The Sentinel Mage

CHAPTER ONE

JAUMÉ WAS IN his father’s barn when the curse broke free of its dormancy on the easternmost rim of the Seven Kingdoms. As it burst into life, shadows settled like dark stains on every man, every woman, every child in the kingdoms. No one noticed; these were shadows only mages could see, and the Seven Kingdoms had purged itself of witchcraft centuries ago.

The curse began its slow, inevitable creep westward, passing through the fishing village of Girond. Grains of soil trembled as it passed, blades of grass quivered faintly, and the water in wells and creeks shivered. Girond’s inhabitants knew nothing about magic and no one realized anything was wrong until it was too late.

Jaumé was playing in the loft. He burrowed deep in the straw, digging with his hands, wriggling and twisting, holding his breath, and then the straw parted between his scrabbling fingers and he looked down at his little sister, Rosa.

Rosa sat cross-legged in a patch of sunlight, singing. Jaumé gulped for breath and watched as she arranged the dolls in her lap. Four dolls, a family.

Da had carved them in the evenings while Rosa slept, and then he’d painted smiling faces on them and glued wool to their smooth wooden heads, and Mam had stitched clothes out of scraps of fabric.

Jaumé began to burrow backwards. It was harder this way—

The door swung open. It slapped lightly against the wall and stayed there, shivering on its hinges. Rosa stopped singing. “Da?”

Jaumé peered through the straw. He saw his father’s curly brown hair and the scarred blacksmith’s apron and—

Blood. Blood on the thick leather apron. Blood streaking his father’s forearms. Blood staining his mouth and chin.

“Da?” Rosa said again, her voice thin and uncertain.

Da’s lips curled back from his teeth. He reached down and grabbed Rosa by the hair and lifted her off the floor. The dolls tumbled to the ground.

Jaumé lay frozen in the straw. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t utter a sound, couldn’t move.

His sister began to scream, high-pitched.

The scream broke through Jaumé’s immobility. He pushed backwards, bursting free of the straw, scrambling across the rough floorboards. Panic bubbled inside him. He pushed headfirst out the small window, tumbled down the shingle roof, and fell to the ground.

Rosa’s scream stopped abruptly.

Jaumé stayed where he was for a moment, panting, sobbing, his face pressed into the dirt, and then he pushed to his feet and began to run, around the back of the barn, through the yard, scattering hens, up the shallow stone steps to the kitchen.

He barreled through the door. “Mam!” His voice was as shrill as Rosa’s had been.

Mam lay on the floor with the clothes torn from her body. The kitchen stank of her blood.

Jaumé stood, gulping for breath. The wooden floorboards seemed to tilt beneath his feet. Silence filled his head, echoing, so loud it was almost deafening—

A flurry of squawks erupted from the yard.

Da’s coming for me.

Jaumé ran through the kitchen, his bare feet slipping in Mam’s blood, and into the front room. He shoved at the door, wrenching the latch open, and then he was outside, running so hard it felt as if his heart would burst.

It was only a quarter of a mile to Girond. He ran it blindly, panic blurring his vision. It wasn’t until he reached the first house that he realized something was wrong.

The door hung slightly open, crooked on its hinges, and in the middle of the whitewashed planks of timber—a handprint in blood.

Jaumé shied off the road. He scrambled over the stone wall into Farmer Gabre’s cornfield and pressed himself flat to the ground. For long