Authors: L. Penelope
Tags: #Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Copyright © 2015 by L. Penelope
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Heartspell Media, LLC
Cover design by James T. Egan of
Interior book design by reflection:digital
First Edition: January 2015
For my father,
who wanted me to live a happy life
Not for the
first time, Jasminda wished for invisibility. Sadly, it was not one of her gifts. To the best of her knowledge, Earthsong couldn't be used for such a thing. She wished she could ask Papa about it, along with his recipe for sweet turnip bread, a clearer understanding of the plumbing he’d installed in the cabin, and how he’d managed to walk through this town for nearly twenty years with a smile on his face.
Do what you think you can’t
, he always said. So she raised her chin a notch higher, ignoring the heads that turned as she passed and the stares that followed her down the street.
It wasn’t exactly a smile, but it would have to do.
The bell on the door of the post station tinkled obscenely when she entered. Postwoman Mineeve emerged from the back with a smile on her face. It promptly fell when she saw her customer.
“Just one moment,” she said curtly before disappearing behind the curtain again.
One moment became many, and Jasminda kept a restless eye on the wall clock, her fingers drumming an impatient rhythm in time with every tick. The front door sang out again, admitting an elderly woman who gasped at the sight of Jasminda.
“Don’t worry, I’m not contagious.” Jasminda crossed her arms as the woman kept her distance all the same, her back pressed against the wall as if being confronted by a wild animal and not a nineteen-year-old girl.
Jasminda smiled bitterly before closing her eyes and focusing on the well of power within her. By itself, her Song was nothing but raw potential, a match waiting for a strike. But when the rush of Earthsong swept over her, the match caught fire, burning bright.
She opened her eyes, the flame inside as hot as her temper. Extending her arms, she scrutinized the deep, rich tone of her skin, so different than everyone else in the town, than just about everyone in the entire country of Elsira. The energy rippling through her gave her a deeper connection to her body. She became even more aware of her skin, how it knit together over muscle and bones. Silently, she sang a spell to shift its color to match the wilted, less vibrant shade of the astonished woman in front of her.
The woman made a sound like a cat struggling with a hairball and reached back, grabbing at the doorknob several times before she was successful.
witch,” she muttered, wrenching the door open and fleeing, the bell overhead singing its good-bye.
Jasminda released her hold on the power. Her skin changed back to its natural hue. She hugged her hand to her chest and sank back against the counter. Using Earthsong left her invigorated, but she had to be shrewd. There was no telling what she might meet on the journey home, and she didn’t want to be depleted.
Her skin color and Earthsinging abilities had come from Papa, hallmarks of his native land of Lagrimar. Her citizenship in this country had come from her Elsiran mother who’d been gone so long the memories of her kind eyes and gentle touch had dwindled to almost nothing. Jasminda’s heart ached a constant pulse of longing. Mama, gone these eight years. Papa and the twins gone these past two.
She blinked back tears as Mineeve finally returned, a parcel wrapped in brown paper in her arms. The woman dropped the package heavily on the counter. Jasminda scowled, though there was nothing fragile inside, merely her monthly delivery of books, a favorite escape from the drudgery and loneliness of farm life.
“You been scaring off my customers again?” Mineeve asked, not attempting to hide her hostility. Jasminda’s spine straightened, and she redoubled her desire to get through the afternoon and back to the safety of her quiet home as quickly as possible. A storm was brewing over the mountains. A bad one, and she couldn’t risk being caught crossing when it struck.
Without a word, she placed her payment on the counter, scooped up the package, and headed for the door.
“Oy,” Mineeve called, and Jasminda turned back. “You forgot this.” She waved a letter in the air. One look was all it took to confirm that it was one that Jasminda had sent herself weeks before,
Return to Sender
scrawled across the front in elegant script. This letter—and all the others she’d sent over the past two years—had been returned, unopened, after travelling much farther than Jasminda ever had. All the way to Elsira’s capital city of Rosira on the western coast. She had no doubt that the handwriting on the front belonged to her maternal grandmother. After all, the woman had spent the past twenty years denying Jasminda’s existence.
