From the Back Cover
Sara Moore is having crazy dreams. Gryphon and dragon crazy.
The scary part? Waking up, with scratches and splinters. Is she losing it because of stress? Her twin sister is in a coma. One more unfinished sculpture will fully tank her grades. Goodbye bachelor’s degree, hello failure.
It’s enough to make anyone sleepwalk.
Choosing to defy the Conclave, Trystan risks capture and mind control to find a magical lute through a shadow network. Dane meets a sinister stranger and barely escapes with his life. Together, guided by a fae only known as Sara, they will end an ancient curse…or die trying.
Genre: College Fantasy, New Adult
Below you can read the first 10 pages of Sorrowfish, by Anne C. Milles
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Trystan’s mouth watered as he approached the trestle table. It held the remains of the noon meal. He still wore a velvet surcoat, fancy dress for a bard, even one noble born. He stood out like a peacock among the other students in their dark-gray robes.
“Stars and stones, man. Where have you been?” Jerome waved across the table.
“I’m kept slaving morning till night, composing,” Trystan said. He mimicked the baron’s haughty nasal drawl and gestured to the heavens. “Pickell’s ballad must be perfect!”
“What will be perfect is not being in the chorister rotation next week,” Jerome said. “Master Standish has assigned three more manuscripts to copy, and he expects them by Tunesday.” He plucked the heel of a loaf from the table, shoving it at Trystan. “Come on. We’re late.”
Trystan took his seat next to Jerome on a velvet-cushioned bench, out of breath. Narrow tapestries blanketed stone walls, punctuated by arched, stained-glass windows. These warmed the arena with a riot of gentle, colored light.
“We trade in melodies and myth. History, teaching, crafting, entertainment, and intrigue. These are the bard’s calling.” Master Sondheim Terre’s rich baritone rolled from downstage right. The gray-haired master crossed the stage, midnight-blue robes swishing. “However, another type of music can not only touch the heart, it can quite literally cause a storm. Today you will explore the difference between songs and the Song. This class is one of the most important you will ever attend.
“You’ve heard about dewin. Music mages. Dewin sounds like divine for a reason. Centuries past, these wizards held the power of gods. Life and death. Each descended into madness as the Wyrm fought the Storm King. A hundred ballads tell the tale, how instead of healing, the dewin killed. Since the War, only those who make lifelong vows to serve the Conclave learn to touch and use the broken Song. Magic.”
Master Terre’s blue eyes sparkled. He waved his hands, mock- casting a spell.
“Cantors keep themselves from madness through careful, strict adherence to ritual. Safeguards. Today we shall discuss the most sacred mystery: How to avoid using the Song, though you’re a musician. How to sidestep madness. To do so, you must learn to touch the Song itself.”
Excited murmuring broke out among the students. A hand shot up from the front row. “Yes, Conor?” “We aren’t dewin. We can’t use the Song with only our voices, so why would we go mad?”
“Excellent question. Dissonance in the Song itself causes the madness. Do you think your fellow musicians who take their vows of celibacy, truth, and baldness”—he tapped his thick head of hair—“are all dewin? Yet the Conclave acolytes and cantors wield the Song. They heal. They protect. And yes, they defend when necessary. All with the Song, while exposed to Dissonance. Without going mad, without dewin. How is it possible? Anyone?”
The hair on Trystan’s arms stood on end. He’d both dreaded and anticipated this lesson. These lessons were taught to children in his home country, Pelegor. Trystan had discovered the Bindery teaching here in the Weldenlands sometimes conflicted with what he had learned there. Disclosing the differences often did not end well.
He decided to feign ignorance. His hand went up. “They use special instruments?” “Trystan proposes an interesting solution.” Master Terre’s deferential bow was only mildly ironic. “But no. The instruments you speak of do exist. But each is possibly as volatile as the dewin themselves. They are, therefore, forbidden. You may come across one such in the collection of a titled nobleman. Take care, and do not, under any circumstances, play the thing.”
Master Terre’s eyes rested on Trystan, pleading. Trystan blinked. Is Master Terre trying to warn me specifically? “Could a Crafter accidentally make one?” The master arched a brow. He knelt to answer Trystan. “No,” he said in a voice pitched to reach only Trystan. “We don’t know how to create them. The knowledge was lost with the majisters. When they disappeared, their secrets vanished too. For the best.”
Terre straightened. “Now, how do you touch the Song without a forbidden instrument…or the voice of a dewin?”
Thornton Febwump, a third-year journeyman from Teredhe, answered. “Some ancient songs activate safely within range of certain plants.”
“Why?” The master disappeared behind a curtain. He returned with a tray full of blooms.
