The Binding, Volume Three
The third installment in Annmar and Daeryn’s story released October 19, 2016!
Volume Three of The Luminated Threads
Trade paperback is for sale on Createspace
Wellspring Collective, Blighted Basin
Late September 1868
Annmar Masterson shuffled a few items in her trunk to uncover a small hatbox. Really, she ought to unpack properly now that she was staying in Blighted Basin…though she’d rather not use the black hat at all. Standing before the mirror over her chest of drawers, she set the hat she’d worn to Mother’s funeral atop her pinned-up hair and fastened it in place with its long hatpin.
Annmar sighed. Unfortunately, her mourning clothes were well suited to honor Henry’s return to the earth. She’d draped a black shawl over her maroon blouse when a knock sounded on her door.
She opened the door to Wellspring Collective’s healer, a woman she’d grown to know well enough during nights working in the sickroom. “Hello. Does someone need help?” she asked.
Miriam Chapman shook her head, her lips pressed tight. She also wore a black hat, its veil trailing over a cloak. Before her, she held a piece of familiar cream stock with a torn edge.
Annmar’s stomach twisted. My drawing of Henry.
“May I come in?” Miriam asked softly. “I wish to discuss something that would be best said in private.”
“Yes?” she managed to whisper past dry lips. As if the upcoming funeral for a child wasn’t bad enough, now she had to deal with her abominable drawing, the one Miriam had declared not normal. It’d been her last attempt to heal the boy…after she’d seen him die. The drawing had moved in the most horrific manner, stopping only when Miriam had ripped it from Annmar’s sketchbook.
She forced her gaze up to Miriam’s¶“You’ve shown the drawing to Mistress Gere?”
The healer gave her a forbearing look, one Annmar had seen her bestow on a worker sorely bitten by a pest, or when about to give a fussing patient the particularly bitter herbs used to cure the nastiest of wounds. The look neither humored the patient, nor gave sympathy. Annmar suspected the softhearted healer had learned it from Wellspring’s owner, Mistress Gere.
“I have,” Miriam said slowly. “Constance and I aren’t sure what to do with the drawing. Nor can she ask any other Elders within a reasonable distance, considering all the turmoil. That matters little, because after a few days’ discussion we’ve decided they won’t know any more than we do.” She took a breath. “The movement of it disturbs me more than I care to admit. Do you know why?”
Was that why Miriam kept the paper folded now? “I think it has to do with my blue threads. I must have wished—” No, that sounded too much like fanciful magic. From what she’d learned of the blue fungus fibers, they weren’t fanciful at all. “Er, willed the threads to the drawing, thinking of Henry as I did so. I may, uh, even have placed some of Henry into the drawing with the fibers. I-I just don’t know.”
“Considering what you must have been trying with your novice Knack, that’s a good guess.” Miriam lifted the drawing between them. “We’d like your agreement on what we believe the fate of this paper should be. It’s too closely tied to the boy. Out of respect for Henry, we’d like to place this paper and what it contains with his body. Today, as he returns to the earth.”
Annmar wiped her eyes. With what little she knew of Basin ways and the workings of her threads, it made sense. She nodded.
“It’s the right thing.” Miriam squeezed her shoulder. “Thank you.”
Quick footsteps sounded in the corridor, and moments later Mary Clare Pemberton appeared in the doorway, wearing a dark blue afternoon dress, a small black hat and a hand-knit gray shawl.
Miriam tucked the paper away and said, “See you below,” to both of them.
Mary Clare raised her brows in question. Annmar just shook her head. She couldn’t explain, or her tears would fall. Besides Miriam and Mistress Gere, only Daeryn Darkcoat knew about the drawing. He’d probably forgotten she’d done it. The others didn’t need to know what she’d attempted, or the bizarre results.
If Mary Clare picked up on Annmar’s feelings—through her Knack, or otherwise—she didn’t reveal it. Her friend stood close enough to detect her emotions, but had promised not to use her gift without an invitation. While they exchanged compliments on each other’s dresses, Mary Clare repeatedly twitched her skirt.
