Read a sample from THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso


My mother wasn’t even here, and still she dominated the conversation. I bent over the unconscious girl, both out of concern and to hide my frustration.

“Will she be all right?” I asked.

“She’s fine, my lady. Warlocks often collapse from exhaustion after loosing their power.” The new stiffness in Verdi’s voice smarted like salt on my burns. I shouldn’t have told him my name.

He knelt, reaching for the girl’s wrist. At first I thought he meant to check her pulse, but his fingers instead traced the delicate weave of the bracelet.

The jess was the most complex wirework artifice I’d ever seen. The intricate braid of the wire and position of the blood-red beads formed a language dictating the terms of the spell. It was too elaborate for me to follow.

Some of the golden wires had blurred and melted at the knot that bound the strands together. That shouldn’t have been possible; jesses were supposed to be nearly impervious to physical harm. But balefire was a powerful magical force.

“It’s fused,” Verdi breathed. “I don’t think it will come off.”

I lifted my eyes and found his green ones. The worry in them was frank and unguarded, in a way I never saw in the drawing-room circles of the Raverran elite.

“Why would you want it to come off?” I asked.

“Because, my lady, you are the one who put it on her.”

“Please, call me Amalia.”

“I’m sorry, Lady Amalia. I should never have involved you in this.” He shook his head. “We’re trained to recruit civilian volunteers to put on the jesses in unexpected emergencies like this, but I’ve never heard of anyone accidentally enlisting a noble before.”

“You didn’t involve me. I chose to help. I did it myself.” Crouching in the street with my face inches from his suddenly felt awkward. I straightened, cradling my burned hand. The growing pain of it intruded into everything, like an unwelcome guest.

“And you were magnificent. I’m the one who bungled things.” Verdi rose, too, rubbing his head. “I’m not sure what happens now. I need to get our new Falcon to the Mews before she wakes up. The law says she can’t be out in the city without her Falconer, but…” He let out a nervous laugh. “You are her Falconer.”

“But I can’t be.” Now I understood his alarm. “None of the great families of the Assembly can be Falconers. My mother—”

“I know; believe me, my lady.” Verdi grimaced. “I’m not sure who will have my head first: La Contessa, my commanding officer, or the doge himself. But you put the jess on her, so you’re the only one who can bind and release her power. With the jess damaged, nothing can change that now.”

A bracelet couldn’t have made such a huge decision for me. Not even the doge dictated the fate of a Cornaro. The only one who could do that was… I swallowed. “Someone’s going to have to tell my mother.”

Verdi saluted me.

“Oh, no,” I protested. “I can’t.”

“Better she hear it from you than from the doge.” His brows drew together. “Normally I’d take you both straight to the Mews with me, but I don’t dare interfere with La Contessa.”

“I’m afraid we already have.” Though I wasn’t displeased to have acted outside the scope of her approval. I was more concerned about breaking Falconer regulations and Raverran law.

“I’m sorry, my lady.” Verdi bowed. “This is all my fault. And I don’t want to make it worse by leaving you now. But if I don’t get our new recruit to the Mews before she wakes up, even the Grace of Luck won’t be able to save this mess.”

He hesitated over the unconscious Falcon a moment, then scooped her up, settling her on his back with a wince at his singed shoulders. One skinny arm hung limply in the air.

Disquiet filled me at the sight. I’d meant to help her, not capture her. But the Falcons were kept in luxury. It must be an improvement over whatever lot in life had left her dressed in rags and running from scoundrels.

“Are you certain she’ll be all right?”

“We’ll take good care of her,” Verdi said. “She’s not a prisoner.”

The jess gleamed on her wrist, and I wasn’t so sure.

“My apologies, my lady.” Verdi attempted another bow, then curtailed it as the girl started to slide off his back. “I must go. I’ll report to your palace once I get her settled, to speak further about this. Or at least, someone will, and I hope it’s me. Because if not, that probably means I’m in a great deal of trouble.”

A great deal of trouble. The words lingered like the scent of smoke on my coat as I climbed the marble stairs to my mother’s study. My hand throbbed on the cool banister. Dark oil portraits of great Cornaros of the past watched me from the walls, with my mother’s shrewd eyes.

