”

Mr. Ignat’ nodded slowly. “You stood two lives from his throne,” he said.

“And the politics of the Land of the Flowers being what they are, sooner or later I would have…” It hit me, then, for the very first time. Hit me, and took my breath. I slammed to a stop right there, staring very hard at absolutely nothing.

I sensed that Mr. Ignat’ had stopped, too, and was waiting, patiently, for me to do, or say, something.

“I just realized,” I said. “Really realized that—Mother and I—we’re the only survivors.” Of our House, that the Ozali Ramendysis had broken so he could drink our power.

Which meant that I, Prince Nathan’s heir—I was Aeronymous, now; Sovereign of the Sea.

“Will you return to the Land of the Flowers to take up your birthright, Pirate Kate?”

Mr. Ignat’ isn’t a mind-reader, but he’s known me a long time. Also, his rebooted self is as sharp as a drawerful of knives, like we say here in Maine.

I half-laughed.

“Y’know?” I shook my head. “This job here may be occasionally annoying, but I wouldn’t survive three minutes in the Land of the Flowers.”

“I think you underrate yourself,” Mr. Ignat’ said, “but I agree with your decision to allow someone else to aspire to Sea King.”

“Well.” I got my feet moving again, and Mr. Ignat’ with me.

“As for which trenvay are treacherous,” he continued, as if weighty matters of succession had never been on the table, “they all are, each according to their nature. You will have to be on your guard, and when your guard slips, you must recover.”

My fencing master used to say something eerily similar to that. And then she’d add that making a recover was much more difficult than simply doing the thing right the first time.

“I’m going to have to make a recover, then.”

“It may be interesting to learn why Artie wanted the rooster with you,” Mr. Ignat’ agreed blandly.

I laughed. “Oh, it’ll be interesting, all right! I was just wishing for a little peace and quiet. A few mundane problems, not many, just enough to keep me on my toes. Working with the land on those spots that’ve gone silent. Promoting Joe Nemeier’s removal from the Beach, preferably in chains, but I’ll let him go under his own power, if he promises never to come back. No more…imported problems.”

“Do you think you can expect that?” Mr. Ignat’ asked seriously.

I shook my head, thinking about my life so far, not to mention my current duties and entanglements.

And non-entanglements, too.

“A girl can dream, can’t she?”

“She can. She should also be well-armed and expert in the use of her weapons.” He gave me a bright smile. “Shall we repair to the beach for our lesson?”

* * *

The sand showed scorch marks, here and there, for those with eyes to see them, and I wasn’t much more than a limp rag. Through my exhaustion, I felt the land’s worry, but it was being good; if slightly antsy, like a dog told to sit and stay while his master proceeds to engage in an activity that is not…quite safe.

Spellcraft lessons aren’t easy for me. I’m not one of those crime-fighting, half-fey princesses found in urban fantasy novels, who revel in their powers, and need no lessons in their use, or in control.

By contrast, I’m only one-quarter-fey, my power will turn on and eat me if I’m not constantly vigilant, and I’m much better at hacking than spellcraft.

All that said, I’m not a mundane person, either; I was born with the ability, however small, to hold jikinap and bend it to my will, and I’m not, despite what you might think by looking at the evidence, a complete idiot.

To prove that last point, I now had firmly in my possession three premade defensive spells and a Word to trigger each, and three offensive spells, also with triggers. In theory—largely Mr. Ignat’s theory—I was now at least adequately armed and armored against attack. The spells were, like all of Mr. Ignat’s workings, jewels of tightly woven efficiency. The six I now held in readiness had required only a thimble’s worth of jikinap to build—enough to do the job, and not a dab more—and had been relatively simple to construct.

No, the trouble hadn’t been with the building, it had been with the tuning.

See, if I was under attack, I would trigger a defense spell first. Then, I would either run like hell, or release a counterattack. The problem with the counterattack option is that, having triggered my defenses, I would be enveloped by a hopefully impenetrable shield—which I would have to breach, in order to properly answer my enemy.

In the general way of things, it’s not smart to drop your defense during battle. There are exceptions to this rule, naturally, but I’m talking about general, good common sense.

This general rule of thumb is even more important in a duel between Ozali, when your opponent will be most earnestly trying to wrest your power from you and make it their own. Any imperfection in your defense, any flaw in your spellcraft can and will be used against you.

That being so, the smart Ozali who wants to live to eat tomorrow’s breakfast builds a replicator into his offensive spell.

It’s like a computer virus, really. You trigger the offensive spell; it strikes the defense wall and forces a structural exchange. The offense is now part of the defense, and the former offense is now defense.

As the offensive spell moves toward the outside of the defense wall, the new defense spell follows it and does cleanup, stitching the wall back together almost before it’s breached.

When the offense reaches the outer wall and is released to its mission, the plug is already in place—and the wall has never shown a breach.

If that explanation makes your head hurt, you’ll understand why the sand was littered with the charred and pitiful remains of broken spells.

“Well done, Katie,” said Mr. Ignat’. “You have reason to be proud of this day’s work.”

He was stretched on his back on the sand, arms crossed under his head, his hat tipped over his eyes, perfectly relaxed as he oversaw my efforts. Even the rather…exclamatory explosion of an unbalanced weaving had been insufficient to disturb his air of sleepy interest. I got the impression that he viewed my clumsy efforts, numerous fumbles, and frequent use of colorful language in the light of a toddler’s ambitious play.

Of course, if he was old enough to consider Artie a boy, then I just about made rank as a toddler.

“More relieved than proud, actually,” I said. “It feels better to have something in my pocket.”

