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Authors: Diana Pharaoh Francis

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Path of Fate

BOOK: Path of Fate
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Praise for
Path of Fate
“What’s better than a story about a stubborn, likable heroine thrust into events fraught with danger, wizards, and gods? Well, all of the above, plus a goshawk . . . I thoroughtly enjoyed
Path of Fate
by the talented Diana Pharaoh Francis and look forward to more of the adventures of Reisil and her goshawk, Saljane.”
—Kristen Britain, bestselling author of
Green Rider
“This is an entertaining book—at times compelling—from one of fantasy’s promising new voices.”
—David B. Coe, award-winning author of
Seeds of Betrayal
“In this delightful debut, Diana Pharaoh Francis caught me with a compelling story, intrigued me with the magic of her ahalad-kaaslane, and swept me away with her masterful feel for the natural world.”
—Carol Berg, critically acclaimed author of
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand,
London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road,
Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, Cnr Rosedale and Airborne Roads,
Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, December 2003
Copyright © Diana Pharaoh Francis, 2003
All rights reserved
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
eISBN : 978-1-101-03457-6

To Tony, because you make everything possible.

irst I want to thank my parents, Bill and Vi Pharaoh, for encouranging and funding my reading habit from the moment I learned what words were. They taught me to love language. Next I want to thank Jennifer Stevenson and the “book in a week” group that got me started on
Path of Faith
in the first place. Thanks also to Kevin Kvalvik for teaching me how to build a Web site:
It is said that writing is a lonely experience, and that is true, but a lot of people contributed to this book, inlcuding Sharmon Horwood, Lyn McConchie, Megan Glasscock, MJean Harvey, and Elizabeth Covington, who all read
Path of Fate
in draft and offered wonderful aid. Thank you for you encouragement, advice and friendship. Thanks also to Jack Kirkley for introducing me to goshawks and answering all sorts of questions. I’d also like to thank the members of Broad Universe and the Roundtable, for humor, support, interest, and information, especially Fighter Guy.
Next I’d like to thank Lucienne Diver and Jennifer Heddle for your support, advice and hard work. This is a much better book because of you both, and Jen, thanks expecially for the inspiring “prune generously” editorial advice—you have no idea what that did for my writing. Thanks also to Kristen Britain, David Coe and Carol Berg for generously reading my manuscript and offering wonderful reviews and helpful critiques.
One other person needs to be mentioned, who had little to do with my book, and yet everything to do with enabling me to write it: Dr. Gerald Dorros. You are my hero and my friend. There will never be words to thank you enough.
And last but not least, to the two loves of my life, Tony and Quentin. For believing in me, for making me laugh, for making sure my world keeps running even when I’m too mired in words to know, for all your unconditional support. This book is yours as much as mine.
Chapter 1
eisil’s spine twinged protest as she lurched into a shadowed wagon rut. Her next step caught the lip of the uneven furrow and she sprawled on the hard-baked road, scraping her chin and inhaling a mouthful of powdery dust. Coughing, she struggled to her feet. She brushed the graze on her chin with tender fingers, pleased when they came away unbloodied. An anxious glance revealed that no one had witnessed her clumsiness. She sighed, licking the dust from her lips.
Not that she wasn’t willing to be the brunt of a joke, but people in Kallas still saw her as the child she had been thirteen years ago, rather than as a capable tark. Tripping over her own feet didn’t do much to revise that perspective. She snorted. The fever that had swept through the town three months ago had done even less. Never mind that it was one of those illnesses that had no cure, and could be treated only with sleep, fluids and time. Never mind that only two men had died—one with a weak heart and the other with bad lungs. Many more would have died if Reisil hadn’t been there.
She shook her head. All Kallas knew was that there had been a major illness three months after her arrival and she’d been helpless against it.
No, she admonished, pulling herself up short. That wasn’t fair. The townspeople knew well enough that things would have been worse without her. But she had wanted to shine. She wanted them to see her as a rock in the storm, not as the little abandoned girl they’d fostered.
Reisil bent and dusted herself off, scowling at the tear in her trousers. If only the fever hadn’t been so recalcitrant . . .
But she still had time, she reassured herself for the umpteenth time. She had six more months before the council voted on accepting her. They’d paid for her upbringing and her training. Surely they’d want some return on their investment? Surely they wouldn’t decide they’d prefer to have no tark at all.
Strain pulled the corners of her mouth down. The fact was, the council could very well vote against throwing good money after bad in support of a less than competent tark. After all, for the seven years since her predecesssor’s death, Kallas had made do with wandering tarks who preferred the rambling life. Which was
what she wanted to do. She meant to settle down, and right here.
Humor wriggled up through the morass of her fears. Certainly tripping over her own feet would not make them reject her, she chided herself. She giggled. Any more than dribbling food on her shirt or bumping into furniture. It was her skills that counted, and she had confidence in those.
She gripped the handles of her pack firmly. Six more months. Plenty of time. She nodded sharply and strode forward, her back straight as she set her feet carefully on the uneven ground.
Alone in the predawn, Reisil approached the gate, fishing a handful of nut mix from the pouch dangling from her belt. Behind her, the empty road rolled toward the river like an elegant pearl snake in the moonlit morning. Rising from the gauzy darkness, Reisil heard rumbling voices from the river as captains rousted their crews out of bed. From the wall above came the jingle and thump of armor and booted feet as the watch changed shift.
She halted before the inset pedestrian gate beneath the portcullis and yanked firmly on the chain. Within, dull tin bells tinked and clanked. After a few moments the spyhole slid back, revealing a lantern-lit square. Reisil could see a pair of bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows below a wrinkled brow. She stood on tiptoe to be seen better, though in truth she was not particularly short.
“Reisiltark! Is there an emergency?” The guard scratched his beard and yawned, while Reisil scrambled to recall his name.
“No emergency, Beren,” she replied, triumph at the memory brightening her voice. “I’m just going to replenish supplies. Aftermath of the Lady’s Day,” she said with a little shrug and a grin. The wrinkles in Beren’s brow smoothed and he chuckled understanding.
“Just a minute,” he said. The spyhole snapped shut and Reisil heard the bars slide back one at a time.
He waved her inside, the metal plates on his shoulders and chest clanking together softly, the boiled leather beneath it squeaking.
“The Lady’s Day is one of rest. But I never lived one, but that it was the day after that saw a lot more rest than not.” His teeth were uneven as he smiled.

