Lightborn by Alison Sinclair Page A

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Authors: Alison Sinclair
momentary expression of focus as he used his magical senses, and then he nodded and righted the baby, setting her so that she straddled his knee. Thwarted, she promptly turned puce—she had her father’s complexion—glared at Floria with tearing eyes, and began to screech.
    Tam glanced toward the door of the house behind them. A tall, fair-haired woman in a potter’s smock emerged and came to retrieve her daughter with a wary glance at Floria and a reproachful frown at Tam. She was Beatrice, Tam’s lover of some six years. She was not mageborn, but an artisan, and to the Temple she would never be other than a concubine, for all the Temple had also shown little interest in Tam as a contributor to their own precious bloodlines. Tam’s eyes followed her warmly as she carried the child into the house, arriving at the door just in time to thwart the escape of their venturesome three-year-old son.
    Tam looked weary. Mourning red drained his pink and freckled complexion and clashed with his ginger hair and brows. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, although she knew him to be at least a decade older than herself. To a high- rank mage, accomplished in healing, arrest of aging was almost trivial. The archmage was more than three hundred years old.
    “Can you ensure we’re not overheard?” she said.
    He sketched a tiny circle in the air. “Done.”
    “Magister Tammorn,” she said formally, “the prince wishes to discuss a contract with you.”
    Tam blinked. “Fejelis?” he said, surprising her by his ready use of the first name. “Did he say what?”
    Could there be any question? “To find those responsible for his father’s death.”
    His eyes narrowed. “Why?”
    “I recommended you as one likely to do a thorough job of it.”
    “Floria—” He stopped, and gestured. “Sit down.” She did, tilting her rapier, and observing him closely. It was obvious he was disconcerted. The question was, why?
    “There are mages contracted to the palace, mages whose contract Fejelis now holds.”
    “Yes,” she said, “there are. But the way the prince died—I cannot see how magic could not have been involved. The prince—Prince Fejelis—asks that you visit him in the salle , at his usual practice time which is four of the clock.”
    “Has he anyone else?” he said.
    “No. I suggested you; he accepted it.”
    Tam stared away into the distance. She did not even think he saw the Mages’ Tower, which even from here loomed immense on the skyline. “What do you know about the prince’s death, Floria?”
    There was a stress on the pronoun that he surely did not intend to betray. Despite her certainty of her own blamelessness, despite the sunlight, she felt uneasy. Mages—unsettled—even a mage she had known since her father brought home the ginger-haired vagrant who spoke in monosyllables and refused to meet anyone’s eyes. What did he know that she did not?
    She recited the same analysis she had given the prince.
    “You are so certain,” he said, “that it could not have been done other than by magic.”
    “The lights were discharged, dark, not removed, not covered, not smashed—even then the fragments would have continued to glow. Besides the prince, there were three people in the room, one a captain of the Prince’s Vigilance. Their—residues—were all exactly as I would expect them to be: prince and secretary by the desk, Captain Parhelion by the door, and the prince’s manservant readying the bedchamber. All the lights, in all the rooms—and there were seventeen of them—were affected at once, with no warning, no signs of a struggle or an attempt to flee.”
    He was watching her with a disturbing intensity. “Are you certain that the three other men in the room with the prince were who you thought they were? Quenching leaves very little—just fragments of clothing and personal ornaments. You assume that the clothing was being worn by the people you expected to wear it.”
    “If there had been

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