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A Play of Shadow

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A Play of Shadow

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Author: Julie E. Czerneda
Publisher: DAW Books, 2014
Series: Night's Edge: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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What would you risk for family?

In the second installment of Night's Edge, Bannan Larmensu, the truthseer who won Jenn Nalynn's heart, learns his brother-in-law was sent as a peace envoy to Channen, capitol of the mysterious domain of Mellynne, and has disappeared. When Bannan's young nephews arrive in Marrowdell, he fears the worst, that his sister, the fiery Lila, has gone in search of her husband, leaving her sons in his care.

The law forbids Bannan from leaving Marrowdell and travelling to Mellynne to help his sister. In this world. As a turn-born, Jenn Nalynn has the power to cross into the magical realm of the Verge, and take Bannan with her. Once there, they could find a way into Mellynne.

If they survive. The Verge is wild and deadly, alive with strange magic. Dragons roar and kruar wait in ambush, and the powerful turn-born who care for their world do not care for Jenn Nalynn.

She's willing to try. Wisp and Scourge -- and the house toads -- offer their help.

But what none of them know is that magic is rife in Channen, magic that flows from the Verge itself. And not even a turn-born will be safe there.



Winter stretched its icy fingers across Marrowdell in the hours before dawn, crisping leaves and sealing the commons' pond with a skin of ice. It breathed traces of snow over the crags and into crevices, snow that, like rain, avoided the Bone Hills altogether. It sighed at the rising sun and retreated, for now, leaving the air sparkling with frost.

Jenn Nalynn awoke to a rimed window and a nose much happier under the covers. Where it couldn't stay, of course, because this was Gallie Emms' writing room as much or more than her bedroom and lingering wouldn't be right. But in the loft she'd shared with Peggs, surely it had never been this cold.

Maybe it wasn't the Emms' fine loft. Maybe it was waking alone. Something, Bannan Larmensu would gladly remind her, that was her choice, not his.

Warmed by new and entirely unhelpful thoughts, Jenn tossed aside the quilts and stood, her bare feet glad of the braided rug. She dressed with haste, throwing on her second-warmest shawl. Her cold nose was a warning. The morning trip to the privy, however necessary, would be a chilly one.

She could, with a thought, with a wish, hold winter back. Reclaim the lingering warmth of late fall. Perhaps wake an aster or two.

Where was the harm in that?

Jenn lifted hands no longer tanned and well-callused, but glass and tears of pearl, aglow with soft light, and knew full well where the harm would be. "Here, I will not be turn-born," she whispered, willing herself flesh, willing herself back to what she was and intended to stay. Turn-born. A birthright both wondrous and terrible. If she were careless, Marrowdell would express her feelings as chill winds or warm, as storm or sunlight. If she were worse than careless and set her mind to a wishing, what other turn-born called an "expectation," Marrowdell would try to make it real, no matter the cost.

She could shatter the world.

Better to mind the baby, Jenn told herself firmly. Work, not worry, leads to accomplishment, Aunt Sybb would insist. She smiled, almost hearing Aunt Sybb's voice, then lost her smile, thinking of how long it would be until she could again. The ever-sensible Lady Mahavar spent the winter months in Avyo, where snow was a rare event and homes had indoor plumbing.

Hurrying winter simply to see their beloved aunt sooner was exactly the sort of thing she mustn't do. It wasn't fair to Uncle Hane, for one thing. For another--Jenn made her borrowed bed, nodding emphatically with each point--for another, life depended on reliable seasons, not those rushed by her whim.

Not that her whim would reach beyond Marrowdell. The valley sat where two worlds touched. Within that thin edge, Mistress Sand had warned her, was the limit of any turn-born's power.

And existence.

Jenn hugged her pillow, breathing in the rich summer scent of rose. Peggs' notion, to collect the fallen petals; Jenn's, to ask their permission first. Melusine's roses grew through the edge and were not to be trifled with, even by her daughters. They were partly of another world.

As was she.

Jenn closed her eyes. Beyond Marrowdell lay that world, the Verge, a place so utterly strange she hadn't been able to see it at first. She'd needed Bannan's true sight to reveal its sky full of dragons, not that she'd call something that wasn't blue or always overhead where sky belonged, sky at all. Yes, there were rocks, but the shapes were wrong and they could as easily hang in the air where sky should be as stay underfoot. As for what passed for lakes and rivers?

Her breath caught as she remembered mimrol's glistening silver.