didn’t rest,” Reisil said with a little sigh and a roll of her eyes. Beren laughed and clapped her on the shoulder.
“Reckon not. Folks like to celebrate the Lady’s Day. Get a little boisterous with it, I suppose. Give themselves sour stomachs and such.”
Reisil nodded. “Used up a lot of my stores.”
“Where are you headed?”
“East gate and up into the hills. I could go around, but it’s so much faster to cut through town.”
“True enough. But you be careful. That bunch of squatters in the copse is getting bigger. Made themselves a regular village. They haven’t got much and they don’t mind taking what they need from a body. Nobody’s complained yet, and until one of them crosses the line, there’s nothing we can do to roust them out. But Kallas doesn’t need its tark being the one they take after. Mark my words and be careful.”
“Thanks, Beren. I hadn’t realized there were so many. What brings them here?” Reisil could have bitten her tongue. As if it weren’t obvious. The war had never come to Kallas. Why wouldn’t refugees come here, running from the burned-out shells of their homes and the fields trampled and scorched, the wells poisoned with a stew of dead animals, salt and lye? They were looking for a new start, and the isolated town of Kallas had more to offer than most places. “I mean, now that there’s a truce, I’d have thought they might have gone home to rebuild,” she explained lamely.
“Some have. Patverseme soldiers didn’t taint much as they could have. Didn’t have the supplies and wanted to leave themselves some good lands and wells. But what they did was enough to drive folks away. Can’t fight if you can’t eat.
BOOK: Path of Fate
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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