CHAPTER ONE A SONG FROM THE SEA
One more spell, that’s all I meant to sing. One more song-spell, and then I’d go home.
I blew on my icy fingers and faced the wintery sea. I’d been out for hours, honing my magic, and the sun had long since vanished behind sullen clouds. My boots were damp from the froth of the ocean, my cheeks wet with its salty spray. The wind sawed along my very bones. I thought with longing of the snug cottage I shared with Norrie and the soup that would no doubt be simmering on the fire.
Something easy to finish on, I promised myself. Something that won’t go wrong.
Clutching my woolen cape, I tilted my ear toward the ocean and its tangle of watery music. A simple song-spell, that’s all I needed. . . .
But what was that sound? That distant humming?
Forgetting my frozen hands and feet, I listened, perplexed.
No one knew better than I that the ocean could sing a thousand songs: music to cradle me, music to drown me, music to call up waves and tides and storms. I was a Chantress, after all. Yet this wasn’t a tune I had heard before. Indeed, its faint thrum was quite unlike any melody I knew. That alone was disturbing.
A woolen bundle clumped toward me: Norrie in her winter wraps. The wind snatched at her hood and cap, and her silver hair stood out like dandelion fluff around her wrinkled face.
“You’ve been out here too long,” she called. “You’ll catch your death of cold.”
I was about to reply when I heard it again: a disquieting drone in the midst of the sea’s other songs.
Norrie marched up to my side, her gait uneven. “Lucy, are you listening to me?”
“Yes,” I said quickly. “Of course I am.” But I was listening to the humming, too. If I concentrated hard enough, I usually could make out at least the gist of the sea’s songs. Of all elements, water was the easiest for me to understand. Yet these notes held fast to their secrets.
“There’s no of course about it.” Norrie scrutinized my face. “Is something wrong?”
“No.” Norrie might be my guardian, but I hated to worry her, especially when I had no clear idea what the trouble was. She wouldn’t be able to hear the song anyway; only a Chantress could do that. “You shouldn’t be out here, Norrie. Not on such a bitter day.”
“Maybe not, but what else can I do when you won’t come home?” Norrie said.
The elusive drone was fading now. I swung back toward the sea, trying to catch its last echoes.
Norrie kept after me. “You’ve been out here since dawn, Lucy. You need to come home now.”
The drone was gone. What did it mean? “Just one more song, Norrie—”
“That’s what you always say. And then you stay out, working till all hours, in all weathers—”
“But that’s why we’re here,” I reminded her. “So I can work.”
Nine months ago, I had freed England from a terrible enchantment, and as a reward King Henry the Ninth had offered me any gift in his possession. To my alarm, he’d talked of building me a palace. What I’d asked for instead was a secret refuge by the sea.
The King, bless him, had abandoned his palace scheme. Norrie and I now lived on a remote part of his estates in Norfolk, in a cottage just big enough for two. Almost no one in the kingdom knew where we were, and the King made sure we were left alone. Although his gamekeepers patrolled the outer limits of the estate, we never saw them. Every month we had supplies of food and fuel delivered to us, and occasionally the King’s messenger came by. But that was all.
“Working’s one thing. Toiling till you’re skin and bone is another.” The wind chafed Norrie’s cheeks, turning them red. “You’re seventeen and nearly grown, so I’ve tried to bite my
tongue. But you’re getting worse and worse, Lucy. We came here so you could rest, too. You’ve forgotten that part.”
“I can’t rest yet. Not until I’ve learned more magic.”
“But you already know so much,” Norrie protested.
“I know hardly anything.”
“You knew enough to put an end to Scargrave and those horrible Shadowgrims,” Norrie countered.
“At a cost. Don’t you remember how bad it was when we came here? I had nothing. Not one single song.” My hand went to my heart, where a bloodred stone nestled underneath my woolen scarves. The stone had once allowed me to work the safe song-spells of Proven Magic, but in battling against Scargrave and the Shadowgrims I had shattered its powers. Now the only enchantments open to me were the dangerous ones of Wild Magic.
A fraught path—and I had no one to teach me the way. Among Chantresses, Wild Magic was almost a lost art. Even before Scargrave had worked to destroy my kind, very few could have instructed me in it. Now there was no one. I was the only Chantress still living.
To guide me, I had only a letter my mother had written before her death years ago. Although it was replete with wise advice, it was not nearly as long or as detailed as I needed. Most of the time, I had to rely on my own instincts.
