Through Stone and Sea - By Barb Hendee & J. C. Hendee Page 0,1

steel, and two war daggers in like-adorned black sheaths were tucked slantwise in his thick belt.

This dark juggernaut stopped three paces off and blew a long exhale through his broad nose, full of disdain for his challenger. Then his black pellet eyes settled upon the small woman ringed in by her taller entourage.

“The new moon comes, this time with the year’s highest tide,” he rumbled. “Welcome again . . . Princess.”

The woman raised gloved hands to her hood.

The movement opened her cloak, exposing a forest green skirt. The skirt’s front was split around her dark brown breeches and calf-high leather riding boots. The hilt of a small horseman’s saber poked out above her left hip. She pulled the hood back, revealing a mass of dark chestnut hair around a dainty face of even features that some would call fetching.

“Duchess . . . Master Cinder-Shard,” she corrected him, but her voice quavered and broke. “Always . . . duchess.”

Reine Faunier reskynna, Duchess of Faunier and princess by marriage to the royals of Malourné, nodded respectfully—almost reverently—to the dark dwarf.

“Toying with titles changes nothing,” he returned. “It disrespects heritage. It is a princess of the reskynna who comes to the Hassäg’kreigi.”

A soft laugh, like a lark in the woods, rose from the brown- cloaked attendant.

“Oh, spare us, Smarasmôy, you old ghost tender!” that one whispered, using the newcomer’s dwarven name. “Preference of title will not crack the walls of propriety.”

Master Cinder-Shard’s dour expression flattened. He raised those black pellet eyes to the tall and slight figure.

“Chuillyon?” he asked with a forced scowl. “What impish prank did you pull this time . . . to end up on guardian duty?”

His caustic tone didn’t hide an elder’s shake of the head at some suspected mischief by a youngster.

“Not a thing, I swear,” answered Chuillyon innocently. “I chose this duty.”

At that, Cinder-Shard turned serious, almost worried. “Why not assign one of your order instead?”

Duchess Reine remained uncomfortably quiet, and Chuillyon pulled back his earth-toned hood and the white cowl beneath it.

Lantern light spread over a male elf’s triangular face with the large amber eyes of his people, but he was no youngster to be chided. Chuillyon’s golden brown locks, hanging past his oversharp chin, were faded in streaks. Prominent creases lined the corners of his eyes set around a narrow nose a bit long even for an elf. More lines framed his small mouth, perhaps as much from mirth as advanced age.

“How fares the Order of Chârmun,” Cinder-Shard asked, “without your mischievous guidance?”

Chuillyon, whose name meant “holly,” lost his soft smile. “As well as the Stonewalkers, I imagine . . . with such unknown times ahead.”

Duchess Reine cringed, clasping her hands tightly together. She tried to breathe slowly, normally, but her effort was plainly visible. One Weardas, with a face too boyish for his stature, leaned around his captain’s shoulder.

“Sir, we draw too much attention.”

Reine’s gaze slipped to the dockworkers down the way. Three dwarves stared with anxious wonder at Master Cinder-Shard and the gathering on the dock.

“Enough talk,” growled the captain. “We go now.”

“Tristan!” Reine admonished sharply, and then lowered her voice. “You will show respect for the master of the Stonewalkers!”

At her strained tone, everyone fell silent. Chuillyon laid a hand lightly upon her shoulder.

“Apologies,” the captain said. “No offense intended.”

Cinder-Shard nodded and glanced briefly at the gawkers far behind him.

“You are correct, Captain,” he agreed. “Will you lead with me?”

Cinder-Shard turned a hardened gaze upon Reine as the captain stepped beyond him to wait. A look of sadness or deep regret passed across the dwarf’s craggy face. Reine set herself, every muscle rigid, as his gravelly voice declared . . .

“Time again, Princess . . . to return to the underworld.”

CHAPTER 1

The racing lift rolled over a shelf lip on the sheer mountainside and lurched to a halt at the way station. Wynn Hygeorht stepped off the lift’s platform, arriving at Cheku’ûn——Bay-Side—one of four main settlements for Dhredze Seatt, the nation of the dwarves, overlooking Beranlômr Bay. Even at this dizzying height, the bay below looked wide and vast. Calm Seatt’s pinprick lights marked its far shore as the glow of encroaching dawn rose in the east.

Wynn pushed back her hood and brushed away wisps of light brown hair that the breeze pulled across her oval face. Beneath her cloak, she wore the light gray robe of the Order of Cathology in the Guild of Sagecraft.

“We’re finally here,” she said.

When she turned back, glancing up the stone loading ramp, any matching relief

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