Herb-Witch (Lord Alchemist Duology)

 

Herb-Witch

(Book
I of the Lord Alchemist Duology)

by
Elizabeth McCoy

 

For
all my English teachers, who would hopefully not be horrified.

 

Amazon
Edition

Copyright
2012 Elizabeth McCoy

Cover
art by Sarah Cloutier

 

This
ebook is for your personal enjoyment only and may not be re-sold or
given away to other people. If you're reading this book and it wasn't
purchased for your use only, please consider purchasing your own
copy. Thank you for respecting the author's hard work!

 

Table
of Contents

 

Chapter
One
(Sitting alone in the dark . . .)

Chapter
Two
(Immune!)

Chapter
Three
(Kessa ate bread . . .)

Chapter
Four
(Iathor waited patiently . . .)

Chapter
Five
(The market square was busy . . .)

Chapter
Six
(Rom'd not been aware of the arrest, of
course . . .)

Chapter
Seven
(How long can I ignore him . . . ?)

Chapter
Eight
("Barring pillow-licking . . .")

Chapter
Nine
(When Kessa heard the carriage . . .)

Chapter
Ten
(The morning . . . hadn't
started well.)

Chapter
Eleven
("What would you like to see
first, journeyman?")

Chapter
Twelve
(". . . it's
cheaper to kill the people annoying you . . .")

Chapter
Thirteen
("I'm Brague, Master Kymus'
man.")

Chapter
Fourteen
(. . . cornered by
his steward.)

Chapter
Fifteen
(From the narrow alley across the
street . . .)

Chapter
Sixteen
("I'm not yours.")

Chapter
Seventeen
(His office door slammed open.)

Chapter
Eighteen
(I should've taken Maila's place.)

Chapter
Nineteen
(The interrogation had gone . . .)

Chapter
Twenty
(Kessa woke to banging on her
door . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-one
(. . . Brague
returned, damply . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-two
(Kessa shivered against the
hospice wall . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-three
("She hides a lot,
m'lord.")

Chapter
Twenty-four
(Heat was a precious
thing . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-five
(Two days after the regrettable
shouting . . .)

Chapter
Twenty-six
(. . . admitting
to perverse masochism.)

Chapter
Twenty-seven
(Iathor hated feeling so
helpless.)

Chapter
Twenty-eight
(. . . "closed
for moon-flows.")

Chapter
Twenty-nine
("Or are you protecting
her?")

Chapter
Thirty
(She'd never been so nervous . . .)

Chapter
Thirty-one
("What do you think you're
doing?!
")

Chapter
Thirty-two
("Looked ready to beat
me . . .")

Chapter
Thirty-three
(Iasen owned a tall
house . . .)

Chapter
Thirty-four
("I was just
light-headed!")

Chapter
Thirty-five
("Yes, be
careful
down there.")

Chapter
Thirty-six
(His candle was a
sweetish
bittersweet.)

Chapter
Thirty-seven
("How incomplete was that
list?")

Chapter
Thirty-eight
("I'm investigating a
matter.")

Chapter
Thirty-nine
("I don't
always
stay late.")

Chapter
Forty
(Kessa stood before an amber-brick
house . . .)

Chapter
Forty-one
("Isera said it was fun.")

Chapter
Forty-two
(The madman had made great
strides . . .)

Chapter
Forty-three
("Jeck, did we miss
anyone?")

Chapter
Forty-four
(He can see me.)

Chapter
Forty-five
(To the eye of Master Kymus,
Alchemist.)

Chapter
Forty-six
(But
Laita
as
the honey-trail?)

Chapter
Forty-seven
("That little mongrel dosed
him!")

Chapter
Forty-eight
(". . . flirting
with the dramsman?")

Chapter
Forty-nine
("Join me for belated
lunch?")

Chapter
Fifty
("She was in your office.")

Chapter
Fifty-one
("There's a woman waiting in
the kitchen, m'lord.")

Chapter
Fifty-two
("Harvest celebrations?
Already
?")

Chapter
Fifty-three
(. . . Herbmaster
Keli's dubious chaperonage.)

