The Turning Tide

The Turning TideThe Crosspointe Chronicles, Book Three

The Turning Tide
Roc (May 2009)
ISBN-10: 0451462688
ISBN-13: 9780451462688

Print: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million
For the audio version: Audible | iTunes

They were the best of friends: Ryland, the son of the king, is bound by loyalty. Shaye is both a majicar and a Weverton, both rebellious factions. Fairlie, a fiery metal-smith, is the iron bond that held them all together. Until now.

Crosspointe’s greatest advantage at sea is its ship’s compasses—but the compass makers are dying. Without them, Crosspointe will fall. To save his country and repel the coming Jutras invasion, the king orders Ryland to commit an unforgivable act. And soon Ryland, Shaye, and Fairlie find themselves at war…with each other.

Praise for The Turning Tide:

“With THE TURNING TIDE, as with the other Crosspointe books, you’re getting a deftly-woven mixture of adventure, intrigue, magic and romance, and it’s hard to ask for much more. Don’t let the tide go out on this one.”
—Green Man Review

Chapter 1

“You’ll chew your fingers off if you keep gnawing at them like that,” Shaye said laconically to Fairlie,. “I’m guessing,” he continued from where he leaned against a tall cabinet, his arms crossed over his chest, “that you may want the use of them in the future. It would be difficult to do your work without them.”

Fairlie gave him a baleful look. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

She thrust suddenly to her feet with a sound of frustration, knocking her stool over with a clatter. “They’ve been knackering in there more than a glass. What can they possibly have to talk about? Yes or no—perfectly simple,” she said, stomping down a crooked aisle inside her cramped workroom, her heavy boots thumping on the slate floor. It hardly seemed possible that this crammed-to-the-rafters room was fully as large as her forge on the other side of the obstinately closed doors.

The outer workroom contained an array of tables, workbenches, shelves, and cupboards, most of which were heaped with the detritus of her trade: tools, wire, metal scraps, rags, buckets, boxes, casks, ropes, chains, leather aprons and gloves, shards of glass, sylveth and precious stones, and a thousand other little bits and oddments that Fairlie had collected in the expectation that someday they would be useful. She never threw anything away.

There was an unusual chill in the air. Outdoors, the winter held on with a desperate grasp, and she’d not yet been allowed into her forge to stir the coals today. Her fingers flexed. She felt invaded, even though she’d invited the guild to evaluate her work. She was nearly ready to toss them all out on their asses.

“What is taking so cracking long?” she grumbled again when Shaye remained silent. She dug her hands deep in her pockets and balled them into fists.

“They have to make a good show of it,” he said with aggravating equanimity. “Wouldn’t do to pronounce you master metalsmith without deep ruminations and endless blatherings to prove that they took your application seriously enough. They at least have to pretend to consider, though clearly the sculpture is unequivocally without compare.”

Fairlie narrowed her eyes at Shaye, suspecting that he was mocking her. He was one of her two best friends, and yet it wasn’t often easy to tell when he was being serious or sardonic. Usually he didn’t turn the sharp end of his wit against her, since as a result she was just as likely to dribble molten metal on his foot as not, and he disliked it when she resorted to such defenses. Of course, since that first time, he’d taken care to always wear majicked boots when in her workroom. Now he held up his hands as if in surrender, his sleepy brows rising in innocence, though whether real or feigned Fairlie couldn’t decide.

“It is absolutely the truth,” he said. “Your work is superlative—no sane person could possibly argue otherwise. Of all the living masters, you are certainly the finest, and in time you will outshine everyone who came before you. That much is obvious. But they have the politics of the guild to consider. Making you a master so young is nearly unheard of in any crafts guild, and add in the fact that your sponsor is the crown—the politics are a quagmire. They don’t want to gain a reputation of peddling favors to the crown. They must appear like they’ve been exceedingly stringent. But even if they err on the side of raising the criteria only for you, still they cannot set any standard so high that they can refuse your petition.”

“You aren’t usually so forgiving of politics and maneuverings,” Fairlie said, warmth for his words steadying her nerves. Even so, she could not believe him. She knew the sculpture was good—but she could see its flaws as clearly as if they were lighthouse beacons. The guildmasters would surely see them as well. “In fact, you downright despise them. So why are you being so patient with them?”

