Excerpt: Frostwick

“I don’t understand why he would come all the way out here,” Starwick said, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. “Draius is practically the edge of the world, at least on this continent. They do not even have more than the one port, and I do not think he wants to flee the continent.” He waited for a reply and frowned when none came. “Tyrwick?” He turned his head and startled to see Tyrwick staring at him. Hard. “What?” he asked with a sigh. “I’m fine.”

“Hardly,” Tyrwick replied. “How are the wards?”

“Fine,” Starwick repeated, resisting an urge to rub at his aching head. He did not need Tyrwick thinking him hopelessly weak on top of everything else.

The wind kicked up, making him shiver. Reaching up, he pulled the fur-lined hood of his heavy cloak further down over his head. He wished they were somewhere warm, but Draius Palace was still a good hour away. “I really do not see why he would come all the way out here.”

Tyrwick shrugged. “If Selwick says she Saw us here, then I am inclined to do as she says and not ask questions.”

“That’s just because you’re scared of her,” Starwick dared to tease. The tales of the princess and what she did to her eldest brother were popular legend in Lyus Kingdom.

Tyrwick grimaced, but said nothing. Starwick laughed, but it was cut off by an abrupt cry of pain, and he doubled over in the saddle, cutting off further cries.

Star!

I am all right, Starwick replied as he tried to reach up a hand to soothe Whisper, his owl familiar, where he had alighted on the saddle.

Tyrwick’s hand settled on the small of his back, and Starwick could feel the warmth of wick as he reset the wards on Starwick to counter the curse that was slowly killing him. Two weeks, by their best estimate. If they did not find the stolen ring, and Tyrwick used it to break the curse upon him, in two weeks Starwick would be dead.

He drew a slow, unsteady breath as the pain receded. “Thank you.”

“Try to warn me sooner when they’re fraying,” Tyrwick reprimanded sharply. “I swear you like being troublesome.”

Starwick flinched, hoping his hood and cloak hid it. “I had no intention of winding up the victim of a curse, I promise you. But better me than your brother.”

Tyrwick said nothing and Starwick tried not to be hurt by the tacit agreement. Of course it was better he die rather than the crown prince. Why would anyone, least of all Tyrwick, argue that? Men like Starwick were ten a pence. There would always be someone else willing to step up and slink around the dark, fixing little problems for the king. Crown princes were worth quite a good bit more.

But he still wished Tyrwick had offered up a polite denial, even if it would have been a lie. Empty comfort had to be better than no comfort at all. Tyrwick was no liar, though. Not even nice kind, little ones. He was notorious for it.

“Let’s get going,” Starwick said sharply, hoping he sounded only tired and worn, not hurt and bitter. “If we push on, even in this weather it should not take us more than an hour to reach the palace.”

In reply, Tyrwick simply urged his horse forward, leading the way along the narrow, snow-laden path that was only just visible amongst the winter-soaked world through which they travelled. Snow fell heavily all around them, further obscuring their vision and slowing their progress, but not so heavy as to stop their efforts entirely.

Amidst all the white, it wasn’t hard to follow Tyrwick, who was dressed head to foot in unrelenting black. From time to time, his clothes shifted in an odd way, the only hint of his coiling black serpent familiar tucked inside to keep warm.

Moving Whisper to his shoulder, Starwick nudged his horse into motion and followed after Tyrwick. Occasionally he reached out with his wick to urge the falling snow one way or another, but for the most part, he left well enough alone. Gods alone knew when he would need his wick before the matter was all over. Hopefully he would be alive when it was all said and done.

But he wasn’t holding his breath.

You won’t die. I will not permit it.

I am afraid, my dear, that you’ve not much say in the matter.

You won’t, Whisper said stubbornly, flapping restlessly on his shoulder. His Majesty ordered that Tyrwick was to assist you and save your life at all costs. You won’t die.

I suppose there is no arguing with such flawless logic, Starwick replied, glancing again at the shadow ahead of him—a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-eyed, black-haired figure dressed in still more black, riding a black horse with a black serpent twined around him. Tyrwick did everything full measure, there was no denying that.

Sometimes he suspected Tyrwick thrived on wearing so much of such an unlucky color. Tyrwick was more than willing to push and use every drop of his notorious reputation: eldest, but bastard, son of the king of Lyus, a grade five swordwick, and so ruthlessly honest that people were more afraid of his tongue than his sword. Starwick wondered what it would be like to have all that ruthlessness focused on him in a positive way instead of so often being treated to Tyrwick’s contempt. But a man of honesty was never going to think fondly of a man of lies.

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