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The Black Raven

Book Two of the Dragon Mage

The Black Raven by Katharine Kerr
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For the devoted followers of the dazzling Deverry and Westlands cycle, Katharine Kerr continues the magical epic saga she began in The Red Wyvern.

In her latest tale, the scene shifts seamlessly between the shattered land of the Rhiddaer and the historic end of the Civil Wars, when Lilli, newly apprenticed to dweomer, fought with her untried powers to save her beloved Prince Maryn from evil.

Centuries later, in the city of Cerr Cawnen, the old evil awakens yet again when the sorceress Raena schemes to destroy Rhodry Maelwaedd, her bitter enemy during life after life. But her malice will draw the intervention of astral powers--and unleash the ravaging rage of Rhodry's guardian dragon. Only another untried dweomer can buy safety for the city and the berserker himself--and only at a most fearsome price....

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Random House Publishing Group; December 2009
415 pages; ISBN 9780307572134
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: The Black Raven
Author: Katharine Kerr
In Dun Cengarn, up in the far Northlands of Deverry, snow lay thick on field and thatch. The lazy sun stayed above the horizon a little longer each day, but still it seemed that the servants had barely cleared away the midday meal before the darkness closed in again. On these frozen days the life of the dun moved into the great hall. Servants, the noble-born, the men of the warband, the dogs--they all clustered at one or the other of the two enormous hearths. On the coldest days, when the wind howled around the towers of the dun and banged at the doors and gates, everyone stayed in bed as long as possible and crawled back into their blankets again as soon as they could.

At night, up in her tower room, Dallandra and Rhodry huddled together under all the blankets they owned between them. They slept in their clothes for the warmth, then stayed late abed as well.

"You're much nicer than a pair of dogs," she remarked one morning. "Warmer, too."

"I'm glad I please my lady." Rhodry said, yawning. "I was thinking much the same about you, actually. And no fleas."

She laughed and kissed him, then rested her head on his chest with the blanket drawn up around her ears.

"Is it snowing out?" Rhodry said. "With the leather over the shutters, I can't tell."

"How would I know? Dweomer doesn't let you see through stone walls."

"That's a cursed pity. I don't care enough to get up and see. I--" He paused, listening. "Someone's at the door."

Dalla poked her head out of the blankets. Sure enough, she could hear someone shuffling on the landing outside, with the occasional deep sigh, as if whoever it was feared to knock.

"Who's there?" she called out.

"Jahdo, my lady." The boy's voice sounded of tears. "I were wondering if you or my lord should be needing somewhat."

"Come in, lad. I think me you're the one who needs a bit of company."

Bundled up in a cloak, Jahdo opened the door and slipped in, ducking his head and rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand.

"Sit down at the end of the bed," Dallandra said. "There's enough room to get most of you under the blankets."

Jahdo did as he was told, sitting crosswise with the cloak around his back and the blankets over his legs. Dalla could see the streaks of tears down his dirty face.

"What's so wrong?" she said.

"I be bereft, my lady, a-missing my mam and da and my sister and my brother and all our weasels." Jahdo paused for a moist gulp. "There be a longing on my heart for home."

"Well, I understand. I miss my homeland, too, and Evandar," Dallandra said. "My heart aches for you, but soon with the spring, we'll be riding west."

"So I do hope."

"Oh come now, lad," Rhodry said. "I made you a promise, didn'tI?"

"You did, but so did Jill, and then she--" His voice cracked. "And then she died."

"True spoken, but I'm too daft and mean and ugly to die." Rhodry sat up, grinning. "At least when there's no war to ride, and truly, my lady Death seems to be spurning my suit even then. When Arzosah flies back to Cerr Cawnen, we'll be on our way. She knows the weather and the seasons better than any sage or bard."

Jahdo nodded, considering this. Privately Dallandra wondered if they'd ever see the dragon again. Wyrmkind was not known for its faithfulness.

