The White Spell (Nine Kingdoms #10)

The White Spell (Nine Kingdoms #10)

Lynn Kurland


Murder, mischief, mayhem. Those were the sorts of things that he dealt in. The business of do-gooding . . . well, it just didn’t agree with his digestion.

Acair of Ceangail, son of the most powerful and, admittedly, most unpleasant black mage still darkening the doorways of the Nine Kingdoms, looked at the pair of do-gooders sitting across from him at a worn table in a rather less-seedy tavern than he was accustomed to frequenting, and decided the time had come to put his foot down. He fixed them both with a steely gaze.

“That was the very last one of these I am willing to do.”

The men sitting there looked unmoved by his declaration, which he supposed shouldn’t have surprised him. They were up to their necks in all sorts of noble activities he wouldn’t have engaged in if his life had hung in the balance.

He paused. Very well, he had engaged in just their sort of rot, but that had been because his life had hung in the balance. He had agreed to a ridiculous bargain with those two there when they’d caught him in a moment of weakness further polluted by something another might have termed regret, but he’d done his part and now he had put any untoward and unsettling impulses to appease anyone but himself behind him. He was finished. It was past time they understood that his protestations weren’t simply for show.

He leaned forward and gave them the coldest look he could muster. Considering the sort of year he’d recently endured he was afraid it had barely reached chilly, but there you had it. Too much spreading of sunshine and happiness had obviously done a foul work on him.

“That recent journey to Meith,” he said, slowly, so they wouldn’t misunderstand him, “was the very last of these ridiculous parleys I am willing to engage in with whichever insipid monarch, grossly offended head of state, or richly dressed underling you have selected for me to grovel before. I have spent months apologizing, smiling, and generally making a complete ass of myself. I will not do the like any longer.”

The pair across from him exchanged a look. Acair was, he had to admit with as much modesty as he could muster in difficult circumstances, extremely adept at reading between the lines. Or between the looks, as it were. There was an untoward amount of amusement being shared, as well as something that spoke strongly of already-discussed, nefarious intentions. Both annoyed him, but he supposed he could have expected nothing less from the two fools huddled together there on the opposite side of that worn tavern table.

The fool on the left was his half-brother, Rùnach of Tòrr Dòrainn. Rùnach was the second eldest of a collection of impositions on the world his own father, Gair, had decided to produce with an elven princess several decades after Acair’s birth. Why Gair had wed Rùnach’s mother instead of Acair’s own was a mystery . . . well, knowing his mother as he did, Acair had to admit there was no mystery to it at all, but that didn’t solve the problem of his half-brother sitting across from him, smirking. Rùnach loved nothing more than a hearty bit of good cheer, something Acair had learned early on to dislike about him. Acair scowled at him, then turned his attention to his half-brother’s companion.

Now, that one gave him pause and there wasn’t another soul in the whole of the Nine Kingdoms who gave him pause. Soilléir of Cothromaiche was . . . odd. His magic was unsettling, his power staggering, and he had a way of looking at a body so the body being so observed felt as if it were standing there in its soul alone. Acair shook his head. Damned unnerving, that one. Soilléir wasn’t so much smirking as he was just watching, as if he knew exactly what Acair intended to do before he did it.

As he’d said. Odd.

Rùnach cleared his throat in a way that bespoke serious business indeed. “The thing is, Acair,” he said slowly, wrapping his hands around his mug, “we feel that you have one last bit of—” He frowned thoughtfully and looked at Soilléir. “What did we decide to call it, my lord?”

“Penance,” Soilléir supplied.

“Penance,” Rùnach repeated, nodding. “Aye, that was it.” He looked at Acair with an expression of innocence he had likely not had to practice more than once. “We believe you have a bit more penance to do in order to make up for your past misdeeds.”

“What past misdeeds?” Acair hedged. If they couldn’t name them, he wasn’t going to admit to them. That had gotten him out of more than one tight spot in the past, to be sure.

“Most recently you tried to drain the world of all its magic,” Rùnach said. “There’s a start to the list, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I believe the important word there is tried,” Acair said, “and thank you so very much for reminding me of my abysmal failure.”

“Failure?” Rùnach echoed. “Acair, you toppled at least two thrones I can bring immediately to mind, as well as vexing several other very powerful members of the Council of Kings.”

“True,” Acair said with a light sigh. The list should have been longer, but again, it had been a difficult year and he’d been distracted by trotting out his best court manners and using them in ways he hadn’t particularly cared for.

“It wasn’t a compliment,” Soilléir said.

“You can’t say you wouldn’t do the same thing,” Acair said pointedly, “given the proper inducement.”

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