In this third novel of the Family Spies series, set in the bestselling world of Valdemar, Heralds Mags and Amily's youngest child must follow in his parents' footsteps to protect both his family and the realm.
Thirteen year old Prince Kyril and Mags and Amily's fourteen-year-old son Tory "share" the Gift of Farsight--although neither of them are Chosen. They are self-trained, though currently, their shared Gift only allows them to see what is happening with their immediate family members.
After much debate, the Herald's Collegium has decided to test and train them anyway. That's when the surprises start. They do not share a single Gift; they have two complementary Gifts working together in a way that the Heralds have never seen before. Tory is the Farseer--Kee's Gift is to extend his range beyond a few dozen feet.
Their Gifts become crucial when Mags gets a desperate message from his cousin Bey, the head of the enigmatic assassin-tribe, the Sleepgivers. Bey's eldest daughter has been kidnapped, but he doesn't know why or by whom. He's calling in the debt Mags owes him to find his daughter before it's too late.
Tory is certain that if anyone can find her, he can. But that will mean traveling out of Valdemar into an unknown, dangerous country.
And it will mean taking a Royal Prince with him.
Release date: June 9, 2020
Print pages: 352
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Spy, Spy Again
Tory and his best friend, Prince Kyril—Kee, to him—finished their long trudge across Companion's Field and paused at the high stone wall surrounding the entire Palace complex just as the last of the sun disappeared in the west. The last rays gilded the very top of the wall and turned the Guard just above them into an odd silhouette, half in light, half in darkness. He took a breath of the balmy summer air with deep appreciation; some of the Companions began drifting their way across the lush, green field with anticipation, even though he and Kee wouldn't be doing anything until twilight had settled in. The Companions all took great interest in their nightly race. So much so that he suspected them of secretly placing bets.
I wouldn't put it past them. Though what would a Companion use as a wager? Extra apples? Pocket pies? They get everything they could ever want or need. Maybe bragging rights are enough.
Not on who would win.... it was a very off day for Tory when he didn't win. But whether or not he or Kee would finish without any penalty marks against them.
"Right, or left?" asked Kee, looking up, not at the formidable barrier of the wall but at the supple birch trees they'd be using to reach the top of it. The birches weren't nearly as old as many of the trees in the field; sadly, for all their grace and beauty, birches didn't live nearly as long as goldenoaks or beeches. But birches had one virtue that none of the other trees here had: flexibility.
The Guard glanced down at them. From where Tory stood, his amused expression was easy to read. The Guards enjoyed this nightly contest too, and even their commander encouraged their participation in it. Tory began warming up exercises, and Kee followed suit. Though.... sometimes he only pretended to warm up; there were tricks you could use when you had to move desperately fast without getting a chance to warm up first, and from time to time he needed to practice those tricks as well.
"I'll take left, I took right last time," Tory said, and he snickered as he stretched his legs. "It won't matter, you know. I'm going to beat you anyway."
"You think," Kee retorted, making a face at him. Kee was the one of the six royal siblings who looked the least like either his father or his mother; he was shorter, slender, black-haired and had eyes of a peculiar shade that looked silver. His mother often teased him, saying she was sure a Hawkbrother had slipped in and left one of their own in the cradle, taking away her "real" baby. Kee found this hilariously funny, in no small part because his minor Gift of Empathy (just enough to be useful, not so much as to be a bother) always let him know she was just joking.
"Care to make a bet of it?" Tory challenged.
Kee shook his head. "You'd cheat."
Tory just snorted. Of all of his siblings, he was by far and away the most agile, and that was saying something. He'd been climbing and swinging on things since he was old enough to walk. Fortunately, by that time his mother had become used to seeing her children swarm over high places like tree-hares and took it all in stride. He'd been taking lessons from professional acrobats since he was nine. There was not one single structure on the Hill that he hadn't been to the top of multiple times—ideally without the owners even having a clue that he'd been there. Kee knew about some of that, but not all of it. Tory knew that there were things you just didn't talk about in his family, and whose manor house you'd been atop of—or inside—without the owner's knowledge or permission was one of those things you didn't talk about, even to your best friend. "Plausible deniability" was a way to keep those friends from getting into trouble. If there was one thing that Herald Mags' children could do, it was keep secrets.