“Keep it,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Maybe you should send a telegram,” Mineeve said under her breath as she ripped up the letter and tossed it in the wastebasket. Jasminda left the post station cursing the merry bell that ushered her exit.
The area around the row of shops was quiet. It was only an hour before most of the merchants would pack up and leave for the day, and she had one stop left to make.
The blacksmith shop was at the end of the row. She entered the warm building and placed her package on the counter. Smith Bindeen turned from his forge and smiled at her. Against her wishes, her heart unclenched. Bindeen had been the closest thing to a friend Papa had made in town and was the only one who didn’t make her feel like a five-legged dog.
“Jasminda, it’s been a while.”
“As long as I can make it,” she said, smiling sadly. She gave him her order, and he gathered the supplies she needed: nails, an axe head, shotgun shells, door hinges.
“Haven’t seen a winter this mild in a little while. Think it’ll last?” he asked.
She relaxed a fraction at his kind manner. “Bad storm’s hitting the mountain tonight. Don’t think it’ll reach town, but best be careful.”
“How bad d’ya reckon it’ll be?” He avoided her eyes as he spoke.
“As bad as two years ago.” She kept her voice steady but clenched her hands into fists. Forced back the memory of searching the mountain paths for Papa and her brothers. Of never finding any trace of them.
Bindeen pursed his lips and packaged her purchases.
“That’ll be fifty pieces.”
Jasminda frowned. She was used to being cheated by the other merchants and avoided them whenever she could, preferring to order through the catalogs what she couldn’t make herself. That way she just had to pick up the packages from Mineeve. But she’d always trusted Bindeen.
“I’m not tryin’ to cheat ya, young miss. The price of everything’s gone up. Taxes, too, especially on what comes imported in. It’s the best price I can give.”
She searched the man’s face and found him sincere. Using Earthsong would have confirmed his intentions, letting her feel the truth in his heart, but she didn’t bother, instead counting out the money and placing it in his hand.
“If ya have any of that magic cream of yours, ya can make some of this back, eh?” He flexed his empty hand, gnarled with arthritis.
“It’s not magic—just goat’s milk and herbs.” She fished around in her bag and dug out a jar, handing it to him and pocketing the money he gave back to her.
“Works like that magic of yours is all I know.”
“You’re not afraid of Earthsong like everyone else. Why?”
Bindeen shrugged. “I fought in the Sixth Breach. I’ve seen the power of those
witches.” Jasminda flinched at the epithet, but Bindeen didn’t notice. “I been in sandstorms in the middle of a wheat field, pelted with rocks and hail and fire. It’s a blessed mercy it can’t be used to kill directly. Even so, that Earthsong of yours . . . There’s plenty of reason to fear it. But I’ve also seen your father put a man’s bone back in its socket and heal it up good as new without ever touching him.”
He smiled and patted his hip. “This joint he fixed is the only one on me that doesn’t ache.” He sobered and looked down. “Most folks hate easy and love hard. Should be the other way around, I reckon.”
“Maybe so,” she said, placing her newest packages into her overstuffed bag. “Thank you. May She bless your dreams.”
“And yours, as well.” He bowed his head with the farewell as Jasminda left the shop.
The sun was hours away from setting, though the journey home would take her much of the night. Even leaving now she’d have to cross the steep mountain paths in the dark. When she was younger and her family would go into town to trade, they would break up the long walk by camping in a little grassy area halfway up the mountain. These days, she opted for a faster turnaround. The entire trip from door slam to door slam was almost twenty-four hours. It left her sore and tired but kept the time she spent away from home to a minimum. Had the bit of her axe not been worn to a nub, she wouldn’t have risked a trip so close to the storm at all.
The skies remained deceptively clear as she hurried along the street. Not so much as a cloud marred the blue overhead. Horses and carts rumbled down the tightly packed dirt road, just like any other day, except today, right in front of the city hall sat a sparkling, hulking automobile.