Magic incarnate; that was the Verge. Its uncanny beauty ghosted her dreams when she wasn't careful. A promise. More. An invitation. Should she dare step beyond Marrowdell...

Jenn opened her eyes again. To step beyond Marrowdell used to mean taking the Northward Road, once her fondest desire. Still, the map hanging from the wall at the foot of her bed showed so much more of this world, she never tired of studying it.

At the same time, its exquisite detail and brilliant color, incongruous against the rough logs, were troubling reminders of its origins. That the treasure came from Bannan warmed her heart, but that the Baroness Lila Larmensu Westietas herself, beyond all reason, had had such an extraordinary and costly gift made for a miller's daughter? Worse, one with claim to her beloved brother's affections?

With all his big heart, Bannan believed Lila would welcome her into their family, once they met.

Would she welcome a turn-born? Jenn shivered from more than the chill air. As well for her peace of mind that even a baroness had to wait on the weather. The earliest their meeting could take place would be spring. Maybe by then, she'd have learned to keep her magic safe and hidden.

Maybe by then, she'd have come to understand what she was.

Work, not worry, Jenn reminded herself.

She climbed down the ladder to the kitchen, of habit mindful where she stepped. Though the kindest of hosts, Zehr Emms was apt to forget her presence and hang his saw on the middle rung, where it was beyond his little daughter's reaching fingers.

Warmer on the main floor, but only slightly. Jenn paused to stir the embers in the cookstove before adding a half-scoop of charcoal. She checked that the teakettle was full and set it to heat, then gave the porridge, left to cook overnight, a stir. Unlike the Nalynns' kitchen, separated from the rest of the main floor by a simple curtain hooked to the side when Aunt Sybb wasn't in residence, the Emms' boasted a solid dividing wall and door. The wall itself was a marvel. Zehr, a former furniture maker, had used his talents and the wood of the family wagon to fashion built-in shelves and cupboards, complete with clever fastenings and hooks; all of which Jenn quite admired. However, the heatstove was on the other side of the wall and, in the interest of privacy and to keep little Loee, now able to crawl, where she belonged, the door between remained closed at night.

She wasn't going to freeze, Jenn scolded herself. She scampered out the back door, running on her toes over the cold damp sod to the privy. Having taken care of the necessities, she went next to the larder, struggling a bit with the latch. What was the trick to it? There. Stepping down into the even colder room made her teeth chatter, so she worked quickly to load a basket with vegetables for tonight's supper. Just enough. Though the harvest had been good, winter in the north was too long for carelessness, even now, with shelves overflowing.

Not that she thought about winter. Nipping back up the steps, Jenn tucked the basket under an arm and wrestled the doors back together. Closing the latch was the easy part. Done, she stopped and gazed out over the valley toward Night's Edge, her meadow.

That by doing so she also looked toward Bannan Larmensu's farm was, she told herself firmly, entirely reasonable.

And blushed.

Hopefully by coincidence, the rising sun suddenly painted the sky with rose hues and brought a hint of pink to the Bone Hills.

She let her eyes follow the Spine, with its smooth mounds and long sweep, to where the Fingers stretched into the valley and spread to split the river, leading a tranquil flow by the village and fields, sending wild cataracts to the north.

By no accident or act of nature.

For the Bone Hills were neither bone nor hills, but what showed in this world of a being from another. The cliffs that girded the valley were gouged and scarred by its once-maddened reach; their worlds remained joined because it wouldn't--perhaps couldn't--let go again.

While along that strange connection, that edge, magic happened. On both sides.

Jenn tilted her head. The poor sei, trapped or trapped itself, couldn't leave Marrowdell. She could...

...just not, as she understood matters, as herself.

Still, wasn't it wonderful to know she could go beyond Marrowdell at her whim? To explore the Verge. To cross into other domains, for wherever the edge existed, as she understood matters, a turn-born could too. The terst turn-born couldn't deny her--she hoped they wouldn't want to--oh, how her heart pounded! The Verge was so very close... why she'd only to smell her mother's rose petals to feel herself almost there. Almost, but not quite.

Bannan thought of it too. He'd crossed with her, that once. Though he didn't say so, Jenn knew he was eager to go again. The man had no fear--or sense, according to Wisp.

Much as she loved them both, much as they loved her, deep inside, Jenn knew when she did cross next, she would do so alone. To see if she could. To understand matters.

To be sure.