She’s as upset as I am.
Her friend put a gloved hand to the doorknob. “Ready?”
No…but who would be?
Annmar collected her reticule, and while they descended the circular stairs, she pulled her black gloves over the stains she couldn’t quite scrub out—from a day helping harvest winter squash.
A third of the crops had been bitten into and rotting after two weeks of chasing off pests they now knew Mr. Shearing was breeding. Did it matter she’d brought back two Harvester machines from Derby to collect the gobblers if their plague would never end? The only chance to save the Farmlands from the determined man and his pests was to block them from entering Blighted Basin.
She’d done what she could in Derby to dissuade him. Now it was up to Blighted Basin’s Elders to stop him, but dash it all, the waiting was so hard.
The farmyard was dim under the afternoon’s cloud-streaked sky. Voices murmured from the workers gathered in small groups, mixing with the rustle of dried leaves in the surrounding orchard trees.
Mary Clare stopped not far from the bunkhouse door, apparently also thrown off by seeing the farm’s workers dressed in their Sunday best to attend Henry’s funeral. The women wore gowns and the men suits, or at least coats and pressed trousers, and their shoes shone. Shades of green colored most clothing…the colors reflecting the growers’ planta selves.
“It’s so sad,” Mary Clare whispered.
Annmar linked arms with her while they scanned faces. Her Knack swirled at the hollow above her collarbone, warming her and telling her more could be seen, but Mary Clare tugged her around the drive under the walnut tree, toward a group wearing dark shades that were not green.
They must be ’cambires, but none of the people looked familiar. Where was Daeryn? It seemed weak to be searching for him when they had only begun to court, but wasn’t that the purpose, for them to be together more? Then, after a decent interval—a few months?—they could determine if they should indeed commit to one another.
Her Knack heated her neck again. Annmar began to seal it away, then hesitated. Blighted Basin was her home now and its gifts part of her life. A contrast to her proper British upbringing, but feeling more right each day. As with getting to know Daeryn, perhaps she should become familiar with using her Knack freely, as another sense to gather information. As long as she kept her sight to herself, as Mary Clare did with her Knack for reading feelings, she needn’t worry.
Annmar opened her Knack. Instead of the usual haze of blue within, individual threads popped into her vision, vibrant blue and pulsing. They streamed like rays of sunlight into the group ahead, past two women with their dark hair pinned up under hats.
One woman moved. Terrent’s fox-red hair came into view. Beside him, a flutter of bluish-gray plumage was her familiar view of Rivley. He was speaking with a girl she didn’t recognize. On the other side of her, the tall, bearded man in a top hat had to be Zar, another of Daeryn’s ’cambire friends and nocturnal guard team. Then a golden-brown face came into view—Daeryn wearing a brown suit and a felt bowler.
Excitement skipped through Annmar.
He met her gaze and gave a nod in greeting, his lips twitching into a brief smile. He tugged at his sleeves, though the coat fit well. No one felt himself or herself today. Indeed, she reached his side before noticing she’d walked there, following a luminated thread winding itself around his left wrist.
Oh…my. Another spiraled on the back of his hand.
Just as one did when Daeryn joined me while I blessed my squirrel doodem.
So, was it the same thread that had connected them then? It seemed good, but was this normal?
He reached out his hand, then stopped and angled out an elbow, offering her his arm.
The familiar courtesy from Outside lifted her spirits, and she slipped her hand under his forearm, unable to stop staring at his chocolate eyes. “You look very handsome.”
“You do as well,” he said. “Uh, nice—pretty, that is.”
“Are we all ready?” asked one of the women, drawing Annmar’s attention.
Was that Jac? Annmar’s gaze roved over Daeryn’s tough co-leader, dressed in a fashionable brown-gold afternoon dress, complete with patent leather heels.
Jac caught her look, her yellow eyes friendly.
“You look beautiful,” she told the wolf girl, and nodded to Jac’s cousin, who was wearing a different design in the same fabric. “You, too, Maraquin. The color is stunning with your eyes and hair.”