"It won't be so long till spring," she said to the boy. "We're well past the shortest day."

"I know, my lady. And truly do I think I could wait with good heart but for my worrying about my kin. My mam, she be frail in the winter, and then my sister, she were to be married, and here I don't even know which man they picked for her." Jahdo paused and took a deep breath. "Uh, my lady, I did wonder somewhat, you see."

"Could I scry your family out, you mean?"

"Just that." He was looking at her with begging eyes.

"Jahdo, I'm so sorry, but I can't. I can only scry someone out if I've seen them in the flesh first."

"Oh." He gulped back tears. "Why?"

"It's just the way dweomer works. I don't truly know why. I'm sorry. It's a hard thing to be missing your kin and have no way to get news of them."

"That be true, sure enough. At least Evandar comes and goes, and you do see him now and again." Jahdo paused to wipe his eyes with the back of a grubby hand. "I did wake so cold this morning, and I did think on how warm it be at home."

"Oh come now!" Dallandra said with a laugh. "Cerr Cawnen's a good bit farther north than we are. It must be even colder."

"Ah, you know not about the lake. Our lake, it be warm, my lady, even in winter. My da did tell me once that way down in the deeps of the lake lie springs, where water bubbles up from the fire mountain, and it be as hot as you'd heat for a bath, hotter even."

"Fire mountain?" Rhodry said. "Does your town lie near a fire mountain?"

"Too near, some say. I mean, we sit not in its shadow, but it be close enough. One of our gods does live in it, you see. As long as we do honor him and bring him gifts, he'll not harm us."

Dallandra had grave doubts, but she saw no use in worrying the lad when there was naught to be done about it.

"So," she said instead. "Your town stands on the shores of this warm lake?"

"On them and in them, my lady. You'll see, or so I do hope. But truly, I might not shiver so badly now if my kin were here with me. Rori, and what of your kin? Never have I heard you speak of them, not once."

"Probably you never will," Rhodry said. "I've no idea if they ride above the earth or under it, and I care even less."

Jahdo stared openmouthed.

"A silver dagger can't afford a warm heart," Rhodry went on. "Think on Yraen, as much a friend as I've ever had, and ye gods, I don't even know where he lies buried, do I? You learn, lad, after a while and all, to keep your heart shut as tight as a miser's moneybox."

"Mayhap so," Jahdo said. "But never could I be a silver dagger."

"Good," Rhodry said, smiling. "You're a lucky man, then. Although, truly, there's one kinsman I do wonder over, just at times, and that's my brother Salamander, as his name goes in this country." He glanced at Dallandra. "Did you ever meet him? In our father's country he's called Ebany Salomanderiel tran Devaberiel."

"I've not," Dallandra said. "Although Jill told me a lot about him. He seemed to irritate her beyond belief."

"He takes some people that way. What's so wrong, Jahdo? You look like you've just heard one of Evandar's riddles."

"That be the longest name that ever I've heard in my life," Jahdo said. "How do you remember such?"

"Practice." Rhodry suddenly laughed. "Let's get up, shall we? I'm hungry enough to eat a wolf, pelt and all."

"So am I," Dallandra said. "And speaking of Evandar, I dreamt about him last night, and I have an errand to run."

Since the presence of iron caused him agony, and the dun held an enormous amount of the stuff, Evandar had taken to finding Dallandra in the Gatelands of Sleep. They would then arrange a meeting somewhere free of the demon metal, as he called it. In the brief afternoon,when the air felt not warm but certainly less cold, Dalla wrapped herselfin a heavy cloak and trudged through Cengarn to the market hill. At its crest the open commons lay thick with snow, crusted black with soot and ash from household fires. A group of children ran and played, their young voices sharp as the wind as they dug under the crust to find clean snow. Dallandra suppressed the urge to make a few snowballs herselfand slogged across to a small copse of trees, where in the streakyshade of bare branches Evandar waited, wrapped in his blue cloak.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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