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Freedom's Sisters

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Freedom's Sisters

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Author: Naomi Kritzer
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 2006
Series: Dead Rivers: Book 3

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

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Synopsis

With a magical gift for bringing sorcery to vivid life, acclaimed author Naomi Kritzer continues the suspenseful tale of Lauria and Tamar, sisters-in-arms bonded by blood--and torn apart by their enemies....

As a freeborn servant of the Greeks, Lauria once hunted escaped slaves. But as her loyalties shifted, she found herself freeing those she once captured--and loving those she once mistrusted--like Tamar, of the bandit Alashi tribe. Tamar is now Lauria's blood-sister. But the powerful Greek sorceresses, the Sisterhood of Weavers, do not take treason lightly... especially when the traitor has liberated the djinni who serve them.

Soon Lauria is imprisoned. Desperate, Tamar pleads her case to the Alashi, who send her to sow discord among the Sisterhood. As Tamar searches for Lauria both in reality and in the dreamlike realm known as the borderland, Lauria must trust the magic within to fulfill a wish both desired and feared: freedom for all....


Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

TAMAR

When I rode into the camp of the Alashi spring gathering, I tried to sit tall and hide my fear. Lauria would tell me I was as good as they were--she'd tell me to look them in the eye. She'd say I had nothing to be ashamed of. And I wasn't ashamed. I was proud of what Lauria and I had accomplished. We had freed over a hundred slaves. The Alashi didn't free slaves because they thought those who deserved freedom would escape on their own. Well, the Alashi might not free slaves, but I did. Lauria and I did. I took a deep breath and raised my head.

What did the eldress want from me, anyway?

First, apparently, she wanted me to wait.

I had ridden back with Janiya, the leader of the sword sisterhood Lauria and I had spent last summer with. The rest of her sisterhood had stayed behind to escort the former mine slaves on foot. Janiya gave our horses to a girl to care for, then we sat down in the shade near the eldress's tent. I watched Janiya, and when she turned away from me, I looked around. Lauria and I had found the Alashi at the end of their big spring gathering, and we'd left right before their big fall gathering. I could smell lentils and rice cooking over fires made from dried animal dung. There were families nearby, with lots of children who weren't old enough to ride out with a sisterhood or brotherhood. Looking at them made my throat ache a little.

Janiya looked me over. She hadn't spoken much on our ride. Now she cleared her throat and said, "You look well."

I looked down at my muddy clothes and boots. Lauria and I had bought ourselves new clothes when we'd come into some money, but they were worn ragged now. My hands were filthy, and I thought my face and hair probably were, too.

"Oh, you could use a bath, but that's not what I meant," Janiya said. "You look very confident. You look like a woman who can stand on her own and defend herself. When I first met you... well, you looked like you'd fight until the last drop of blood left your body, but you didn't look like you thought it would matter."

I let out my breath in a short laugh. "It's good to see you again," I said. Janiya looked pretty much as I remembered--well, maybe a little more gray in her hair.

"It's good to see you, too." Janiya clasped my hand. "I wish..." She let the words fade. I thought she'd probably meant to say that she wished she could see Lauria, too.

"Why does the eldress want to see me?"

Janiya shrugged. I thought she probably knew but wasn't supposed to say. My guess was that this was about the slaves Lauria and I had freed and brought up. Well, the mine slaves really had freed themselves. I had nothing to apologize for. I chewed my lip, wondering if the eldress would like that argument. "How are the others from the sisterhood?" I asked. "Maydan, is she recovering?" Maydan had been badly injured in a fight with bandits, late last summer.

"Yes. Very slowly. She had to learn to walk again, as if she was a child, but she's still Maydan. She hasn't forgotten anything about healing, but her hands are very clumsy right now. She's frustrated, as I'm sure you can imagine. She's staying with the clan for the summer, not going out with our sisterhood. We'll have a different healer."

I felt a rush of longing at Janiya's words--going out with our sisterhood. I pushed the thought away. I belonged with Lauria.

Janiya glanced over at the eldress's tent, then stood. "It's time," she said.

