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Freedom's Apprentice

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Freedom's Apprentice

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Author: Naomi Kritzer
Publisher: Ballantine Spectra, 2005
Series: Dead Rivers: Book 2

1. Freedom's Gate
2. Freedom's Apprentice
3. Freedom's Sisters

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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With Freedom's Gate, acclaimed author Naomi Kritzer introduced a dangerous world of magic and intrigue. Now she continues the story of Lauria, a bold young woman who has turned against a way of life she once believed in....


Once the trusted aide to powerful military commander Kyros, freeborn Lauria hunted down his escaped slaves. But during a mission to infiltrate the bandit tribe known as the Alashi, Lauria's loyalties shifted. When her identity was discovered, she was cast out by both sides. Now Lauria is determined to regain the trust of the Alashi, and, with the help of her blood-sister Tamar, liberate those she once returned to captivity. But they cannot accomplish the daunting task alone. Desperate for a spell-chain to free a mine slave, Lauria turns to her enemies--the Sisterhood of Weavers--and apprentices herself to a sorceress. But learning to harness magic will come at a greater price than she ever imagined.



There was a crumbled spot in the wall around Elpisia. Kyros sent slaves to fix it every year or two, but for some reason--unstable ground, a vulnerability to wind--it was always crumbling there again within a few months. When I was a child and wanted to get in or out of town without being hassled by the guards at the gate, I scrambled over at that spot. Half a year earlier, I had examined that point in the wall while tracking an escaped slave.

Now, I was back, on the other side. I was climbing into Elpisia under cover of night to free one of the slaves that I had once taken back to slavery.

I found handholds easily enough, and scrambled over. Some gravel had made its way into my boot, so I pulled it off and shook it out. Then I wound a scarf around my face and pulled up the hood of my coat. It wasn't cold enough for snow yet, but there was a damp wind tonight. I put my mittens back on.

Nika's owner lived quite close to Kyros, not far from the city gate. I took a roundabout route, trying to stay as far from Kyros's house as I could. The streets were dark and quiet, but a few people were still out. I walked briskly rather than keeping to the shadows; acting like I was trying to hide would only attract attention. The wind gave me a good excuse to keep my head down and my eyes on the hard dirt under my feet. Being a fugitive in my home city was the strangest, most foreign experience I'd had in my life--even more foreign than my first days with the Alashi. If someone had blindfolded me and spun me around, I still could have found my way to anywhere in the city. It's so strange to be back. To be back like this.

I turned a corner; there, a stone's throw ahead of me, was the household where Nika had been sold. It was built in the Greek style, like Kyros's house, with a courtyard in the center. The front door would be guarded at night. Well, I assumed that it was guarded; I couldn't see much evidence either way from the street.

The first step was to get inside. The front door, obviously, was out of the question. There were a few low windows that opened onto the street, but they were tightly shuttered and barred from within; besides, the rooms on the other side of those windows might have people in them at odd hours. I circled the house once, keeping to the shadows now, though I couldn't see anyone watching. The street was quiet.

Right. The first step is to get inside. You were Kyros's most resourceful servant--can't you figure out a way to do that? Tamar had wanted to come along tonight and I refused. If I couldn't even think of a way to get into the house, Tamar would doubtless offer a dozen different suggestions of ways I could have done it if I'd had her with me. I'd insisted that Tamar wait with the horses because I thought that I would have at least a faint chance of talking my way out of trouble if I were caught by myself. If I had Tamar with me... When I looked at Tamar, I still saw a hint of the beaten-down slave girl that she'd been when we met. I didn't think I could talk both of us out of custody.

The first-floor windows had a sill; maybe I could climb onto the roof from there, and then go over that and into the courtyard. I took off my coat and mittens and stuffed them into my bag; the wind chose that moment to send a gust whipping through the street that left me numb and aching. Before I could change my mind, I climbed onto the windowsill. It was awkward, and when I shifted I knocked up against the shutter. Anyone inside would have heard that, and I froze for a moment, ready to leap off and run if I heard movement inside. But all stayed quiet. If anyone had heard me, they must have thought it was the wind.

Now that I was close enough to make a try for the roof, I realized that it was a good arm's length out of my reach. If I'd brought Tamar, I could have boosted her up onto the roof--but she didn't have the strength or weight to pull me up after her, so I'd have needed both Tamar and a rope, anyway. With freezing fingers, I felt for handholds in the stone and mortar of the house. And found one. Maybe I could swing myself up and launch myself onto the roof...

