Read The High Lord Online

Authors: Trudi Canavan

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Romance, #Magic, #Fantasy, #Young Adult, #Adventure, #Epic

The High Lord

This book is dedicated to my friends, Yvonne and Paul. Thank you for your help, honesty and patience, and for reading this story over, and over, and over…

Acknowledgments

Many, many people have encouraged and assisted me in writing this trilogy. In addition to those people I acknowledged in
The Magicians’ Guild
and
The Novice,
I’d like to give an additional nod to the people who helped me out during the writing of this book:

Once again, my proofreaders who give me such valuable advice: Mum and Dad, Paul Marshall, Paul Ewins, Jenny Powell, Sara Creasy and Anthony Mauricks.

Fran Bryson, my agent. Thank you for providing the perfect setting for my “working holiday.”

Stephanie Smith and the hard-working HarperCollins team for turning my stories into such polished, attractive books. Justin of Slow Glass Books, Sandy of Wormhole Books, and the booksellers who’ve taken on this trilogy with such enthusiasm.

And thank you to all the people who have emailed me with praise for
The Magicians’ Guild
and
The Novice.
Knowing you’ve enjoyed my stories helps keep the fires of inspiration burning high.

Part One
1
The Message

In ancient Kyralian poetry the moon is known as the Eye. When the Eye is wide open, its watchful presence deters evil—or encourages madness in those who do wrong under its gaze. Closed, with only a sliver of white to mark its sleeping presence, the Eye allows hidden deeds of both good or ill to remain unnoticed.

Looking up at the moon, Cery smiled wryly. This phase of the Eye, a narrow slit, was the one preferred by secret lovers, but he was not hurrying through the shadows of the city to such a rendezvous. His purpose was of a darker kind.

Whether his deeds were good or ill, however, was difficult for him to know. The men he hunted deserved their fate, but Cery suspected there was a deeper purpose to the work he’d been commissioned to do than just reducing the murders that had plagued the city for the last few years. He did not know everything about the whole nasty business—of that he was sure—but he probably knew more than anyone else in the city.

As he walked, he considered what he did know. He had learned that these murders were not carried out by one man, but by a succession of them. He had also noted that these men were of the same race: Sachakan. Most importantly, however, he knew they were magicians.

As far as Cery knew, there were no Sachakans in the Guild.

If the Thieves were aware of any of this, they were keeping their knowledge well hidden. He thought back to a meet-ing of Thieves he had attended two years ago. The leaders of the loosely allied underworld groups had been amused by Cery’s offer to find and stop the killer. Those who asked slyly why Cery hadn’t succeeded after so long might be assuming there was only one murderer, or they might want him to
think
that was all they knew.

Each time Cery dealt with one of the murderers, another began his grisly work. Unfortunately, this made it appear to the Thieves that Cery was failing at his task. All he could do was shrug off their questions, and hope his success in other underworld activities made up for it.

From the dark square of a doorway the shape of a large man emerged. Distant lamplight revealed a grim, familiar face. Gol nodded once, then fell into step beside Cery.

Reaching an intersection of five roads, they approached a wedge-shaped building. As they stepped through the open doors, Cery savored the heavy odor of sweat, bol and cooking. It was early evening and the bolhouse was full. He moved to a seat at the counter, where Gol ordered two mugs of bol and a dish of salted crots.

Gol munched his way through half of the beans before he spoke.

“At the back. Hash ring. What you say, son?”

Cery and Gol often pretended to be father and son when they did not want their true identities known—which was most of the time they spent in public these days. Cery was only a few years younger than Gol but, with his small stature and boyish face, he was often mistaken for a youth. He waited a few minutes, then let his gaze shift to the back of the bolhouse.

Though the room was crowded, it was easy to locate the man Gol had pointed out. His distinctive wide, brown Sachakan face stood out among the pale Kyralian ones and he was watching the crowd carefully. Glancing at the man’s fingers, Cery noted a glint of red in the dull silver of a ring. He looked away.

“What you think?” Gol murmured.

Cery picked up his mug and pretended to gulp a mouthful of bol. “Too much rub for us, da. Leave him for another.”

Grunting in answer, Gol drained his mug and set it down. Cery followed him outside. A few streets from the bolhouse, he reached into his coat, pulled out three copper coins and pressed them into Gol’s large hand. The big man sighed and walked away.

Cery smiled wryly, then stooped and opened a grille set into a nearby wall. To any stranger, Gol appeared to be completely unperturbed by any situation. Yet Cery knew that sigh. Gol was scared—and he had good reason to be. Every man, woman and child in the slums was in danger while these murderers were about.

Cery slipped behind the grille into the passage below. The three coins he’d given Gol would pay three street urchins to deliver a message—three urchins in case the message was lost or delayed. The recipients were crafters of one kind or another, who would pass on the message via city guard or delivery boy or trained animal. Each man or woman along the path of the message knew nothing of the meaning behind the objects or passwords they were given. Only the man at the final destination would understand their significance.

When he did, the hunt would begin again.

Leaving the classroom, Sonea slowly made her way down the crowded, noisy main corridor of the University. She usually paid little attention to the antics of the other novices, but today was different.

A year today since the Challenge,
she thought.
A whole year since I fought Regin in the Arena, and so much has changed.

Most novices had gathered into groups of two or more and were walking toward the rear staircase and the Foodhall. A few girls lingered by a classroom door, talking in conspiratorial murmurs. At the far end of the corridor a teacher emerged from a classroom, followed by two novices carrying large boxes.

Sonea watched the faces of the few novices who noticed her. None glared or looked down their noses. Some of the first years stared at the incal on her sleeve—the symbol that declared her the favorite novice of the High Lord—then quickly looked away.

