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Authors: Lindsey S. Johnson

A Ragged Magic

BOOK: A Ragged Magic
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A Ragged Magic

Lindsey S. Johnson

Rhiannon has the Sight - the ability to glimpse the hearts and minds of others. Her visions attract the attention of the powerful kirche, which has condemned all magic outside the holy orders.

Branded a witch, her family executed, Rhiannon is handed over to a diabolical bishop who wants to use her power to discredit the royal family and advance his own candidate for the throne.

But she is not without friends: she is saved from a terrible fate by the very people the bishop aims to destroy. Thrust into intrigue and danger, Rhiannon must learn to control her growing power, and master ...


"Lindsey S. Johnson debuts strongly with her tale of betrayal, magic and political intrigue. She breaks our hearts open in the first chapter ... with her fast-paced, often poetic prose ... "

-KEN SCHOLES, award-winning author of The Psalms of Isaak

"Lindsey S. Johnson's strong, confident voice ... and complex, fascinating characters make this debut novel riveting and deeply satisfying."

-SHANNON PAGE, author of Our Lady of the Islands (with Jay Lake)

"A Ragged Magic is one of those books that makes me want to curl up with a cup of hot tea on a stormy weekend and read until the world ends."

-J.A. PITTS, award-winning author of Forged in Fir

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

A Ragged Magic. Copyright © 2014 by Lindsey S. Johnson.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission from both the copyright holder and the publisher.

Edited by Jak Koke

Cover design by Angie Abler

Published by Per Aspera Press

ISBN: 978-1-941662-05-2 (ebook)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Johnson, Lindsey S.

A ragged magic / Lindsey S. Johnson.

pages cm. -- (The runebound ; book 1)

Summary: In the world of Talaria, where none but the clergy are sanctioned to practice magic, follows the adventures of Rhiannon, condemned as a witch and possessed of a frustratingly intermittent power to see into the hearts and minds of those around her.

Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed.

ISBN 978-1-941662-05-2 () -- ISBN 978-1-941662-03-8

[1. Fantasy. 2.
Magic--Fiction.] I.



Electronic Version by Baen Books

For my parents, for being there.

For Scott, for believing in me.

And for 25-year-old me: It took a lot longer than planned, but it turns out persistence really does pay off.

Chapter One

am Rhiannon.

It does not mean queenly, or deep river; it means witch. The kirche warrant declares it so.

I am not allowed to glance at the frightened guards in red who surround me; I am not allowed to notice the stares, the whispers behind hands, the frowns of the guildmembers. I am to witness the hanging, and I am only to see the scaffold before me.

My younger sister, struggling in the grip of Deacon Bertram, is held to ensure my good behavior. Be a good little Rhiannon. What else can I do?

The side of my neck pulls, burns from the rope twisted there. The scratchy hemp snakes taut to the nervous kirche guardsman who holds my bonds. The warding of the witch with blessed rope: a new torture devised by the inquisitors. I wonder which priest will persecute me. I wonder if that is blasphemy. I wonder how much longer before I die.

There are no duchy guards here — the dowager duchess travels away from Haverston, and will not return for several days. The bailiff refuses to move against kirche orders. I was told when I begged to see her, or to plead before the duchess, that the guilds gave us over to the kirche, for witchery, for breaking the laws of the Star Lord. There is no one to appeal to.

The town square echoes, both hushed and strident, the voices of the gathered people held low so the kirche guards won’t single them out for attention. But the square teems with more townspeople than I thought they could round up. I can hardly see the baker’s at the corner, or the bookshop’s dusty window. I can’t see the scuffed dirt of the square anywhere but near my own feet. The crowd leaves a wide space around the guards who hold me, but overflows everywhere else.

The smells of fish and salt air from the bay are overcome by the odors of too many bodies, and fear. The old fountain, empty for the winter, stands a climbing frame, the stained and greening mermaid a prop for children to get a better look at the gallows. Their parents urge them down quietly, tossing wary looks over their shoulders at the guards. And at me.

They hold me near the foot of rickety wooden gallows. Hastily constructed, the platform stands only a few feet higher than the crowd. A wooden plank waits to be yanked from beneath condemned feet. The walls of the square echo with crowd noises and the creaking of the gallows. Already they creak, before even one body hangs from them. I sink slightly on weak knees, but the rope on my neck chokes, pulls me up again.

Soft afternoon light glows off of kirche guards’ uniforms — the crimson and white and black wool embroidered with stars and moons, symbols of the Star Lord and Dorei, his lady. I am surrounded by silent, sweating men — sweating even though it is a brisk spring this year, and I shiver in my ripped gray traveling dress, tattered on the bottom and muddy, as are my torn stockings. I lost one boot to the dogs. My shuddering can’t be blamed all on the chill.

The crowd behind me shifts and mumbles. Whispers reach my ears.

“She killed the Pastor —”

“— fell in the mill pond, drowned, not a mark on him! Had to have been demons …”

“Refused to go into kirche training, that one. Refused!”

