Drinn is not a safe place to be a witch. Ranira knows that better than most, for when she was just a child, the temple guards burned her parents at the stake for practicing magic. Now an indentured servant for a brutal innkeeper, she lives every day with the shame of her parents’ alleged crime. There is no worse time to visit Drinn than during the Midwinter Festival, when the city gates are sealed so that no outsider can witness the temple’s secret rituals. And at Ranira’s inn, three guests have overstayed their welcome. Attempting to protect Ranira from her master’s cruelty, the three reveal their magical powers and attract the attention of the temple guards. Now, to save her new friends from certain death, Ranira must unleash the power that cost her parents their lives.
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Daughter of Witches
A Lyra Novel
By Patricia C. Wrede
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Patricia C. Wrede
All rights reserved.
The sun was already high in the sky as Ranira hurried across the bridge toward the Temple of Chaldon, cursing the innkeeper Lykken to whom she was bonded. Bond servants were only entitled to half a day of free time every three weeks, but Lykken resented giving her even that much, and did his best to avoid it whenever he could. It was just like him to send her on a long errand just before her half-holiday! She would be lucky to have an hour to herself by the time she finished at the Temple.
Muttering behind the veil that covered her face from the eyes down, Ranira wove expertly through the narrow, crowded streets of Drinn. Why did the fat fool have to wait until the day before Festival to make this week's offering? It was going to take her twice as long as usual. And all because Lykken couldn't bear to part with a copper until he was forced into it.
At last she reached the heavy, wrought-iron gates of the Temple courtyard. Eyes lowered, she waited her turn to step up to the two armored Watchmen at the gate. Then she bowed her head and said ritually, "I come to the great Temple to give thanks and offerings from the Inn of Nine Doors and to receive humbly the words of the god."
"Enter-for-what-the-god-gives," the guard responded in a bored monotone. Ranira bowed again and passed through the gate. Inside the courtyard, the crowd was thinner, and she quickened her step. She hated the gloom of the Temple and spent as little time there as she could without arousing suspicion. Still, some attendance in addition to the many rituals was a good idea; she had no wish to be accused of heresy or witchcraft.
Her first stop was the offering booth, halfway around the courtyard. The line was long; Lykken was not the only one in Drinn who paid the required offerings at the last possible moment. After twenty minutes of standing, her feet began to ache, and she shifted her weight unobtrusively from one foot to the other to ease her muscles. The only noticeable result was a disapproving stare from one of the Templemen. When Ranira realized that she had been seen, she abandoned her efforts and concentrated on an appropriately pious demeanor instead. The guard turned in another direction, and Ranira breathed an inward sigh of relief.
After another half hour of waiting, she reached the dour priest who had charge of the large iron coin box and the black ledger in which the offering was recorded. Ranira handed him the bag of copper and silver pieces that represented one out of every five earned by the Inn of Nine Doors. The priest raised an eyebrow when he saw the iron bracelets that marked Ranira as a bondwoman, but he made no comment as he noted the offering and made out a receipt. When he handed the paper to her, she bowed with careful respect.
As she turned away from the offering booth, Ranira sighed. Half the business was done, but nearly an hour and a half of her precious afternoon was gone as well. She turned toward the booth where the business of the Midwinter Festival was being conducted, and shuddered. The line there was twice the length of the one she had just gone through. Muttering curses once more, she made her way across the courtyard to the end of the line.
At least Lykken won't like the results of this part any better than I do, she thought. The Temple required all merchants and innkeepers in the city to provide a certain amount of free food and drink for the pilgrims to the Midwinter Festival. Theoretically, this was to furnish a place for the poorer folk from outside the city, but in truth, most of the free goods went to friends of Temple personnel. Ranira hoped vindictively that Lykken's list of required services would be a long one.
She finished her business with the priests an hour and a half later. With a sigh of relief, she turned toward the gates once more. If she hurried, she could reach the inn in time to deliver the list and still get a little of her time off. Once she was free to do as she pleased, Ranira vowed silently, she wouldn't go back until midnight, even if it meant a beating. It would serve Lykken right if he had to clean the kitchen himself!
As she walked toward the gate, she noticed one of the priests staring in her direction. He was older than most of the others, and the graying of his black hair around his temples lent an air of intensity to the angular planes of his face. Ranira shivered and ducked her head quickly, hoping she had not accidentally broken one of the many Temple rules. No guard accosted her, however, and she reached the street without incident.
The crowded streets were difficult to negotiate with any speed. The pilgrims, come to Drinn for the Midwinter Festival of Chaldon, were depressingly alike in their black and brown robes. Occasionally Ranira saw the bright flash of a Trader's cloak among the drab gowns, but such glimpses were few. No one from outside the Empire of Chaldreth was allowed within the walls of Drinn during the seven days of the Midwinter Festival, and most of the visitors had already left the city. The few foreigners that remained would be gone by evening.
