by Jenifer Nipps

Chapter 1

It was late afternoon, approaching twilight. The carriage stopped at the tree line just west of Sulward Keep. A lone rider leading another horse rode nearby.

The Vizenti emblem of an eagle in flight had been carefully covered, betraying no signs of the nobility riding inside.

The driver was a non-descript man who had been chosen just for this purpose. To get her to Sulward without asking any questions. He stepped down from his seat and opened the carriage door.

A hooded figure got out. “Your destination, milady,” he said.

“Good.” She gave him a pouch of coins. “For your trouble. And to make certain you never saw me.”

The driver nodded. Without a word, he climbed back up to his seat. He whistled as he stowed the pouch in his safe box. He turned the carriage around, heading back the way he came.

The hooded figure laughed. “Very good.”

She approached the man leading her horse. The one who had insisted on accompanying her.

Seeing that her attention was on him, he dismounted and started untying the lead rope from her horse.

She took another pouch of coins from inside her robe. She gave it to him. “Leave me now, Henrik,” she said. “You don’t know me.”

Henrik paused in checking the straps on her saddle. “But Lady Marissa….”

“You don’t know me,” she repeated.

Henrik shivered as though he had stepped into the middle of a snowstorm in his summer clothes. “Yes, Lady,” he finally said, looking at the ground in a post of submission. She took the reins of her horse from him. “Leave, Henrik. Don’t look back.”

“Are you sure? Is it safe?” he persisted. “What about your sister?”

She slapped him. “My sister can take care of herself. If anyone finds me here, Henrik, you will pay. I swear it.”

He decided to call her bluff. “You are but an illusionist. You can do no such thing.”

“Can’t I?” she asked, her voice icy and her posture rigid. She pushed her hood back, revealing the straight auburn hair underneath. “Look at me, Henrik.”

“No, Lady. Please.”

“I said look at me, Henrik.”

Her voice compelled him to look into her grey eyes. And he froze. Held still by whatever he saw there.

After a moment, she raised her hood again. “That will happen to you if you dare cross me, Henrik. Now leave.”

Henrik was shaken. He never thought she’d dare. “I thought you loved me. I thought we would wed. I love you, Satin.” He hesitated using the name she had chosen to call herself.

Satin laughed. “Love? What need have I for love? This is you last warning, Henrik. Leave.” She walked around to the side of her horse and mounted, riding astride. “Come, Noire,” she whispered to the horse. “Let us leave this pathetic fool to his own devices.” She rode off in the direction of Sulward’s gates. Soon, the sound of hoof beats going the other direction told her Henrik finally saw good sense and left.

Less than a candlemark later, Satin stopped before the gates of the keep. The city seemed to have outgrown the size of a keep long ago but no one bothered to change the name to reflect the growth.

She pushed her hood back and looked up at the palisades, shading her eyes against the setting sun. “Good day to you, gentlemen!” she called to the guards on duty. “How may a lady gain entrance to your fine city?”

“State your name and what business you have in Sulward,” a guard called down.

“My name is Satin,” she said in a tone indicating there was no need to ask her for any other name. “For the moment, I seek to visit Sulward to see if it is a place I would like to stay or I should move on.”

There was silence from above as the guard apparently conferred with his senior officer. “And if you stay in Sulward, what would be you line of work?”

Satin sighed. So many questions. She could have used the shadows and light to spirit herself inside the keep without going through this little ritual. But she had decided to play by the rules for now so she must answer. “I am a sorceress,” she replied.

“Report to the Mage Guild,” the guard said as the gates swung open. “The kingdom has need of your kind.”

Satin urged Noire forward. She stopped inside the gate where another guard stood to give directions. “And just what is ‘my kind?’” she asked.

“Mages,” the guard answered. “And you’ll find the Mage Guild….”

“I am not a mage,” she said in a controlled voice. “I am a sorceress. There is a difference. You would do well to learn it.” She rode off down the cobbled street. “My thanks,” she called over her shoulder.

As soon as she was out of sight of the guards on the wall, Satin raised her hood again and laughed. "Fools. Will they never learn?"

She knew she would be able to find the Mage Guild when she was ready for it. She felt the magic in the air from the mages and their guild.