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New York Times bestselling author Tamora Pierce returns to the magical world of Winding Circle. Set two years before the events of The Will of the Empress and Melting Stones, this adventure reunites plant mage Briar; his mentor, Rosethorn; and his young apprentice, Evvy, who has a talent for making stones…do things. The three journey eastward to the forbidding land of Yanjing, where they discover a danger that threatens the home temple of the Living Circle religion.
Tamora Pierce is the critically acclaimed author of more than twenty novels, including the Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens quartets, The Will Of The Empress, Melting Stones, and, most recently, the New York Times bestselling Beka Cooper trilogy. She has been named a Margaret A. Edwards Award winner for her significant and lasting contribution to young-adult literature.
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The Imperial Gardens
The Winter Palace
Dohan in Yanjing
Rosethorn had to wonder if she was meant by her gods to spend her entire visit to the winter palace in a towering state of vexation. For one thing, when the emperor said they would visit his gardens, he meant that he, Rosethorn, and Briar, as well as a gaggle of mages and courtiers, watched as gardeners dealt with the plants. If she even touched one, the gardeners hovered as if they feared she might break it. For another thing, she and Briar had been forced to wear silk again today, because they were in the imperial presence. She should have known they would not be allowed to get dirty when the maids placed silk clothes before them that morning.
Third, she was deeply unhappy with the mages who dogged their tracks. They drowned the voices of the wind in the leaves and flowers of the garden with the constant click of their strings of beads. She had heard that eastern mages favored beads imprinted with spells and strung together to be worn on neck and wrist. She had seen local mages twirling short strings of spell beads during their journey down from Ice Lion Pass. Court mages carried ropes of them. Apparently Rosethorn and Briar in a garden were considered far more dangerous than Rosethorn and Briar in a throne room.
As if we couldn’t have turned those potted plants into weapons, Rosethorn thought as the breeze carried another burst of hollow clicks to her ears. She rounded on the mages. “I can’t hear a thing these plants say with that unending noise,” she informed them.
All around her the emperor’s prized roses, brought at great expense from far Sharen and raised more carefully than most children, trembled and reached for her across the stone borders of the path. The courtiers shrank closer together, terrified of touching those priceless blossoms. Weishu looked on, his face emotionless.
Briar raised his hands to both sides of the path. The roses halted their movement and waited, trembling.
Rosethorn had not taken her eyes off the mages. “What are you doing with those things?” she demanded. “I’m not working magic. If I were, you couldn’t distract me with noisemakers.”
“They are not noisemakers,” said the youngest of them, a woman. “Our magic is inscribed in the marks on each bead. The greater the mage, the more inscriptions—the more spells—on a bead. And the more beads.”
Rosethorn squinted at the ropes that ran through the woman’s fingers. The small, bone white beads that made up the bulk of her wrist and neck strings, as well as those of her fellow mages, were etched with miniscule ideographs. In between those beads were others, some brown glass inscribed with Yanjingi characters, some white porcelain with heaven blue characters and figures, some carnelian with engraving on the surface.
“As I said, I am not using magic. Would you do me a favor and be quiet?” she asked, as patiently as she knew how. “The plants tell me how they are doing—when I can hear them.” Even if I did magic, I strongly doubt that you would detect it, you academic prancer, she thought. Like most ambient mages, Rosethorn had little patience for those who drew their power from their own bodies and worked it through spells, though she had studied academic magic in her youth.
“Is Nanshur Briar not using magic?” an older mage asked. Not only did this man have two long ropes of beads in his hold, but there were spell figures tattooed onto his hands and wrists. Unlike Briar’s, this man’s tattoos were motionless.
Briar lowered his hands. “I asked them to stop trying to help Rosethorn.”
Rosethorn let her own power flow into the bushes, calming the roses. As she suspected, not one of the Yanjingi mages so much as twitched. Ambient magic was not only rare here; it was unknown. She called her power back into herself and looked at Weishu. “If you would like me to tell you if they are well, I must be able to concentrate, your imperial majesty,” she explained. “I see you think I am deluded, claiming to hear the voices of plants. Don’t your priests hear the voices of ghosts and mountains?”
“Ghosts were once men, and our mountains are ancient,” Weishu said. “Blossoms live but a season, and plants a few years at best. Perhaps some our oldest trees have voices, or the spirits within them do, but it takes ages for living things to gain the wisdom of human beings.”
Everyone around them but Briar murmured their agreement. Rosethorn bit her lip rather than call them all fools. Royalty, their pet mages, and their pet nobles seemed to think they knew everything. But mages of her kind knew instead that they were just beginning to scrape the surface of the world.
And what about you? she asked herself as she followed the emperor along the garden’s main path. Weren’t you starting to think you had all the answers before Niko brought Briar and the girls to Winding Circle? Before their magics started to combine? We all learned there was no predicting how their power would turn out. We couldn’t have guessed that four eleven-year-olds could shape the power of an earthquake, or that one girl’s metal flower would take root and bloom in a vein of copper ore, or that those children would pull me back from death itself. I could never have guessed some of the ways Briar has learned to shape his magic, or Evvy hers. I needed shaking up. We all did.
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Copyright © 2013 by Tamora Pierce. Used by permission of Scholastic