“Keenan Owen’s a priest! They can’t hang him, no matter his sister’s witchery.”

“He taught her to call demons with her power. They brought the Wasting to kill us all!”

“This has gone too far. How can this happen? There wasn’t even a trial.”

That last is spoken so quietly, I wonder if it was Keenan. I try not to whimper as guards bring out my family, display them on the gallows. Mum and Da and Keenan — Deacon Bertram still holds Linnet behind them. Three nooses swing drunkenly in the breeze. Keenan gazes out at me from behind one of them, hopelessness in his eyes. I have been trying to reach to him for hours, to send to his mind, but he hasn’t answered.

You were supposed to run, why didn’t you run
, he sends, his mind whispering to mine in despair.
Why didn’t you go to the seminary
Orrin was going to hide you.

I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t fast and I got lost. Dorei turned her face from me. They had dogs, and I couldn’t run anymore.

He sent to me that day, woke me before dawn, he knew the Inquisitor’s Building had a warrant, guards were coming for me. I told Mum and Da, and they bade me run, get away from the town, stay off the roads. I took nothing but the clothes I wear and some food; a little money tied into a kerchief, running for my brother and the seminary. I got lost in the woods that night. The guards took the money, after they caught me; trapped me halfway up a tree. Dogs and guards and shouting and I couldn’t get away. I thought they’d leave my family alone if I ran. So did Keenan.

Tears leak down his bruised face. Light from the cloud-blurry sky glances off his shorn head, the scabs and gouges glistening with the sweat of despair. Orange stubble and olive skin and blood. Gulls over the harbor give voice to aching cries that echo in my heart.

I am so sorry, Keenan.

No, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Rhi. I tried to stop this. I tried to stop them.

I tremble harder.
What — what can I do? What do we do? They said they’d kill Linnet, and I —

he sends quickly.
Don’t do anything. I love you, little sister. I — I will watch for you in Dorei’s arms. Try to be brave.

How can I —

I’ll be brave if you will.

“Keenan,” I moan aloud, and am jerked to the side by my neck; the guard with the ropes is not gentle. People inch further away.

Be brave, Rhiannon. Confess to anything they ask you. It — will go quicker that way. Look to the stars. I will sing you to them.

His dark eyes hold mine as Deacon Bertram, puffed with his importance, nods to the kirche guard to read the warrant. All these guards of a sudden — the kirche doesn’t usually have so many here, and none of them from town. The large man intones a judgment of conspiring to murder, and for harboring a witch and consorting with demons. Not one word is true.

I am not on this warrant, as I was caught only this morning. The deacon has to clench his very square jaw to keep from grinning, delighting in our downfall. How many here delight in our downfall?

The guilds turned us over, because I told people at the market to save a man. Because I Saw with my unsanctified Sight the pastor drowning in the mill pond. Or because I Saw who was with him. Mum told me to hush, but he was going to drown if I didn’t tell. Only it happened miles away, so I am a witch.

Mum and Da are shorn of their hair, too, standing in dirty gray shifts, stone-faced beside my brother. Linnet wails for our mum, but Mum won’t look at her. Her eyes are on me.

A purple bruise swells one of her eyes almost shut, but that doesn’t stop her glare. I feel a chill spreading the breadth of the air between us; my heart forms frost from her glare. I think Mum must believe what she’s been told; the priests have convinced her that I summoned demons. I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut. I have ruined the house of Owen-Weaver.

It is all my fault.

I flinch from Mum’s stare, look at Da instead.

Da’s lips tremble, but he stands as tall as he can, his back bent from years at the loom. Master Weaversmith, Guildmaster of all the guilds, Rory Owen’s dark eyes stay stern and dry. Gray stubble dots his chin, his jaw tight with anger and pride and pain. The bruises look green on his skin. He looks at me, blinks eyes that turn wet, and looks away again.

I should have listened when Keenan asked me to turn to the kirche, go to seminary years ago. I didn’t want to go. The Sight is a wayward power, but not dangerous. And I have so little — I was sure the kirche wouldn’t care that I didn’t dedicate myself to Dorei, that the town would see I wasn’t a threat to anyone. I was wrong.

Not your fault, Rhi. It was … not easy, with the inquisitors. We tried to keep you safe, all of us. We are still trying, even now. But we have to keep Linnet safe. Keep her as safe as we can. They’ve promised she will live.

I can’t help the shudders through my body, the sick aching in all of my joints, my stomach. I can’t help the tears pouring down my face. But I am not screaming. It’s as much as I can do. My wrists twist against the ropes, and the guards shudder in their turn. So much fear, but I think it isn’t really about me, at all.

A carriage at the edge of the square sits with quite a bit of room around it. Everyone carefully pretends it isn’t there. I can See a darkness around it like shadows and fog, an ugly gathering of magic and anger festering.

With my eyes, I can see Mastersmith Aman, who looks nervous but gleeful, nod at the carriage. I pull my gaze back to the gallows when the guard reading the charges steps back.

