On the Road to Shalas

Lots going on in the world, but nothing I want to talk about. So instead I’m offering a snippet of the WIP. Marta is returning to Shalas after the events of Power’s Shadow, and the vague “he” referenced is a person she doesn’t know she knows, and that’s all the context you’re going to get, because that’s what the book’s for.

The next morning Marta reclaimed her horse and set out on the road south. Dessera had tucked herself out of the sun and into some quiet crevice of the saddle bag. Bonetapper rode on Marta’s shoulder, sound asleep. He’d spent the night scouting the southern road until it reached the sea and turned east toward Shalas and didn’t return until just before dawn.

“Didn’t see anything or anyone at all until I reached the sea road,” he reported. “Traveling merchants, one or two wandering priests. Not much else. Either he didn’t go that way or he’s better at hiding than I am at looking.”

“Interesting, but not very reassuring. No matter; we have to take this route if we’re going to reach Shalas before winter.”

That was the end of the discussion and Bonetapper nodded off soon after. Marta rode on, enjoying the silence. She was tempted to turn west when she reached the sea road; it was the most direct route to Lyksos and home. Yet circumstances had dictated that she leave her cart and pony in Shalas, and she was not inclined to abandon either. As for home…was there really any point in going there at all? She would only have to leave again when the Arrow Path relented and showed her the path to the Seventh Law.

Assuming it ever did.

This possibility was one Marta did not enjoy considering. The Arrow Path asked a great deal, whether you were the witch following it or the one who incurred the Debt because of it. Those who accepted the bargain an Arrow Path witch offered did so freely if not always wisely. They weighed the value of what they received against what they gave up, and for them the scales balanced. For those who followed the Arrow Path, the bargain, both in terms of value and loss, was not so clear. Yes, it led them to the Laws of Power without which they would be unable to meet their obligations, with the promise of both power and the freedom to use it however one saw fit at the end of it all. That was the lure that brought so many to it. But was this ‘promise and hope of mist and smoke,’ as the child’s rhyme went?

Has anyone ever found all Seven Laws?

Perhaps her mother had done so. She was, after all, widely regarded as the most powerful witch in the Seven Kingdoms. But if she had found it, why had nothing changed for her, in all the time Marta had known her? And then there was the undeniable fact that Marta’s own discovery of the Sixth Law owed more to dumb luck than guidance and she did not feel any pull from the direction of the Seventh Law at all.

We had a bargain, Amaet. Me, my mother, and every Arrow Path sorceress who ever lived. Are you going to honor it? Or have I, after all I’ve been through, misunderstood everything the Arrow Path was supposed to be?

It was a careless thought which Marta regretted immediately when the voice echoed through her skull like a bad memory.

“Smart girl,” said the familiar voice. “Would you be surprised to know your mother asked the same question? It’s true. And she had her answer. Will you have yours? The anticipation is delicious.”

“And when will I know?” Marta asked. “Will you tell me that much at least?”

“Certainly, because it’s something I need you to understand when the time comes.  You will have your answer,” Amaet said, “When you find the Seventh Law of Power.”

“But—” Marta didn’t bother to finish. The silence in her mind told her not to waste her time.

(c) 2021 Richard Parks

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