Thief of Hope
by Cindy Young-Turner
Sydney, a street urchin and pickpocket in the town of Last Hope, has managed to evade the oppressive Guild for years, but there is no escaping fate when she's sentenced to death for associating with the resistance.
After she's rescued by a wizard, Sydney is forced to accept that magic-long outlawed throughout the Kingdom of Thanumor-still exists, and the Tuatha, a powerful faery folk, are much more than ancient myth and legend. When the wizard offers a chance to fight the Guild and bring Willem, bastard prince and champion of the Tuatha, to the throne, Sydney embraces the cause as a way to find her own redemption.
But Sydney's fear of the Guild, distrust of authority, and surprising connection to the Tuatha threaten Willem's success. Can she untangle the strange threads that entwine her life not only to the fate of the kingdom, but also to Willem himself?
Copyright © Cindy Young-Turner
All rights reserved — a Crescent Moon Press publication
"Magic." She could think of no other explanation for the strange light. Standing together in awe, they heard whispers echo once more, louder this time, coming from within the tunnel. The elusive tones ebbed and flowed, in the pattern of words and phrases. None of them made any sense.
"I've seen this place before."
"That ain't possible. We haven't been this way before."
"I've seen this tunnel in a dream." Willem stepped forward and put a hand on the wall, as if to reassure himself it was real.
"How can you dream of a place you've never seen?"
"Sometimes I dream things, and later they prove to be true. I dreamed about this tunnel, the light, the sounds." His brow creased. "Vadnae said the gateway to the realm of the Tuatha is within the tunnels. Maybe this is it."
Her legs trembled. Like the tunnel Bill had led her away from, the certainty they wouldn't be able to return if they entered sent shivers through her. "We should tell Vadnae and bring her back here. I can remember where the tunnel is."
"We can't go back. There was someone else in my dream." His blue eyes met her gaze. "Until now, I never realized who it was. Now I'm sure; it was you, Sydney. We must go in together."
She backed away. It was one thing for Willem to dream of a place he'd never been, but another thing entirely for him to dream about her. Before they'd even met. "That's daft, Willem. We ain't-we aren't wizards. What if the Tuatha are really as dangerous as people say? What if we don't come back? No point making you king if they trap you in the faery realm."
"This is something we're meant to do. I'm sure of it."
As he spoke, her neck pouch grew warm. She set the lantern on the ground. With shaking hands, she pulled the leather cord over her head and loosened the drawstring. The marble glowed, like the stones in the passage ahead of them. She shook it into her palm.
Willem stepped toward her. "What's that?"
"Picked it up in Oryn's tower." The glowing orb reflected the light from the lantern and the stones.
"Is it magic? Be careful."
The glow changed from a soft yellow to orange to red-and then to black. Durok's power assailed her. His hatred and malice chilled her to the core. Blackness engulfed her.
Two gleaming eyes gazed out of the void. They pierced her soul, probing her innermost thoughts, her fears, her desires. She sought to cry out, but no sound escaped her lips.
Willem's voice grew faint. Unseen hands clawed at her. Blindly, she struck back. Her mind reeled, and she relived every painful moment in her life, every loss, every hurt, every betrayal. Unbearable pain. No way to fight back.
"You are strong, Sydney," a voice murmured. "Don't let him defeat you."
The voice reminded her of Edgar, bringing with it memories, not of Edgar on the scaffold, but of him tucking her into bed when she was a child and telling her he'd keep her safe. "You're safe now, Sydney. Give me your hand and you'll be free of him."
She let him take her hand. His fingers pried open her fist. The darkness lifted.
"Sydney, can you hear me?"
She forced her eyes open. Willem's stricken face hovered above her. With a steady arm around her, he helped her sit. Her heart thudded in her chest. She made an effort to stand, but the ground spun beneath her and pain stabbed behind her eyes.
"Easy." Willem's arm rested on her waist, solid and comforting. "Just sit here for a minute."
He held up her neck pouch. "Safely put away. I took the marble from you without being affected myself."
Her hand ached. Opening her fist, she gasped. The middle of her palm was red and blistered.
"Let me see."
"It's all right." She clutched her hand to her chest.
"Here, let me help." He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket. Gently, he took her hand and wrapped the soft fabric around her palm. "We'll deal with your wound later, when someone can tend to it properly. Vadnae or one of the monks, perhaps. We're lucky you weren't more seriously hurt."
His gaze searched her face. "I was hoping you could tell me."
He still held her hand. The flickering lantern light softened his expression, and she glimpsed something more than compassion.
Then the image of the probing eyes flashed before her. Shuddering, she shifted away from Willem and gulped a deep breath. "It was Durok. He saw me. We have to get away from here." She struggled to get to her feet. Willem helped her up, steadying her, his strong hands gripping her waist.
"We can't go back the way we came." He inclined his head to the wall blocking the end of the tunnel. "It closed up when you touched the marble."
Sydney stumbled forward and ran her fingers over the wall. "There's gotta be a way out." She started when Willem touched her arm.
"There is a way." He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face the tunnel with the glowing stones. "We can wait for Durok to destroy us, or we can move forward. Those are our options."
His mouth set in a determined line. Vadnae, Gregor, Erik, Bill's children, and Anaria-so many people depended on them to succeed. She made a fist, wincing at the pain. She wasn't going to let Durok get the best of her. Willem wasn't giving up, and neither was she.
She reached up to brush her thumb across his cheek. He drew in an uneven breath, and she smiled shyly. "All right. Let's go in."