Chapter 1: Sul’dam
Taivel, High Lord of House Anshar, looked out the window of his palace
onto the square below. A glance was sufficient to tell him what was happening.
“Leanna, it’s time.”
His daughter looked up from the chair where she sat, reading. “Time?” she
echoed, then realisation dawned. “Father, no! Already?”
“Don’t worry.” He held out a hand to her. “Only a few girls are taken each
year out of thousands. The chances of you being one of them are negligible.”
Except - He buried that thought before it could arise. “Come on.”
Leanna still looked nervous, but she stood up, smoothing her silk skirts,
and took his proffered hand. They descended the stairs together, followed
by Taivel’s guards. He paused at the bottom. The great square was crowded
with girls Leanna’s age, ranging from servants’ children with their families
standing awkwardly at the side, to the daughters of minor lords and ladies
surrounded by attendants. Women in blue and gray dresses moved from group
to group, quietly speaking with each.
Two women approached Taivel and Leanna. The first, dark and stocky, wore
a blue dress embroidered with lightning bolts on the bodice and panels
on the skirt. A silver leash trailed from a bracelet on her wrist to a
matching collar around the second woman’s throat. Pale and slender in her
gray dress, her hands were folded and her eyes fixed on the ground. Taivel
ignored her, looking with distaste at the other. He had met her before,
many years ago.
“High Lord,” the sul’dam said coolly, her bow a touch too brief.
He ignored it. “So this is your - younger - daughter.” A dark scowl crossed
her already plain face: even at sixteen, Leanna was by far the loveliest
woman in the city, and growing fairer every day.
Leanna, however, had her mind on other things. “His younger daughter? I
am my father’s only child.” She hesitated. “Only living child. Why do you
“You had a sister once, did you not?” the dark-haired woman asked, a faint
smile on her lips.
“Tanya. But she died long ago.” Leanna sounded confused, and no wonder.
Taivel gave the woman his coldest stare.
Her smile was a mere stretching of her mouth. “Perhaps. My name is Morya,
Leanna. I will see you at the testing. Wait with patience.” She turned
and moved away, followed by the gray-clad damane.
“Father?” Leanna said, puzzled. “Why did she say that? She sounded as if
she - knew something.”
“Nothing,” he told her, but she still looked doubtful.
After a moment, Taivel turned his attention back to the square. Names were
being called out now, and as each was announced a girl would break away
from her family and hurry across to a corner, at which stood several sul’dam
and damane. After a few minutes, most walked away, disappointed,
but a few smiled in sudden excitement and joined a smaller group waiting
It can’t be long now, he thought, and as if in response another name echoed
through the crowd.
Leanna drew in a deep breath, then let go of his hand and crossed the square
with her head held high. As she reached the women in the corner, Morya
joined them, an expectant smirk on her face.
For a second there was utter silence, and then the sul’dam glanced
at each other and shook their heads. Morya scowled again. Taivel breathed
easier. There was only one other test to pass.
One of the blue-clad women stepped forward. “I am Dara,” she said, “a sul’dam.”
Dara took the silver bracelet from her wrist, holding it out. “Put the
bracelet on, Leanna. Tell me what you feel.”
Leanna took the bracelet, turning it in her hands. She seemed reluctant
to wear it.
“Put the bracelet on, Leanna,” Dara said again.
Slowly, the silver band slipped onto her wrist, and the clasp snapped shut.
Leanna gasped. Her dark eyes widened.
No! Taivel thought.
“How can you?” Leanna cried out. She swayed, nearly falling. “She’s terrified
- of you, of me - how can you do it? What kind of monsters are you?”
“She is damane,” Dara snapped, glancing at the gray-clad woman.
“She must be leashed. All who can channel must be controlled - ”
“Not like this!” Leanna pulled the bracelet off. It dropped from her suddenly
nerveless fingers. “Not like this. I can’t - ”
“You must.” Dara said, echoed by Morya, once again smirking, and by the
other sul’dam. “This is the law. You must obey, Leanna. You must...”
“No!” Leanna twisted around, seeking an escape. Her eyes fixed on him.
“Father, help me!”
A jolt of pain shot through Taivel’s heart. There was nothing he could
“Father,” Leanna pleaded, tears filling her eyes. “Father, help me...”
Nothing he could do.
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