The Apprentice Sorceress
Book 2 in The Fairy Tales of Lyond Series
A lady does not raise her voice. A lady does not tear her gowns. A lady does not contradict a gentleman.
A lady does not practice magic.
A lady doesn’t fight back.
Lady Violette has done everything she can to be a perfect lady in waiting to the royal princess of Jerdun. She’s followed the princess halfway across the world and lived through a war. Now the princess is stranded in a foreign city as an enemy army draws near, and Violette is stranded with her.
As more refugees from the conflict pour into their city every day, tension mounts between various factions, and a strange powers begin to stir inside Violette. A magic that protects her, but also seems impossible to control. Magic is not a womanly art, after all, and if anyone should learn of Violette’s powers she could lose her standing in society, her reputation, perhaps even her place at the princess’s side.
The only one she trusts with her secret is Ned, an impish squire and fellow refugee from the war. Instead of being repulsed by her powers, Ned admires Violette. For her part, she can’t deny the attraction she feels for Ned, but he has secrets he refuses to share, a wall that he keeps up between them.
Still, Ned helps Violette finally master her powers, but even mastery has its price when an unscrupulous nobleman looks to use Violette for his own purposes. Torn between serving her princess and saving herself, Violette will have to decide how deep the bonds of loyalty run, and just how much she’s willing to sacrifice for her own happiness.
Read an Excerpt
The busy city streets of Aratum churned around Lady Violette like an ant hill that’d been stomped by some malicious child. “Busy today,” Violette remarked to her servant Yonca.
Yonca shrugged and switched their laden market basket to her other hand. She smoothed one calloused brown hand down the front of her apron, straightening the fabric over her linen skirts. “Another of the Northern colonies fell to the raiders a few days ago. The latest wave of refugees arrived at the city walls last night.”
Violette bit her lip and scanned the bustling market scene with new eyes. Her own party had dragged themselves here to Aratum more than a month ago when the great city of Anutitum had fallen. She’d thought this place crowded and chaotic then, but now the population of the city had almost tripled. The Tiochene raiders had continued their sweeping conquest, reclaiming the Northern colonies that had been their ancestors’ strongholds only a few generations ago.
With each new city captured by the Tiochene sorcerers, more and more Northern colonists and their allies were forced to flee. The city of Aratum was swiftly becoming the only safe harbor left in the South. And how much longer before the Tiochene finish their sweep of the Southern city-states and take Aratum too? And where can we go when that happens? Violette fidgeted with the folds of her own skirts, uneasiness bubbling in her gut at the thought of another hasty flight, another dangerous run through an enemy army.
Yonca touched her elbow, pulling Violette away from her dark memories and back to their errand. Yes. Violette straightened her spine. She still had the shopping to do. And another, far more important errand to complete as well.
The city of Aratum was so beautiful, with its airy, white columned villas and intricate tile mosaics decorating nearly every home and public space. Very different from the heavy stones, lead, and thatch used to build in Jerdun, Violette’s home in the north. She had seen much of Aratum as she wandered out and about doing errands for her liege lady.
She hardly liked to acknowledge this fact, but it was also easier for her to move about Aratum than it had been at home in Jerdun. In Jerdun, she’d been one of only a few dark-skinned noblewomen of her acquaintance. In Aratum, more than half the population looked like Violette: dark curling hair, dark eyes, warm brown skin. The experience was a bit like letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
Although lately nothing about living in Aratum seemed easy. Violette weaved through a particularly tight knot of people and reached back to clasp fingers with her maid so they didn’t lose each other. The latest batch of refugees seemed to have the fabric of the city stretched to the seams.
Someone jostled into Violette from behind. Yonca reached out to help her balance while Violette traced a hand against the small money pouch hidden in her own bodice. Still there. Good. She’d learned her first week in the city to be wary of cutpurses. And she’d learned the hard way too. She had no desire to repeat such an embarrassing lesson again.
But if not money, then—A spasm of alarm rippled through her chest, and she reached two fingers into her pocket. The soft leathery feel of vellum under her fingers reassured her at once. She’d rather be stripped to the skin by thieves than lose the letter in her pocket.
More and more people weaved among the booths of goods in the large, open-air courtyard where the daily market was held. The merchants in their booths seemed smugger to Violette of late, less willing to haggle. The food merchants, at any rate. The silk merchant sat glumly, watching the bustle of the crowd utterly pass his booth by. After all, who had any money for fripperies at such a time as this?
“Your friend is late,” Yonca murmured as they approached a fruit stall to pick over the wares.