Especially harmless ones. It didn't do Kee any harm to be blissfully ignorant of at least half of what Tory had done in his life. It also didn't do Kee any harm to think he could beat Tory on their nightly run around the walls, and the illusion that he had a chance would keep him trying.
It's about close to time. The sun should be well down by now. Up on the wall, the Guard bent over for a few moments, then straightened with a now-lit torch in one hand.
Tory was very much in favor of keeping his friend on his toes by encouraging this rivalry every night. He, at least, had some notion of what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He'd be his father Mags' agent, just as his older brother and sister were—though his sister Abi had an entirely separate career as a Master Artificer and Architect. Mags was in charge of the King's intelligence network, as his father-in-law had been before him, and being a Herald was no hindrance to that. In fact, it was an advantage, since people saw the white uniform and assumed, without ever bothering to think about it, that absolutely everything a Herald did was going to be above board and out in the open. That assumption made Mags a very good spy indeed, even when he wasn't in disguise. Mags was assumed to be the forgettable Herald-husband to the King's Own, "good old reliable Mags," former Kirball champion, plodding to and from his duties at the courts down in Haven. He was considered a minor Herald, useful mostly because he had the most powerful Gift of Mindspeech in Haven as well as the ability to impose coercive Truth Spell on command. And, of course, because he was the husband of the King's Own Herald. Very few people had any idea he was a lot more intelligent than he looked. Even fewer had a notion of a tenth of what he did for King and country. Tory had been brought up from the beginning—as had Abi and Perry—knowing that at the very least, he was expected to be able to defend himself, help his parents, and, above all, never, ever become a victim or a hostage. As Mags himself had once grumbled, "Me'n Amily did quite 'nuff uv thet on our own."
But Kee was not-quite-middlemost in the family of six Royal children. His oldest brother was first in line for the Crown, and a Herald. His second brother was second in line for the Crown, and a Herald. His older sister was third in line for the Crown, and a Herald. So the succession for the Crown was secure, barring an utter catastrophe wiping out the entire Royal Family, and if that happened, there would be a lot more to worry about than who was going to wear the Royal chunk of gold on his or her head. But Kee had not been Chosen.... and so far nobody had found anything for him to do. So Tory had taken it upon himself to give his friend all the challenges he could handle.
Like egging him into taking every single course at all the Collegia that wasn't directly associated with being a Herald. And mastering every weapon the Weaponsmaster could shove into their hands. And, of course, his own little inventions, like this one.
Now the only light in Companion's Field came from that torch the Guard had in his hand. "You ready?" the man called down to them.
"Count us down!" Kee called back.
The Guard moved close to the big iron torch-basket that would illuminate the ground around this section of the wall. "Ready," he said, moving his torch close to the oil-soaked wood. "Steady. Go!"
And as he touched the fire to the basket, sending a column of flame up that all the Guards on the wall would be able to see, Kee and Tory raced up the two birch trees they had chosen for themselves. Reaching the tops within a breath of each other, they let go with their legs and bent the supple trunks down until their feet almost touched the top of the wall, let go of the branches, and hit the walkway running, going in opposite directions.
This wasn't just a race. That signal light had told the other Guards that the boys were coming. It was the Guards' job to try to stop them or, at least, tag them. And Tory's first opponent loomed right up ahead of him, a black silhouette against the light from his own ward-basket.
Ha. He's new to this. The Guard had made the fundamental mistake of thinking that because he was big, he'd be able to stop Tory just by blocking him. Tory allowed him to go right on thinking that—until the very last moment, as he leaped up onto the battlement on the outer face of the wall and, leaping from merlon to merlon on the crenellated battlement, raced past him.
