Iskadar, I’d participated in only one such ritual after an accident at the granary had crushed a man’s legs. His wife benefited from the comfort; he died with a smile gracing his lips.
Now, I stood frozen in the hallway. The melody rose into a glorious high that caused a spark of contentment to flare within my breast. In the next moment, it fell, straining for a high note that the casting magicians couldn’t quite reach. If my voice added to theirs, the song would be complete, that high note recognized, the holes in the harmonies plugged.
The music called to me, urging me to come forward and weave my voice around the alto register, through the notes, and establish myself as what I truly was.
My muscles seized as I took a jerky step in the direction of the song. I couldn’t open my mouth and let my magic fly. If I did, the Prince’s guards would confine me, extract my voice for their vicious spells, and force my magic into bottles and trinkets.
I groaned, my body hungry to tread the path toward that magical song, but my mind screamed at me to flee. My skin felt stitched on wrong and I squeezed my eyes shut as if I could quiet the music that way. The need to join my voice to that song nearly crippled me. I gritted my teeth as a low, guttural growl escaped my throat.
“Echo?” Matu placed his hand on my elbow, but I remained rooted to the spot.
I shook my head, now humming to myself in an attempt to drown out the spell-song. I opened my eyes and managed to take a few more steps before I had to reach for Matu’s arm. “I need—I cannot—”
He cast quick glances up and down the hall. “Just breathe,” he instructed. “I’ll get you back to your suite.” His touch brought strength where I had none, and though he kept swiveling his head, searching for spies, he moved with steadiness. Even with the distance and the closed doors, the melody never left my head. My voice knew exactly where it would fit, the gaps in the song obvious and glaring, even in silence.
Matu knocked on the door as he opened it, calling, “She heard the singers.”
Helena took my hand, but I could barely feel it. Pressure, no true touch. I moaned, knowing I needed to release the magic building in my body.
“Helena, Matu,” I said. “Don’t tell him. Please, you cannot tell him.” By the time I finished speaking, my words wisped to the rafters like ghosts.
“My dear child, come lie down.” Helena pressed her hand on the small of my back and guided me to the bed. I sank onto it, my breath coming quick and irregular. Helena said something to Matu, who replied in a hushed tone. I couldn’t hear them over the memory of that magical singing.
Rebounded images from spell-songs I hadn’t sung streamed through my head. They displayed people I’d never seen, information I did not want. Though I hadn’t voiced a single note, I felt sure my magic was going to tear me apart, unraveling my mind one image at a time.
The only way to purge myself of the haunting melody was to release my power. But I couldn’t use it, not without a bond, a way to control it. An image of Castillo burned into my mind. If he were here, could he help me tame the magic?
Helena stroked my hair. “Let it out, child. You have to let it out.”
I struggled to keep the magic from consuming us both. Oake once told me he’d emptied his magic into the river when he was without his bond. “Any element,” he’d counseled. “But water works best. It is the life blood of the earth.”
Last year as I journeyed to Umon, I’d buried my fingers in the earth to help bleed the magic from my body. The hunters had been so close, I could hear their voices twining together to locate any magician within ten miles. By ridding myself of the magic, and with the help of several dense blueberry bushes, I’d managed to elude them.
Here in the suite, I felt the same way, with only one option to avoid detection. “Help me to the bathing chamber,” I managed to say. Helena half