The main bridge across the river Annylith was even more crowded than the streets, though it was more than three times as wide. Ranira frowned. For a moment she was tempted to try one of the smaller bridges, but walking down to another bridge would take almost as much time as waiting at this one. Resignedly, she joined the crowd inching its way across the river.
By the time she reached the inn, it was late afternoon. She found Lykken in the large room that served as meeting place and dining hall for the inn's patrons. She stood waiting until he noticed her and came puffing over. "And where have you been so long?" he demanded as soon as he was within earshot. "With Festival tomorrow there's work to be done! Let's see the receipt; you'd rob me to ruin if you could."
Silently, Ranira handed him the first of the papers she had collected at the Temple. Lykken stared at it, screwing up his face as if to express the mental effort involved in extracting meaning from the small black marks on the page. At last he nodded reluctantly over the receipt, and without waiting to be asked, Ranira handed him the second list.
"Ah, they will ruin me!" he said after another minute's concentration. "Three rooms, and food and drink for ten people. It is not possible!"
Ranira grinned maliciously to herself, carefully keeping her eyes lowered so that Lykken would not guess the satisfaction she hid behind her veil. The Temple requirements would not ruin the fat innkeeper by any means, but they would put a substantial dent in one of the man's dearest possessions: his pocketbook.
"Well, don't just stand there," Lykken said, looking up. "Get to work! I didn't buy you to loaf, and you still have two years before your bond is paid. Don't start acting as though it's canceled already."
"It is the day of my half-holiday," Ranira reminded him.
Lykken paused. "Yes, and it was not well done of you to take it before you brought the receipts back to me," he said after a moment. "Someone might have stolen them! Still, I am generous; I will not report it this time."
"I have had no holiday," Ranira said, trying hard to keep her temper in check. "I am asking now only for what is my right."
The innkeeper's eyes narrowed. "All this time on one small errand?" he asked in mock disbelief. "No, you must be mistaken! Now, go on with your work! You have wasted enough time."
"My half-holiday is today," she repeated stubbornly.
"A lazy bondwoman has no right to a holiday if her work time is not used well. Be off; there are fires to lay before the guests turn for the night!"
"I work harder than you do, you fat idiot!" Ranira shouted. "You sent me to the Temple on purpose, to cheat me of my time. Well, I won't be cheated! You have no right!"
The innkeeper's face turned purple. "I am your bond-holder, and I have the rights I choose!" he shouted. "Learn your place, girl!"
Though she was more than half expecting it, Ranira did not quite manage to duck the heavy hand that swung in her direction, and she was knocked backward into one of the tables. Thrown off balance by the collision, she was unable to avoid the second blow, and she fell to the floor. Winded and dazed, she was hard put to protect her head from the continued pounding.
A cool voice broke through the haze of pain that surrounded her. "Innkeeper Lykken? If we may interrupt?"
As suddenly as it had begun, the beating stopped. After a moment, Ranira shook her head experimentally. Nothing rattled, so she looked up.
A tall, blond man dressed entirely in green leather stood near the entrance of the room. Beside him was a woman with black hair and gray eyes, wrapped in a fine wool cape of pale blue-gray. The short veil she wore identified her as one of the female visitors from outside the Empire of Chaldreth. Her presence was surprising; foreigners rarely patronized the Inn of Nine Doors.
Lykken was hurrying toward them, all interest in Ranira gone. "Gracious sir, gentle madam, what service may I give you?"
To Ranira's surprise, it was the woman who answered. "One of my escort has fallen ill. I wish to rent a room where he can rest for a few hours before we must leave the city."
"So close to the Midwinter Festival there are few rooms," Lykken lied. "But perhaps we can find something that will be suitable." He turned and scowled at his bond servant. "Get up, girl! The gentlefolk will have the red room, at the rear, where it is quiet."
Ranira climbed to her feet and began hastily straightening her veil. As she did so, she saw a strange look pass between the two foreigners. "I think something upstairs would be better," the man said. "The corner room, perhaps, where the windows can catch the breeze."
"There are but three of you?" Lykken said, allowing a note of doubt to creep into his voice. "The room is large for so few, and with the Festival pilgrims already crowding the city ..."
The blond man shrugged. "Our gold is as yellow as any other, and we only plan to be here for an hour or two. Still, a little extra might be appropriate for your trouble." He named a sum nearly twice the worth of the room for a whole night.
Lykken nodded numbly, and motioned to the two to follow him. The woman stepped forward, while her companion disappeared through the open doorway, returning with a slender youth who moaned in spite of the slow, careful pace the blond man set. Ranira watched in fascination as they climbed the steps behind Lykken. Before she could decide whether to follow the fascinating foreigners or to disappear while she had the chance, Lykken's head reappeared at the top of the stairs. "Water and clean cloths for the gentlefolk. Bring a firebox as well," he hissed. "And don't be slow about it!"
