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The Charmed Sphere [Aronsdale Series Book 1] [Secure eReader]
eBook by Catherine Asaro

eBook Category: Fantasy
eBook Description: Once Chime had been the most promising mage in the land, feted and celebrated for her potential and future role in the kingdom. Then Iris, her young competitor, made a stunning leap in skill and turned Chime's world upside down. Now no longer the most powerful, no longer promised to a prince--and still unable to harness her magic properly--Chime was set adrift. As was the new king's cousin--and former heir--Lord Muller. Yet when the neighboring kingdom threatened war, Muller and Chime were tasked with uncovering the plot. Both were flawed, yet unwilling to accept a lesser destiny than they had once known. Could this quest be the opportunity for redemption--or would it lead them to their deaths? Award-winning author Catherine Asaro, creator of The Skolian Empire, creates her first full-length fantasy novel in a world rich with magic and power. Fans who caught a glimpse of the kingdom of Aronsdale in "Moonglow" from the Charmed Destinies collection are delighted with the result!

eBook Publisher: Harlequin/LUNA, Published: 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2007


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1
Chime

Chime hid when the king came to town.

Everyone in Jacob's Vale knew the royal party would arrive today. Fast messengers traveling the country kept citizens apprised of the king's progress through the realm of Aronsdale. Chime had hoped he might skip a hamlet as small as Jacob's Vale, but apparently she wouldn't be so lucky.

A pack of boys raced into town, hair flying, yelling that King Daron was coming. So Chime hid. She ran to her family's orchard and climbed her favorite apple tree. At her age, almost eighteen, she was supposedly too mature for such pastimes, ready instead to settle down and bring a husband into the household. She had no wish to marry, however, and didn't care in the least about her supposed lack of interest in climbing trees. She scrambled up the trunk, dressed in tunic, leggings, and knee-boots, all the hue of yellow apples, her favorite color. She didn't stop until she was deep into the leafy cover of the branches, screened by spring foliage from curious eyes. Royal eyes.

Actually, it wasn't the king who inspired Chime to flee the town and stash herself in a tree. She feared a far more imposing person—Della No-Cozen, one of Daron's top advisors. Della served as the Mage Mistress for Castle Suncroft.

"Pah," Chime muttered. Although the idea of a castle being a croft for the sun appealed to her sense of whimsy, she had no wish to go there. She knew why Mistress No-Cozen was searching the countryside, visiting towns large and small. Oh, yes, she knew. They were looking for shape-mages, the adepts who used circles, cubes, spheres, and other shapes to create spells. Well, they wouldn't find any here, not if she had any say in the matter.

Although Chime's parents realized she carried the shape-mage gifts, neither had ever pressured her to reveal her talents. Besides, if she left Jacob's Vale and went to Suncroft, her family would have one less person to help in the orchards. Chime loved her family and she loved tending the trees, especially when they blossomed and brought forth fresh, succulent apples.

Thinking of fruit, Chime spotted a particularly juicy apple. She plucked it and settled herself more comfortably in the branches. Then she peered through the leaves at the dusty road beyond the trees, and past it to the hills. In the distance, the first riders of the king's party had appeared over a ridge outside the town. Taking a bite of her apple, she sat back to watch them arrive.

The stately procession crested the ridge like a wave of people. Chime had to admit they made an impressive sight. Warriors rode great horses with golden bridles. Their pennants snapped in the breeze, dyed the king's colors, indigo and gold on a white background, showing a castle silhouetted on the disk of the sun. An honor guard rode with them, officers in blue uniforms. As they drew nearer, riding at the edge of the trees and even under some of them, Chime saw the gold insignia of military officers.

Then King Daron appeared. At first Chime mistook him for a royal advisor. He made a spectacular sight, to be sure, tall on his great black charger, his gray hair swept up from his brow. And his chiseled features certainly had a kingly aspect. But he seemed so old. She had seen his image on the hexagonal coins people used to buy the apples, quinces, and pears her family grew. It made her expect a much younger man, one hale and hearty, full of vigor. This man's advanced age suggested his era of rule might end sooner than she, and most people, expected.

The thought perturbed Chime. King Daron had been a constant all her life, a good sovereign her parents said, steady and certain. He had no son to assume his crown; the prince had died years ago, lost in an orb-carriage accident with his wife and their young child, a boy named Jarid. Rumor claimed their loss had destroyed the king. He had been widowed himself years before, and he had never remarried. Instead he had chosen his nephew, the son of his brother, as his heir.

Chime took another bite of her apple, studying the king's retinue. Several nobles rode with him, the men in gold trousers and white shirts under brocaded vests; the women in pale tunics and leggings tucked into riding boots.

As the procession drew near, a woman looked up at the tree. Her full cheeks had a ruddy color and gray curls framed her lined face. Chime could see her eyes, gray perhaps, though she was too far away to be sure. What struck Chime most was their intelligence. The woman stared straight at her hiding place as if she saw the truant girl.

Chime held still, praying to escape notice. It seemed to work. The woman rode on with the king's party, passing below the tree with no more indication she knew someone was watching them. Chime hoped that were true, because she had no doubt who she had just seen—Della No-Cozen, Shape-Mage Mistress of Suncroft.

* * *

Chime climbed in a window at the back of her house, sneaking into her mother's workroom. It was here that Bell recorded the sale of fruit from their orchards, writing the numbers on parchments in beautiful inks with designs of vines around the edges. Bell had gone to the village earlier, so this entrance was safer for Chime than going in the front door, where someone might catch sight of her and prod her to go greet the king's party.

She was clambering over the sill onto a rickety wooden chair when a young voice said, "Hey!"

Chime jerked around and lost her balance. As she flailed her arms, she jumped off the chair and landed with a thump on the plank wood floor. Stumbling, she grabbed the wall shelves to keep from falling. Knickknacks rained over her, wooden harvest dolls that clattered all over the floor. She managed to avoid the ignoble fate of sprawling on the floor herself, but she winced at her undignified entrance.

Copyright © 2004 by Catherine Asaro.


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