There are now just 25 days until Fire in the Blood comes out. (Are you excited? I’m excited. Although I’m also getting to feel impatient.) Just like with The Adversary, i’m pleased to present to you a series of excerpts to get you ready for the big show. This time, instead of introducing you to the characters, I’m going to introduce you to what’s happening.
Starting with the Palace, Princess Raedra of Cormyr, and my favorite tiefling.
If you’ve read the sample chapter up at wizards.com, you’ve gotten a glimpse of Raedra already, through Brin’s eyes. This is the woman he proposed to in Havilar’s absence, seeking to forestall terrible, political things. Here, she meets Farideh, who’s just done her an enormous good turn.
At last Devora stopped and opened a door in another wall, the carving of a rampant owlbear over it illuminated by the light of her globe. Ilstan nudged Farideh through the passage and into a small sitting room beyond. There were no windows to it, but a fire had been built up in the hearth, and small silver globes hung from the walls.
“Sit,” Ilstan said, gesturing at the padded furniture. “Would you care for a small drink?”
“No,” Farideh said, still standing. She looked up at the painting hanging over the fireplace, an elaborate portrait of two women standing on either side of a sleeping lion—one dark-haired and holding a sheaf of grain, one blond and cradling a sword.
“It’s not a very good painting,” Ilstan admitted. “Bit . . . modern.”
“How long will we wait?”
Ilstan shrugged. “As long as it takes. You should sit.”
Farideh stayed where she was, considering the painting, until she heard the click of a latch behind her. She turned and found the Princess of Cormyr staring at her.
“Well met,” she said. “Thank you for coming.” She pushed a loose curl of blond hair back behind one ear.
“You say that as if I had a choice,” Farideh replied. “How can I help you?”
Raedra studied her without bothering to hide it. “I received your note. How did your agent get into the palace?”
Farideh shook her head. “I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I just knew if anyone could manage to get you that information, it was him. Did you find her? Was I right?”
“Yes.”?Farideh cursed to herself. “I’m sorry, Your Highness. I hoped I’d imagined it.” Raedra came a little closer now, into the circle of furniture placed beside the fireplace. “What is it you thought you’d imagined?” she asked. “How did you spot her?”
“It’s a skill I have,” Farideh said carefully. Ilstan and Raedra both watched her, still as statues, clearly unsatisfied with that thin explanation. “It’s like a spell,” Farideh went on. “I can . . . see the state of mortal souls.”
Raedra looked back at Ilstan, who was frowning. “Is that a spell?” she asked.
“Not one I’m familiar with, Your Highness,” he admitted. “But she isn’t a wizard, remember.”
“Of course.” Raedra turned back to Farideh. “A warlock.” The princess folded her hands neatly over her skirt. “Aubrin said you were trapped. In Baator.”
“In the Nine Hells.”
Raedra arched one sleek brow. “That is what I said.” She gazed at Farideh as if waiting for her to retort, then refolded her hands. “I suppose it was very terrible.” “Yes,” Farideh said, though not in the way she’d meant. Sairché had trapped them in such a way that she saw none of the Hells themselves—every horror came of the absence, the seven and a half years that life on Faerûn had gone on without them.
“And of course it’s none of your fault,” she said, one delicate hand flicking the idea away, as if anything could be so simple. “You just happened to end up enmeshed with devils, as one does.”
“It’s none of my sister’s fault,” Farideh said evenly.
And at that, Raedra looked away. “You have my gratitude. Whatever it is you have done, you’ve uncovered a traitor none of my customary precautions revealed. Without your . . . talents,” she said carefully, “there is every chance I would be ransomed or enchanted. Or dead. How may I repay you?”
Farideh hesitated, long enough that Raedra smiled uneasily. “Please do me the kindness of not saying ‘Break your betrothal to Lord Crownsilver.’ You may wish it, but it is a more complex affair than you realize.”
“If I wanted that,” Farideh said, “I could have left the Sharran in your midst.”
Raedra narrowed her eyes. “Quite right. But you must name something.” Farideh considered. If anyone could order the return of Brin’s servants, it was Raedra . . . but as much as that should be what she asked for, the thought of losing the privacy that the solitude afforded her sent a pang of grief through her. Or perhaps it was the thought of losing Lorcan—he couldn’t come around with servants crowding the tallhouse.
