The Will of the Empress

The Will of the Empress

The Circle Reforged

Tamora Pierce

*

Chapter One

The 12th day of Wort Moon

The year 1041 K.F. (after the Fall of the Kurchal Empire)

In the palace of Duke's Citadel, Summersea, Emelan

Lady Sandrilene fa Toren sat in the room that was her study in her uncle's palace. In her hands she held a thread circle, one that included four lumps spaced equally apart. It was a symbol not just of her first magical working, but of the magical bond she shared with her foster-brother and two foster-sisters, who had been away from home for many months. Today was Sandry's birthday, and she missed them. Once she could have reached out through their connection without even touching the thread, and spoken with them, magic to magic, but not in the last two years. They had travelled far beyond reach, into lands and experiences Sandry couldn't share.

"Daja at least should have been here," she said, and sniffed. "She was supposed to come home a year ago. But no. She wanted to see more of Capchen, and Olart—"

Someone knocked on her door. Sandry hid the circle under a fold of her skirt. "Come in, please," she called, her voice light and courteous.

A footman entered. He carried a parcel wrapped in oiled cloth and tied with ribbons secured by a large wax seal. "My lady, this has come for you," he said with a bow.

Sandry's mouth trembled. Her hope that the package might be from her brother or sisters evaporated at the sight of its seal. Only Ambros fer Landreg sends packages like this to me, she thought, cross. No gifts or nice, long books and letters from him. Only dreary old accounts from my estates in Namorn.

"Please set it here," she ordered, patting her desk. The footman obeyed and left her alone with the parcel.

Other people get to have parties and presents and outings with their friends when they turn sixteen, Sandry reflected unhappily. I get another fat package of dry old reports about cherry crops and mule sales from Ambros.

I'm not being fair, she told herself. I know that. I also know I don't want to be fair.

Wearily, she gave the thread circle a last check, pressing each lump between her thumb and forefinger. Each one stood for a friend. Each was cool to the touch. The others were too far away for their presence to even register in the circle.

Sandry tucked the thread into the pouch around her neck and hid it under her clothes.

She blinked away tears as she thought, I was just fooling myself, hoping they'd be home by now.

She returned her attention to the package. Ambros probably had no idea his tedious reports would arrive today, she reminded herself in her prudent cousin's defence, propping her chin on her hand. And Uncle Vedris and Baron Erdogun gave me presents at breakfast.

There's to be a get-together with my Summersea friends tonight. I'm just being petty, sulking over this, too. But really, who wants to go over crop reports and tax documents on her birthday?

With bright, cornflower blue eyes set over a button nose, she stared longingly out of the open windows. Her pale skin still bore the light bronze tint it always picked up in the summer, just as her light brown hair, neatly braided and pinned in a coronet on her head, was gilded with sun streaks. Her cheeks were still girlishly plump, but any touch of youthful shyness those cheeks gave her face was offset by her round and mulish chin. Even at sixteen, Lady Sandrilene fa Toren knew her own mind.

She was dressed simply in a loose blue