Home > Daja's Book (Circle of Magic #3)

Daja's Book (Circle of Magic #3)
Tamora Pierce

1

Sunset blazed above Gold Ridge Valley in north Emelan, throwing shadows over a company of mounted riders. At the head of their train a banner-man carried the personal flag of Duke Vedris IV, ruler of Emelan. The duke himself rode behind the flag, surrounded and followed by his staff, guards, and friends. Smoke drifted through the air in veils, stinging everyone’s eyes. They had been riding through it for two days, watching it stretch over pastures and fields. Now at last, as the company entered the forests that filled the northern half of the valley, they began to rise above the thick air.

At the very rear of their column rode three girls and a boy all mounted on sturdy ponies. When one of the adults, a woman in a dark green habit, stopped and dismounted from her horse, they also drew their ponies to a halt and watched her. She climbed out of the sunken road and walked several yards under the ancient trees. A big dog with curly white fur who trotted beside the four detached himself from their group and followed.

“Little Bear!” called Daja Kisubo, a tall, broad-shouldered black girl. “Let Rosethorn alone. Come back here.”

The dog Little Bear obeyed. When he reached the closest rider—Daja’s plump, redheaded friend Tris—he sat, stirring the road’s dust with his plumed tail.

“Rosethorn?” asked Briar, the boy. “Is everything all right?”

“Just stay put,” ordered Rosethorn. She picked up a sturdy branch and began to dig in the heavy litter of tree leaves and decaying wood underfoot. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Briar muttered to the girls out of the corner of his mouth. “I asked if everything was all right.”

Daja turned her mount. From this small rise she could look through a gap in the trees.

“Daja? Are you all right?” The voice belonged to the third girl in their party, Sandry. Everything about her, from her pony to her clothes, spoke of wealth that the other three young people did not have. When she turned her mount to see what had caught Daja’s eye, Briar and Tris did the same.

In the distance, where ridges of open pasture faded into the base of the southern and western mountains, long bands of sullen orange fire shone. Daja shook her head, making her eleven short braids flap. “It’s like something from a nightmare,” she replied. “It looks like what the Traders call pijule fakol.”

Sandry shivered and drew the gods-circle on her chest for protection. She knew Trader beliefs. “The afterlife for those who don’t pay their debts,” she muttered.

Little Bear rose to his hind legs, planting his forepaws against Tris’s saddle. She leaned over to scratch his ears, her brass-rimmed spectacles glinting in the late afternoon sun. “That’s the nice thing about believing in the Living Circle,” she remarked. “No bad afterlifes. We just get reborn.”

Briar squinted, his gray-green eyes wary. “Those fires reach for miles. And there’s nothing to stop them from burning. This whole country’s dry as tinder.”

Rosethorn thrust a clump of tree-litter into a pocket, then returned to her mount. Once she was in the saddle, she beckoned to a local man who rode with the duke’s party. “How long has it been since you people last had a forest fire?”

The man chuckled. “Bless you, Dedicate Rosethorn, there’s not been what I’d call a real forest fire in this valley since—oh, since my dad was a pup. Our mage, him they call Firetamer, he tends to all our fires.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” murmured Rosethorn, an earth dedicate of the Living Circle temples. “Come on, you four—we’re being left behind.”

Sandry urged her pony forward. Tris, Briar, and Little Bear fell in beside her.

Daja stayed where she was for a moment, her troubled dark eyes still on the blazes. How could anything as wonderful as fire look so menacing? she wondered. She worked with it every day; it was her friend. What if one day it turned against her as it had against Gold Ridge’s fields?

“Stay in pijule fakol, where you belong,” Daja Kisubo muttered to the distant flames. Clucking to her pony, she rode to catch up with her friends.

The next day Daja entered a small local smithy, loaded down with tools. She dropped everything beside the rough anvil, then realized that the staff she always carried had fallen to the ground as well. Swiftly she grabbed it from the pile, dusting its polished wood. She rested the staff against the wall near the hearth, stopping for a moment to run her fingers over its mirror-bright, unmarked brass cap. That bit of metalwork told those who knew how to read Trader staffs that she was trangshi, an outcast, with the worst luck in the world.

She turned her back on it and surveyed the cramped and dirty smithy. I wish I were home, she thought, eyeing the forge.

Home was the temple city of Winding Circle, where her master had a proper clean, well-lit forge. This dismal place was the twelfth smithy that she’d had to work in since the duke’s train began its journey. She was alone; the smith—who was also the village headman—was talking with the duke about what was needed to help this tiny valley survive the winter.

The smith’s absence, at least, was a good thing. Even his apprentice was gone, visiting a sick mother. She hated working in front of strangers. She was also tired of back country craftsmen who told her and her teacher Frostpine that they had things soft in Winding Circle. As if we did no real work of our own, she thought, inspecting the stone forge. Here was a pleasant surprise: the smith’s apprentice must have cleaned out the nest-shaped firepit and laid kindling for a new fire. He’d left her that much less work.

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