Deacon Bertram scrambles onto the platform, his dignity frayed by the lack of steps. He sneers his way by my captive family, dragging Linnet behind him. Bertram is happy for the opportunity to publicly disgrace my brother, I don’t need the Sight to know it. And he grips Linnet to his side like a prize.

His angular face, topped by lank graying blond hair, turns toward the crowd with a fierce look of triumph. He hands my trembling sister over to an acolyte. A small part of my soul reserves hatred for him, but it is lost in a maelstrom of wailing denials in my head.

Only Linnet’s continued life keeps me from flinging myself on the guards. Linnet cries openly — I can’t remember the last time I saw her cry. Her face looks bruised, too.

I hear Bertram’s speech in spite of myself. “Hear then, oh ye faithful, that the Star Lord judges those of you who leave the path of light for darkness, and banishes the light of your souls from the heavens. Our great Prophet Ashere, the voice of the Star Lord in the holy city of Shovahn, tells us that magic not given into service of the Star Lord is given over to the darkness. Not even in the kirche are we safe from the whisperings of evil. Even Healing must be sanctified by His Holy Light, or else twist into demon sickness.”

Shuffles of unease through the crowd cause the guardsman to tighten his grip on my rope bonds, the others to shift and glance around. I gasp and rear my head, try to ease the choking pressure.

Kirche Healers are few and far between, and the Wasting is the cause of deaths all over the town. The hospice that the duchy runs is the only place most people can go when they are ill. The recent bout of plague means the people need it more than ever, kirche-blessing or no.

Deacon Bertram glances out at the crowd, sweat springing shiny on his forehead. His speech changes direction.

“The accused conspired to murder a pastor of the kirche, with a witch not sanctified by the Light of the Lord of Stars, and shall suffer punishment for it. The witch shall also suffer. This is the judgment. Prepare ye the Way of the Light.”

“Receive the Prophet in their name,” responds the crowd in a half-hearted rumbling murmur.

The drums start, and the crowd tenses. A guard draws a gray hood over my Mum’s head, my Da’s, but Bertram denies that dignity to Keenan. “He defiles us! Let the people see the death in his eyes!” he snarls.

Keenan stares into my eyes alone, refusing to flinch or blanch.

I swallow and blink, glance at my parents who stand like puppets, my sister screaming with panic.

Linnet pulls ineffectually at the acolyte’s hands, scratching, frantic. He yanks her back, her dark dress tearing in his grip, and she sags against his restraint, sobbing.

Bertram turns and slaps her once, hard, and I taste iron on my throbbing tongue. I snap my eyes back to Keenan. The drums pound the last three beats, and stop.

The plank drops, and my family with it. Mum and Da’s bodies jerk once to an ominous snap, but Keenan dangles and spasms, his eyes wild. I moan and sink forward, but hard hands yank me upright.

Oh, Keenan. All Gods, Keenan —

Brave, be brave —

I don’t know if he’s talking to me or himself; the panic crawls its way through both our limbs. His body sways and sputters, twists on its leash. He longs for death, and fights it, twitching in a rhythm like that of the now-silent drums. The crowd shudders, violence and fear on its breath. I choke on pain.

Small children are crying — I hear the wails and hiccups, the gusts of gasps. I feel Keenan’s mind slip from mine like a knot letting go. No longer jerking in time to my heart, his body sways and creaks along the length of rope. A shriek rises up from Linnet’s throat, but I have been warned, and I dare not grieve.

Instead I feel my mind jerk, once, twice, like bodies on ropes, as it separates itself from me. I watch myself stand staring at my dead family, and I divorce my will from my heart. I must behave, for Linnet to live. That is all that matters.

The guards drag me back to my perch on the old gray horse that I’ve ridden since my capture. My toes scrape on cobbles, and I’m tossed into the saddle, my feet secured in the stirrups, one booted, one bare, and my wrists looped over the cantle.

Keenan’s body still sways, the ropes grunting and creaking. I look only at him. I cannot see the heavy bodies of my parents. I only see the blankness settle over Keenan’s eyes. Linnet’s sobs tear at me as I’m led away.

The crowds shuffle out of the way of the guards and the witch. We ride toward the castle; its gleaming spires float on the Seely Magan cliffs overlooking the bay, bathed pink in the dying light.

The castle overlooks the town of Haverston in much the same way: above, painted with light. White towers with pretty blue slate roofs gleam, the walls thick and safe and so distant from me now. Gray puffs of clouds meander across the purpling sky.

The road is lined with the sturdy guildhalls and filled with uneasy crowds. Priests and kirche guards abound in more numbers than ever I’ve seen in Haverston before. I see the yellow brick of the main guildhall from the corner of my eye as we pass it.

The light slants across the gathered people, striping them in gleaming color and shadow. A cold spring breeze lifts hanks of my snarled hair, and ruffles goose bumps down my back. I shiver and choke back a sob.

Dark muttering issues out of the mouths of the anxious people. More than one prayer to the Star Lord snakes through the subdued noise.

BOOK: A Ragged Magic
7.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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