“Yes, that was a bad time,” Norrie agreed. “But look at all you’ve learned since then. You can make the waves come when you call. You can sing water up from the ground. Heavens, child, you can even make it rain when you want to.”
“Only for a minute or two, and only—”
Norrie rolled on, ignoring me. “That’s more magic than most of us can dream of.”
“It’s not enough.”
Norrie looked unconvinced.
How could I explain matters more clearly? My magic made Norrie nervous, so we rarely talked about it, but I could see I’d have to spell things out now.
“I’m good with water, yes—but not with anything else. I can kindle a flame, but I can’t keep it burning. I almost never hear music from stones or earth or wind. I’m no good at making plants grow. Even the sea’s songs don’t always make sense to me. And when they don’t make sense, they’re dangerous. If I sing them, I could do harm to others. I could harm myself.”
My cape snapped in the wind, and I stopped.
Norrie laid a mittened hand on mine. “Child, I know there are dangers, and of course I’m concerned about you. But I’m not sure you make yourself any safer by practicing till you’re worn to a thread.” She gripped my fingers through the wool. “Scargrave’s gone now, Lucy. You’ve won the war. Yet you’re still driving yourself as hard as you did when he was alive. Why not take things a bit easier?”
“And what if I have to defend myself? What do I do then?”
“Why should you need to defend yourself?” Norrie said. “The King would have the head of anyone who hurt you.”
It was true: King Henry had sworn that the old days of Chantress-hunting were over. Nevertheless, I lived in terror that
those days would begin again—and that I would not be ready. Night after night I dreamed hunters were coming after me, only to wake up alone in the dark loft, heart shuddering.
I was pushing myself too hard, that’s what Norrie would say. But she was wrong. My nightmares didn’t come from working too hard, but from the terrible truth of my situation. The Chantress line is almost dead. We are hunted; we are prey. So my godmother Lady Helaine had warned me before her own untimely end. To be a Chantress was to face enemies, for the world feared women with power.
“I’m glad the King wants to protect me,” I told Norrie, “but I need to know I can protect myself. And my magic is too weak for that. It has too many holes. So I need to keep working. I need to make myself strong.”
Norrie looked at me with a compassion that tightened my throat. “Oh, Lucy. You’re strong already. Much stronger than you think. Can’t you see?”
She waved me away. “Let’s not argue about it now. You’re turning blue, and I’m not much better. Come home, and we’ll talk about it in front of the fire.”
I’m not cold, I wanted to say. But it wasn’t true. And Norrie’s lips were pinched as if she were in pain. She’s been out here too long, I thought with concern. Her back and hips had been bothering her lately, especially on cold, damp days like this one.
“All right.” I pulled up my hood. “We’ll go home.”
We had only just started trudging up the shore when a sharp
gust of wind swirled around us. It blew my hood back, and I heard the ocean humming again in its troubling new way. Had it been quiet all this time? Or had I just been too wrapped up in my wrangle with Norrie to hear it?
Hoping she wouldn’t notice, I trained my attention on the drone, trying to understand it. With patience, I could usually unravel the basic meaning of a song, even if I couldn’t fathom all its subtleties.
This time, though, the tune wouldn’t yield. More, I pleaded.
As if to deny me, the strange song twisted in on itself and coiled into nothingness. But just before it vanished, I heard the meaning at the heart of it:
The word slipped into my head as if the song itself had placed it there. I felt my unease grow.
“Wait here,” I said to Norrie. “I’m just going up to the bluff to have a look about.”
Before she could object, I ran up the steep bank that rose directly behind us. Reaching the crest, I looked up and down the coast, then out to the watery horizon. I saw no warships, no fishing boats, no vessels of any kind. Nothing met my eye but the endless wind-churned waves of the sea.
I turned my head in the other direction, to the rolling hills that sheltered our cottage, and the stretch of the King’s wood beyond them. All was well.
And then, out by the wood, something moved.
A deer? No. A rider. And more behind him.
I sank behind the bluff’s waving grasses and watched them emerge from the wood, one after the other. Half a regiment of mounted men, clad in armor and bearing spears.
Armed men, coming here in such great company?
Holding my breath, I shielded my eyes with a rigid hand as I looked out. They were riding straight for our cottage, the tips of their spears sharp against the gray sky.
Danger, the sea had said. Was this what it meant?
I skidded back down the bluff. “Norrie, quick! We need to run.”