He jumped down, not losing much speed in the process, faked to the right, then the left, and then, when the next Guard made a lunge for where the man thought Tory would be, he made a diving roll past, jumped to his feet, and was gone before the man could lay a fingertip on him.
As he ran, dodged, evaded, and, at one point, leaped over one of the Guards, he kept an eye on the other wall. And as he had more or less expected, twice one of the great basket-torches flared green. The Guards at those stations had tossed in a handful of copper salts to indicate that Kee had been "tagged."
One more Guard. The man lunged at the same time that Tory jumped—he planted one foot on the top of the man's helm and shoved him facedown into the walkway as he himself kept right on going.
Fortunately the Guard's helm kept him from injury, but—that had to sting.
He grinned and hurled himself from the top of the wall to the ground beneath. His feet barely touched the grounds of Healers' Collegium as he tucked and rolled, somersaulting twice, propelling himself back up onto his feet and into a run, heading for the wall of the building of the Collegium itself. This was a tricky part—not because he didn't know every handhold on the wall by heart, but because he had to make sure no one inside heard him scrambling up. He had to make no more sound than an errant branch tapping on the stone, or perhaps a small, nocturnal animal scrambling across it. A roof rat, maybe.
He reached the roof not even winded. This part was easy; the slates were dry and clean, and the rough rawhide soles of his climbing boots gave him plenty of grip. His goal was in sight—the top of the tallest tower of the Palace—which, providentially, was a square tower with another battlement around the flat top and access via a panel in the floor to the inside of the tower itself. That easy access to the inside was going to be very handy when he got there, because at this point, despite being in excellent shape, his sides had started to ache, and his breath burned a little in his throat and lungs. As it always did on this part of the run. Being in good shape could buy you only so much, and it wasn't the ability to sprint at your top speed indefinitely.
Which is so unfair. Companions can. Why can't humans?
He reached the Palace and the battlements on the roof. The Palace itself was four stories tall; it had four towers that reached an additional three stories high, one on each corner and a fifth, square one in the middle of the front that reached five. That middle one was his goal, but he had to elude the Guards on the battlements first.
It'd be a lot easier if I could kill them, he thought, wryly.
But the battlements here had the slanting slate roof of the Palace itself behind them, and he was able to slither his way past the Guard on the roof side without the Guard spotting him until it was too late, and he was past. Now was the most harrowing part of the run: the lizard-climb up to the top of the tower. Well, harrowing for someone who didn't do this every night it wasn't raining or snowing—and some nights when it was. Whoever had built this thing certainly hadn't done so with people like him in mind.
Then again, if the Guards had been allowed to shoot him, he'd be a pincushion by now.
It would be fairer to them to give them chalk-bags they could shoot at me with a sling. Do I want to be fairer and mention that?
With his breath rasping in his lungs and his fingers and toes on fire with the strain, he hauled himself over the battlements at the top of the tower and tumbled to the feet of the amused Guard there. And no more than two breaths later, Kee did the same. "Gods damn it!" Kee rasped, pushing himself up into a sitting position, while Tory just sprawled over the wooden floor. "You beat me again!"
"Even—if I hadn't—" Tory gasped, trying not to laugh, "You got—tagged twice."
Kee swore. "So I did. Damnit."
The Guard gave both of them a sketchy salute and went back to his proper business of being on watch.
When they had gotten their breath back, Tory pulled the handle on the trap door at the rear of the tower, and they both clambered down a wooden ladder to the next floor down, which was actually a big iron grate strong enough to take the weight of several armed men. Tory went first, and Kee followed, closing the trap behind himself.
Now they were in a very familiar little room with several narrow windows on each of the four sides. The windows had been arrow slits, originally, though now the entire structure acted as a windcatcher, cooling the rooms of the Palace below it during the worst of the summer months. That was why the floor of this room was an iron grate instead of a solid floor, and their hair blew almost straight up to a comical effect. But that effect was exactly what they both needed right now, given that they were both sweating like a couple of racehorses.
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