“Perhaps I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Fairlie snorted. “I’ll believe that when the sea turns pink.” She waved away the digression and returned to the subject foremost on her mind. “But say that you’re right. They could just as well refuse me the badge and tell me to try again later.”

“No. They cannot.” He rubbed a finger over his illidre. It was flame-colored, with brilliant flickers of orange, red, yellow, and edged with hints of blue and purple. Made from worked sylveth, it was fashioned in an elegant swirl, like living fire. It was a focus for majick, allowing him to perform higher majicks than he could without it. Slowly he said, “If they did refuse you, they would not like what I would do in return.”

Fairlie stared. There wasn’t the slightest hint of a smile on his thin face, and his gaze was smoldering and implacable. She shook her head. Why was she surprised? He was a majicar and a Weverton and between the two, more powerful than any one man ought to be. And he wasn’t afraid to use his power to his own ends. But not this time. She wagged a blunt, scarred finger at him.

“No. No matter what happens, don’t even think it. I want to earn this on my own. You tormenting them with majick isn’t going to help.”

He shrugged, one shoulder lifting and falling. “Possibly. Possibly not. But they will learn the cost of letting politics interfere with what’s right.”

Fairlie rolled her eyes. “Now that’s the Shaye I know. So much for a new leaf. But this isn’t about right and wrong. This is a guild matter and it isn’t any of your business.”

She came to stand in front of him, putting her hands on her hips. He was about six feet tall, and she barely came to his chin. She looked up at him, annoyed at him for being so large.

“I’m telling you, Shaye. I want you to stay out of it. I’m not a child needing a rescue. I can take care of myself.”

He made another little shrug, his mouth compressing into a thin line, his dark eyes gleaming hard and bright.

“I mean it, Shaye…,” Fairlie said warningly.

“Do not ask me to do nothing,” he said, straightening with violent energy, his long, bony fingers flexing. “I do not have so many friends that I’m willing to sit by and watch while one is wronged. Not when I can do something about it.”

“This is my battle,” she said softly. She’d leaned on his strength since she’d first come to Sylmont as a child—she’d leaned on him and Ryland. But since Ryland had begun traveling the Inland Sea on diplomatic missions for his father, the king, Shaye had adopted the role of Fairlie’s protector. She’d never had to stand on her own two feet. Of late, that had been bothering her, especially as she got closer to achieving her master’s badge and Shaye made no progress toward his. That was her fault. She’d taken all his time and attention, bullying him into helping her in the forge. But that was about to end.

“That reminds me,” she said, broaching the subject she’d been hesitating to raise for several sennights. She looked down, twisting her fingers together. They were hashed with scars and speckled with splinters of steel and sylveth. The latter sent a chill trickling down her spine. She quelled it. Everyone knew that worked sylveth was safe. She dropped her hands to her sides, flattening her palms against her thighs. “Whether or not they award me a master’s badge, I’ve decided to go home.”

“Home?” he repeated, his dark brows winging downward ominously. “This is your home.”

“It’s time I went back to Stanton. I haven’t been back since Toff first brought me here. My mother’s last letter said she was growing more feeble. She wants to see me.”

“How long do you plan to stay there?”

Fairlie looked away. This was harder than she’d thought. She didn’t really want to leave. She would miss him and Ryland unbearably, not to mention the bustling, cosmopolitan Sylmont and her forge. But she did need to go home and see her mother, and Shaye needed time to work on his master’s badge. “I thought perhaps until next spring.”

“Next spring? But that’s more than a year,” he said incredulously.

“And Ryland says that you never learned anything from your tutors,” Fairlie taunted with a sharp smile.

“You can’t be serious about this. What could you possibly find to do in that backwater town for that long? You’ll be Pale-blasted within a month.”

“I am serious. My mother wants to see me.”

“She sure as the black depths was in a hurry to get rid of you when Toff came around,” he snarled.

It was true. Fairlie had been a wild, undisciplined child. Very difficult to manage. Her mother had told her so frequently, as had most everyone in Stanton. She was always running off to the smithy or dangling about a tinker’s cart or climbing up on rooftops or playing in a fire. It was an accepted fact that she would burn down her mother’s house and likely half the village before she was ten. In fact she had come fairly close, lighting her mother’s chimney afire. Luckily, it was easily doused before much damage could be done.

