Magic has been banished in the land of Syhl Shallow for as long as best friends Jax and Callyn can remember. They once loved the stories of the powerful magesmiths and mythical scravers who could conjure fire or control ice, but now they’ve learned that magic only leads to danger: magic is what killed Callyn’s parents, leaving her alone to raise her younger sister. Magic never helped Jax, whose leg was crushed in an accident that his father has been punishing him for ever since. Magic won’t save either of them when the tax collector comes calling, threatening to take their homes if they can’t pay what they owe.
Meanwhile, Jax and Callyn are astonished to learn magic has already returned to Syhl Shallow—in the form of a magesmith who’s now married to their queen. Now, the people of Syhl Shallow are expected to allow dangerous magic in their midst, and no one is happy about it.
When a stranger rides into town offering Jax and Callyn silver in exchange for holding secret messages for an anti-magic faction, the choice is obvious—even if it means they may be aiding in a plot to destroy their new king. It’s a risk they’re both willing to take. That is, until another visitor arrives: handsome Lord Tycho, the King’s Courier, the man who’s been tasked with discovering who’s conspiring against the throne.
Suddenly, Jax and Callyn find themselves embroiled in a world of shifting alliances, dangerous flirtations, and ancient magic… where even the deepest loyalties will be tested.
No matter how many times I make the journey from Ironrose Castle in Emberfall to the Crystal Palace in Syhl Shallow, the sight of the guard station in the mountain pass always makes my heart skip. It means I’m only a few hours from home. The sun beats down, stealing some of the chill from the air, melting the snow that must have fallen overnight. It’s turned the road to a slushy mess, but my mare has always been sure-footed, and today is no different.
I can—and do—make this ride in an easy four days, but this time it feels interminable. I’ve been at Ironrose Castle for six weeks, and I’m not usually gone so long. I miss home. My saddlebags are packed with gifts from Prince Rhen and Princess Harper, trinkets and toys and jewels intended for the royal family in Syhl Shallow, the public reason for my journey.
Tucked safely behind the breastplate of my armor is the real reason: a folded packet of reports from the Grand Marshals in Emberfall, detailing the movements of the Truthbringer faction and the warnings of violence.
They’ve spread more deeply into Emberfall than Grey suspected.
King Grey. Even now, it’s hard to reconcile. When we first met four years ago, we worked side by side as stable hands. I was fifteen and he was twenty—and he was hiding from his birthright as the true heir to the throne. Instead of ruling a country, he was shoveling manure and teaching me to hold a sword.
Now he doesn’t hide from anyone, but his position as king and the magic in his blood makes him a target. When rebels forced their way into the Crystal Palace, they killed guards and soldiers in their efforts to get to the royal family. It was too sudden, too overwhelming. The king was forced to unleash his magic, and it led to a lot of deaths on all sides.
Both countries are said to be united, but that doesn’t mean the people feel that way.
A horn sounds through the valley, indicating I’ve been spotted by the guard station. At the upper level, one of the guards stands in the turret, looking down at me through a spyglass. There are longbow archers up there, too, but they’re well hidden. I sit down in the saddle, drawing Mercy to a slow trot, then put two fingers between my teeth and whistle my pattern to them. The mare jerks at the reins, as eager as I am, prancing sideways as I wait for the guards to wave me through.
I rub a hand under her black mane and she settles, champing at the bit.
“Me too,” I murmur to her.
“King’s Courier!” the guard shouts in Syssalah, and they begin to roll the gates. It’s not my first language, but like the guard station, hearing it is a reminder that I’m almost home.
Another man joins the first on the turret, and I recognize him. Captain Sen Domo. I lift a hand to wave.
“Tycho!” he calls. “We were starting to wonder if you were coming back.”
“I missed you too, Captain,” I call. Mercy paws at the ground.
He grins. “Do you need an escort?”
They’re required to ask every time. I’ve only accepted once, about five months ago, not long after the Uprising. A man tracked me all the way to the border and tried to cut my hands off in the middle of the night. I’m not a magesmith like the king, but I wear rings of Iishellasan steel—metal that’s infused with magical properties. They were gifts from Grey to afford me some protection when I carry messages between countries. I was able to fight the thief off and get away, but he got closer than anyone else ever had.
Today, I just want to get home. I shake my head. “I know the way.”
He smiles and nods and waves me through. I slip the rein and cluck my tongue and Mercy takes off, flattening into a gallop.
“Not too fast,” I murmur under the wind, and she flicks an ear in my direction. The mud is thicker here, still half frozen in spots, and I don’t need Mercy to take a wrong step. I don’t want to be careless when we’re this close to home—but still hours away. This guard station is more remote, blocking one of the lesser-used passages into Syhl Shallow, because I like to stay off the beaten path.