Jac bobbed her head and murmured, “Thank you,” a ladylike gesture Annmar certainly didn’t expect, and pulled a pair of gloves from her reticule. The mannerisms were so proper, and so unexpected from the ’cambire Annmar had seen covered in bloody gashes from fighting ropens.
Jac grinned. “Didn’t expect me to be able to pull it off, did you?”
“Well, it is quite a change.”
Maraquin leaned across to whisper, “Jac’s in line to take over the Wildlands. She was sent to an etiquette mistress and dragged me with her.”
“Which was dead boring.” Jac swiped a stray strand of hair from her brow and tucked it deftly under the tiny hat perched on the thick roll of her black hair. “And my gran is nowhere close to even turning the pack over to Mother, so the lessons were mostly pointless. Ready?” She gestured toward several other Wellspring groups who had begun a slow stroll around the circular drive. “Arriving late will spoil everyone’s efforts to clean up from the day’s work.” She linked arms with Maraquin, and the two strode from under the tree, their paces far too long and fast for proper ladies.
Annmar pressed her gloved hand over her smile. Daeryn pivoted and, with the rest of the group, they followed. But when Jac and Maraquin reached where Mistress Gere stood along the drive, she intercepted them with a raised hand.
“When did she get back?” asked Daeryn.
Of course Mistress Gere should return for Henry’s service, but did Mr. Yates—the Elder in charge of Breakthrough Gap—have enough help? By the time she and her friends had returned to the Gap Gateway yesterday, the two Elders had strengthened its barrier and were gathering local Forestridge Knack-bearers and ’cambires. Before they set off to block the nearby cavern the gobblers were using to enter Blighted Basin, Annmar had gained a moment alone with her employer.
She’d confided her discoveries about Mr. Shearing, how she’d learned the information and what she’d tried to stop him.
Had they seen the businessman? More pests? Or had success turning them back?
“Jacqueline?” The farm owner’s gaze hopped back to Daeryn. “Daeryn? Would you two walk with me? I have a request to discuss, and unfortunately, I must leave immediately after the service.”
With an apologetic lift of his brows, Daeryn veered off to join Mistress Gere, as did Jac. Annmar met Mary Clare’s gaze, and they caught up with Maraquin.
“Not so sure this bodes well,” she muttered.
“Agreed,” Mary Clare murmured, and the two of them looked back.
“It could be something to do with guarding.” Daeryn and Jac were leaders of Wellspring’s nocturnal guard team. Annmar tapped Mary Clare’s arm. “We can’t loiter. It’s not polite.”
“It’s not as if we won’t find out anyway,” grumbled Maraquin.
The rest of their group walked on. Daeryn’s best friend, Rivley Slipwing, was beside the unfamiliar girl with long brown hair.
“Who is that?” Annmar asked when they were far enough away.
“Molly Duskdrifter,” Mary Clare muttered, throwing a frown to their backs.
“A long-eared owl who’s been helping us,” Maraquin added. “She heard about our problems while visiting her grandparents here.”
Oh. Another avian…one Rivley seemed to be taking an interest in, judging by the way he leaned toward Molly as they talked. Oh, dear. Annmar slipped her arm through Mary Clare’s and looked around. “Where is Leander?”
“He didn’t know Henry that well,” she answered flatly. “Mistress Gere asked the town ’cambires who aren’t attending to patrol Wellspring’s borders for early pests, so he’s helping there.”
Before Annmar could urge Mary Clare into a walk, Famil, a golden eagle who headed the day guard team, and her partner, Wyatt, joined Mistress Gere, Jac and Daeryn. The group pivoted and passed them. She, Maraquin and Mary Clare followed, and the farm owner began talking, but the words were too low for Annmar to hear.
“Devil take them,” spat Maraquin.
Annmar startled at her emphatic curse. Heavens. Though she had become used to the tougher wolf girls, she’d never heard either of them curse.
“What?” Mary Clare asked.
“They haven’t been able to seal the Basin against the pests.” Maraquin could obviously hear what Annmar could not. “A couple that Zar trapped for them to use to test it fought their way through.”
Trade paperback for sale on Createspace
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