I tucked my book behind a silver urn in the hallway, to give myself a better chance of glossing over exactly where I’d been. I considered going to my room to change, but La Contessa placed more value on timely information than on appropriate dress. I had no excuse to put this conversation off.

Still, I stood for a few minutes outside her study door. I stared at the gilt-carved doorframe, picking out the same familiar shapes I’d found as a child, while I practiced my opening line under my breath.

Finally, I knocked.

“Enter,” she commanded from within.

I opened the door. Warm sunlight caught on the baroque moldings and bright frescoes of my mother’s study. A huge map of the Serene Empire of Raverra hung on one wall, and a bookcase ran up the full fifteen feet to the ceiling on another.

My mother sat at her writing desk, her back to me, quill moving as she worked. I loved that writing desk. It was full of secret drawers and cubbies, and my mother had asked me to help her test it when I was a child, offering me sweets for each hidden compartment I could find. Her auburn hair cascaded artfully over rich emerald-velvet shoulders. When the doge himself might call for her at any time, or the Council of Nine convene for an emergency meeting, La Contessa believed in always looking her best.

I cleared my throat. “I saved Raverra from burning today.”

“That would explain why you smell like an unswept chimney.” She kept writing, without a glance in my direction.

“Yes.” I shuffled my soot-stained boots. “There was an out-of-control fire warlock, and I… I helped. A Falconer gave me a jess, and I got it on her.”

The scratching of the quill stopped. My mother turned, slowly. She wore her business face, beautiful and unreadable, with penetrating eyes.

“You put a jess on a rogue warlock.” Her voice was flat as a slab of marble.

“Yes.” My mouth stretched, from sheer nerves. I shouldn’t smile; I twisted it to a grimace instead. “It, ah, seems it won’t come off.”

The moment lengthened. My mother didn’t move. Finally, the pen in her hand twitched, the feather quivering, as if she stuck a decisive period at the end of her thoughts.

“I knew you’d gone shopping in the Tallows,” she said. “I didn’t realize you brought me back a Falcon.”

She already knew where I’d been. Of course.

I twisted my good hand in the strap of my satchel, but said nothing. My mother once told me that when you didn’t know where you stood, you should keep your mouth shut and listen.

“Amalia, do you know why I let you run around Raverra without an escort?”

I hesitated, then shook my head.

“Why I let you study magical science in Ardence, or allow you to go out dressed like a country squire’s seventh daughter, or pretend I don’t notice when you visit pawnshops in unsavory areas?”

“No, Mamma.”

“To see what you do, given freedom to make your own choices.” Her words cut the air like a thrown knife. “And to see what you learn. Because I hoped this independence indicated a spark of intelligence or ambition that might serve our family well, and that you might prove yourself worthy to be my heir.”

I had thought, perhaps, it was because she wanted me to be happy. “I did learn things.”

“Hmm.” La Contessa tapped her quill against the edge of her desk. “You have certainly taken bold action. For that, I must commend you.”

“Thank you, Mamma.” She was probably being ironic, but better to be safe.

“The question is what will happen now. The law is clear: you cannot be a Falconer. Yet you are. Do you realize what this means?”

I swallowed. “I’m causing headaches for everyone?”

“You miss the crucial point, child. It means we are the only family in the Assembly to have control of a Falcon.”

I blinked. I hadn’t considered that angle at all. The hundreds of patrician families that made up the Assembly, the great legislative council of Raverra, constantly maneuvered for advantage against each other. Strong magic was a privilege reserved for the state, an edge that could disrupt the delicate balance of Raverran power. “I can’t imagine the doge would allow—”

“You are my heir,” La Contessa cut in. “The doge does not control you. I do.”

My eyebrow shot up in annoyance. “With all respect, if that were entirely true, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

My mother laughed. She had a lovely, warm laugh, which still set the hearts of courtiers and kings aflutter. “Very well then, child. You are a Cornaro. No one controls you. But be careful; the doge will not appreciate that fact. Especially with things as they are now in Ardence.”

That didn’t sound good. “Is something wrong in Ardence?” Domenic and my other Ardentine friends hadn’t mentioned any trouble in their last letters, though I hadn’t heard anything from them within the past few weeks. Nor had my mother’s cousin, the doge’s envoy to Ardence, said anything at our family dinner a month ago. But La Contessa was on the Council of Nine, and personally oversaw Raverran intelligence; she’d know about trouble before its perpetrators did.