Thornton’s chest puffed out. “Those plants carry Virtue granted by the cyntae. Cantors use the blossoms as they go about their duties. Their Virtue guards us from Dissonance.”
Master Terre nodded and held up a large blue flower. It chimed. “This is a tunebell,” he said. “It’s not the only flower with an aural nexus but is one of the most common. It will activate the Song. These flowers are restricted, forbidden for common use. Why?”
Jerome lifted his meaty arm with a grunt. “To grow such is a threat. Using the Song incorrectly might destroy you.”
Master Terre said, “Indeed, Ser Niall. Lest anyone not fully grasp the point, allow me to demonstrate. I shall demonstrate only the broken Song’s effects. Fear not. You will be perfectly safe.”
Master Terre crushed the tunebell in his large hands. The Song oozed from his mouth like thick blood from a wound. The world melted with it.
Trystan just saw madness. Fae, fickle spirits who haunted dewin, flashed on every side. Like flames, they appeared, vanished. People of all colors and ages screamed, gasped, cried, laughed. The world shifted. Emptiness yawned beneath Trystan’s feet. Faces stretched into death masks with glowing eyes.
No wonder the dewin went mad.
Trystan focused on the words the master used. Unintelligible. Trystan tried to grasp even one. Brenin. A second later, it had slipped away. His mind would not hold the strange language.
Around him, students murmured with surprise and fear. Some fled the arena, hiding their eyes.
The singing stopped. “Now you have seen the world as dewin must. The Song is dangerous. The Conclave guards its secrets for a reason. Over the next few weeks we will practice rudimentary exercises to protect your mind. We’ll study blooms which can shield you and learn to recognize songs with potential to harm. You’ll learn to take every precaution possible to play music which is only that…music.
“One slip could be your last.”
Trystan jerked his thumb at a line of new apprentices being led up the stairs.
“Fresh victims. You can claim three and be finished with your manuscripts before Moonday.”
Jerome surveyed the retreating figures. “I can’t risk my scrolls on apprentices. Or bully near-masters into working on them.” He glared at Trystan’s silver ring. “Come on, I’ll show you the lot.”
Trystan gave a low whistle. “Standish let you take scrolls to your rooms?”
Jerome scratched the back of his neck. “Let is too strong a word. But if he wants these finished… Tell me what you make of them?”
Trystan fell into step next to the burly scriv. They passed the Composer’s wing and turned into a narrow corridor. Jerome opened the door at the end of the hall, revealing comfortable rooms.
“I have something to tell you as well,” Trystan said. He looked around while Jerome lit the lamps. The man was a curious sort, but Trystan trusted him. They had bonded over no small amount of ale and discovered a shared interest in dead languages. Trystan appreciated Jerome’s insight and scholarship.
Jerome grunted and went to a sideboard for a decanter and two tumblers. “We’ll have a glass first.”
He poured generous portions and brought one to Trystan. “Let’s have it then. Are you planning to hide from your fate or are you off to make your Journey?”
“I’ve been here less than a year. Would the masters allow it?” “I think they’ll call you soon, like it or not. You’re noble-born, you have a keen grasp on composing. The cantors can’t press you into the Arcanum. But as a proven master?” He raised his eyebrows, counting off on meaty fingers.
“You’ll be married to a noblewoman, cementing power at court for the Bindery and your father, groomed to take a political position. You’ll be coddled, favored, with no time for yourself and your studies. Or”— he leaned forward and lifted his glass—“you’ll complete your Journey, be raised, and return to the ice halls from whence you hail. Where you face much the same prospects.”
Jerome polished off his drink, settling back in his chair. “Except the lady in question will be half goblin and bearded, which is why you left home in the first place. I have none of these problems. ’Tis pleasant to be a peasant.”
“They’re having me spend more time at court. And father wants me to marry the youngest daughter of Duke Finnegan upon my return. She has the voice of a gargoyle and a face to match. If I do make my Journey, it had best be a long one.”
Jerome regarded his friend, eyes hooded by bushy brows. “Do you have a placement in mind?”
Trystan gulped, bracing himself. “Siarad.” Jerome sat up, spluttering. “Stars above! You’re not planning to come back?”
“I’m not looking to be cursed. I’ll leave, no worries. A placement in Siarad will give me time to learn but keep me away from court and the Conclave. I must leave and return at measured intervals to avoid the Dread’s hold. It’s perfect. The curse gives me a reason to travel, explore. I mean to find an enchanted instrument. So I will start my search in Siarad.”