"Ancestors Adream and Dazzled," she murmured. "As if I've time for traipsing about." Besides, being with Bannan was an exploration of a different kind, a wonderful kind, and the days passed in a busy, happy blur.

And in each day, its turn, when the light of Marrowdell faded and that of the Verge found her heart. Soon, she thought, oddly content. She would feel when to leave one for the other. She would know.

Others would, this very day. In fact, it would be the largest leave-taking of Marrowdell's short history. Hitherto only the smith, Davi Treff, and his family had journeyed to Endshere's fair, it being his mother Lorra and her friend Frann Nall who made items to trade and who, truth be told, enjoyed bartering more than breathing. This year Gallie and Zehr would join them, with little Loee, to meet the family of their new daughter-by-marriage, Palma, and nothing would do but their son Tadd and his wife Hettie come for the same reason.

At the last moment, Devins Morrill had announced, his voice barely cracking, his intention to accompany them; as this was in response to Palma's firm request that he meet her unwed cousins, his mother Covie had just as firmly insisted he wear his Midwinter Beholding coat, not the one for the barn.

Whatever coat, the weather would be chancy, Jenn fretted, not that she could change it for them. Worse, such a large group could draw the attention of bandits. Uncle Horst, sorely wounded this fall, might be back on his feet but was hardly fit to ride his horse, let alone lift a sword. People she cared about were going where she couldn't care for them; that was the crux of it.

If she worried too much, an axle might break, or a horse go lame, or some worse calamity stop them before the gate. That was how a turn-born's magic worked. This desire. That change.

And consequences. There were always those.

Jenn shook her head and pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders as she turned back to the Emms' house. Time to set the table. A light already shone from the side window. Despite last night's flurry of final preparations and excitement, including a predictably fussy Loee determined not to sleep and miss a thing, the family was awake. All through Marrowdell, tidy curls of smoke rose in the air as other cookstoves were roused to duty.

There. Lamplight in the Nalynns' kitchen window. Her sister, Peggs, up and stirring. They'd sit to breakfast, Peggs and their father, Radd Nalynn, with Kydd, Peggs' husband, taking the chair Jenn had sat in all her life.

Which was, she reminded herself happily, as it should be. She was welcome, always, at that table. At any table in Marrowdell.

Including the Emms', which she should be setting with bowls.

Still, Jenn couldn't resist one last look over her shoulder, toward her meadow. Toward Bannan's farm.

A light there as well now, to gladden her heart.

Her lips curved in a soft smile. On such a crisp morning, Bannan would surely walk to the village for a hot cuppa and a loaf of fresh bread. If they happened to meet, which of course they would, nothing would be more natural than for her to walk him home, for wasn't her meadow beside his farm?

And Wisp, Jenn thought happily. Her first, best friend, who always knew where she was and how, would be waiting.

Let the rest leave for Endshere. The Ancestors would watch over them and see them home again, while she enjoyed the company of those who stayed.

Nose and toes atingle from the frost, her heart brimming with warmth, Jenn Nalynn hurried indoors.

* * *

He was leaving.

Not for good or for long nor, for that matter, of his own volition, but Bannan Larmensu, once of Vorkoun and now of Marrowdell, greatly feared a certain lady wouldn't care about the details, only the fact. And what perturbed that lady?

He eyed the frost on his windowpanes, well aware Jenn Nalynn could have put it there.

Not willingly. She was as brave and good as she was powerful, and did her utmost to keep her magic under control. Magic.


A person, he reminded himself, the same as any. Bannan swung his feet to the floor, pulling the quilt around his shoulders. A woman grown, full of possibilities and dreams he'd very much like to share. Along with a bed that'd be far warmer this winter with her in it; distracting thought. Bannan shook his head. He didn't doubt her love or his own. He couldn't doubt her good heart or intentions.

Jenn Nalynn was the one who needed to be sure. Ancestors Witness, wasn't her struggle to understand and accept herself the same one he'd fought, when he'd first learned he wasn't like other children? When he'd first looked into another's face and seen a lie? When he'd known he'd forever be different?


Oh, how he'd hated that name, that gift, and the duty it had brought him, to be an interrogator for a heedless prince, to see nothing but darkness. It was only here, in Marrowdell, that he'd come to cherish his deeper sight. For here...

Getting up, Bannan tossed aside the quilt and dressed quickly. Here, he thought happily, were marvels, the greatest of all being Jenn Nalynn.

Copyright © 2014 by Julie E. Czerneda


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