Winter Moon Online - Mercedes Lackey

Dear Reader,

The world I created for the Five Hundred Kingdoms stories is a place where fairy tales can come true—which is not always a good thing. But it is important to remember that most people living in this world go about their lives blissfully unaware of the force that I call “The Tradition” and its blind drive to send certain lives down predestined paths. As long as their lives are not touched by The Tradition, as long as they do not find themselves replicating the story of some tale, song, or myth, most people go about their business never even guessing that such a force exists.

Such are the characters in this story, “Moontide.” There is no mention of The Tradition, nor of Fairy Godmothers. These folks have magic, indeed, but it is small magic for the most part. Do not underestimate the small magics, however. A great deal can be done with a very little magic at the right time and place. And even more can be done with a heart full of courage, and someone you can trust at your side.

Mercedes Lackey

Lady Reanna watched with interest as Moira na Ferson took her chain-mail shirt, pooled it like glittery liquid on the bed, and slipped it into a grey velvet bag lined with chamois. It was an exquisitely made shirt; the links were tiny, and immensely strong; Moira only wished it was as featherlight as it looked.

“Your father doesn’t know what he’s getting back,” Reanna observed, cupping her round chin with one deceptively soft hand, and flicking aside a golden curl with the other.

“My father didn’t know what he sent away,” Moira countered, just as her heavy, coiled braid came loose and dropped down her back for the third time. With a sigh, she repositioned it again, picked up the silver bodkin that had dropped to the floor, and skewered it in place. “He looked at me and saw a cipher, a nonentity. He saw what I hoped he would see, because I wanted him to send me far, far away from that wretched place. Maybe I have my mother’s moon-magic, maybe I’m just good at playacting. He saw a little bit of uninteresting girl-flesh, not worth keeping, and by getting rid of it he did what I wanted.” Candle- and firelight glinted on the fine embroidered trim of an indigo-colored gown, and gleamed on the steel of the bodice knife she slipped into the sheath that the embroidery concealed.

“But to send you here!” Reanna shook her head. “What was he thinking?”

“Exactly nothing, I expect.” Moira hid her leather gauntlets inside a linen chemise, and inserted a pair of stiletto blades inside the stays of a corset. “I’m sure he fully expected to have a half-dozen male heirs by now, and wanted only to find somewhere to be rid of me at worst, and to polish me up into a marriage token at best. He looked about for someone to foist me off on—which would have to be some relation of my mother’s, since he’s not on speaking terms with most of his House—and picked the one most likely to turn me into something he could use for an alliance. You have to admit, the Countess has a reputation for taking troublesome young hoydens and turning out lovely women.” The ironic smile with which she delivered those last words was not lost on her best friend. Reanna choked, and her pink cheeks turned pinker.

“Lovely women who use bodkins to put up their hair!” she exclaimed. “Lovely women who—”

“Peace,” Moira cautioned. “Perhaps the moon-magic had a hand in that, too. If it did, well, all to the good.” An entire matched set of ornate silver bodkins joined the gauntlets in the pack, bundled with comb, brush, and hand mirror. “There can be only one reason why Father wants me home now. He plans to wed me to some handpicked suitor. Perhaps it’s for an alliance, perhaps it’s to someone he is grooming as his successor. In either case, though he knows it not, he is going to find himself thwarted. I intend to marry no one not of my own choosing.”

Reanna rested her chin on her hands and looked up at Moira with deceptively limpid blue eyes. “I don’t know how you’ll manage that. You’ll be one young woman in a keep full of your father’s men.”

“And the law in Highclere says that no woman can be wed against her will. Not even the heir to a sea-keep. And the keep will