I came nowhere near my goal, but managed to make a wonderful crashing sound as I kicked loose a few tiles that shattered on the street below. I landed on the tiles and managed to bite back a stream of oaths as the shutters banged open.

"--a bird or something."

"I just wanted to check."

"Well, you're letting in a lot of cold air, thank you very much."

I held my breath, making myself as small as possible. I was right in the open. If they poked their heads out to look for what had made the noise, they'd see me.

"It didn't sound like a bird."

"Send one of the men if you're that worried, but close the window before I freeze to the floor."

The shutter closed, but I didn't hear the bar put back into place. The guards would be coming, but it would take a little time--who was in the room?

With the tip of my finger, I eased the window open a crack and peered in. It was the kitchen, and there were two women still there, both Danibeki, and thus presumably slaves. If I offered to free them in exchange for their help, would they leap at the opportunity, or scream to alarm the whole house? Tamar would love to shepherd an entire household's worth of slaves up to the reluctant Alashi, but the practicalities of that were more than a little daunting to me. Besides, even if Tamar were right that there were no slaves who liked being slaves, that didn't mean they'd all be willing to flee to the Alashi. Many believed that the Alashi practiced human sacrifice and other such atrocities.

I hesitated too long; if I'd wanted to speak with them, I'd lost my chance. I sprinted around a corner and hid just a few moments before I heard the crunch of the guard's boots on the street. "--bunch of jumpy girls," a male voice said. "Wanting to hide under the bed from the winter wind."

"Something did knock down a few tiles," another voice said. They had a lantern; I could see the light flickering. "It's not blowing that hard."

"Nika's probably right, it was a bird or something."

Nika! Had I looked right at her and not recognized her? Or had she been the one who went for the guards? Probably the latter. So she was probably there, in the kitchen, right now.

Muttering about girls and the cold wind, the guards did a quick search, found a feather that had doubtless been dropped by a bird sometime in the last week, and went back inside. I went back over to the window just in time to hear the bar drop again.

Well, at least now I knew where Nika was. I pressed my ear against the shutter and listened to the conversation. They were up early, not late, baking bread for the morning; the conversation was household gossip, nothing useful or interesting. There were three women working, all slaves. Listening to the chatter and knowing that one of them was Nika, I was able to pick her out of the conversation, and figure out which voice was hers.

I could just knock on the window...

Instead, I put my coat and mittens back on, rewrapped the scarf that shielded my face, and waited. There's no hurry, I told myself. I can go back to Tamar, talk about what to do, and try again tomorrow. That's probably the best plan right now, take this slowly.

Still, it seemed like it would be worth waiting. Maybe the other two women would step out for a few minutes and I'd have the opportunity to talk to Nika. So I waited, and just as I was thinking that I'd have to leave to be well away by dawn, one of the women said she was going to use the privy, and another had to go get something out of the pantry; Nika was alone.

I knocked urgently on the shutter. "Nika. Nika!" I hissed.

The shutter opened so abruptly that it almost knocked me off the windowsill. Nika stared at me, white-faced and startled. "Who are you? What do you want?" Her wide eyes searched mine, peering over the scarf. Did she recognize me? Just from my eyes? I saw no anger, so probably not.

"Do you still want your freedom enough to take it? I have a horse and I'll take you to the Alashi."

"Who are you?"

"I'm here to free you. What does it matter who I am?"

There was a long moment of struggle on Nika's face, and then she said, "I can't. Not without Melaina."


"My daughter. I can't leave her here. She doesn't have anyone but me."

The other women could return at any moment. I spoke rapidly. "Fine. I'll be back tomorrow night. Figure out a way to get yourself and Melaina out this window, and I'll take both of you." I jumped down to let her swing the shutter closed, and ran back for the city wall.

The sun was rising when I reached our hiding place in the track of the old river. Tamar was letting the horses drink water from a muddy puddle. She saw me approaching and shaded her eyes, looking to see if I'd brought Nika. "Lauria. What happened?" she asked when I reached her.

"She wants to bring her kid. We'll try again tonight. This time I think I want you to wait by the wall with the horses; it'll be slow going with a young child otherwise."

"You're going to leave me behind again?"

"Like I said before, if I get caught, I think I can talk my way out. As long as I'm alone."

"Oh yeah? What are you going to say: 'Look at me, I'm Kyros's servant, and this is all part of his plan, just ask him'? What are you going to say when they take you to Kyros?"

"I'll tell him what happened with Alibek, and say that freeing slaves is a ruse to win back the trust of the Alashi. Because I know how important this mission is, Nika's freedom is a pretty trivial cost."

"And when he...

Copyright © 2005 by Naomi Kritzer


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