“Nothing serious yet. The young duke is testing his limits. You should pay more attention to the world around you, Amalia.”

Her gaze traveled over my clothes, and my empty satchel, before arresting at my hand.

“What happened to you?” she demanded, rising from her desk.

I tucked my hand into my coat. “She was on fire, Mamma.”

She crossed the room and lifted my hand out of hiding, tenderly. I tried not to wince.

“I’m fine.”

“You will be,” my mother agreed. “But that must hurt. We’ll have it seen to.”

She brushed loose hair from my face, bringing locks up as if to style it. By the look in her eyes, it was a hopeless effort. She let my hair drop, smiling at me almost sadly.

“Remember, Amalia. You are my heir. That comes before any other responsibilities life may thrust upon you, including those of a Falconer. Stick to that, above all else, no matter what he tries to get you to agree to.”


“The doge, of course.”

The doge. Of course. Sometimes my mother and I seemed to be having two unrelated conversations.

She gave my singed clothes another glance, frowning. “Go get dressed, girl. And don’t forget your elixir.”

“I never forget my elixir.”

“Evidently, given you’re still alive.” My mother leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on my forehead. The scent of her perfume, as delicate and complex as one of her intrigues, enfolded me. “I’d like to keep you that way. Be careful, child.”

“Of course, Mamma.”

“Now, go change. It’s going to be a long day.”

When my mother told me to get dressed, I knew she meant in attire more suitable for the heir to one of the Council of Nine—the secretive body that, together with the doge, wielded the true power in Raverra. The Assembly made the laws, certainly; but the Council controlled the military, intelligence, and diplomatic services, and had final say in all matters of justice, foreign policy, and the security of the Empire. All nine members had once been elected from the Assembly, but over the centuries, the Empire’s most powerful families had permanently claimed four of the seats, making them hereditary. I’d been confirmed as my mother’s successor before I was born.

Why governing the Serene Empire should preclude comfortable trousers, however, I couldn’t say. I dutifully pulled a gown from my wardrobe and laid it across the bed; but the corset laced up the back, and I was the only one in the room. So I wound up sprawled on my stomach next to it, reading my new book.

Muscati made artifice seem so simple. Use runes to dictate a new property for an object, or bind it to new rules with wirework, and conduct magical energy through the pattern to empower it. Studying his breathtakingly intricate schematics, I hovered each time on the edge of epiphany not just about the particular magic they invoked but about the natural laws they employed or circumvented.

As I read, the sky outside darkened. The luminaries in their wall sconces came on, glowing with a soft echo of the light captured by the solar artifice circle on the roof. The new Falcon must be awake by now—this stranger who could never again leave the cloistered Mews without me at her side.

I cradled my aching hand. She had to be a fire warlock, of all things, the rarest and deadliest of mages. Fire warlocks left charred and smoking holes in the pages of history: cities laid in ruin, battlefields of ash and bone.

But nothing had disturbed the serenity of the Empire in fifty years, since the Three Years’ War. Under the Serene Accords, its client states governed themselves peacefully enough. They gave Raverra trade privileges and Falcons in return for military protection, as well as infrastructure such as good roads, aqueducts, the Imperial Post, and the courier-lamp network. Raverra mostly left its tributaries alone, its Serene Envoys murmuring an occasional well-heeded word in the ears of their leaders, be they kings, dukes, or consuls. No foreign power had had the strength or will to threaten the Empire since it defeated the mad Witch Lords of Vaskandar in the Three Years’ War, in the time of my grandparents. Without an enemy, there was no need to unleash the power of a warlock. My Falcon might stay hooded for the rest of her life.

Hooded, and trapped in the Mews, her life bounded by a line as stark as one of Muscati’s circles.

A familiar, peremptory double rap on my door warned me in time to stuff Principles of Artifice under my pillow before my mother swept into the room. Her attendant, Ciardha, paced behind her, holding a small chest. Ciardha was no mere servant, but a scion of a prominent Ostan merchant family with a discerning eye and a sharp mind, to whom my mother entrusted her most important tasks.