So it was little surprise that when Toff arrived and offered to take Fairlie as his apprentice with no expectations of a fee, Fairlie’s mother happily sent her nine-seasons-old daughter packing with hardly even a kiss. Fairlie could not forget that last expression on her mother’s face as she drove away with Toff; it had been relief. Fairlie soon forgot it in her delight at learning what Toff had to teach her. He was gruff and hearty and boisterous in nearly all that he did. He did not remonstrate against her instincts for fire and danger. He laughed and encouraged her, no matter how underfoot she was, no matter how risky the enterprises she decided to undertake. He had been her father and mother both, and Ryland and Shaye her brothers. It had been all the family Fairlie needed. Between them and her work, she was supremely happy.

And then Toff had died, nine months since. For the first time, she was truly on her own. And despite her grief, she’d found she liked making her own choices. But her mother’s letter had reminded her of what she’d left behind. She did want to go home again. A more than small part of Fairlie wanted to show off what she’d become. Another part of her wanted to go back and look again on where she’d come from. Now was an ideal time to go.

She met Shaye’s gaze squarely. “If your family cut you off for every poor decision you made, you would be a penniless orphan. She’s my mother, and she wants to see me. I want to see her as well. Sending me with Toff was a priceless gift.”

“She didn’t know that,” Shaye growled.

“No, but it was the result. I have always believed she wanted the best for me, and sending me with the crown’s metalsmith was an opportunity she could never have dreamed of.” She hesitated. “While I’m gone, you won’t have me bothering you all the time. You can work on getting your master’s badge.”

He stiffened, his chin lifting, his nostrils flaring haughtily. “What makes you think I have not time to do both?”

Fairlie gave a little shrug and looked pointedly at his illidre. As beautiful as it was, Shaye had not made it for himself. He couldn’t. He either didn’t know how to or else he didn’t have the strength to shape raw sylveth.

A quaking shudder ran down Fairlie’s spine all the way to her heels. Sylveth was a majical substance that ran through the Inland Sea in rich, silvery ribbons. It was a gift and a curse from the Moonsinger Meris. It was the source of all majick in Crosspointe. But it was also extremely dangerous. Whatever it touched transformed, usually into spawn—dreadful, ravenous monsters straight out of the minds of the maniacal and deranged. Legend said that a lucky few walked away from an encounter with sylveth with some positive gift, though Fairlie had never heard of any such thing happening. Crosspointe was protected by the Pale, a fence of tide and storm wards that kept raw sylveth out. Worked sylveth—shaped and hardened by a master majicar—could be transported across. It was inert—no danger to anyone. Fairlie didn’t quite believe it. She worked with it—chiseling and sculpting it for whatever she needed it to be, from jewelry to sculptures. But she never trusted it.

Shaye followed her glance, his angular face hardening into glacial ice. “Do not tell me that you are making this stupid journey on my account.”

“What journey?”

Fairlie turned, a grin already spreading across her face. “Ryland!” She reached out and hugged him tightly, then stood back to look him over. “You look wonderful.”

He appeared every inch the prince that he was. He had the family physique—a square jaw, broad shoulders, and long golden hair that he wore loose around his shoulders. He was dressed in green silk and velvet. His trousers were closely fitted in the current fashion, with a long vest to the middle of his thighs, and topped with a sleeveless surcoat, the shoulders rolled. His blouse was heavily embroidered and glinted with beads of citrine sylveth. He wore an exotic perfume—musky and spicy. It made Fairlie want to sneeze.

“You’re late,” Shaye said, stepping forward to pull Ryland into a stiff hug.

Fairlie smiled at them. Shaye was not the sort who was comfortable with such gestures, but he made allowances for her and for Ryland. It was amazing that the two were friends at all. The Majicars’ Guild and the Merchants’ Commission hated the king and Rampling rule. Shaye’s uncle Nicholas Weverton was a loud voice condemning the crown.

“What, have they made you a mastersmith already?” Ryland demanded, turning to Fairlie.

She shook her head. “They have not, and as long as they are taking to deliberate, I think they may very well refuse me.”

