Meet Riat, Aeva, and Kallizar for the first time in this clip of the first one thousand words of Fire in the Blood.
“Stand up, boy, and don’t make me tell you again or you’ll have my sword at your back!”
Riat tried to straighten his sore muscles, but they rebelled and he winced involuntarily. It had been a long, hard march to get to the slave markets, and it was only the beginning of a long and miserable day. He had no misconceptions about it being otherwise. Riat was twenty-three, and after eleven years in the slave trade, he knew exactly what was coming.
The trader glowered at him and drew his shortsword. “I said stand up!” he snapped, slapping the flat of the blade hard against the base of Riat’s spine.
“Careful, Maakus,” called another man from a few feet down. “If you hit it too hard, no one will want it.”
Riat, who had been knocked to his knees by the blow, did not know whether to thank the Sorcerer who had spoken or hate him even more. Not that it mattered.
Maakus grumbled but sheathed the sword. “Fine.” He grabbed Riat by the hair and yanked him to his feet, ignoring the young man’s cry of pain. He stared into Riat’s dark blue eyes with a creepy-looking smile. “Guess you owe Sorcerer Danis, now, slave.”
The Sorcerer grabbed Maakus and pulled him to the side. “Hush now. Here comes your first customer of the day.” He stepped away, adopting a pose of feigned indifference. His presence at the slave markets was required by law throughout all of Varaetí: a Sorcerer must be present to ensure fairness of deals and prevent stealing of slaves – or attempts at escape. But Danis had become a good friend of Maakus over the years, so he rarely did anything that would result in less money for the trader.
The customers did not know, of course. They knew that Sorcerer Danis was from the king: the tattoo on his left wrist proved him to be a registered member of King Steph’non’s protective network of Sorcerers. Of course he would be doing everything in his power to ensure fairness to the citizens of Varaetí.
Riat looked around dully for the first customers, wondering what kind of slaves they were after. It was an older man, which meant Riat was probably safe for now… although he didn’t envy the girl that would likely end up with him.
The man bought a tan-skinned brunette in the end, somewhere in her late teens. From what Riat could see, she did not appear to understand a word of what was being said, which meant she was probably from Fyan, the country across the sea. Riat looked down as the man, smiling too widely, took the girl by the arm and pulled her away.
Not long after, Sorcerer Danis suddenly stiffened. “Maakus, look sharp,” he hissed quietly. “We’ve got a Sorcerer on the way. A powerful one.”
Maakus grinned. Sorcerers were his best buyers. They loved to use slaves for all kinds of magical experiments.
Riat knew this, too. Please, Ri’hannon, he begged, praying to the god of mercy, please let the Sorcerer pass me by.
However, even as scared as Riat was, he could not look away when the Sorcerer entered the market. She was eerily beautiful, with short, auburn hair and pale skin that was just colored enough to hint at foreign blood somewhere in her line. Of more interest was the glow that seemed to emanate from beneath her skin. It was faint, but still there. Her clothes, Riat could see by a glance, were well-made – fine silk and soft leather, dyed a striking mix of red and black. He had done work for a tailor once, a few years back, but nothing like this.
Beside her, Riat saw a girl – a young woman in age similar to Riat. She had the fair skin of the Vaerish and Riat knew she was no relation to the Sorcerer. Her hair was much lighter, her stature much shorter than the tall Sorcerer.
Riat watched as the Sorcerer bent and whispered into the young woman’s ear. A friend, perhaps? Or a friend’s daughter? Riat latched onto his curiosity, using it as a guard against his fear.
Unfortunately it evaporated when the young woman pointed at him. The Sorcerer nodded and began to approach him. Why, why did it have to be me? Riat mourned silently, trying to look as useless as possible.
The Sorcerer came right up to him and then did something incredible. She knelt down and looked into his lowered face. Riat tried to hunch away without looking like he was doing so, but his sore muscles prevented him from bending that far.
“Hello, young man.”
Riat looked up without meaning to. Had he heard her correctly? Her words had a lilt to them, telling Riat that Vaerish was not her native tongue, but it was not enough to make him confuse that greeting. Then he saw her face and nearly fainted.
It was not terrible, or scarred, or filled with malice. On the contrary, the Sorcerer’s oddly pale skin gave her a strange kind of beauty. Her jaw was strong and her mouth was curved into a gentle smile. But her eyes quickly captured all of Riat’s attention. They were light grey, which was odd enough. But the truly frightening thing was the flames that burned behind them. They flickered and danced quietly, having no apparent effect on her whatsoever. Was she crazed? Taken by a spirit? Or was this merely a trick she had used in order to frighten him? Magic could do anything. He had seen Sorcerer Davis do some terrifying things on more than one occasion.
The Sorcerer blinked her frightening eyes once, and Riat realized something else: these eyes were kind. They held a look of kindness.
“Can you understand me, young man?” the Sorcerer asked.
Riat swallowed. “Yes, Sorcerer,” he whispered.
“Then could you please tell me, young man: what is your name?”
Riat was completely bewildered. She had asked him a question, not issued him a command. Moreover, she had asked for his name. No one, ever, had done that.
He tried not to hyperventilate. “My name? My name is Riat, Sorcerer.”
The Sorcerer smiled again and extended her hand to him. “Hello, Riat. My name is Kallizar, and I am here to buy your freedom.”
Kallizar waited a moment for her words to sink in.
Beside her, Aeva tried not to look uncomfortable. She remembered the slave trade all too well, having run away from it only one year ago. Running into Kallizar had been an accident, but it had been the best thing to happen to her so far. She hoped this Riat would be able to say the same thing.
Kallizar glanced at Aeva. “Stay with him while I go take care of… business.”
“Still in one piece, Kallizar,” Aeva warned quietly.
Kallizar ignored her and walked coolly up to where both Maakus and Danis stood, trying to look as though they had not just been in a heated discussion over what they had overheard.
Maakus cleared his throat and smiled. “Welcome, Sorcerer. I take it you have found something to your liking?”
Kallizar gritted her teeth. “The boy named Riat. What is his price?”
Maakus had to look down the line to see which slave Kallizar was referencing. “Seventy gold Daari.”
Danis paid no attention whatsoever to the following bout of haggling. He was much too preoccupied with the Sorcerer herself. Her power was immense! He could see it in her eyes as well as sense it around her. The flames of her magic roared in her eyes, and they burned with a strength he had never before seen. The flames in his own eyes were barely visible. He swallowed his jealousy quickly. If this Sorcerer was so strong, she could likely do anything she wanted – including make his life very good, if this sale went well.
When she handed over a large pouch of gold, Danis could not help but stare, his heart suddenly pounding. The Sorcerer’s left wrist was bare. She had no tattoo.
She was not registered.
Kallizar returned to Aeva’s side. “Riat,” she said gently, addressing him, “I have paid your price. You are no longer bound to Maakus.”
“Am I now bound to you, Sorcerer?” Riat asked. He smiled a very little bit. Perhaps this Sorcerer would be nicer than the rest.
Kallizar shook her head. “No, Riat. You are no longer bound to anyone. You are free.”
Aeva smiled at Riat. “It sounds crazy, but it’s true. She did the same for me.”
Riat was not so sure. “Then why are you still with her? Why didn’t you leave?”
Aeva shrugged. “Where else would I go? Kallizar has given me a home. She gave me more than I could have gotten if I had tried to go somewhere else. I’m safe with her.”
“Then if you’re not looking for a slave,” asked Riat, “why did you come to the slave market, Sorcerer?”
The seriousness in Kallizar’s gaze made Riat feel almost crushed beneath its weight. “Because I know that terror.”