“Gold?” Raedra suggested. “Jewels? A writ to adventure?”
“Someone tried to kidnap Havilar,” Farideh said. “Three times now. The last time they thought I was her.”
Raedra colored. “How unfortunate.”
“Was it you?”
“Absolutely not. That’s a coward’s act.”
“Would you find out who it was,” Farideh asked, “and get them to stop? That’s what I want.”?Raedra considered her, so long and so boldly that Farideh had to look away.
“That’s what you’re due,” she said finally, “as a guest in Cormyr. Now, what do you want for your assistance?”
“I don’t need anything else.”
Raedra’s mouth tightened. “Tell me your name again.”
“Farideh,” she said, sitting down in the needlepoint chair, “if you were attacked in Lord Crownsilver’s home or holdings, that’s not merely about you. That is an attack on Lord Crownsilver, and by association, an attack against me. What will people say if they were to find out? They’d assume that it was my doing, an act of jealousy—a tremendously sloppy act of jealousy. Even if I didn’t see it as my duty to the laws of Cormyr to sort out whatever villain has gotten it into their mind to insert themselves into Aubrin’s and my personal affairs, I see it as a personal affront, and it will be dealt with. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
Which meant that Ilstan hadn’t, Farideh thought. “You’re welcome,” Farideh said. “Do you know who it might be?”
“I have a very good guess.” Raedra smoothed her skirts again. “Now if you don’t tell me something I can do to even the scales, I shall choose the least practical piece of jewelry I own and bequeath it to you, whether you like it or not.”
Farideh smiled, unable to help it, and thought a moment. “I don’t have the easiest time getting to the markets for food. People don’t like bargaining with a tiefling, and I end up short. Can you have someone bring me food? I’d pay for it—”
“Someone will be by the tallhouse tomorrow morning with an assortment of items. Please tell them if there’s anything specific you require then, and it will be taken care of in the next delivery.” She hesitated. “You saved my life.”
“I’m glad,” Farideh said, unsure of what Raedra was waiting for her to say.
“Would you do it? Now?” Raedra asked. “Your spell, I mean. Can you tell me what you see in me?”
“I can’t see much,” Farideh said. “And I don’t know what a lot of what I do see means.”
“Still.” Raedra refolded her hands. “I’d like to know.”?Farideh glanced at the war wizard in the corner, once.?The powers didn’t pain her as much when she called them herself, but still the sensation of thin claws sliding through the back of her skull and into her brain made her flinch. When she opened her eyes again, the lights of Raedra’s soul bloomed in the darkness, like the aftereffects of staring into the sun.
“What do you see?” she asked.
“Purple,” Farideh said. “Flashes of gold. A vein of scarlet.”
“Everyone has shadows,” Farideh said. “But there are shadows and there are Shar’s marks. You don’t have any more or less than most people.” But this time there was something else, something new—the sureness that Raedra wasn’t going to corrupt easily. The shadows made a softness around the red vein, as if beneath the shape of her soul was a bruised patch, a reminder of a time when she’d been a much sweeter prize for a devil. There was no digging at that bruise now—the gold flashes armored it. If a devil wanted her, it would take time. Effort. You’d have to lay something drastic in the balance.
Raedra was watching her as if waiting for an answer. “I’m sorry, what?” Farideh asked.
“I said what are you looking at?”
Farideh shrugged. “I get the impression you’re not someone people ought to underestimate.”
Raedra raised an eyebrow. “From purple, gold, red, and shadows?”
“And from talking to you,” Farideh said.
Raedra stood, as if she meant to end the meeting, but she stopped, pursed her lips. “Would you sit with my retinue? Make sure you don’t see anything else among them, or the maids or . . .” She shook her head. “I’d be very grateful. It would only be a few hours and I’d compensate you properly.”
“Highness?” Ilstan said. “I’ve already made certain of the others. You’re in no danger.”
Raedra didn’t look back at him. “I would be sure. Between the two of you, I think that’s possible. Ilstan will come back for you in seven days,” she said to Farideh. “The mourning will be over and I’ll have a good reason to have such a gathering. And no one will wonder at a new face.”