Furies of Calderon - By Jim Butcher

Chapter 1
The course of history is determined not by battles, by sieges, or usurpations, but by the actions of the individual. The strongest city, the largest army is, at its most basic level, a collection of individuals. Their decisions, their passions, their foolishness, and their dreams shape the years to come. If there is any lesson to be learned from history, it is that all too often the fate of armies, of cities, of entire realms rests upon the actions of one person. In that dire moment of uncertainty, that person's decision, good or bad, right or wrong, big or small, can unwittingly change the world.

But history can be quite the slattern. One never knows who that person is, where he might be, or what decision he might make.

It is almost enough to make me believe in Destiny.

From the writings of Gaius Primus First Lord of Albra


"Please, Tavi," wheedled the girl in the predawn darkness outside the stead-holt's kitchen. "Just this one little favor?"

"I don't know," said the boy. "There's so much work today."

She leaned in closer to him, and the boy felt her slender body mold against his, soft and lower-scented and delightful. She pressed her mouth to his cheek in a slow kiss and whispered in his ear, "I'd be very grateful."

"Well," the boy said. "I'm not sure if, um."

She kissed his cheek again and whispered, "Please."

His heart pounded more quickly, and his knees felt weak. "All right. I'll do it."

Chapter 1

Amara rode atop the swaying back of the towering old gargant bull, going over the plan in her head. The morning sun shone down on her, taking the chill out of the misty air and warming the dark wool of her skirts. Behind her, the axles of the cart squeaked and groaned beneath their loads. The slave collar she wore had begun to chafe her skin, and she made an irritated mental note to wear one for a few days in order to grow used to it, before the next mission.

Assuming she survived this one, of course.

A tremor of nervous fear ran down her spine and made her shoulders tighten. Amara took a deep breath and blew it out again, closing her eyes for a moment and blocking out every thought except for the sensations around her: sunlight on her face, swaying of the pungent gargant's long strides, creaking of the cart's axles.

"Nervous?" asked the man walking beside the gargant. A goad dangled from his hand, but he hadn't lifted it in the entire trip. He managed the beast with the lead straps alone, though his head barely came to the old bull's brown-furred thigh. He wore the plain clothes of a peddler: brown leggings, sturdy sandals, with a padded jacket over his shirt, dark green on homespun. A long cape, tattered green without embroidery, had been cast over one shoulder as the sun rose higher.

"No," Amara lied. She opened her eyes again, staring ahead.

Fidelias chuckled. "Liar. It's not a brainless plan. It might work."

Amara shot her teacher a wary glance. "But you have a suggestion?"

"In your graduation exercise?" Fidelias asked. "Crows, no. I wouldn't dream of it, academ. It would cheapen your performance."

Amara licked her lips. "But you think that there's something I should know?"

Fidelias gave her a perfectly guileless look. "I did have a few questions."

"Questions," Amara said. "We're going to be there in a few moments."

"I can ask them when we arrive, if you prefer."

"If you weren't my patriserus, I would find you an impossible man," Amara sighed.

"That's sweet of you to say," Fidelias replied. "You've come a long way since your first term at the Academy. You were so shocked when you found out that the Cursors did more than deliver missives."

"You love telling that story even though you know I hate it."

"No," Fidelias said with a grin. "I love telling that story because I know you hate it."

She looked down at him archly. "This is why the Cursor Legate keeps sending you away on missions, I think."

"It's a part of my charm," Fidelias agreed. "Now, then. My first concern-"

"Question," Amara corrected.

"Question," he allowed, "is with our cover story."

"What question? Armies need iron. You're an ore smuggler, and I'm your slave. You heard there was a market out this way, and you came to see what money could be made."

"Ah," said Fidelias. "And what do I tell them when they ask where I got the ore? It isn't just found by the roadside, you know."

"You're a Cursor Callidus. You're creative. I'm sure you'll think