Reaching the end of the corridor, she started down the delicate, magically-fashioned staircase of the Entrance Hall. Her boots made a soft, bell-like sound on the treads. The hall echoed as more ringing steps joined hers. Looking up, she saw that three novices were ascending toward her, and she felt a chill run down her back.

The novice at the center of the trio was Regin. His two closest friends, Kano and Alend, were by his side. Keeping her expression neutral, she continued her descent. As Regin noticed her, his smile vanished. His gaze met hers, then moved away again as they passed each other.

She glanced back and let out a small sigh of relief. Every encounter since the Challenge had been like this. Regin had adopted the demeanor of a gracious and dignified loser, and she let him. Rubbing in his defeat would have been satisfying, but she was sure he would come up with anonymous and subtle ways of getting his revenge if she did. Better they ignored each other.

Beating Regin in a public fight had done more than stop his harassment of her, though. It appeared to have won her the respect of other novices and most of the teachers. She wasn’t just the slum girl now, whose powers had first manifested in an attack on the Guild during the yearly Purge of vagrants and miscreants from the city. Remembering that day, she smiled ruefully.
I was just as surprised that I had used magic as they were.

Nor was she remembered for being the “rogue” who had evaded capture by making a deal with the Thieves.
It seemed like a good idea at the time,
she thought.
I believed the Guild wanted to kill me. After all, they have never trained anyone outside the Houses before. It didn’t do the Thieves any good, though. I was never able to control my powers well enough to be of use.

Though some still resented it, she was no longer thought of as the outsider who brought about Lord Fergun’s downfall, either.
Well, he shouldn’t have locked Cery up and threatened to kill him to force me into cooperating with his schemes. He wanted to convince the Guild that lower class people couldn’t be trusted with magic, but instead he proved that some magicians can’t be.

Thinking back to the novices in the corridor, Sonea smiled. From their wary curiosity she guessed the first thing they remembered about her was how easily she had won the Challenge. They wondered just how powerful she was going to become. She suspected that even some of the teachers were a little frightened of her.

At the bottom of the stairs Sonea crossed the Entrance Hall to the open University doors. Standing on the threshold, she looked at the gray, two-story building at the edge of the garden and felt her smile fade.

A year since the Challenge, but some things haven’t changed.

Despite winning the novices’ respect, she still had no close friends. It wasn’t that they were all intimidated by her—or her guardian. Several novices had made an effort to include her in their conversations since the Challenge. But while she was happy to talk to them during lessons or midbreak, she always refused invitations to join them outside class.

She sighed and started down the University steps. Every friend she made was another tool the High Lord could use against her. If she ever found the opportunity to reveal his crimes to the Guild, everyone she cared about would be in danger. There was no sense in giving Akkarin a larger selection of victims to choose from.

Sonea thought back to the night, now over two and a half years ago, when she had slipped into the Guild with her friend Cery. Though she had believed the Guild wanted her dead, the risk seemed worth taking. She had not been able to control her powers, making her useless to the Thieves, and Cery had hoped that she might learn how to do so by watching magicians.

Late that night, after seeing much that fascinated her, she had approached a gray building set apart from the rest. Peering through a ventilation grille into an underground room, she had witnessed a black-robed magician performing strange magic…

The magician took the glittering dagger and looked up at the servant.

“The fight has weakened me. I need your strength.”

The servant dropped to one knee and offered his arm. The magician ran the blade over the man’s skin, then placed a hand over the wound…

... then she felt a strange sensation, like a fluttering of insects in her ears.

Sonea shivered as she remembered. She hadn’t understood what she’d seen that night, and so much happened afterward, she had tried to forget. Her powers had grown so dangerous that the Thieves had turned her over to the Guild and she discovered that the magicians did not want to kill her; they decided she could join them. Then Lord Fergun had captured Cery and blackmailed her into cooperating with him. The Warrior’s plans had failed, however, when Cery was found imprisoned under the University, and Sonea consented to a truth-read by Administrator Lorlen to prove that Fergun had manipulated her. It was only during this mind-reading that her memory of the black-robed magician in that underground room had returned in full.

Lorlen had recognized the magician as his friend Akkarin, the High Lord of the Guild. He had also recognized the forbidden ritual of black magic.

From Lorlen’s mind, Sonea had gleaned an understanding of what a black magician was capable of. By using the forbidden art, Akkarin would have gained strength beyond his natural limit. The High Lord was known to be unusually powerful as it was, but as a black magician he would be so powerful that Lorlen did not think even the combined strength of the Guild could defeat him.

Lorlen had therefore decided that a confrontation with the High Lord was out of the question. The crime must remain a secret until a way to deal with Akkarin safely was found. Only Rothen, the magician who was to be Sonea’s guardian, was allowed to know the truth—in the course of teaching her he was likely to see her memory of Akkarin and learn the truth for himself anyway.

At the thought of Rothen she felt a pang of sadness, followed by a dull anger. Rothen had been more than a guardian and teacher; he had been like a father. She was not sure she could have endured Regin’s harassment without Rothen’s support and help. For his trouble, he had endured the effects of the malicious rumors that Regin had started suggesting that Rothen’s guardianship was gained in exchange for bedroom favors.

And then, just as it seemed the gossip and suspicion had passed, everything had changed. Akkarin had come to Rothen’s room to tell them that he had discovered that they knew of his secret. He had read Lorlen’s mind, and wanted to read theirs. Knowing that Akkarin was too powerful to fight, they dared not refuse. Afterward, she remembered, Akkarin had paced the room.

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