The inside of the tent was dim and cool. For a few moments, I couldn't see. When Lauria and I had arrived a year ago, we had been brought to the eldress, who had listened to our story and accepted us as "blossoms," provisional members. This time, eight old ladies and five old men sat in a circle. The eldress I had met a year ago sat across from the door on a pile of cushions. Braided white hair wound around her head. She wore a long dress, a vest so covered in embroidery I could barely make out the black cloth underneath, and a necklace that looked like a spell-chain, though when I looked for a piece of karenite that would imprison a djinn, I didn't see one. These had to be the clan elders. Janiya and I bowed respectfully. The eldress pointed to a spot near the door and Janiya and I sat down.

"Good afternoon, child," the eldress said, her voice kinder than I expected. "You've come a long way since I met you a year ago."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I nodded, then said, "Yes, ma'am."

"I apologize for bringing you back against your will. Zhanna has told me the information that you and your blood sister have passed to her, but I wished to speak with you face-to-face." She fingered her necklace. "Zhanna said that when your blood sister was trying to bind djinni, you were able to stop her. Is this true?"

This was not the question I had expected. "For a little while," I said. "First I slapped her with a wet rag, so she hid from me. So then I went to the borderland and waited for her there. I was able to force her back out. Though later she tried again and was able to do it."

Murmurs, around the circle.

"I was a shaman's apprentice. Zhanna's, and before that, Jaran's."

"Yes. Jaran." The eldress raised an eyebrow, and now came the challenge I had expected. "The Alashi do not free slaves."

"I am not Alashi. I left when you exiled my blood sister."

Janiya, who was the one who actually had exiled Lauria, bit her lip and looked down.

"You chose to leave," the eldress said. "You could choose to come back."

"Why?"

"To teach." That was one of the other clan elders, a man I didn't know. His voice was a soft growl. "To teach the shamans how to guard the borderland and the djinni, so that we can lay siege to the source of the Sisterhood's power."

"I'm still not convinced that's a good idea." That was a clan eldress with only one eye, and a scar that stretched from forehead to chin. "That will just prove to them that we are a threat, and that they must move against us."

"They're coming whether we act or not."

"You don't know that."

"They're moving the army up! What else could it..."

"...just guarding against our raids, and the bandits..."

"...strike at the border, not the borderland, that's what I've..."

"...could move all our herds north, find new grazing grounds, just get out of their way..."

The eldress sat back and let the others argue. I looked at Janiya. She gave me a quirk-lipped smile and a slight shrug.

"Let them come!" one of the eldresses said. "We'll back off and let the desert do our work. They'll never find our wells."

"They're not fools; they'll use their djinni to bring up water. That's why we need to barricade the borderland."

"So what if they can't make new slaves? That won't stop them from using the ones they've got. They have thousands, tens of thousands! More than enough..."

"All right," the eldress said. "I've had enough of this. Back to your clans, all of you. I want to talk to Tamar alone. No, Janiya, you can stay. Sit down. The rest of you..." She gestured, and after a moment or two, they rose and went out, still arguing. The tent was very quiet with them gone.

"It's been like this for days," the eldress said. "I'm sure you can imagine. Now. Tell me. Do you think you can teach other shamans to do what you did?"

"I don't know. I wasn't trying to close off the whole borderland, I was just following Lauria. I could never keep all the sorceresses out."

"The djinni must have wanted you here for some other reason, then," the eldress said.

"The djinni told you to bring me here?"

"Yes. Evidently, they thought you'd be useful."

I raised my chin. "I don't want to stay here. I want to be with Lauria. Are you going to keep me here by force? Or..." My voice faded, and I swallowed hard. "Or are you going to let her come back?"

"You have great faith in your blood sister."

"Yes."

"Though you know she was a spy."

"Was. Once. Not anymore. And she tried to undo what she did."

"Alashi do not free slaves."

"I'm never going to stop trying to free slaves, eldress, even if you make me Alashi. What did the djinni tell you about me, anyway? And Lauria?"

"They just said to bring you here."

"Why not Lauria? She can free bound djinni by touching them. If they come close to her, she can send them back to the borderland. That's what I wish I could learn to do."

The eldress became very quiet for a moment, her eyes still fixed on me. Then she said, "Perhaps her path is separate from yours, because the djinni said nothing about bringing her here. They told me to bring you. They said that you would know something that would help us."

"I know something that will help you?" I shook my head. "I don't know what they're talking about."

"Then tell me what you've done this past year. Tell me what you've learned. Perhaps when I hear about your journeys, I will know what the djinni were talking about."

A barefoot girl brought in cups, a kettle of te...

Copyright © 2006 by Naomi Kritzer


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