“It’s never pleasant to be without defenses. Not only have you solved that problem, but you’ve learned several important principles today, which we’ll be building on in later lessons.”

I considered him.

“Will we?”

Eyes hidden by his hat, he smiled. “Oh, yes.”

“Great,” I said unenthusiastically.

Turning, I surveyed the carnage on the sand before me. An Ozali does not leave jikinap just lying about for another Ozali to find, absorb—and use against her.

I raised my hands, which I did purely to focus myself; put my attention on the scattered bits of my power, and breathed in.

A bright taste of butterscotch on the back of my tongue, a flash of heat along my spine. The sand before me was pure and clean, and I was again reunited with my power.

Lucky me.

To say that I was conflicted concerning my store of jikinap would be a masterful piece of understatement, even in Maine, where understatement is both a virtue and an art form.

On the one hand, I would sooner let it go; give it away to someone better suited to it—say, Mr. Ignat’.

But Mr. Ignat’, having willingly given up, and been without the benefits of, his power for a hundred years, seemed in no hurry to increase his relatively modest magical holdings.

That he had once been a very great Ozali, I accepted as a fact—not only because I trusted and loved him, still, God help me—but because the jikinap I now hosted had been his, before he had passed it to me, as a gift.

At his present power level, he was no match for any avenging Ozali as might suddenly happen into the Changing Land—that’s what the rest of the Six Worlds call our little piece of interdimensional reality. Hell, he wasn’t a match for me. I so out-weighed him, magically speaking, that I could, even now, this minute, call up my power and allow it to absorb…


I sat down, hard, on the sand, smashing the rising jikinap to the base of my spine so hard that I gasped. The land, apparently taking this a sign that it was released from my command for quiet, performed its version of leaping straight up into the air and licking me on the nose.

“Gently, Katie,” Mr. Ignat’ murmured, apparently unaware of how close he had just come to being consumed.

“Gentle?” I snapped. “Why should I be gentle with it? It’s a treacherous, greedy invader, just waiting to drown me in itself and take over the world!”

For the first time, Mr. Ignat’ seemed troubled. He sat up, pushed his hat back on his head and regarded me for a long moment, smooth brow wrinkled. Then, as if a breeze had wafted him upright, he rose, and walked toward me.

“Stay back!” I said sharply, but apparently he’d gone deaf, too, because he kept on walking, and hunkered down on his heels not a hand’s span away from me.

“Katie, Katie, what is this?” He extended a hand and casually slipped his fingers under my chin, as if I really was a toddler.

As if it wasn’t really, truly dangerous for him to touch me.

I felt the jikinap stir, waking a sensation eerily like physical hunger. I took a deep, deliberate breath, tasting air spiced with salt and sand. The jikinap subsided, and Mr. Ignat’ smiled.

“You are master of yourself, Pirate Kate, never doubt it. And this notion that your power will eat you—it will not. It cannot. Your power is you. If it eats you, it will destroy itself.”

His voice was absolutely steady; truth weighted each word, and I wanted—oh, how very much I wanted—to believe him.

I swallowed.

“That’s not true,” I said. “Look at Ramendysis.”

“Ramendysis held more power than he could absorb,” Mr. Ignat’ said patiently. “You are not so foolish—or so driven. In a duel between raw power and spellcraft—spellcraft will win.” He tipped his head, as if considering, and added.

“Unless something unfortunate happens.”

“Like raw power crushing the opposition under it?”

“Rarely that,” Mr. Ignat’ said seriously. “Most usually, it’s because a spell is flawed. Now, it is true that a certain amount of power must be maintained, as you’re doing, in order to be able to mount a credible defense, if challenged. But the power you maintain, Katie, is far below a toxic dose. It does take some time to…integrate. But I swear to you that it will happen. The best thing you can do is learn your spellcraft, and practice it often. Your power will become accustomed to you, and you to it; it will no longer fight you, or seek to force you to its goals. Tame power is a tool. Wild power—is wild.”

Most of my present power—that gift from Mr. Ignat’—was that tame? And what about the jikinap I’d stolen from Ramendysis?

I’d killed Ozali Ramendysis—not by the use of superior spellcraft. The plan had been to hit him with a bolt of jikinap—think overloading a circuit, and blowing a fuse. I had happened to hope that what would blow was Ramendysis’ head, but as it happened, I missed my shot, and hit—

I caught my breath and turned my head away, squinting as I stared out over the waves. My eyes were watering, but that was because the sun was so bright on the water.

Of course.

“Katie, Borgan’s well.”

I looked back at him, my chest clutching.

“You’ve seen him?”

He shook his head.

“No, child, I haven’t. But I can see the ocean.”

There was, I thought, that. When I had—when I had missed Ramendysis, with all that power, I had hit Borgan, who was…call him the Guardian of the Gulf of Maine. My opposite number.

And when that bolt hit home, and Borgan collapsed onto the blades of Googin Rock…

The sea had gone dead calm. Not a wave, not a ripple disturbed its surface. It was as if the Gulf felt his absence and mourned it.

Happily, though I didn’t think so at the time, I’d managed to pull my shot just enough that I didn’t…entirely kill him. Thinking on it, as, believe me, I have done, hundreds of times in the weeks since it happened—Thinking back on it, it may have been that his braid had fallen into the water when he collapsed, and through that link the sea—the sea had saved him.

That was one of the things I wanted to ask, when I saw him again.

If I saw him again.

Don’t be stupid, Kate, I told myself; you know healing takes time.

Right; I know that.

I know that.


I took a breath and turned my head, meeting Mr. Ignat’s eyes.

“I’m fine,” I said, and forced a smile. “So! When’s the next lesson?”

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