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Table of Contents
About the Author
ALSO BY JULIET MARILLIER
THE SEVENWATERS NOVELS
Daughter of the Forest
Son of the Shadows
Child of the Prophecy
Heir to Sevenwaters
SAGA OF THE LIGHT ISLES
THE BRIDEI CHRONICLES
The Dark Mirror
Blade of Fortriu
The Well of Shades
FOR YOUNG ADULTS
Published by New American Library,
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Published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Previously published in a Macmillan Publishers Australia Pty. Ltd. edition.
First Roc Printing, November 2009
Copyright © Juliet Marillier, 2009
Calligraphy by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls of Inklings Calligraphy Studio
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Heart’s blood/Juliet Marillier.
eISBN : 978-1-101-14924-9
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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To Saskia and Irie,
Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls of Inklings Calligraphy Studio provided expert guidance on all aspects of scribing. John Aris helped me with the Latin invocation. The members of my writers’ group assisted me through this book’s bumpy road to completion, sharing practical advice, moral support and strong coffee. My multiskilled family helped with everything from brainstorming to proofreading. My editors, Anne Sowards at Penguin, Julie Crisp at Tor UK, and Mary Verney at Pan Macmillan Australia, worked cooperatively to produce a single editorial report, making my life much easier. My agent, Russell Galen, continued to provide excellent support. A big thank you to all.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
at a place where two tracks met, the carter brought his horse to a sudden halt.
“This is where you get down,” he said.
Dusk was falling, and mist was closing in over a landscape curiously devoid of features. Apart from low clumps of grass, all I could see nearby was an ancient marker stone whose inscription was obscured by a coat of creeping mosses. Every part of me ached with weariness.“This is not even a settlement!” I protested. “It’s—it’s nowhere!”
“This is as far west as your money takes you,” the man said flatly. “Wasn’t that the agreement? It’s late. I won’t linger in these parts after nightfall.”
I sat frozen. He couldn’t really be going to leave me in this godforsaken spot, could he?
“You could come on with me.”The man’s tone had changed.“I’ve got a roof, supper, a comfortable bed. For a pretty little thing like you, there’s other ways of paying.” He set a heavy hand on my shoulder, making me shrink away, my heart hammering. I scrambled down from the cart and seized my bag and writing box from the back before the fellow could drive off and leave me with nothing.
“Sure you won’t change your mind?” he asked, eyeing me up and down as if I were a prime cut of beef.
“Quite sure,” I said shakily, shocked that I had been too full of my woes to notice that look in his eye earlier, when there were other passengers on the cart. “What is this place? Is there a settlement close by?”
“If you can call it that.” He jerked his head in the general direction of the marker. “Don’t know if you’ll find shelter. They’ve a habit of huddling behind locked doors at night around here, and with good reason. I’m not talking about troops of armed Normans on the road, you understand, but . . . something else.You’d far better come home with me. I’d look after you.”
I slung my bundle over my shoulder. On the tip of my tongue was the retort he deserved: I’m not so desperate, but I was not quite brave enough to say it. Besides, with only four coppers left and the very real possibility that pursuit was close behind me, I might soon be reduced to accepting offers of this kind or starving.
I stooped to examine the weathered stone, keeping a wary eye on the carter. He wouldn’t attack me, would he? Out here, I would scream unheard. The stone’s inscription read Whistling Tor. An odd name. As I traced the moss-crusted letters, the man drove away without another word. The drum of hoof beats and the creak of wheels diminished to nothing. I took a deep breath and ordered myself to be strong. If there was a sign, there must be a settlement and shelter.
I headed off along the misty track to Whistling Tor. I had hoped to reach the settlement quite quickly, but the path went on and on, and after a while it began to climb.As I made my way up, I could see through the mist that I was walking into ever denser woodland, the dark trunks of oak and beech looming here and there above a smothering blanket of bushes and briars. My shawl kept catching on things. I wrenched it away with my free hand, the other holding tight to my writing box. I stumbled. There were odd stones on the path, pale, sharp-edged things that seemed set down deliberately to trip the unwary traveler.
The last light was fading. Here under the trees, the shadows and the mist combined to make the only safe speed a cautious creep. If only I were not so tired. I’d been up at first light after an uncomfortable night spent in the rough shelter of a drystone wall. I’d walked all morning. At the time, the carter had seemed a godsend.
Footsteps behind me. What now? Hide in the cover of the trees until the person had passed? No. I had made a promise to myself when I fled Market Cross, and I must keep it. I will be brave. I halted and turned.