Violette’s nerves twitched with an annoying mix of alarm, irritation, and resigned accomplishment. “My friend?”
“That Lyondi squire. Young Ned who’s been here to see us nearly every morning you’ve had market duty.”
“Squire Ned is an acquaintance from the road. We fled Anutitum together. That’s all.”
Yonca grinned, her eyes crinkling with friendly lines. “Of course, my lady.” She was forty or so, tall and wiry thin with dark skin, almost blue-black, and dark brown eyes with long curling lashes that Violette envied daily. Yonca kept her hair braided and wrapped with a colorful scarf so only the tight curling strands around her hairline showed.
Violette tilted her chin up, hoping to depress this pretension, but the effect was somewhat spoiled, as the fruit she’d been inspecting revealed itself to be overripe and all but exploded in her palms. “Oh bother.” Sticky juice and pulp were already dripping past her wrist. She’d look an utter disaster if that bothersome squire ever did show u—
A fluttery handkerchief appeared over Violette’s shoulder with a flash of white. “Good day, Lady Violette.”
Violette pressed her lips together and gently plucked the handkerchief out of the speaker’s hand. She turned as she did, wiping her sticky hand, and gave him a nod. “Hello, Squire Ned.”
Ned grinned back. He had a wide, moon-shaped face with close-set, pale-brown eyes and a small nubbin of a nose. He was wiry with muscles but slight for his sixteen years. Violette was a year younger than he and already topped him by an inch or two. His straight, shaggy brown hair grew a little past his ears, and he wore a beat-up brown jerkin half laced over a dirty white linen shirt. An unhandsome boy with no pretensions to fashion, and he’d only recently been promoted from page to squire. Really, it was laughable that anyone would think she could fall for one such as him.
She tapped her fingers against the letter in her pocket. Still, duty compels. If only Violette’s liege lady could have come up with some other scheme than this fake love affair to get her letters delivered to Ned’s master.
“Any other assistance I can render you, Lady Violette?” Ned asked.
“No, thank you.” She returned his sticky handkerchief to him, feeling her cheeks heat. She always felt off balance with Ned, which struck her as monstrously unfair. He was only a squire. Why should he discompose her so when she’d met kings and never faltered?
His eyes glittered with mischief. “May I walk a while with you and act as escort? The streets are crowded today.”
She raised an eyebrow at him, annoyed at how much he enjoyed this charade of theirs, their pretend love affair. But, the weight of the letter in her pocket acting as a prod, she nodded. “If it please you. That would be most chivalrous.”
He bit his cheek, keeping his grin from growing too wide, no doubt, and gave a solemn nod in return. “That’s me. Chivalry straight to the bone.”
Violette restrained an unladylike snort and let Ned fall into step beside her as they shifted away from the fruit vendor’s stall. She kept her voice quiet so her servant wouldn’t hear them. “You’re late.”
A dimple flashed in Ned’s cheek. “You missed me.”
“I have other duties to complete today.”
“Do you now? And here I thought this was the most important task your princess set you to each day.”
Cheeks burning again, Violette turned her face away from him. Insolent boy. Still, the words stung. All the time her princess’s small retinue had been trapped in this city waiting to leave, Violette had felt more and more useless to her liege lady. Violette was young, inexperienced. She could not advise her princess on matters of state, on making their coins stretch, on finding the safest routes back home.
Violette knew how to mend torn hems, style hair becomingly, how to match the dye in her dress to perfectly pick up the color of her shoes, how to choose the best wine to pair with dinner. Violette had learned everything she’d needed to know to be the lady of a manor, the wife to a nobleman. She knew nothing at all about…surviving.
Ned shifted beside her, and his fingertips ever so slightly brushed the sleeve of her gown. “I’m sorry, Lady Violette. I’m in a foul mood today.”
She tilted her chin up and refused to look at him. “Think nothing of it.”
Ned let out a long, deep sigh beside her.
“We should make the trade,” she murmured. When she realized Yonca was watching them, Violette sent Ned a flirtatious smile.
“Aye, but not here.” He gently steered her away from the main thoroughfare of the market to one of the quieter side streets, where the pricier wine merchants had their stalls.
“How clever you are,” Violette trilled, smiling warmly at him. “The princess was saying only today she wished we had a better vintage in the house for important guests.”
“I live to serve.” He made a half bow. Ned had a braced tension about him now, a stiffness to his shoulders, and he clasped the hilt of his sword in a white-knuckled grip.
Catching some of his strain whether she wanted to or not, she drew closer to his side and sped their steps up. “Ned, what’s wrong?”
“We’re being followed.”