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Swordmaster Apprentice 1600-2400


by R. Michael Card

Epic Fantasy
January 2015

Alone and hunted in an uncaring country…

Orinarra has always been able to look after herself, but after her swordmaster instructor is murdered and assassins pursue her relentlessly, she’s forced to turn to the only person she trusts, her brother.

When Leethan answers his sister’s desperate summons, he finds himself mired in political machinations far deeper than he could have imagined. They’re caught in a web of corruption in a country on the edge of civil war.

Together they must solve the mystery of who killed Orinarra’s teacher and, in doing so, fight to overthrow an entire government. Despite all their training they are still untested and both fear they’ll fail, causing this kingdom to fall into chaos.




Leethan pulled the hood of his cloak down over his face and pushed into the crowded tavern.

The stench of sweat and beer washed over him. A few dozen voices talking and shouting mingled into an echoing din.

Over the noise came a high, young voice. “Can I take your cloak, sir?” Some barmaid wanted to be courteous.

He shook his head and waved her away. Things would go easier for him if no one in the bar saw his face, of that he was fairly sure.

His height alone made him stand out in Therra and his darker skin would instantly give him away as Elriosan. His father was Lorestin, but he took more after his mother with her dark bronze skin.

He smiled and closed his eyes incanting a quick spell of Life-Sense. Even with his hood down and eyes closed, he knew where everyone was around him. The simple magic gave him a perfect sense of the position, movement, and size of all life around him, from the smallest ant in the straw strewn over the floor to the big bartender. He easily navigated the room to the bar.

Without looking up, he signaled the bartender. The man hesitated then made his way over. The large man, who smelled of stale beer and spirits, kept ducking and leaning to see who was under the cowl, but Leethan was well hidden.

“Sir?” the man asked, unsure.

“I’m looking for someone.”


“A woman about this tall.” He indicated with his hand. “Blond hair, bronze skin, calls herself Orina, or just Ori.”

“Oh, yes, yes, I know her. What’s your business with the young lady?”

“My business is none of yours.” Leethan took a thick gold coin from a pouch at his belt and laid it on the counter. “All you need to do is tell me where she is.”

“I… I uh… I don’t know where she is right now, but perhaps I can tell her where to find you?” As he said this, the man moved his head to look up and to the side, unaware that Leethan could sense his every move. There were rooms on the second floor of the tavern and Leethan had strong reason to suspect that Ori was here.

He drew the coin back. “Your loss. I’ll just go check upstairs if you don’t mind.”

“You can’t do that, sir, those rooms are private, for guests. I can’t…” The man blustered on while Leethan sighed and concentrated the few heartbeats it took him to cast a quick mental control spell. It wasn’t powerful, but it would work.

“I’ll take a look upstairs if you don’t mind.” The spell was woven into the last three words.

“I don’t mind,” the bartender said.

“Good.” Leethan made his way to the stairs and up to the second floor.

His Life-Sense spell could pick out specific life signatures which were known to him, but usually he had to be close. How close depended on how long he had been around a person previously and how long it had been since he’d seen them. Ori’s particular bio-signature was well known to him, but he hadn’t seen her in years. He walked down the upper hall until he felt hers in a room to the left. She was with someone… more than just with… very, very close to them. There was a larger life-sign on top of her on the bed in her room. There were various sounds and grunts coming from the other side of the door.

Leethan sighed. “Ah, come on Ori, really?” He paused, definitely not wanting to walk in on his sister in the middle of… doing what she was doing.

Then he heard a sharp cry that didn’t sound like pleasure at all. He focused his Life-Sense on the two and realized that it wasn’t what he had thought.

Someone was attacking Ori.

He kicked the door open and ran into the room. He incanted a quick spell of paralyzation and released it on Ori’s attacker.

The man froze, and with a kick from underneath, she tossed him onto the floor.

“There are more!” she hissed, rolling out of bed. She wore a shift, and her short blond hair was tousled. She hardly spared a look at him. Instead, she drew her sword from its sheath.

Another form in dark clothing slid in through the window. Ori was quick, stabbing the man in the throat before he could take in the room. He dropped.

Barely audible footfalls sounded in the alley below. Leethan met Ori at the window, looking out as a third dark-clad form disappeared around the corner.

Ori slammed her palm against the windowsill.


“I wanted one of them alive.”

“He’s still alive,” Leethan said, pointing to the attacker he’d paralyzed, now lying awkwardly on the floor.

“Oh? Good. I didn’t know what you’d done to him.”

“Is this a usual night for you?”

She grimaced. “No, but things haven’t been usual for some time.” She studied the paralyzed man on the floor, then drew in a long breath and nodded. “All right, let me get dressed and we’ll ask him a few questions.” She pulled off her shift in one fluid motion.

Leethan spun back to the window, shaking his head.

“What?” He heard her voice behind him. “It’s not like we didn’t bathe together as kids. You’ve seen me naked before.”

“Not… recently.” Gods, did the woman have no decency? “In fact, I’m beginning to think I don’t know you that well at all anymore. We haven’t spoken much in the last nine years. I think I’ve only had one other letter from you since you came to Therra. When was that?”

“Nine months ago.”

“Right. And there was no mention of any danger. Even this last one only said you were in trouble and to come at once. I didn’t know trouble meant… assassins. Hell, trouble up until now meant some doting boy you couldn’t get rid of.”

He heard her sigh behind him. “Things have changed a bit since last we saw each other.”

“That,” Leethan said, eyeing the two black-clad men on her floor out of the corner of his eye. “I can see.”