Chapter
Fifty-four
("No, it tastes like fire
should!")

Chapter
Fifty-five
(Kessa'd tried clae before . . .)

Chapter
Fifty-six
("I left the rat skull
there . . .")

Chapter
Fifty-seven
(How do I get home?)

Cast
and Glossary
(Here Abide Spoilers!)

About
the Author and Artist

 

 

Chapter
I

 

S
itting
alone in the dark made it easy to tell when someone was coming,
bringing light. Footsteps carried well, too, so far from the usual
prisoners who waited for judging in the underground prison. Kessa'd
had plenty of time to wipe her face, smooth her plain skirt, and sit
up straight on the rough wooden bench.

She'd
never been pretty enough to play the helpless child – not with
a half-barbarian's black hair and coppery skin, and especially not
with her eyes the way they were. Proper, stiff innocence, or
dignified guilt, would have to serve.

She
closed her eyes so she'd not be light-dazzled. There were soft words
beyond the door, before it creaked open.

She
held her pose, her poise. It seemed a long time, long enough to slit
her eyes open and see shadows upon the glittering-black stone floor,
before a man walked forwards. A black outer robe went to his knees,
and his gray hose and low boots suited high merchants or lesser
nobility.

Gray
was favored by alchemists. Could that wretched moneylender Darul be
important enough that they'd bring an alchemist to question her? Or
was this a rescue to the guild's internal judgment?

"May
I ask your name?" the man said, calm and perhaps the slightest
bit breathy. A light voice for a man, but a grown one. She glanced up
as high as she dared. The tabard was an alchemist's charcoal with
embroidered patterns. He held something in his properly pale hands.

Of
course, anyone could dress in anything, to bait a prisoner to
confess. "You may," she said finally, stalling.

With
exact politeness, he said, "I'm Iathor Kymus. I would hope you
recognize me."

It
took a long moment for that to sink in, the name glowing in her mind
like some burning alchemy stone. Her Guild Master himself, the Lord
Alchemist. That was either very good, or very bad. She gripped her
knees, for clutching the bench would be undignified and give her
splinters besides. "Yes," she said. "I'm Kessa. Kessa
Herbsman."

As
conversationally as he'd introduced himself, he said, "I'm told
you're accused of poisoning a man."

"That's
what the guardsmen said when they arrested me, yes." She didn't
have to pause. She'd been sitting quite long enough to brew the
words. "Tradesman Darul Reus, the moneylender near North Red
Square. I'd taken tea with him, yesterday. They said he was found a
drooling idiot on the floor."

The
Guild Master's clothes rustled as he bent. She blinked at the clay
cup he held out. "What is it?"

"Tea."

One
word, without menace or lightness. Not a dark, heavy
tea that may
be poisoned.
Not a blithe
tea, you silly girl.
Threat,
implication, and hope chased each other in her mind, the way brews
might mix in just-stirred water.

Or
tea.

She
opened her fingers and took the cup, staring into it. Too shadowed to
see any discoloration within.

The
Guild Master backed away; he spoke to someone, but all she heard was
"guild business."

She
paid a journeyman's dues honestly enough on each sale. (And if
sometimes she recorded something other than what'd been bought . . .
the proper coins still got to the proper places.) Her training
might've been unorthodox, but was sound enough to back a teacher's
signature despite the smeared parchment.

Which
meant Kessa had two choices. Break with the guild, and have no one of
importance care what happened to her – and the
Guild Master
annoyed with her, like as not. (And that boiled over to questions
about her license, her apprenticeship, her teachers, childhood,
family . . .)

Or
drink, and trust he was . . . fair.

He
was said to be fair in guild matters.

The
tea smelled wrong. Too sweet, like honey and roses. Something was in
it. Of course.

She
touched her tongue-tip to the surface. Yes, the sweet-bitter she
couldn't describe to anyone else, not even other herb-witches.

She
risked glancing over at the Guild Master. He stood, slight-framed,
with his hands clasped in front of him. Hair cut above his shoulders,
and bare-faced, despite nobles favoring beards and horse-tail queues
this year. No jewelry. He watched her intently, without showing
emotion.

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