“Now, look here, Trystan. Every boy dreams of becoming the hero who sets the captive city free. Everyone wants to see the Caprices, hear them speak their oracles. You’re a noble, a young rogue, and a damned curious jackdaw. All of that is bold enough. But a forbidden instrument?” Jerome’s voice rose. “Are you mad? Do you realize what can happen? You could be ensorcelled. Trapped, unable to interact with the outside world. Caught, stripped from the Bindery, denied all music. You could be labeled dewin, put in chains. Your mind wiped of all you know. By the Wyrm’s fat fang, you could finish destroying the World Tree and end all things.”
The scriv slumped, his eyes clouded with sickened fear. “Please. Tell me you jest.”
“If I find what I seek, I won’t use it. I want to study. Learn. There are safe methods. I could keep it in Siarad. The instruments are forbidden because they—”
Jerome interrupted. “Because they are dangerous. Playing such puts you in a frenzy.” His voice flattened, brooking no arguments. “Those instruments release the broken Song unfettered. You’ll lose your wits. Were you asleep in class today?”
Trystan pursed his lips. “I’ve already played one.” “What?” Jerome’s eyebrows shot up. “The lute Pickell has me composing on, it’s ancient. The tones coming from it are pure. It’s…”—Trystan shook his head—“You cannot imagine. I’m not ensorcelled, I’m myself. The Conclave inspected his instrument long ago. They let it stay in his possession.”
“Are you certain? It’s truly one of those instruments?” “I’m certain. According to the baron, a cantor inspected it. Pickell’s ancestor saved a high-ranking majister before the Breaking, before the Conclave existed. It was a gift.
“House Pickell has had it for centuries without mishap. The baron wants a ditty for his wedding on this particular lute. It’s a diamond in his coal bin to have something no one else can dream of. I suppose he has permission.”
“The lute might be the only one still in existence. Perhaps it’s just a clever copy or too old to function. Inert, no longer dangerous,” said Jerome.
“It’s active. The music is special. It’s not plain melody. I feel a stirring, but with… I’ve never felt such before. The tones are palpable. Something…it defies description. But no ill effects. I’ve been playing it for weeks. Don’t you think if madness had affected me, you’d know?”
Trystan sat down. “Jerome, it’s nothing like the demonstration. There have been no strange warts on my fingers, no festering sores. I haven’t been losing my temper. No fae have appeared to steal my soul. The music is haunting, but it’s not causing madness.”
Jerome was silent. Finally, he nodded. “I believe you. If what you say is true, the masters and cantors are lying. The lute should be confiscated. But the Conclave cannot lie, can they?” He frowned. “There must be something we don’t know.”
“That’s why I want to go to Siarad,” said Trystan. Jerome’s frown deepened. “We are musicians, Trystan, not cantors. ‘We craft in melodies and myth.’” He quoted Terre in perfect mimicry. “The Conclave and its Arcanum deal in the Song. Leave it to them. Unless you’re planning on joining the order?”
“No,” Trystan said. “I’d rather marry the duke’s daughter than spend the rest of my life in chastity and devotion to the cyntae. I’m not fit to serve.
“I’ve been reading any old text I can find. Whether I come across another instrument or not, I will understand how it works. Is it possible to use the Song without madness?”
He stood and plucked a piece of vellum from a stack on the scriv’s table. “This is the symbol on the lute,” he said, sketching the insignia he’d seen. Three stars within a circle.
“Help me. See if you can find any reference to this. But be discreet.” Jerome accepted the drawing, studied it, and cast it into the fire. “I will. But I fear any answers will only lead to more questions.”
Trystan’s mouth tightened. “I know. And Matins will come too early. It is late. I must go.” He made the sign of the arc, a half circle scribed from shoulder to shoulder over his head. “Did you still need me to inspect your scrolls?”
Jerome waved him away. “No, I’ll get an apprentice or three to help me tomorrow.” His lips twisted in a wry grin. “Off with you, damned jackdaw.”
Morning dawned cold over Bestua, mists covering its spires. Even in the dawn light, the Weldenland capitol bustled. Vendors hurried to shops and stalls. Carters loaded and unloaded wares from flatboats traveling the River Dyfi. The sound of Matins wafted from the Grand Arcade, blending with the dawn gray.
Deep in the Bindery archives, Trystan pored over a scroll. He traced a finger along the lines of cramped script, reading. “Those below shall be as above…”
The scroll was ancient. Trystan puzzled out the words and checked Jerome’s note. It held only numbers, shorthand they used when sharing oddments to study. Four. Three. Two. Fourth chamber, third shelf, second scroll. It was the right manuscript.
Footsteps. He hastily pretended to be dusting, arranging scrolls as he worked. “Good morn, Trystan,” a voice whispered.