“They’d better not,” he said, his eyes flashing. “Not if they don’t want their shipments ending up in the customs warehouses for months. They might even see a sudden surcharge on exports and imports heading from and to metalsmith forges.”

Fairlie stared. From Shaye she expected this sort of thing. But Ryland? He had to think about his family and the crown, and he always acted decorously and carefully.

“You wouldn’t,” she said.

“Wouldn’t I?”

“Shaye, tell him he can’t.” Fairlie made the appeal, knowing it was useless.

Shaye’s only response was to sling his arm across Ryland’s shoulders and smile fiercely. “Why ever would I want to do that?”

“Crack it! Can’t either of you two mind your own business for once?”

“But, Fairlie, you are our business,” Ryland said seriously, his eyes glinting with wicked humor. “You are our family. And if there’s one thing true about both Shaye and I, it’s that we don’t let anyone persecute our families.”

“Sweet Chayos! Persecute? You can’t be serious. These are the masters of my guild.”

Ryland shrugged. “That doesn’t rule out that they are bastards. If they refuse you, it cannot be for the quality of your work, and you are incapable of making enemies. That leaves only your relationship to me and my father, or Shaye. Either way, we won’t stand for it.”

Both of them were perfectly serious. Fairlie’s fingers tapped restlessly against her thighs. She was not going to win this one. Not that she ever won when they decided to throw in together against her. She shook her head, emitting an exasperated sigh. “This is why I have leave. I think I might kill you both if I don’t.”

“Leave?” Ryland asked, glancing askance at Shaye.

“She wants to go to Stanton to visit her mother.”

Ryland looked at Fairlie. “What for?”

She glared. “You two are exactly alike, do you know that?” In fact they were completely unalike, except when it came to needling Fairlie. Then they might as well be twins. She drew a breath and blew it out. “Why do you think I want to go? I want to visit her.”

“Really it’s because she thinks I’ll never get my master’s badge if she doesn’t run off to the hinterlands and leave me alone to work,” Shaye confided to Ryland with a curl of his lip.

“It is not,” Fairlie protested. “Weren’t you paying attention? I want to go. And maybe I’m sick of the two of you.”

“Me? I’ve not been back for hardly a sennight and I’ve hardly had a chance to see you. It must be Shaye’s fault,” Ryland objected.

“Or maybe she’s offended that you cannot make a moment in your schedule to visit her,” Shaye retorted. “You are more than two glasses late today, and about to run off again, unless I misunderstand the meaning of that collection of papers.” He nodded at the stack of papers and slender ledgers that Ryland had set down when he entered.

“As it happens, I do need to get back. But that can be blamed on you,” Ryland said with a sour look at his friend.

Shaye turned to face him. His lips were curled in a faint smile. Fairlie shook her head. He enjoyed this sparring with Ryland far too much.

“I beg your pardon. I am responsible for your tardiness and sudden quick departure? I am not aware that ever in our friendship have I been able to make you sit down, much less come and go at my whim. Unless you are suggesting I am using majick against you?”

“I wish it were majick,” Ryland said. “No, it’s your family. Your uncle, to be exact. He’s brought a stack of petitions and a dozen toadies with him and has demanded an audience with my father. And so I am summoned to aid in the discussions. Damn Vaughn to the depths anyhow! If he hadn’t turned his back on his responsibilities, I’d still be in Normengas tying up the trade treaty. Instead I’ve been dragged home to listen to more of your uncle’s attempts to undermine the crown.”

“You have my sympathies, of course,” Shaye said insincerely. “But surely I am not to blame for my uncle?”

“You’re a Weverton,” Ryland said. “You’re root and branch of the same tree.”

“As are you a Rampling. However, my uncle does exactly as he wishes without consulting me. I expect your father does much the same.”

“He listened to Vaughn,” Ryland said in a bitter voice.

Fairlie reached out and gripped his arm. Vaughn was Ryland’s elder brother, whom he idolized. A few months before, in a scandal that had shaken the castle to its foundations and resulted in the king’s summoning Ryland home, Vaughn had publicly broken ties with his father and his family. For the first time in Crosspointe history, a Rampling had turned against the crown. It was worse than if he had died. Ryland could hardly speak of him, and when he did, it was with a venomous anger that wrapped a terrible, bloody hurt. Fairlie’s throat ached for him, ached for them both. Vaughn had always been one of her favorite people in the castle. He had a quick wit and a generous smile. He’d always let her win at cards, and he kept her favorite candies handy for whenever he happened to see her.