Dazzling chrome and black steel glinted in the sunlight, and a throng of townsfolk gathered around it, speaking in hushed voices. Jasminda tried not to stare. These autos were common in the cities from what she’d read, and she’d seen pictures, but way out here on the edge of nowhere, a real, live automobile had never graced the streets before. The mayor stood next to it, pride of ownership coming off him like steam.
A small boy and girl were among those stroking the metal, their mouths open in awe. A tall man had even set up a camera on a wooden tripod in the middle of the street.
“Photographs! Two pieces!” he shouted, and the crowd tittered with excitement. The two children pulled at their mother’s skirt, begging for a photograph.
Jasminda paused, her gaze glued to the family. Farmers, by the looks of them. The young mother held a baby and smiled lovingly down at her other two children. The father kept an arm around his wife protectively. They were the first to take their photo with the vehicle, and the anticipation in the air was thick as butter as the flash popped and crackled.
Jasminda had a photo of her own family at home on the mantle. It was taken at the traveling carnival that had set up a few kilometres outside of town the summer her brothers had turned six. She had been eight and witnessed the intense negotiation by her mother to get the photographer to even allow “a pair of
”—Jasminda and her father—to sit for the photo.
At the time, Jasminda had still thought of having a family of her own someday. She’d noticed the stares and whispers that followed them whenever they left their home, of course. She and Papa looked different than everyone else and could use Earthsong, while Mama and the twins looked Elsiran and had no magic. Two parents from two different lands. But the long war between Elsira and Lagrimar had still been an abstract concept back then. The hatred was something she'd learned later. She had still dreamed of meeting her fairy-tale prince who would take her away from the goats and the chickens of her valley to somewhere new and spectacular. Not until she’d become a teenager had that dream died forever and she’d accepted she would always be alone.
The children's laughter across the street brought Jasminda back to the present. They pleaded and begged for another photo as the parents corralled them away to make way for the next in line.
“Let’s hear it run,” someone said, and a chorus of agreement rang out. Jasminda pivoted to leave; though she was curious about the auto, mistrustful gazes had already turned her way. She’d made it only about a metre when an earsplitting
Several things happened at the same time. White smoke shot from the back of the vehicle into the gathered crowd. A horse tied just behind the auto reacted to the noise, rearing on its hind legs. The little girl stumbled backward, out of her father’s grip and directly into the path of the horse’s front legs as they came crashing down.
A sickening crunch of bone echoed in Jasminda’s ears. Screaming, shouting, chaos all around became a fog hovering on the edge of her senses. She kneeled down next to the child, not remembering having crossed the street. Not having made a conscious decision at all. Tears streamed down her face as she did what came naturally to her.
With a deep breath, she reached out to Earthsong. The first moments of tapping into that infinite sea of life energy were like drowning. Even the small trickle flowing through her was overwhelming. The combined life force of every living thing pulsing in her veins made her sensitive to the raging emotions around her—shock and grief, pain and sorrow. Blocking them out, she focused only on the girl, who gasped desperately for breath through a crushed rib cage, a bone piercing her lungs. Jasminda’s Song was not nearly as strong as her father’s had been—he would have been able to erase every injury, making the child as good as new—but she could ensure that the girl would survive.
Life energy flowed into Jasminda, and she focused it into the child. Though she didn’t know the names of all the internal organs, she could sense their damage and sang a spell to route the healing energy to them. She restored the lungs and stanched the flow of blood that had been leaking internally. The broken bones would have to be set, but at least the child would live long enough to have that done. She let the connection to Earthsong slip away, and she swayed on her knees, completely tapped out. It would be many hours before she would be able to use her Song again.
The fog around her mind lifted as she became aware of her surroundings. The girl lay on the ground, crying but breathing normally. Her leg stuck out at an awkward angle, but she blinked through watery eyes and called for her mama.
“What have you done, witch?” an older woman said. Dozens of faces stared at her, most in horror and fear.
Bindeen appeared beside Jasminda and helped her to stand. “Can’t you see she’s helped the child?” he said. She wobbled a bit before finding her footing, grateful for the blacksmith’s strong arm to lean on.