A tall man emerged from the mist, shoulders square, walking steadily. I had just time to take in his impressive garb—a cloak dyed brilliant crimson, a chain around his neck that appeared to be of real gold—when a second man came up behind him. Relief washed through me. This one, shorter and slighter than the other, was clad in the brown habit and sandals of a monastic brother. They halted four paces away from me, looking mildly surprised. The deepening dusk and the rising mist rendered both their faces ghostly pale, and the monk was so thin his features seemed almost skeletal, but his smile was warm.
“Well, well,” he observed. “The mist has conjured a lovely lady from an ancient tale, my friend. We must be on our best manners or she’ll set a nasty spell on us, I fear.”
The red-cloaked man made an elegant bow.“My friend has a penchant for weak jests,” he said. He did not smile—his face was a somber one, thin-lipped, sunken-eyed—but his manner was courteous.“We see few travelers on this path. Are you headed for the settlement?”
“Whistling Tor? Yes. I was hoping to find shelter for the night.”
They exchanged a glance.
“Easy to lose yourself when the mist comes down,” the monk said. “The settlement’s on our way, more or less. If you permit, we’ll walk with you and make sure you get there safely.”
“Thank you. My name is Caitrin, daughter of Berach.”
“Rioghan,” said the tall man in the crimson cloak. “My companion is Eichri. Let me carry that box for you.”
“No!” Nobody was getting his hands on my writing materials. “No, thank you,” I added, realizing how sharp I had sounded. “I can manage.”
We walked on. “Do you live somewhere locally?” I asked the two men.
“Close at hand,” Rioghan said. “But not in the settlement. When you get there, ask for Tomas. He’s the innkeeper.”
I nodded, wondering if four coppers would be enough to buy me a bed for the night. I waited for them to ask me why a young woman was out wandering alone so late in the day, but neither of them said a thing more, though each glanced at me from time to time as we walked on. I sensed my arrival was a curiosity to them, something that went beyond the obvious puzzle of my appearance.When I’d fled from Market Cross I’d looked like what I was, the daughter of a skilled craftsman, a girl of good family, neat and respectable. Now I was exhausted and dishevelled, my clothing creased and muddy. My boots had not handled the long walk well. The manner of my departure had left me ill equipped for travel. Of my small store of coins, all but those four coppers had been spent on getting me to this point. A new idea came to me.
“Yes, Caitrin, daughter of Berach?”
“I imagine you are attached to a monastery or similar, somewhere near here. Is there also a Christian place of scholarship and retreat for women?”
The monk smiled. He had teeth like miniature tombstones; they made his features look even more gaunt. “Not within several days’ ride, Caitrin. You seek to enter a life of prayer?”
I blushed. “I would hardly be qualified for that.What faith I once had, I have no longer. I thought it possible such a place might offer refuge . . . Never mind.” It had been a mistake to ask such a question.The less people knew about my woeful position the better. I’d been stupid to give these two my real name, friendly as they were.
“Are you in need of funds, Caitrin?” Rioghan’s question was blunt.
“No.” The carter had made me wary. Rioghan’s good manners did not necessarily mean he was trustworthy.“I’m a craftswoman,” I added.“I earn my own living.”
“Ah.” That was all he said, and it pleased me. No intrusive questions; no laughter at the idea that a woman could survive on her own without resorting to selling her body. For the first time in many days I felt almost at ease.
We walked on in silence. I could not help staring at Rioghan’s crimson cloak. The fabric was silky and sumptuous, most likely a cloth imported from a far land at fabulous cost. But the garment was sadly worn, almost to holes here and there. Did Rioghan have nobody to do his mending? A person who wore such an extravagant item, not to speak of the gold around his neck, must surely have servants at his beck and call.
He saw me looking. “A badge of authority,” he said, and there was a note of terrible sadness in his tone. “I was once a king’s chief councillor.”
It was hard to find the right response without asking awkward questions. Why once and not now? Rioghan did not look terribly old, only sad and unwell, his pallid complexion adding to that impression. Connacht was ruled by kings of the Uí Conchubhair; Ruaridh had been high king for many years.There would be chieftains ruling each region in these parts.As I had traveled westwards I had seen palisades of sharpened sticks encircling villages. I had seen folk digging trenches and raising defensive mounds around the mud-and-wattle strongholds of local leaders. If ever a king needed his chief councillor it was now, with the Norman invaders eyeing this last untouched part of the land. Had Rioghan fallen out of favor with his leader? Been supplanted by an abler man?
“I’m sorry if I was staring,” I said as we took a branch of the track that headed downhill. Below us, looming shapes in the mist suggested we were at last close to the settlement of Whistling Tor. “That is such a fine red. I was just wondering what the dyestuff was.”
“Ah,” said Rioghan. “You’re a weaver? A spinner?”
“Neither. But I’m interested in colors. Is that the village?”