Ryland pressed a hand over hers, then shook himself visibly. Fairlie let her hand fall. He straightened his collar, brushing the wrinkles from his sleeves. He glanced apologetically at her, his expression pained.

“Nevertheless, it is true. I am late already and I must be off. I am sorry to leave you dangling without news. Send word as soon as you hear anything.” His gaze flicked meaningfully to Shaye. “Whatever the outcome.”

“You may hear for yourself, Prince Ryland.”

Fairlie spun around. She’d not heard the pocket doors to her forge slide open. Now the delegation of master metalsmiths filled the doorway. Her stomach twisted. All five of them looked stern, eyes opaque and shuttered. Master Lowe, the Dean of the Metalsguild, stood in the middle. His arms were folded, his hands tucked inside his voluminous sleeves. He wore a high-necked robe of black dosken, the arms cut out in a filigree lined with yellow silk. His shirtsleeves showed a rich emerald from within. Like most metalsmiths, he was a bulky man. His hair skirted his skull in a thick fringe of shaggy brown, his jaw was covered in a close-cropped beard, and his nose was large and unformed. The round dome of his bald head was hashed with scars and flecks of red where he’d been burned. On his chest was pinned a badge. It was two crossed hammers made of silver on a bed of sylveth flames. Behind the flames was a gold anvil. Dangling from the bottom and attached by two gold chains was a thirty-two-rayed compass, the symbol of Crosspointe and of Master Lowe’s position as Dean of the Metalsguild.

Fairlie clenched her hands, hiding them in her pockets with a jerky thrust. Her mouth was tight and dry, and her heart galloped in her chest. Whatever she’d said to Shaye and Ryland, this meant more to her than she could begin to say. She was good. She knew it. But was she good enough?

All the craft guilds liked to be selective, even punitive, when it came to the master ranks. Too many masters made for too much market competition and lowered prices on everybody’s work. No matter how good her work was, they could not allow too many journeymen to advance. And she didn’t have the friends or connections in the guild to smooth the way. There had been only Toff, and Toff was dead.

“After some consideration,” Master Lowe began in slow, measured speech, “and with much discussion and careful examination, we have concluded that you, Fairlie Norwich, are a master of your craft. Congratulations.”

Fairlie could only stare. She had been certain they would refuse. Her mind seemed frozen, unable to turn in another direction.

“Well? Have you nothing to say?” Master Lowe demanded, his large knotted hands slipping from his sleeves to perch on his hips.

“I— thank you,” Fairlie said lamely.

Suddenly she was enveloped in a bony hug. “I knew you could not fail,” Shaye said into her ear, then brushed a kiss against her forehead.

A moment later Ryland pulled her free, then snugged her tight and kissed her cheek. “Father will be pleased. This will only be the icing on the cake of the gala.”

Fairlie stiffened, leaning back to look at him. “Gala?” she asked suspiciously.

“He’s planning one for just over a sennight from now. Didn’t I mention it? It will be a tribute to those who died during the Jutras attack. Your master work will be unveiled for all of Sylmont to see. So don’t plan on going off on your journey until after.”

A mixture of pleasure and complete horror raced through Fairlie. She pushed back, flicking a helpless look at Shaye, who was grinning maliciously, as if he’d read her mind. She glared. But before she could say anything, Master Lowe intervened.

“If I may?” he asked, reaching out a hand behind him.

Master Dorset passed him a polished ebony box, her pocked face looking severe. Master Lowe thumbed open the latch and slowly lifted the lid. Inside, on a blue silk pillow, was a master metalsmith badge. He took it out and stepped forward.

Fairlie’s breath caught. She couldn’t look away from the heavy jewelry as he pinned it to her wool vest. His thick, scarred hands fastened it with unexpected deftness, then settled heavily on her shoulders. She looked up, meeting his solemn gaze, her heart pounding with elation. She’d done it!