“Good Graces, you haven’t even started yet.” La Contessa’s eyes swept the bed. I forced myself not to glance at my pillow, hoping my book didn’t show. “Were you reading again?”

“I was thinking about fire warlocks.” It wasn’t a lie.

Ciardha, without fuss, took up my burned hand and started smoothing salve on it. I stood at stiff attention.

My mother gave the gown I’d laid out an appalled look. “You can’t receive the doge in that, child. What were you thinking? You could wear that dress to the market, perhaps. Ciardha, when you’re done with her hand, help Amalia get ready.”

“Of course, Contessa,” Ciardha murmured.

My mouth went dry. “I’m seeing the doge? Today?”

“Didn’t I tell you as much? Did you think I was joking? His message came through the courier lamps while you were in here failing to get dressed. He commanded your presence at the Imperial Palace.” She flung open my wardrobe and scanned my gowns. “I managed to buy us some time by pleading your burns, and he’s agreed to come here instead. So, Ciardha, make sure that hand looks dreadfully serious.”

“Of course, Contessa.” Ciardha took a roll of bandages out of her chest and went to work, her nimble fingers moving skillfully.

A powerful urge possessed me to snatch my hand back, run out of the room, and find somewhere to hide. “The doge is coming here? When?”

“Calm down, child. It’s not as if he hasn’t been here before. I’ve bought us an hour or two. Forty people will try to talk to him on his way out of the palace; they always do. I have a servant on the roof with a spyglass watching the Imperial Canal for his boat, so we’ll have a few minutes’ warning before he arrives. The peacock-blue silk, I should think, Ciardha. Make sure she puts on appropriate jewels, and do something about her hair, too.”

“Of course, Contessa.” Ciardha spun a gauzy cocoon around my hand.

“I can’t move my fingers.”

“Of course, Lady.” There was a smile in Ciardha’s voice, though her face stayed serious. “You are far too grievously injured to do any such thing.”

La Contessa squeezed my shoulders. “Listen, Amalia. I’ll stay with you if I can, but the doge will ask to speak with you alone. You have to hold your own against him. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mamma—” I stopped myself. “Wait. No, Mamma. What does he want? Why is he coming to talk to me?”

“Your little adventure today has put high stakes on the table. The control of the Serene Empire’s only fire warlock. The unchallenged authority of the doge over the Falcons. The disposition of the heir to one of the most powerful families in Raverra. Of course he wants to talk to you.”

All Muscati’s words I’d drunk in ignorant bliss while I was supposed to be preparing sat uneasy in my stomach. “Is it really that important, what happened today?”

“You will be on the Council of Nine someday, Amalia. You had best get used to the idea that everything you do is important.”

“What should I say to the doge?” Pain shot through my hand as I tried to clench it. Ciardha tsked at me.

“Get me the Falcon, if you can,” my mother said. “But most importantly, do not let him establish dominion over you. You are no mere Falconer under his command. If you allow him to control you now, when you take my seat in the Council of Nine, you will be his tool.”

“What do you want a fire warlock for, anyway?”

“I don’t want a fire warlock. I want it to be known we have one.” She brushed a stray wisp of hair from my brow. “The doge understands. You will, too.”

“Done,” Ciardha announced. I regarded my bandaged hand in despair. I had to receive the doge like this?

My mother patted my arm, giving me the smile that won the country of Callamorne for the Raverran Empire. “You’ll do fine, child. Just remember who you are.”

Who I was, or who she wished me to be? My throat tightened. “I’m not good at these games. Not like you are, Mamma.”

“Then don’t play. Figure out what you are good at, and make that the game.”

And she swept out, with all the majesty of a swan taking off, leaving Ciardha’s capable hands to get me into the peacock-blue gown. I hardly had to do a thing, save turn when told, or brace myself while Ciardha put a knee in my back to tighten my corset.

“I wish you could talk to the doge for me, Ciardha,” I said when I could breathe again. “You’re good at everything.”

“You will do fine, Lady,” Ciardha assured me with utmost confidence, her fingers now moving adeptly through my hair.

“How can you be sure?”

“Because La Contessa said you would. La Contessa is never wrong.”

A cry rose up in the household, one servant calling to another. He’s coming!

They had spotted the doge’s gull-winged boat on the Imperial Canal. I had best hope Ciardha was right.

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