I twitch the reins, but Mercy tugs right back and gallops on.
I smile. “All right. Another few minutes.” Her stride eats up the miles, until the tree covering thickens, the road narrowing. The snow hasn’t fully melted here, along the path where the leaves keep the ground in shadow. Branches begin to whip at my arms.
Now I really do draw back on the reins. Mercy is blowing hard, but she slows to a canter, then a reluctant trot. In hand, she’s as docile as a children’s pony, but when I’m on her back, she always seems to have a lot of opinions. Anyone else might find her exhausting, but it gives me something to focus on when I make the long journey between kingdom and queendom. I found Mercy at the bidders’ market two years ago, and Nolla Verin, the queen’s sister, burst out laughing when I made a bid. The mare was razor thin, covered in welts, and lame in two hooves.
“You’ll have to put that one out of its misery,” Nolla Verin told me. “I thought Grey said you have a good eye for horses.”
“I do,” I said.
I’ve never regretted it for a second.
“Whoa,” I say softly as Mercy stomps through the mud. “If you’re not careful, you’re going to throw—”
Steel plinks against a rock, Mercy stumbles, and I sigh. Silver hell.
“A shoe,” I finish.
I split an apple with Mercy while we walk. It’s the last of the food I had in my pack, which wasn’t a bother when I thought I’d be eating a hot dinner in the palace.
We’ve been walking for an hour though, with no sign of… anyone. There are a few small towns out this way, like Hightree and Briarlock, but I’m not familiar with them. Usually at this point in my journey, I’m galloping through, eager to get home.
Clouds have rolled in overhead, and snow flurries trickle down through the trees. Mercy blows a long breath out in a snort.
“This is your own fault,” I say. “I have no idea where we’re going to find a blacksmith.” I bite a piece off the apple and feed her the rest.
Now that I’m not on her back, she plods along beside me like a loyal hound, the end of her reins looped around my wrist. The woods here are dense and thick with shadows, so I’ve unbound my quiver and bow from the saddle to string across my back. A sword and dagger hang from my belt, but I’d rather handle thieves from a distance if I have the option.
If I don’t find a blacksmith soon, I’ll need the bow to catch myself some dinner.
I sigh as loudly as Mercy. Despite the darkening cloud cover, I can tell the sun is still high overhead. It must be midafternoon by now. If I get desperate I’ll pull the other shoe and try to ride lightly back to the palace. What I carry is too important to risk sleeping in the woods overnight.
I rub behind her ears, her brown fur soft under my fingers. “We’ll give it one more hour. Deal?”
She leans into my hand. Answer enough, I suppose.
The snow begins to pick up, and I draw up the hood of my cloak. Maybe half an hour.
Somewhere off to my left, a branch snaps, and I whip my head around, a hand going automatically to my bow. The snow doesn’t allow me to see too far into the woods, so I nock an arrow and wait for motion.
Nothing is there—but I feel something. I turn slowly, my eyes watching for a threat. I feel for the power in my rings. One allows for seeking, a kind of magic that’s useful if I need to find food or water. Just now, I send power into the ground, seeking another person.
Before it gets far, Mercy jerks her head up and utters a low whicker. That means she hears another horse.
Then an arrow snaps into a tree to my left.
Another follows right behind it, so close that it brushes my arm.
Silver hell. I turn automatically and loose the arrow, following quickly with another. My magic snaps back to me.
Three people. Maybe four.
Two more arrows strike the tree behind me. I need to get off the ground.
I hook the bow over my shoulder, grab hold of her mane, and swing into the saddle. My hands find the reins without thought, and Mercy leaps into a gallop as soon as my heels brush her sides. I wince, hoping the ground is soft enough that it won’t tear up her foot too much. We fly through the trees, the snow blurring the landscape as we run.
I wait for the sounds of pursuit, allowing her to gallop for a few minutes before slowing to a walk, and this time, she’s perfectly obedient, as if she senses that the stakes are higher. I listen hard, studying the swiftly falling snow that surrounds us. I send magic into the ground again, stretching power as far as I can before it snaps back to me.
I sense nothing.
I give Mercy a looser rein and let her walk, but I stay on her back this time.
It has to be simple thieves. No one knows I’m here. I’ve been gone from Syhl Shallow for over a month.
I still can’t shake the feel of danger in the pit of my stomach.
Mercy stretches out her neck, tossing snowflakes to the ground, and we come to a crossroads bearing a sign, which is brilliant news because it means we’ve finally neared a town. Food for me, a new shoe for Mercy, and hopefully a reprieve from the tension that seems to have leapt onto my back.
I let out a long breath and turn for Briarlock.
Excerpted from Forging Silver Into Stars, copyright © 2022 by Brigid Kemmerer.
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