“You have been measured and found worthy to wear this badge. Know that this honor is a heavy one. It comes with a great deal of responsibility to your craft and to your guild. You must always allow only the finest of your work to survive. You must pass your knowledge to others. You must serve your guild with all the strength in your body, the talent in your heart, and the skill in your hands. Always recall that as a master, you are bound to give the guild the best of yourself.”

Fairlie licked her lips as he fell silent, knowing that she must reply. “I understand. I will not disappoint you.”

He smiled, a kind expression. “I know you won’t. My good friend Toff did as well. I think he would want you to have this.”

He reached inside his robe and withdrew a crisply folded linen paper. It had been sealed, a trace of the blue wax still smudging its edges. Fairlie took it and turned it over in her hands. It was addressed to Master Lowe in the bold, scrawled hand of Toff. She pressed her hand to her mouth to cover the crumbling weakness of her chin. Her eyes burned with tears. She blinked them away.

“Thank you,” she mumbled.

“We must be away,” he said in a cheerful voice. “We shall have a celebration at the Guildhouse in your honor, though am I to understand you will soon be leaving Sylmont?”

“To visit my family,” Fairlie said softly, still looking at Toff’s letter.

“Well, then, we will have the celebration upon your return, and you will have the opportunity to meet those journeymen and apprentices who wish to learn from you. Also, you will need to make arrangements for your guild fees. Will the king continue to serve as your patron?”

“Of course he will,” Ryland said stoutly. “If Fairlie desires it.”

A frown creased Master Lowe’s forehead. “Perhaps it is something to discuss later,” he said quietly. “Congratulations, Fairlie. Toff always said you were an extraordinary talent. None here would argue that.”

The expressions on the faces of his fellow master metalsmiths were dour, but each nodded and murmured congratulations, shaking Fairlie’s hand as they filed out.

When the door shut behind them, Ryland seized Fairlie again and hugged her hard. He let her go and reached for his papers. “I apologize, but I must dash. Shall we plan a late supper to celebrate?”

Fairlie and Shaye both nodded, she still clutching the parchment bemusedly in one hand and stroking her fingers over her badge with the other.

“I had better go as well,” Shaye said. He gave Fairlie a dark look. “But do not think I am done discussing your trip back to Stanton.”

She flashed him a defiant grin. “Talk all you want, but I am going.”

“We’ll see,” he said, and then stomped out.

Ryland rolled his eyes and fluttered his fingers at Fairlie, then followed after the glowering Shaye.

Fairlie fastened the door behind them and went to sit on a stool. She felt strangely numb. For several minutes she stared into space, absently crinkling the parchment between her fingers. At last she unfolded it. It contained only a few scrawled lines. She frowned at them. She wasn’t a good reader, and Toff’s hand was bold but poor. Slowly she made the words out.

Dear Cameron my old friend~

It has been far too long, and I fear that we will not see each other again this side of Chayos’s Altar. I expect to cross the Veil very soon. There is nothing the majicars can do for me. As I put my affairs in order, I wish to recommend my apprentice, Fairlie Norwich, to the rank of Master. Her talent outstrips even mine, and you know that I have never been accused of being humble. I must ask you, my friend, to see that she achieves Master. She is ready, as you will see for yourself. Do not let politics interfere.

I know that I can count on you in this matter.

The boldly flourished signature that followed took up fully a quarter of the page.

Fairlie traced a finger over the lines, reading them again. Tears slid down her cheeks, and her heart felt squeezed. She remembered how he’d written a stack of letters just before his death. He’d refused to give in to the pain of his illness and had forced his body to carry him about the business of his dwindling life. She was certain that this missive had been in that last stack, that she had posted them for him just the day before his death. That was nine months ago, and Master Lowe had waited for her to apply for mastership. Would he have sought her out if she had not? He seemed very kind at the end—perhaps it had been the politics. So many rivers of intrigue ran through Crosspointe, it was impossible not to get caught up in a current—or several.

She swiped at her tears, folding the letter and pressing it against her knotted stomach, painful happiness blooming inside her. She touched the badge, heavy against her chest, a slow smile bending her stiff lips. Toff had believed she was a master metalsmith. That was a treasure beyond all counting.

She stood and put the letter away in the drawer of her nightstand. Then she changed clothes and headed for her forge. It was time to get back to work.

Check out the rest of the Crosspointe Chronicle books.