“Good morn, Brother Bren,” Trystan said. He bowed from the waist. “The night has passed. Let us rejoice in the new day. You’re summoned to the masters’ circle.”
Trystan followed, wondering why Brother Bren had fetched him, instead of an acolyte.
The master’s chambers opened inward to a center cloister on the roof. They waited in full ceremonial robes. Bren took his place behind them.
Trystan faced the masters. “Trystan dan Tenkor, we are gathered here today in the sight of cyntae and man. We call upon you to begin your Journey, to follow the call wherever it might lead and to become a master true,” said Master Standish, stepping forward.
“We call you to walk this path, to shape your destiny,” Master Hamish said, eyes twinkling beneath the hood of his robe.
“Journey to find the answers you seek. Find your melody and return in joy, my son.” Master Terre’s booming voice rolled across the courtyard. The Master Player was ever a showman. He stepped forward with a small flourish.
The last line of the call was spoken by the Master Crafter, the only master to hold the rank of cantor, also. The crafter not only served the Bindery, he wielded the Song. Master Aric Miller regarded Trystan, the supplicant.
Trystan bowed his head under the intensity of those eyes, the depth of the aged gaze from the young master. His mind raced.
The crafter alone has leave to use the Song as a cantor. Why? Trystan fought a frown as he realized why a crafter might need the skill. He needs to wield the Song to craft forbidden instruments, I’m sure of it. But does he know how?
“Journey under the arc, master your inner fire,” he said. “Do you accept the call?”
“Yes, Master Miller, I accept the call.” “Witnessed and approved,” said Brother Bren. “Witnessed and approved,” repeated the masters. The ceremony finished, each bowed and drifted away. Trystan was expected to pack and leave at once. He gulped. Highly unusual to be called before Pickell’s wedding. Trystan breathed, stilling his racing heart.
The morning sun warmed him. Here on the roof, the world’s business seemed distant. Faint city sounds wafted up, but Trystan concentrated on birdsong in the distance. He opened his eyes and looked up, lifting his hands in supplication. He was full of questions. Perhaps the Storm King would grant him guidance.
A jackdaw perched on the roofline, its beady eyes intent, unmoving and silent.
Trystan froze. Jackdaws are never silent. How does the proverb go? When jackdaws are silent, the cyntae will sing.
Outer Siarad wreathed the lake with thatch-roof houses and half- timber shops. A stone tavern jutted from a jetty at the lake’s edge. Cobblestone streets wound through the village. Thick fog marked the bounds of the Dread. It hung, wrapping every person, caressing.
The island of Anach glowed, spectral. Legendary home of the long- dead Majisterium, its tower flickered with cold lights through the mists. Sometimes lights flared, hovering above the remaining towers or moving along the shore. No sound issued forth. Not even birdsong trilled for those with the heart to listen. Where once the majisters wielded the Song, only the Dread remained.
Trystan must record local traditions and set them to new music. He’d perform these to earn his golden master’s ring. The Dread hindered Trystan’s work considerably. It was difficult to think, much less compose.
A master bard held an invitation to any court, to all guilds. Bindery bards were welcomed everywhere, as majisters once were. In a way, they were more trusted. Though learned, they could not use the Song to manipulate leaders. They also weren’t under the thumb of the Conclave, yet equal to it. That was why Father was counting on him to secure his master’s ring.
Trystan started with the townfolk, asking questions. “Aye, they’re immortal,” said Ben, the earnest innkeeper, as he polished his bar to a dull shine. It was early. The inn on the jetty had not yet filled with its usual mix of townfolk and seekers.
“You never know when Caprices will appear. They look a bit like cantors, but no bodies, just empty robes…and the Dread. Some say they served the majisters in the Tower. Others say they’re spectres of the majisters themselves. Dead, but lingering.”
Ben made the sign of the arc. “Caprices don’t come on a schedule, regular. Sometimes there’s only one, sometimes upward of twenty or more. ’Tis why they are called Caprices. They move on their own whims. One minute the bridge is empty and the next? The bell tolls, and there they are. But only one ever speaks.” He held up a declaratory finger, his round face solemn. “Mind you wear holly when you go to the seeking. Sprigs there.” He nodded to the pile on a table in the corner. “Will guard you from the Dread.”
“Why holly?” “My gram said majisters wore it. When the Song was broken, folk took to wearing it. Mayhap it’s the berries? Blood of the Tree. Looks akin to it. All I know is, it helps. Talk to Old Shep when he wanders in. He might know more.”
Trystan nodded, wondering how to approach his real questions. Were instruments made here, outside the Conclave’s approval and inspection? They must be. But how?
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