Ranira turned slowly toward the kitchen. There was no chance of getting any part of her holiday now, but she found herself more interested in the strangers than in brooding. Ranira had always been fascinated by tales of the world outside the Empire of Chaldreth, but a bond servant had few opportunities to indulge such unprofitable and doctrinally suspect interests. She would enjoy serving the foreigners while they remained in Drinn, and if they proved generous enough to put Lykken in a good mood, she might even get back a little free time during the Festival.
Unreasonably cheered by these reflections, Ranira grabbed a water bucket from its place beside the door and stepped out into the alley behind the inn. The first of the big water jars was nearly empty, and she frowned as she replaced the heavy lid. Though there were five jars standing against the back wall of the inn, Lykken paid the water carters to fill only three regularly. If the first was empty, the inn might well run short of water before the carters made their next rounds in the morning. With a shrug, Ranira dismissed the problem; if Lykken wanted to save coppers by shorting the water supply, he, not she, would have to deal with the angry patrons.
Picking up the bucket, she stepped toward the second jar and reached for the lid, wincing as she stretched recently beaten muscles. Just as she lifted the cover, she heard a whisper behind her.
Ranira whirled and almost dropped the lid. "Shandy! Don't sneak up on me like that. If I break one of these lids Lykken will have the cost added to my bond, and two more years is enough to be stuck here."
A small, dirty figure materialized out of an impossibly tiny space between two walls. "Ah, Renra, I just wanted to be sure he wasn't around. Get anything good on your free day?"
"I didn't have one," Ranira said with renewed bitterness as she reached for her water bucket. "Lykken sent me to the Temple with the week's offering just before noon, and with the Festival crowd and everything, I didn't get back until a little while ago."
"He musta been in a real mood," Shandy said, eyeing Ranira critically. "Another day or two, and you should have some real good bruises."
"I wouldn't call them good," Ranira snapped. "And I haven't got time to stand talking today; there are some foreigners that Lykken wants to settle in, and he'll come looking for me if I'm not back soon."
The urchin's eyes widened. "Outsiders? But Festival starts tomorrow."
"One got sick, and they wanted him to rest for a while. Lykken is going to take every copper he can wring out of them before they leave, too."
Shandy still looked worried. "But, Renra, if they don't leave and the Temple finds out, you know what will happen. You could get in real trouble!"
Ranira pressed her lips together tightly for a moment before she replied. "I know. But that's Lykken's problem, not mine. I'm only his bondwoman."
"Yeah, but your parents got burned for witchcraft," Shandy reminded her unnecessarily. "The Templemen are always meaner to people with witches around."
"My parents weren't witches!" Ranira said angrily. "And neither am I. The Templemen had no proof, only suspicion. You don't have to remind me what they can do. Chaldon's curse on the lot of them!"
"Renra!" Shandy looked around in horror, as if he expected a Watchman or an Eye of Chaldon to materialize and arrest her at once. "You can't curse the Temple!"
Ranira laughed bitterly. "No, because it is cursed already." She saw that Shandy was getting more upset, and she forced a smile. "Don't worry. I don't say such things to anyone except you."
"When you get mad, you would," Shandy insisted. "You be careful, Renra."
The boy's solemn advice was too much for Ranira; she broke out laughing, and the lingering traces of her black mood vanished. "I can take care of myself, Shandy. You just make sure that none of the Watchmen catch you sneaking food out of the farmers' stalls, or you'll be the one in trouble."
"Ah, them!" Shandy said scornfully. "They're too fat to catch me!"
"Well, I don't think I'll be able to bring you anything from the kitchen today," she said, lifting the brimming bucket onto her hip. "When Lykken has special guests, he watches everything so closely that a fly couldn't sneak off with anything. You'll have to steal your own dinner today." Shandy nodded, and as Ranira reached for the door, the urchin vanished again into his own mysterious byways.CHAPTER 2
Lykken was already in the kitchen, shouting orders at the cook, when Ranira entered. The innkeeper paused for a moment in his tirade and jerked a thumb at her. "Upstairs! And don't forget the cloths! And be sure the fire is well lit before you return!"
Ranira nodded and proceeded through the kitchen as rapidly as she could without spilling water from the bucket she carried. Near the far door she stopped and lowered her burden to the floor. Reaching up, she grasped one of the large pitchers that hung beside the door. She was just about to fill it when Lykken came hurrying over.
"No, no, not that one! It's cracked; see, there! Find a good one, you lazy slattern, or you'll get the beating you deserve!"
Once more Ranira fought down anger. There were no good pitchers; Lykken refused to purchase new ones so long as those he had could hold water. Silently, she replaced the offending crockery and after a short search, found one which was cracked near the handle, where it was less obvious. The innkeeper gave a cursory nod when Ranira offered him the jug to inspect, and then turned back to the cook.
Excerpted from Daughter of Witches by Patricia C. Wrede. Copyright © 1983 Patricia C. Wrede. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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